The Word Made Fresh
1A message from King Nebuchadnezzar to all the peoples, nations, and languages that live throughout the earth: “May you enjoy abundant prosperity. 2I am pleased to tell you of the signs and wonders the Most High God has given me.
3“How magnificent are God’s signs,
How mighty are God’s wonders.
God’s realm is an everlasting realm,
and God’s sovereignty goes on from generation to generation.
4“I, Nebuchadnezzar, was living at ease and prosperity in my palace. 5I had a dream that frightened me. I was terrified in my own bed by visions that came into my head. 6So, I issued a decree to bring all the wise men of Babylon to me, that they might reveal the meaning of the dream. 7They came to me, the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and diviners, and I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me. 8But then Daniel was brought before me. He was given the name Belteshazzar, the name of my god. He has a holy and divine spirit. I told him the dream. 9I said, “Belteshazzar, chief among my magicians, I know that you have been given a holy and divine spirit and that no mystery is too difficult for you to understand. This was my dream; tell me what it means:
10“While I slept upon my bed I saw a tree of great height at the center of the earth. 11The tree had grown great and strong with its top reaching to heaven. It was visible to the whole world. 12Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit plentiful, and it provided food for everyone. The field animals found shade beneath it, the birds nested in its branches, and everything living was being fed from it.
13“I kept watching, in my dream, and a watchman came down from heaven. 14He cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘Cut down the tree. Chop off its branches. Strip its leaves away and scatter its fruit. Let the animals run from beneath it and the birds fly away from its branches. 15But leave the stump and roots in the ground in the tender grass of the field, wrapped with iron and bronze bands. Let him be given the dew of heaven and leave him in his place with the field animals in the grass. 16Take away his human mind and give him an animal’s mind. Let seven years pass. 17This sentence is given by the watchers, given to them by order of the sacred ones so that everyone living will know that the Most High rules over the kingdom of mortals; God gives it to whomever God wishes to have it, and puts it into the hands of the lowliest of men.’
18“This was the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, saw. Now it is for you, Belteshazzar, to tell us the meaning, because all the wise men of my kingdom are unable to do so. But you are able, because you have been given a holy, divine spirit.”
19Then Daniel, called Belteshazzar, was in great distress for a time, terrified by his thoughts. The king said, “Belteshazzar, don’t be afraid of the dream or its interpretation.”
Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, I would that the dream be applied to your enemies; let its interpretation be for those who hate you. 20The tree you saw growing straight and strong, with its top reaching to heaven, visible to the whole world, 21with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit to provide food for everyone, and under which the field animals dwelt, and in whose branches the birds built their nests; 22this is you, O king! You have grown great and strong. Your strength has grown and reaches up to heaven; your rule extends to the ends of the earth. 23You saw a sacred watchman come down from heaven telling you, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, leaving only its stump and roots in the ground in the grassy field, wrapped with iron and bronze bands. Let it be bathed with the dew of heaven among all the animals of the field until seven periods of time pass over it.’ 24So, this is the interpretation, O king; a decree from God Most High has come upon my lord the king: 25You will be driven away from human contact. You will dwell among the wild animals and eat grass like oxen. You will be bathed with the dew of heaven and seven periods of time will pass over you until you have learned that the Most High rules the kingdom of mortals, and gives them to whomever God pleases. 26Just as in your dream the command was given to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom will be re-established for you when you have learned that Heaven rules. 27So, O king, accept my advice: replace your sins with righteousness; do away with your iniquities and have mercy on those who are oppressed so that your prosperity will continue.”
28All of this did indeed happen to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. 30He said, “Isn’t Babylon magnificent? By my power I built it as a royal capital for my glorious majesty.” 31Those words were still in the king’s mouth when a voice came from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, I declare to you that you no longer have the kingdom! 32You will be driven away from people. Your dwelling will be with the field animals. You will have to eat grass like the oxen. Seven periods of time will pass, and you will learn that the Most High rules human kingdoms and gives them to whomever God wishes.”
33Immediately the sentence against Nebuchadnezzar came to pass. He was driven from human company. He ate grass like oxen. His body was bathed with the dew of heaven. His hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers. His fingernails became like birds’ claws.
34“When the time was over I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes to heaven and my reason was given back to me.
“I blessed the Most High.
I praised and honored the One who lives forever.
God’s rule is everlasting,
over a kingdom that endures generation to generation.
35All the people of the earth are given no authority,
for God does what God wills
with the inhabitants of heaven and earth.
No one can stay God’s hand, or even ask what God is doing.
36“That is when my reason returned to me, and the majesty and splendor of my kingdom were restored. My counselors and nobles sought me, and I was re-established over my kingdom, with even more greatness added to me. 37Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and honor the King of heaven.
“All God’s works are true.
“All God’s ways are just.
God brings down those who are proud.”
1-18: The next story begins as a letter written by Nebuchadnezzar himself. He describes another strange and powerful dream that had come to him, a dream none of his advisors were able to interpret. He dreamed of a great tree that was visible to the ends of the earth. Then a heavenly being came down and announced that the tree was to be cut down and chopped up. The stump that was left would remain in the ground, however. At verse 15b the stump becomes a man who is to go insane for seven “times.”
19-27: Nebuchadnezzar’s account of the incident ends abruptly and a third party takes up the tale. Daniel is not in a hurry to divulge the interpretation of the dream, but finally he does. The tree is the king — you already probably guessed that much. The king is going to lose his mind for a while, says Daniel, for as long as it takes him to develop some humility and accept the sovereignty of God. Daniel advises him to atone for his sins with “mercy to the oppressed” (hmmm…I wonder what oppressed people he might be thinking of – the exiles from Israel?).
28-33: A year passes, and one day Nebuchadnezzar is swelling with pride and – zap! — out into the wilderness he goes, eating grass and sleeping under the stars. He was out there long enough for his hair and nails to become embarrassing.
34-37: We suddenly return to Nebuchadnezzar’s own personal narrative: his sanity returns, and he praises the Most High God of Israel. Pop! He’s back in Babylon on the throne with a nice haircut and manicure and counselors at his beck and call and a thriving empire around him. But something has changed: Nebuchadnezzar is now a worshiper of the God of the Jews! Imagine how these stories must have been received by these oppressed people.
As strange as the tale is to us, clearly the author of the book of Daniel saw God’s hand in just about everything. Once again we are reminded that God’s answer to our prayers is often, “wait.” God works for those who believe and trust. Hardships and exiles may come and interrupt our peace, but God will restore us in God’s time.