Chapter four contains a second dream that Daniel interpreted for Nebuchadnezzar. This chapter stands unique in the Scriptures as the only one “written” by a pagan king. Although Daniel recorded it, so he was still the biblical writer, Daniel 4:1-3 and the personal references throughout prove that this was Nebuchadnezzar’s own memory of the events and his response to them. As in chapter two, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that his magi could not interpret for him; also as in chapter two, Daniel, who was the “chief of the magicians” by now, did (Daniel 4:4-10).
In his dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw an enormous tree that reached far into the sky, was beautiful to look at, and provided plenty of food and shelter for countless birds and wild animals. In a statement reminiscent of, “You are the head of gold” (Daniel 2:38), Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, “The tree that you saw…it is you, O king!” (Daniel 4:20, 22). Normally, this would have been cause for celebration; instead, it brought great fear to Daniel because of the rest of the dream.
Nebuchadnezzar saw a divine messenger come out of heaven and command that the tree be cut down, chopped up, and stripped of its foliage. However, it was not to be completely destroyed. The taproot was to be bound with metal bands to keep it until it was allowed to grow again (Daniel 4:13-16). In case the meaning was unclear, Daniel 4:16 contains a major clue by transitioning from “it” to “him” and from “branches” to “mind”; this was a man. The meaning of “periods of time” is generic and unclear; however, since it specifically means “years” in Daniel 7:25, that may be the meaning here as well. In this case, Nebuchadnezzar would be out of his mind for seven years. During this time he would “live with the animals in the grass of the land” and have “an animal’s mind” (Daniel 4:15-16). The purpose of this dream, this judgment, and the entire book of Daniel was “so that those who are alive may understand that the Most High has authority over human kingdoms, and he bestows them on whomever he wishes” (Daniel 4:17). This important truth is always appropriate for us to remember.
Although Daniel begged Nebuchadnezzar to change his ways to gain God’s mercy, he was not about to change his proud heart or tyrannical actions. Daniel’s statement in Daniel 4:24 is significant. He did not say that it was God’s decision “that this will happen” but “that this has happened.” The perfect tense of the verb shows completed action. In God’s decree, this was already done; Nebuchadnezzar would not repent.
Nebuchadnezzar said that it was twelve months after his dream that the prophecy came true (Daniel 4:28-33). The time of this is difficult to place. Babylonian records certainly do not contain the humiliation of one of their great kings, but historians have noted that there is a period of seven years during which Nebuchadnezzar did not engage in any military activity (582-575 B.C.), placing his dream about 22 years after chapter one. 1 If this is the period mentioned in Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar had already conquered all of his major world rivals (including the third captivity of Jerusalem) and would have considered himself nearly invincible. God’s judgment showed that was not true. However, the fact that his dynasty was not overthrown in his absence points to extraordinary grace from God and further proof that God controls human governments.
At the end of these seven years, Nebuchadnezzar finally acknowledged the one true God (Daniel 4:34-37). For this, God kept his promise, restoring both his mind and his kingdom even greater than before his fall, allowing Nebuchadnezzar to rule for another thirteen years (until 562 B.C.).
- Thomas Constable, Notes on Daniel, 2015 edition, page 56. ↩