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Bible Commentaries

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Daniel 4

A.M. 3434. B.C. 570.

Daniel, having finished the history respecting his three friends being cast into the fiery furnace, for refusing to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, here adds another history relating to that king, which he gives in the very words of the public edict which had been made on the occasion, that every one might be convinced of the truth of the story, having the testimony of a public edict for it. In this edict, after solemnly acknowledging the power and dominion of God, Daniel 4:1-3 . Nebuchadnezzar relates at large a dream which he had had, which none of his magicians could interpret, but for the interpretation of which he had applied to Daniel, Daniel 4:4-18 . Daniel interprets it, as foretelling Nebuchadnezzar’s fall, unless he should prevent it by his speedy repentance and reformation, Daniel 4:19-27 . The accomplishment of it, when he was in the height of his pride, in his being suddenly deprived of his senses for seven years, and then recovering his reason and government, Daniel 4:28-34 , Daniel 4:36 . His solemn acknowledgment of God’s absolute supremacy and almighty power, Daniel 4:34 , Daniel 4:35 , Daniel 4:37 .

Verses 1-3

Daniel 4:1-3. Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, &c. He addresses the proclamation, not only to his own subjects, but to all to whom the writing should come. Peace be multiplied unto you May all things prosperous happen unto you. The Chaldee is, Your peace be multiplied: a usual form of addressing the subjects of this vast empire. I thought it good to show the signs, &c., that the high God hath wrought toward me Namely, by signifying to him future things of so extraordinary a kind, as could not naturally have been supposed to happen; and in bringing to pass some of them upon himself in a most wonderful manner. How great are his signs, &c. “The king’s repeated experience had extorted from him the sublime confession contained in this verse; the latter part of which is a fine display of the infinite power and dominion of the true God.” Wintle.

Verses 4-5

Daniel 4:4-5. I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest, &c. Nebuchadnezzar, “for the extent of his dominion, and the great revenues it supplied; for his unrivalled success in war; for the magnificence and splendour of his court; and for his stupendous works and improvements at Babylon, was the greatest monarch, not only of his own times, but incomparably the greatest the world had ever seen. At a time when he was at rest in his house, and flourishing in his palace;” having lately subjected to his empire Syria, Phenicia, Judea, Egypt, and Arabia, and returned to Babylon inflated with his success and victories, and being in the meridian of his glory, and thinking of nothing but enjoying in peace the fruit of his conquests, he was unexpectedly alarmed, and thrown into trouble and distress, by a prophetic dream which he here records. Thus God’s particular judgments often resemble the general one in their coming suddenly and unexpectedly, when men indulge themselves in carnal security.

Verses 6-7

Daniel 4:6-7. Therefore made I a decree to bring in the wise men As he did before, on a like occasion; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation Though they had promised with great confidence, when consulted before, respecting his former dream, that if it were told them they would, without fail, interpret it. But the key of this dream was in a sacred prophecy, with which they were not acquainted, namely, Ezekiel 31:3, &c., where the Assyrian monarch is compared, as Nebuchadnezzar is here, to a tree cut down for his pride. Had they read and considered that divine record, they might perhaps have discovered the mystery of this dream. But Providence ordered it so, that they should be first puzzled with it, that Daniel’s interpreting of it afterward might redound to the glory of Daniel’s God.

Verses 8-9

Daniel 4:8-9. But at the last Daniel came in before me Whether sent for by the king, or brought by another, appears not, but he was last, that it might appear that he only, or rather, his God, who revealed them to him, had the true understanding of these secrets: for if he had come first, or before the rest had tried all their skill in vain, they would have been ready to affirm they understood the interpretation of the dream as well as he, and so God would not have had the glory of it; but now it was evident that the interpretation was from the Spirit of God enlightening the prophet. In whom is the spirit of the holy gods Who is enlightened by the gods, or heavenly powers, with a supernatural degree of knowledge, such as none of the wise men of Babylon can attain to. The original words, however, may be rendered, the holy God, as they are in the Greek and Arabic: and it is probable that this king had now the one true God in his mind. O Belteshazzar, master Or, chief, of the magicians, as Wintle translates the words. That he was superior to, or placed as a governor over, all the magicians, or wise men, see on Daniel 1:20; Daniel 2:48. Because I know that the spirit of the holy gods Or rather, of the holy God, is in thee, and that no secret troubleth thee Or, is difficult to thee. The LXX. read, ουκ αδυνατει σε , is not impossible to thee. Thou art not at a loss to find out any secret thing whatsoever. Tell me the visions of my dream, and the interpretation thereof Nebuchadnezzar tells the dream himself in the following words; so that the meaning of this sentence must be, Tell me the interpretation of the dream. The LXX. translate it thus: Hear the vision of my dream, which I saw, and tell me the interpretation thereof.

Verses 10-16

Daniel 4:10-16. I saw, &c. The substance of what the king relates is, that he saw in a dream “a tree, strong and flourishing; [ in the midst of the earth, or of his empire;] its summit pierced the clouds, and its branches overshadowed the whole extent of his vast dominions: it was laden with fruit, and luxuriant in its foliage: the cattle reposed in its shade, and the fowls of the air lodged in its branches, and multitudes partook of its delicious fruit. But the king saw a celestial being, a watcher, and a holy one, come down from heaven; and heard him give orders, with a loud voice, that the tree should be hewn down, its branches lopped off, and its fruit scattered, and nothing left of it but the stump of its roots in the earth, which was to be secured, however, with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field. Words of menace follow, which are applicable only to a man, and plainly show, that the whole vision was typical of some dreadful calamity, to fall for a time, but for a time only, on some one of the sons of men.” Bishop Horsley. The whole of this allegorical dream is explained in the subsequent part of the chapter; and therefore it will only be necessary to notice here two or three of the singular expressions and particulars found in it.

1st, By the terms watcher and holy one, or, as the expression is, Daniel 4:17, watchers and holy ones, has generally been understood some principal angel, or angels, the angelical orders being described as always attending upon God’s throne to receive and execute his commands: see Psalms 103:20; Matthew 18:10; and notes on Ezekiel 1:11; Ezekiel 1:24. For which reason they are called the eyes of the Lord, Zechariah 4:10. But Bishop Horsley, in his sermon on the 17th verse, strongly combats, and seems to have fully confuted this opinion. His train of reasoning is too long to be inserted here, and indeed it is not necessary to insert it, the following short extract being quite sufficient to clear up the point. “Those who understand the titles of watchers and holy ones of angelic beings, agree, that they must be principal angels angels of the highest orders; which, if they are angels at all, must certainly be supposed: for it is to be observed, that it is not the mere execution of the judgment upon Nebuchadnezzar, but the decree itself, which is ascribed to them. The whole matter originated in their decree; and at their command the decree was executed. The holy ones are not said to hew down the tree, but to give command for the hewing of it down. Of how high order, indeed, must these watchers and holy ones have been, on whose decrees the judgments of God himself are founded, and by whom the warrant for the execution is finally issued? It is surprising, that such men as Calvin among the Protestants of the continent such as Wells and the elder Lowth in our own church and such as Calmet in the Church of Rome, should not have their eyes open to the error, and impiety indeed, of such an exposition as this which makes them angels, especially when the learned Grotius, in the extraordinary manner in which he recommends it, had set forth its merits, as it should seem, in a true light, when he says, that it represents God as acting like a great monarch ‘upon a decree of his senate:’ and when another of the most learned of its advocates imagines something might pass in the celestial senate, bearing some analogy to the forms of legislation used in the assemblies of the people at Rome, in the times of the republic. It might have been expected that the exposition would have needed no other confutation, in the judgment of men of piety and sober minds, than this fair statement of its principles by its ablest advocates. “The plain truth is, that these appellations, Watchers and Holy Ones, denote the persons in the Godhead; the first describing them by the vigilance of their universal providence, the second by the transcendent sanctity of their nature. The word rendered Holy Ones is so applied in other texts of Scripture, which make the sense of the other word, coupled with it here, indisputable. In perfect consistency with this exposition, and with no other, we find, in the 24th verse, that this decree of the Watchers and the Holy Ones is the decree of the Most High God; and in Daniel 4:13, God, who in regard to the plurality of the persons, is afterward described by these two plural nouns, Watchers and Holy Ones, is, in regard to the unity of the essence, described by the same nouns in the singular number, Watcher and Holy One. And this is a fuller confirmation of the truth of this exposition: for God is the only being to whom the same name in the singular and in the plural may be indiscriminately applied: and this change from the one number to another, without any thing in the principles of the language to account for it, is frequent in speaking of God in the Hebrew tongue, but unexampled in the case of any other being. The assertion, therefore, is, that God had decreed to execute a signal judgment upon Nebuchadnezzar for his pride and impiety, in order to prove, by the example of that mighty monarch, that ‘the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.’ To make the declaration the more solemn and striking, the terms in which it is conceived distinctly express that consent and concurrence of all the persons in the Trinity, in the design and execution of this judgment, which must be understood indeed in every act of the Godhead.”

2d, The command given by these watchers and holy ones may be considered as addressed to any of those creatures, animate or inanimate, that are to fulfil the Creator’s will; or the expression may be understood as being merely a prediction that the tree should be cut down, and its leaves shaken off, &c: and the hewing down of the tree signified only the removal of it for a time, not its entire destruction, because while the root remained in the ground new shoots might break forth, and so the tree grow up again. When it is added, let the beasts get away from under it, the meaning evidently is, let not his subjects rely upon him for protection, for he shall not be in a condition to afford them any, or to be the author of any good to them. Nevertheless (it is further commanded) leave the stump of his roots in the earth By which is signified, that Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom should be preserved to him, and that no one should seize upon it during his exile, or affliction. The words, with a band of iron and brass, were meant to give still further assurance that his kingdom should remain unshaken and sure to him, like things held firm and immoveable by iron or brass. The next expression, in the tender grass of the field, either alludes to the circumstance of the stump of a tree lying buried and neglected in the field, till it is overgrown with grass and herbs, and so is not noticed; or it is a transition from the sign to the thing signified, from the tree to Nebuchadnezzar, represented by it, the tree with its stump being lost sight of, and a person coming in its stead, to whom only what follows is applicable. Let his heart be changed from man’s “It is hard to say what the real nature of this transformation was. The Syriac seems to incline to a change of the mind, and probably it means no more than that his heart, or the nature of his constitution, was made savage and brutish, either by a real madness, or by such a slovenly neglect of himself, or deprivation of the proper use of his speech and limbs, as might reduce him to a state like the beasts. There is a kind of madness called lycanthropy, wherein men have the fury of wolves.” Wintle. See Univ. Hist., p. 964. Scaliger thinks this madness of Nebuchadnezzar is obscurely hinted at in a document of Abydenus, produced by Eusebius; wherein, having represented the king, from the Chaldean writers, to have fallen into an ecstasy, and to have foretold the destruction of that empire by the Medes and Persians, the author adds, that immediately after uttering this prophecy he disappeared; which Scaliger expounds of the king’s being driven from his kingly state, and the society of men: see Scaliger’s notes upon the Ancient Fragments in the appendix to his work de Emendatione Temporum. See also Houbigant and Calmet on the metamorphosis of Nebuchadnezzar. And let seven times pass over him Literally, Till seven times be changed upon him, that is, seven years, for so the expression evidently signifies in several parts of this book, as we shall see hereafter.

Verses 17-18

Daniel 4:17-18. This matter is by the decree of the watchers, &c., to the intent that the living may know, &c. The intent of the matter was to give mankind a proof, in the fall and restoration of this mighty monarch, that the fortunes of kings and empires are in the hand of God; that his providence perpetually interposes in the affairs of men, and that he distributes crowns and sceptres according to his will, but always for the good of the faithful primarily, and ultimately of his whole creation. And setteth over it the basest of men If this be applied to Nebuchadnezzar, it must be understood, either with respect to his present condition, whose pride and cruelty rendered him as despicable in the sight of God as his high estate made him appear honourable in the eyes of men; and, therefore, was justly doomed to so low a degree of abasement: or else it may be interpreted of his wonderful restoration and advancement after he had been degraded from his dignity.

Verse 19

Daniel 4:19. Then Daniel was astonied for one hour “Stood in silent astonishment for nearly an hour,” both at the surprising circumstances of the judgment denounced against the king, and likewise out of a tender regard and respect for his person, who had bestowed so many favours upon him. The Vulgate renders it, cæpit intra seipsum tacitus cogitare, he began to consider in silence within himself, or silently reflected on the particulars of the dream just related. But the LXX. read απηνεωθη , obstupefactus fuit, he was amazed, or confounded. The king said, Let not the dream trouble thee Whatsoever it be that thou understandest from the dream, tell it freely without fear. Daniel answered, The dream be to them that hate thee May the ill it portends happen to thy enemies. The words are spoken by the figure called euphemismus, according to which any displeasing or ungrateful thing is signified by a more soft and agreeable mode of expression: see a like instance, 1 Samuel 25:22. “Such rhetorical embellishments are pointed at no individuals, have nothing in them of malice or ill-will, and may be presumed to be free from any imputation of a want of charity.” Wintle. Daniel thus expresses his dutiful concern for the safety of the king’s person and government. For though Nebuchadnezzar was an idolater, a persecutor, and oppressor of the people of God, yet he was Daniel’s prince, and therefore, though he foresees, and is now going to foretel, ill concerning him, he dares not wish ill to him. Thus Jeremiah had before exhorted the Jewish captives at Babylon to wish and pray for the prosperity of the government under which they lived.

Verses 20-22

Daniel 4:20-22. The tree that thou sawest is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong Princes and great men are frequently represented in Scripture by fair and flourishing trees. So the king of Assyria is described, Ezekiel 31:3-8: compare Isaiah 10:34; Zechariah 11:2. Thy greatness is grown and reacheth unto heaven As near as human greatness can do. He shows the king his present prosperous state in the glass of his own dream: see Daniel 4:11. And thy dominion to the end of the earth To the Caspian sea, to the Euxine sea, and to the Atlantic ocean. Grotius. See note on chap. Daniel 2:38.

Verses 24-26

Daniel 4:24-26. This is the interpretation, O king, &c. We may observe that Daniel informs the king with the greatest tenderness, and most respectful terms, of the sad reverse of condition that was to happen to him. They shall drive thee from men In the Chaldee and Hebrew the plural active, they shall do, signifies no more than, thus it shall be, be the cause what it may. The meaning seems to be, that Nebuchadnezzar should be punished with insanity, which should so deprave his imagination, while he yet retained his memory, and, perhaps, his reason in some intervals, as that he should fancy himself to be a beast, and should live as such, till his heart, that is, his apprehension, appetite, or likings, should be changed from those of a man to those of a beast. To eat grass as oxen signifies to live upon the herbs of the field; for the original word signifies any kind of field-herb as well as grass. Till thou know that the most high God ruleth, &c. It appears from what is here said, that this judgment was inflicted on Nebuchadnezzar on account of his pride or haughtiness, and his making no acknowledgment of a Divine Providence ordering and governing the affairs of the world; but attributing the acquisition of all his great power and vast dominion to his own prudence and valour, instead of acknowledging it as the gift of the most high God. And whereas they commanded to leave the stump, &c., thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee There shall be no other king chosen during thy affliction, but thou shalt again receive thy kingly power, and reign as before. After that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule The heavens are here put for the God of the heavens.

Verse 27

Daniel 4:27. Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee These words Daniel adds out of love to the king, if perhaps his complying with the advice given might turn away this dreadful stroke from him, or at least might give the king some hopes of a mitigation of the calamity. And break off thy sins by righteousness Cease to do evil, and learn to do well. Change thy principles and practices; do justly and love mercy; and instead of oppressing the poor, have compassion upon them, and be kind and bountiful to them. Give this evidence of thy true repentance and reformation. Though the word פרק , here used, properly signifies to break off, as it is here translated, yet many of the versions render it, to redeem, and read the clause, Redeem thy sins by righteousness, that is, as they explain it, by almsgiving; and thus the passage is alleged as favouring the doctrine of expiatory merit, and purchase of absolutions and pardons; but, it must be observed, sins are not said to be redeemed in Scripture, but persons; and the plain sense of the words is as it is given in our translation. If it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity Daniel was not certain of pardon for him, nor did he altogether despair of it. With what wisdom and tenderness does he speak, and yet with what plainness!

Verses 28-33

Daniel 4:28-33. All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar With what admirable propriety is the person changed here! the six following verses being delivered in the third person. But in the 34th, Nebuchadnezzar, having recovered his reason, speaks in the first person again. At the end of twelve months God deferred the execution of his threats against this impious prince for a whole year, giving him that time wherein to repent and return to him; but seeing that he persevered in his crimes, the measure of his iniquities being full, he put his menaces in execution. Calmet. “Strange as it may seem,” says Bishop Horsley, “notwithstanding Daniel’s weight and credit with the king, notwithstanding the consternation of mind into which the dream had thrown him, the warning had no permanent effect. He was not cured of his overweening pride and vanity till he was overtaken by the threatened judgment. At the end of twelve months, he was walking in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon Probably on the flat roof of the building, or perhaps on one of the highest terraces of the hanging gardens, where the whole city would be in prospect before him; and he said, in the exultation of his heart, Is not this great Babylon, which I have built for the seat of empire, by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? The words had scarcely passed his lips, when the might of his power and the honour of his majesty departed from him. The same voice, which in the dream had predicted the judgment, now denounced the impending execution; and the voice had no sooner ceased to speak than it was done.”

Of the extent, glory, and splendour of Babylon, see note on Isaiah 13:19. Although Babylon was one of the oldest cities in the world, being built by Nimrod a little after the erection of the famous tower of Babel, and considerably augmented by Semiramis, yet Nebuchadnezzar had very much improved it, and made it one of the wonders of the world, on account of the largeness and height of the walls which he built round it, the temple of Belus, his own palace, and the famous hanging gardens belonging to it, all of which were the works of this king. Bochart thinks that Babylon was as much indebted to Nebuchadnezzar as Rome was to Augustus Cesar, who used to boast, that he received the city of brick, and left it of marble. But Herodotus says, it was built gradually by several other Assyrian kings; and he relates, that the wealth of the Babylonian state was so great, that it was equal to one third part of all Asia; and that, besides the tribute, if the other supplies for the great king were divided into twelve parts, according to the twelve months of the year, Babylon would supply four, and all Asia the other eight.

Verses 34-35

Daniel 4:34-35. At the end of the days, I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes, &c. The first indication of his recovery is noted by a reverse of the cause of his fall. At the expiration of the term, or at the end of seven years, he lifted up his eyes unto heaven, and his understanding returned; that is, he recovered the use of his reason, and became sensible of his dependance upon God; he acknowledged against whom he had transgressed by his pride; he humbled himself before him; acknowledged the greatness of his power, and the justice of his wrath; applied to him in prayer, and obtained mercy. And I blessed the Most High, &c. I rendered praise to that supreme, infinite, and eternal God, the Maker of heaven and earth, and the upholder, preserver, and sovereign Lord of the universe, on whom all creatures are dependant, and to whom all intelligent creatures are accountable for their conduct; the highest angels not being above his command, nor the meanest of the children of men beneath his cognizance. And all the inhabitants of the world are reputed as nothing The greatest monarchs, as well as persons of an inferior rank, are as nothing in his sight; and he disposes all things in heaven and earth by an irresistible power and authority. Observe, reader, a due consideration of God’s infinite greatness makes the creature appear as nothing; creatures are nothing to help, nothing to hurt, nothing in duration, nothing solid and substantial, nothing without dependance upon, and influence and support from God. God is I AM, and there is none else; verily, every man in his best estate is altogether vanity, Psalms 39:5; yea, less than vanity, and nothing, Psalms 62:9; Isaiah 40:17. And he doth according to his will Being the Lord of hosts, and the only absolute and universal monarch of the world; none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? He is irresistible and uncontrollable.

Verses 36-37

Daniel 4:36-37. And for the glory Or rather, And the glory of my kingdom, and mine honour and brightness Or countenance, (as the word זיוי , here used, is translated, Daniel 5:6; Daniel 7:28,) returned to me I recovered my former looks, was possessed of the same outward glory and majesty, and was honoured with the same attendance and retinue, as I was before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, and extol, and honour, &c. The number and variety of the words here used are meant to express the vehemence of the king’s zeal and affectionate devotion. All whose works are truth, and his ways judgment Who governs the world with equity and justice. And those who walk in pride he is able to abase Of which Nebuchadnezzar himself was a remarkable instance. This doxology seems evidently to have proceeded from his heart; and it is very probable, from the confession that he makes, and the glory and praise which he gives to God, that his conversion was real, and that he was a true proselyte to the Jewish religion. This great king, it appears, lived only one year after his recovery; and it may be hoped that, during that term, he continued in the faith and worship of the true God. His death happened in the thirty-seventh year of Jehoiachin’s captivity, after he had reigned sole monarch forty-three years.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Daniel 4". Benson's Commentary. 1857.