King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.
How great are his signs,
how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and his dominion endures from generation to generation.
I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace. I saw a dream that made me afraid. As I lay in bed the fancies and the visions of my head alarmed me. So I made a decree that all the wise men of Babylon should be brought before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream. Then the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers came in, and I told them the dream, but they could not make known to me its interpretation. At last Daniel came in before me—he who was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods—and I told him the dream, saying, “O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you and that no mystery is too difficult for you, tell me the visions of my dream that I saw and their interpretation. The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heavens lived in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it.
“I saw in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven. He proclaimed aloud and said thus: ‘Chop down the tree and lop off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, amid the tender grass of the field. Let him be wet with the dew of heaven. Let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth. Let his mind be changed from a man's, and let a beast's mind be given to him; and let seven periods of time pass over him. The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.’ This dream I, King Nebuchadnezzar, saw. And you, O Belteshazzar, tell me the interpretation, because all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation, but you are able, for the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”
Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was dismayed for a while, and his thoughts alarmed him. The king answered and said, “Belteshazzar, let not the dream or the interpretation alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies! The tree you saw, which grew and became strong, so that its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth, whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which beasts of the field found shade, and in whose branches the birds of the heavens lived— it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth. And because the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field, and let him be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven periods of time pass over him,’ this is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules. 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.”
All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While the words were still in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles' feathers, and his nails were like birds' claws.
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
We live in a society that constantly tells us to focus on ourselves: how we’re doing, how we look, how we compare with others, what others think about us, what we want, what we deserve, what we don’t have, and so on. Whether it’s advertisements, social media, entertainment, or messages from influential leaders, the DNA of our society is to focus on self, with destructive consequences as an excessive and unhealthy obsession with self leads to pride, insecurity, anxiety, sadness, hurt relationships, and more.
However, this issue is not unique to our time and place; it is part of the human condition. In Daniel 4, King Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful person in the world at that time, has a dream about a huge tree that touches the heavens yet is ordered to be cut down, and he does not understand it. Due to the wisdom imparted to him by God, Daniel is the only official able to interpret the dream, and he interprets the tree as symbolizing Nebuchadnezzar and his pride as he focuses on his own power and status. Out of love and mercy to someone who has done nothing to deserve it, God offers him an opportunity to turn from his pride and acknowledge Him as the one true sovereign King over all things.
In the dream, the image of the tree extending to the heavens evokes memories of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, emphasizing that human pride, selfishness, and self-focus always end in disaster. While Nebuchadnezzar initially boasts of his power after this dream, God graciously humbles him, leading this Pagan ruler to praise and honor God as the eternal King who reigns forever.
Bible scholar Thomas Constable states that the main lesson of this chapter is God’s sovereignty over the greatest human sovereign in the world, which implies that wisdom looks like humbly submitting to God’s Kingship. However, Romans 1 explains that the foolishness of sin results in human pride and, consequently, a failure to recognize and honor God for His supremacy and sovereignty. This means that the greatest problem in the universe in Daniel’s time, Paul’s time, and our time today is not mere moral failure or bad behavior, but a failure to honor, love, and know God for who He is as revealed in His Word. When this happens, it always leads to idolatry: trusting in things lesser than Jesus (including self) for significance, love, purpose, and security, things that cannot ultimately deliver what they promise.
The good news is that many years later, Jesus would come to us as both a powerful King and a humble Servant. At His name, every knee will bow and tongue confess that He is Lord, the one who also humbled Himself by becoming a servant who was obedient to death on the cross (Philippians 2:6-11). In Mark 4:30-32, Jesus picks up on this imagery of a tree growing (as trees regularly symbolize kingdoms in the Bible), and He says that His kingdom will start as a small mustard seed yet will one day grow to become the largest of plants with such big branches that birds can come and rest in its shade. Unlike worldly leaders and kingdoms that are often defined by human power and pride, Jesus’ kingdom is marked by using His power to provide gentleness, humility, love, and care for people of all backgrounds, nations, sins, and weaknesses so that they might experience rest, peace, and joy under His rule and reign. The Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck says, “It is Christ, not us, who gathers, rules, and protects His Church.” In a world that often seems chaotic and confusing, Jesus is in charge, and that is good news for people like us who need a Ruler who is both deeply compassionate and infinitely powerful. The best and wisest way to live, therefore, is to center our lives around the true King by loving Him and loving others as He invites us to experience true human flourishing instead of living for our own little fleeting kingdoms that are neither satisfying nor sustainable.