Online Bible Commentary
God is Sovereign
Daniel 4:13 "I saw in the visions of my head while on my bed, and there was a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven. 14 He cried aloud and said thus: 'Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, Strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts get out from under it, And the birds from its branches. 15 Nevertheless leave the stump and roots in the earth, Bound with a band of iron and bronze, In the tender grass of the field. Let it be wet with the dew of heaven, And let him graze with the beasts On the grass of the earth. 16 Let his heart be changed from that of a man, Let him be given the heart of a beast, And let seven times pass over him. 17 'This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.' 18 "This dream I, King Nebuchadnezzar, have seen. Now you, Belteshazzar, declare its interpretation, since 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 God is in you." 19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonished for a time, and his thoughts troubled him. So the king spoke, and said, "Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation trouble you." Belteshazzar answered and said, "My lord, may the dream concern those who hate you, and its interpretation concern your enemies! 20 The tree that you saw, which grew and became strong, whose height reached to the heavens and which could be seen by all the earth, 21 whose leaves were lovely and its fruit abundant, in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and in whose branches the birds of the heaven had their home--22 it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong; for your greatness has grown and reaches to the heavens, and your dominion to the end of the earth. 23 And inasmuch as the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, 'Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave its stump and roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze in the tender grass of the field; let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let him graze with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him'; (NKJV)
The year is 574 B.C. and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has asked Daniel to interpret a second dream that is troubling the king. Daniel’s interpretation of the first dream in 602 B.C., which was given to him by God, earned him the promotion to ruler of Babylon. The king believes in the sovereignty and power of Daniel’s God, even as he clings to his polytheistic beliefs.
The king begins telling Daniel of his dream and visions (v. 13a). He tells of “a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven”, an angel (v. 13b). The angel “cried aloud”, telling the king that the great tree in his dream would be cut down to a stump and all of the power of the tree would be scattered (v. 14).
The stump itself will not die, being protected by a “band of iron and bronze” (v. 15a). The stump will “graze with the beasts On the grass of the earth” (v. 15b). The stump’s heart “of a man” will be changed to the “heart of a beast” for seven years (v. 16). So, we know that the stump in the dream represents a man. This man will graze with the cattle. This is a description of boanthropy, a rare mental illness in which people believe they have become cattle.
This illness is decreed by “the watchers”, the angels, the messengers of God (v. 17a). It is decreed “in order that the living may know” the sovereignty of God, that God is in control of all things and can give, or take, as He wishes (v. 17b).
The king then asks Daniel, addressing him by his Babylonian name, Belteshazzar, to interpret the dream, since the king’s wise men have failed him in this regard (v. 18a). The king has faith in the wisdom of Daniel because he knows the Holy Spirit lives in Daniel (v. 18b).
Daniel was “astonished” for a moment, and troubled (v. 19a). The king, recognizing this, called for Daniel to not be troubled (v. 19b). Daniel responded by stating that he wished the dream was about the king’s enemies (v. 19c). But he knew better.
Daniel then explains the dream. He tells the king that the tree in the dream was the king himself (vv. 20-22a). The great tree was the king who has grown “strong”, whose “greatness has grown and reaches to the heavens, and your dominion to the end of the earth” (v. 22b). The great tree, the king, was then cut down by God to a stump and given a mental illness in which he believed that he had become a cow for seven years (v. 23). Next time, Daniel interprets the king’s dream.
One of the main themes of the book of Daniel is the sovereignty of God. The word sovereign means to possess supreme, or ultimate, power. The king recognized God’s sovereignty, even though he had not yet become a believer in the sense that God is the only God. We, as believers, must also recognize that God is sovereign. He has the power to do as He chooses, and He exercises that power.
God is all powerful. He can do as He pleases, when He pleases. He raises up rulers, and he cuts down rulers. He gives wealth, and He takes away wealth. He gives us health, and he takes away our health. He blesses us in many ways, and he withdraws His blessings. And in all, He has a plan. We may not like His plan, but we know that it is perfect, because He is perfect. Ours is not to question, but to follow. Because we know that, in the end, He loves us and He is working all things together for our good (Ro. 8:28).