Today we’re reached chapter 4 of the book of Daniel. In chapter 1, we read how Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, besieged Jerusalem; and the Lord delivered Jerusalem into his hands; and some of the members of Israel’s nobility were taken away to Babylon to undergo a three year re-education programme to teach them the language and literature of Babylon, so that they would become good Babylonians. Among them were Daniel and his three friends who resolved that they would stand firm and remain faithful to the Lord their God. And the Lord — who is faithful — helped them in various ways so that, in the end, Nebuchadnezzar was more impressed with them than he was with any of the others.
In chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which only Daniel was able to interpret. In the dream, the king saw a great statute which symbolised four great earthly empires: the first was Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon; the second was the Persian Empire; the third was the Greek Empire; the fourth was the Roman Empire. But in the dream the statue was destroyed by a rock which was cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands. And this rock then grew and became a mountain which filled the whole earth. And the rock symbolises the Lord Jesus Christ, who came into the world during the time of the Roman Empire; and he came into the world as a king to deliver his people from the tyranny of the Devil and to call them into his own kingdom of grace. And through the preaching of the gospel, his kingdom is growing throughout the world. And whereas all other kingdoms are destined to come to an end, Christ’s kingdom will never ever end, because his is an everlasting kingdom.
And then in chapter 3 we read how Nebuchadnezzar built a great statue, an image of gold; and he ordered his officials to bow down and worship it. But Daniel’s three friends refused to bow down and worship this idol, because they knew that they must worship the Lord God Almighty and him alone. Nebuchadnezzar, when he found out, was furious with them and had them thrown into the fiery furnace. But do you remember? When Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace, he didn’t see three men, but four men, and the fourth one looked like ‘a son of the gods’. Whether this fourth person was the Lord himself, or one of his angels, nevertheless the point remains that the Lord had come to rescue his faithful servants so that they were brought out of the furnace unharmed. The Lord came to their rescue; and he caused this story to be recorded in order to teach his people in every generation that when we resolve to stand firm as they did, and when we remain faithful as they did, we can count of the Lord to be with us. The world may hate us, as Nebuchadnezzar hated them; and the world might despise us for what we believe; but no matter what the world does to us, and no matter what troubles and trials we may face, we can count of the Lord to be with us and never to leave us or forsake us. We can always count on the Lord to be at our side and to help us to endure all things for his sake.
And so, today we come to chapter 4 which is in the form of a letter. It’s a letter which King Nebuchadnezzar wrote and which he sent throughout his Empire so that everyone in his kingdom would know what happened to him and how he came to see that Daniel’s God, the Most High God, is able to perform great signs and mighty wonders; and his kingdom is an eternal kingdom and his dominion will endure from generation to generation.
And so, in verses 1 and 2 Nebuchadnezzar begins his letter and he tells his readers that it is his pleasure to tell them about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God performed for him.
And he goes on to recount how he once again had a dream. When he was at home in his palace, and content and prosperous, this dream came to him and made him afraid and terrified him. None of his wise men could explain the dream; only Daniel was able to make sense of it and tell him the meaning of his dream. In the dream he saw a great tree; it was large and strong and its top touched the sky. It was so large, it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit was abundant. It provided food for all and under its leaves, the beasts of the field found shelter and the birds of the air lived in its branches.
But then, according to verse 13, a messenger from heaven came and called for the tree to be cut down and for its branches to be trimmed and for its leaves to be stripped off and its fruit to be scattered. All the animals and birds that sheltered in the tree fled. And only a stump and its root was to remain, and the stump was to be bound with iron and bronze and left out in the grass.
At this point in the dream, the messenger from heaven started to refer to the stump as if it were a person, because in verse 15 the messenger says that he will be drenched with the dew and he will live with the animals among the plants of the earth. And his mind will be changed from that of a man to that of an animal until seven times have passed.
Well, that was Nebuchadnezzar’s dream; and only Daniel was able to interpret it. And Daniel explained in verses 20 to 22 that the great tree in the dream symbolises King Nebuchadnezzar. Just as the tree was great, so Nebuchadnezzar had become a great king and his dominion extended to the ends of the earth. But the Lord was warning Nebuchadnezzar that the day would come when God would humble him and he would be driven away from people and live with the wild animals. So, the stump in the dream symbolises what would happen to Nebuchadnezzar. And so, look at verse 25: he will eat grass like the cattle and he will be drenched with dew. And he will continue to live like that until he comes to acknowledge that the Most High God is sovereign and rules over the kingdoms of men. When that happens, he will be restored to his right mind and restored to his kingdom.
Well, that was the dream and Daniel’s interpretation. From verse 28 Daniel inserts into the letter how the dream was fulfilled exactly as he had said. According to verse 33 the king was driven away from the people and ate grass like the cattle. His body was drenched with dew, and his hair grew long like feathers and his nails grew and became like claws. Apparently there’s a recognised psychological disorder called bo-anthropy in which people believe themselves to be a cow or bull; and many commentators believe that’s what Nebuchadnezzar suffered temporarily. Of course, the reason he suffered this disorder and became like this for a time was because of his proud boasting; and the Lord was humbling him.
Well, the king himself resumed his letter in verse 34 to recount how eventually he raised his eyes to heaven and his sanity was restored. He praised the Most High God and honoured and glorified that God who lives forever. Not only was his sanity restored, but his kingdom was restored to him as well. And according to verse 36 he became even greater than he was before.
The Sovereignty of God
So, that’s the dream, its interpretation and what happened to Nebuchadnezzar. But what can we learn from this chapter? Well, there are several things, but let’s start with the sovereignty of God.
And by the sovereignty of God I mean the way he rules over all. He is the Almighty God who made all things and who rules over all things so that all his creatures and all their actions are under his sovereign control. The nations are nothing to him; they’re like a drop in the bucket and like dust on the scales. He raises up and he exalts; and he tears down and he destroys. He is the Lord Almighty who is able to do all that he pleases; and all that he pleases, he does.
And Nebuchadnezzar confesses God’s sovereignty at the beginning and the end of his letter. At the beginning of his letter, he refers to the Lord as the Most High God. He is the Most High God, because there is no one and nothing greater than him. He is the Most High God and even the most powerful person in the world, the most influential person in the world, even a great king like Nebuchadnezzar whose kingdom reached to the ends of the earth is still under the Lord. And Nebuchadnezzar declared in verse 3:
How great are his signs,
how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom;
his dominion endures from generation to generation.
Well, Nebuchadnezzar wrote those words after he nearly lost his own kingdom. Though he was a great king, whose kingdom reached to the ends of the earth, he had discovered that his kingdom could be taken away from him in a moment. But the Lord’s kingdom is an eternal kingdom, without beginning and without end. He is king for ever and ever.
And then turn to the end of the letter, where Nebuchadnezzar confessed in verses 34 and 45:
His dominion is an eternal kingdom;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: ‘What have you done?’
When Nebuchadnezzar says that the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing, he doesn’t mean that the Lord doesn’t care for us. Instead he’s trying to convey to us the greatness of the Lord, who is exalted high over all and he doesn’t need to keep an eye on us as if we might be able to overpower him. You know, you watch those police dramas on TV, and even when a suspect has been arrested, the police have to keep a close eye on them and can’t turn their back on them in case they try to get away or in case they try to fight back. But the Lord is not concerned about us, because no human can possibly touch him or harm him or overthrow him.
So, Nebuchadnezzar confesses that the Lord is sovereign and rules over all for ever and for ever. And then, we see God’s sovereignty in action in this chapter, because the Lord who is sovereign and rules over all was able to announce in advance what he would do to Nebuchadnezzar and he was able to carry out his plans exactly as he intended. We make our plans; what we hope to do this week. But we all know that anything can happen and our plans come to nothing. But it’s different with the Lord. He announced by this dream what would happen to Nebuchadnezzar. And sure enough, everything happened as the Lord said it would: the king was driven away for a time and behaved like an animal; but in due course, his sanity was restored and he became king again. It all happened as the Lord said it would, because the Lord is sovereign and he’s the one who is able to do all that he plans, because he’s the one who rules over all.
And, of course, look at verse 17 where we read how the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes. Nebuchadnezzar was a great king. Just like that great tree, his greatness reached to the skies and his dominion extended to the distant parts of the earth. He was a great king, who had conquered many, many nations. However, what he did not realise until after the Lord humbled him, was that it was the Lord God who made him great. Nebuchadnezzar once thought he had made himself great; he thought his success and prosperity was due to himself and his own wisdom and power and ability. Look at his words in verse 30 where he boasted about himself:
Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty.
He boasted about himself, thinking that his success was due to his own ability. But what he needed to learn is that his success was due to the Lord who rules over all and who gives the kingdoms of men to anyone he wishes. He raises up one ruler and tears another one down. He exalts one and humbles another. Our times, even the king’s times, are in his hands, and he’s the one who determines the end from the beginning and what will happen tomorrow.
All through the Bible the message is clear: that there is a God in heaven above who made all things and who rules over all things. And we ought to worship and adore him, because there is none like him and no one can compare to him. So we ought to humble ourselves before him and confess that he alone is the Most High God and his kingdom is an eternal kingdom and his dominion endures from generation to generation. Earthly kingdoms will come and go; earthly kings and presidents and prime ministers will come and go. They will come and go, because the powers of this world are destined to perish. But the Lord God who made all things will continue to rule over all and to work out his plans and purposes for the world and for his people. And so, no matter what happens in the world — and so many things happen in the world which puzzle us and make us afraid — and no matter what happens in our own lives — and so many things happen in our own lives which puzzle us and make us afraid — no matter what happens, we can look to the Lord our God and trust that he’s still on his throne, and he still rules over all and he’s working out his plans for the world and his plans for our lives; and he’s able to work all things together for our good and his own glory. And no matter what happens to the world and to us, we should continue to worship the Lord who is the Most High God and rest in the knowledge that he is in control.
Kindness and Patience
But let’s move on now to the second point which is God’s kindness and patience towards proud Nebuchadnezzar. Where do we see that? Well, we see it in the fact that he announced to Nebuchadnezzar what he intended to do. Instead of humbling Nebuchadnezzar immediately, he announced beforehand by means of this dream what he intended to do. And so, the dream itself was a warning to give Nebuchadnezzar time to repent and to turn from his wickedness.
And certainly that’s how Daniel understood the purpose of this dream. After interpreting the dream in verses 19 to 26, Daniel appealed to the king to accept his advice and to renounce his sins by doing what is right and to renounce his wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be, Daniel said, that your prosperity will continue. So Daniel saw that the dream was a warning and that Nebuchadnezzar should take heed of the warning and repent.
And you see, this highlights the Lord’s kindness and patience. Instead of humbling Nebuchadnezzar immediately, he gave him a warning and gave him time to repent. The Lord was kind and patient with Nebuchadnezzar, giving him time to change his ways. And the Lord was kind and patient with Nebuchadnezzar, because whenever he eventually looked up to heaven and acknowledged the greatness of the Lord, the Lord restored him to his throne and made him even greater than before.
We see the same thing in the book of Jonah, where Jonah’s message to the people of Nineveh was:
Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.
So, you’ve got forty days to repent and to change your ways. Instead of destroying them immediately, the Lord warned them and gave them time to repent. And because they repented and gave up their wicked ways, the Lord changed his mind and did not destroy them.
And we see the Lord’s kindness and patience throughout the Old Testament in the way God sent his prophets to his rebellious people to warn them to turn from their sins and to return to the Lord. Instead of sending them into exile straightaway, he was patient with them and kind with them and sent them preachers to warn them so that they would repent and return to him.
And still we see the Lord’s kindness and patience in the world today, because he continues to send out preachers into all the world to warn men and women and boys and girls of the coming judgment and to proclaim to them the good news of salvation. He continues to warn people everywhere that the day of judgment is coming when he will humble the proud and punish the wicked; and he gives everyone the time they need to repent and seek his forgiveness. The reason he warns us is so that sinners will repent and not perish. And so, he is patient with the world and he’s patient with sinners, just as he was patient with Nebuchadnezzar.
Of course, in the world people tend to misinterpret his kindness and patience, don’t they? Since he does not condemn anyone straightaway, they think that the day of judgment will never come. Perhaps that’s what happened to Nebuchadnezzar. In the year between the time of his dream and the time of his insanity, perhaps he thought that the dream was false and that nothing would ever happen to him. Perhaps he thought he was safe and he did not need to worry about the dream. And people today think the same way and they think that the world will just keep going, and the day of judgment will not come. And so, they misinterpret God’s kindness and patience and think that none of this is real.
But none of us should make that mistake; and none of us should misinterpret God’s kindness. He is kind to us and patient with us and the day of judgment does not come immediately. But it’s not because God does not care what we do; it’s so that sinners will repent and turn from their sins and turn to Christ for salvation.
But let’s move on now to consider Nebuchadnezzar’s pride. And really his pride is displayed for us in verses 28 to 30 where we read how he was walking on the roof of the royal palace in Babylon when he said:
Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?
Well, the Babylonian Empire was a great Empire and the city of Babylon was apparently a beautiful city, containing the hanging gardens which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and which Nebuchadnezzar created for his wife. Nebuchadnezzar was a great king and there was none like him.
However, instead of boasting about himself and his mighty power, he ought to have worshipped the Lord God Almighty who made the heavens and the earth and all that they contain and who sustains all things day after day. And he ought to have given thanks to the Lord for his kindness to him and for granting him all the success and prosperity he enjoyed. Nebuchadnezzar ought to have humbled himself and he should have given all the glory and honour to the Lord. But instead of boasting in the Lord, he boasted about himself. Instead of acknowledging the Lord, he boasted that his success was due to his own mighty power.
And, of course, we’re all like that, aren’t we? It began with Adam and Eve in the Garden who, instead of humbling themselves before the Lord and paying attention to his word of command, they exalted themselves in their own eyes and decided that they knew what was best and they themselves could become like God. And ever since they took the forbidden fruit, men and women and boys and girls have tried to live their lives without God. And though deep down inside they know there’s a God in heaven above who deserves our praise and worship, they have refused to worship him or given him the glory he deserves. And instead of acknowledging that every good and perfect gift has come down to us from God — who fills our lives with good things to enjoy and who provides us with all that we need — they neither glorify him as God or give thanks to him for his gifts. Instead of humbling themselves before God, they exalt themselves.
Christ the Saviour
That’s the way we are, because we’re sinners and we fail to give the Lord the glory he deserves. But, of course, there was one person in the world who had a reason for boasting. There was one person in the world who could boast about himself and his glory and his greatness. There was one person in the world who far surpassed everyone else. That person is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, who could truthfully say about the world that he created it by his mighty power and for the glory of his majesty.
And yet, instead of exalting himself, the way King Nebuchadnezzar exalted himself, the Lord Jesus humbled himself. And so, he left the glory of heaven and came down to earth as a man in order to serve his Father in heaven above and to do his will here on earth. He humbled himself and was obedient to his Father in everything, even to the point of death, even death on a cross. He became the Father’s suffering servant and he lowered himself, down to death and to the grave. Though he was the Son of God, who made all things, he made himself nothing in obedience to his Father’s will.
But then, the Most High God — who, as verse 17 tells us is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men — raised the Lord Jesus from the grave and exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name; and made him Lord and King over all. The Most High God exalted his Son and seated him far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every title that can be given so that he now rules and reigns over all.
And whoever humbles themselves before Christ the King — confessing their sins and asking for his forgiveness — receives from him forgiveness for all they have done wrong. And whoever humbles themselves before Christ the King, confessing their sins and asking for his forgiveness, can look forward to the day when we’re lifted up from this world which is destined to perish to live with him and to reign with him forever in the new heavens and the new earth.
On the day when Christ returns, the proud and arrogant and boastful will be humbled by him and condemned forever for their sins. And those refused to worship the Lord Almighty will be punished. But all those who in this life humbled themselves before the Lord, and believed in his Son and worshipped him, will be lifted up to live with him in the glory to come.
And so, we all ought to humble ourselves before the Lord. We ought to humble ourselves, confessing our sins and praying for his forgiveness for our sins. And we ought to humble ourselves, and spend our days praising his name and boasting about his greatness. And we ought to humble ourselves and seek to serve him and to go all things for his glory. We ought to humble ourselves before him, because whoever humbles themselves before the Lord will be lifted up with Christ to live with him and to reign with him for ever.