The Grace of Our Lord Overflowed

The narrative of Daniel has shown how the Lord has taken his people who are in a degraded and humiliated condition and raised them by his providence and power to positions of leadership and influence. The genuineness of their faith was tested and found approved. Parallel to this has been the narrative concerning another who was in a position of autocratic power and preeminence who had his plans overruled by the Lord who made heaven and earth and works all things according to the counsel of his own will. At the realization of her pregnancy with the Christ, Mary expressed the storyline of Daniel: “He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy in his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:49-53). Chapter 4 of Daniel is presented as a testimony of converting grace from Nebuchadnezzar himself. He was humbled to nothing and then raised as a worshipper of the living and true God. God’s grace extended to the captor while the kings of Israel were dealt with justly.

I. 4:1-3 – Nebuchadnezzar gives the reason for this narrative –“to show the signs and wonders that the Most High has done for me.”

A. He calls upon all of those over whom he rules in various countries and languages to know that he wishes the best for them. He wants them to prosper, for their welfare to be obvious. He believes that their welfare depends on their heeding the conclusion that he draws from the ways of God with him.

B. Nebuchadnezzar has concluded that it is a good thing for him to give witness to the ways of God with him (2). He will relate this story in all of its bizarre turns and even the most embarrassing conditions in which God placed him. He does not issue a statement of resentment but sees these events as “wonders which the Most High God has done for me.” He recognized that gracious intervention of God in his life even in the form of his isolation from human society.

C. Nebuchadnezzar saw God as active in the world demonstrating his power as well as his mercy. The Most High God is eternal king to be usurped by no one; his sovereignty over all things for all of history cannot be denied. Because he has been brought to see this by God’s intervention in his life, Nebuchadnezzar wanted to bear witness.

II. 4:4-18 – Nebuchadnezzar narrated his experience with a very detailed dream that none of the wise men of Babylon could interpret; He believed that Daniel could interpret it and so he told it to him in full.

A. God broke into the peaceful repose that Nebuchadnezzar had and changed this peace into fear (4, 5), through a series of visions. Effectual conviction of sin will always bring a person away from self-confidence and temporal satisfaction in order to alarm him of an impending danger of judgment. Bunyan’s famous pilgrim starts his journey with a great cry of lamentation, prompted by the Bible, concerning the certainty of death and the perfection of judgment. He did not want the one and could not stand in the other. Nebuchadnezzar has gone from peace to fear, and with good reason.

B. The Babylonian king related the vision to his conjurors and magicians and they could not give an interpretation.

    1. God’s messages do not yield their meaning or their power to carnal wisdom. “The natural man does not perceive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). This is true of the revelatory operations of God in any form, both those given in pre-incarnation visions and dreams and the inscripturated truths finalized in post-apostolic canon (2 Peter 1:21; 3:1, 2; 3:15, 16).
    2. He called for Daniel. Though Daniel had been named after one of his gods, he knew that Daniel’s spirit of wisdom came from the Spirit of the Holy God above all gods. The king, as before, knew that this vision had come from God (Daniel 2:47). He knew also, therefore, that only one who knew this God would be able to tell the meaning of the vision. Even as Isaiah the prophet had told another king, Hezekiah, that he would die peacefully, but that his nation would be taken into exile in Babylon (Isaiah 39:4-8), so now the king of Babylon hears a prophecy of turmoil, a call to repentance, restoration. Under the rule of his son, Belshazzar (Chapter 5), however, the nation would be conquered and replaced by another as Daniel earlier had prophesied (2:38, 39).

C. Verses 10-12 – Nebuchadnezzar saw in his vision a strong tree with beautiful foliage. This tree provided shelter, shade, and food for birds and beasts.

D. Verses 13-18 – The king saw a vision of a Watcher, a holy one, who came down from heaven with a directive. This gave Nebuchadnezzar an awareness that all of his life was under the observation of heaven and that heaven directed his life and acted with pure justice.

    1. To whom the Watcher shouts is not revealed (14). These general directions probably indicate that all the forces of the world—animal, personal, inanimate natural forces—were servants of the holy Watcher and would conspire at his command to do his bidding.
    2. The strong and lovely tree would be chopped down so that all its foliage, food, and every other glory would be lost. All those that found refuge in its shade would be scattered.
    3. It would not be destroyed completely, but severely diminished–only a stump would be left—in its power as if bound by iron and bronze bands. The tree would be drenched with dew, living in an exclusively natural environment, and imitating the living creatures of the earth. The tree—clearly representing a man (16)—would lose human rationality and live only by instinct, like a beast. This condition would last for “seven periods,” that is, until the purpose of this humiliation was complete.
    4. We have here a clear statement of the absolute sovereignty of the Most High (17).
      • The Watchers, also called the holy ones, is a term of plurality that tells us that the Most High is one God incorporating a plurality of persons. From other passages scattered throughout Scripture (beginning with Genesis 1:1-3) we know that his plurality involves God, His Word (Branch, Servant, Wisdom, Rod, Son) and His Spirit (Psalm 2:7, 12; Isaiah 7:14; 11:2; 40:13; 48:16; 49:5, 6; 61:1-3; Jeremiah 1:2, 4, 5; Ezekiel 1:3; 3:12, 14, 16; 6:1; 7:1; 11:14; Joel 2:2, 29; Zechariah 3:8; 4:6; 6:12; 12:10; John 1:1).
      • The Watchers decree and the Holy Ones command, verbs fitting only for an ultimate authority. Decrees particularly operate within the eternal counsels of God and commands must arise from one whose authority is determinative in the sphere in which they are given. The vocabulary, “the sentence is by decree” and “the decision is a command” reinforces the impression that this exalted God, this Most High, is the “Watchers” and the “Holy Ones”—“Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isaiah 6:3). In a council of mysterious plurality the triune Lord gave consideration particularly to Nebuchadnezzar and the way in which he—in particular!—would be humbled and brought to sincere faith. The decree included this display of individual grace and also demonstrated a truth of universal, eternal, and preeminent importance.
      • That purpose of this decreed humiliation of a mighty king was the demonstration that “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind.” Every power is ordained of God, derives its authority from God, and may be removed by him in accordance with his own eternal pleasure.
      • Nebuchadnezzar finished the narrative of the dream and gave it to Daniel for interpretation; knowing that this was a message from the God that Daniel knew and worshipped.

III. 4:19-27, Daniel was given the interpretation by God, an interpretation that dismayed Daniel. Note the mutual respect between Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel expressed genuine concern and alarm for what lay in the kings’ near future. Nebuchadnezzar assured Daniel that he need not fear to tell the truth about the meaning of the dream.

A. It showed that Nebuchadnezzar’s domination had led to pride. Daniel showed that every aspect of the dream would have fulfillment.

    1. Nebuchadnezzar was the grand and glorious and life-giving tree. His majesty as a ruler was higher and broader than any other king on earth (22). He would, therefore, be humbled, for his success he attributed to himself and gave him a sense of indestructibility. Like the rich fool who had laid up goods for years, he would be shown the sinfulness of gloating in one’s success (Luke 12:16-21).
    2. At the pinnacle of his might and apparent safety, he would be chopped down by the Most High by having all glory removed from him, even his human rationality and his fitness for human society and he would live among the beasts, eat grass like them, and be exposed to all the elements of nature.
    3. This humiliation would have its perfect work (seven periods) for the dual purpose of God to be rendered effectual.
    4. When that occurred, his kingdom would be given back, that is, “after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules” 26).

B. Daniel, therefore, appealed to Nebuchadnezzar; “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

IV. 4:28-33 – After a year, Nebuchadnezzar looked upon all the plushness of his surroundings and rejoiced in his “mighty power” and all he had done for “the glory of my majesty.”

A. He heard a voice from heaven that pronounced the judgment on him that had been present in his dream twelve months before, and immediately “he was driven from among men” and ate grass like an ox, his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like a bird’s claws. He was “drenched with the dew of heaven” (33).

B. This did not happen by any human agency but was the immediate result of divine purpose and power. Nebuchadnezzar became so compatible with the wild things that his only comfort and desire was to be with them. He had no rational or spiritual propensity for human society and so gravitated to the environment fit for his mentality and demeanor.

C. A person who is “dead in trespasses and sins,” who walks according to the values of this world and the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:1-3), will have no appetite for the pure spiritual milk of the word of God (1 Peter 2:1-3). He will eat grass like the cattle, or the husks given to pigs until he is given by sovereign grace an appetite for the banquet food of heaven. Nebuchadnezzar had been brought to the end of himself and was shown where the destructive appetite of his prideful nature would lead him.

V. 4:34-37 – God restored his reason and changed his heart. He testified, “I raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me.” He saw the infinite blessedness of God and “praised and honored him who lives forever.” He was joyfully reconciled to the sovereignty of God – “None can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (35) He was restored to his power but with a clear subjection to the justice and rightful place of the pre-eminence of God. He was again consulted by all of his nobles, but recognized that just rule and wise decisions came from the “King of Heaven” (37). His state of mind and heart is shown in his submission to God’s perfect rectitude in all his judgments and his actions: “All his works are right and his ways are just” (37). He has rejected the arrogance of power and wealth, seen that all of this is of God, and that all persons must be humble in spirit before him: “Those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (37).

VI. Thus, we see the preparatory work of God with Nebuchadnezzar culminated in the turning of the pagan to a hearty acceptance of the rightful glory of Yahweh and a humble submission to his rule over him. He saw God as a God who reveals mysteries, a God of superior power who protects those that remain faithful, and finally a God that he would praise and extol and honor and before whom the entire world should be humble. A New Testament conversion of such proportions is seen in the blinding of the persecutor Saul by the brilliance of the risen Christ (Acts 9:4, 5). His vision of the praiseworthiness of God in his sovereignty gave rise, by inspiration, to a similar benediction: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out. … For of him and through him and to him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33, 36).



Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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