Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you.IV.
(1) Peace . . .—For this mode of address comp. Ezra 4:17; Ezra 7:12. The date of the matter recorded in this chapter cannot be ascertained, as a blank falls upon the last eighteen years of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. The only facts that occurred during this period, so far as is known, are the terrible form of mania from which the king suffered, by reason of which he was kept under restraint for some time, and the further extension of his dominions after his recovery (Daniel 4:34).
All the earth—By this time the king has become so powerful that he regards himself as universal monarch, so that some time must have elapsed since the events mentioned in the last chapter.
I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me.(2) Signs and wonders.—Comp. Isaiah 8:18. The appearance of various scriptural phrases in this letter leads us to believe that Daniel must have written it at the king’s request.
The high God.—Referring to his language (Daniel 3:26).
I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace:(4) Flourishing.—A word generally employed to signify the growth of trees. Here, no doubt, it is suggested by the dream which follows, and is for that reason selected by Daniel. It may be observed that the LXX. version here, as in Daniel 3:1, gives the eighteenth year as the date.
My palace.—See Layard’s Nineveh and Babylon, p. 506.
But at the last Daniel came in before me, whose name was Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods: and before him I told the dream, saying,(8) At the last.—On account of his position as the chief of the governors of the wise men, Daniel would not “come in” till last.
Belteshazzar.—See Note on Daniel 1:7; Introduction, § 6.
The spirit . . .—He means his own gods, for though he recognised Jehovah to be a “high God,” yet he acknowledged Him only as one out of many.
O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof.(9) Troubleth thee.—Literally, goadeth thee, or, causeth thee this difficulty.
Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed; I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great.(10) A tree.—For this symbol of majesty, comp. Ezekiel 31:3, &c. The dream of Cambyses (Herod. i. 108) was of a similar nature.
The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth:(11) The tree grew.—It appeared in the vision to grow gradually larger and larger. According to the LXX., “The sun and moon dwelled in it and gave light to the whole earth.”
The sight thereof—i.e., the tree could be seen from the most distant parts of the known world.
The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it.(12) The fruit thereof much.—By this is implied the great quantity of fruit as well as the largeness of it.
I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven;(13) A watcher and a holy one—i.e., a holy one who is watchful; translated “angel” by the LXX., but simply transliterated into “Eir” by Theodotion. The word is used twice by the king, and once by Daniel (Daniel 4:23), but it is to be noticed that the prophet substitutes “the Most High” for the words of the king in Daniel 4:17). We must suppose that Nebuchadnezzar dreamed in a language familiar to himself, and that the objects of his dream were things with which his Babylonian education had made him acquainted. According to his mythology, the god of Nergal was regarded as “manifesting himself in watching,” so that he may have dreamed that he witnessed a descent of one of his deities. In this he is corrected by Daniel, being assured that the whole is sent from heaven, that the decree is ordered by the one true God, and that the holy watcher is an angel of God.
He cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches:(14) Aloud—i.e., like a king’s herald. (Comp. Daniel 3:4.)
Hew down.—The plural is here used, implying that several persons are employed in carrying out the order.
Nevertheless leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth:(15) The stump.—The whole tree was not to be destroyed, but just so much was to remain as could produce a new sapling. (Comp. Isaiah 11:1.) As long as the stump remained, it might be hoped that the green branches might shoot forth again. (Comp. Daniel 4:36.)
A band.—As the vision continues, the typical language is gradually laid aside, and it begins to appear that by the tree a man is intended. We must not understand by “the band” the chains by which the unfortunate king would be confined, but metaphorically trouble and affliction, as Psalm 107:10; Psalm 149:8. It has been assumed that during his malady the king wandered about at large. This is highly improbable. That his courtiers did not avail themselves of his sickness to substitute some other king in his place is sufficient proof of their regard for him. It is natural to suppose that he was confined in some court of his palace. The inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar, and accounts of his reign written by historians, being all composed with the view of glorifying the monarch, naturally suppress all mention of his madness.
Let his heart be changed from man's, and let a beast's heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him.(16) Here the metaphor of Daniel 4:15 is entirely discontinued, and a man is mentioned.
Seven times.—On the use of the number “seven” see Note on Daniel 3:19. The period intended by “time” is very uncertain: from the use of the word in Judges 17:10 it has been inferred that “years” are intended. This is purely conjectural. It is more probable that the word is used to signify some definite period of time, which, as appears from the words “over him,” was in some way marked out by the heavenly bodies. The word “time” is used by Daniel in the same sense (Daniel 7:25). (Comp. Daniel 12:7, where, however, a different word is employed.)
This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: 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.(17) By the decree—i.e., the message to the king rests on this decree or sentence, and it is ascribed to the “watcher,” because to him pertained the execution of the decree.
The demand.—Comp. Isaiah 44:26. According to the use of the word in Chaldee elsewhere, this can be the only true meaning. The “holy one” makes this request of God, and the carrying out of His decree pertains to the “watcher.” “This,” says Dr. Pusey, “gives another glimpse into the interest of the holy angels in ourselves. They, too, longed that oppression should cease, and joining in the cry which for ever is going up from the oppressed to the throne of mercy and judgment, prayed for that chastisement which was to relieve the oppressed and convert the oppressor” (Lectures on Daniel, p. 525).
Ruleth . . .—i.e., Almighty God disposes of human empires as He pleases. (Comp. Daniel 5:21.)
This dream I king Nebuchadnezzar have seen. Now thou, O Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation thereof, forasmuch as all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known unto me the interpretation: but thou art able; for the spirit of the holy gods is in thee.(18) This dream.—More correctly translated, This in a dream I saw—i.e., it was communicated to me in a vision.
Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him. The king spake, and said, Belteshazzar, let not the dream, or the interpretation thereof, trouble thee. Belteshazzar answered and said, My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies.(19) Hour.—Literally, moment. (Comp. Daniel 3:6.)
To them that hate thee.—A delicate way of expressing his hopes for the best. “May that which is implied in the interpretation overtake thine enemies.”
The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth;(20) It should be noticed that both in this and in the following verse the description of the tree given in Daniel 4:11-12 is curtailed. It was observed that, on the contrary, there was an expansion of details in the interpretation of the former dream. (See Note on Daniel 4:23.)
It is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong: for thy greatness is grown, and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth.(22) This gives us to understand that Nebuchadnezzar had arrived at the zenith of his power. The extent of his dominions may be estimated with tolerable accuracy as follows:—Northwards he possessed Armenia, and a considerable portion of Asia Minor; in the west, Syria, and at one time Egypt; southwards, his power reached the Persian Gulf; while in the east, the Medes and Elamites were subject to him. Possessing, as he did, the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, all the treasures of the known world were at his command. In his first vision he was represented as the golden head of the image. In his pride he desired the whole image to be of gold, and himself to be the image—but this was the sin for which he was to suffer.
And whereas the king saw a watcher and an holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, Hew the tree down, and destroy it; yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him;(23) Destroy it.—Observe how, in this verse, these words stand for the whole of the latter part of Daniel 4:14.
This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king:(24) Which is come upon.—See Note on Daniel 4:13.
That they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.(25) They shall drive thee.—The third person plural verb in the active with an impersonal subject frequently stands for the second person singular passive. Thus these words mean “thou shalt be driven.” (Comp. Luke 16:9.)
And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule.(26) They commanded—i.e., the watchers. We observe, however, in Daniel 4:13 that the command is only ascribed to one of the watchers. This makes it appear that they form a council in which one acts in behalf of all.
Thy kingdom.—To make the sense plain we must supply before this word, “The interpretation of it is,” or some sentence to that effect.
Shall be sure.—Literally, shall arise. No successor shall be appointed during his life.
Do rule—i.e., the heavens, or One in heaven ruleth the kingdoms of men.
Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.(27) Break off.—The metaphor is taken from a refractory beast casting off the yoke. (Comp. Genesis 27:40, where it is foretold that Esau’s posterity shall “break off” the yoke of Jacob.) In Chaldee the word is used for the most part in the sense of putting on one side. Daniel therefore counsels the king to rebel against his sins, such as pride, harshness, and cruelty towards his captives, and to put all these sins aside. And how can he do this in a better manner than by practising the contrary virtues?
Righteousness.—In all wars of conquest many acts of injustice are perpetrated. The king is warned here to show justice or to act justly for the future. Similar counsel is given, though in different language (Micah 6:8). The idea of “alms” and “redeeming” is not conveyed by the Chaldee words, so that the translation “redeem thy sins by alms” is incorrect and unwarrantable.
If it may be—i.e., if Nebuchadnezzar will repent, his prosperity and peace will be prolonged.
At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon.(29) Twelve months—i.e., counting from the time of the vision. Sufficient time for repentance was mercifully granted to the king.
Palace of the kingdom of Babylon.—He had palaces in other towns. Daniel lays a stress upon the fact that this occurred in the town of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar, the golden head of the image, was in the very centre of his dominions, in his own proud capital, when this occurred. It is needless, therefore, to assume that this was written by a person who lived a long way off from Babylon.
The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?(30) Great Babylon.—The area of Babylon is said to have been 200 square miles. It was surrounded by walls 85 feet in width, 335 feet high. In these were brazen gates leading to various terraces which faced the river Euphrates. Within the walls the city was laid out in smaller towns, separated from each other by parks and plantations and gardens; in fact, it is stated that corn sufficient for the whole population could be grown within the walls. There were also magnificent public buildings. Nebuchadnezzar (Records of the Past, vol. v., pp. 113-135) mentions no less than eight temples which he completed, besides the huge temple of Merodach immediately across the Euphrates facing the royal palace. Walking on the flat roof of this palace, and with this grand spectacle before him, the king uttered these words. True, indeed, they were, but they show that during the twelve months which had been allotted to the king for repentance his pride remained unabated; he had not repented as Daniel had counselled him.
While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee.(31) A voice.—By this he would be reminded of his dream (Daniel 4:14), when he heard the watcher “cry aloud.”
And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.(32) They shall drive thee.—This verse is only slightly abridged from Daniel 4:25 by the omission of the clause “they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven.”
The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws.(33) The thing fulfilled.—The malady of Nebuchadnezzar has frequently formed the subject of discussion, and it is now for the most part agreed that it was a form of mania known as lycanthropy. The peculiar features of it mentioned in this verse are partially connected with the life which the sufferer’s delusion forced him to lead. It appears, however, from the account in Daniel, that he retained his consciousness, as “he lifted up his eyes to heaven” (Daniel 4:34) before “his understanding” returned to him. Of this sickness nothing is recorded by Berosus, unless the vague statement “Nebuchadnezzar fell sick and died after a reign of forty-three years” be pressed. It is remarkable to observe that an interval is mentioned in his inscription during which he executed no great public works.
And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation:(34) Lifted up mine eyes.—A sign of seeking help from heaven, as Psalm 123:1. By his “understanding” is not meant his consciousness so much as his sense of personality, which had been lost for a time.
Whose dominion . . .—These words, like those in Daniel 4:3, recall Psalm 145:13; and the next verse is not unlike Isaiah 40:17; Isaiah 43:13; Isaiah 43:21. It is hard to suppose that the king was so thoroughly versed in the Hebrew Scriptures that he should be able to make use of them as doxologies. This gives support to the conjecture that the letter was composed by Daniel and not by the king.
At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellers and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.(36) For the glory.—He means that the splendour returned, so as to increase the honour and glory of his reign.
Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.(37) The King of heaven.—How far the king arrived at a belief in one God is not clear. There may be noticed, however, a progress in his spiritual character, effected by the grace of God, after each of the interviews which he held with the prophet. At first (Daniel 2:26) his belief was no higher than that which a heathen has in his own superstitions. This develops (Daniel 2:47) into a belief that Daniel’s God is “a God of gods, a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets.” But even at that time he had not arrived at anything like a belief that Jehovah was equal to his own gods. The story of the three holy children shows how little depth there was in his former profession, for in Daniel 3:15 he is represented as setting himself above all gods. After the miracle wrought in their behalf he acknowledges Jehovah to be “the most high God,” though he continued to regard Him as only on a level with his own Bel-Merodach. This chapter represents him as recognising “the Most High” to be the cause of his recovery, and as praising the “King of heaven.” Holding, as he did, the Babylonian theory of sickness, he must have supposed himself to have been under the influence of some evil spirit; and, with a view to his recovery, his magicians must have treated his disease with charms, amulets, exorcisms, and by placing before him images of his gods. This thanksgiving makes it possible to suppose that he had relinquished much of his belief in his former superstitions, and that he was advancing towards, if not actually in possession of, the truth.