Notes on Daniel

Chapter Four

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Published 19 November 2009; Revised 30 October 2015

Chapter 1  |  2  |  3  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  |  9  |  10  |  11  |  12


Scripture: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). The text for this chapter may be found here. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet.

Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the article. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here. Citations for Talmud tractates are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); found at

Terminology: In order to emphasize the Hebraic and Jewish nature of Scripture I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament) and Besekh (New Testament), as well as the terms Yeshua (Jesus) and Messiah (Christ).

Vocabulary: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB."

Please see the Introduction for background information on the book of Daniel, interpretative approaches and historical context.

Introduction― This chapter as the only portion of Scripture composed by a Gentile ruler. The chapter represents Nebuchadnezzarís testimony, most of it written in the first person. Probably about 30 years have taken place between the end of chapter three and chapter four. Daniel would now have been about 50 years old (Miller).

1― Nebuchadnezzarís testimony begins with a greeting typical of Assyrian and Babylonian royal claims to rule the whole earth. He intends that his report be communicated to his far flung empire. His wish for the people under his rule has particular significance because of the experience he is going to relate. The wish also contrasts sharply with his decree that closes Chapter Three threatening imperial wrath on anyone who spoke disrespectfully toward the Jewish God.

2― Nebuchadnezzar confesses that the God Most High, meaning the God of the Israelites, has done wonders for him, a Gentile. O, the wonder of His grace! God chose Israel. God loves Israel (12 times ó Deut 7:7-8; 10:15; 23:5; 33:12; 1Kgs 10:9; 2Chr 2:11; 9:8; Isa 43:4; Jer 31:3; Hos 3:1; Mal 1:2) and He loves the righteous and those who love Him (Ps 146:8; Prov 8:17; 15:9). Nowhere in the Tanakh does it say that God loves the nations as the simple declaration in John 3:16, "God so loved the world." {Consider the words of the hymn by George Beverly Shea (1957), The Wonder of It All ó "O the wonder of it all, the wonder of it all - Just to think that God loves me!"} However, Israel was to be a light to the nations, so it was Godís intention to offer mercy and salvation to the world (Isa 42:6; 49:6, 22; 52:10; 60:3).

"I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations." (Isa 42:6)

"The LORD has bared His holy arm In the sight of all the nations, That all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God." (Isaiah 52:10)

This prophecy seems especially fitting to Nebuchadnezzar.

"Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand." (Isa 52:15)

3― Nebuchadnezzar offers a doxology of praise to God and repeats the fact that God performed signs and wonders. Nebuchadnezzar has witnessed the wonders of having a dream revealed and interpreted, three men delivered from a fiery furnace and now in this chapter the removal and restoration of his sanity and his kingdom. He acknowledges that unlike his kingdom, Godís kingdom is eternal and lasts through all generations. Here Godís reign is over the whole earth and is not limited to any specific set of national boundaries.

4― One edition of the LXX begins the verse with the comment that this episode took place in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzarís reign, a date that would coincide with the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (Miller; see LXX). However, scholars believe this time reference (not found in the Hebrew text) was added in order to show the kingís madness as a judgment for the destruction of the holy city (Miller). The addition is not found in the LXX of the Apostolic Bible Polyglot. In any event, Nebuchadnezzar begins his tale at the beginning when he was at ease or at rest, contented and secure in his position. Life was good.

5― Again Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that causes him to be alarmed. Perhaps he could relate to Jobís comment after his suffering began, "For what I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me." (Job 3:25). Perhaps the thoughts that would run through his head at night would be, "I knew it was too good to be true."

6―7 He took the same action as he did for the previous dream by calling in his wise men and commanded them to interpret his dream, although this time he may have told them the content of the dream. Whether he told the dream, the kingís wise men were no more able to interpret this dream than they could the last one. At least the king didnít threaten to have them all executed.

8― You would think he would have immediately called for Daniel first rather than last. Some have taken the kingís words, "according to the name of my god," as meaning that he had never accepted the God of Israel. However, it could mean no more than what it says, that back at the beginning of Danielís induction into the royal court he was given a name based on the name of Babylonís chief deity. It could mean also that Nebuchadnezzar was a Marduk worshipper at the time of his dream. The narrative of this chapter tells of a spiritual journey. The king recognized that there was something special about Daniel and set him apart from others in the royal court.

9― The king notes that after thirty years Daniel is chief of the magicians or counselors. Verse 7 lists four groups of counselors, so Daniel is apparently not over all of them. The king is convinced that Daniel could know what the king had dreamed without being told and interpret any dream or vision. Expectation was high and failure to fulfill that expectation would be fatal.

10― Nebuchadnezzarís first dream was of a statue; now he dreams of a tree. By its description it is difficult to identify it as a tree indigenous to Babylon (Iraq).

11― The size of the tree was large and strong, probably indicating its circumference. In height it reached to the sky, Aram. shamayin, a plural noun which corresponds to the Heb. shamayim used in the Tanakh for one of three locations: (1) the atmosphere in which birds fly, (2) interstellar space with its starry host and (3) the place of Godís abode. Here the term means the atmosphere, probably hundreds of feet high. To be seen to the end of the whole earth refers to the horizon. The actual distance would depend on oneís height above sea level. For an observer standing on the ground with average eye-level height, the horizon appears at a distance of 3 miles.

Standing on the 40 foot high walls of Babylon Nebuchadnezzar could probably see 7.7 miles on a clear day. However, the height of the sky is a very indefinite measurement. Birds can fly as high as 4.7 miles and at that height the straight line distance to the horizon would be 192 miles. If the "whole earth" meant the Babylonian Empire with a distance of about 600 miles from the city of Babylon to the Mediterranean Sea, the height of the tree would be 17 miles. This is obviously hyperbole to illustrate the strength and power of the Babylonian Empire. A possible parallel thought occurs in Revelation speaking of Babylon: "for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities" (Rev 18:5).

12― Nebuchadnezzar next described the nature of the tree described the tree as beautiful in appearance and bearing considerable edible fruit. Moreover the spread of the branches and the thickness of the foliage provided shade for land animals. Many birds found a resting place in its branches. The tree was a source of sustenance for the whole earth.

13― Angelic watcher renders the Aram. word iyr, which simply means "watcher" or lit. "one who is awake" (Miller). This reference reflects a belief among ancient people of heavenly beings who watched over the activities of human beings. This distinctive name for angels occurs only in this chapter (also v. 23). It also occurs in the apocryphal book of Enoch (DSB). The term suggests that angels are watching us, and "long to look" (1Pet 1:12) into Godís dealings with us (cf. 1Cor 11:10). Holy one, Aram. qaddiysh. "Holy watchers" is a good description of Godís angels, for the both watch over humans and are holy.

14― The angel commands that the tree be chopped down and the branches cut off. The beasts and birds would naturally flee from such a disaster as they would be deprived of their home.

15― The angel allowed a stump to be left protected by a fence. The last part of the verse transitions from the tree to a man who must live outdoors among grazing animals and be exposed to the elements. Beast, as following verses indicate, refers to an animal of the field, a herbivore, probably domesticated animals as sheep, goats and cattle.

16― The divine decree goes on to effect a change in Nebuchadnezzarís reasoning abilities. He will become like an animal. What can we say about an animalsí reasoning ability? How is it different from a humanís mind? An animal canít communicate with God and doesnít engage in abstract thinking. This corresponds to the psychological phenomenon known as clinical lycanthropy. The term originates from the mythical condition of lycanthropy, a supernatural affliction in which people are said to physically shapeshift into wolves. There been many cases documented in modern times of people who believed themselves to be a wide variety of animals (Miller). Seven periods of time is generally taken to mean seven years. He will experience the fully cycle of seasons and have to survive as animals do in those changing conditions.

17― According to Nebuchadnezzarís experience angels are empowered to make decisions that affect the well-being of people on earth. If they can do good they can also cause harm. We know from the experience of Job that God gives permission to angels to cause harm when they request it. The last part of the verse is profound and proclaims not just Nebuchadnezzarís opinion, but the testimony of Scripture. God made it very clear through the prophet Jeremiah that he intended all nations to submit to the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar.

"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, thus you shall say to your masters,  5 "I have made the earth, the men and the beasts which are on the face of the earth by My great power and by My outstretched arm, and I will give it to the one who is pleasing in My sight. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and I have given him also the wild animals of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings will make him their servant. It will be, that the nation or the kingdom which will not serve him, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and which will not put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine and with pestilence," declares the LORD, "until I have destroyed it by his hand." (Jer 27:4-8)

A number of Scripture verses declare Godís sovereignty in the affairs of men:

"The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts." (1Sam 2:7)

"The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes." (Prov 21:1)

"Even from eternity I am He, and there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?" (Isa 43:13)

"The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these." (Isa 45:7)

"Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.'" (Isa 46:10)

From these passages we may draw these lessons:

ē God permits evil rulers to come to power and allow oppression and injustice. The New Testament prophesies an antichrist who may be the worst dictator the world has ever seen.

ē God is not powerless. He has sovereign control of history and where itís going. God has a plan.

ē God will judge the wicked rulers for their sin. Divine authority does not eliminate human responsibility.

ē God calls His people to be faithful in difficult times.

18― Nebuchadnezzar now appeals to Daniel to interpret his dream, since it is beyond the ability of his other counselors. Perhaps the other counselors understood that the dream was a prophecy of doom and did not want to be the bearers of bad news. The king expressed confidence in Danielís ability because of his spiritual character.

19― When Daniel heard the dream he came to the same conclusion as the other counselors and was frightened for the king. It is not clear how long Daniel reflected on the dream, but he finally rallied his emotions and dared to approach the king. Daniel began by trying to be positive, but he also injected a note of reality.

20―22 Daniel explains that the tree is Nebuchadnezzar and his vast kingdom. Through his leadership the empire has experienced prosperity. Remember that the Jews were supposed to pray for the prosperity.

"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, 5 Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. 7 Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare." (Jer 29:4-7)

23― Daniel repeats the content of the dream and its intended subject as a preface to his interpretation.

24―25 Daniel announces the divine judgment represented by the dream. Note that the king will not live among will animals that would be a danger to him, but among domesticated animals. The word cattle refers particular to bulls or oxen and may indicate that Nebuchadnezzarís type of lycanthropy would be the delusion that he was a bull or an ox, called boanthropy. At night the king would not come inside like a man, but would remain in the open field. Thus, in the mornings he would be wet from the dew. Such insane behavior would continue for seven years or until the king repented of his pride. This is a kind of monomania, " a derangement in one particular area."

26― Daniel offers hope. The kingdom would be restored to Nebuchadnezzar upon his repentance. In the meantime his son would rule the empire so that the government continued to function normally.

27― Daniel tactfully encourages the king to repent and become generous toward the poor. Repentance affects the pocket book.

28―29 Godís gracious longsuffering seems almost inexplicable, but yet Nebuchadnezzar was given plenty of time to humble himself. Godís word always comes true and the day of judgment arrived. Exactly 12 months after the word was spoken, it was fulfilled.

30― Nebuchadnezzar boasted of his achievement in so much building and historical evidence seems to back up his statement. However, he failed to give glory to God as the source of wisdom and wealth. Of course, the people of the provinces paid the price tag for him to live in such luxury.

Babylon was truly a great city, perhaps the largest and most magnificent city of its time. Even Alexander the Great wanted to make Babylon his capital. Babylon was a rectangle shaped city with double walls. The original city had an inner wall that was 21 feet thick and defense towers were placed every 60 feet. The outer wall was 11 feet thick and also had watchtowers. Nebuchadnezzar later added another defensive double-wall system (an outer wall 25 feet thick and an inner wall 23 feet thick, wide enough at the top for chariots to pass each other) east of the Euphrates that ran the incredible distance of 17 miles. Thereís no information on the height, but one of the prominent gates was forty feet high, so the walls would be proportional. Nebuchadnezzar had three palaces at Babylon and the city boasted the famous "hanging Gardens," which the ancient Greeks considered one of the seven wonders of the world. The List of wonders was developed based on the immense size of the structures.

31―33 The divine decree was carried out just as predicted. The physical changes do not mean he changed into a bird or a cow. His hair became "matted and course" and with his fingernails and toenails never being cut became like claws. How ironic that one who thought himself so above others should be reduced to a sub-human level. While some scholars have doubted the authenticity of this story, there is ample evidence of others suffering this malady. One Tanakh scholar provides a detailed account of his personal observation and encounter with a man suffering from boanthropy in a British mental institution in 1946. He writes:

"The patient was a man in his early twenties, who reportedly had been hospitalized for about five years. His symptoms were well-developed on admission, and diagnosis was immediate and conclusive. He was of average height and weight with a good physique, and was in excellent bodily health. His mental symptoms included pronounced anti-social tendencies, and because of this he spent the entire day from dawn to dusk outdoors, in the grounds of the institution. he was only able to exercise a rather nominal degree of responsibility for his physical needs, and consequently was washed and shaved daily by an attendant... His daily routine consisted of wandering around the magnificent lawns... and it was his custom to pluck up and eat handfuls of the grass as he went along. On observation he was seen to discriminate carefully between grass and weeds, and on inquiry from the attendant the writer was told that the diet of this patient consisted exclusively of grass from the hospital lawns. He never ate institutional food with the other inmates, and his only drink was water, which was served to him in a clean container so as to make it unnecessary for him to drink from muddy puddles. The writer was able to examine his cursorily, and the only physical abnormality noted consisted of a lengthening of the hair and a coarse, thickened condition of the finger-nails. Ö His skin exhibited all the clinical indications of a healthy body; his muscles were firm and well-developed, his eyes were bright and clear, and he appeared to manifest a total immunity to all forms of physical disease. According to the attendant he was quiet in his behavior, reasonably cooperative for one so far divorced from reality, and never damaged institutional property." (Harrison 1116-1117)

Dr. Gary B. Zustiak, Professor of Psychology, Ozark Christian College, offers this clinical assessment of the Nebuchadnezzar story:

"One might wonder how Nebuchadnezzar could be afflicted with such a mental disorder for 7 years and then come back and take over his kingdom as if nothing had ever happened. Wouldn't his absence from the throne for seven years have brought a serious disruption to the country's governmental operations? Why didn't someone else have themselves declared king in his absence and have the "crazy old king" assassinated?

"While things would certainly not be normal in the kingdom, one must remember that Nebuchadnezzar was the master at staffing his governmental posts with the most qualified people that he could find. This is how Daniel came into his services in the first place along with the other Hebrews. Capable hands in key positions could have maintained the rule and kept subordinates working in their customary patterns.

"While the king did live like an animal for 7 years, it must not be assumed that he just ran loose through the streets and the forests at large. More than likely, wanting to keep his condition unknown as far as possible, officials would have placed him in a royal woods, private and secluded, where he could be under constant supervision and care. In such a locality, conditions could have been maintained in keeping both with the king's true identity and his temporary insanity. They may have keep up hope that he would some day recover, which, indeed did come true seven years later." (Gary B. Zustiak, The Animal Actions of Nebuchadnezzar, private paper, 2006.)

34― At the end of the allotted time his reason returned. This does not mean that during those seven years he never had any ability to conduct self-evaluation and repent. "Repentance was possible because with this particular malady, many times a person might reason quite well in certain areas even though exhibiting animal characteristics. For example, in one modern study a man who believed himself to be a cat for a period of over thirteen years was gainfully employed." (Miller) This is an example of Hebrew block logic. God had decreed seven periods of time. That was Godís side. Manís side is to act with his will and so Nebuchadnezzar finally humbled himself to repent and it occurred at the end of the seven periods of time. It does not mean that God prevented the king from repenting before the seven years were up. The report does not seek to harmonize these two events.

Nebuchadnezzarís praise of God is incredible considering his former point of view. God wants us to recognize that He is king for all eternity.

35― Nebuchadnezzarís statement echoes Isaiah 40:17: "All the nations are as nothing before Him, They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless." This is a comparison of power. God is omnipotent, we are impotent by comparison. God creates without any help, but Nebuchadnezzar had to have a lot of help to create the great city of Babylon.

36― God fully restored the king and now that he was in his right mind, his counselors sought him out. This does not mean that the king had wandered off into the fields and forests and now had to be hunted down, but rather the government officials approached him in order to restore him to his position.

37― Nebuchadnezzar illustrates the proverb, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling," Prov 16:18. The question remains whether this testimony and his praise of God are equivalent to salvation. Christian commentators are divided on the issue, but itís hard to imagine the God of all grace rejecting one who gives Him such praise. The lesson of Nebuchadnezzar is that whatís important is now how we began but how we finish.

Works Cited




Henry Morris, The Defenderís Study Bible. World Publishing Co., 1995.


R.K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1969.


Stephen R. Miller, Daniel. The New American Commentary, Vol. 18. Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1994.

 Copyright © 2009-2015 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.