Friday, June 2nd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Daniel 4". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ daniel-4.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Daniel 4". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
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Chapter 4 The Proclamation of Nebuchadnezzar.
This extraordinary proclamation by Nebuchadnezzar, probably written many years after the preceding incidents, under the influence of and with the assistance of Daniel himself, could only have resulted from a strange event, and that event was a period of severe mental trouble that the king went through which, for a while at least, gave him a whole new view of life.
Only those who have experienced such problems at first hand can appreciate the relief, bewilderment and gratitude that results when emerging from such a situation, as the person seeks to come to grips with what has happened to them, and Daniel, who as chief of the wise men would have been directly involved, and would have had knowledge at first hand of all that went on, no doubt sought to bring home to him that he owed his recovery to the God of heaven. Indeed the decree is evidence that Daniel, throughout what occurred, was seen as his trusted adviser and friend.
It was probably brought home to Nebuchadnezzar that many rumours were circulating throughout the empire, for while no doubt information about his condition was kept secret to prevent trouble arising in the empire, rumours would inevitably filter out through servants, and would soon begin to multiply. Strange behaviour and actions would become enlarged and distorted, and people would begin to wonder whether there should be a change of emperor. Daniel probably therefore brought home to him, in consultation with other advisers, the importance of issuing the proclamation, firstly because it would indicate that all was well, and secondly because it would scotch many of the rumours by indicating that his problems had arisen at the hands of the gods, and that all was now resolved. No one would think the worse of him if his temporary condition was seen to be due to the fact that he had fallen foul of the gods.
It is true that there is no direct external evidence for what follows, but it is a condition that is not all that rare in one form or another and medically accurate, and there is no reason at all why Nebuchadnezzar, who was subject to extraordinary dreams and visions, and behaviour that sometimes revealed a state of excessive intensity, should not have suffered from it. That does not mean that it was not from God. God could speak and work through his condition. And we do in fact have little external evidence anyway for the last years of Nebuchadnezzar. But even if we had, once the immediate aftermath of what happened was over, it was not the kind of thing a king would want recorded as a memorial.
‘Nebuchadnezzar the king, to all peoples, nations and languages who dwell in all the earth. Peace be multiplied to you.’
The proclamation is addressed to the whole empire, but would go to their rulers. ‘Peoples, nations and languages’ was the official way of addressing members of the empire. See Daniel 3:4. The great kings of Babylon and Persia saw themselves as, and called themselves, kings of the earth. Anyone not in their empire was not worthy of consideration, and certainly Nebuchadnezzar’s empire was widespread and covered many nations, from Elam and Media in the north east to Egypt in the south west.
These opening words can be compared with Daniel 6:25 in a decree issued by Darius the Mede, the king-governor of Babylon appointed by Cyrus the Persian after the Medo-Persian forces had taken Babylon, who by reason of his status used the Babylonian format.
‘It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has wrought towards me. How great are his signs and how mighty are his wonders. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.’
A frank admission that he had been at variance with the high ruler of the gods, (the term Most High God could refer to Marduk and would later be used of Zeus), removed all shame. Indeed it would produce some reluctant admiration. Even the lord of the earth must be humbled when at variance with the king of the gods. The word for signs indicates ‘that through which lessons were learned’, the word for wonders indicated that they were of a supernatural nature. The everlastingness of the gods in general, and of their rule, was acknowledged by all, in contrast with the mortality of earthly kings.
To Daniel the words referred to the one and only God, Who was God Most High and ruled over all. That is why he included the decree in his book. But to Nebuchadnezzar, schooled all his life in polytheism and surrounded by polytheism, it would indicate the great God who was over all the gods, possibly the One Who had revealed Himself in His dealings over Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and had spoken to him in his dreams, or possibly Marduk.
It is possible that the last phrases were influenced by Psalms 145:13, or alternately that Psalms 145:13 was influenced by this proclamation. In the former case we must see the influence of Daniel, in the latter confirmation that the proclamation was widespread and well known.
Concerns About His Dream.
‘I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in my house and flourishing in my palace. I saw a dream which made me afraid. And the imaginings on my bed, and the visions of my head, troubled me.’
Everything was going well for Nebuchadnezzar, and his life was flourishing (literally ‘growing green’ - an idea that connected with the dream). He had gained many victories and had spent much time engaging with enemies with great success. He had become one of the great historical figures of all time. But now he was enjoying a period of rest and enjoyment in his palace. Trouble seemed far away. And then his dreams began to trouble him. These were possibly early signs of the mental disturbance that would finally, humanly speaking, result in the blackness of depression that later came over him. Inspiration is often connected with manic depression.
‘Therefore I made a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of my dream.’
Those who see it as strange that he should call on these men after what we know from chapter 2 should remember a number of things. Firstly that the wise men here were not the same ones as in his younger days. The older more prominent ones had probably died off. And Daniel’s general supervision might well have made the younger ones more effective and efficient. Secondly that Nebuchadnezzar was older and more tolerant. The young man who in his intolerance and youthful arrogance, and possibly his instability, had been willing to sweep all the wise men of Babylon to destruction because they had been unable to do what most agreed was impossible, had become more mature and steady, and had begun to have greater respect for many of these wise men who were still held in awe in Babylon, and no doubt often seemed to achieve results.
And thirdly it might well have been that Daniel was about his many duties and was for the time being unavailable. Nebuchadnezzar was not the kind who liked to wait about patiently for his subordinates. If he could not have Daniel immediately it was worth trying his henchmen. He always had Daniel to fall back on. So he sent for them to draw on their knowledge.
‘Then came in the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans and the soothsayers and I told the dream before them, but they did not make known to me its interpretation.’
This is confirmation of what we have said above. He knew from experience that it was no use asking these men to tell him his dream, so he accepted second best and informed them of the content of the dream. He was in a hurry, and he could always consult Daniel later. But even so they could not help him. It is possible that they had no idea what it meant, because it was not mentioned in their Babylonian books of dreams. But it is more probable that they had a very good idea of what it meant and dared not say so. For it was not so difficult to interpret, for men used to dealing with dreams. But who was going to tell the king what it meant, and face the consequences? (Even Daniel did it fearfully). Nebuchadnezzar might well have believed that they could not simply because of his poor opinion of them.
‘But at 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 God, and I told the dream before him.’
At length Daniel arrived, possibly having been recalled from some distant city. And Nebuchadnezzar draws attention to the fact that his name has within it a syllable that connects with the name of Bel, the name of one of Nebuchadnezzar’s gods. (It was quite common to use word play when dealing with names). The fact that he saw that as significant may suggest that ‘in whom is the spirit of the holy gods’ in his eyes refers mainly to Bel. But Daniel and his readers would connect it with the Spirit of God. Then Nebuchadnezzar told Daniel his dream. His confidence in him was such (as he now revealed) that he felt no need to test him out.
We may see the use of the name Daniel as due to the influence of Daniel, or even introduced by Daniel (thought of as meaning ‘God judges on my behalf’) when he copied the decree for Israelite consumption, to stress that it was God who would judge and make clear the dream. Nebuchadnezzar would use the name Belteshazzar.
‘Thus were the visions of my head on my bed, I saw and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree was growing and was strong, and its height reached to heaven, and a view of it to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were lush and its fruit plentiful, and on it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heaven dwelt in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it.’
The same idea as is found in this dream is also found in Ezekiel’s parable about Pharaoh (Ezekiel 31:3-9) but large trees were a common sight, as was their use by beasts and birds for food and protection, so that any similarity is probably coincidental. Great trees provided good illustrations, and were regularly used in antiquity to illustrate royalty. Thus Nebuchadnezzar (although he would withdraw from the thought and possibly shut it out of his mind) and the magicians had both probably recognised that it spoke of Nebuchadnezzar.
The tree was in the midst of the earth, and it was of great height. It was ‘world prominent’. This could hardly mean anything other than Nebuchadnezzar. The wording is such that it suggests that during the dream the growing was seen to take place. ‘Its height reached to heaven’ would remind Daniel’s readers of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:4), and they would see its connection with Nebuchadnezzar as significant. The tree was conspicuous to all who were in ‘the world’ i.e. his world.
It was also the great provider, providing food and protection. That is how great kings always liked to see themselves, justifying war by what they saw as their ‘benevolence’ to mankind. And Nebuchadnezzar would see himself as the feeder and protector of the empire, his ‘world’.
‘I saw in the visions of my head on my bed, and behold a watcher and a holy one came down from heaven. He cried aloud and said thus, “Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake of his leaves and scatter his fruit. Let the beasts escape from under it and the birds from its branches. 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. Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given to him. And let seven times pass over him. The sentence 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 rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whoever he will, and sets up over it the lowest of men.”
The implication is indeed quite plain, and it is no wonder that the wise men were wise enough to shrink from declaring it. The detail is slightly more difficult. None would have dreamed what it really meant, but suggestions might have been made. But not to this great king whose word could mean life or death.
The watcher and the holy one (or ‘the holy watcher’) would represent heavenly being(s), involved in watching the behaviour of mankind (see Daniel 7:9-10 where the court of God watching over this scene is described). As far as non-Israelites were concerned this would not necessarily mean moral behaviour. To them the gods were not so much concerned about that, as about how earthly behaviour might affect things for the gods. Daniel, on the other hand, would see them as concerned with the maintenance of God’s laws.
There are two strands in the dream in Daniel’s presentation. One which is explaining why the king suffered as he did, so that others might recognise that he had been battling with the gods, and was therefore not to be demeaned. The other would be seen by Israelites as indicating that there was an awareness of his sins and guilt before God. We should note that the watcher does not act on his own behalf but on behalf of the Most High.
The cry to ‘cut down’ might be seen as being made to divine helpers of the watcher, or to God, or simply as a general cry to indicate that it will happen.
The total destruction of the tree apart from the stump is made quite clear in full detail. It is to lose all its ability to give benefit. The bands around the tree were often put round a stump to prevent it splitting. Here it is probably to be seen as God’s guarantee that the stump will be preserved and survive. The dew, and his being with the beasts, picture degradation and loss. The loss of a man’s heart and its being replaced by a beast indicates loss of rationalism, and beastly behaviour, but would have puzzled all. The ‘seven times’ indicates that what is happening is the result of divine action, a full and divinely perfect treatment from the gods. (In such contexts seven always means something like this. Its use in ancient religious myths to signify divine perfection (along with ‘three’ representing completeness) was prominent in such writings, in many cases almost exclusively so).
‘The sentence 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 rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whoever he will, and sets up over it the lowest of men.’ Here it is made evident that the holy watcher acts on behalf of ‘the watchers’, indeed by their decree, and on behalf of the Most High. (We are told who these watchers are in Daniel 7:9-10). To Nebuchadnezzar and the general readers of the decree the Most High was probably the king of the gods, to Daniel and the Israelites He was the one Most High God. The Most High is sovereign over all things and destroys men or raises them up as He will. This was an important point for Nebuchadnezzar. It removed any shame from what had happened.
This will all be dealt with in more detail when Daniel gives the inspired explanation.
‘This dream I, king Nebuchadnezzar, have seen, and you, O Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation forasmuch as all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation. But you are able, for the spirit of the holy gods is in you.’
Nebuchadnezzar now appeals to Daniel to help him by interpreting the dream. He is fearful because he thinks it concerns himself, and desperate because he wants reassurance. After all he had not come too badly out of the previous dream that Daniel had interpreted. The judgment mentioned there was delayed. But there was something about this one that he did not like.
The Interpretation of the Dream.
‘Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was upset for a while and his thoughts troubled him. The king answered and said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or the interpretation trouble you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, the dream be to those who hate you, and its interpretation to your enemies.”
Aware of the interpretation of the dream Daniel was very upset, and his concern was clear to Nebuchadnezzar. It was clear to him that Daniel did not want to tell him its meaning, and it confirmed his worst fears. But he was a soldier who had faced many hardships and he wanted to know the worst. So he assured Daniel that he could tell him the truth without fear, at which Daniel pointed out that what he had to say was really what his enemies and those who hated him would want to say. It was not good news. Nevertheless at his insistence he would tell him its meaning.
“The tree that you saw, which grew and was strong, whose height reached to heaven, and was in sight of all the earth, whose leaves were lush, and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and on whose branches the birds of heaven had their nests. It is you, O king. You have grown and become strong. For your greatness has grown and reached to heaven, and your dominion is to the end of the earth.”
The tree represented all that Nebuchadnezzar could have hoped for. It represented him as powerful and strong, riding tall and famous, the feeder and protector of His people, so famous that even the gods knew of him (‘reached to heaven’ - compare Genesis 10:9), and ruler of the known world. But then was to come the downside.
“And whereas the king saw watcher and a holy one coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Hew down the tree and destroy it. Nevertheless leave the stump of its 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 of the field, till seven times pass over him.’ This is the interpretation, O king, and it is the decree of the Most High which is come on my lord, the king. That you will be driven from men, and your dwelling will be with the beasts of the field, and you will be made to eat grass as oxen, and you will be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whoever he will. And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots, your kingdom will be made sure to you once you have known that the heavens do rule.”
It is stressed that this was to come about at the decree of the Most High as declared by the holy (heavenly) watcher. ‘Holy one’ probably refers to the watcher, indicating his heavenly status. Nebuchadnezzar probably saw him as a minor god, Daniel as an angel of God. The people to whom the message originally went would recognise that it indicated that the gods had determined to act against Nebuchadnezzar, and especially the king of the gods, and that the watcher was a minor god. (Thus they would be in awe rather than deriding Nebuchadnezzar).
The tree, Nebuchadnezzar, is to be destroyed, but not totally. He is to be like a tree that is toppled. But the stump will be left, with its roots, bound with a band of brass and iron indicating that God will preserve him through it and restore him to his kingdom. The dream also indicated that he would be driven from the society of men and would behave like a wild beast and like the oxen, eating grass and living like a wild beast under the open skies, so that the dew fell on him. And this was to last ‘seven times’.
‘Seven times’ is deliberately not specific, and the emphasis is on the seven. It is the number of divine perfection, evidence of divine activity, evidence that the experience will not be short but will endure for the time that God selects. It will occur not for ‘one’ period but for ‘seven’ periods (compare ‘a time, times and half a time’ - Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7; and ‘a season and a time’ - Daniel 7:12). It does not therefore refer to a week, or a month, or a year (otherwise why not say so?). Those are human time periods. But these are divine time periods, a period of prolonged divine activity, prolonged for the decreed divinely perfect time. (Thus the enemies of God can only prevail for ‘a time, times and half a time’ unable to complete the seven, for they are not God).
The ‘band of brass and iron’ has produced many interpretations, ‘something which Nebuchadnezzar would have to suffer during his madness’, ‘a figure of speech for the stern and crushing sentence under which the king is to lie’, ‘the bond of darkness which would overshadow the king’s spirit’, ‘the chain with which madmen were wont to be bound’, ‘the withdrawal of free self-determination through the fetter of madness’. All may be possible. But in our view the significance is that the stump, and therefore Nebuchadnezzar, will be protected from total disintegration by divine activity.
‘The heavens do rule.’ An unusual use of ‘heavens’. It symbolises the divine rule of the Most High (as in Daniel 7:9-10). But it also included the idea that there was a heavenly kingdom that was over earthly kingdoms. By the time of Jesus it had become commonplace to use ‘Heaven’ as a synonym for God.
Daniel’s Advice Consequent on The Dream.
“Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you, and break off your sins by practising righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your tranquillity.”
Daniel then gives his advice. Let the king change his way of life, by rejecting his selfishness and wrongdoing and doing only what is right and in accordance with divine law, and by showing mercy to the weak and poor. Then perhaps this disturbance of mind might be delayed or might even not come on him. Whether it would have been so we cannot know, for the king did not change his way of life.
‘Break off your sins.’ Cast them away by a change of life. It compares with Paul’s ‘put off -- the old man’ (Ephesians 4:22). A change of life might bring mercy. There is not here the thought of deserving mercy as a result, as though it could be earned, but of receiving it by the mercy and will of God. Notice the ‘perhaps’.
The Fulfilment of the Dream.
‘All this came on the king Nebuchadnezzar.’
It had to do for it was the decree of the Most High, and he had failed to take warning. That is the divine side. But humanly speaking Nebuchadnezzar had become a manic depressive (suffering from bipolar illness, moving between the periods of depression revealed by his dreams and moods of exultation) and was being carried along on his illness. He had an intensity about him that revealed the illness that lay beneath the surface, and he chose to direct that intensity in sinful ways until at length he could no longer control it. It controlled him.
Note on bipolar illness.
Bipolar illness reveals itself in many ways. Sometimes the depressive element is more manifest, sometimes the exaltation. It produces in exaggerated proportions the moods that overtake all of us, and is the result of chemical activity in the brain. At its most exaggerated it can produce what we call ‘insanity’ or ‘madness’, for it can produce excessively abnormal behaviour and delusions. For large periods of time it does not manifest itself, and sometimes it is lifelong, on and off, while at others it manifests itself as people get older, although its underlying presence can sometimes be detected by the experienced observer even when not obvious. It can come and go with remarkable suddenness.
I had a good Christian friend who was a medical doctor who had permanent bipolar illness, the symptoms of which recurred throughout her fairly short life. When the depression began to come on her she would sign herself into the hospital for treatment until the period subsided. She confided to me that it was while going into the depression and coming out of it that the danger of suicide was likely, the result of the feeling of unworthiness and lack of desire to live consequent on the depression of the faculties, and it was then that medical supervision was so necessary. When in total depression there was not even the will to do anything. Sadly well meaning Christian friends, who had no understanding of bipolar illness, persuaded her that she should exercise faith (it was like telling someone with a broken back to ignore the broken back) and not resort to the hospital and to medicines, and she felt guilty and responded. She committed suicide as a further period of clinical depression (not be it noted what we generally think of as being depressed) came on her. She would undoubtedly not have done so had she been under medical supervision and care.
Another, a close relative of high intelligence, began to manifest the illness in her fifties. I had previously seen hints occasionally in her eyes of something strange, and had sometimes noted an intensity that had slightly disturbed me, and I was in fact informed by someone more knowledgeable, twenty years before it happened, that ‘she will have trouble in her fifties’. Yet I had dismissed the idea and there were no obvious signs of it over that period apart from what I have mentioned. Rather she was bright, active, intelligent and totally sensible.
The bad time began with ‘clinical depression’, the depression of mental faculties. This was not excessive gloom, but strange behaviour. Clinical depression is not necessarily related to black moods. And there followed periods on and off of excessively strange behaviour and delusions, and actions which were totally incomprehensible, absolutely unbelievable if I had not witnessed them, and totally out of character. And then the strangeness would pass away as though it had not been. Nebuchadnezzar’s subsequent behaviour does not surprise me at all.
With regard to moral accountability assessment is difficult. For most of the time she was morally accountable, but there were certainly also periods when she could unquestionably not be blamed for her actions, for what she did was ‘moral’ given the disturbing thoughts and delusions of her brain, and her relatively mild violence was totally untypical. She had always abhorred violence and actually thought she was doing right because of her delusions.
Nebuchadnezzar may be seen as manifesting minor signs of his illness during his life, including his intensive dreams, followed by his equally intense determination to have them interpreted, and his mad intention to destroy all the wise men of Babylon, and to heat the furnace seven times, indeed the intensity may have helped him in his warlike activities. But in this period of his life depression probably partly explains his dream and mania his subsequent response, followed by a further period of a severe clinical psychotic state in the form called zoanthropy (behaving like an animal), that brought about his excessive behaviour. This does not exclude the fact that God used this to bring about His purposes. He could, and did, use the illness to achieve what He wanted to achieve.
End of note.
‘At the end of twelve months he was walking in the royal palace of Babylon. The king spoke and said, “Is not this Babylon the great which I have built for the royal dwelling place, by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?”
At the end of twelve months Nebuchadnezzar exalted himself as though he were a god, as he looked around at his great achievements and possessions. Babylon was at the height of its power and glory and it was enough to stir up his mania. He considered that his dwelling place almost compared with that of the gods.
Here we actually have a typical example of mania. A man exalted above the norm. A year had passed since his period of depression and his dream, and now he had become ‘manic’, highly charged, and was on a high. He thus obtained an over-exalted view of himself, an extension of the pride that he no doubt always felt over his achievements. But we are not to see him as punished for the behaviour which was the result of his illness but for the underlying pride that resulted in it. However, he was so manic that it was a disturbing sign. His mental faculties were becoming ‘overheated’, and strange behaviour often results.
‘The royal palace of Babylon.’ Identified because there were many royal palaces, but intended also to stress the centrality of and importance of Babylon, as the following words demonstrate. He was excessively proud of this palace which he saw as the bond which bound the empire together, as ‘wondered at’ by the people and as containing his own majesty. This pride in it comes out in the inscriptions. ‘Then I built the palace, the seat of my royalty, the bond of the race of men, the dwelling of joy and rejoicing’, and again ‘In Babylon, my dear city which I love, was the palace, the house of wonder of the people, the bond of the land, the brilliant place, the abode of the majesty in Babylon’.
‘Which I have built.’ His claim was justified for he was a great builder. The inscriptions tell us how he renovated the two great temples, those of Marduk in Babylon, and of Nebo in Borsippa, how he then restored fifteen other temples in Babylon and completed the two huge walls of the city, adding a large rampart. He rebuilt the palace of his father Nabopolassar and built the palace with which the hanging gardens of Babylon were associated, and these were but a few of his achievements.
‘While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, “O king Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken. The kingdom is departed from you. And you will be driven from men, and your dwelling will be with the beasts of the field. You will be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whoever he will.” ’
The voice from heaven warned him of the disturbing result of the illness which would come on him. From it he would learn the lesson that the Most High, and not he, ruled over all things, and that He gave it to whoever He would. In all things God is sovereign, to be revealed by his demoting Nebuchadnezzar, and then by restoring him. Given the situation, the latter was possibly the most remarkable. Even a great king like Nebuchadnezzar was not immune from the chemical activity of the brain, which demonstrated his human weakness.
‘The kingdom is departed from you.’ He was about to experience a period when he would no longer rule. Rather he would be like an animal, eating grass, scrabbling in the ground and living as a beast rather than in his present splendid dwelling. The contrast with his previous claim about his dwellingplace was deliberate.
‘Seven times shall pass over you.’ This would occur over the divinely appointed period, an extended period of divine judgment. But the very fact that it was so specific also meant that it would have an end.
‘The same hour was the thing fulfilled on Nebuchadnezzar, and he was driven from men, and ate grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until his hair was grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds claws.’
The allowing of nails and hair to grow excessively, the latter becoming matted and thus like feathers, and seeking refuge away from people, and willingness to face the discomforts of nature, is not unknown with certain stages of extreme manic depressive illness, hidden in the modern day by nursing care. There is nothing here that is not typical. And he was the supreme king. No one would dare to interfere, especially as they would see him as afflicted by the gods. They would indeed be in awe of him. So was he allowed to do as he pleased.
But it was probably hushed up. It was better for the peoples not to know. (Although rumours would inevitably spread). And who would know how soon the gods would release him so that he could then vent his anger an any who took advantage of the situation? Thus his sons, eyeing each other, and his chief ministers, some clearly extremely loyal, would be in a continual quandary as to what to do, and Daniel in his honoured position as master (Rab) of the wise men and chief governor of Babylon would have a powerful say in holding things together. It may well have been largely his influence that preserved Nebuchadnezzar’s throne.
No doubt any suggestion of including this in inscriptions was severely crushed once Nbucahdnezzar had recovered. It was one thing to circulate the rulers of the empire as a temporary measure to quash rumours, it was another to pass it down in history. But there is some confirmation of this experience in words from the writings of Abydemus, quoted by Eusebius, which cites Nebuchadnezzar as prophetically wishing, when ‘possessed by some god or other’, exactly this kind of fate on another (‘a Persian mule’ i.e. Cyrus), ‘O that -- he might be carried across the desert, where there are neither cities nor foot of man, but where wild beasts have pasture and birds their haunts, that he might wander alone among rocks and ravines’. He is then said to have disappeared from the city. This would well fit in with a period of known ‘possession’, i.e. mental instability, and may well have arisen precisely because Nebuchadnezzar was known to have had exactly such an experience connected with his grandeur and was now portrayed as wishing it on another.
Another Babylonian inscription discovered by Sir Henry Rawlinson from the period of Nebuchadnezzar reads, ‘For four years the seat of my kingdom in my city -- did not rejoice my heart. In all my dominions I did not build a high place of power, the precious treasures of my kingdom I did not lay out. In the worship of Marduk my lord, the joy of my heart in Babylon, the city of my sovereignty, I did not sing his praises and I did not furnish his altars, nor did I clear out the canals.’ He must clearly have been ill in a fairly severe way for this to occur.
Recovery and Restoration.
‘And at the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honoured him who lives for ever and ever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom from generation to generation, and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing, and he does according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What are you doing?” ’
When Nebuchadnezzar came back to normality, probably quite suddenly as often occurs in such cases, it is understandable that he was filled with gratitude to ‘the Most High’, that is the highest of the gods. That Daniel saw this as the God of heaven we need not doubt. The words are a true expression of what He is. He is Himself everlasting, and His rule is everlasting, going on for ever through all generations; the earth and its inhabitants are a comparative nonentity before Him, the armies of heaven obey Him, the peoples of earth cannot thwart Him. None can prevent His activity (literally ‘smite his hand’. This may refer to rendering powerless, or to chastisement) or ask Him what He is doing. He is all powerful, and none can say Him nay. Nebuchadnezzar had been faced up with his own fragility, and recognised in Another what he had once thought of as referring to himself.
‘At the end of the days.’ That is at the end of the ‘seven times’, the divinely perfect period determined by God.
‘At the same time my understanding returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and brightness returned to me, and my counsellors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent greatness was added to me.’
Nebuchadnezzar here describes his restoration to power. The condition he had been in was a strange one. His behaviour would have seemed sensible and normal to him at the time. But when he came back to normality he would acknowledge that it had not been so, as he does here, although not as emphatically as others would. But he had to convince the lordly readers of the decree that he was back on form.
‘My majesty and brightness returned to me.’ Instead of the self-abasement resulting from his illness, he again recognised his own superiority and authority. Thus his counsellors and lords, reassured, again sought to him, probably with great relief. It would help that they had thought him afflicted by the gods. Thus as the gods had now clearly released and restored him none the worse for what had happened, life could go on as normal. With their support he was established on his throne over his kingdom, and again given all the trappings of greatness.
‘Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the king of heaven, for all his works are truth and his ways judgment, and those who walk in pride he is able to abase.’
Nebuchadnezzar’s final testimony is to the ‘king of heaven’ whose works are truth and whose ways are wise, revealing excellent judgment. He may well have come, under Daniel’s guidance, to a belief in Daniel’s God. He certainly now saw the king of heaven as supreme and able to keep men humble and in their place.