Tag Archives: King Nebuchadnezzar

Belshazzar’s Feast And The Fall Of Babylon

Almost seventy years have passed since the events of chapter 1 of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar himself had died in 562 B.C. Daniel does not record his immediate successors, and extrabiblical literature is somewhat confused. A plausible account of Berosus, in his third book, found in a fragment preserved by Josephus summarizes the history between Nebuchadnezzar’s death in 562 B.C. and the fall of Babylon 539 B.C.

According to Berosus, Nebuchadnezzar died after a reign of 43 years and was followed by his son Evil-Merodach. Because his rule was arbitrary and licentious, he was assassinated by Neriglisar after he had reigned only two years. The next four years Neriglisar occupied the throne. At his death his son Laborosoarchod, who was only a child, reigned for nine months until a conspiracy resulted in his being beaten to death. The conspirators appointed Nabonidus, one of their number, who reigned for seventeen years before being defeated by Cyrus the Persian. Nabonidus fleeing Babylon went to Borsippa but was forced to surrender to Cyrus. Nabonidus was allowed to live in Carmania until the time of his death, but he was not allowed to come to Babylonia.

The account of Berosus preserved by Josephus is supported by other evidence such as the short fragment of Abydenus preserved by Eusebius.

Until the discovery of the Nabonidus Cylinder, no mention of Belshazzar, whom Daniel declares to be king of Babylon, had been found in extrabiblical literature. Critics of the authenticity and historicity of Daniel accordingly were free to question whether any such person as Belshazzar existed. Since the publication of Raymond Dougherty’s scholarly research on Nabonidus and Belshazzar, based on the Nabonidus Cylinder and other sources, there is no ground for questioning the general historicity of Belshazzar; and only the details of the scriptural account unverified by extrabiblical sources can be challenged by the critics. Montgomery states that the story is “un-historical” but “nevertheless contains indubitable reminiscences of actual history.”

On the other hand, such a careful scholar as Edward J. Young states, “The identity of Belshazzar has long caused difficulty to commentators. Some have denied his historicity… The king’s name, however, has now appeared upon the cuneiform documents, so that there can be no question as to his historicity. This is the first point at which this ch. exhibits its remarkable accuracy.” The controversy over Belshazzar, because of the extensive investigation and great variety of findings, has become one of the most complicated problems in the entire book, but the problem itself is comparatively simple. Was Belshazzar actually king of Babylon and was he murdered on the night that Babylon was conquered?

A solution of the problem has depended largely on the premises of the scholars dealing with it. Those critical of the authenticity and accuracy of Daniel, especially those zealous to prove second-century authorship, proceed on the premise that Daniel must be in error until he is proved otherwise. Here the discussion is lost in a maze of conflicting facts in extrabiblical literature concerning which the critics themselves are not agreed. Although such ancient records are notoriously inaccurate and at best are fragmentary, the argument of the critics was that Belshazzar never existed because his name did not appear in any of the ancient records. This omission, however, was later remedied, as mentioned above, by the discovery of the name of Bel-shar-usur (Belshazzar) on cylinders in which he is called the son of Nabonidus. Critics, having to recede from their former position that no such person existed, have since centered their attack on the fact that the word king does not occur in connection with Belshazzar on any extant Babylonian records. The establishment of Nabonidus as the father of Belshazzar, or at least his stepfather, nullifies most of the critical objections, although Rowley in an extensive discussion maintains stoutly that to call Belshazzar a king “must still be pronounced a grave historical error.”

Since Rowley, however, even liberal scholars have tended to accept the explanation that Belshazzar acted as a regent under his father, Nabonidus. Norman Porteous, for instance, writes, “On the other hand it is known that Belshazzar was a historical person, the son of the last Babylonian king Nabonidus, who acted as regent of Babylon for several years before its fall, while his father was absent at the oasis of Teima in Arabia.” This would begin Belshazzar’s regency about 553 B.C., when Nabonidus went to Teima. Not only the record in Daniel but also the external evidence is now sufficient to support the conclusion that Belshazzar’s coregency is almost beyond question. This is another illustration of how critical objections based on lack of external evidence are frequently overthrown when the evidence is uncovered.

Additional evidence that Nabonidus was away from Babylon on the night of Daniel 5 is given in the fragment from Berosus, previously cited, which indicates that Nabonidus had left Babylon only to be vanquished in battle and flee to Borsippa. This would involve the premise that Nabonidus, although usually living at Teima, had returned to Babylon for a visit just prior to the siege of Babylon, had gone out to battle before Babylon was actually surrounded, and then was defeated, thereby permitting the Persians to besiege Babylon itself. Under these circumstances, Belshazzar would indeed be king of Babylon in the absence of his father. Problems of his relationship will be considered at the proper place in the exposition, including the possibility that Belshazzar’s mother was a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar and thus in the royal line, whereas Nabonidus was not. There are actually so many plausible possibilities in Daniel’s account, supported by the evidence cited, that the storm of objections can hardly be taken seriously.

Belshazzar’s Feast in Honor of the Gods of Babylon

5:1-4 Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.

About seventy years had elapsed since the capture of Jerusalem recorded in Daniel 1. In the interpretation of the image in chapter 2, Daniel had predicted to Nebuchadnezzar, “After thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee” (Dan 2:39). Now, in chapter 5, this prophecy is about to be fulfilled. Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliating experience in chapter 4 had been followed by his death in 562 b.c. Approximately twenty-three years elapsed between chapter 4 and chapter 5. In this period, a number of monarchs had succeeded Nebuchadnezzar. According to Berosus, Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by his son, Evil-Merodach, also known as Amel-Marduk, who was killed in 560 b.c. He was followed by Neriglissar, also spelled Nergal-shar-usur, a son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar who died in 556 b.c. of natural causes. He was succeeded by Laborosoarchad, also known as Labashi-Marduk, a grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, who was assassinated after less than a year. Nabonidus assumed the throne in 556 b.c. and reigned until 539 b.c. when conquered by the Medes. Belshazzar is best identified as his son, whose mother was either a wife or a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar and thereby strengthened the claim of Nabonidus to the throne. This explains why Belshazzar in the lineal descent from Nebuchadnezzar was honored as a coruler under Nabonidus. Although there are alternative explanations and some dates vary, this succession of kings and identification of characters seems to have reasonable justification. Most expositors disagree with Keil, who identifies Belshazzar with Evil-Merodach, preferring the identification of a son of Nabonidus, based on later evidence not available to Keil. The identifications of Leupold are more satisfactory.

Marduk, sun god of Babylon, with his thunderbolts pursues Anzu

Marduk, sun god of Babylon, with his thunderbolts pursues Anzu

In the quarter of a century which elapsed between chapter 4 and chapter 5, the further revelations given to Daniel in chapters 7 and 8 occurred. Chapter 7 was revealed to Daniel “in the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon” (Dan 7:1) and the vision of the ram and he-goat in chapter 8 occurred “in the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar” (Dan 8:1). The information embodied in these two visions, insofar as Daniel understood it, therefore was known to Daniel before the event of chapter 5 which chronologically came after chapters 7 and 8. If Belshazzar began his reign in 553 b.c, when Nabonidus went to Teima, the visions of chapters 7 and 8 actually occurred about twelve years before the events of chapter 5.

Verse 1 of chapter 5 introduces the fact that Belshazzar as king of Babylon had made a great feast to which a thousand of his lords had been invited with their wives. That such a large feast should be held by a monarch like Belshazzar is not at all strange. Leupold cites the ancient historian Ktesias to the effect that Persian monarchs frequently were known to dine daily with 15,000 people. M. E. 50:Mallowan mentions the great feast that Ashusnasirpal II gave to 69,574 guests when he dedicated his new capital city of Calah (Nimrud) in 879 b.c.

Although the size of the banquet is not amazing, the situation was most unusual. If the setting can be reconstructed, Nabonidus previously had gone forth from Babylon to fight the Medes and the Persians and had already been captured. The whole surrounding territory of the city of Babylon and the related provinces already had been conquered. Only Babylon with its massive walls and fortifications remained intact. Possibly to reassert their faith in their Babylonian gods and to bolster their own courage, this feast in the form of a festival had been ordered. The storehouses of Babylon were still abundant with food and wine, and there is evidence that there was plenty of both at this feast. The expression “drunk wine before the thousand” indicates that Belshazzar was probably on a platform at a higher level than other guests and led them in drinking toasts to their deities. Under the stimulus of wine, the thought occurred to Belshazzar to bring in the gold and silver vessels taken from the temple in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar almost seventy years before. The implication in the clause “whiles he tasted the wine” is that Belshazzar in his right mind probably would not have committed this sacrilegious act.

Drinking bouts such as characterized Babylon were also common among other peoples, such as the Persians. Athenaeus quotes Heracleides of Cumae, the author of Persian History, in describing in detail the custom of drinking to excess after dinner. The luxury of both the drinking and the eating is also illustrated in Athenaeus in describing dinners among the Persians of high station as follows: “For one thousand animals are slaughtered daily for the king; these comprise horses, camels, oxen, asses, deer, and most of the smaller animals; many birds also are consumed, including Arabian ostriches—and the creature is large—geese, and cocks.”

Much has been made of the reference of Belshazzar’s relationship to Nebuchadnezzar, who is described as “his father” in verse 2; and even Keil is influenced by this to consider Belshazzar a literal son of Nebuchadnezzar. This is not entirely impossible, of course, for as Leupold shows, Nabonidus could have married a widow of Nebuchadnezzar who had a son by Nebuchadnezzar who then could be adopted by Nabonidus by way of strengthening his own hold upon the throne. As Nabonidus assumed the throne in 556 B.C., only six years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar, and Belshazzar was probably at least a teenager when Nebuchadnezzar died—if he was old enough to be coregent with Nabonidus in 553 B.C.— it is possible that he was a genuine son of Nebuchadnezzar and that his mother, after Nebuchadnezzar’s death, was married to Nabonidus. This, however, is conjecture; and probably it is more natural to consider Belshazzar a son of Nabonidus himself.

Although the precise identity of Belshazzar may continue to be debated, available facts support accepting Daniel’s designation of Belshazzar as king. The reference to father may be construed as “grandfather.” As Pusey states, “Neither in Hebrew, nor in Chaldee, is there any-word for ‘grandfather,’ ‘grandson.’ Forefathers are called ‘fathers’ or ‘fathers’ fathers.’ But a single grandfather, or forefather, is never called ‘father’s father’ but always ‘father’ only.”

The sacred vessels taken from Jerusalem had apparently been kept in storage without sacrilegious use from Nebuchadnezzar’s day until the occasion of this feast. Now these holy vessels are distributed among the crowd and used as vessels from which to drink wine. Verse 2 cites that “the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines” drink from them; and this fact is restated in the actual act in verse 3 where only the golden vessels are mentioned. The Revised Standard Version, following the Vulgate, adds in verse 3 “and silver vessels.” This act of sacrilege was an intentioned religious gesture in praise of the gods of Babylon mentioned in descending order of importance as “gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.” That Belshazzar well knew the blasphemous character of his act is evident from Daniel 5:13, 22. He knew Daniel and knew the history of Nebuchadnezzar’s experience with God’s chastening. Some have found, in the six materials mentioned, a typical reference to “the number of the world amenable to judgment because of its hostility to God.” In the original, the gods of gold and silver are separated by the conjunction “and,” not true of the listing of the gods of brass, iron, wood, and stone, as if there were two classes of deities. This distinction is supported by Keil.

Their pride in their deities may have been bolstered by the magnificence of the city of Babylon itself, interpreted as an evidence of the power of their gods. Herodotus gives a glowing account of Babylon as a monument to the genius of Nebuchadnezzar and undoubtedly a source of much pride to all the Babylonians. According to Herodotus, Babylon was about fourteen miles square, with great outer walls 87 feet thick and 350 feet high, with a hundred great bronze gates in the walls. A system of inner and outer walls with a water moat between the walls made the city very secure. So broad and strong were the walls that chariots four abreast could parade around its top. Herodotus pictures hundreds of towers at appropriate intervals reaching another 100 feet into the air above the top of the wall.

Modern interpreters view Herodotus’ figures as greatly exaggerated, with the real dimensions only about one-fourth of what Herodotus claimed. The outer wall seems to have been only seventeen miles in circumference, instead of about fifty-six as Herodotus claimed, with much fewer towers and gates; and probably even the towers were not more than 100 feet tall. While the dimensions may be questioned, the magnificence of the city was not seriously exaggerated.

The great Euphrates River flowed through the middle of the city in a general north-south direction and was bordered by walls on each side to protect the city from attack from the river. Within these walls were beautiful avenues, parks, and palaces. Many of the streets were lined with buildings three and four stories high. Among these buildings were the Temple of Bel, an eight-story structure, and the magnificent palace of the king, actually a complex of buildings, which have now been excavated. A great bridge spanned the Euphrates River, connecting the eastern section and the western or new section of the city. The bridge was later supplemented by a tunnel mentioned by Diodorus. The famed “hanging gardens” of Babylon were large enough to support trees.

babylon-represents-mans-efforts-to-replace-god-with-himselfAlthough Babylon has been only partially excavated with but a small part of the original city recovered, the system of mounds which mark the city today more or less indicate its boundaries. Archeological research is complicated by a change in the course of the Euphrates River and a higher water level, but more than 10,000 inscribed texts have been discovered.

In many respects, Babylon was the most fabulous city of the ancient world both for the beauty of its architecture and for the safety of its huge walls and fortifications. It was hard for the Babylonians to believe that even the Medes and the Persians who had surrounded their beloved city could possibly breach the fortifications or exhaust their supplies which were intended to be ample for a siege of many years. Their confidence in their gods was bolstered by their confidence in their city.

The Handwriting on the Wall

5:5-9 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. Then came in all the king’s wise men; but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof. Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.

While the feast was in progress with its drinking of wine and shouting of praises to the gods of Babylon, suddenly there appeared the fingers of a man’s hand which wrote on the plastered wall of the palace. With only the fingers of the hand visible and producing writing upon the wall, the spectacle immediately attracted attention.

In the ruins of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace archeologists have uncovered a large throne room 56 feet wide and 173 feet long which probably was the scene of this banquet. Midway in the long wall opposite the entrance there was a niche in front of which the king may well have been seated. Interestingly, the wall behind the niche was covered with white plaster as described by Daniel, which would make an excellent background for such a writing.

If the scene can be reconstructed, it is probable that the banquet was illuminated by torches which not only produced smoke but fitful light that would only partially illuminate the great hall. As the writing according to Daniel was written “over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace,” it may have appeared in an area of greater illumination than the rest of the room and thus also have attracted more attention.

The effect upon the king and his associates was immediate. According to Daniel, his countenance changed, that is, changed color and became pale. His thin courage, bolstered by wine drunk from vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had plundered and were seemingly a symbol of the power of the gods of Babylon, now deserted him. He was instead filled with terror to the point that “the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.” In his excitement, he no longer could sit down but hardly had the strength to stand. Probably before the babble of conversation in the banquet room had subsided, the king began to cry aloud “to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers.” Only three classes of wise men are mentioned, but it is doubtful whether any class was intentionally omitted as verse 8 refers to “all the king’s wise men.” The astrologers were actually the magicians; the Chaldeans were a broad class of scholars and learned men in the lore of the Babylonians; and the soothsayers corresponded more closely to the modern concept of astrologers, although they may have also practiced sorcery. It is possible in the decline of the Babylonian Empire that the number of the wise men was far more limited at this point in history than it was under Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. In any event, there is no proof for the suggestion discussed by Keil that the classification of wise men mentioned purposely excluded Daniel. As Keil points out, the king was ready to listen to anyone who could interpret the writing.

As soon as a suitable number of the wise men had assembled, the king addressed them offering the reward that, if one of them could read the writing and show the interpretation, he would be clothed with scarlet and have a chain of gold about his neck and become third ruler in the kingdom. To be clothed in scarlet and to wear a chain of gold about the neck were special tokens of the king’s favor and certainly would have been coveted by any of the wise men.

Much speculation has arisen concerning the expression that he offered them the position of being “the third ruler in the kingdom.” There is some question as to whether the Aramaic indicates specifically “the third ruler.” The ordinal numeral would be tÿli‚ta„y (as in Dan 2:39) whereas the Aramaic here is actually talti‚. Scholars are not agreed as to the precise meaning of this term, but the suggestion is made that it may be a title for an office of honor which did not necessarily correspond precisely to the meaning of the word. As Keil expresses it, “It is not quite certain what the princely situation is which was promised to the interpreter of the writing… That it is not the ordinale of the number third, is, since Havernick, now generally acknowledged.” However, recent scholarship has tended to confirm the translation “the third ruler.” Franz Rosenthal, for instance, confidently translates the term “one-third (ruler), triumvir.”

In spite of the problem in the word, it is probable that the offer of honor was that of being the third ruler. Belshazzar under Nabonidus was considered the second ruler, and the position of a third ruler would be the highest that he could offer. Belshazzar was evidently in no mood to bargain but was terrified and desperately desired to know the meaning of the writing.

The large reward that was offered, however, was to no avail, for the wise men who assembled could not read the writing nor interpret it. This implies a twofold difficulty. Some have claimed that the text does not plainly indicate the language. Charles, for instance, suggests that the writing was in unfamiliar ideograms. This, however, is mere conjecture. The probability is that the writing was in Aramaic and therefore not entirely unknown to the wise men.

In any case Daniel read the writing as Aramaic, and the suggestion of puns in the language depends upon the Aramaic. The difficulty of the wise men in reading the writing may have been that it was written in Aramaic script without the vowels being supplied; but if written in cuneiform, the vowels would have been included. Daniel does not explain the difficulty in reading the writing on the wall, but the problem apparently was not that it was a strange language but rather what the words signified prophetically.

The inability of the wise men to decipher the writing only increased the concern of Belshazzar. Perhaps the full force of his wickedness in using the vessels taken from the temple in Jerusalem had begun to dawn upon him, or the fears suppressed concerning the presence of the armies which surrounded Babylon may have now emerged. His concern was shared by the entire assembly.

Belshazzar’s predicament is another illustration of the insecurity and powerlessness of the rulers of this world when confronted by the power and wisdom of God. How God holds in derision the rulers of the world who take counsel against Him (Ps 2:1-4)! Like Nebuchadnezzar before him, Belshazzar was soon to experience divine judgment but without the happy ending.

Daniel Suggested as the Interpreter

5:10-12 Now the queen by reason of the words of the king and his lords came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said, O king live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed. There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers; Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.

The crisis produced by the inability of the wise men to interpret the handwriting on the wall is met by the entrance of one described as “the queen.” Much speculation surrounds the identity of this person as it is related to the larger question of Belshazzar’s lineage. Keil and Leupold both consider her to be a wife of Nebuchadnezzar and the mother of Belshazzar. As the wives of the lords and the king himself had earlier been declared to be at the banquet (v. 3) one who had the role of “queen” would most probably be Belshazzar’s mother. She had not attended the banquet. This would be understandable if she was elderly and the widow of Nebuchadnezzar. If she were the wife of Nabonidus who was in captivity she probably would not have desired to come alone. Hearing the unusual clamor at the banquet and learning of the distress of her son, because of her position she was able to enter the banquet hall freely and speak to the king. Her address is courteous, “O king, live for ever,” but directly to the point. Like a mother, she told her son in effect to pull himself together because there must be some solution to his problem. As one holding her position was normally highly regarded and treated with respect, she could speak out in a way that no other could do. Honoring of parents was characteristic of the Israelites (Ex 20:12; 1 Ki 2:13-20; 2 Ki 24:12-15). The same was true in the Gentile world, and the dowager queen was able to enter the banquet hall without an invitation.

Montgomery, opposing the idea that the queen is Belshazzar’s wife, comments, “Also the lady’s masterful appearance on the scene betokens rather the queen-mother than the consort.” Jeffery, likewise, writes, “…she speaks to him of his father in a way that suggests a mother speaking to a son rather than a wife to a husband.”

The solution to the problem which the queen suggested was that they invite Daniel the prophet, who had been discovered as a man of wisdom by Nebuchadnezzar, to interpret the writing. The queen uses the very words which presumably she had heard Nebuchadnezzar express (Dan 4:8, 9, 18). According to the queen, Daniel had “the spirit of the holy gods.” In the time of Nebuchadnezzar, to whom she refers as “thy father,” Daniel had been found to have the wisdom of gods and possessing “light,” that is, enlightenment, “understanding” or insight, and in general wisdom comparable to the wisdom of the gods. So great was his genius that Nebuchadnezzar had made him “master” or chief of his wise men, which in itself was a remarkable position for one who was not a Chaldean; and this honor placed upon him testified to the confidence of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel’s abilities. The reference to Nebuchadnezzar as the father of Belshazzar, as previously indicated, should probably be either grandfather or greatgrandfather as the same term would be used for any of these designations. It does imply, however, that Belshazzar was in descent from Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel’s excellent qualities manifested themselves in “an excellent spirit,” unusual knowledge and understanding, and the ability to interpret dreams, difficult sentences, and “dissolving of doubts,” that is, solutions to problems. The word for doubts ( qitÿri‚n) is actually knots, joints, difficult problems. Daniel had not been assembled with the other wise men because he probably was in semiretirement and was no longer chief of the wise men. The queen urged, however, that now he be brought in to solve the present problem.

Daniel Called Before the King

5:13-16 Then was Daniel brought in before the king. And the king spake and said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry? I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee. And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not show the interpretation of the thing: And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.

When Daniel was brought before the king, he addressed a natural question to reassure himself of the identity of Daniel. It seems clear that Belshazzar knew something of Daniel, for his form of address in verse 13 goes beyond the information supplied by his mother. He knew for instance that Daniel was of the captivity of Judah and that he was one of the captives which Nebuchadnezzar had brought out of Jerusalem. It may well be that because of awareness of his ancestry and religious convictions that Daniel had been demoted by Belshazzar himself. Now Belshazzar was all too eager to have the gifts of this man exercised to interpret the writing. Belshazzar goes on in verse 14 to repeat what his mother had said concerning Daniel’s wisdom.

Belshazzar informs Daniel of the inability of all the wise men either to read or to interpret the writing. Belshazzar then offers Daniel the same promise he made to the others of being clothed with scarlet and having a chain of gold and the privilege of being “the third ruler in the kingdom,” that is, the triumvir. As in the previous instances in Daniel 2 and 4, the wisdom of the world is demonstrated to be totally unable to solve its major problems and to understand either the present or the future. Daniel as the prophet of God is the channel through which divine revelation would come, and Belshazzar in his extremity was willing to listen.

Too often the world, like Belshazzar, is not willing to seek the wisdom of God until its own bankruptcy becomes evident. Then help is sought too late, as in the case of Belshazzar, and the cumulative sin and unbelief which precipitated the crisis in the first place becomes the occasion of downfall.

The situation before Belshazzar had all the elements of a great drama. Here was Daniel, an old man well in his eighties, with the marks of godly living evident in his bearing—in sharp contrast to the wine-flushed faces of the crowd. In the midst of this atmosphere of consternation, apprehension, and fear, Daniel’s countenance alone reflected the deep peace of God founded on confidence in God and His divine revelation.

Daniel’s Rebuke of Belshazzar

5:17-23 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation. O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will. And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this: But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:

Daniel’s reply to the king is properly called a sermon, and as King says, “What a great sermon it is!” Daniel begins by disavowing any interest in the gifts or rewards which the king offered. This was not prompted by disrespect nor by the evident fact that they would be short-lived. What Daniel is saying is that he will give an unprejudiced interpretation with no attempt to seek favor from the king. He promises both to read and to make known the interpretation.

In addressing the king, Daniel does not begin with a formal salutation as he does for instance in connection with Darius in Daniel 6:21 where he says, “O king, live for ever.” No doubt Daniel holds Belshazzar in contempt for his desecration of the sacred vessels. However, the narration here must be considered in the form of a condensation; and probably Daniel addressed the king in a formal way. A parallel is found in Daniel 2:27, where Daniel addresses Nebuchadnezzar without formal greeting, and in Daniel 4:19, where Daniel replies to Nebuchadnezzar simply with the expression, “My lord.” This was hardly a time in any case for Daniel to greet Belshazzar with such an expression as he gave to Darius, “O king, live for ever,” when as a matter of fact, Belshazzar’s hours were numbered. Instead, in verse 18 he recognizes him as king but then immediately delivers his prophetic message of condemnation.

Daniel first reminds Belshazzar that God gave Nebuchadnezzar his great kingdom and the honor that went with it. Daniel describes graphically in verse 19 how Nebuchadnezzar was feared and had absolute authority of life and death over his people and, accordingly, was an absolute sovereign. As Young points out, however, the very character of this absolute authority delegated to Nebuchadnezzar by God also made Nebuchadnezzar responsible. This is demonstrated and supported by Nebuchadnezzar’s experience of insanity in Daniel 4 when, as Daniel expresses it, “he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him.” Daniel then itemizes in detail the characteristics of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity, how he lived with the wild beasts, ate grass like the ox, and was wet with the dew of heaven. All of this proved that God was greater than Nebuchadnezzar and held him responsible for his authority. Only when Nebuchadnezzar was properly humbled did God restore him to his” glory and kingdom.

These facts are pertinent to Belshazzar’s situation as they were well known by everyone as Daniel expresses it in verse 22, “And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this.” The contrast between the supreme power of Nebuchadnezzar and the very limited power of Belshazzar is also evident. Belshazzar was not even the first ruler in the kingdom and was humiliated by the fact that Babylon was besieged and had already lost its power over the provinces surrounding the city.

Belshazzar’s situation and his knowledge of Nebuchadnezzar’s humbling made all the more blasphemous his taking of the vessels captured in Jerusalem from the house of the Lord and using them to drink wine in praising the gods of Babylon. With what eloquent scorn Daniel declares that Belshazzar, his lords, wives and concubines had drunk wine from these sacred vessels and had “praised gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified.”

Although the Scriptures do not state so expressly, it is probable that the message of Daniel to the king was heard by the entire company. It would have been quite improper for the entire company to keep on talking, especially in these dramatic circumstances, when Daniel was reporting to the king. They would naturally want to hear what he had to say. One can well imagine the tense moment as these ringing words reached every ear in the vast hail in the deathlike silence that greeted Daniel’s prophetic utterance. Here was a man who did not fear man and feared only God. Daniel spoke in measured tones the condemnation of that which was blasphemous in the sight of the holy God. There was, however, nothing insolent or discourteous in Daniel’s address to the king; and the charges were stated in a factual and objective way. In any case, the king was in no position to dispute with Daniel, even though Daniel’s words brought even greater fear and apprehension to his heart.

Daniel’s Interpretation of the Writing

me5:24-28 Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written. And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

In beginning his explanation of the handwriting on the wall, Daniel first of all reads the writing; and for the first time, the words are introduced into the text of this chapter. Transliterated into English, they are given as “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.” There has been almost endless critical discussion as to what the meaning of this inscription is, and the interpretation is complicated by a number of factors. In the book of Daniel the words are given in Aramaic, but some have questioned this. If it was written in Aramaic script, however, only the consonants may have appeared. If in cuneiform, the vowels would be included. While in ordinary discourse the lack of vowels could normally be supplied rather easily, in a cryptic statement such as this the addition of vowels is a problem. The inscription on the wall may have appeared like this, “MN’ MN’ TQL UPRSN.” The order of the letters in the Aramaic, of course, would be the reverse of this, that is, from right to left.

Young suggests, after some of the rabbis, that the characters may have been written vertically, and in that case in the Aramaic order they would have appeared as follows:

P T M M

R Q N N

S L ’ ’

If, in addition to the complications of the Aramaic, a language which was known, some unfamiliar form of their characters was used, it would indeed have required divine revelation to give a suitable explanation and interpretation, and may account for the difficulty in reading the writing.

Because of the variety of words that could be identified merely by the consonants, another suggestion has been made. MENE could be considered equivalent to the maneh of Ezekiel 45:12; Ezra 2:69. TEQEL could be considered as representing the Hebrew shekel PERES could be read as PERAS, or a half-maneh, although this identification is questionable. Under this interpretation, the writing would read, “A maneh, a maneh, a shekel, and a half-maneh.” Having arrived at this conclusion, however, it still remains to be determined what it means. Young in his discussion on this point gives J. Dymeley Prince the credit for the suggestion that the maneh refers to Nebuchadnezzar, the shekel (of much less value) to Belshazzar, and the half-minas refers to the Medes and the Persians. Daniel’s explanation, however, is far more cogent and reasonable, and does not give any indication that the words mean other than he indicates.

The word MENE means “numbered,” and Daniel interprets this in verse 26 as indicating “God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.” It is in keeping with the idea that man’s days are numbered, and the repetition of the word twice is probably for emphasis. Like the other words, it is a passive participle.

TEQEL means “weighed,” with the thought that Belshazzar has been put into the balances and found wanting, that is, short of true weight.

PERES means “divided,” and is merely another form for UPHARSIN as in verse 25 having the u, which is equivalent to the English and, with PHARSIN being the plural of PERES. Leupold suggests that PHARSIN could be understood by changing the vowels to be “Persians” and might have a double meaning as indicated by Daniel’s explanation “given to the Medes and Persians.” A pun may be intended on this third word. Having been interpreted to mean “divided,” it is also understood as a reference to the Aramaic word for Persian, thereby hinting a Persian victory over Babylon.

The interpretation of Daniel is clear and much more satisfactory than the alternatives offered by some expositors. Belshazzar is made to understand that Babylon will be given to the Medes and the Persians. Even while Daniel was interpreting the writing on the wall, the prophecy was being fulfilled as the Medes and the Persians poured into the city.

Daniel’s Reward and the Prophecy Fulfilled

5:29-31 Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.

The drama of the writing on the wall and its interpretation is now brought to its fulfillment as Belshazzar keeps his promise. Daniel is clothed with scarlet, a chain of gold put about his neck, and a proclamation issued that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. All of these honors, however, were short-lived and useless, as Daniel well knew, and typical of the honors of this world. In its rise to power the Babylonian Empire had conquered Jerusalem, taken its inhabitants into captivity, looted its beautiful temple, and completely destroyed the city. Yet this empire was to have as its last official act the honoring of one of these captives who by divine revelation predicted not only the downfall of Babylon but the course of the times of the Gentiles until the Son of man should come from heaven. Man may have the first word, but God will have the last word.

Herodotus gives an interesting account of the circumstances surrounding the capture of Babylon:

“Cyrus… then advanced against Babylon. But the Babylonians, having taken the field, awaited his coming; and when he had advanced near the city, the Babylonians gave battle, and, being defeated, were shut up in the city. But as they had been long aware of the restless spirit of Cyrus, and saw that he attacked all nations alike, they had laid up provisions for many years, and therefore were under no apprehensions about a siege. On the other hand, Cyrus found himself in difficulty, since much time had elapsed, and his affairs were not at all advanced. Whether, therefore, someone else made the suggestion to him in his perplexity, or whether he himself devised the plan, he had recourse to the following stratagem. Having stationed the bulk of his army near the passage of the river where it enters Babylon, and again having stationed another division beyond the city, where the river makes its exit, he gave order to his forces to enter the city as soon as they should see the stream fordable. Having stationed his forces and given these directions, he himself marched away with the ineffective part of his army; and having come to the lake, Cyrus did the same with respect to the river and the lake as the queen of the Babylonians had done; for having diverted the river, by means of a canal, into the lake, which was before a swamp, he made the ancient channel fordable by the sinking of the river. When this took place, the Persians who were appointed to that purpose close to the stream of the river, which had now subsided to about the middle of a man’s thigh, entered Babylon by this passage. If, however, the Babylonians had been aware of it beforehand, or had known what Cyrus was about, they would not have suffered the Persians to enter the city, but would have utterly destroyed them; for, having shut all the little gates that lead to the river, and mounting the walls that extend along the banks of the river, they would have caught them as in a net; whereas the Persians came upon them by surprise. It is related by the people who inhabited this city, that, by reason of its great extent, when they who were at the extremities were taken, those of the Babylonians who inhabited the centre knew nothing of the capture (for it happened to be a festival); but they were dancing at the time, and enjoying themselves, till they received certain information of the truth. And thus Babylon was taken for the first time.”

Keil discusses at length both Herodotus’ account and that of Xenophon in his Cyropaedia,which is similar, and summarizes the arguments of Kranichfeld discounting these records. Discoveries since Keil tend to support Herodotus and Xenophon, although not accounting for Darius the Mede. The battle probably took place much as Herodotus records it.

Prophecy anticipating the fall of Babylon is found in both Isaiah and Jeremiah, written many years before. Isaiah and Jeremiah had prophesied that Babylon would fall to the Medes on just such a night of revelry as Daniel records (Is 13:17-22; 21:1-10; Jer 51:33-58). Some of these prophecies may have their ultimate fulfillment in the future (Rev 17-18). More specifically of the invasion of the Medes, Isaiah writes, “Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media” (Is 21:2), and continues, after describing their dismay, “My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me. Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield” (Is 21:4-5). Finally, the tidings come, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground” (Is 21:9). Jeremiah is explicit, “And I will make drunk her princes, and her wise men, her captains, and her rulers, and her mighty men: and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, and her high gates shall be burned with fire” (Jer 51:57-58).

The account of Cyrus, himself, of the fall of Babylon has now been recovered in an inscription on a clay barrel:

Marduk, the great lord, a protector of his people/worshipers, beheld with pleasure his (i.e., Cyrus’) good deeds and his upright mind (lit.: heart) (and therefore) ordered him to march against his city Babylon… He made him set out on the road to Babylon… going at his side like a real friend. His widespread troops—their number, like that of the water of a river, could not be established—strolled along, their weapons packed away. Without any battle, he made him enter his town Babylon,… sparing Babylon… any calamity. He delivered into his (1:e., Cyrus’) hands Nabonidus, the king who did not worship him (i.e., Marduk).

Daniel himself records with graphic simplicity the fulfillment of his prophecy in the words, “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.” The concluding verse of the chapter in English versification records how Darius the Median became ruler of Babylon at the age of 62 years. The identity of this conqueror, unknown outside the Bible by this name, has touched off endless controversy and discussion which will be considered in the next chapter.

The long chapter devoted to this incident which brought the Babylonian Empire to its close is undoubtedly recorded in the Word of God not only for its historic fulfillment of the prophecies relative to the Babylonian Empire but also as an illustration of divine dealing with a wicked world. The downfall of Babylon is in type the downfall of the unbelieving world. In many respects, modern civilization is much like ancient Babylon, resplendent with its monuments of architectural triumph, as secure as human hands and ingenuity could make it, and yet defenseless against the judgment of God at the proper hour. Contemporary civilization is similar to ancient Babylon in that it has much to foster human pride but little to provide human security. Much as Babylon fell on that sixteenth day of Tishri (Oct. 11 or 12) 539 B.C., as indicated in the Nabonidus Chronicle, so the world will be overtaken by disaster when the day of the Lord comes (1 Th 5:1-3). The disaster of the world, however, does not overtake the child of God; Daniel survives the purge and emerges triumphant as one of the presidents of the new kingdom in chapter 6.

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul Text, Studies in The Book of Daniel

Nebuchadnezzar’s Pride And Punishment

This chapter which occupies such a large portion of the book of Daniel is more than a profound story of how God can bring a proud man low. Undoubtedly, it is the climax of Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual biography which began with his recognition of the excellence of Daniel and his companions, continued with the interpretation of the dream of the image in chapter 2, and was advanced further by his experience with Daniel’s three companions.

In the background of this account is the obvious concern of Daniel the prophet for the man whom he had served for so many years. Daniel, a man of prayer, undoubtedly prayed for Nebuchadnezzar and eagerly sought some evidence of God’s working in his heart. While the experience of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4 was not what Daniel had anticipated, the outcome must have approximated Daniel’s fondest hope. Although some like Leupold, after Calvin, “doubt whether the king’s experience led to his conversion,” it may well be that this chapter brings Nebuchadnezzar to the place where he puts his trust in the God of Daniel. Even merely as a lesson in the spiritual progress of a man in the hands of God, this chapter is a literary gem.

In the light of Daniel’s revelation of the broad scope of Gentile power beginning in chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar’s experience seems to take on the larger meaning of the humbling of Gentile power by God and the bringing of the world into submission to Himself. In the light of other passages in the Bible speaking prophetically of Babylon and its ultimate overthrow, of which Isaiah 13 and 14 may be taken as an example, it becomes clear that the contest between God and Nebuchadnezzar is a broad illustration of God’s dealings with the entire human race and especially the Gentile world in its creaturely pride and failure to recognize the sovereignty of God. The theme of the chapter, as given by Daniel himself in the interpretation of the king’s dream, is God’s dealings with Nebuchadnezzar “till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Dan 4:25). Not only is the sovereignty of God demonstrated, but the bankruptcy of Babylonian wisdom forms another motif. It is obviously by design that this chapter precedes the downfall of Babylon itself which follows in chapter 5. To push this to the extreme of making it a particular application to Antiochus Epiphanes in the effort to support a late date of Daniel is, however, without justification. There is nothing whatever to link this passage to the second century B.C. In fact, it is far more applicable to that fateful night in October 539 b.c. when Babylon fell as recorded in Daniel 5.

The content of the chapter is in the form of a decree recording his dream, Daniel’s interpretation, and Nebuchadnezzar’s subsequent experience. Whether written by Nebuchadnezzar himself, or more probably by one of his scribes at his dictation, or possibly by Daniel himself at the king’s direction, the inclusion of it here in Daniel is by divine inspiration. Although critics have imagined a series of incredible objections to accepting this chapter as authentic and reasonably accurate, the narrative actually reads very sensibly and the objections seem trivial and unsupported.

Those who reject chapter 4 of Daniel without exception assume that the account is not inspired of the Holy Spirit, that an experience like Nebuchadnezzar’s is essentially incredible, and that it is a myth rather than an authentic historical record. Such objections obviously assume that higher criticism is right in declaring Daniel a forgery of the second century B.C. This conclusion is now subject to question not only because of the fallacious reasoning which supports it, but because it is now challenged by the documentary evidence in the Qumran text of Daniel, which on the basis of the critics’ own criteria would require Daniel to be much older than the second century b.c. (see Introduction). Conservative scholarship has united in declaring this chapter a genuine portion of the Word of God, equally inspired with other sections of Daniel.

Introduction of Nebuchadnezzar’s Proclamation

4:1-3 Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. 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.

Although it is clear that the opening verses are an introduction to the decree of Nebuchadnezzar, various versions differ in their versification, with the Massoretic beginning the decree at the close of chapter 3. The Septuagint rendering of chapter 4 also differs considerably from the Hebrew-Aramaic text, used for the King James Version translation. Charles summarizes the differences in these words,

In the Massoretic text, which is followed by Theodotion, the Vulgate, and the Peshitto, the entire narrative is given in the form of an edict or letter of Nebuchadnezzar to all his subjects. It begins with a greeting to ‘all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth,’ and proceeds to state the king’s desire to make known to them the signs and wonders that the Most High had wrought upon him (1-3). He then recounts a dream which troubled him, and tells how he summoned the magicians, Chaldeans, and soothsayers to make known its interpretation.

Charles then contrasts this with the Septuagint,

Turning now to the LXX we observe first of all that there is nothing in it corresponding to the first three verses in the Massoretic, which transform the next thirty-four verses into an edict. The chapter begins simply, in the LXX, with the words: ‘And in the eighteenth year of his reign Nebuchadnezzar said: I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house’: then follows in the same narrative form the next thirty-three verses. At their close comes the edict as a result of the king’s spiritual and psychical experiences, in which are embodied very many of the phrases in iv.1-3. A close study of the texts and versions has forced me to the conclusion that the older order of the text is preserved in the LXX and not in the Aramaic.

Although liberal critics generally unite in a low view of this chapter, not only assigning it to a pseudo-Daniel of the second century but finding the text itself suspect, there is insufficient evidence in favor of the Greek translation of the Septuagint. Even Montgomery, who does not regard this as authentic Scripture, rejects the view that the Septuagint is the older text than the present Aramaic text, although he considers the Aramaic also a revision of an earlier text. There is actually little justification for all these variations of unbelief. The chapter on the face of it is credible, albeit a record of supernatural revelation. Generally, those who accept the sixth century date for Daniel also accept this chapter more or less as it is.

The first verse of chapter 4 is the natural form for such a decree, beginning with the name of the sender, the people to whom it is sent, and a general greeting. That it should be sent “unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth” is not out of keeping with the extensive character of Nebuchadnezzar’s empire, although he was well aware of the fact that all of the earth’s geography was not under his power. It is similar to the extensive decree ofDaniel 3:29 which is addressed to “every people, nation, and language.” Montgomery is obviously prejudiced in his judgment, “As an edict the document is historically absurd; it has no similar in the history of royal conversions nor in ancient imperial edicts.” The folly of this kind of objection is evident in that if Montgomery had found one example in any other literature his criticism would become invalid, but he feels perfectly free to ignore the parallels in chapter 3 and chapter 6 of Daniel. In this case, as is so often true, the critics argue from alleged silence in the records, although admittedly we possess only fragments of ancient literature. This chapter is no more difficult to believe than any other unusual divine revelation.

Although the benediction, “Peace be multiplied unto you,” is strikingly similar to some of Paul’s greetings in his epistles, it was a common form of expression in the ancient world. A greeting very much like 4:1 is found in Daniel 6:25 where Darius wrote a similar decree with almost the same wording. It is possible that Daniel himself affected the form even if he did not write it as in both places he is in a position of high authority, and the edicts in both cases may have been issued under his particular direction. The decree in any case actually begins with the word peace as that which preceded it was the address.

Nebuchadnezzar then sets the stage for the presentation of his experience by declaring that it was his judgment that the amazing signs and wonders wrought in his life by “the high God” were of such unusual significance that he should share them with his entire realm. The expression signs and wonders is a familiar idiom of Scripture occurring, as Leupold notes, in many passages (Deu 6:22; 7:19; 13:1, 2; 26:8; Neh 9:10; Is 8:18, etc.). Because it is so biblical, it has led to questions by higher critics; but actually there is a great deal of similarity between Babylonian psalms and biblical psalms, and there is nothing technical about this phrase. The expression “the high God” is another evidence that Nebuchadnezzar regards the God of Israel as exalted; but it is not in itself proof that he is a monotheist, trusting only in the true God.

Nebuchadnezzar’s exclamation of the greatness of God and His signs and wonders is quite accurate and in keeping with his experience. The signs wrought in his life were indeed great, and God’s wonders were indeed mighty. His conclusion that the kingdom is an everlasting kingdom extending from generation to generation is a logical one based on his experience and reveals God in a true light (cf. Ps 145:13).

Wise Men Unable to Interpret Dream

4:4-7 I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace: I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me. 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. 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.

Nebuchadnezzar’s account of his experience describes his secure and flourishing situation in his palace prior to the dream. In his early reign he was active in military conquest. Now his vast domains had been made secure, and Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilling his heart’s desire by making Babylon one of the most fabulous cities of the ancient world. He was already enjoying his beautiful palace; and at the time of the dream itself he was in bed in his house as indicated in verses 5 and 10. In describing himself as “flourishing in my palace” he used a word meaning “to be green” such as the growth of green leaves on a tree, an evident anticipation of the dream which followed. In this context of security and prosperity surrounded by the monuments of his wealth and power, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which made him afraid. The sequence in verse 5 that he “saw a dream” and had “thoughts upon my bed” as well as “visions of my head” seems to imply that the dream came first, and then upon awakening from the dream which was also a vision his thoughts troubled him. The expression made me afraid is actually much stronger in the original and indicates extreme terror or fright.

As he contemplated the meaning of his experience, he issued a decree to bring all the wise men of Babylon before him to make known its interpretation. As illustrated in chapter 2 this was a standard procedure, and the wise men of Babylon were supposed to be able to interpret mystical experiences. Upon being told the dream, the wise men, described here in their various categories, as also in Daniel 2:2, did not make known to the king the interpretation. It seems that they not only did not make known the interpretation but were unable to do so, as Leupold translates this expression, “but they could not make known to me the interpretation.” Even though the dream was adverse and might present a problem in telling Nebuchadnezzar, they probably would have made some attempt to explain it to him, if they had understood it.

Daniel Told the King’s Dream

4:8-18 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, 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. 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. 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 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. I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven; 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: 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: 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. 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 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.

For some unexplained reason Daniel was not with the other wise men when the king told his dream. Coming in late, he was immediately addressed personally by Nebuchadnezzar in attempt to have his dream interpreted. Questions have been raised why verse 8 not only calls him Daniel but adds the expression “whose name was Belteshazzar.” In view of the fact that this is part of a record where Daniel is prominent, why the double name?

The answer, however, is quite simple. This decree was going throughout the kingdom where most people would know Daniel by his Babylonian name, Belteshazzar. The king, in recognition of the fact that Daniel’s God is the interpreter of his dream, calls Daniel by his Hebrew name, the last syllable of which refers to Elohim, the God of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar explains that his name Belteshazzar was given “according to the name of my god,” that is, the god Bel. The double name is not unnatural in view of the context and the explanation.

Of Daniel it is said “in whom is the spirit of the holy gods.” It is debatable whether gods is singular or plural, as it could be translated either way. Young, with a wealth of evidence from Montgomery, considers it a singular noun and thus a recognition by the king “that the God of Dan. was different from his own gods.” This distinction is borne out by the adjective “holy” (4:8, 18; 5:11). The philological evidence supports the singular, although Leupold agrees with Driver that the noun and its adjective are plural and a reflection of the king’s polytheism. Driver notes, “The same expression occurs in the Phoenician inscription of Eshmunazar, king of Sidon (3—4 cent. B.C.), lines 9 and 22.” The word holy, according to Young, refers to gods who are divine, rather than specifically having moral purity. The ultimate judgment of the expression depends on how well Nebuchadnezzar comprehended the nature of Daniel’s God. He obviously had high respect for the God of Daniel and may have had a true faith in the God of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar, having justified his singling out Daniel of all the wise men, now records in his decree his conversation with Daniel which includes a restatement of his dream.

Daniel, addressed by his heathen name, is further described as the “master of the magicians.” This was intended by Nebuchadnezzar to be a compliment in recognition of the genius of Daniel. Having already spoken of his intimate contact with God and the indwelling of the Spirit of God in him, he refers to Daniel’s thorough knowledge of the whole field of Babylonian astrology and religion. Leupold suggests that magicians should be translated “scholars” to give the true meaning and avoid the implication of mere magic.

Nebuchadnezzar, on the basis of his previous experience, restates that the Spirit of God is in Daniel and that secrets do not trouble him, that is, he is able to declare their meaning. Of interest is the statement concerning the prince of Tyrus, “Behold, thou art wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that they can hide from thee” (Eze 28:3). This statement, which the critics work hard to explain, as it confirms a sixth century Daniel, also supports the idea that Daniel’s fame had spread far and wide. By the expression, “tell me the visions of my dream,” Nebuchadnezzar obviously meant that Daniel should interpret the dream which the king was now to relate. Verses 10-12 have been regarded as in poetic form if some alteration of the text were permitted, and verses 14-17 are considered free verse also, but with no metrical evenness. Most conservatives ignore this as requiring too much alteration of the text to conform to the poetic pattern. The ideas are poetic, if the form is not.

In his vision, Nebuchadnezzar saw a tree apparently standing somewhat by itself and dominating the view because of its great height. Porteous notes that Bentzen “refers to a building inscription of Nebuchadnezzar in which Babylon is compared to a spreading tree.” The use of trees in the Bible for symbolic purposes as well as in extrascriptural narratives is found frequently (cf. 2 Ki 14:9; Ps 1:3; 37:35; 52:8; 92:12; Eze 17). An obvious parallel to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is recorded in Ezekiel 31, where the Assyrian as well as the Egyptian Pharaoh are compared to a cedar of Lebanon. Young states, “Among the commentators Haevernick particularly has illustrated the fondness with which the Orientals depicted the rise and fall of human power by means of the symbol of a tree.” In extrabiblical literature, there is the account of Astyages the Mede who had a dream in which a vine grew out of the womb of Mandane his daughter and subsequently covered all Asia. Herodotus interpreted this as referring to Cyrus. Another famous illustration is that of Xerxes, who in a dream was crowned with a branch of an olive tree which extended over the world. According to Haevernick, there are similar allusions in Arabic and Turkish sources. Nebuchadnezzar probably anticipated that the tree represented himself, and this added to his concern.

As Nebuchadnezzar described his dream, the tree was pictured as growing, becoming very strong and very high until it was visible all over the earth, obviously exceeding the possibilities of any ordinary tree. Abundant foliage characterized the tree, and it bore much fruit so that it provided for both beast and fowl and “all flesh fed of it.” This obviously included all beasts and fowls. Whether or not it was intended to apply literally to men is open to question, but symbolically it included mankind as under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar.

As Nebuchadnezzar observed the scene, an actor appears in the form of “a watcher and an holy one” who is described as coming “down from heaven.” This expression has generated a great deal of comment, especially by liberal critics who consider this a vestige of polytheism. Even Keil says, “The conception… is not biblical, but Babylonian heathen.” In the religion of the Babylonians, it was customary to recognize “council deities” who were charged with the special task of watching over the world. The question raised on this passage is whether Nebuchadnezzar uses this heathen concept.

In his detailed note on the subject of watchers, Montgomery refers to the considerable role played by the “watchers” in the intertestamental literature and to a possible occurrence in the Zadokite fragment. He quotes Meinhold as drawing attention in this connection to “the eyes of the Cherubs,” in Ezekiel 1:18, and “‘the seven, which are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth,’ Zech. 4:10,” and goes on to trace the still closer parallel with “‘the Watchers’” ( sho„mÿri‚m) and “‘the Remembrancers of the Lord’” ( hammazkiri‚m áeth-Yahweh) of Isaiah 62:6.

In the light of the full revelation of the Word of God, the most natural conclusion is that this person described as “a watcher and an holy one” is an angel sent from God even though the word angel is not used. That angels are watchers, or better translated “vigilant, making a sleepless watch,” is not foreign to the concept of angels in Scripture. The expressions “watchers” and “the holy ones” are mentioned in verse 17 by the messenger himself. Nebuchadnezzar seems to use the term in its heathen connotation as he understood it. He probably would not have understood what was meant by using the term angel in this connection, although he used angel himself in 3:28. The extended discussion of Keil on this point does not clarify the issue too much but probably says all that can be said, even though his conclusions are not entirely satisfactory.

The heavenly messenger cries aloud, literally cries “with might.” To the unnamed listeners, he calls for the tree to be cut down, its branches cut off, its leaves to be shaken off, and its fruit to be scattered. The beasts under it and the fowls in its branches were instructed to get away. The record does not say that the command is carried out, but this is implied.

Special instructions, however, are given regarding the stump; and these indicate that the tree will be revived later. The stump is to be bound with a band of iron and brass. The purpose of this is not clear unless in some way it helps preserve it. However, in real life, such a band would not prevent the stump from rotting; and it is probable here that it is symbolic of the madness which would afflict Nebuchadnezzar and hold him symbolically, if not in reality, in chains. The stump is to be surrounded by the tender grass of the field, to be wet with the dew of heaven, and to have its portion with the beasts of the earth. It seems evident that the description goes beyond the symbol of a stump to the actual fulfillment in Nebuchadnezzar’s experience. This becomes more clear in verse 16 where the person in view is given a beast’s heart instead of a man’s heart. This, of course, has no relationship to the characteristics of the stump. The prophecy is concluded with the expression, “let seven times pass over him.” This may refer to seven years or merely to a long period of time. Probably the most common interpretation is to consider it seven years as in the Septuagint. It is certain that the period is specific and not more than seven years.

The messenger then concludes that his decree proceeds from “the watchers” and from “the holy ones.” The purpose is that people living in the world may recognize the true God described as “the most High” and acknowledge Him as the true ruler of men, who has the power to place “the basest of men” over earthly kingdoms. That God can set up in a position of power the lowliest of men is a common truth of Scripture (see 1 Sa 2:7-8; Job 5:11; Ps 113:7-8; Lk 1:52; and the story of Joseph). This statement is a direct confrontation of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride in his own attainments and power.

The major problem of verse 17 is the reference to the watchers and the holy ones who seem to originate the decree. If these are understood as agencies of God, who actually is the source, the problem is alleviated. The verse itself calls our attention to the fact that God as “the most High” is the ultimate sovereign and certainly does not imply that the messengers are in any sense independent of God. The problems created by this text, therefore, are greatly overdrawn by those who see this in conflict with the scriptural doctrine of God.

In concluding his statement concerning the dream, Nebuchadnezzar appeals to Daniel to provide the interpretation. He explains to Daniel that the wise men of Babylon were not able to do this, but he expresses confidence in Daniel, “for the spirit of the holy gods is in thee” (cf. 4:8). The stage is now set for Daniel’s interpretation.

Daniel Interprets the Dream

4:19-27 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. The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth; 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: 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. 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; this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king: 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. 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. 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 it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.

Keil summarizes the situation facing Daniel with these words, “As Daniel at once understood the interpretation of the dream, he was for a moment so astonished that he could not speak for terror at the thoughts which moved his soul. This amazement seized him because he wished well to the king, and yet he must now announce to him a weighty judgment from God.” No doubt, Daniel was not only troubled by the content of the dream but by the need to tell Nebuchadnezzar the interpretation in an appropriate way.

Verse 19 introduces both names of Daniel again, the Hebrew name in recognition that he is acting as a servant of the God of Israel and his Babylonian name by which he was known officially. Daniel’s consternation at the interpretation of the dream is indicated in that he “was astonied for one hour,” to be understood as being in a state of perplexity for a period of time. An accurate translation would be “was stricken dumb for a while” (ASV), or “was perplexed for a moment.” The Revised Standard Version translation, “for a long time,” is probably inaccurate. Probably a full sixty minutes would have been too long for him to have remained silent in these circumstances.

Nebuchadnezzar comes to his rescue in this situation and urges him not to let the dream trouble him. The comment reflects his respect for Daniel as a person as well as an interpreter of the dream, and indirectly this is an assurance that Daniel himself need not fear the king regardless of what he reveals.

With this encouragement, Daniel replies with typical oriental courtesy that the dream be to them that hate Nebuchadnezzar and the interpretation to his enemies. Leupold believes that there is an ethical objection to Daniel’s sinking to mere flattery in this case and avoiding the real import of the dream. He interprets the statement as meaning that the dream would please the king’s enemies. It would seem more natural, however, to have the expression refer to Daniel’s wishes in the matter. It is hard to see how the expression in any sense would be flattery. Daniel had a high regard for Nebuchadnezzar and undoubtedly wished the interpretation of the dream could be otherwise than it was.

Having begun his interpretation, he now describes Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in detail, restating what the king had already told him. With the facts of the dream before him, he then proceeds to the interpretation in verse 22. Daniel immediately identifies the tree as representing Nebuchadnezzar. Just like the tree in the dream, the king had grown and become strong, had grown great and reached unto heaven with his dominion to the end of the earth. After recapitulating the announced destruction of the tree and the other details which the king already had recited, Daniel proceeds to the detailed interpretation in verse 24. It is significant that he mentions here, “this is the decree of the most High,” which is Daniel’s interpretation of the expression in verse 17 “the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones.” Although Nebuchadnezzar’s description did not immediately specify divine agency, it is clear that this is the interpretation according to Daniel in verse 24.

The meaning of the tree being cut down and the attendant circumstances is then defined. Nebuchadnezzar is to be driven from ordinary association with men and will dwell with the beasts of the field. In this condition he will eat grass as the ox and suffer the dew of heaven until he understands that God gives to men the power to rule as He wills. The interpretation of the stump with its bands of iron and brass is that Nebuchadnezzar will retain control of his kingdom and that it will be restored to him after he comes back to his senses. To have had his mind restored without the kingdom would have been a hollow victory. In spite of his pride, Nebuchadnezzar was to know the graciousness of God to him.

The expression, that the heavens do rule, is of particular interest for it is the only time in the Old Testament where the word heaven is substituted for God. This usage became prominent in later literature as in 1 Maccabees and in the New Testament in Matthew where the term kingdom of heaven is similar to kingdom of God. Daniel, in using the expression the heavens do rule, is not accepting the Babylonian deification of heavenly bodies, as he makes clear in 4:25 that “the most High” is a person. He is probably only contrasting divine or heavenly rule to earthly rule such as Nebuchadnezzar exercised, with the implication that Nebuchadnezzar’s sovereignty was much less than that of “the heavens.”

With the interpretation of the dream now clearly presented to Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel, as a prophet of God, gives a word of solemn exhortation to the king. With utmost courtesy, he urges the king to replace his sins with righteousness and his iniquities with showing mercy to the poor, if perchance God would lengthen the period of his tranquillity. Nebuchadnezzar undoubtedly had been morally wicked and cruel to those whom he ruled. His concern had been to build a magnificent city as a monument to his name rather than to alleviating the suffering of the poor. All of this was quite clear to Daniel as it was to God, and the exhortation is faithfully reproduced in this decree going to Nebuchadnezzar’s entire realm.

This passage has created some controversy because of a mistranslation in the Vulgate which reads in translation, “Cancel thy sins by deeds of charity and thine iniquities by deeds of kindness to the poor.” This, of course, is not what is recorded in the book of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar is not promised forgiveness on the ground of good works or alms to the poor; but rather the issue is that, if he is a wise and benevolent king, he would alleviate the necessity of God’s intervening with immediate judgment because of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride.

The Dream Fulfilled

4:28-33 All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar. 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? 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. 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. 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.

Although fulfillment of the dream was not immediate, the decree sums it up concisely, “All this came upon king Nebuchadnezzar.” Twelve months later as he walked in the palace in Babylon, one of his crowning architectural triumphs, and looked out upon the great city of Babylon, his pride reached a new peak as he asked the question “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?” From the flat roof of the palace, he undoubtedly had a great perspective. This statement contradicts any notion of some critics that he was not actually in Babylon at that time. Everything points to the contrary. What he surveyed was indeed impressive. There are frequent mentions of the great buildings of Babylon in ancient literature.

Montgomery finds this description of Nebuchadnezzar precisely fitting the historical context: “The setting of the scene and the king’s self-complaisance in his glorious Babylon are strikingly true to history. Every student of Babylonia recalls these proud words in reading Neb.’s own records of his creation of the new Babylon; for instance (Grotefend Cylinder, KB iii, 2, p. 39): ‘Then built I the palace the seat of my royalty ( e‚kallu mu‚sŒa‚b sŒarru‚ti‚a), the bond of the race of men, the dwelling of joy and rejoicing’; and (East India House Inscr., vii, 34, KB ib., p. 25): In Babylon, my dear city, which I love was the palace, the house of wonder of the people, the bond of the land, the brilliant place, the abode of majesty in Babylon.’ The very language of the story is reminiscent of the Akkadian. The glory of Babylon, ‘that great city’ (Rev. 18), remained long to conjure the imagination of raconteurs. For the city’s grandeur as revealed to the eye of the archaeologist we may refer to R. Koldewey, Das wieder erstehende Babylon,1913 (Eng. tr. Excavations at Babylon, 1915), with its revelation of Neb.’s palace, the temples, etc.”

beastThe building of Babylon was one of Nebuchadnezzar’s principal occupations. Inscriptions for about fifty building projects have been found, usually made of brick and sometimes of stone. Among the wonders of Nebuchadnezzar’s creation were the gardens of Semiramis, the famous “hanging gardens” regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The gardens were planted on top of a building and served both to beautify and to keep the building cool from the heat of summer. They probably were in view of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. Although his palaces which he constructed were all in Babylon, there were numerous temples built in other cities. The city of Babylon itself, however, was regarded as the symbol of his power and majesty; and he spared no expense or effort to make it the most beautiful city of the world. If the construction of a great city, magnificent in size, architecture, parks, and armaments, was a proper basis for pride, Nebuchadnezzar was justified. What he had forgotten was that none of this would be possible apart from God’s sovereign will.

No sooner were the words expressing his pride out of his mouth than he heard a voice from heaven, “O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee.” The voice goes on to state how Nebuchadnezzar will be driven from men and fulfill the prophecy of living the life of a beast until the proper time had been fulfilled and he was willing to recognize the most high God. His transition from sanity to insanity was immediate, and so was the reaction as he was driven from the palace to begin his period of trial. Added in verse 33 is that which had not been previously mentioned—that his hair would grow like the feathers of an eagle, completely neglected and matted, and his nails would grow like birds’ claws. How quickly God can reduce a man at the acme of power and majesty to the level of a beast. The brilliant mind of Nebuchadnezzar, like the kingdom which he ruled, was his only by the sovereign will of God.

Scripture draws a veil over most of the details of Nebuchadnezzar’s period of trial. It is probable that Nebuchadnezzar was kept in the palace gardens away from abuse by common people. Although given no care, he was protected; and in his absence his counsellors, possibly led by Daniel himself, continued to operate the kingdom efficiently. Although Scripture does not tell us, it is reasonable to assume that Daniel himself had much to do with the kind treatment and protection of Nebuchadnezzar. He, no doubt, informed the counsellors of what the outcome of the dream would be and that Nebuchadnezzar would return to sanity. In this, God must have inclined the hearts of Nebuchadnezzar’s counsellors to cooperate, quite in contrast to what is often the case in ancient governments when at the slightest sign of weakness rulers were cruelly murdered. Nebuchadnezzar seems to have been highly respected as a brilliant king by those who worked with him, and this helped set the stage for his recovery.

Although his insanity was supernaturally imposed, it is not to be regarded as much different in its result from what might be expected if it had been produced by natural causes. The form of insanity in which men think of themselves as beasts and imitate the behavior of a beast is not without precedent. Keil designates the malady as insania zoanthropica.

Young in his treatment of this designates the disease as Boanthropy, i.e., he thought himself to be an ox, and cites Pusey as having collected considerable data on the subject. A person in this stage of insanity in his inner consciousness remains somewhat unchanged, but his outer behavior is irrational. Young states, “Pusey adduces the remarkable case of Pere Surin, who believed himself to be possessed, yet maintained communion with God. It is true to fact, then, that Neb., although under the influence of this strange malady, could lift up his eyes unto heaven.” In any case, the malady supernaturally imposed by God was supernaturally relieved at the proper time.

Raymond Harrison recites a personal experience with a modern case similar to that of Nebuchadnezzar, which he observed in a British mental institution in 1946. Harrison writes,

A great many doctors spend an entire, busy professional career without once encountering an instance of the kind of monomania described in the book of Daniel. The present writer, therefore, considers himself particularly fortunate to have actually observed a clinical case of boanthropy in a British mental institution in 1946. The patient was in his early 20’s, who reportedly had been hospitalized for about five years. His symptoms were well-developed on admission, and diagnosis was immediate and conclusive. He was of average height and weight with good physique, and was in excellent bodily health. His mental symptoms included pronounced anti-social tendencies, and because of this he spent the entire day from dawn to dusk outdoors, in the grounds of the institution … His daily routine consisted of wandering around the magnificent lawns with which the otherwise dingy hospital situation was graced, and it was his custom to pluck up and eat handfuls of the grass as he went along. On observation he was seen to discriminate carefully between grass and weeds, and on inquiry from the attendant the writer was told the diet of this patient consisted exclusively of grass from hospital lawns. He never ate institutional food with the other inmates, and his only drink was water… The writer was able to examine him cursorily, and the only physical abnormality noted consisted of a lengthening of the hair and a coarse, thickened condition of the finger-nails. Without institutional care, the patient would have manifested precisely the same physical conditions as those mentioned in Daniel 4:33… From the foregoing it seems evident that the author of the fourth chapter of Daniel was describing accurately an attestable, if rather rare, mental affliction.

The experience of Nebuchadnezzar has been compared by liberal critics to the “Prayer of Nabonidus,” in Cave IV Document of the Qumran literature. The prayer is introduced as, “The words of the prayer which Nabonidus, King of Assyria and Babylon, the great king, prayed…” The prayer describes Nabonidus as being afflicted with a “dread disease by the decree of the Most High God,” which required his segregation at the Arabian oasis of Teima for a period of seven years. An unnamed Jewish seer is said to have advised Nabonidus to repent and give glory to God instead of the idols he formerly worshiped. Because of the parallelism between this account and that of Nebuchadnezzar, liberal scholars who consider the book of Daniel as written in the second century have concluded that the account of Nabonidus is the original account, and that what we have in Daniel 4 is a tradition about it which substituted the name of Nebuchadnezzar for that of Nabonidus. As Frank M. Cross has expressed it,

There is every reason to believe that the new document [the Prayer of Nabonidus] preserves a more primitive form of the tale [Daniel 4]. It is well known that Nabonidus gave over the regency of his realm to his son Belshazzar in order to spend long periods of time in Teima; while Nebuchadnezzar, to judge from extrabiblical data, did not give up his throne. Moreover, in the following legend of Belshazzar’s feast, the substitution of Nebuchadnezzar for Nabonidus as the father of Belshazzar (Dan. 5:2) is most suggestive. Evidently in an older stage of tradition, the cycle included the stories of Nebuchadnezzar (cf. Dan. 1-3), Nabonidus (Dan. 4), and Belshazzar (Dan. 5).

Conservative scholars, who recognize the genuineness of the book of Daniel as a sixth century b.c. writing, see no conflict in accepting both Daniel 4 as it is written and the “Prayer of Nabonidus” as having some elements of truth, although apocryphal. In fact, as the discussion of Daniel 5 brings out, the fact that Nabonidus lived at Teima for extended periods, well attested in tradition, gives a plausible explanation as to why Belshazzar was in charge in Babylon in Daniel 5. It is not necessary to impugn the record of Daniel in order to recognize the uninspired story relating to Nabonidus.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Restoration

4:34-37 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: 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. 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.

Although the previous narrative had been couched in the third person, Nebuchadnezzar now returns to first person narrative. He records how he lifted up his eyes to heaven and his understanding returned. Whether this was simultaneous or causal is not stated, but looking to the heavens possibly was the first step in his recognition of the God of heaven and gaining sane perspective on the total situation. Nebuchadnezzar’s immediate reaction was to express praise to God, whom he recognizes as “the most High.” What effect this had on his belief in other deities is not stated, but it at least opens the door to the possibility that Nebuchadnezzar had placed true faith in the God of Israel.

In praising and honoring God, he attributes to Him the quality of living forever, of having an everlasting dominion, and of directing a kingdom which is from generation to generation. These qualities of eternity and sovereignty are far greater than those attributed to Babylonian deities. Because of His sovereignty, God can consider all the inhabitants of the earth as nothing. He is able to do as He wills whether in heaven or in earth, and no one can stay his hand or ask, “What doest thou?” Even as these words of praise were uttered to God, his reason returned to him. No doubt his counsellors had maintained some sort of a watch upon him, and upon the sudden change the report was given. They immediately sought his return to his former position of honor. Apparently the transition was almost immediate, and Nebuchadnezzar was once more established in his kingdom. It is in this role that he is able to issue the decree and make the public confession that is involved.

Nebuchadnezzar concludes with praise and worship for the “King of heaven,” whom he describes in conclusion, “all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.” Nebuchadnezzar’s experience brings the obvious spiritual lesson that even the greatest of earthly sovereigns is completely subject to the sovereign power of God. Montgomery summarizes the chapter concisely, “Neb. holds his fief from Him who is King in heaven and in the kingdom of man.”

The debate as to whether Nebuchadnezzar was actually saved in a spiritual sense remains unsettled. Such worthies as Calvin, Hengstenberg, Pusey, and Keil believe the evidence is insufficient. As Young and others point out, however, there is considerable evidence of Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual progress of which chapter 4 is the climax (cf. 2:47; 3:28; 4:34-35). There can be little question that he acknowledges Daniel’s God as the omnipotent eternal sovereign of the universe (4:34, 35, 37). His issuance of a decree somewhat humiliating to his pride and an abject recognition of the power of God whom he identifies as “King of heaven” (4:37) would give us some basis for believing that Nebuchadnezzar had a true conversion. Inasmuch as in all ages some men are saved without gaining completely the perspective of faith or being entirely correct in the content of their beliefs, it is entirely possible that Nebuchadnezzar will be numbered among the saints.

In chapter 4 Nebuchadnezzar reaches a new spiritual perspicacity. Prior to his experience of insanity, his confessions were those of a pagan whose polytheism permitted the addition of new gods, as illustrated in Daniel 2:47 and 3:28-29. Now Nebuchadnezzar apparently worships the King of heaven only. For this reason, his autobiography is truly remarkable and reflects the fruitfulness of Daniel’s influence upon him and probably of Daniel’s daily prayers for him. Certainly God is no respecter of persons and can save the high and mighty in this world as well as the lowly.

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The Golden Image Of Nebuchadnezzar

The account of the golden image which was erected on the plain of Dura records Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction to the revelation of chapter 2 in which he was symbolized by the head of gold. The astounding courage and deliverance of Daniel’s companions, who refused to worship the image, has inspired the people of God in similar times of trial. The chapter as a whole, however, is often regarded as merely providing historical insight into the characteristics of this period. Works devoted to study of the prophecies of Daniel often omit consideration of chapter 3 entirely as do S. P. Tregelles and Robert D. Culver. Others, such as Geoffrey R. King, interpret the chapter as not only history but parable and prophecy. The introduction of the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 3 immediately following Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great image depicting Gentile times, even if its parabolic implications are ignored, obviously is intended to convey not only spiritual truth in general, but characteristics of the times of the Gentiles. Its study, accordingly, not only provides spiritual insights but contributes to the overall presentation of prophecy in Daniel.

The Image of Gold

3:1-7 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits (90 feet), and the breadth thereof six cubits (9 feet.) he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of musick, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. (Emphasis mine.)

The erection of the golden image by Nebuchadnezzar is clearly subsequent to the events of chapter 2 since Daniel 3:12, referring to the appointment of Daniel’s companions over the affairs of the province of Babylon, and Daniel 3:30 imply that the event was subsequent to Daniel 2:49. The exact date of the erection of the image, however, is debated. The Septuagint and Theodotion connect the event with the destruction of Jerusalem, which, according to 2 Kings 25:8-10 and Jeremiah 52:12, places this event in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. There is no certainty, however, that there is a relationship between the destruction of Jerusalem and the erection of the image, although the general narrative and the fact that Daniel apparently is away would imply considerable passage of time. It may well be, however, that twenty years elapsed between chapter 2 and chapter 3.

The image of gold is described as being sixty cubits (90 ft.) high and six cubits (9 ft.) broad, a very impressive sight erected in the plain of Dura. The Hebrew word for image implies, as Leupold says, “An image in the very broadest sense,” probably in human form although the proportions are far too narrow for a normal figure. Scripture does not solve this problem, but most commentators agree that images of this kind in antiquity frequently varied from ordinary human proportions. The image may have been on a pedestal with only the upper part of the image resembling human form. The obvious intent was to impress by the size of the image rather than by its particular features. Leupold cites numerous ancient images such as that of Zeus in a temple at Babylon; the golden images on the top of the Belus temple, one of which was forty cubits high; and the Colossus at Rhodes which was seventy cubits high. While an image of this size was unusual, it was by no means unique; and there is no reason to question the historical accuracy of its dimensions.

Although Nebuchadnezzar had tremendous wealth and could conceivably have erected this image of solid gold, it is probable that it was made of wood overlaid with gold as was customary. Montgomery observes, “Its construction of gold has also given rise to extensive argument, with charge of absurdity on one side, e. g., JDMich [J. D. Michaelis], with defence based on the fabulous riches of the East on the other. But Herodotus’ statements about the golden idols in Babylon afford sufficient background. (Cf. Pliny’s account of an all-gold image of Anaitis, which was looted by Antony, Hist, nat., xxxiii, 24.) The gold consisted in overlaid plates, for which we possess not only abundant Classical evidence … but also that of the Bible.” The “golden altar” (Ex 39:38) was actually wood overlaid with gold (Ex 37:25-26). Idols overlaid with gold are mentioned in Isaiah 40:19 and Isaiah 41:7. Jeremiah describes the same process (Jer 10:3-9). The appearance of the image, however, was much the same as if it were solid gold.

The use of the golden metal for the image may have been derived from Nebuchadnezzar’s previous experience with the image of chapter 2 where Daniel informed him that he, Nebuchadnezzar, was the head of gold. Although Nebuchadnezzar did not do this intentionally, the dimensions of six cubits wide and sixty cubits high introduces the number six which is prominent in the Bible as the number of man (cf. Rev 13:18). The intended significance of the image from Nebuchadnezzar’s point of view is, however, debatable. It may have been in honor of the god of Babylon, either Bel or Marduk, but in this case it would have been natural to mention the name of the god. Nebuchadnezzar may have regarded the image as representing himself as the embodiment of divine power, and the worship of the image would then be a recognition of his personal power. In view of his pride as dealt with in chapter 4, this becomes a plausible explanation.

The image was set up “in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.” The expression Dura, as Leupold states, “is a rather common name in Mesopotamia, being a name that is applicable to any place which is enclosed by a wall,” and a number of locations bear this title as Keil points out. Both Keil and Young mention two possible locations which seem to be eliminated by being too far from Babylon. As Young states, “The name Dura has occurred in classical sources; Polybius 5:48, Amm. Mar. 23:5, 8; 24:1, 5 mention a Dura at the mouth of the Chaboras where it empties into the Euphrates, but this can hardly be reckoned as being in the province of Babylon, and another Dura is mentioned as being beyond the Tigris not far from Appollonia, Polybius 5:52 and Amm. Mar. 25:6, 9. This also would be too distant.”

The consensus of conservative scholarship is that the most probable location is a mound located six miles southeast of Babylon consisting of a large square of brick construction which would have ideally served as a base for such an image as Nebuchadnezzar erected. Montgomery earlier had come to the same conclusion based on the findings of Oppert Its proximity to Babylon would make it convenient and yet its location in a valley plain would make its height impressive. The fact that a specific name is given to the location, which implies an intimate knowledge of Babylon in the sixth century B.C., as Young points out, “is in reality an evidence of genuineness in that it seems to presuppose some knowledge of Babylonian geography.”

The image having been erected, Nebuchadnezzar, according to the Scripture record, gathered the principal officials of his empire for its dedication. As there are parallels in similar situations in the ancient world, such as Sargon’s feast upon the completion of a palace erected at Dur Sharrukin, scholars, both liberal and conservative, have agreed that this ceremony is in keeping with the times. Such a display of officials was on the one hand a gratifying demonstration of the power of Nebuchadnezzar’s empire and on the other hand was significant as recognizing the deities who in their thinking were responsible for their victories. The worship of the image was intended to be an expression of political solidarity and loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar rather than an intended act of religious persecution. It was in effect a saluting of the flag, although, because of the interrelationship of religious with national loyalties, it may also have had religious connotation.

The list of the officials gathered for the event has occasioned comment because some of them are Persian rather than Babylonian terms. The speculation as to why Persian terms should be used is much ado about nothing. It would be natural for Daniel, who may have written or at least edited this passage after the Persian government had come to power, to bring the various offices up-to-date by using current expressions. The fact that Daniel was so familiar with these offices is another evidence that he lived in the sixth century B.C.. The official titles used in Daniel 3:2-3 help to date the book in the sixth century and refute the second century date given by the critics. The Septuagint versions (Old Greek and The-odotion) are hopelessly inexact and are merely guesswork in their rendering of ‘drgzr, “counsellor”; gdbr, “treasurer”;dtbr, “law-officer”; t(y)pt, “magistrate, police chief.” Kitchen points out,

If the first important Greek translation of Daniel was made some time within c. 100 BC-AD 100, roughly speaking, and the translator could not (or took no trouble to) reproduce the proper meanings of these terms, then one conclusion imposes itself: their meaning was already lost and forgotten or, at least, drastically changed long before he set to work. Now if Daniel (in particular, the Aramaic chapters 2-7) was wholly a product of c. 165 BC, then a century or so in a continuous tradition is surely embarrassingly inadequate as a sufficient interval for that loss (or change) of meaning to occur, by Near Eastern standards. Therefore, it is desirable on this ground to seek the original of such verses (and hence of the narratives of which they are an integral part) much earlier than this date, preferably within memory of the Persian rule—i. e. c. 539 (max.) to c. 280 BC (allowing about fifty years’ lapse from the fall of Persia to Macedon).

The exact functions of each office are not given, but seven classes of officials are designated. The official titles and their modern meanings are as follows:

KJV

Aramaic (singular form)

Meaning

princes

áa†hashdarpan

satrap

governors

sÿgan

prefect

captains

peha‚

governor

judges

áa†darga„zar

counselor

treasurers

gÿda„bar

treasurer

counselors

dÿta„bar

law official, judge

sheriffs

tipta„y

magistrate

 

Keil probably gives the best explanation of the various terms. The princes are administrators, guardians or watchers, and the chief representatives of the king, corresponding to the Greek expression satrap, The division of the empire into provinces (satrapies.) The governors were commanders or military chiefs. The captains seemed to refer to presidents or governors of civil government. The judges were counsellors of the government or chief arbitrators. The treasurers were superintendents of the public treasury. The counsellors were lawyers or guardians of the law. The sheriffs were judges in a stricter sense of the term, that is, magistrates who gave a just sentence. The rulers were lesser officials who were governors of the provinces subordinate to the chief governor. The list of officers stated in verse 2 is repeated in verse 3 and some of them are repeated in verse 27. They had been summoned by messengers sent by Nebuchadnezzar to participate in this important event.

According to verse 3, they were assembled before the image awaiting the call to universal worship signalled by the cry of the herald. The word for herald ( ka„ro‚z), because it closely resembles the Greek word ke„rux, introduces the interesting problem of Greek words in Daniel. Several of the instruments listed in verse 5 also seem to be of Greek origin. This has been claimed as confirmation that Daniel wrote during the period of Greek dominance of Western Asia.

Archer and others have challenged whether these words are actually Greek words, pointing out that karoz (herald, classified as a Greek word by Brown, Driver, and Briggs Lexicon, has in recent works like Koehler-Baumgartner’s Hebrew Lexicon been traced to the old Persian khrausa, meaning “caller.”

Conservative biblical scholarship has fully answered the objection of critics which would tend to reflect upon the accuracy and historicity of the book of Daniel. Robert Dick Wilson, for instance, has pointed out that the argument actually boomerangs as, if Daniel was written in a Greek period, there would be many more Greek words than the few that occur here and there. The fact is that there is nothing strange about some amount of Greek influence in Babylonian culture in view of the contacts between them and the Greeks. Greek traders were common in Egypt and western Asia from the seventh century B.C. onward. The Greek mercenaries, who served as soldiers for various countries, are found more than one hundred years before Daniel, as for instance in the Assyrian army of Esarhaddon (682 b.c.) and even in the Babylonian army of Nebuchadnezzar. Not only did the Greeks affect the Semitic world but also influences of Assyria and Babylonia appear in the Greek language as well.

Recent studies on the musical instruments mentioned in Daniel 3 conducted by T. C. Mitchell and R. Joyce have given support to the authenticity of these instruments in the sixth century b.c. Further studies by Yamauchi support the conclusion that Greek words in Daniel are not to be unexpected and in fact refer to the interchange of cultures in the ancient world.

Not much help is given by attempting to find synonyms for these instruments as actually we do not have any information as to their precise character. T. C. Mitchell and R. Joyce provide a table for all six instruments with their corresponding translations in nine different translations. Actually, none of the alternate terms improve much on that which is provided in Daniel 3:5 and repeated in verses 7, 10, and 15. These instruments probably provided as full an orchestra as could be arranged in Babylon.

The cornet was obviously a horn instrument, the word coming originally from the horn of a beast which was sometimes used to make a musical instrument. The flute was probably made of reeds with a sound similar to a fife. The harp was some sort of a stringed instrument. The sackbut may have been a triangular board to which strings were attached. The psaltery, sometimes also considered a harp, was another stringed instrument with twenty strings. The dulcimer is a wind instrument. To these were added other instruments described as “all kinds of music.”

At the sound of the music, all those gathered were to “fall down and worship the golden image,” that is, they were to fall prostrate to the ground and do homage. This has been taken by some to prove that the image was a deity or idol. But Keil and others are probably correct that they were simply recognizing a symbol of the power of the empire which included recognition of heathen gods but was not the specific object of their homage. As Keil puts it, “A refusal to yield homage to the gods of the kingdom, they regarded as an act of hostility against the kingdom and its monarch, while every one might at the same time honour his own national god. This acknowledgment, that the gods of the kingdom were the more powerful, every heathen could grant; and thus, Nebuchadnezzar demanded nothing in a religious point of view which every one of his subjects could not yield. To him, therefore, the refusal of the Jews could not but appear as opposition to the greatness of his kingdom.” There is, therefore, no direct parallel between this and the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes which liberals cite as the background for this story in Daniel. Antiochus was attempting to destroy the Jewish religion, but this was not Nebuchadnezzar’s objective. A fair analysis of the situation in Daniel 3 is that the issue was more political than religious, but it was obnoxious religiously to Daniel’s three companions.

tannurThe herald made plain that anyone who did not obey the command to fall down and worship would be cast immediately into the burning fiery furnace. Montgomery suggests that the furnace “must have been similar to our common lime-kiln, with a perpendicular shaft from the top and an opening at the bottom for extracting the fused lime; cf. illustration of such an Oriental tannur or ta‚bu‚n in Benzinger, Hebr. Archaologie, 65, and Haupt’s description, AJSL 23, 245. Hav. notes Chardin’s remarks on the existence of similar ovens in Persia for execution of criminals (Voyage en Perse, ed. Langles, 6, c. 18, end, p. 303).” This would explain both the way in which the victims were put into the furnace and the circumstances which permitted the king to see what was happening inside the furnace.

The expression the same hour has in it the thought of “immediately” but cannot be pushed to the extent of concluding that the furnace was already burning. The threat of being executed by being burned alive was sufficient to cause the entire group to fall down and worship when the music sounded. Apparently, the only exceptions were the three companions of Daniel. It is useless to speculate how this related to Daniel himself. Either Daniel considered this a political act which did not violate his conscience, or Daniel did not worship and his high office prevented his enemies from accusing him, or more probably, Daniel for some reason was absent. The stage was now set for the trial of the three faithful Jews.

Daniel’s Companions Accused by the Chaldeans

3:8-12 Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews. They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever. Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

Although the historic account previously given by Daniel does not include that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had not bowed down to the golden image, the Chaldeans, who were the court astrologers, approach the king and bring their accusation. Undoubtedly there was resentment against these Jews who had been placed by Nebuchadnezzar in charge of the province of Babylon because they were of another race and of a captive people. It was quite clear to the Chaldeans also that the Jews did not worship the gods of Babylon and were actually a foreign element in the government. They saw in the fact that the Jews had not worshiped the image an occasion to bring accusation against them. The expression accused is a translation of an Aramaic expression common to Semitic languages which literally means, “they ate their pieces,” hence, to devour piecemeal. This connotes slander or malicious accusation which devours the accused piece by piece.

The Chaldeans approached the king with the customary courtesies addressing Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live for ever.” They remind the king of the details of his decree and the penalty for disobedience. With the stage thus set for the accusation, the Chaldeans make three charges against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. First, they show no regard for the king. Second, they do not serve the gods of the king. Third, they do not worship the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

The form of the accusation is almost a rebuke to the king himself. It is clear that the Chaldeans had deep-seated resentment against the Jews and felt the king had made a serious mistake in trusting these foreigners with such high offices. They remind the king that these men are Jews, different in race and culture from the Babylonians. The king had set them over the affairs of the province of Babylon, the most important province in the empire and the key to political security for the entire realm. The personal loyalty of such officers should be beyond question; but, as the Chaldeans point out, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had not shown any regard for the king himself.

The second accusation that they do not serve Nebuchadnezzar’s gods is more than merely a religious difference. The whole concept of political loyalty, of which the worship of the image was an expression, is bound up in the idea that Nebuchadnezzar’s gods have favored him and given him victory. To challenge Nebuchadnezzar’s gods, therefore, is to challenge Nebuchadnezzar himself and to raise a question as to the political integrity of the three men accused. As proof of their suspicions, they charge Daniel’s three companions with not worshiping the golden image. The arguments were calculated to arouse the anger of Nebuchadnezzar and to bring about the downfall of these three men with the possibility that the Chaldeans themselves might be given greater authority in political affairs.

Daniel’s Companions Refuse to Worship the Image

3:13-18 Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Then they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

The argument and accusation of the Chaldeans had a telling effect upon Nebuchadnezzar, who regarded the disobedience of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego not only a threat to his political security but also a personal affront. However, in view of the fact that they probably had held their offices for some years and had evidently been efficient in the conduct of their duties, Nebuchadnezzar in spite of his anger gave them a second chance which lesser men might not have been offered. Highly enraged, he commanded to bring the men before him. He asked them two questions: first, “Do not ye serve my gods?” and second, “Do not ye… worship the golden image which I have set up?” The fact that he distinguished between serving his gods and worshiping the image, though they are interrelated, seems to confirm the idea that the worship is primarily political, although the fact that they do not worship his gods is a condemning circumstance. He gives them the opportunity to obey the command to worship, restating in full the description of the music and the obligation to fall down and worship. He makes clear the alternative that they “shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.” The repetition of the entire edict no doubt was done with a flourish; and, although he was probably well aware of the jealousy of the Chaldeans and took this into account, he makes it clear that there is no alternative but to worship the image.

Golden Image Of NebuchadnezzarThe question Nebuchadnezzar asked in verse 14, translated “Is it true” in the King James Version and Revised Standard Version, is translated “Is it of purpose?” in the American Standard Version. Scholars differ on the proper reading here and resulting translation, but Montgomery and Rosenthal support the King James Version translation, “Is it true.”

It is an amazing fact that Nebuchadnezzar adds the challenging question, “Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” He is quite conscious of the demonstration of the superiority of the God of the Hebrews over Babylonian gods in interpreting his dream in chapter 2, but he cannot bring himself to believe that the God of the Jews would be able in these circumstances to deliver these three men from his hand. The fact is that Nebuchadnezzar feels supreme in his power and does not expect any god to interfere. Rabshakeh made the same arrogant and blasphemous claim when threatening King Hezekiah (Is 36:13-20)—the claim to the possession of a human power so great that there is no divine power to which the victim can turn for help.

The reply of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to the king might ordinarily call for a long discourse explaining why they could not worship the image. They seem to recognize, however, that all this would be of no avail and that the issue is clearly whether their God is able to deliver them or not. Accordingly, they confront the king with their confidence in God to such an extent that they say, “we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” Such an answer by itself might be considered arrogant and disrespectful to the king; but coupled with the explanation, it is clear that they feel their case is not in their hands anyway. The Aramaic word hashhin translated “careful,” may be considered a technical word for “need.” Hence, the statement may be translated, “there is no need for us to answer thee in this matter.” A further difficulty is occasioned by the expression O Nebuchadnezzar which in the Massoretic is in the vocative. Young translates the entire sentence as omitting whatever formal address they made with the record here simply saying that they “said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need with respect to this matter to make defense before thee.” Montgomery holds that no discourtesy was intended, “The discourteous vocative of the Mass. pointing was not only impossible in etiquette but also in the spirit of the writer.”

Although the full salutation to Nebuchadnezzar seems to have been omitted, Daniel gives the gist of their reply and in so doing answered the question raised by the king in verse 14 when he asked, “Is it true?” Actually there was no doubt about what they had done, but their purpose in not conforming was in question. Was it really true that their purpose in nonconformity was to dishonor the gods of Babylon and to disobey Nebuchadnezzar. Their explanation leaves no question as to the answer. They state positively that their God is able to deliver them from a fiery furnace. The article should be omitted before “burning fiery furnace” in verse 17, with the resultant meaning that He could deliver them from any fiery furnace, not just the one immediately at hand. They not only affirm that their God is able but that He will deliver them.

The three men, however, also face the alternative that God might not deliver them. The expression, “But if not,” should be understood as referring to the deliverance not to the ability of God. They take into consideration that sometimes it is not in the purpose of God to deliver faithful ones from martyrdom. Even if God does not deliver them, however, this will not change their decision in which they refuse to worship the gods of Babylon as well as the golden image. Leupold aptly says, “The quiet, modest, yet withal very positive attitude of faith that these three men display is one of the noblest examples in the Scriptures of faith fully resigned to the will of God. These men ask for no miracle; they expect none. Theirs is the faith that says: ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him,’ Job 13:15.”

Daniel’s Companions Cast into the Furnace

3:19-23 Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated. And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.

burning fiery furnaceThe answer of the three men to Nebuchadnezzar left no doubt as to their determined purpose not to serve the gods of Babylon and worship the image. After all, this was forbidden in Exodus 20:4-6. Nebuchadnezzar takes their determination not only as proof of the full accusation made by the Chaldeans but also as evidence of disloyalty to him personally. His anger knows no bounds as stated in the expression “full of fury” or “filled with anger.” He is as angry as he possibly could be under any circumstance, his face is distorted, his pride has been severely punctured, and he gives the foolish order to heat the furnace seven times hotter than usual, as if this would increase the torment. Actually, a slow fire would have been far more torture as Geoffrey King puts it, “And then he lost his temper! That is always the mark of a little man. His furnace was hot, but he himself got hotter! And when a man gets full of fury, he gets full of folly. There is no fool on earth like a man who has lost his temper. And Nebuchadnezzar did a stupid thing. He ought to have cooled the furnace seven times less if he had wanted to hurt them; but instead of that in his fury he heated it seven times more.”

Instead of giving Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego another opportunity to refuse to bow before the image as Nebuchadnezzar had originally proposed, he now immediately commands their execution. The strongest men in the army are selected, who bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego as a preliminary to casting them in the burning fiery furnace. The Scriptures relate that they are bound in their coats, hose, and hats as well as other garments. Normally criminals are stripped before execution; but in view of the form of the execution and the haste of the whole operation, there was no particular point in stripping off their clothes. This later becomes a further testimony to the delivering power of God.

While the men were prepared for execution, the furnace is heated until it is extremely hot. This would not necessarily take very long, but it must have added a high note of tension to the entire situation as the multitude waited probably in dead silence. When the furnace, reached its proper heat, the king demanded immediate execution of his orders. In casting the three men into the furnace, the strong men who did it were killed by the flame which reached out to take their lives. As the decree had indicated that they should be thrown into the midst of the furnace, so it was executed.

The Septuagint inserts the “Prayer of Azariah” and the “Song of the Three Youths” with some additional explanation. Conservative scholarship is agreed that this is not part of the scriptural text, although it is possible that these men, godly as they were, might have expressed prayer in a similar way if time permitted. Verse 23 of the text has also been challenged by Charles who claims it is an interpolation and needless duplication of verse 21, and that part of the passage has been lost. Actually the narrative reads very well as it is, and the objections are without proper ground. Even in ordinary narrative important facts are sometimes repeated more than once. Nebuchadnezzar had now accomplished his purpose, his decree had been fulfilled, and he could leave to the furnace the task of consuming these men who had challenged his authority and his gods.

The Miraculous Deliverance from the Furnace

3:24-27 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, came forth of the midst of the fire. And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them.

Nebuchadnezzar apparently was seated in such a way as to be able to observe the interior of the furnace from a safe distance. What he saw, however, brought him to complete astonishment. He could not believe his eyes and in his excitement stood up and asked his counsellors whether the three men had not been cast bound into the midst of the fire. The occasion of his question was what he saw. Instead of three men, he saw four; instead of being bound, they were free; instead of writhing in anguish in the flames, they were walking about in the fire and making no attempt to come out; further, it was quite apparent that they were not hurt; most astounding of all, he had the impression that “the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” It is probable that, at these pronouncements, Nebuchadnezzar’s counsellors also rose to look into the furnace; and led by Nebuchadnezzar, they came as close as they could to see the miraculous deliverance.

Most contemporary scholars translate the phrase the Son of God, as “a son of the gods.” While it is entirely possible that the fourth person in the fiery furnace was indeed the Son of God, it would be doubtful whether Nebuchadnezzar would comprehend this, unless he had prophetic insight. The Aramaic form elahin is plural and whenever used in the Aramaic section of Daniel seems to be a plural in number, as the singular is used when the true God is meant. The textual problem of Daniel 6:20 where Darius refers to the true God is decided in favor of the singular by Kittel rather than the plural. On the basis of this consistent use, the translation “a son of the gods” is preferable and in keeping with Nebuchadnezzar’s comprehension at this point in his experience. The presence of a fourth person in the furnace nevertheless added to Nebuchadnezzar’s astonishment at the miracle he was witnessing.

Addressing the three faithful men in the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither.” It was immediately apparent to Nebuchadnezzar, as well as the others who watched, that the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego was greater than the gods of Babylon. In using the expression “the most high God,” Nebuchadnezzar was not disavowing his own deities but merely recognizing on the basis of the tremendous miracle which had been performed that the God of Israel was higher, hence “the most high God.”

At the command of Nebuchadnezzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who could not obey the king in the matter of worshiping the image, do not hesitate to fulfill his command in this instance. The assembled multitude led by the king’s most important officials acted as witnesses of the delivering power of God. Although obviously all the great throng could not get close enough to see precisely what had happened, Scripture records that “the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counsellors” witnessed the event. There could be little question that a mighty miracle had been performed. The hair of the three Hebrews had not been singed, their garments in which they had been bound had not changed, and not even the smell of fire was retained. Leupold translates coats as “shoes” which would be most remarkable as they had walked on the hot ashes. The fire had damaged their garments in no way; only the ropes which bound them, the symbols of Nebuchadnezzar’s unbelief and wrath, were destroyed in the flames.

Just as the reign of Nebuchadnezzar is symbolic of the entire period of the times of the Gentiles, so the deliverance of Daniel’s three companions is typical of the deliverance of Israel during the period of Gentile domination. Particularly at the end of the Gentile period Israel will be in fiery affliction, but as Isaiah prophesied, “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” (Is 43:1-2).

The Decree of Nebuchadnezzar

3:28-30 Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, in the province of Babylon.

Just as Nebuchadnezzar had acknowledged Daniel’s God at the conclusion of chapter 2, so here Nebuchadnezzar admitting the power of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego issues a decree in oriental style commemorating the event. First, he recognizes the delivering power of their God “who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him.” That the heathen gods used messengers to accomplish their purpose was generally believed, and Nebuchadnezzar analyzes the event in this way. Although there is no clear proof that the fourth person in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego was actually deity or an angel—as all we have is Nebuchadnezzar’s conclusion on the basis of what he saw—it may well be that the protector of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego was Christ Himself appearing in the form of an angel. The expression the Son of God (3:25) is a translation of the Aramaic bar áela„hin, which means “a divine being.” Nebuchadnezzar interprets this in verse 28 as a maláak, meaning, “an angel.” The alternative that God sent a mighty angel to protect them is, of course, also plausible and in keeping with other Scripture.

golden image which was erected on the plain of DuraNebuchadnezzar not only recognizes the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego but now belatedly commends them for their trust in God even though it resulted in changing his word. He recognizes the superior obligation of the men not to worship any deity except their own. This was a remarkable admission for a king in Nebuchadnezzar’s situation.

Having given this preamble, Nebuchadnezzar now makes his decree. In it, he does not deprecate his own gods but recognizes the fact of the power of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. He calls upon all the people in his realm not to say anything amiss concerning this God at the threat of being cut to pieces and their houses made a dunghill. That the king has the power to do this was obvious to everyone. The basis of his decree is the simple statement, “because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.” It is clear at this point that though Nebuchadnezzar is greatly impressed, he has not yet been brought to the place where he is willing to put his trust in the God of Israel.

The chain of events which had brought about this miracle also consolidated the position of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego as principal officials in the province of Babylon. Whatever their former rank and authority, they are now promoted.. Although probably in the same office, they were relieved of any opposition and had the special favor of the king in what they did.

As pointed out in an extended discussion by Leupold, the nature of this trial and persecution was quite different from that of Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C.; and scholars who attempt to draw parallels to support the idea of a pseudo-Daniel writing the book of Daniel in the second century have no real basis in fact. Nebuchadnezzar at least respected the God of Israel, something which was quite untrue in the case of Antiochus Epiphanes. As recorded in the Word of God, it is characteristic of Gentile times that there will be tensions between obedience to God and obedience to men. This will reach its peak in the future great tribulation when once again the tension between obeying an earthly ruler and obeying God will result in many martyrs.

Taken as a whole, chapter 3 is a thrilling account of young men who remained true to God under severe trial. The common excuses for moral and spiritual compromise, especially the blaming of contemporary influences, are contradicted by the faithfulness of these men. In spite of separation from parents and of the corrupting influences of Babylonian religion, political pressure, and immorality, they did not waver in their hour of testing. Critics are probably right that Daniel intended this chapter to remind Israel of the evils of idolatry and the necessity of obeying God rather than men. But the main thrust of the passage is not an invented moral story which actually never happened, as critics infer, but rather a display of a God who is faithful to His people even in captivity and is ever ready to deliver those who put their trust in Him. The contrast of the God of Israel to the idols of Babylon is a reminder that the god of this world, behind Gentile dominion, is doomed to judgment at the hands of the sovereign God. This is illustrated in the fall of Babylon and of the succeeding empires of Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. The downfall of these nations is a foreshadowing of the end of the times of the Gentiles when the Lion of the tribe of Judah returns to reign.

Chapter 3, the first of four chapters dealing with individuals, is an obvious preparation for chapter 4, which relates Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion. In the deliverance of the three faithful companions of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar is confronted by the superior power of God which can nullify Nebuchadnezzar’s commandment to execute the three men. This is a preparation for the lesson he was to learn in chapter 4 that all of his power was delegated by God and could be withdrawn at His will. In this chapter we see for the last time Daniel’s three companions, and no further reference is made to their subsequent experiences.

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World History In Outline

The study of Daniel is an indispensable introduction to the Biblical foreview of world history. Through Daniel came the revelation of the major events which would mark the progress of what Christ referred to as “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). Christ defined this as the period during which “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles,” i.e., from Nebuchadnezzar 606 b.c. until the second advent of Jesus Christ.

No system of philosophy or theology which attempts to arrive at the meaning of history can ignore this divine analysis of the progress of human events. The broad prophetic program for the nations when viewed alongside the prophetic program for Israel and the program of God in the present age for the church answers the major question of the divine purposes of God in history in which God reveals His glow.

In God’s program for Israel, He has revealed His faithfulness, His love, and His righteousness. In His program for the church, the grace of God is supremely revealed. In the program of world history as a whole, God’s dealings with the nations reveal His sovereignty, power, and wisdom. The nations may foolishly rage against God (Psalm 2:1), but God nevertheless shall triumphantly place His Son as King in Zion (Psalm 2:6).

Daniel The Prophet

Daniel the prophet was born in the ill-fated days just preceding the captivity. As a lad he was apparently separated from his parents and carried captive to far away Babylon. There, because of his unusual intelligence and promise, he was trained along with his companions for service in the court of the king. It was only after Daniel had successfully completed this course of training and had demonstrated his wisdom and understanding (Daniel 1:20) that he faced the supreme test recorded in Daniel 2.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had had a rapid rise to power, heading what is known in secular history as the Neo-Chaldean Empire. His father Nabopolassar had founded the empire in 625 b.c. His son Nebuchadnezzar had won an outstanding victory over Necho of Egypt at Carchemish in 605 b.c. and in the process of his conquest had conquered and later destroyed Jerusalem, carrying off many of the Jews as captives. According to Daniel 2:29, the king had pondered the practical question of “what should come to pass hereafter.” What would be the end result of his great victories and magnificent kingdom? It was in such a state of mind that God gave to Nebuchadnezzar a prophetic dream.

Aware of the fact that the dream had tremendous significance, but unable to recall its details, he called in his wise men and demanded that they show him the dream and its interpretation. Brushing aside their protest that this was an unreasonable request, when they were unable to comply, the king commanded that all of the wise men should be slain (Daniel 2:13). Daniel and his companions, who had not been in the king’s court, were included in the sweeping order.

When the matter was known to Daniel, he requested time of the king and promised that he would give the interpretation of the dream. Then with his three companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, Daniel went to prayer to God who alone could reveal the secret. When the dream was made known to Daniel, he recognized the profound character of the divine revelation. His hymn of worship and praise is recorded in Daniel 2:20-23:

Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast now made known unto us the king’s matter.

Daniel’s Description Of The Dream

When brought before the king, Daniel made no claim for insight or wisdom of his own, but declared plainly:

The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king; But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days (Daniel 2:27, 28).

Daniel then recited the details of Nebuchadnezzar’s great dream (Daniel 2:31-35):

1Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.

Four Great World Empires

Having declared the dream, Daniel then gave the interpretation. Four great world empires were to succeed each other, to be climaxed by a kingdom which comes from heaven. Nebuchadnezzar was identified as the head of gold, the supreme ruler of the civilized world of his day. Two other kingdoms are mentioned briefly by Daniel in Daniel 2:39, “And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.” These two kingdoms are represented in the body of the image.

Major attention, however, is directed to the fourth empire as being of supreme, prophetic importance, preceding as it does the final kingdom which comes from God. The fourth kingdom is represented by the legs and feet of the image:

And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay (Daniel 2:40-43).

The Fourth Empire

Although the first three kingdoms are clearly identified in Daniel in subsequent chapters, namely, Babylon, Medo-Persia (chapter 5), and Greece (8:21), the fourth kingdom is not named. There can be little doubt, however, that it refers to the Roman Empire, the greatest of all the world empires of history and one which had a larger effect upon subsequent posterity than any of the preceding empires. Even to modern times, there has never been an empire equal to that of the ancient Roman Empire.

The description given of it is typical of the Roman Empire. It is described as “strong as iron” (Daniel 2:40) and as an empire which breaks in pieces all that opposes it. This is, of course, precisely what the Roman armies did as they swept almost irresistibly into country after country, first of all conquering the western portion of the empire and then later the eastern portion. Although the division of the Roman Empire into western and eastern portions did not come until late in its history, it is anticipated in the fact that the image has two legs.

Major attention, however, is directed to the weakness in the feet and the toes described in verses 41-43. It is obvious that this is a matter of major importance. The feet and toes of the image are described as being part of pottery or clay and part of iron. This is interpreted as revealing in part its strength and at the same time its weakness in that the pottery was brittle and easily and quickly broken. Further, in verse 43 attention is called to the fact that iron and clay do not adhere one to the other and do not properly bond.

Whether this difference in material reflects differences in political ideology such as democracy versus absolute rule, differences in culture or race, or differences in economic situations, it is clear that the feet of the image are an area of weakness which leads to its complete downfall. In the light of the prophecy which follows, the feet stage of the image is best understood to refer to a form of the Roman Empire which is yet future, namely, the time just before “the God of heaven” shall “set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed” (2:44).

Many attempts have been made to find in the history of the Roman Empire a stage which corresponds to the toes of the image which may be presumed to be ten in number corresponding to the ten horns of the later vision in Daniel 7:7. It should be observed, first, that this situation demands a period in which the Roman Empire is divided into precisely ten kingdoms. There is no such period in the history of the Roman Empire. Although in its latter stages it was divided up into separate kingdoms, there never was a time when there were precisely ten such kingdoms, and no event followed such as is depicted in Daniel 2:44, 45. For the prophetic vision, therefore, to be completely fulfilled, there must be a future fulfillment.

The Fifth Kingdom From Heaven

The prophecy of the destruction of the image is embraced in Daniel 2: 44, 45:

And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.

It is clear that the stone cut out of the mountain without hands smites the image on the feet—that is, its last stage—with the result that the entire image is completely destroyed. The destruction cannot be properly compared to the advance of Christianity within the bounds of the ancient Roman Empire; that action was a gradual permeation which never assumed catastrophic character and never vitally changed the political aspect of the Roman Empire. History is clear that the Roman Empire was destroyed not by Christianity, but by its own inherent weaknesses and immorality, Besides the whole of Christianity is so divided it cannot overcome at this present stage.

What is demanded in fulfillment of this prophetic interpretation is a sudden catastrophic event which destroys all vestige of Gentile power and replaces it with the kingdom which God Himself establishes. The stone represents a divine agency rather than human, indicated in the fact that it is cut out without hands and is a proper representation of Jesus Christ as the crushing stone of judgment at His second advent. The Christian Gospel to the present hour has never had power to destroy Gentile government in the world and replace it with spiritual government, and there is no prospect that it will. Only divine intervention in the human scene and a display of the omnipotence of God could possibly break up the power of this world and convert it into the kingdom of heaven.

Prophecy Fulfilled In History

The prophetic foreview of world history afforded in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar was remarkably fulfilled except for the consummation. The kingdom of Babylon was indeed the first of the great world empires. Although not the most extensive or powerful in many respects, it was the most glorious. This is anticipated in the gold which represents the Babylonian Empire. After the death of Nebuchadnezzar in 562 b.c., it rapidly deteriorated until on the fateful night described in Daniel 5 on October 13, 539 b.c., Babylon was conquered and the decline of the great city began. The rule of the Medes and the Persians, though less glorious than that of Babylon, was much longer in duration and continued for over two hundred years to 332 b.c. when Alexander the Great conquered Babylon without a battle.

After Alexander’s death, the Seleucidae controlled Babylon from 312 to 171 b.c. and were succeeded by the Parthian Empire which successfully resisted Rome and controlled Babylon from 171 b.c. to a.d. 226. Babylon continued to be inhabited in some form or other as late as a.d. 1000. In control of the Holy Land, however, Alexander was succeeded by the Roman Empire. The deterioration in the value of the metals depicted in the image had the compensation of increase in strength, and Rome until the time of the Barbarian invasion was truly characterized by the strength of iron.

As is frequently the case in the Old Testament, the prophecy of Daniel takes no notice of the many years separating the first and second advent of Christ. It anticipates a future empire in the Mediterranean area which will correspond to the ancient Roman Empire and which, from the divine viewpoint, will be a continuation of it. This fourth empire will be succeeded by the kingdom of heaven, begun with a sudden judgment upon Gentile power.

The final world power described in Daniel 2:44, 45 is obviously different in character than the preceding four empires. It is subsequent to these four empires and cannot be brought in until their total destruction. It is a kingdom which is established by the God of heaven rather than by human agency. In contrast to the other empires which had their rise and fall, the kingdom which God establishes will never be destroyed. It shall break in pieces and consume all other powers and shall stand forever.

That the dream was interpreted properly and that the interpretation should be considered factual is brought out in Daniel 2:45 where it is stated: “The great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.” In the light of the literal and graphic fulfillment of prophecy relating to the first four kingdoms, except for the portion of the fourth which is yet future, it is natural to conclude that the fifth kingdom is also to be literally and factually fulfilled in God’s future program.

2The grandeur of this panorama of human history and the important place that it assigned the kingdom of Babylon as the first of the succession of world empires so impressed King Nebuchadnezzar that in spite of his high office and absolute rule it is recorded in Daniel 2:46, “Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him.” King Nebuchadnezzar also gave testimony that the God of Daniel is “a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret.” The elevation of Daniel to a prominent place in the government of the Babylonian Empire testifies to the profound impression made upon King Nebuchadnezzar. The experience of Nebuchadnezzar ultimately resulted in his turning to the God of Israel in faith (Daniel 4).

The revelation given in Daniel 2 of world history in its panoramic form constitutes the essential framework for all prophecy related to the nations. Subsequent details in Daniel and elsewhere in Scripture are amplification and added details and explanations. The Scriptures give special emphasis to the latter stage of the fourth empire and concerning this a great body of prophetic Scripture fills in the total picture.

The guidelines, however, for future fulfillment are found in the past. A study of Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece, as prophecies relating to them have been fulfilled, provides an important background for that which is yet future. The geographic area of these kingdoms is involved in the final chapters of world history. Babylon has perpetuated itself religiously and to some extent is reproduced politically in the last stage of the fourth kingdom. A study of prophecy relating to these kingdoms as well as historic fulfillment is, then, the Biblical introduction to the nations in the end of the age.

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The Sacred ARK OF THE COVENANT

“What is the Ark of the Covenant?”

Ark

Ark

Answer: God made a covenant (a conditional covenant) with the children of Israel through His servant Moses. He promised good to them and their children for generations if they obeyed Him and His laws; but He always warned of despair, punishment, and dispersion if they were to disobey. As a sign of His covenant He had the Israelites make a box according to His own design, in which to place the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. This box, or chest, was called an “ark” and was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. The Ark was to be housed in the inner sanctum of the tabernacle in the desert and eventually in the Temple when it was built in Jerusalem. This chest is known as the Ark of the Covenant.

The real significance of the Ark of the Covenant was what took place involving the lid of the box, known as the “Mercy Seat.” The term ‘mercy seat’ comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cover, placate, appease, cleanse, cancel or make atonement for.” It was here that the high priest, only once a year (Leviticus 16), entered the Holy of Holies where the Ark was kept and atoned for his sins and the sins of the Israelites. The priest sprinkled blood of a sacrificed animal onto the Mercy Seat to appease the wrath and anger of God for past sins committed. This was the only place in the world where this atonement could take place.

The Mercy Seat on the Ark was a symbolic foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice for all sin—the blood of Christ shed on the cross for the remission of sins. The Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee and one familiar with the Old Testament, knew this concept quite well when he wrote about Christ being our covering for sin in Romans 3:24-25: “…and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Just as there was only one place for atonement of sins in the Old Testament—the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant—so there is also only one place for atonement in the New Testament and current times—the cross of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we no longer look to the Ark but to the Lord Jesus Himself as the propitiation and atonement for our sins.

“What happened to the Ark of the Covenant?”

Answer:What happened to the Ark of the Covenant is a question that has fascinated theologians, Bible students, and archeologists for centuries. In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah of Judah ordered the caretakers of the Ark of the Covenant to return it to the temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 35:1-6; cf.2 Kings 23:21-23). That is the last time the ark’s location is mentioned in the Scriptures. Forty years later, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon captured Jerusalem and raided the temple. Less than ten years after that, he returned, took what was left in the temple, and then burnt it and the city to the ground. So what happened to the ark? Was it taken by Nebuchadnezzar? Was it destroyed with the city? Or was it removed and hidden safely away, as evidently happened when Pharaoh Shishak of Egypt raided the temple during the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam? (“Evidently” because, if Shishak had managed to take the Ark, why did Josiah ask the Levites to return it? If the Ark was in Egypt—à la the plotline ofRaiders of the Lost Ark—the Levites would not have possessed it and therefore could not have returned it.)

The non-canonical book of 2 Maccabees reports that just prior to the Babylonian invasion, Jeremiah, “following a divine revelation, ordered that the tabernacle and the ark should accompany him and…he went off to the mountain which Moses climbed to see God’s inheritance [i.e., Mt. Nebo; cf.Deuteronomy 31:1-4]. When Jeremiah arrived there, he found a room in a cave in which he put the tent, the ark, and the altar of incense; then he blocked up the entrance” (2:4-5). However, “Some of those who followed him came up intending to mark the path, but they could not find it. When Jeremiah heard of this, he reproved them: ‘The place is to remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy. Then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord will be seen in the cloud, just as it appeared in the time of Moses and when Solomon prayed that the Temple might be gloriously sanctified’” (2:6-8). It is not known if this secondhand (see 2:1) account is accurate; even if it is, we will not know until the Lord comes back, as the account itself claims.

Other theories concerning the whereabouts of the lost ark include Rabbis Shlomo Goren and Yehuda Getz’s claim that it is hidden beneath the temple mount, having been buried there before Nebuchadnezzar could steal it away. Unfortunately, the temple mount is now home to the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic holy site, and the local Muslim community refuses to allow it to be excavated. So we cannot know if Rabbis Goren and Getz are correct.

The Ark of the covenant brought into the Temple

The Ark of the covenant brought into the Temple

Explorer Vendyl Jones, among others, believes that an artifact found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the enigmatic “Copper Scroll” of Qumran Cave 3, is actually a treasure map of sorts detailing the location of a number of precious treasures taken from the temple before the Babylonians arrived, among them the lost Ark of the Covenant. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen, as no one has yet been able to locate all of the necessary geographical landmarks listed on the scroll. Interestingly, some scholars speculate that the Copper Scroll may actually be the record referred to in2 Maccabees 2:1and4, which describes Jeremiah hiding the ark. While this is an interesting speculation, it remains unsubstantiated.

Former East African correspondent for “The Economist,” Graham Hancock, published a book in 1992 entitledThe Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant, in which he argued that the ark had been stowed away in Saint Mary of Zion’s Church in Aksum, an ancient city of Ethiopia. Explorer Robert Cornuke of the B.A.S.E. Institute, also believes the Ark may now reside in Aksum. However, no one has yet found it there. Similarly, archaeologist Michael Sanders believes the ark is hidden away in an ancient Egyptian temple in the Israeli village of Djaharya, but he has yet to actually find it there.

A doubtful Irish tradition maintains that the Ark is buried under the Hill of Tara in Ireland. Some scholars believe that this is the source of the Irish “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” legend. Even less believable are the claims of Ron Wyatt and Tom Crotser, Wyatt claiming to actually have seen the lost Ark of the Covenant buried under Mt. Calvary and Crotser claiming to have seen it on Mt. Pisgah near Mt. Nebo. Both of these men are held in low esteem by the archaeological community, and neither has been able to substantiate the wild claims with any evidence.

In the end, the ark remains lost to all but God. Interesting theories like the ones presented above continue to be offered, but the ark has yet to be found. The writer of 2 Maccabees may very well be right; we may not find out what happened to the lost Ark of the Covenant until the Lord Himself returns.

“What is the mercy seat?”

Answer:The writer to the Hebrews talks about the arrangement of the tabernacle of the Old Testament. The tabernacle was the portable sanctuary used by the Israelites from the time of their wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt to the building of the temple in Jerusalem (seeExodus 25–27). Within the tabernacle was the ark of the covenant which included the mercy seat (Hebrews 9:3-5 NKJV).

The ark of the covenant, the chest containing the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, was the most sacred object of the tabernacle and later in the temple in Jerusalem, where it was placed in an inner area called the Holy of Holies. Also within the ark were the golden pot of manna, such as was provided by God in the wilderness wanderings (Exodus 16:4) and Aaron’s almond rod (Numbers 17:1-13). On top of the ark was a lid called the mercy seat on which rested the cloud or visible symbol of the divine presence. Here God was supposed to be seated, and from this place He was supposed to dispense mercy to man when the blood of the atonement was sprinkled there.

In a manner of speaking, the mercy seat concealed the people of God from the ever-condemning judgment of the Law. Each year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood of animals sacrificed for the atonement of the sins of God’s people. This blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat. The point conveyed by this imagery is that it is only through the offering of blood that the condemnation of the Law could be taken away and violations of God’s laws covered.

The Greek word for “mercy seat” inHebrews 9:5 is hilasterion, which means “that which makes expiation” or “propitiation.” It carries the idea of the removal of sin. InEzekiel 43:14, the brazen altar of sacrifice is also called hilasterion(the propitiatory or mercy seat) because of its association with the shedding of blood for sin.

What is the significance of this? In the New Testament, Christ Himself is designated as our “propitiation.” Paul explains this in his letter to the Romans: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Romans 3:24-25 NKJV). What Paul is teaching here is that Jesus is the covering for sin, as shown by these Old Testament prophetic images. By means of His death, and our response to Christ through our faith in Him, all our sins are covered. Also, whenever believers sin, we may turn to Christ who continues to be the propitiation or covering for our sins (1 John 2:1,4:10). This ties together the Old and New Testament concepts regarding the covering of sin as exemplified by the mercy-seat of God.

“What is the Shekinah glory?”

Answer: The word shekinah does not appear in the Bible, but the concept clearly does. The Jewish rabbis coined this extra-biblical expression, a form of a Hebrew word that literally means “he caused to dwell,” signifying that it was a divine visitation of the presence or dwelling of JEHOVAH God on this earth. The Shekinah was first evident when the Israelites set out from Succoth in their escape from Egypt. There it appeared as a cloudy pillar in the day and a fiery pillar by night: “After leaving Succoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people” (Exodus 13:20-22).

God spoke to Moses out of the pillar of cloud in Exodus 33, assuring him that His Presence would be with the Israelites (v. 9). Verse 11 says God spoke to Moses “face to face” out of the cloud, but when Moses asked to see God’s glory, God told Him, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (v. 20). So, apparently, the visible manifestation of God’s glory was somewhat muted. When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock, covered him with His hand, and passed by. Then He removed His hand, and Moses saw only His back. This would seem to indicate that God’s glory is too awesome and powerful to be seen completely by man.

The visible manifestation of God’s presence was seen not only by the Israelites but also by the Egyptians: “During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, ‘Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt’” (Exodus 14:24-25). Just the presence of God’s Shekinah glory was enough to convince His enemies that He was not someone to be resisted.

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the dwelling place of God’s glory. Colossians 2:9 tells us that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,” causing Jesus to exclaim to Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). In Christ, we see the visible manifestation of God Himself in the second person of the Trinity. Although His glory was also veiled, Jesus is nonetheless the presence of God on earth. Just as the divine Presence dwelled in a relatively plain tent called the “tabernacle” before the Temple in Jerusalem was built, so did the Presence dwell in the relatively plain man who was Jesus. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). But when we get to heaven, we will see both the Son and the Father in all their glory, and the Shekinah will no longer be veiled (1 John 3:2).

is designated by a different Hebrew word, “’arown,” which is the common name for a chest or coffer used for any purpose (Gen. 50:26; 2 Kings 12:9-10). It is distinguished from all others by such titles as the “ark of God” (1 Sam. 3:3), “ark of the covenant” (Josh. 3:6; Hebrews 9:4), “ark of the testimony” (Ex. 25:22).

It was made of acacia or shittim wood, a cubit and a half wide and high and two cubits long, and completely covered with the purest gold.

Its upper surface or lid, the mercy-seat, was surrounded with a rim of gold; and on each of the two sides were two gold rings, in which were placed two gold-covered poles by which the ark could be carried (Num. 7:9; 10:21; 4:5, 19-20; 1 Kings 8:3,6).

At each end, there were two cherubim over the ark, with their faces turned toward each other (Lev. 16:2; Num. 7:89). Their outspread wings over the top of the ark formed the throne of God, while the ark itself was his footstool (Ex. 25:10-22; 37:1-9).

The ark was deposited in the “holy of holies,” and was placed so that one end of the carrying poles touched the veil which separated the two sections of the tabernacle (1 Kings 8:8).

Temple Resemblance of Man

Temple Resemblance of Man

CONTENTS—Stored in the ark were the ten commandments on two tablets of stone which were the “testimony” or evidence of God’s covenant with the people (Deut. 31:26), the “pot of manna” (Ex. 16:33), and “Aaron’s rod that budded” (Num. 17:10) (Hebrews 9:4). (See TABERNACLE)

When it was carried, the ark was always wrapped in a veil, the badgers’ skins, and blue cloth, and carefully concealed even from the eyes of the Levites who carried it.

The ark and the sanctuary were “the beauty of Israel” (Lam. 2:1). During the journeys of the Israelites the ark was carried by the priests in front of the crowds (Num. 4:5-6; 10:33-36; Ps. 68:1; 132:8). It was carried by the priests into the bed of the Jordan, which separated, opening a pathway for the whole host to pass over (Josh. 3:15-16; 4:7, 10-11, 17-18). It was carried in procession around Jericho (Josh. 6:4, 6, 8, 11-12).

After Israel settled in Canaan, the ark remained in the tabernacle at Gilgal for a while. It was then moved to Shiloh till the time of Eli, between 300 and 400 years (Jer. 7:12), when it was carried into the field of battle in an attempt to guarantee victory. However, it was taken by the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:3-11), who later returned it after seven months when they realized it was bringing a curse on them (1 Sam. 5:7-8).

The ark then remained at Kirjath-jearim (7:1-2) till the time of David (twenty years), who wished to move it to Jerusalem; but because they did not move it in the proper way, Uzzah was killed for putting “forth his hand to the ark of God.” Therefore, the ark was left in the house of Obed-edom in Gath-rimmon for three months (2 Sam. 6:1-11), after which David moved it in a grand procession to Jerusalem, where it was kept till a place was prepared for it (12-19).

Solomon later deposited the ark in the great temple he built (1 Kings 8:6-9). When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and plundered the temple, the ark disappeared. Some believe it was taken away by Nebuchadnezzar and was destroyed at some point. No definite later trace of it has ever been proved.

One reason that the second temple of Jerusalem was inferior to the first is that it did not contain the ark.

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