Daniel Bible Study Chapter 4

Nebuchadnezzar and the Tree of Doom!


By I Gordon


We looked last time at Nebuchadnezzar and the temple of doom. Well, not quite that exciting but something very close - Nebuchadnezzar and the fiery furnace. You may remember that the king gave everyone one of two options – bow down before a 90 foot image he had set up or be placed in a furnace and be burnt alive. Hmmm... Which to choose? This study is on Nebuchadnezzar and the tree of doom![1] This will be the first part of two studies looking at the unique nature of Daniel chapter 4. The lessons given in this chapter are universal – they apply to Christian and non Christian alike. They involve the heart and desire of man verses the heart and desire of God. Let’s have a look.


One Unique Chapter


Dan 4:1-3 King Nebuchadnezzar, To the peoples, nations and men of every language, who live in all the world: May your peace abound! It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation.


Daniel chapter 4 is unique and awesome! You see, it is the personal testimony of a man who at the time of writing was the most powerful person in the entire earth. Daniel chapter 4 records a public decree of King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations and languages.[2] This is his testimony and clearly, he had something important that he wanted to make known. You will note that he starts by stating ‘may your peace abound’. Kind of strange don't you think coming from the man whose favourite saying was that he was going to 'tear you limb from limb and turn your house into a rubbish heap!'? Has something happened to this king that has made him mellow to the point where he's starting to sound more like Peter or Paul from the New Testament? Something sure has happened[3]... and something radical! You see, the king has come to experience something of this peace that he now writes about… the peace that only comes when a man is right with God (Rom 5:1). And he wants everyone to know about it! There is certainly a lesson in that for us. The NASB says for verse 2 'it seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.' Yes, it is always good to declare what God has done for us and Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t disappoint in this testimony! What is that has happened to this king that he now knows that there is a ‘Most High God’ whose kingdom will never come to an end? Let’s look at it what he had to say![4]

The 6 P’s

Daniel 4:4-5 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in my bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me.  

Before rushing ahead too fast let’s just take note of the situation as it existed at the start of Nebuchadnezzar’s story. What situation do we find king Nebuchadnezzar in? Well, basically ease, comfort and prosperity. He had the 6 P’s – the palace, the power, the pleasure, the peace and the prosperity. Um, actually no, it’s looking like he had the 5 P’s. But what more could you want? I said in the introduction that we would look at the heart of man versus the heart and desire of God. Well here it is. Here is the heart and desire of man. The 5 P’s contain the goal of the vast majority of humankind. That’s what most of us spend most of our time trying to achieve. And it should be said that these can be the gift of God at times. But when the gift of God takes the place of God then Houston, we have a problem.


Well this was the situation that the king found himself in. Peace, power and prosperity but no God… not good. So what do we see above? Well, we see God shake the situation up. Nebuchadnezzar receives a God-given dream that rattles him to his core. God is well able to shake things up with Christians and non-Christians alike. His heart and desire is often not ours for he has priorities that are far higher and longer lasting than ours![5]


The stubborn heart


Daniel 4:6-9 So I commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me. When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me. Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.)


As the king continues recounting his story to all the peoples and nations we see that faced with a terrifying dream he goes initially to his own people. Why? Well, clearly they walked in first so I guess that is a pretty good reason. But there is more to it. In the ancient world military conquests generally meant that your ‘gods’ were greater than that of the conquered nation. Well here was king Nebuchadnezzar… he had conquered all that he cared for so clearly his Babylonian gods must be the most powerful gods right? And yet he knew that Daniel worshipped the God of Israel and the king didn’t want to have to acknowledge that Daniel’s God could reveal things that his own gods couldn’t![6]


Some people are very stubborn and don’t want to acknowledge God unless they have to! Some have to face a major trial before seeking His face. Some hold off right to the end of their life. And some, sadly, hold off even when faced with a Christ less eternity. But God knows what buttons to push to give people the right opportunity to acknowledge Him and that is what He is about to do with the king. Having exhausted all his ‘Babylonian’ avenues, Daniel is finally called before the king.


Not just another tree chopped down


Daniel 4:10-18 I said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me. These are the visions I saw while lying in my bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed. “In the visions I saw while lying in my bed, I looked, and there before me was a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven. He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field. ”‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him. ”‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.’ “This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”

So here is the dream he had. It is of one very impressive tree that grew enormously tall and stood out for its beauty and abundance. This tree was visible to the ends of the earth signifying that extent of the Babylonian kingdom and its influence on the then known world. Beats and birds alike are said to have found shelter and provision under this tree. And yet, in the midst of this impressive tree watching exercise, an angelic ‘watcher’ comes forth and issues a decree of judgment. The tree will be chopped down.


Now, there are a few interesting things to note in this vision of this great tree. In Renald Showers book 'The Most High God' he writes 'in his inscriptions, Nebuchadnezzar boasted that he had personally cut down some of these huge trees (from the forests of Lebanon). He even had a picture of himself cutting a cedar inscribed on stone. One gets the impression that the king exalted in the fact that he could cut down such a towering giant of strength. This king who delighted in cutting down trees would himself be cut down.' So it seems that God very specifically gave the king this vision of a large tree being cut down. It was the tree of doom! But note there was a flicker of hope for the tree wouldn't be completely destroyed. The stump would be left in the ground but with a band of bronze around it. Bronze in the Bible speaks of judgment and so it would be for this king. We see also in this dream that what the king saw and heard swaps from being a tree to a person. It goes from ‘cut down the tree’ to ‘let him (that which was cut down) live with the animals among the plants of the earth’. No wonder he was beginning to sweat! His so called ‘wise-men’ have let him down (again) so it is back to Daniel... Can he help? Can Daniel’s God give revelation where others have failed?

Daniel interprets the vision

Daniel 4:19-27 Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the beasts of the field, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air— you, O king, are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth. “You, O king, saw a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live like the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’ “This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

Not very good news for the king is it? God is going to do something very radical to this king so that he will be brought to the place where he will finally acknowledge the God of Daniel as the Most High God. In fact, it is so radical that at first, even Daniel hesitates in giving the interpretation to the king because of what it means. Daniel would prefer that the interpretation applied to Nebuchadnezzar’s enemies and not the king himself. But speak he must. In like manner, the gospel can sometimes be hard for some to hear, and hard for others to give. But like Daniel we are still called to speak the truth in love. We want to show the same type of concern that Daniel did in giving the message but, again like Daniel, we still have to speak the truth.  


'For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.' (2 Cor 2:15-17)

So Daniel tells the king the God is going to judge him for seven periods of time (most likely seven years because of his appearance in Dan 4:33). According to the Ryrie study bible notes, the king's illness is boanthropy (imagining himself to be an animal and acting accordingly.) The only advice Daniel gives is for Nebuchadnezzar to renounce his sins and act righteously. Sound advice. Could not God repent of his warning of judgment if the king repented of his sin and pride? Of course He could just as He did when Nineveh repented in the days of Jonah. Well it seems to have worked for a little while... Twelve months to be precise. But when pride is firmly established in the heart of a man it is only a matter of time before it rises again and we see examples of what happens next!

The root of the problem - All those I's and My's!

Dan 4:28-32 All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 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?” The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.”

It took 12 months from Daniel's interpretation of the vision, but soon enough the king was back to his life of ease and pride! As he walked around the roof of his palace, surveying all that he could see, he couldn't contain himself any longer! He just had to give glory and honor and praise to the one who had performed such marvellous things... ‘and yep’ he thinks to himself, ‘that would be me!’ 'All this is by my mighty power and my glory and majesty!' Oh dear. What a poor memory and sure enough, the interpretation of the vision came true. The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is completely consistent and clear on this  - 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Unfortunately, some people only learn from experience. They cannot be told the truth. But God has ways of humbling all those that would walk in pride and like some sickly medicine, it isn't always nice but it is for our own good!


Well that is where we will leave this study[7]. We’ll leave it with a vivid manifestation of that strange principle, that strange mystery of iniquity that indwells each of us – pride. Somehow the king would have to go from ‘I and Me’ to ‘Him and He’! But it can be done, as we shall see in even the most hardened proud man. The fires of God would soon burn strongly upon this king of Babylon. And yet, through grace, he may just come through refined and not utterly consumed. We’ll see in the next study!   



[1] There is a slim possibility that the name of this study is being influenced by the hype surrounding the release of the latest Indiana Jones movie. Clearly I am too easily led astray!


[2] You can imagine what the ‘peoples and nations’ were thinking when they heard that there was another decree coming from the king! They would have still remembered the last one – you know, the last decree where the king said come and bow or be biffed in the fire. I’m sure that last decree went down well! The nations would have been wondering what’s going to happen this time. And this time it would have really shocked them. But with a good shock!


[3] Please… it would be good to go away and read Jer 52:4-14 for a moment to remind yourself about this king. You see, the mellow yellow fellow before us in Daniel chapter 4 didn’t used to be this way. Alright… here are some highlights 9if you can call them that!)

Jeremiah 52:4-13  So in the ninth year of Zedekiah's reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army. They camped outside the city and built siege works all around it.  (5)  The city was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.  (6)  By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat.  (7)  Then the city wall was broken through, and the whole army fled. They left the city at night through the gate between the two walls near the king's garden, though the Babylonians were surrounding the city. They fled toward the Arabah,  (8)  but the Babylonian army pursued King Zedekiah and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his soldiers were separated from him and scattered,  (9)  and he was captured. He was taken to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he pronounced sentence on him.  (10)  There at Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes; he also killed all the officials of Judah.  (11)  Then he put out Zedekiah's eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon, where he put him in prison till the day of his death. 


[4] To put this testimony in some kind of perspective, try to imagine some modern or recent leader or dictator making an announcement to the world that he had come to know and worship the God of Israel, the true God. Imagine the current Chinese leader stating that he is going to make an important worldwide broadcast next Friday night. So everyone waits wondering what is going to be said … And then the announcement: He has had a radical experience with the Lord Jesus and now believes in Him as Lord and Savior. Imagine if someone like Hitler did that! Or Putin or Obama! Well that is fairly much what King Nebuchadnezzar did in this chapter before us. Pretty amazing!


[5] I had an email come into the website once asking if it was ever God’s will for His children to be sick. Our human heart that generally centers in on peace and prosperity being the chief end of man would like to hear that God is also working as hard as He can to keep our little life and world as stable as possible for our good. But always remember that God works on a far higher realm. His will is expressed in Rom 8:29 and that is the basis of His desire for us.


[6] It would kind of be like a staunch crystal loving, spirit guide led New Ager having to come to a Christian and ask for wisdom or prayer. It could happen but there is a bit of pride to swallow first!

[7] I know, it’s an ending a bit like the first Lord of the rings movie where Frodo is escaping from the orcs, he’s in the middle of nowhere, you’re wondering what’s going to happen next… and… the credits roll! Well this is only part 1 of Daniel chapter 4. You need to come back and read the 2nd part – Lessons from a loon. And at least you don’t have to wait a whole year to find out what happened next like you did with LOTR!