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While King Nebuchadnezzar was speaking with pride about his accomplishments, while continuing his oppressive policies toward the people, God spoke to him. Daniel 4:31, 32 tells us,
31 While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared; sovereignty has been removed from you, 32 and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, 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.”
Keep in mind that this was Nebuchadnezzar’s own testimony in an official Babylonian document, written after his sanity returned. Having been humbled for seven years, it is an unusual document, one which his successors later wished to expunge or hide from the official record. It would have been lost, had it not been for Daniel’s copy and his inclusion of it in his prophetic book.
The Dew of Heaven
Daniel 4:33 continues,
33 Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.
Although this was a time of divine judgment, we are told that its purpose was for correction. The result of this judgment was to cause the king to “recognize that the most High is ruler over the realm of mankind” (Daniel 4:32). So also will it be at the end of the seven times in long-term prophecy. While Babylon as an institution will be terminated, God’s purpose is not to destroy the kings or the people but to humble them and to cause them to recognize Christ’s divine right to rule the nations.
Therefore, “the dew of heaven” during this time should not be considered to be a bad thing, but a blessing. In fact, Joseph was blessed with the dew of heaven (Deuteronomy 33:13). Dew may be inconvenient for one who sleeps in the field at night, but it is a blessing in the end. And so, Daniel 4:34, 35 says,
34 But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward of His hand or say to Him, “What hast Thou done?”
The king had thus learned the sovereignty of God and the futility of men’s attempts to usurp His power. He acknowledged that the Most High God had the right to dictate His laws to all of the kings on earth. He recognized that God too had a Kingdom that had the highest authority in heaven and in earth.
Nebuchadnezzar, in effect, declared Babylon to be under the dominion of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High God. God had asserted Himself to make this point, although in the long run Babylon could not fulfill the prophecies of establishing the Kingdom. That honor was given to another people, and so Nebuchadnezzar soon died, and his decree was overruled, lost, and forgotten in the sands of time.
Restoring Sanity in Government
The notion that governments have the right to treat the people as cattle treat grass is evidence of the insanity of human thinking, according to biblical revelation. If governments were to acknowledge the Most High God, they would treat the people as Jesus did. They would be willing to die for the people, instead of expecting the people to give their lives for the expansion of men’s power, the increase of national wealth, and the vanity of kings.
Nebuchadnezzar learned this lesson the hard way—as will the kings of the earth in our own time. But God has a way of turning the hearts of even the worst of kings, for He has never given up His sovereignty over His creation. So the king says in Daniel 4:36,
36 At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me.
Because the records were destroyed by later kings (or perhaps the priests of other gods in Babylon), we do not know precisely when Nebuchadnezzar’s seven-year ordeal occurred, nor when his reason returned to him. It is presumed that this occurred toward the end of his reign in 560, for he reigned to his 43rd year, having begun in 602 B.C. Later we will say more about the reigns of the Babylonian kings, because, as Adam Rutherford has pointed out, most historians have made a two-year error in their calculations.
Correcting this error is important, because it affects the date of the fall of Babylon in 537 (instead of 539). It also affects the prophetic cycles of time leading to the birth and death of Jesus Christ.
Ex-King Jehoiachin Released
After the king’s reason was restored, he then made a decree, which, if he had lived longer, might have overthrown the many gods of Babylon and might have established the Kingdom of God in Babylon. Daniel 4:37 says,
37 Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.
Since Nebuchadnezzar died in 560 B.C., which was the 43rd year of his reign, it is likely that he was driven from the throne in 568, was reinstated in 561, and then died a year later in 560. During the time of his insanity, it is likely that his son, Evil-Merodach (or Amel-Marduk) ruled in his place. When Nebuchadnezzar died in 560, his son freed Jehoiachin from prison. We read of this in 2 Kings 25:27,
27 Now it came about in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, that Evil-Merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he became king, released Jehoiach king of Judah from prison.
Jehoiachin had been deposed in 597 B.C. and imprisoned in Babylon at the same time that the vessels of the temple were taken to Babylon (2 Kings 24:13, 15). He remained in prison until the 37th year of his exile (561-560). When Nebuchadnezzar died, his son Evil-Merodoch ruled for just two years, and in his first year he released Jehoiachin from prison and treated him kindly.
Perhaps he had taken his father’s decree seriously, having seen first-hand how God had humbled him for not being merciful to the people.
Unfortunately, he reigned only two years and was then murdered by Neriglissar, his brother-in-law, in 558. Neriglissar, or Nergal-sarezer, is mentioned in Jeremiah 39:13 and is said to be a high-ranking officer in Nebuchadnezzar’s army. He then took the throne and ruled for four years from 558-554. When he died, his young son, Labashi-Marduk came to the throne, but was too young to secure his position. He was overthrown and killed after just nine months.
Nabonidus, the Last King of Babylon
Neriglissar was succeeded by Nabonidus in 554, and according to normal practice, the first year of his reign started with the first month of the next year in April of 553. Nabonidus had married a daughter of King Nebuchadnezzar and was one of the powerful men in the Babylonian military. He reigned 17 years, according to the king lists, but because he followed the moon-god of Harran (known by the name of Sin), he found himself at odds with the powerful priests of Marduk in Babylon. For this reason, he spent most of his years away from Babylon.
In his third year he conquered Edom in order to gain control of the trade route between Babylon and the Gulf of Aqaba. From year seven until year sixteen, Nabonidus spent ten years in the oasis of Temâ in the Arabian desert, controlling the trade route to the oasis Iatribu (modern Medina). At the same time (his sixth year, 548), Astyages, King of the Medes, marched to war against Cyrus, but the Medean army revolted and delivered its king in chains to Cyrus. Cyrus then took Ecbatana, the capital of Medea, and made the Medean kings vassals of Persia.
During the ten years that King Nabonidus was away from Babylon, his son Belshazzar ruled in his place. Nabonidus’ absence meant that some key yearly celebrations of the Babylonian gods could not be celebrated, which angered many of the priests of Marduk. They knew that Nabonidus favored Sin, the moon god, and this ultimately caused them to leave open the gates of the city leading to the Euphrates River, allowing Cyrus’ troops to take Babylon in 537. Cyrus drained the river upstream and walked into the city through the riverbed.
A month before Babylon was taken, Nabonidus was defeated in a battle against Cyrus in Opis on the Tigris River. Nabonidus fled into hiding, but after Babylon was taken, he came to Babylon as a king without a kingdom and surrendered on October 12, 537.