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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Daniel 4



Verses 1-37

THIS WE FIND as we read on into chapter 4, where a remarkable change in the narration takes place. We are permitted to read what, at a later date, Nebuchadnezzar himself caused to be written and published to all the many nations and languages that were beneath his sway. In it he made known the dealings of God — whom he now called 'the Most High God' (New Trans.) — with himself personally. It was a story of his own complete discomfiture and humiliation at the hands of God; and therefore the very fact, that he should publish the story abroad, indicated a great and fundamental change in his own mind and attitude.

The preface to his story, and especially verse Daniel 4:3, is very striking. He mentions first 'His signs' and 'His wonders.' We live in an age that is characterized by faith. The Apostle Paul could write of a time, 'before faith came,' and again of a time, 'after that faith is come' (Galatians 3:23, Galatians 3:25). Signs that appealed to sight had a special place before the epoch of faith began. But it is also a fact that, when God inaugurated a fresh dispensation, He authenticated what is new by signs of a miraculous nature. It was so when He brought Israel out of Egypt; and the law epoch began at Sinai. It was so in supreme fashion when He manifested Himself in His Son the Lord Jesus Christ; and again when the church age began, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles. So it was, as we see here, when the times of the Gentiles began.

The particular sign and wonder that Nebuchadnezzar is now about to relate is, as we see, very humbling to himself. In one hour his mighty kingdom departed from him, though presently restored. In contrast to this, he confessed God's kingdom to be everlasting. Though he may not have in any full measure realized it, two or three generations would see his dominion, typified by gold, fall before another dominion, typified by silver. God's kingdom, he acknowledged, abides through all generations. This he confessed before he narrated the experience that made him realize it. God had to act toward him in judgment.

Before acting, God issued a warning. This is ever His way. There was warning through Noah before the flood. There was warning for Pharaoh before the judgments on Egypt. There was warning for Jerusalem through Jeremiah before the city fell to the Babylonians. There is warning today as to the judgments that will fall when the church age is closed. So it was here with this powerful individual. God warned him by means of a dream. His first dream might well have lifted him up, for he was the head of gold. His second dream warned him of a complete casting down.

The warning came just when the king seemed to have reached the very climax of his prosperity. His many warlike expeditions were over; his great conquests completed. He was at last at rest and flourishing in the palace of his magnificent city. As we all know, dreams are strange and unaccountable things. As sleep fades, and the mind begins to resume its activities, unusual things may flit across its awakening consciousness. It is not surprising therefore that God has been pleased to make known His thoughts and purposes to men by means of a dream, especially in times of urgency and importance. It is remarkable, for instance, that in the first two chapters of Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 1:1-25; Matthew 2:1-23), we get God speaking in a dream no less than five times.

As the result of his second dream Nebuchadnezzar was again troubled and afraid. He was conscious that it proceeded from the unseen world, and had in it a message for him; yet God's previous dealings with him had left no permanent impression, for in his trouble he again thought first of the magicians of various kinds and the Chaldeans, and when they failed, Daniel was brought in as a last resort.

We notice, however, that though Daniel was consulted, the king addressed him under the heathen name that had been given him. In both verses Daniel 4:8-9 we find, 'Belteshazzar,' which he states was 'according to the name of my god,' for Bel was one of the great gods of Babylon. Moreover, in keeping with the heathen name that he used, he only recognized that in Daniel was, 'the spirit of the holy gods.' The true God — 'the God of Heaven,' — who had given to him his great dominion, was as yet unknown to him.

This we have, be it remembered, by his own confession, before he proceeded to relate the dream, which made him afraid, warning him of the blow that was impending from the hand of God.

In verses Daniel 4:10-17, we have Nebuchadnezzar's own account of the dream that made him afraid. We have only to read these verses to see that there was in it a strongly marked element of the supernatural. Not only was there a visitation from 'a Watcher and an Holy One,' but also a decree, endorsed by 'the Most High,' who 'ruleth in the kingdom of men.' The king could only turn to Daniel, addressing him as Belteshazzar, 'according to the name of my god.' The Babylonian gods are mentioned satirically in Isaiah 46:1, 'Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth.' So, though he hoped for enlightenment from a man, 'in whom is the spirit of the holy gods,' we are not surprised that before the Most High he was afraid.

In verse Daniel 4:19 we see that Daniel himself, to whom the meaning of the dream was at once revealed, was also afraid and troubled, for he realized it warned the king of impending chastisement from the hand of God — a stroke of the severest kind.

Let us briefly review what had preceded this dream. The times of the Gentiles began when Nebuchadnezzar reached the zenith of human splendour, wielding autocratic power in unparalleled fashion. By an earlier dream he had been warned that though he was the head of gold in the great image, deterioration would set in, and at the end the dominion, vested temporarily in him, would be crushed to powder under the judgment of God.

How little this affected him we see in the next chapter. The dearest passion in the heart of fallen man is that of self-exaltation. So the great king has made the gigantic image, which all are to worship, and woe betide him who does not! Again God intervened. He gave courage to three of His servants, who braved the king's wrath and his furnace, though seven-times heated. In result, Nebuchadnezzar was defeated. God simply made a fool of him in the presence of vast crowds of his peoples. Had this any permanent effect upon him for good?

The chapter we are considering shows that it had not. He is still the same self-glorifying man. Consequently God will act in an even more drastic way. The first intervention was addressed to his intelligence — his understanding of the future. The second was a display of the Divine power, which publicly humiliated him. Still no permanent alteration, though for the moment he was deeply impressed. So now the kingdom of 'gold' will be left intact, while he alone is dealt with.

This second dream concerned a great tree. Elsewhere in Scripture great men and nations are likened to imposing trees — Ezekiel 31:1-18, for instance — so the figure was not an unusual one. Daniel at once saw that the king himself was portrayed, and the judgment that was to fall on him. God will not strike him personally until warning has been given. This indeed is ever His kindly way. He did not send the flood on the world of the ungodly until ample warning had been given; nor captivity upon Israel until they had been fully warned by the prophets. Today we live in an age very near to judgment, as to which warning has long been given. Are we sufficiently aware of this? When the Gospel of grace is preached, is the note of warning sounded with sufficient clearness? We sadly fear that it is not, but rather avoided as an unpleasant theme.

The warning given today may be disregarded by most, even as it was by Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel courageously warned him and even counselled him to alter his ways, as we see in verse 27. But the warning given was not heeded, nor the counsel given followed. Even then, God waited twelve months before His judgment fell.

Walking amidst the splendours of Babylon, the king experienced a moment of supreme pride; Everything around him spoke of his 'power,' his 'honour,' his 'majesty.' The ruins of Babylon are remarkable even today, and men of understanding have reconstructed in picture form the marvels they must have contained. As we looked at the picture, we could only say that if it was at all accurate then none of our present cities could rival it. The king filled with pride, felt himself to be exalted above measure. Then the blow fell.

From a pinnacle of glory Nebuchadnezzar was now degraded to the level of a beast, indeed almost beneath that level; and in that miserable, bestial condition 'seven times' passed over him. It was no passing affliction but a protracted one, though it is not indicated here whether 'times' means years. Elsewhere apparently, it does.

An element of prophecy enters, we believe, into this story, for it is a remarkable fact that a 'beast' appears at the end of the record concerning Gentile dominion, when we come to Revelation 13:1-18. The last man who will hold that supreme place, and who will be crushed by the appearing of the Lord Jesus in His glory, is described as a 'beast.' He will not be a demented one, as was Nebuchadnezzar, but he will be worse because dominated by Satan, never lifting up his eyes to heaven but always down to the earth. And further, if we are right in identifying him with 'the prince that shall come' of Daniel 9:26, Daniel 9:27, his career will cover the 'week' of years, mentioned in those verses — the equivalent of 'seven times.'

There is a contrast, however, for the beast of the last days goes to his doom in 'a lake of fire burning with brimstone,' whereas Nebuchadnezzar at the end of his seven times was restored to sanity and to his kingdom. And further, this time something effectual does seem to have been wrought in his soul. Not only did he lift up his eyes to heaven with the understanding of a man but he blessed God, giving Him His title of 'the Most High.' Now the first time that this great name of God occurs is in Genesis 14:1-24, where Melchizedek is called a priest of 'the Most High God' who is therefore, 'Possessor of heaven and earth.'

Some understanding of this fact had now entered the heart of Nebuchadnezzar, as we see in verses Daniel 4:34-35. This opened the king's eyes to the fact of his own nothingness, for he confessed that, 'all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing;' and if all, then himself among them. He recognized also the supreme power of God in enforcing His will in heaven and on earth. In the presence of the greatness and the power of God, he at last recognized his own nothingness and impotence.

At last Nebuchadnezzar had learned his lesson, and made public acknowledgment of the God of heaven, and therefore the discipline of very severe sort, through which he had been passed, was removed and he was restored to his kingdom in a chastened spirit. His public confession and praise of 'the King of heaven.' is recorded in the last verse of our chapter. To Him he ascribed 'honour,' 'truth' and 'judgement,' in all His dealings. Never had a man been more lifted up in pride than this king, and never had a proud man been more signally abased.

Let us not forget the abasing power of God. We often dwell upon the grace of Christ, as mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews, but let us not forget that not only is He able to sympathize, 'able to succour,' and 'able to save,' but also, 'able to abase.' He did it effectually with Nebuchadnezzar, and evidently for his spiritual good. He will presently do it far more drastically with the 'beast' of Revelation 13:1-18, as we see when Revelation 19:1-21 is reached. The pride of man, generated by his scientific advances and consequent wonderful achievements, is increasing. It will reach its climax ere long. Then Nebuchadnezzar's confession will be demonstrated as true in overwhelming fashion — 'those that walk in pride He is able to abase.'


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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Daniel 4:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

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