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After King Nebuchadnezzar had related his dream to Daniel, we read in Daniel 4:19,
19 Then Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar, was appalled [Aramaic, shemam, “stunned, astonished”] for a while as his thoughts alarmed him. The king responded and said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, if only the dream applied to those who hate you, and its interpretation to your adversaries!”
The first thing we notice is that Daniel did not have to spend time in prayer in order to know the meaning of the dream. Secondly, the dream stunned him and alarmed him. In other words, he knew instantly what the dream meant.
The king’s other counselors and wise men may have likewise understood the dream to some extent but were afraid to give an honest answer. The answer may have incurred the wrath of the king and brought about the accusation of treason. But Daniel gave the king an honest interpretation in spite of its negative meaning.
The Tree is the King and the Kingdom
Daniel 4:20-23 repeats the dream and identifies the tree:
20 The tree that you saw, which became large and grew strong, whose height reached to the sky and was visible to all the earth, 21 and whose foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt and in whose branches the birds of the sky lodged— 22 it is you, O king; for you have become great and grown strong, and your majesty has become great and reached to the sky and your dominion to the end of the earth. 23 And in that the king saw an angelic watcher, a holy one, descending from heaven and saying, “Chop down the tree and destroy it; yet leave the stump with its roots in the grounds, but with a band of iron and bronze around it in the new grass of the field, and let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts of the field seven times pass over him”;
The king was the tree that was to be chopped down. But because the stump remained intact, it is clear that the king was not to be overthrown permanently, but only for “seven times,” as the end of verse 23 tells us.
There are two levels of application, the first being the personal experience of the king himself, and the second being the Babylonian kingdom. The personal application was for a short-term period of just seven years, while the Babylonian system had a long-term prophetic application—7 x 360 years, that is, 2,520 years.
Daniel 4:24-26 continues,
24 This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: 25 that you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place be with the beasts of the field, and you will be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes. 26 And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules.
Daniel gave the king the short-term prophetic application as it applied to King Nebuchadnezzar himself. The most important factor, however, was that it would last only until the king recognized the sovereignty of the Most High over him, his kingdom, and all the kingdoms of men.
Of course, the very fact that the king had written this document and was sending it out to the kings of the earth shows that he had already repented and had come to recognize the Most High God as Ruler of all nations.
The prophet’s advice is given in Daniel 4:27,
27 Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you; break away now from your sins by doing righteousness, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor [Aramaic, anah, “humble, afflicted”], in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.
Daniel’s advice was unprecedented in the history of Babylon—and probably in the history of most other nations as well. He called upon the king to repent and “break away now from your sins… and from your iniquities.” To call the most powerful monarch in the world a sinner who had been doing iniquity would normally call for the death penalty. But Daniel survived this, so great was the king’s respect for him.
What was it that Nebuchadnezzar should do to repent? Daniel says, “by showing mercy to the afflicted ones.” In other words, his manner of rule ought to show consideration to his subjects. It is the second great commandment, love your neighbor as yourself. In this simple advice, so seldom heeded by world rulers, the prophet put his finger on the root problem—the reason why God was soon to chop down the tree. God required the king of Babylon to treat the people with mercy with a Christ-like attitude.
Nebuchadnezzar, however, ruled as an absolute monarch. His word was law, and he could change it at will. As we will see in the sixth chapter of Daniel, Medo-Persia was a constitutional monarchy, where the law was king, and the king himself was bound by the law. These two kingdoms give us the contrast between Rex Lex (“the king is law”) and Lex Rex (“the law is king”).
The gospels give us a greater explanation of what God required of King Nebuchadnezzar. In Luke 22:25 Jesus describes the theory of government among men: “The kings of the nations lord it over them.” This is contrasted with God’s theory of government in Luke 22:26, “let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.”
This is a fuller explanation of Daniel’s statement to Nebuchadnezzar about showing mercy to those in his realm who were oppressed by his government and by his decrees. Whereas most earthly kings expect to be served, the rulers in the Kingdom of Heaven come to serve the people. If King Nebuchadnezzar had followed Daniel’s advice, he might have prolonged his “prosperity.” In fact, the judgment would have been cancelled altogether, for doing this would have recognized the Most High God’s rule before the judgment fell upon him.
The simple truth is that when kings recognize their position under God and know that they are but stewards of the throne, they have resolved the most basic issue of earthly governments. The natural result of this would be to study the laws and decrees of God, so that earthly kings might know how to rule according to the will of their Superior, instead of by their own selfish will.
In recent years the Western nations have systematically become secularized. In other words, by their own admission they have renounced the Most High God and have usurped His right to rule what He has created. This is the essential issue that must yet be resolved in history. Thus, what happened to King Nebuchadnezzar is what will happen to the modern rulers of Babylon who now follow his example.
Those of us who are advocates of the Kingdom of God must understand that we are to follow the example of the prophet Daniel. We are to give Babylon the same advice that Daniel gave to Nebuchadnezzar. Recognize the Most High God, and submit to His law, which is His will. Show mercy to the oppressed.
If the modern rulers would follow this advice, they would establish the Kingdom willingly, rather than waiting to be overthrown by divine intervention. But prophecy indicates that they will not do so, for even King Nebuchadnezzar himself did not follow Daniel’s advice. He was given a period of “twelve months” (Daniel 4:29) in which to comply, and then the dream was fulfilled in his life.
Twelve is the number of divine government. This time period, then, was granted to the king by the mercy of God.