July 19, 2020
Nebuchadnezzar was the great king of Babylon who had sacked Jerusalem in 601 BC and then deported a vast number of Israelites to his land. In the second year of his reign, he began to have a series of dreams that none of his magicians and sorcerers could interpret and therefore bring rest to his troubled soul. The king knew that this dream was of some import and he probably intuited that it had something to do with him, hence the very real fear that he experienced. In chapter 4, the king describes how the dream appalled him, that dread assailed him and that the visions tormented him. (Dan. 4:1-3).
At that time there was a young Jewish lad named Daniel who had been part of that first deportation and he had been educated, along with his friends Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael in such a way that they would one day enter the royal service and work in the courts of the king. This young man was of noble descent and it is stated that he had "the gift of interpreting every kind of vision and dream". (Daniel 1:17) . Indeed, he and his three friends really stood head and shoulders above all the other young men at court because God had favoured them by granting them much knowledge and wisdom along with insight into the things of heaven.
Since none of the king's Chaldean magicians and soothsayers could interpret the dream, Daniel was summoned before the king, who lost no time in relating his dream:
I saw a tree in the middle of the world; it was very tall.
The tree grew taller and stronger, until its top reached the sky and it could be seen from the very ends of the earth.
Its foliage was beautiful, its fruit abundant, in it was food for all. For the wild animals it provided shade, the birds of heaven nested in its branches, all living creatures found their food on it.
Next, a Watchful One, a holy one, came down from heaven.
At the top of his voice he shouted:
Cut the tree down, lop off its branches,
strip off its leaves, throw away its fruit;
let the animals flee from its shelter and the birds from its branches.
But leave the stump with its roots in the ground,
bound with hoops of iron and bronze,
in the grass of the countryside.
Let it be drenched by the dew of heaven
and have its lot with the animals, eating grass!
Let it cease to have a human heart, and be given a heart of a beast,
and seven times shall pass over it!
Such is the sentence proclaimed by the Watchers,
the verdict announced by the holy ones -
so that every living thing may learn
that the Most High rules over human sovereignty;
he confers it on whom he pleases,
and raises the lowest of humankind. (Daniel 4: 7-14)
The scriptures say that Daniel was very upset and confused by the dream. This is because the Holy Spirit had given him the revelation needed to decipher the metaphors and frankly, the message was daunting. He needed courage to speak the truth to this very powerful and often ruthless king. None the less, he begins to unveil the meaning of each symbol.
The tree, so large and strong represents the king himself. In the scriptures we encounter this metaphor quite a few times as in Ezekiel, where the prophet likens Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to a cedar tree of Lebanon. (Ez. 31:2). The tree therefore symbolizes a leader of great stature and influence. In this case, Nebuchadnezzar is king over the whole world so the imagery extends to the power and glory of his kingdom.
Next comes the "Watchful One". We notice that this being - in my translation at least - is capitalized and that it is further called a "holy one". This symbolizes a great angel sent by God to deliver a personalized message to the king. The gist of the message is very daunting and negative, which is why the king is so afraid. The angel declares that the tree will be cut down with a stump left over and that the king will become like a wild animal. The stump will be bound with hoops of iron and bronze and this state of things will last for a period of "seven times".
Daniel now goes on to interpret the meaning of the message spoken by this heavenly being.
The tree that is cut down is of course Nebuchadnezzar himself. This prophesies that God will in essence, "cut him down to size" to humble him for a season. But in His mercy, God will preserve his kingdom for him and this is represented by the stump with its roots left in the ground. This state of things will last until the king repents by acknowledging that it is the "Most High who rules over human sovereignty". This means that all rulers upon the earth are given their power and glory by God himself, whether the man is a believer or not. God is the One who is ultimately in charge so that no leader, however great he is, can take that glory to himself.
The tree stump that is leftover will however be bound with hoops of iron and bronze. Daniel, who would have known the scriptures by heart, knew that this was a reference to a passage in Leviticus 26:19, where God warns the Israelites that if they do not obey Him, they will experience many curses, amongst which are "the sky like iron and the soil like bronze. This means that for a time, Nebuchadnezzar will receive no help from either Heaven or earth and he will have to live like the wild animals. He will essentially be "cursed", having lost God's favour.
Then Daniel goes on to declare that this state of things will last for 7 years. By the revelation of the Holy Spirit, he is made to understand that the phrase "and seven times shall pass over it" means that Nebuchadnezzar will experience this great change not only for 7 days, or weeks or even months, but for a period of 7 years!
In recent years, I have learned that diagramming a dream can be very helpful in understanding the message and that embracing this practice really helps to identify the flow of the story. I have therefore included a diagram of this dream to give an example of how this is done.
We start by establishing the focus which in this case is the tree. Of course, it is a symbol of the king. The whole meaning of the dream revolves around the tree.
Next come the sub-focuses which are the most important elements in a dream and there are four. The first sub-focus is about the extreme beauty and power of the tree. It is fruitful, lush and green. The second sub-focus comes as a total contrast to the first one. This absolutely beautiful tree is now a stump and furthermore it is now bound with 2 bands of metal. These 2 bands of bronze and iron are details that describe the state of the stump, just like an adjective describes a noun in a sentence.
The next sub-focus is the length of time that the tree/king will have to endure this state of affairs and lastly there is the angel and his message.
So Daniel delivers his interpretation to the king and follows this up with a piece of good advice; in essence, to recognize that there is only one God (and it isn't him!) and to break away from his very sinful way of life. Nebuchadnezzar, in his pride and arrogance obviously doesn't repent since we see him a whole year later gazing upon his kingdom and delighting in his own majesty and glory. Instantly, an angel's voice is heard repeating the very message contained in the dream. The king was immediately driven from human society and for 7 years, lived as a beast.
But finally, at the end of the 7 years, humbled and brought low, he repents and his reason returns. And just as the dream had shown, the kingdom was restored to him so that he could once more sit on his throne. But he was now a very different man...