A Commentary on Daniel Chapter 4

Bird Feathers and Eagle Claws

580 B.C.


Nebuchadnezzar extols the name of the Most High God because of his signs, wonders, and kingdom of dominions. This king had a dream and none of the Astrologers, Chaldeans, or Soothsayers could decipher it. He summons Daniel, of whom he had named Belteshazzar after the name of his god, in whom he said was the ‘spirit of the gods’. The dream was about a tree, which grew as high as the heavens and could be seen from the ends of the earth. Then a divine being came and cut the tree down, but from the stump came up new growth. Daniel gave the following explanation of the dream to mean that the tree represented the king and that he would be cut down to size and he would act like a lunatic and think that he was an animal for seven years after which he would regain his senses and again reign as king.


1 Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you.

The first three verses of this chapter were probably copied from the court records. The king is sending forth a message of good will to all his subjects.

2 I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me.

He wants his subjects to know that the high God has blessed and prospered him. This is quite an introduction to the story that he is going to tell.

3 How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.

The king is praising Gods eternal sovernity. God’s wonders are great and his kingdom is destined to last forever.

4 I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace:

This king was living peaceably at home and everything seemed to be going good for him in his kingdom.

5 I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me.

This dream scared the living daylights out of him. This dream appalled him and the vision left him alarmed.

6 Therefore made I a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make known unto me the interpretation of the dream.

Nebuchadnezzar calls for all the wise men of Babylon to interpret his dream.

7 Then came in the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers: and I told the dream before them; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation thereof.

Not one of the enchanters or diviners or soothsayers, could give a satisfactory explanation to the kings dream. Among the wise men of Babylon was Daniel, and he comes in after all the others have made their sorry explanations and unsatisfactory answers.

8 But at the last Daniel came in before me, whose name was Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods: and before him I told the dream, saying,

The kings way of explaning this person Daniel was that he was indwelt with the spirit of the holy gods. Nebuchadnezzar believed in many gods and so he thinks that one of these gods dwelt in Daniel. Daniel had been renamed after the god that the king served; perhaps he thought that it was this god that had sent his spirit into Daniel.

9 O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof.

Daniel is called “master of the magicians.” He had earned the coveted title of prince of interpreters, so now the king turns to the old sage who he has been told knows the meaning of dreams.

10 Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed; I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great.

Neuchadnezzar now shares the dream with Daniel; he calls them visions upon his bed. The dream begins with a tree in the midst of the earth that was enormously high.

11 The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth:

The king proceeds to tell Daniel that it was the largest tree he had ever seen. According to the king this tree reached up in the sky and could be seen from the horizon.

12 The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it.

The tree is further described as prolific with fruit, great for shade, and man and beast gathered food from it.

13 I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven;

In his dream he sees a heavenly security guard sent down to guard the tree.

14 He cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches:

The sentinel gives orders to saw the tree down, lop off the limbs, let the fruit fall in every direction and the animals and birds to get away from it.

15 Nevertheless leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth:

The stump is to have two hoops around it, one of iron and one of brass. The hoops will prevent the stump from cracking and holding water thus causing it to rot. Dew will collect on the top of the stump and sprouts will come up from the stump. Then the watcher, or security guard, switches from the stump to the person represented by the tree. He now uses a personal pronoun and says let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth.

16 Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him.

The person who was represented as being cut down was to be given a changed heart and a deranged mind. He will no longer think and act as a human being but as a beast. Seven times (times is a revolution) as the earth revolves we have changes of seasons and one revolution therefore equals a year. Two thousand years age Josephus wrote the following;

“A little after this the king saw in his sleep again another vision; how he should fall from his dominion, and feed among the wild beasts; and that, when he had lived in this manner in the desert for seven years, he would recover his dominion again. When he had seen this dream, he called the magicians together again, and inquired of them about it, and desired them to tell him what it signified; but when none of them could find out the meaning of the dream, nor discover it to the king. Daniel was the only person that explained it; and as he foretold, so it came to pass; for after he had continued in the wilderness the aforementioned interval of time, while no one durst attempt to seize his kingdom during these seven years, he prayed to God that he might recover his kingdom, and be returned to it.” [5].

The Septuagint translates it “…and seven seasons shall revolve over him.”

17 This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.

This decree came from the watchers (heavens security guards), they were acting from word of their superiors, the holy ones. The holy ones were carrying out the orders of the Most High. To carry out a decree is a judicial act that has been enacted by a higher court. The Commander–in-Chief had issued a decree, the holy ones had sent forth the decree (Judicial decision) to the guards to act upon. All of this was to show that even though the king possessed power here on earth that there was one who controlled all things and to show his power he brought this king down to the dust.

18 This dream I king Nebuchadnezzar have seen. Now thou, O Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation thereof, forasmuch as all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known unto me the interpretation: but thou art able; for the spirit of the holy gods is in thee.

The king expresses his confidence in Daniel to give him the remaining interpretation to his dream.

19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him. The king spake, and said, Belteshazzar, let not the dream, or the interpretation thereof, trouble thee. Belteshazzar answered and said, My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies.

Daniel was stunned or devastated; he sat down like one numb for an hour. It took some time for him to recover from the shock and amazement. When he did recover from his astonishment he tells the king that what was going to happen should happen not to him but to his enemies. In other words Daniel didn’t want to see this thing happen to the king. Let such things that are foreboded by the dream happen to your enemy rather than you. Daniel had received nothing but favor from the king.

20 The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth;

This is a repeat of verse eleven and therefore does not require any comments.

21 Whose leaves were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all; under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and upon whose branches the fowls of the heaven had their habitation:

This is a repeat of verse twelve .

22 It is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong: for thy greatness is grown, and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth.

Daniel lifts the curtain and reveals the riddle to the mystery. You are the tree that grew tall and strong and as the tree was cut down so you will be cut down to size.

23 And whereas the king saw a watcher and an holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, Hew the tree down, and destroy it; yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him;

Daniel is merely telling the king what he saw in the dream.

24 This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king:

Wow! The decree had been issued from the God of Heaven and it was to be executed upon the king of Babylon.

25 That they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with 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.

Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that he will be driven from human society and live with wild animals, he will think like an animal, eat like an animal, and sleep out with the animals. His reason was to be taken from him, and he was to become irrational—his intelligence was to become de-humanized. For the next seven years he will imagine himself to be a beast and act accordingly.

In a lunatic asylum one imagines that he is a king, and decks himself out with a scepter and a diadem; another that he is glass, and is filled with excessive anxiety lest he should be broken; others have regarded themselves as deprived of their proper nature as human beings; others as having been once dead, and restored to life again; others as having been dead and sent back into life without a heart; others as existing in a manner unlike any other mortals; others as having no rational soul. [6]

26 And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule.

The stump was to remain, that is the kingdom would stand and he would return to the throne as soon as sentence was served. He would return to the throne once again; but he had to learn the lesson, that God rules in the heavens.

27 Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.

If the king had repented he might have averted the judgment that the Lord designed to bring upon him. Repentance is a radical change of mind resulting in our entire manner of life being changed. God wanted the king to show by righteousness that he had abandoned sinful practices.

28 All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar.

The following things came to pass.

29 At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon.

A year later he hasn’t changed his course of conduct.

30 The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?

He boasted that he had built all this with his abundant wealth, power and display of his glory. He was conceited and egotistical. The fault lay in his pride. He lacked appreciation.

31 While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee.

The words had not passed his lips till the sentence was passed and the judicial decree was carried out. Before his words got cold the verdict was enforced.

32 And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.

They probably called in the occults, the psychotherapeutics questioned him about his delusions, and dreams, and obsessions. They no doubt labeled it as apparitions, and hallucinations. Their couches, table tipping and table rapping hypnotic trances could not cure him. Babylon was filled with spiritualistic mediums that believed in transcendental, guide control, however, the king knew he was an animal and was going to eat and react as one. It must be observed, however that while rarely if ever, one suffering from this mental disorder recovers. The king was told that he would be fully recovered in seven years.

33 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 hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.

There was no appeals court to delay or overturn the decision, so the sentence was swiftly executed. The Lord smote him with this strange mental disorder. He didn’t live in a pup tent, no k-rations, no sleeping bag, and no sub-zero down filled thensulate filled pants and coat with zip out lining and a-parka hood. He never shaved, took a bath, combed his hair or clipped his nails. God had turned this king out to pasture. And this lunatic lived for seven years like the cattle and grazed with them. But, no description excels the Word of God. “His hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.”

34 And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation:

Seven years this lunatic lived and acted like a maniac. Now he has regained his right mind. His reason and sense has returned to him. He didn’t blame God. He had brought it on himself. He lifted up his voice and even sent forth a decree that praised and honoured the God that had humbled him.

35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?

He received an education. He found out who rules. Nebuchadnezzar ruled the greatest kingdom in this world but he learned that God ruled heaven and earth. He found out that none could resist, stop or challenge God.

36 At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellers and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.

When the king regained his mental capacity he was highly regarded by his subordinates and the royal pomp and state all returned to him.

37 Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase

What a testimony. The king has learned that God is sovereign that he is right, that he is just and that He knows how to deal with haughty men.