God gave many opportunities to Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful king of Babylon, to turn to Him. In an amazing incident recorded in Daniel Chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar saw with his own eyes, one whose form was “like the Son of God” in the midst of the fiery furnace (v 25). He realised that the God of the three faithful Hebrews whose execution he had ordered earlier, had miraculously delivered them. Despite his own experience of God’s awesome power, and the honour he gave to the God of Israel (vv 28-29), the monarch remained a stranger to divine grace. Soon, however, the haughty king would face the deepest humiliation of his life because of his pride, which was foretold to him in Chapter 4.
Interestingly we read in the opening verses of the chapter, the king’s declaration of praise to the God of Israel. In verses 1-3, Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed to his whole empire, God’s sovereignty over the mightiest kings of the earth, and His eternal dominion: “Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. 2 I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. 3 How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.”
The heathen king’s tribute of praise to the Almighty God was followed by a record of his dream (vv 4-18), Daniel’s interpretation (vv 19-27) and the fulfillment of it (vv 18-37).
What had caused the proud monarch to give glory to the God of the Jews? It had all started with a terrifying dream.
o A mysterious dream
While he was enjoying the peace and prosperity of his kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar had a mysterious dream of a great, tall, flourishing and fruitful “tree in the midst of the earth” (v 10-11) that “made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me” (v 5).
What terrified the king further was a command by “a watcher and an holy one” (believed to be an angel) who “came down from heaven” to “hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches: 15 Nevertheless leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth: 16 Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him” (vv 14-16).
The purpose of the decree to “hew down the tree” (v 14) and to “leave the stump of his roots in the earth” (v 15) was “that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men” (v 17).
o Interpretation of the dream
When “all the wise men of Babylon” could not interpret the king’s dream (vv 6-7), Daniel was summoned. Overwhelmed by the fearful import of the dream, Daniel who was “astonied for one hour”, was silent until the king addressed him (v 19). Daniel then told his royal master that the tree was a representation of the king himself. Like the tree that was hewn down, Nebuchadnezzar would be brought down from his lofty position, deprived of his reason and driven from his palace to live like a beast of the field (vv 20-26). He would remain in that degraded state for a full seven years (v 23).
Although judgment would befall the king, “thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee” (v 26b) as represented by the preservation of “the stump of his roots in the earth” (vv 15). The kingdom would be returned to Nebuchadnezzar “when thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule” (v 26).
o Call to repentance
Deeply troubled by the calamity that would overtake his proud master, Daniel pleaded with Nebuchadnezzar to forsake his sins that the judgment might be averted: “Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility” (v 27).
Daniel not only gave a fair interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream but boldly went beyond his duty to persuade the king to abandon his wicked course of life.
“It is fairly to be inferred from this that the life of the monarch had been wicked – a fact which is confirmed everywhere in his history. He had, indeed, some good qualities as a man, but he was proud; he was ambitious; he was arbitrary in his government; he was passionate and revengeful; and he was, doubtless, addicted to such pleasures of life as were commonly found among those of his station” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible).
One particular sin which the king was guilty of might be the oppression of the poor in his kingdom. Daniel therefore exhorted the king to show “mercy to the poor” (v 27). “There is no improbability in supposing that Nebuchadnezzar had employed hundreds of thousands of persons without any adequate compensation, and in a hard and oppressive service, in rearing the walls and the palaces of Babylon, and in excavating the canals to water the city and the adjacent country” (ibid).
Did the king heed the wise counsel of his faithful servant, Daniel? Sadly, he did not. We are told in verse 28 that “all this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar.” In our concluding article next week, we will look further into the calamity that befell the haughty king, and his restoration thereafter. (… to be continued)