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23 December 2018

Downfall and Restoration of a King (Daniel 4:1-37)

Ishtar gates
In chapter 3 of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar “set up” a golden image and commanded all men to pay homage to it. Death was the fate of all who refused. The Chaldean enemies of Daniel exploited the opportunity and set out to destroy his three Jewish companions. The plan was to use the king’s rash decree to condemn Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to death.
God thwarted the plot and reversed the king’s decree by rescuing the three youths from a superheated furnace, but in the end, Nebuchadnezzar praised the God of Heaven who delivered his servants and changed the king’s decree.
In the next chapter, king Nebuchadnezzar has another dream that only Daniel can interpret. God was about to cause his temporary removal from power until he learned once more that He alone is sovereign over the affairs of humanity and the fate of empires.
The chapter begins and ends with Nebuchadnezzar acknowledging the sovereignty of Yahweh. In a letter addressed to “all people, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth” he recounts the “signs and wonders the Most High God has done towards me; His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom” (4:1-3).
The terms “great,” “kingdom” and “sovereignty” are repeated as the story progresses; they prepare the reader for the declaration of God’s sovereignty over governments and history. Regimes rise and fall. Even the mightiest empires do not endure, only the kingdom of God reigns forever.
Eight times the term “earth” occurs in this chapter in reference to the Babylonian ruler’s sovereignty.  In contrast, “heaven” occurs sixteen times to refer to God’s rulership. The king must learn that “heaven” alone rules over and on the earth (4:26).
Nebuchadnezzar recounted a dream that gave him great anxiety and came to him when he was at rest “luxuriating” in his palace. This translates an Aramaic word used for the “greening” of plants and anticipates his being represented by a great tree that nourished all earthly creatures.
This tree “grew great and grew strong, and its height reached unto the heavens and its sight to the end of all the earth.” This same description is repeated in verses 20-22 and applied to Nebuchadnezzar (“you have grown great and grown strong, for your greatness is grown and reaches unto the heavens, and your dominion to the end of the earth”). But Nebuchadnezzar attributed his greatness to his own majesty and efforts rather than to the God of Heaven.
The king summoned all the wise men of Babylon to interpret his dream, the “scribes, enchanters, astrologers and soothsayers.” As before, none could interpret the dream except Daniel. 
In his dream, the king saw a large tree in the center of the earth that grew until its height reached to heaven. It was visible from the extremities of the earth. The animals of the earth were fed by its fruit and lived in its shade; the birds of the air were sheltered and nourished in its branches (4:4-18).
Nebuchadnezzar then saw a “holy watcher” descend from heaven. This figure commanded the removal of the tree so that nothing would remain visible above the ground.  It was to be “cut down,” its branches “lopped off,” its leaves “stripped” and its fruit “scattered across the earth.” Only the “tip of its root” would remain in the ground.
“Watcher” occurs in verses 13, 17 and 23, the only scriptural passages that apply this term to a nonhuman entity.  “Watcher” or ‘er translates a noun that means “wakeful, watchful, wakeful one, a watcher.” Presumably, the “watchers” were angelic beings also identified as “holy ones,” though no further details are provided.
The “watchers” pronounced that the king’s heart would change from a man’s to a beast’s, until “seven seasons passed over him.” The great fruitful tree would become a pitiful tethered animal dependent on others for nourishment.
Through the king’s downfall all “the living would come to know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever he will and sets up over it the lowest of men” (4:31). “Sets up” translates the same Aramaic verb used in Daniel 2:21, God “removes kings and sets up kings”.
Likewise, the same verb for “removed” is used in both passages (“Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom is removed from you”).  The truth of Daniel’s declaration is confirmed in the king’s removal from power.
The power of the Watcher’s decree was demonstrated as the Ruler of the world-empire turned to Daniel for understanding.  Through his God-given ability to interpret dreams, the “lowly” prophet of Yahweh thus exercised dominion over king and kingdom. He declared the removal and restoration of political power to one who presumed to possess it through his own might and majesty.
Daniel’s Interpretation
The great tree represented Nebuchadnezzar who had “become strong, his greatness reaches to the heavens, and his dominion to the ends of the earth.” The command of the watcher to cut down the tree was “the decree of the Most High.” Men would drive him out of society to live among wild animals for “seven seasons,” until he comprehended that “the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever he pleases.” Afterward, his kingdom would be restored.
Seven seasons” is ambiguous and does not necessarily mean seven years.  It could refer to seven weeks, seven months, and so on.  Considering that the number seven is used, it may be symbolical to signify a complete period. Nebuchadnezzar would be in this state until God’s pronouncement has run its full course, however long that was.
The king’s dream was meant to warn Nebuchadnezzar but was soon forgotten.  The larger purpose was to give humanity testimony to the truth that the destinies of kings and kingdoms lie in the hands of God. Yahweh is the one who rules over the affairs of nations for the sake of His people and to achieve His purposes.
     A year passed, then “all this came upon Nebuchadnezzar.” At the very height of his power, the king boasted of his majesty and achievements: “Is this not Babylon the Great that I built by the might of my power and for the dignity of my majesty?”
A voice from Heaven responded with a pronouncement: “O Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom is removed from you…until you come to know that the Most High has dominion over the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever he pleases.” His understanding departed and he was driven from society to live like an animal for “seven seasons.”
After the king’s mind was restored, he looked to heaven to declare:
Blessed is the Most High who lives forever! I praise and honor the One whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. Before Him all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and according to his own pleasure He deals with the Host of Heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is none who can smite upon emhis hand or say to him, What have you done.”
History remembers Nebuchadnezzar as a great ruler known for his magnificent building projects, as well as a conqueror of a vast territory from the Persian Gulf to the gates of Egypt; an empire mightier than any preceding one.
In Scripture, “Babylon” symbolizes the world-power in opposition to God and His people (e.gRevelation 17:1-5); humanity confident in its arrogant self-rule and rebellion against the Creator of the universe.
Nebuchadnezzar’s story is an object lesson in just how hollow such boasts are, even when made by History’s mightiest rulers. Nebuchadnezzar’s fall demonstrates how decisively and quickly the God of Israel removes rulers and regimes to suit His purposes.
Parallels to Genesis 11:1-9
Angels are called “watchers” in Zoroastrianism, a religion that grew to prominence in this region under the subsequent Persian Empire. Possibly the term was familiar to Nebuchadnezzar, who then applied it to the superhuman figure he saw his dream. The noun rendered “watcher” is from the root verb ‘or (“to awake, rouse, stir up” – cpDeuteronomy 32:11Isaiah 51:9). The idea is one who watches and is ever vigilant.
More likely the background from the Tower of Babel incident has influenced the story. This is indicated by several verbal parallels.  In Genesis 11:1-9 the “all the earth(ereş) was of one language” and came to “inhabit the plain of the land (ereş) of Shinar.” The inhabitants of Babylon set out to “build (banah) for us a city and a tower whose height reaches unto the heavens, and thus let us make (asah) for us a name lest we be scattered (puş) over the face of all the earth.” Yahweh then “came down (yarad)” from heaven to see the city men had built. When He pronounced judgment Yahweh mockingly used the first-person plural; “let us go down and confuse their speech.” Thus God “scattered them over the face of all the earth, and so they left off building the city.”
So, in Daniel 4:1, Nebuchadnezzar addressed a circular letter to “all the peoples, nations and languages that inhabit all the earth.” In a dream, he was represented by a great tree whose “height reached unto the heavens.” The Babylonian ruler boasted, “Is this not Babylon the great that I built (bana) by the might of my power and for the honor of my majesty?” Like the great tree in his dream, his greatness “reached to the heavens and his dominion to the end of the earth.”
The watcher pronounced judgment on Nebuchadnezzar using verbs in the first person, plural form, as did God in Genesis 11:1-9; “let us” cut down the tree, destroy it and leave the stump of its roots. The fruit of the tree would be “scattered” and the king was driven from among men until he understood that the “Most High has dominion over the kingdom of men, and to whomever, he pleases he gives it.”
At the end of the “seven seasons” Nebuchadnezzar was restored to his right mind and his sovereignty reconfirmed.  The king then extolled the “Most High who does according to his will in the host of the heavens and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand or say to him, What are you doing?”
In Revelation
Nebuchadnezzar boasted, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the royal dwelling-place by the strength of my power and for the glory of my majesty?”  Immediately the Watcher pronounced, “O king Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom is removed from you” (4:30-31).
The passage is echoed in Revelation 18:10-21 when the “kings of the earth” allied with the Beast and Babylon wail at the latter’s demise, “Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city; for in one hour is your judgment come…and a strong angel took a great millstone and cast it into the sea, saying, ‘Thus with force will Babylon, the great city, be cast down and be found no more at all.”
From start to finish, Babylon serves as the symbol of human civilization’s determination to arrogate to itself self-rule in opposition to the sovereignty of the God of Heaven, the creator of all things.

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