Corresponds with Sabbath School Study Guide: Oct 16-22
This chapter contains an open letter from the king with a long confession of a personal experience and praises to God in the style of the hymn praises previously seen in the book. Some writers consider this chapter to be a royal edict that was proclaimed throughout the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Although the main event in the chapter is not dated, the context of the story betrays the time of “Nebuchadnezzar the Builder,” or the second phase of this king’s reign.
While Jerusalem and its temple lie in ruins, the city of Babylon was brought to architectural perfection. Its builder, King Nebuchadnezzar was very proud of the fact that his name was impressed on thousands of the bricks that were used in the city’s building projects. The Grotefend Cylinder contains this king’s boastful words: “Then built I the palace, the seat of my royalty, the bond of the race of men the dwelling of joy and rejoicing.” Biblical prophets spoke of Babylon as “the jewel of kingdoms, the glory of the Babylonians’ pride” (Isa 13:19).
There are two more pieces of background evidence that shed light on the story from this chapter. One comes from a very fragmentary cuneiform text published by A. B. Grayson in 1975 that speaks of Nebuchadnezzar’s strange behavior. The text says that the king’s life appears of no value to him, that he speaks bad council to his son then gives an entirely different order; he does not heed the words of his lips. Even though this text is fragmentary it may be related to the king’s mental disorder that lasted for a period of time. Yet, at the end of this experience, Nebuchadnezzar praises Daniel’s God and serves him with great zeal. Also, it is useful to remember at this point that the prophet Jeremiah on more than one occasion called this king “the Lord’s servant” (Jer 25:9; 27:6; 43:10). This is in contrast to the way in which certain (Jewish) sources of a later date refer to this king. To take one example, the Greek additions to chapter three refer to Nebuchadnezzar as “the most evil and wicked king on earth.”
The plan of this chapter is an ABA’ structure with the two hymns of praise serving as the envelope around the first person letter sent by the king:
A. King’s praise (4:1-3)
B. The dream [told in the first person] (4:4-18)
C. The interpretation [in the third person] (4:19-27)
B’. The fulfillment of the dream [in the third person] (4:28-33)
A’. King’s praise [told in the first person] (4:34-37)
This plan is true only for the text of the English Bible because the first two verses from our Bible are found at the end of the previous chapter in the Hebrew Bible. In the heart of the chapter is Daniel’s explanation of the dream and his plea that the king would exchange his pride for the works of mercy favored on those who are oppressed.
- Daniel 4:1-3. The text is a combination of at least two literary types: First of all, this is another hymn of praise that echoes Daniel’s from chapter two. But it is also a royal proclamation intended for the people who lived in the whole empire and possibly those who lived beyond its borders (see the expression “in all the world”). The king, this time did not just witness miracles taking place in the lives of other people, but in his own. He says “that the Most High God has performed for me” miraculous signs and miracles. Also, this time he is fully convinced that God’s kingdom is the one that will last forever, an important lesson that he failed to remember in the preceding story. Tracing the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s encounters with God, can we talk about “his three-step conversion” to the worship of true God (chapters two, three and four)?
- Daniel 4:4-8. This part of the story reminds so much of chapter two. This is the second time that the Babylonian wise men are powerless and the sophisticated system of their pagan astrology is bankrupt. Yet, there are some outstanding differences between the two stories, one being that in spite of the feeling of fear, the king this time is relaxed and this may be due to his acquaintance with Daniel for whom “no mystery is too difficult” (verse 9). How should we understand the king’s statement about Daniel that “the spirit of the holy gods is in him”?
- Daniel 4:19-27. At first Daniel hesitates, then after the king insists he proceeds to tell the dream and its meaning. In spite of his age, Nebuchadnezzar still dreams of things that are very tall that even touch the sky (cf. the tall statue from Daniel 2:31). The tree represented the king and his pride, and it is cut after a verdict from heaven has been pronounced against him. What is Daniel’s attitude toward the king in this case? Why did God give this dream to the king? Why did he not pass his judgment right away on the king’s pride? Is there any kernel of the gospel in verse 27? What can we conclude from the words “It may be that then …”
- Daniel 4:28-30. From the previous two stories, the king had learned that world’s history, past, present and future is in God’s hand. Did he not have the right to claim that at least the city of Babylon belonged to him? After all, thousands of bricks in the city walls had his name impressed on them.
- Daniel 4:36-37. The seven periods of time are now over and the king says “I raised my eyes toward heaven.” Can we trace the main steps in the process of conversion that are found in these verses? One such step is the king’s readiness to ascribe all power to God. How should we understand the words that describe the happy end “I became even greater than before”?
Lessons for Life
What do we learn about God’s character from this story? Did he have a plan for the king of Babylon? Can we say a similar thing about Daniel’s attitude toward the king.
A question is often asked as to why nobody took the throne during the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s mental illness. What are some of the “human explanations” that could be proposed? Moreover, what role did the divine providence play in this matter?
Can we consider Nebuchadnezzar to be a type of “repentant Babylonians”? How does that impact on our attitude as Christians toward Babylon of today?