Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Daniel 4 - The Madness of King Nebuchadnezzar

I. The Dream (4:1-18)
A. Introduction (4:1-3).
1. Dan 4 is the second story of a dream by Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2 is the first).
2. The chapter begins (4:1-3) and ends (4:34-37) the same way, with a doxology (a statement of praise of God).
3. Some commentator think 4:1-3 is actually the conclusion of the story of the fiery furnacein Dan 3; but I think it is the introduction of the story in Dan 4.
B. The dream itself (4:4-18).
1. Nebuchadnezzar has a dream which terrifies him (a nightmare) - 4:4-5.
2. He summoned all the wise men of the kingdom, and unlike in Dan 2, he told them the dream, but none of them could interpret it - 4:6-7.
3. Finally. Daniel came to him to hear the dream- 4:8-9.
a) Notice that he refers to Daniel by his Babylonian name, given to pay tribute the Babylonian gods - 4:8.
b) Also, notice that Nebuchadnezzar says the same thing about Daniel that Pharaoh said about Joseph, he has the "spirit of the gods" - 4:9, see Gen. 41:38.
c) This shows that Neb. was still very much a pagan, though he did have great respect for Daniel's God.
4. The essence of the dream is described in 4:10-18.
a) Instead of a statue like in Dan 2, this is a dream about a tree.
(1) In the ancient world trees were often used to symbolize the power of kings and empires (see Ezekiel 17:1-10; 31:3-14).
(2) The tree in Neb's dream "reached to heaven' just like the tower of Babel in Gen 11 - 4:10-11.
(3) The tree provded food and shade for all life - 4:12, representing the size, power, and wealth of Nebuchadnezzar's empire.
b) BUT then it turns ugly! This is where the nightmare starts...
(1) In 4:13 Nebuchadnezzar saw a "watcher," that is an angel. who ordered the tree chopped down and destroyed, with only the stump remaining - 4:13-14.
(2) The stump is bound amid wet grass and beasts - 4:15.
(3) The tree clearly represents a person, because in 4:16 it says "let his mind be changed from a man's to a beast - 4:16a. This was to last seven "periods of time" - 4:16b, which indicates a definite time of some kind, but we can't guess any more than that.
(4) The purpose of this sentence is in 4:17 - to teach that God is in control of history.
C. The Interpretation (4:19-27).
1. Notice that Daniel is dismayed at what he knows the meaning to be, which is that Nebuchadnezzar is going to suffer - 4:19.
a) He even hopes it will happen to Nebuchadnezzar's enemies and not to Nebuchadnezzar!
b) This is amazing considering that Daniel is his prisoner and that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed his country! It shows that Daniel knew his nation deserved what they got, and that God raised Neb for that purpose.
2. The interpretation is straightforward.
a) Nebuchadnezzar = the tree 4:20-22.
b) He will have a period of illness and instability of lasting seven periods of time in which he will look and act like an animal until he learns humility- 4:23-25.
c) The fact that a stump remained indicates this was not the end of Nebuchadnezzar, but that he would recover - 4:26.
d) With this news Daniel encourages Nebuchadnezzar to practice justice and mercy rather than cruelty - 4:27.

II. The Fulfillment (4:28-33)
A. 12 months later - 4:28-29.
1. A year goes by before God's acts on His judgment.
2. This may have meant that had Nebuchadnezzar repented as Daniel instructed in 4:27 that he would not have suffered.
B. Nebuchadnezzar walks on the roof of the palace and admires HIS great city and HIS great kingdom which HE built - 4:30.
1. Ancient Babylon was a marvel, with walls thick enough for chariots to ride on and the Hanging Gardens, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
2. BUT Nebuchadnezzar does not understand that God is the one who set him up as king.
C. So he is struck with the illness - 4:31-33.
1. Some have speculated as to the specific disease he had (lycanthropy, for instance).
2. But the main point is that for Nebuchadnezzar to learn he was not God he had to be made like an animal, and only then could he be a humble man.
D. The Result (4:34-37).
1. Based on this confession, you get the sense that Nebuchadnezzar learned his lesson.
2. To me one of the most interesting questions is whether Nebuchadnezzar truly came to believe on the one true God alone.
3. We don't have much historical information about the last few year's of Nebuchadnezzar's reign. I would guess that every effort was made to cover up his illness (just as FDR's paralysis was covered up for years).
4. It is possible he became a true believer in the end.
5. Trace Neb's view of God from 2:47 to 3:15 to 3:29 to 4:37.

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