Daniel 4


“A complacent King Nebuchadnezzar finds himself disturbed by a nocturnal vision about a cosmic tree of enormous stature, which provides shelter and food for many.  By divined decree the tree is cut down with only its stump left in the ground.  Summoned to interpret the dream, Daniel is greatly distressed to find that the oracle of doom applies to none other than Nebuchadnezzar.  Reluctantly Daniel interprets the dream in some detail and pleas the king to atone for his sins in an effort to avert punishment.  Twelve months later, Nebuchadnezzar turns arrogant and subsequently is banished into exile for seven periods of time.  Upon his conversion to the God of Israel, Nebuchadnezzar is fully rehabilitated and returns to power as a worthy worshipper of the King of Heavens.” (Matthias Henze, The Madness of King Nebuchadnezzar[Boston: Brill, 1999] 24)

Daniel 4:1  Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages

We are familiar with the epistles of Paul and Peter.  Here, we read the epistle of Nebuchadnezzar to his entire kingdom.  The letter extols the divining capability of our hero Daniel, a Hebrew upon whom the Spirit of God rested, one who could interpret dreams that the wisest men, the magicians, and the sages of Chaldea could not interpret.  The letter is Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion story.  Like Constantine the Great, Emperor of Rome, who converted to Christianity,  Nebuchadnezzar finally came to believe in the power of the Hebrew God.  It didn’t come easy for him.  In fact, God had to practically hit him over the head with a sledge hammer to get him to listen.

King Nebuchadnezzar

Daniel 4:2-3 I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me

This letter is a memoir not a diary entry; clearly, it was written after his trial by fire, after he has been punished by God for his pride.  From the standpoint of our personal histories, diaries, and journals, we should be like the king, carefully recording the “signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward” us.  Verse three praises the Lord like a psalm, “how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.”

Daniel 4:5-6 I saw a dream… Therefore made I a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon

Apparently, it had been a while since Daniel had interpreted his previous dream.  Nebuchadnezzar reigned for 43 years, 17 with his father before the destruction of Jerusalem, and 26 after, so there was plenty of time for him to forget the dream of Daniel 2.  For us it was just two chapters ago when Daniel interpreted the figure of gold, silver, brass, iron and clay.  Many years must have transpired between the two dreams.  Nebuchadnezzar must have forgotten who interpreted the first one!  Why else would he call again for the wise men of Babylon?  He should have just called for Daniel.  Yet, Nebuchadnezzar required another witness of the power of Daniel’s God.

Daniel 4:10-12 I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth

Tree of Nebuchadnezzar's dream

The tree is a frequently used spiritual symbol.  We have the tree of life, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of Lehi’s dream, the olive tree of the house of Israel, etc.  Trees give life; they make oxygen; they provide shade; they feed the animals; they provide an ecosystem for the insects; they reflect the light of the sun in beauty and majesty.  In this case, the tree is a fitting symbol of a king or emperor.  Standing in glory and power, with branches that reach far from the capital, the tree can influence everything in the vicinity.  What Nebuchadnezzar didn’t understand, is that a tree can only grow from seed to seedling, sapling to tree, with the constant nourishment of God-given light, water, and nutrients.  Nebuchadnezzar could rule in Babylon the same way, only with the constant approval and help of God to maintain dominion, power, and authority.

So if God wants to send a reaper down from heaven to hack down the tree, He has every right to do so.  Nebuchadnezzar had given himself all the credit.  As a result, he would be reduced from glorious tree to groveling stump.  He needed to learn his lesson the hard way.

Daniel 4:13 an holy one came down from heaven

Whomever the angel was sent down to cut down the tree, the reaper represents the power of Christ to serve humble pie to the great ones of the earth.  The dream can be considered a type for the events of the Second Coming of Christ.  We will turn to the words of other Isaiah for more examples: 

   The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. 

  For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low; (Isa. 2:11-12)

   Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance… All nations before him are as nothing: they are counted to him as less than nothing, and vanity. (Isa. 40:15)

   And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and he kings of the earth upon the earth. 

   And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited. (Isa. 24:21-22)

   The Lord hath broken the staff of the wicked, and the scepter of the rulers. (Isa. 14:5)

   I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. 

For he saith, by the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom… Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? (Isa 10:12-15)

   Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God

               That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men… and all the fowls were filled with their flesh. (Rev. 19:17-21)

Daniel 4:15 leave the stump… with a band of iron and brass

You don’t need iron and brass to hold down a stump but the metals are symbolic of the chains with which Nebuchadnezzar would be bound, presumably in exile.

Daniel 4:16  Let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him

Most scholars interpret the seven times as meaning seven years.  However, searching the external histories, we do not have much of a record of what happened to Nebuchadnezzar.  Did he go crazy?  Was he ousted and exiled?  Was he physically ill and incapacitated?  Was he on an existential quest to commune with Nature? What information we have is very limited, but the duration of his punishment was more likely seven years than seven months.

Daniel 4:17 the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will

Long before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and sacked the Temple, he was called the servant of God by Jeremiah, “I will send and take Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant and will set his throne upon these stones” (Jer. 43:10). It was the Lord who placed Nebuchadnezzar in the position he was in.  It was the Lord who used Nebuchadnezzar as a club to beat upon the wicked nation of Judah.  The Lord didn’t select Nebuchadnezzar for his righteousness for it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished.  Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten that; the Lord had to remind him, “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith?” (Isa. 10:15)

We remember the painful interaction between Pilate and Jesus.  Accused of seeking power to usurp Roman authority, Pilate asked, “knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?  Jesus answered. Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.”  (John 19:10-11) Jesus clearly knew the organizational chart of the universe.

John Taylor

Although he is not delegated to establish the kingdom of God, he may nevertheless be appointed as Caesar, Nebuchadnezzar, and others, as a scourge to the nations, and so fulfil his destiny, for as we are on the eve of great events, and a fearful doom awaits the nations, some powerful means must be made use of, in this as well as in other ages, to bring these things about.

Some may remark on the foregoing, Does not Paul say, that "the powers that be, are ordained of God?" Yes, and so say I; but all powers that are ordained of God, do not rule for his glory, nor are they all associated with his government and kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar were ordained of God, but they were both idolaters. Cyrus was ordained of God; but he was an heathen. God regulates his own affairs; and while the world is in a state of idolatry, apostacy, and rebellion, he, by his providence, overrules the affairs of the nation, as Daniel says, "to the intent that the living may know 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." Daniel 4:17. But others will say that Paul tells us "to be subject to the powers that be." So say I. God will establish his own government: the cavillings, rebellions, and contentions of men will not do it; and it is proper for well disposed persons to wait the Lord's time, to be peaceable and quiet, and to pray for kings, governors, and authorities. This was what Jeremiah taught the children of Israel to do, "And seek the peace of the city wherein I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it, for in the peace thereof shall you have peace." (Jer. 29:7). It is very evident, from what has been shown, that there is no proper government nor rule upon the face of the earth; that there are no kings who are anointed, or legally appointed of God; and that, however much disposed any of them may feel to benefit the world, it is out of their power, it exceeds the limits of their jurisdiction, it requires a power, spirit, and intelligence, which they do not possess. We see, moreover, that tumults, commotions, rebellions, and resistance are not the way to do it. It requires more wisdom than that which emperors, kings, princes, or the wisest of men possess, to bring out of the wild chaos, the misery, and desolation that have overspread the world, that beautiful order, peace, and happiness portrayed by the prophets as the reign of the kingdom of God. (The Government of God [Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1852], 67 - 68)

Daniel 4:19 the king spake and said

There is a switch from first person to third person in the text.  Verses 19-33 have been modified by a subsequent scribe.  We don’t know why, except that they wanted to preserve the story of Daniel’s response from their perspective and not from Nebuchadnezzar’s. The rest of the chapter (1-18, 34-37) was written firsthand by the king.

Daniel 4:19-25 Daniel was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him

Daniel’s hour delay wasn’t because he needed more time to divine the meaning of the dream.  His astonishment was born of a genuine concern for the king.  The dream was an omen of doom, and Daniel knew it.


Marion G. Romney

Daniel evidenced outstanding courage when, in interpreting the king's dream, he told the old king that it was "the decree of the most High" (Daniel 4:24), and that he, Nebuchadnezzar, would be driven from men and live with the beasts of the field, eating "grass as oxen" for seven years "till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will." (Daniel 4:25) Then he counseled the king to "break off thy sin . . . and . . . iniquities." (Daniel 4:27.) Can you imagine the courage it took for a captive slave to talk like that to the king, whose dominion the record said reached to "the end of the earth"? Well, that is what he did. And strange as it may seem, he outlived the old king. (Learning for the Eternities [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], 188)

Daniel 4:29-30 At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom

One of the seven wonders of the ancient world is the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon.”  They must have been quite a site.  A year from the dream and Daniel’s ominous warning, the king, walking amidst the beauty of his great building projects, forgot who was responsible for all the glory of Babylon.

“Babylon’s imposing city features were impressive by any standard.  The historian Herodotus and archeological studies reveal that the circumference of the city extended about 56 miles.  Nebuchadnezzar augmented the walls and ramparts surrounding the city to a reported height of 335 feet and 87 feet in width.  Herodotus also reports that chariots could race side by side along the top of the walls.  One hundred bronze gates 87 feet high provided access to the inner city, while protecting its citizens from their enemies. Some of these historical descriptions are thought to be hyperbole, but the overall impression of the city’s grandeur is accurate.” (G. Erik Brandt, The Book of Daniel:  Writings and Prophecies, 104-105)

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Daniel 4:30 Is not this great Babylon, that I have built… by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?

What did Solomon think about his glory?  What did Caesar think about his?  With the entire world telling you how wonderful and powerful you are, the tendency is to believe it.  Nebuchadnezzar fell into this same trap—the trap of pride.  It’s a trap you don’t have to be a king or emperor to fall into.

Elder Andrew Jenson

The Lord became very angry with Nebuchadnezzar because of his pride and arrogance, and because he would not acknowledge the God of heaven and earth, and as a punishment God took away the king's reason, after which that once mighty man spent seven years among the animals of the fields, eating herbs and grass like some of the beasts. His grandson Belshazzar attempted to mock the God of Israel by using the holy vessels (that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem), in a drunken feast with his nobles and harlots. The Lord was so angry with him because of his wickedness that he allowed the Medes and Persians to break into his capital city that very night and kill him, thus destroying the great kingdom of Babylon, and verifying the interpretation given by Daniel to the inscription on the wall: "God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it; thou art weighed in the balance and art found wanting; thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians" ("Dan. 5:1Daniel 5 26-28). (Conference Report, April 1918, Second Overflow Meeting. 128 - 129)

Ezra Taft Benson

Many of us have a tendency to forget the Gracious Hand which has preserved our nation, enriched it, strengthened it. Many of us imagine in the foolishness of pride, that our manifold blessings are due not to God's goodness, but to our own wisdom and virtue.  Too many of us have been so drunk with self-sufficiency as no longer to feel the need of prayer. (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 436)

Daniel 4:31  there fell a voice from heaven saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar… The kingdom is departed from thee

Rarely, does the Lord utter his voice from heaven—especially to one man, one king—as in this occurrence.  Can you imagine how frightening that message must have been for Nebuchadnezzar?  He had already heard from a prophet.  It was his own personal judgment day, and so he would hear directly from the Lord Himself.

Daniel 4:33 The same hour… Nebuchadnezzar… was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen

In ancient Egypt, when a new pharoah came to power, history was rewritten.  Old enemies’ effigies were defaced and all glory was attributed to the new pharaoh. Similarly, we should not be surprised if the chronicles of Babylonia don’t go into much detail about the darkest period of Nebuchadnezzar’s glorious life.  We have only fragments of what occurred from external histories.  Some say he went mad, others paranoid.  The prophecy hints that he was in chains in political exile. One of the most famous comes from the Dead Sea scrolls, the prayer of Nabonidus, which says the king “was afflicted with a disease for seven years while in Teima, Arabia, and prayed to God for salvation. He was then told by a ‘diviner’ that he must proclaim and give honor to God—‘I was afflicted [with an evil ulcer] for seven years…and an exorcist pardoned my sins. He was a Jew from among the [children of the exile of Judah, and said,] ‘Recount this in writing to [glorify and exalt] the Name of the [Most High God]’.” (http://cojs.org/prayer_of_nabonidus/)

Daniel 4:36 at the same time my reason returned unto me

This statement is at once an admission that Nebuchadnezzar had lost his powers of reasoning and a realization that the correct perspective is one that gives credit to God for everything. It is reminiscent of the key moment in the miseries of the prodigal son, who finally “came to himself” (Luke 15:17).  This was Nebuchadnezzar finally “coming to” as if awakening from a comatose state.  His reason returned, his judgment became clear, and he knew who ruled in the heavens above. 

Vaughn J. Featherstone

There is a great purging and humbling that comes from the wells of despair. False pride is stripped away. The light of home flickers dimly through the dark miles of distance. In the despair of this great, humbling experience, the [mad king] 'came to himself.'" ("However Faint the Light May Glow," Ensign, Nov. 1982, 71)