Downfall and Restoration of a King

The King has another troubling dream that leads to his downfall after a display of imperial hubris - Daniel 4:1-34

Sunrise Photo by Terry Tan De Hao on Unsplash
In chapter 4 of 
Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar had another dream, and as before, one that only Daniel could interpret. Yahweh would remove the king from power until he learned, again, that the “Most-High God” alone is sovereign over the affairs of men. The fourth chapter begins and ends with the Babylonian king acknowledging the sovereignty of Yahweh - [Photo by Terry Tan De Hao on Unsplash].

In the story, the terms “great,” “kingdom,” and “dominion” are repeated from the preceding chapter to prepare the reader for the declaration by the king concerning the sovereignty of God over kingdoms. Regimes rise and fall; only the kingdom of God endures.
  • (Daniel 4:1-3) – “Nebuchadnezzar the king, to all the peoples, races and tongues who are dwelling in all the earth, Let your prosperity abound! The signs and the wonders which the most-high God has wrought with me, it is pleasing before me to declare. His signs, how great! And his wonders, how mighty! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.”
In the chapter, the term “earth” occurs eight times in reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s sovereignty.  In contrast, “heaven” is applied sixteen times to the rulership of Yahweh. The king must learn that “heaven” alone rules over the earth - (Daniel 4:26).

Nebuchadnezzar began his discourse by recounting the dream that gave him great anxiety when he was “luxuriating” in his palace. This translates an Aramaic word used for the “greening” of plants, and it anticipates the representation of the king in the dream by a great tree that nourished all earthly creatures.

In his dream, the tree “grew great and grew strong, and its height reached unto the heavens and its sight to the end of all the earth.” The same description is repeated in verses 20-22 and applied to Nebuchadnezzar - (“You have grown great and grown strong, for your greatness is grown and reaches unto the heavens, and your dominion to the end of the earth”). However, the king attributed his greatness to his own majesty, not to the God of Heaven.

As before, Nebuchadnezzar summoned all the “wise men” of Babylon to interpret his dream, the “scribes, enchanters, astrologers and soothsayers.” And as previously, none could do so except Daniel.

In the dream, the king saw a large tree in the center of the earth that grew until its height reached heaven. It was visible from the extremities of the earth. The animals of the earth were fed by its fruit and lived in its shade, and the birds of the air were sheltered and nourished in its branches - (Daniel 4:4-18).

Nebuchadnezzar then saw a “holy watcher” descend from heaven. The figure commanded the removal of the tree so that nothing would remain visible above the ground.  It was to be “cut down,” its branches “lopped off,” its leaves “stripped,” and its fruit “scattered across the earth.” Only the “tip of its root” would remain in the ground.

The “watcher” declared that the heart of the king would change from that of a man to a “beast” - until “seven seasons passed over him.” The great fruitful tree would become a pitiful, tethered animal dependent on others for nourishment. Through his downfall:
  • All the living would come to know that the Most-High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever he will and sets up over it the lowest of men.”
Once again, “set up” translates the same Aramaic verb used in Daniel 2:21 when the prophet declared that it is God who “removes kings and sets up kings.” Likewise, the same verb for “removed” is used in both passages - (“Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom is removed from you”).

The power of this heavenly decree was demonstrated when the ruler of the World-Power, Nebuchadnezzar, turned to Daniel for understanding.  Through his God-given ability to interpret dreams, the “lowly” prophet exercised dominion over the Babylonian king. Thus, Daniel declared the removal and the restoration of political power to one who presumed to possess it through his own might and majesty, rather than as a gracious gift from the “God of Heaven.”

THE INTERPRETATION. The great tree represented Nebuchadnezzar – He had “become strong, his greatness reaches to the heavens, and his dominion to the ends of the earth.” The command of the “watcher” to cut down the tree was “the decree of the Most-High.” Men would drive him from society to live among wild animals for “seven seasons” - Until he comprehended that “the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever he pleases.” Afterward, his kingdom would be restored.

Linguistically, the term “seven seasons” is ambiguous and does not necessarily mean seven years.  It could just as well refer to seven weeks or seven months. Nebuchadnezzar would be in this state until the divine pronouncement ran its course, however long that would be. The dream was meant to warn Nebuchadnezzar, but all too soon, he forgot it.

A year passed, then “all this came upon Nebuchadnezzar.” At the very height of his power, the king boasted of his majesty and achievements: “Is this not Babylon the Great that I built by the might of my power and for the dignity of my majesty?” A voice from Heaven responded:
  • O Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom is removed from you…until you come to know that the Most High has dominion over the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever he pleases.
His understanding departed and he was driven from society to live like an animal for “seven seasons.” However, after his mind was restored, Nebuchadnezzar looked to heaven and declared:
  • Blessed is the Most-High who lives forever! I praise and honor the One whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. Before Him all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and according to his own pleasure He deals with the Host of Heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is none who can say to him, What have you done.”
History remembers Nebuchadnezzar as a great ruler and builder, as well as the conqueror of vast territories. He established an empire larger and mightier than any that preceded his realm. In Scripture, “Babylon” came to symbolize the World-Power set in opposition to God - Humanity confident in its self-rule and rebellion against the Creator.

Large Tree - Photo by niko photos on Unsplash
Photo by niko photos on Unsplash

The story of Nebuchadnezzar’s downfall and restoration is an object lesson in just how hollow such boasts are, even when made by the mightiest rulers on the earth. His fall demonstrates how decisively and quickly God may remove any ruler or regime to suit His purposes.

PARALLELS TO GENESIS 11:1-9. There are verbal parallels in the story with the incident at the Tower of Babel.

For example, in the Genesis account, “all the earth was of one language” and came to “inhabit the plain of the land of Shinar.” The inhabitants set out to “build for us a city and a tower whose height reaches to the heavens and, thus, let us make for us a name lest we be scattered over the face of all the earth.” Then, Yahweh “came down” from heaven to see the city that men had built. When He pronounced judgment, He mockingly used the first-person plural - “Let us go down and confuse their speech.” Thus, He “scattered them over the face of all the earth, and so they left off building the city.”

Likewise, in Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar addressed a circular letter to “all the peoples, nations, and languages that inhabit all the earth.” In the dream he was represented by a great tree whose “height reached unto the heavens.” He boasted, “Is this not Babylon the great that I built by the might of my power and for the honor of my majesty?” Like the great tree in his dream, his greatness “reached to the heavens and his dominion to the end of the earth.”

The “watcher” pronounced judgment on Nebuchadnezzar using verbs in the first person, plural form, as did God in the Genesis account – “Let us” cut down the tree, destroy it, and leave the stump of its roots. The fruit of the tree would be “scattered” and the king was driven from among men until he understood that the “Most High has dominion over the kingdom of men, and to whomever, he pleases he gives it.”

At the end of the “seven seasons,” Nebuchadnezzar was restored to his right mind and his sovereignty was reconfirmed. He then extolled the “Most-High who does according to his will in the host of the heavens and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand or say to him, What are you doing?”

IN REVELATIONNebuchadnezzar had boasted, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the royal dwelling-place by the strength of my power and for the glory of my majesty?”  Immediately, the “watcher” pronounced - “O king Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom is removed from you.”

In Revelation, the passage is echoed in the judgment pronouncement on end-time “Babylon,” when the “kings of the earth” wailed over her demise:
  • Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city; for in one hour is your judgment come… and a strong angel took a great millstone and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus, with force will Babylon, the great city, be cast down and be found no more at all” – (Revelation 18:10-21).
From start to finish in Revelation, ancient Babylon is used to symbolize the determination of human society to arrogate to itself self-rule in opposition to the sovereignty of the “God of Heaven,” the creator of all things.




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