Daniel 4: Kings and Beasts.
By Pastor Richard Bacon
Copyright 1999 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

In Alice Through the Looking Glass or Alice In Wonderland the walrus and the carpenter walked along the beach and spoke of many things including cabbages and kings. We are not going to speak about cabbages and kings but we are going to speak about beasts and kings…or a king who became a beast. Thinking himself to be as God, God showed him to be a beast.

There are a number of things in Daniel chapter four that demonstrate what separates man from beast. Man has many things in common with the beastly world; we breath the same air, we drink the same water, we live in the same environment; but these are all of a physical nature. What separates us from the animals is the fact that God has made us in his image. It is because we are the image of God, that we are able to glorify God reasonably just as Nebuchadnezzar did at the end of this chapter, when his reason was returned to him.

Nebuchadnezzar reigned for a long time. This particular story seems to take place late in his reign, perhaps in the last ten or twenty years. The events in this chapter took place about twenty-five or thirty years later than those recorded in chapter three. This chapter begins in a way that is different from all the other chapters in the book of Daniel. It begins with an edict from Nebuchadnezzar. Both Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel wrote this chapter — Nebuchadnezzar originally wrote the edict, and Daniel, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, included it in his book. This is similar to the Book of Job. In Job you will find the speeches of Bildad and Elihu, but they did not write the book. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the author of Job included those speeches. So here, we have an edict from Nebuchadnezzar, which Daniel, the author of the book, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, included in the text.

There is an introduction in verses 1-3 which is a royal edit from Nebuchadnezzar. In verses 4 through the end of the chapter, there are three basic divisions: the vision, its interpretation and its fulfillment. The third section, the fulfillment, is the restoration of Nebuchadnezzar.

Introduction: The Royal Edict

The edict of Nebuchadnezzar in the first three verses of Daniel chapter four is quite different from the edict in chapter three upon the plains of Dura. The edict on the plains of Dura commanded that when the music played, everyone was to bow down to an image. Everyone was to be a part of the religion that Nebuchadnezzar had invented. Everyone was to bow down according to the king’s appointment. In this edit in Daniel 4:2-3, Nebuchadnezzar declared, “I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. 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.” Nebuchadnezzar had learned some important things about the attributes of God. He learned that God is omniscient; that He is a revealer of secrets; that all knowledge finds its source in God, because God knows all things. Earlier, in chapter three, Nebuchadnezzar found out that God is a mighty God; He is an omnipotent God; He is a God that is able to deliver those who He says He will deliver. He found out that God is a faithful God. Here Nebuchadnezzar not only declares that God is omniscient, not only that He is powerful and omnipotent, not only is He a faithful God, but that He also is a sovereign God. God does whatsoever He wills. He is an eternal God and an immutable God. That sounds very much like Shorter Catechism question number four. [1] If Nebuchadnezzar had just learned his catechism, he would not have had to go through so many trials to find these things out!

Nebuchadnezzar’s second edict is quite different from the edict on the plains of Dura. He had to go through some very difficult times to come to this conclusion. When he called the people to the plains of Dura to bow down to his image, he called for all people, all nations, all languages. He addressed this edit in chapter four to those same people: to all people, all nations, all languages. This edit is for everyone who dwelled in the earth — everyone in the land. Nebuchadnezzar began this edit, “Peace be multiplied unto you.” That sounds almost like the Apostle Paul or the Apostle Peter. Nebuchadnezzar continued by declaring who God is. In the vision and its fulfillment, Nebuchadnezzar will explain how he learned who God was. He referred to Him as the high God, as the great and mighty God. In fact, the word we see translated here as “high” may also be translated as “true.” He referred to Him as the everlasting God. He is the unchanging God. In the vision of the image of man in chapter two, the image was characterized by the fact that the more it changed, the more it stayed the same. It was changing and yet it was consistent. There was a continuation from top to bottom in that the image was all one man. It was not four different statues; it was all one statue. It was all one image indicating that humanism, at its core, is one religion. Yet as we look from the top of the image to the bottom of the image, it changed by bands. The head was gold, and the breast and the arms were made of silver, the thighs were brass and the legs of iron, the feet and the ten toes of clay and iron. What does this statue tell us about humanity? Humanism does not stay the same. It is not the same from everlasting to everlasting. It is not the same from generation to generation. Humanism, the image of man, changes — even “devolves” — as time goes by. Contrast that to God. The true God is an everlasting God and His kingdom an everlasting kingdom. At the end of the dream in chapter two, a stone cut out without hands demolished the image, and then it filled the earth and lasted for forever. The stone represented the kingdom of God! It is an everlasting kingdom. It does not pass from one people to another people, as the previous kingdoms — the humanistic kingdoms — had done. The humanistic kingdom had passed from the Babylonians to the Meades and Persians, to the Greeks, to the Romans — and even though it was all one kingdom of man, it was passing from people to people. But the everlasting kingdom, the fifth monarchy, the one represented by that stone cut out without hands, will last forever! It will pass to no one. It will not pass to another people. It will be the same people — the people of God — forever and ever. So in this chapter Nebuchadnezzar confessed God, whose kingdom was represented by the stone which is cut out without hands, and he professed that kingdom as opposed to the humanistic kingdom of the image.

What brought about such a change of thinking in Nebuchadnezzar? He was shown what man is apart from the image of God. Take the image of God away from the image of man and man is only a beast. They were worshipping an image of man not the image of God. But it was man without the image of God. It was a lifeless form, a breathless form! It had ears but it could not hear; it had a mouth but it could not speak. It was lifeless; it had no image of God in it. Therefore it was the image of a beast! In the book of Revelation John wrote about man worshipping the image of a beast. What does the image of a beast look like? It looks like a man. To worship the image of the beast is to worship man: it is to worship the ways and the doings and the beings of man as opposed to the great works and signs and wonders of God. Nebuchadnezzar learned that man apart from the image of God is but a beast.

The Vision and Its Fulfillment

1. The Vision and the Interpretation

In verse four, Nebuchadnezzar began to relate the dream. Daniel 4:10, “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.” To understand this verse, we have to go to the interpretation at the end of the chapter. The tree was Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar is set before us in the book of Daniel as that man who aspired to be God. He was that man who set himself in the place of God. It fact, his grandson, Belshazzar, in Daniel chapter five, was that very one in Isaiah 13 and 14 who was characterized as Lucifer, the son of light; the lightened one who attempted to sit in the place of God. He got the desire to be God from his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar. In this passage in Daniel four, Nebuchadnezzar saw himself as a tree in the very center of the earth. He was in the midst of the earth. Everything revolved around him. Have you ever known someone who thought the whole world revolved around them? That was exactly what Nebuchadnezzar thought. The whole world revolved around the tree that was in the midst of the forest in the midst of the earth.

In verse twelve we read, “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.” In saying this about himself, Nebuchadnezzar was also saying this about man in general. He was saying that man is the crown, not of creation, but of all that is. If he had understood that man was the crown of creation, he would not have been quite so wrong. But he did not understand that he was under God. He believed himself to be the lord of all he surveyed. Because he was the lord of all he surveyed, he thought of himself as the lord of all that was.

The vision was of man at the center of the universe. But the tree, which represented Nebuchadnezzar, stretched up toward heaven. That should bring to our mind the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. The tower of Babel stretched up toward heaven. Remember that the tower of Babel got its name because man desired the tower to reach up toward heaven and God confused the languages and spread mankind throughout the world.

This is a long standing desire of mankind. It is the desire of man without God. Man does not desire that God would reach down to him but that he could reach up to God. This is the distinction between true Biblical Christianity and every other religion. This is the difference between God’s true religion and the religion of man. The distinction is whether God reaches down from heaven to draw man up to himself or whether man stands on the earth and reaches up toward heaven. Nebuchadnezzar was symbolized in this vision as a tree — a tree reaching up toward heaven. What Nebuchadnezzar had done is the same thing that every idolater does: he exchanged the truth for a lie.

Man is the image of God. What is man but the image of God? If a man tries to become as God, in his pride he has usurped the place of God. If we understand the image of God correctly, we understand that we have dominion over the rest of creation. But God has dominion over us. In the garden God told Adam and Eve to take dominion over all the creatures of the earth. When they came across a serpent — even if it was a talking serpent — it was still their responsibility to take dominion over that serpent. But they did not and the serpent took dominion over them. They exchanged the truth for a lie. That is the very nature of man in his proud estate. He attempts to be like God. That was the temptation that the serpent placed before Eve in the garden. Genesis 3:4-5, “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: … ye shall be as gods.” The tree in the midst of the earth here in Daniel 4 was an attempt to reach up to heaven, once again exchanging the truth for a lie.

Let us compare the Babylonian ziggurats— The tower of Babel in Genesis 11 and the tree here in Daniel 4. When the fulfillment of this vision took place in verses 28-33, Nebuchadnezzar was standing on the roof of his palace. He was walking around the roof, surveying his entire kingdom and proudly claiming the credit for it all. Verse 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?”

Compare that to Genesis 11:1-9, “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.” — Remember that in Daniel 1:2, Daniel told us that Babylon was in Shinar. — “And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”

What were these men trying to build? Josephus believed that they were simply trying to build something tall enough that a flood would not wipe them out again. But I reject that rationale. They were trying to reach heaven! They were building a tower up toward heaven. Verse 4, “And they said, Go to … let us make us a name.” This is a pride of life. They had a belief that man could get to heaven by his own efforts. The tree in the midst of the earth in our Daniel passage represents Nebuchadnezzar reaching up to heaven by his own efforts. The old Babylonian religion was basically this: man can reach up high enough to eventually reach heaven. There is a continuity, they believed, between man and God. “All I have to do is become spiritual enough and I will be like God.” That was exactly what Nebuchadnezzar was imagining for himself in Daniel 4 and it was exactly what Nimrod was imagining for himself in Genesis 11. “I will eventually become spiritual enough that I will be like God.” Let us compare that to Revelation 21:1-2. We are specifically told that John “… saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Man’s way — Nebuchadnezzar’s way, Nimrod’s way — is to build up to heaven from earth. “Go to … let us make us a name.” God’s way is to send down heaven upon man. It is a descending religion. True religion has God as its source rather than the wit and wisdom of men as its source.

Notice that both Nebuchadnezzar’s and Nimrod’s dream required the whole world to be one to come true. The whole world has to be in agreement. Except for those few Christians who believe in the grace of God and salvation by grace alone and worship of God by His appointed Word alone, the whole world is agreed upon this thing: Salvation is man reaching up to God. They may disagree about the way man does the reaching. In fact some say that we can all reach together even though we are reaching differently. True Christianity — Biblical Christianity — insists that salvation is God reaching down to man. Salvation is wrought by the New Jerusalem — the Holy City — coming down from God, prepared by Him for His bride. In Revelation, this city that comes down from God is foursquare. In Ezekiel’s vision in Ezekiel 48, the shape of the city was foursquare — 1800 by 1800 by 1800. So also, the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle was a perfect cube: the same height, the same width, the same depth. The camp of Israel, as they went through the wilderness, was set up foursquare. Three tribes of Levites plus the Aaronic priesthood are set up in a square directly around the tabernacle, then outside the Levites were the twelve tribes of Israel. Three tribes were on each side. So you have a square of the Holy of Holies, then a square of Levites, then a square of the tribes of Israel. [2]

In Exodus 25:9, “According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it.” God designed the tabernacle; not Moses, not Aaron. God designed the tabernacle and Moses saw a pattern of it and he was to imitate it precisely. In Exodus 25:40, “And look that thou make them,” [all the vessels] “after their pattern which was showed thee in the mount.” God appointed the building, the vessels, the worship, the religion. That was the true religion. That was the religion of which Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo were descendants.

On the other hand, there was the “religion” based on the wit and wisdom of men. Regardless of how they did it —build a tower in Genesis; have a tree in Daniel; a pole in Jeremiah (the “groves by the green trees” of Jeremiah 17:2) it was an unappointed worship; it was something not commanded by God. It was not shown to them in the mount, and therefore it was not pleasing to God.

So we have basically two religions in the world till yet. There is the one religion that says, “Whatever I do for God he better appreciate it.” The other religion says, “Whatever God commands, I will do. I will not add to that pure worship any defilement from my own sinful inclinations.” One believes that men have sinned, but if we work at it hard enough, we will become good. The other maintains that men are so fallen that anything we add to worship will simply defile it. We have to do things precisely as God has said. We cannot go to God any other way but by Jesus Christ. God appointed Jesus as the one way to Him. He is the one Sacrifice that God will accept. He is the one incense that gives a soothing aroma, a sweet savor, to God. If we try to go to God any other way, it is unacceptable. The same thing is true with respect to His worship. That is what we see in Exodus 25:9-40.

In Ezekiel 43:10-11, we read, “Thou son of man, shew the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities: and let them measure the pattern. And if they be ashamed of all that they have done, shew them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof, and the comings in thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the laws thereof: and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them.” Ezekiel was not prophesying of some future millennium, nor was he prophesying merely of the day of Ezra and Nehemiah’s return to the land. He was prophesying primarily of the day of Messiah the prince. In the day of Messiah, our worship is to be according to all of the ordinances and all the forms that He has written down in His book. Once again, we understand that true worship is appointed by God. It is not man reaching up to God. There is no metaphysical continuity between man and God. Only as God condescends to man is man anything other than a beast.

Hebrews 8:4-6, “For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest,” [that is to say, if Christ were on earth, He would not be a priest] “seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” What is the teaching then of the pattern? What are we to understand from Moses’ learning from God what was the appointed worship? We are to learn that God continues to appoint His worship. Even in the new covenant, we cannot simply make up anything that seems good to us. That is the same pride that brought the downfall of man in the garden.

Turn again to Numbers 8:4, “And this work of the candlestick was of beaten gold, unto the shaft thereof, unto the flowers thereof, was beaten work: according unto the pattern which the LORD had shewed Moses, so he made the candlestick.” Notice how much detail God showed Moses in the mount. Right down to the candlesticks. We know that those candlesticks were not there only for light. Those candlesticks were there as a type of Christ — to demonstrate that Christ is the light of the world. Nevertheless, they were a part of the religious vessels in the tabernacle, and because they were a part of the religious vessels, they had religious significance. Anything that has religious significance must be appointed by God or it is idolatry. If we put religious significance upon anything other than that which God has appointed to us, we have made an idol of it.

When man sees himself as the tree of life, he no longer recognizes that he has ethically fallen and is no longer a part of the life of God ethically. Christ is the true tree of life. For Nebuchadnezzar to think of himself as the tree of life is really for him to arrogate to himself those very names that apply to Christ alone. In Proverbs, Christ as wisdom is referred to as a tree of life. Proverbs 3:18, “She [wisdom] is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.” There are many other Scriptures where Christ is associated with the tree of life. Proverbs 11:30, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.” Revelation 2:7, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Revelation 22:2, “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Genesis 2:9, “And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Genesis 3:22, “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.”

2. The Fulfillment.

Whenever man attempts to be more than man, he becomes less than man. Twelve months after this dream, Nebuchadnezzar became a beast — at the very hour that God pronounced judgement upon him. Daniel 4: 31-33, “There fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. 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 … 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.” Twelve months after the vision Nebuchadnezzar was bragging about all he had done. Verses 29-30, “At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. 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?” His punishment came as a result of his exalting himself above being a man. He was exalting himself to something more than the image of God in man.

The image of God in man was marred by the fall. Children, as you think about the image of God in man, think of a mirror. The reflection of ourselves that we see in a mirror is a physical image of what we look like. Now, think of us as a mirror reflecting back the character of God to Him. But you have all seen those false mirrors — the kind you see in a house of mirrors — where it distorts your image. It scares you to look at yourself. Instead of reflecting back a true image, it reflects back an image that has been distorted. So it is that man, in his fallen estate, continues to be the image of God and yet it is distorted. It is not a true reflection of who God is, but rather it is a monstrous reflection. Man, rather than wanting to be like man and be the image of God, rather desires to be God. Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment for wanting to be like God was that he became like the beasts. In other words, the very image of God was taken away from Nebuchadnezzar. When the image of God is taken away from man, he becomes only a beast.

What did Nebuchadnezzar look like? His hair was so matted down that it looked like feathers. His fingernails grew to where they looked like talons — claws — of a bird. He ate grass. It is the image of God that makes man different from the beast. It is what makes man special. It is God’s image upon man that makes him, literally, the crown of creation. God has created man in a special way. Man was not just a continuation of the rest of the animals. God formed Adam specifically out of dust. He breathed life into him, and in that act of breathing life into him, made him a living soul that was apart from creation. However, just as we are not continuous with the rest of creation, neither are we continuous with God. There is a great gulf between God and us. God is God and we are not! That is what Nebuchadnezzar had to learn.

3. Restoration of Nebuchadnezzar

In the third section, we see the restoration of the man, Nebuchadnezzar, when he looked to heaven rather than looking to himself. That is the key thing. In Daniel 4:34, “And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven.” He looked to God! That is what it is to come to ourselves. The prodigal son wanted to go out and squander his inheritance. He was characterized by selfishness and licentiousness and sensuality. Then he came to himself! In Luke 15:18, he says, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.” The prodigal son looked to heaven. Like the prodigal son who came to himself at last, so here Nebuchadnezzar at the end of the days appointed, came to himself. And when he came to himself he looked to heaven. He confessed that there is no continuity between heaven and earth; God is altogether God — and we are altogether creatures. Look at verses 34-36: “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: 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? 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 counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.”

This reminds us somewhat of the story of Job. After going through all of his trials, God added back to Job double the things that He had taken away. Here, after Nebuchadnezzar had been brought to himself, he had come to realize that God is God and we are not. He realized that God is sovereign; God is everlasting; God is eternal; God does whatever He will in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth. He confessed that there is no continuity between heaven and earth. He finally knew that there was no way he could build a tower high enough for him to reach to heaven; there was no way he could grow as a tree in the midst of earth high enough to reach to heaven. When he was willing and able to confess that, then God returned his kingdom to him.

Incidentally, the archeologists who study ancient Babylon have come to the conclusion that Nebuchadnezzar was simply absent from his kingdom for a while. They do not know where he went or why, but apparently it is recorded that he was gone from the throne for a while. They may not know, but we know where he was during that time. We know because Daniel told us. They have just been reading the wrong books.

The question sometimes arises concerning Nebuchad-nezzar: was he converted? Did he worship the true God in a way that we should expect to see him one day in heaven? I do not know, but I will say this: if he did receive mercy, he was not the last blasphemer to receive mercy. Paul also persecuted the church. He said to his protégé Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” Paul received mercy though he was a blasphemer, though he persecuted the church. If Nebuchadnezzar did receive mercy, he was not the last persecutor of the church to do so.

By Christ’s grace I can say to you that just as Nebuchadnezzar was not the last blasphemer to receive grace, nor was Paul the last blasphemer to receive grace, grace is available from Jesus Christ even for blasphemers. There is grace even for those who, in the past, have laughed at the Christian religion, — even for those who have scoffed at the Christian religion. I call unto you, if that is your state, to come to yourself even as Nebuchadnezzar did. It was the God of heaven who lifted Nebuchadnezzar up from his beastly state and the God of heaven also must lift you up from your beastly state. Nevertheless, I call unto you even as Paul called to those blasphemers in Athens on Mars Hill. God, till yet, calls upon all men, everywhere, to repent. As He called upon Nebuchadnezzar to repent and Paul to repent and the blasphemers on Mars Hill to repent so I, by the authority of the ambassadorship that I have from the kingdom of heaven — from that everlasting dominion — from that kingdom that lasts from generation to generation — now call upon you in this generation: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”®

[1] Q. 4. What is God? A. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

[2] Numbers 2 actually lays out where the different tribes were placed around the tabernacle.