Daniel – Chapter 4

Man holding holy bible leaning

The Bible – Old Testament



Chapter 4


I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, content and prosperous.


I had a terrifying dream as I lay in bed, and the images and the visions of my mind frightened me.


So I issued a decree that all the wise men of Babylon should be brought before me to give the interpretation of the dream.


When the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers had come in, I related the dream before them; but none of them could tell me its meaning.


1 Finally there came before me Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar after the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy God. I repeated the dream to him:


«Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy God is in you and no mystery is too difficult for you; tell me the meaning of the visions that I saw in my dream.


«These were the visions I saw while in bed: I saw a tree of great height at the center of the world.


It was large and strong, with its top touching the heavens, and it could be seen to the ends of the earth.


Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, providing food for all. Under it the wild beasts found shade, in its branches the birds of the air nested; all men ate of it.


2 In the vision I saw while in bed, a holy sentinel came down from heaven,


3 and cried out: » ‘Cut down the tree and lop off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit; let the beasts flee its shade, and the birds its branches.


But leave in the earth its stump and roots, fettered with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field. Let him be bathed with the dew of heaven; his lot be to eat, among beasts, the grass of the earth.


Let his mind be changed from the human; let him be given the sense of a beast, till seven years pass over him.


By decree of the sentinels is this decided, by order of the holy ones, this sentence; That all who live may know that the Most High rules over the kingdom of men: He can give it to whom he will, or set over it the lowliest of men.’


«This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me its meaning. Although none of the wise men in my kingdom can tell me the meaning, you can, because the spirit of the holy God is in you.»


Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was appalled for a while, terrified by his thoughts. «Belteshazzar,» the king said to him, «let not the dream or its meaning terrify you.»


4 «My lord,» Belteshazzar replied, «this dream should be for your enemies, and its meaning for your foes. The large, strong tree that you saw, with its top touching the heavens, that could be seen by the whole earth,


which had beautiful foliage and abundant fruit, providing food for all, under which the wild beasts lived, and in whose branches the birds of the air dwelt – 


you are that tree, O king, large and strong! Your majesty has become so great as to touch the heavens, and your rule extends over the whole earth.


As for the king’s vision of a holy sentinel that came down from heaven and proclaimed: ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave in the earth its stump and roots, fettered with iron and bronze in the grass of the field; let him be bathed with the dew of heaven, and let his lot be among wild beasts till seven years pass over him’


this is its meaning, O king; this is the sentence which the Most High has passed upon my lord king:


5 You shall be cast out from among men and dwell with wild beasts; you shall be given grass to eat like an ox and be bathed with the dew of heaven; seven years shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules over the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.


The command that the stump and roots of the tree are to be left means that your kingdom shall be preserved for you, once you have learned it is heaven that rules.


6 Therefore, O king, take my advice; atone for your sins by good deeds, and for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor; then your prosperity will be long.»


All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar.


Twelve months later, as he was walking on the roof of the royal palace in Babylon,


7 the king said, «Babylon the great! Was it not I, with my great strength, who built it as a royal residence for my splendor and majesty?»


While these words were still on the king’s lips, a voice spoke from heaven, «It has been decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar, that your kingdom is taken from you!


You shall be cast out from among men, and shall dwell with wild beasts; you shall be given grass to eat like an ox, and seven years shall pass over you, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.»


8 At once this was fulfilled. Nebuchadnezzar was cast out from among men, he ate grass like an ox, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle, and his nails like the claws of a bird.


When this period was over, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes to heaven; my reason was restored to me, and I blessed the Most High, I praised and glorified him who lives forever: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures through all generations.


All who live on the earth are counted as nothing; he does as he pleases with the powers of heaven as well as with those who live on the earth. There is no one who can stay his hand or say to him, «What have you done?»


At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and my splendor returned to me. My nobles and lords sought me out; I was restored to my kingdom, and became much greater than before.


Therefore, I, Nebuchadnezzar, now praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because all his works are right and his ways just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.


1 [5] After the name of my god: Belteshazzar, the Babylonian name given to Daniel at the king’s orders (⇒ Daniel 1:7), is Balatsu-ussur, «protect his life.» In the king’s intention, this would be an abbreviation for Bel-balatsu-ussur. It would thus include an appeal to the god Bel, originally the name of the city god of Nippur, and later identified with Marduk, the chief god of Babylon. Daniel’s use of the name would refer the prayer rather to the true God.
2 [10] A holy sentinel: an angel. This term is found in the Bible only in this chapter of Daniel, but it is common in later Jewish literature.
3 [11-13] As the tree is Nebuchadnezzar (⇒ Daniel 4:19), the description passes from metaphor to the reality.
4 [17] «This dream . . . for your foes»: Daniel speaks as a courtier.
5 [22] The description is of a form of insanity called lycanthropy, in which the patient acts like a wolf.
6 [24] A classic Scriptural text for the efficacy of good works.
7 [27] The words attributed to the king are similar to the boastings in the royal inscriptions by which the Mesopotamian kings testified to their mighty works.
8 [30-32] There is no certainty of any such thing happening to Nebuchadnezzar as is described here. Some scholars think that the Nebuchadnezzar of this chapter is actually Nabonidus, the father of Belshazzar, who was mysteriously absent from Babylon for a number of years. The Biblical author’s chief interest was not in the historicity of this popular tale, but in the object lesson it contained for the proud «divine» kings of the Seleucid dynasty.