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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Daniel 4



Verses 1-3



1. The power and efficacy of divine grace. The proclamation of the king an apparent evidence of a change of mind and heart where it might least be expected. Nebuchadnezzar apparently a case of remarkable though imperfect conversion. Among the evidences given of an inward change are—pride in a mighty monarch acknowledged and abandoned; a formerly idolatrous king now a preacher of the true God to his subjects; sin confessed, its chastisement related, and repentance declared. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter the kingdom of God!" Yet here is one who at the time was the richest on the face of the earth, apparently made to enter it as a little child. "The things that are impossible with men are possible with God." "Not many mighty, not many noble are called." Yet, thanks to sovereign and omnipotent grace, some are. Nothing too difficult for the grace that, as we may believe, converted Nebuchadnezzar. No situation too high, as none is too mean, for its operation. "Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shall become a plain."

2. Encouragement to pray and labour for the conversion of others. Many a prayer for the king's conversion doubtless offered by Daniel and his three friends. These at length answered apparently in this edict. The testimony of Daniel's life and lips at length effectual. His faithfulness to the king (Dan ) rewarded by the king's testimony for God. The influence, though insensible, of a spiritual and consistent Christian's life, accompanied by earnest persevering prayer, always powerful, and often efficacious in the most unlikely places and persons. "Ye are my witnesses." Hopeful's conversion mainly due to the spirit exhibited by Christian and Faithful in Vanity Fair. The trial of the three faithful Jews in connection with the fiery furnace now made to bear fruit. "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand." The privilege of believers to be the "salt of the earth," whether in a palace or a prison.

3. Thanks and praise to be rendered to God in every situation. Thanks especially due after mercies received and deliverance experienced. God's gracious dealings with ourselves to be made know to others for His glory and their good. "Come, hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul." "Many shall see it and fear, and put their trust in the Lord." "Go home to thy friends and tell them how great things God hath done for thee." No situation too lofty for making public acknowledgment of God and His mercies. Nebuchadnezzar an example to kings and those in high places. Not ashamed to confess God before his court, his princes, servants, and subjects. A throne a meet place to acknowledge Him by whom "kings reign and princes decree justice." "Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father and the holy angels." Confession of God a natural duty. In Nebuchadnezzar the spontaneous effusion of a grateful and childlike spirit. "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me." May not this heathen king, recovered from his madness, put many a professing Christian to shame?

4. God's works to be viewed with admiration and praise. The king struck with wonder and astonishment at those works. "How great are His signs! and how mighty are His wonders!" God's works, whether in creation or in providence, wonderful both for their goodness and greatness. He is "fearful in praises, doing wonders." The song of the glorified,—"Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty,"—echoed back from earth: "Thou art great, and doest wondrous things; thou art God alone." Man's sin not to regard the operation of his hands. "He hath made His wonderful works to be remembered" (Psa ). These wonders visible in Nature, Providence, and Grace. Discoverable in each individual's case as well as in Nebuchadnezzar's. The greatest wonder of all, the gift, incarnation, and death of the Son of God for man's redemption, and, as the effect of it, the restoration of ruined millions to God's friendship, family, and likeness. Men turned from the madness and the misery of sin to a life of wisdom, holiness, and peace, like Nebuchadnezzar's deliverance, "the doing of the Lord, and marvellous in our eyes."

Verses 4-26



We come to the occasion of the royal proclamation. This was a dream and its remarkable fulfilment, the second prophetic dream vouchsafed to the king. The present one bearing more especially on the king himself. Its results, however, such as to affect his whole empire, but more particularly the Jews that were in it. The dream and its fulfilment an important step towards the release of the Jews, and at the same time towards the spread of the knowledge of the true God, and the preparation for the advent of the promised Messiah. We notice—

I. The dream itself. And here observe—

1. The time and circumstances of it (Dan ). "I was at rest in mine house." "At rest," after his conflicts and conquests. Probably calculating on ending his days in peace and prosperity, and enjoying the fruits of all his toils and hardships. Like the rich fool in the parable, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry" (Luk 12:16-21). A godless rest one soon to be disturbed. A poor rest that which the world can give. Job's experience: "I said, I shall die in my nest." Yet, how soon was that nest to be rifled! "Flourishing in my palace." Nebuchadnezzar now in the heyday of his prosperity, "flourishing like a green bay-tree." Everywhere successful in his campaigns, and now the established head of the first universal empire. In his "palace," not in his tent or on the battlefield. A palace, however, unable to exclude death from our thoughts or disturbing dreams from our slumbers. A prince's palace as liable as a peasant's cottage to the upbraidings of conscience, and to the forebodings of death and a judgment to come.

2. The contents of the dream (Dan ). Here we have

(4.) An intimation, by the same voice, that by the tree and its stump was represented a man.

(5.) The command that a man's heart should be taken from him, and that "a beast's heart be given him instead," indicating the privation of intellect, with the appetites and desires of a beast of the field.

καὶ γὰρ τʼ ὄναρ ἐκ διὸς ἐστίν.—Iliad, A. 63.

"For even a dream too is from Jove."

II. The interpretation. We notice—

2. The king's appeal (Dan ). Desires Daniel to declare the interpretation, whatever evil it may forbode to himself. A good sign and a mark of sincerity when a man desires the truth to be faithfully told, however it may seem to go against him. Ahab an opposite example. "I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil" (1Ki 22:8). Something much more hopeful in Nebuchadnezzar.

3. The interpretation itself (Dan ). Its details:

(1.) The tree is the king himself.

(3.) This condition of things was to continue for a lengthened period, only, however, obscurely and enigmatically intimated as "seven times" that should pass over him; long enough for his entire aspect to become changed, although only until the end designed should be accomplished, and he should learn that not man, but the Most High, "ruleth in the kingdom of men" (Dan ).

(4.) His kingdom however should, in the meantime, be preserved to him, so that on the return of his reason he might again possess it Doleful tidings to the king, yet mixed with mercy. A dark cloud, but with a silver lining to it. So the gospel reveals the wrath of God against sin, but points the sinner to a refuge from that wrath. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him" (Joh ).

4. The exhortation accompanying it (Dan ). Daniel yearns for the king's welfare. Not satisfied with merely declaring the truth, adds faithful counsel and loving exhortation. An example to ministers. Warm and faithful application of a discourse a thing never to be omitted. The nail not merely to be made sharp, but driven in,—"fastened by the Master of assemblies." Daniel's counsel to the king is—

(3.) To show mercy to the poor. Something more than mere justice. Kings as well as their subjects to be not only just, but kind and merciful In relation to men, justice and mercy the two duties which God requires of us. "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" Justice and mercy the reflection of God's own character. Mercy that in which we are especially to resemble him. "Be ye merciful, as your Heavenly Father is merciful." To love and do good to our fellow-men only another form of justice. Love a debt due to each. That debt never fully paid. Every man his neighbour's debtor. That due to every one which we would wish every one to do to us in similar circumstances. Nebuchadnezzar's past life again alluded to. Selfishness rather than regard to the poor the likely character of a despot. The greatest works in Egypt and India accomplished through the forced labours of the poor under the terror of the lash.

Verses 28-37



I. The time and place of the infliction. The time, twelvemonths after the dream—a sufficient period allowed for repentance. The opportunity, however, not improved. Sickbed resolutions often soon forgotten. Mere natural impressions evanescent. The time of the stroke was during the day, that it might be the more conspicuous as from the hand of God. The place was Babylon and the king's own palace (Dan ). A palace, however gorgeous and well defended, not impervious to the stroke of affliction or the shaft of death.

(1.) Sudden. The words of vainglory were still in his mouth when there fell a voice from heaven, heard by Nebuchadnezzar if by no other, "O king Nebuchadnezzar! to thee it is spoken, The kingdom is departed from thee, &c. The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar" (Dan ). God's strokes often slow, but sudden when they come "While they say, Peace and safety! then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape" (1Th 5:3).

(2.) Terrible. Reason was dethroned. The king suddenly imagines himself a beast, and begins to exhibit the instincts, cravings, and actions of such. As a madman, he is obliged to be removed from human society. "He was driven from men and did eat grass as oxen." He was probably confined in a field, whither perhaps his changed instinct now led him, and where, as if bound with iron fetters, he indulges a bovine appetite with the beasts among which he herds. "Nebuchadnezzar," says Matthew Henry, "would be more than a man, and God justly makes him less. God puts on a level with the beasts the man that sets up for a rival with his Maker." The kingdom, as a matter of course, is for the time taken from him and administered by his nobles. His nails and the hair of his head and beard are allowed to grow, until the one looks like birds claws, and the other like eagles' feathers. Alas, poor king! how changed from the glorious monarch surveying his city from the luxurious hanging gardens! And yet only a picture of the much sadder change that takes place with the sinner that is "driven away in his wickedness" by death. "The rich man died and was buried, and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment."

(3.) Irremediable. Physicians might not be wanting, but physicians were in vain. Means might be employed to remove the madness, but means were utterly powerless. The science and skill of the wise men could effect nothing. The magicians, sorcerers, and Chaldeans tried their arts to no purpose. The case was hopeless in respect to any aid from man. It was not hopeless, indeed, in regard to God; but till the "seven times "were fulfilled, and it pleased God to remove the affliction, all the powers of earth and hell would be ineffectual. That time would mercifully come; but till then, no created might could break those "bands of iron and brass." Resemblance and contrast to the case of the finally impenitent. No remedy to the burning tongue and still more burning conscience. Whoever enters the doleful regions of the lost leaves hope behind. As in Nebuchadnezzar's case, there is hope from God for the sinner while on earth; but, at the bourne that separates the visible from the invisible world, the law is, "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still" (Rev ; Heb 9:27).

V. The result (Dan ). The result an obvious change for the better in Nebuchadnezzar's spiritual condition. Probably his real conversion to God. The last thing related of him by the Spirit of God is the humble public confession which he made, and the noble testimony to the true God which, for the benefit of all men, he delivered in the edict contained in this chapter. With this mental deliverance and spiritual change came also restoration to his royal rank, and to more than his former prosperity. His case strikingly similar to that of Job, whose captivity the Lord turned after his penitent humiliation and confession (Job 42:1-10). Calvin observes that Nebuchadnezzar did not raise his eyes to heaven till God drew him to Himself, and that the dream was a kind of entrance and preparation for repentance. "As seed seems to lie putrid in the earth before it brings forth its fruit, God sometimes works by gentle processes, and provides for the teaching, which seemed a long time useless, becoming both efficacious and fruitful." From Nebuchadnezzar's madness we may notice—

1. The danger and intoxicating effect of long-continued prosperity. Israel was guarded against the sin into which Nebuchadnezzar fell, and which entailed on him his heavy affliction. "Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, &c. Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, &c. And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God; for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth" (Deu ).

2. The abominable nature of pride in the sight of God. This especially the sin into which Nebuchadnezzar's prosperity led him, and of which he makes special confession. Pride both a rivalry and a robbery of God, a deifying of the creature and an ignoring and despising of the Creator. The sin of Satan and of unregenerate men in general. "The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God. God is not in all his thoughts" (Psa ).

3. The ability of God to abase and punish the proud. The lesson especially learned by Nebuchadnezzar from his affliction. Mind and body both under God's control, and dependent on Him for their healthful preservation. His sustaining hand withdrawn, reason is dethroned, and the man of genius and intellect becomes a drivelling idiot. Diseases of every kind are but His servants and do His bidding. To madness, paralysis, and pain He has but to say "Come, and it cometh" (Mat ).

4. The certainty of divine threatenings unless averted by repentance. Months had passed away since the dream that so much disturbed the king's peace. The dream and its interpretation, with the solemn exhortation of the prophet, had in the midst of his prosperity been forgotten. But God forgets not His threatenings. Judgment, though delayed, yet slumbers not. The warning unheeded, the hour of its fulfilment comes.

5. Mercy mingled with judgment in the present world. Gracious hopes held out to the penitent. The door of repentance kept open. Hope held out even to Nebuchadnezzar that the threatened punishment might be delayed, and would not be perpetual. What was faintly held out to him is made bright and clear to us in the Gospel. The bow in the cloud. In wrath God remembers mercy. The blood of the Surety shed, Justice can sheath her sword. This gracious state of things, however, confined to the present life. "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after death the judgment."

6. The benefit of sanctified affliction. Nebuchadnezzar's madness his greatest mercy. His loss of reason, and with that of everything but life, a greater gain to him than all his conquests. "Children," said Themistocles, "we should have been undone, had we not been undone." The best medicines often bitter and bad to take. "If our charity reach so far as to hope that Nebuchadnezzar did find mercy, we must admire free grace, by which he lost his wits for a while that he might save his soul for ever."—M. Henry. It would be correct, though a paradox, to say he never truly had his senses till he lost them. So with multitudes; it was never well with them till it was ill.

7. The following are other useful reflections from the passage:—

(1.) Sin is of a hardening nature, retaining its hold in defiance of warnings and even of repeated punishments.

(2.) The most exalted of human beings is but an insignificant atom in the hand of Infinite Power.

(3.) God is never unmindful either of His threatenings or of His promises, which leave the impenitent nothing to hope, and the believing nothing to fear.

(4.) The punishments which God inflicts upon the wicked here or hereafter have relation to their character and demerits.

(5.) As the possession of reason is the highest distinction of man, so the continuance of our mental sanity, which might in one moment be deranged, either in sovereignty or in judgment, ought to inspire our most devout and daily gratitude to Him who is the author of it.—Cox.

8. The great lesson that Nebuchadnezzar was to learn from his affliction was GOD'S SUPREMACY AND GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD, or that "the heavens do rule" (Dan ). Two great disputes in the world, the one moral and the other intellectual. The first, whether God or man shall rule,—whether His will or mine shall be done. The second, whether an intelligent Supreme Being exercises a continual rule and providence in the world, or whether all happens according to blind fate or fixed natural laws; in other words, whether or not "the heavens do rule." Objections against this:—

(1.) All things appear to happen according to fixed law, and to follow in a natural sequence of cause and effect.

(2.) The good suffer as well as the bad.

(3.) The innocent often suffer with and through the guilty.

(4.) The existence of sin and suffering at all in the world.

(5.) Men of the worst character often the highest and most prosperous.

(6.) Infants suffer and die.

(7.) The best and most useful often cut off prematurely in the midst, or even at the very beginning, of their usefulness. General answer to these objections:—We only know and see a part of God's dealing. The web of Providence unfinished. Divine plans require time for their development. Eternity will solve all mysteries. What we know not now we shall know hereafter. Here we know only in part or in a fragmentary manner. Things will probably appear hereafter in a different light from what they do here. God alone sees the end from the beginning. Apparent evil often real good. Finite minds unable to judge the divine procedure. The present state subservient and preparatory to another. Special arguments that "the heavens do rule:"—

(1.) Right conduct, as a rule, brings peace and happiness.

(2.) Evil often overruled for good.

(3.) The wicked often signally and unexpectedly punished.

(4.) Sin and wrong-doing, as a rule, followed by suffering.

(5.) A sudden arrest often laid on high-handed wickedness.

(6.) Great events often made to turn upon and spring out of insignificant incidents.

(7.) Human life, on the whole, a state of comparative comfort, and the course of the world one of comparative regularity.

(8.) The laws of Nature beneficent, and such as to make suffering a consequence of sinning.

(9.) The history of nations, but more especially that of the Jewish people.

(10.) The facts of Christianity, with its origin, extension, and results even at the present day.


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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Daniel 4:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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