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Lesson V Daniel 4 The Dream Of The Great Tree

by Robert H. Boll


[caption id="attachment_3201" align="alignleft" width="207"] Robert H. Boll (1875-1956)[/caption]

It was in harmony with the Divine Wisdom that these messages were sent to the Gentile rulers at the first beginning of the "times of the Gentiles." God made an example of the head of the first Gentile world-power, Nebuchadnezzar, as an object-lesson for the instruction and warning of all the other Gentile rulers who should come after him. In chapter 2 of Daniel, through the interpretation of the forgotten dream, God showed to Nebuchadnezzar the course and end of Gentile world-powers and the kingdom of God which should follow after their destruction; incidentally informing him that he, Nebuchadnezzar, was not ruling by any right and power of his own, but by the will of the God of heaven; and that this God, the God of Israel, had given him that power and dominion; and that after him it would be given to others, and that at the last the God of heaven would take it back into His own hands and restore it to His own people. (Dan. 7:18, 22, 27.) The lesson of chapter three was a warning against religious tyranny on part of any of those Gentile rulers, whether Nebuchadnezzar or those who were to come after him; a warning also against oppression and persecution of the Jews. The intent of the present lesson (Dan. 4), was to warn the Gentile rulers against that [30] pride and self-exaltation to which they are so prone.

It is a startling fact that this chapter consists entirely of Nebuchadnezzar's own words. A whole chapter of the Bible was contributed by a heathen king! But it was a chastened, humbled king, and he is simply reporting the lesson which the Most High God had taught him. And, of course, it was Daniel who inserted it into the record, thus placing his own inspired seal and endorsement upon the correctness and truth of it in all its details. The whole story falls naturally into three parts:

      I. The kings's warning dream, and Daniel's interpretation of the same.
      II. The fulfillment of the dream.
      III. The king's restoration and his acknowledgment of God.


Nebuchadnezzar had at this time reached the goal of his ambitions. He had completed his conquests and triumphs by taking the powerful city of Tyre (which cost him eleven years of arduous warfare, and brought him no returns; but God gave him Egypt by way of compensation). The world was now at his feet. At this point he was turning his heart toward magnificence, and the display of his glory. He built Babylon, his capital city, sparing no expense to make it the most wonderful city of all time. But at this point his self-complacency was disturbed by a dream--not a mere dream, as dreams go, but one that he felt to be significant, a communication from on high. Again, as on a former occasion (Dan. 2), he called in [31] his dream interpreters; and although Nebuchadnezzar told them his dream this time, they were unable to find or even to fabricate anything like a reasonable "interpretation" of it. For no outsiders may unwarrantedly intrude into the secrets of God. So he fell back on Daniel.

Now let the reader open his Bible at Daniel 4 and read the account of Nebuchadnezzar's dream as he related it to Daniel. (Dan. 4:10-18.) Points to be specially noted are (1) the majestic tree; (2) the sentence of the "watcher" and the "holy one"; (3) the hewing down of the tree and special provisio concerning the stump that was to be left; (4) the purpose of the predicted discipline (v. 17).

Daniel was reluctant to give the interpretation; but upon the king's urging told him the meaning of the dream. "My lord," he said, "the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine adversaries"--that is to say, "I would it applied to your enemies rather than to you"; or it may be taken to mean, "the dream and the interpretation are favorable not to the king but to the king's adversaries." In the interpretation (1) the magnificent tree represented king Nebuchadnezzar in his power and glory; (2) the hewing down of the tree his debasement and dethronement; and (3) the stump's lowly position, as preserved with a band of iron and brass, in the midst of the dewy grass and with the beasts of the field, signified that "thou [the king] shalt be driven from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and thou shalt be made to eat grass as oxen; and shalt be wet with [32] the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee; till thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will." But the preservation of the stump was for assurance that the kingdom would be kept for him, and after those "seven times" of discipline it would be restored to him. Daniel concluded his interpretation with an earnest personal word of exhortation to repentance: "Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if there may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity" (v. 27).


"All this came upon he king Nebuchadnezzar." For God fulfills His word to the letter. A year had passed, when one day, as he was walking upon the royal palace of Babylon, the King's heart exulted in pride over his achievement; and he said, "Is not this the great Babylon, which I have built for the royal residence, by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?" (Compare Isa. 10:13, 14f.)

This was the signal for the execution of the sentence. A voice fell from heaven, saying, "O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken: The kingdom is departed from thee: . . . The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hair was grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws." (Vs. 31-33.) So fragile a thing is human glory: in a [33] moment it can be shattered and dashed into the dust of humiliation and disgrace. And why should the spirit of mortal be proud?

Aside from its precious moral and spiritual lessons, this narration of the dream of the Great Tree affords an important example of interpretation of symbolic ("apocalyptic") prophecy. The student cannot but be impressed with the perfect correspondence and congruity of the fulfillment with the terms of the prophecy. There are some who seem to think that once they prove a prophecy to be "symbolic," they have liberty to make anything out it they may please. They suppose they can put any sort of meaning upon the imagery of the prophecy to "make it fit" some pre-conceived notion, or adapt it to some imaginary fulfillment. All such and like arbitrary "interpretations" do but confuse the minds of men and do dishonor to God's Word. How simple, sane, and harmonious, by contrast, are God's own interpretations of His symbolic prophecies. The great tree, Daniel told the king, represented Nebuchadnezzar in his kingdom and glory; the hewing down of it naturally represented the destruction of his glory; the stump, of course, represents the king again--what was left of him and to him in his degraded state amid the grass and among the beasts of the field; yet the preservation of the stump, guarded with a strong band of iron and brass, symbolized the fact that his kingdom (and his return to his former glory) was secured to him in the purpose of God. (See the similar thought in Job 14:7f, and Isa. 6:13.) "Seven times" must pass over him. A "time, times, and half a time" (the half [34] of seven times) is a period twice mentioned in Daniel (7:25; 12:7), and once in Revelation (12:14), where it is seen to be equivalent to "a thousand, two hundred and threescore days"--that is three and a half years (the year reckoned as 360 days; compare Rev. 12:6 with 12:14; see also 11:3 and 13:5). The seven times are seven years.

Also in dealing with the prophecies, one of the commonest assumptions (and one that is favorite as a basis of false argument and teaching) is that if a passage of scripture is in some part of it couched in symbolic language that all of it must be taken symbolically; or if it has literal features in it then all of it must be taken literally. This may sound plausible, but is entirely false. On the contrary the figurative and literal are often found mingled. (See for example, Ps. 80:8-16.) In this prophecy also is the symbolic imagery interspersed with the literal features--as, note for instance the grass, the dew of heaven, the seven times, these are literal; and the changing of the king's heart from a man's heart "and let a beast's heart be given unto him," is hardly less so. And the announced purpose of all this affliction (v. 17) could not have been put in plainer words. And thus all the prophecy was literally and accurately fulfilled. This dream of Nebuchadnezzar's and the fulfillment of it is in itself a demonstration of the faithfulness with which God fulfills His prophetic word.


There was an honest and noble spirit in old [35] Nebuchadnezzar. The final test is always in the attitude which one takes toward God's truth. Nebuchadnezzar was a bit slow to learn, and somewhat prone to forget; but he never fought against light when he saw it, but surrendered grandly to the truth as it was brought home to his heart. Back of all his pomp and bluster he was really as humble as a child. And God never fails to regard that. How wonderful was the old king's praise of the Most High God and how glad and willing his recognition of God's authority and supreme dominion! One could wish that some professed Christians were capable of uttering such words as those which Nebuchadnezzar spoke when his "understanding returned to him!" Many a man needs thus to "come to himself" and rise to a truer and loftier knowledge of the God of the Bible, as revealed to us through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 John 5:20.)



"A watcher and a holy one." In v. 17 it is "the watchers and the holy ones." Were they God's angels--servants who kept guard over the king's ways? But back of that--it is God Himself who watches. "Jehovah looked from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men; from the place of his habitation he looketh forth upon all the inhabitants of the earth--he that fashioneth the hearts of them all, that considereth all their works." (Ps. 33:13-15.) "Jehovah, his throne is in heaven; his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men." (Ps. 11:4.) And consider Psalm 139--especially the last two verses. That Watcher and Holy One observes my ways also. "Thou God seest me."

"The Year-day Theory" of interpretation assumes that "in prophecy a day stands for a year." This is a widely accepted notion, but it is both baseless and untenable. It was upon this unfounded assumption that William [36] Miller calculated the coming of Christ in 1844; and in fact all the date-setters base their computation upon this fictitious axiom. Here they have figured out that "seven times" (i. e. seven years, at 360 days each) is 2520 days; and each day in prophecy counts a year--so we have 2520 years as the length of the "times of the Gentiles." Selah! Besides, how strange that the "seven times" of Nebuchadnezzar's abasement should symbolize the period of Gentile sovereignty!

"Those that walk in pride he is able to abase." And He never fails to do it. For "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble." Would you obtain God's help and blessings? Take a lowly place before him. "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God that he may exalt you in due time." (1 Pet. 5:6.) [37]

Robert H. Boll was Editor of Word& Work (1916-1956)


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