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Heaven Rules - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 4


Well, I invite you to turn with me tonight to the book of Daniel, Daniel 4. I have to tell you that this chapter and Daniel 5 have to be my two favorite chapters in the entire book of Daniel. And frankly, they vie for my favorite chapters in all of the Old Testament. As we come to chapter 4 in Daniel's prophecy, Daniel continues to drive home the overarching theme of his prophecy, that being God's sovereignty over history, over its kings, and over its kingdoms.

But he doesn't simply make the same point in the same way in each of the six narratives that begin the first six chapters of this book. In fact, in each of the narratives in the first six chapters, he drives home that theme in a unique way. And so when we come to chapter 4, we come to a new and specific message. The theme of the fourth chapter is this, God is completely sovereign over every throne and every human ruler. This theme develops throughout the chapter, but it becomes very clear in a recurring phrase. Let me show it to you. Look at chapter 4 verse 17,

"'"This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers and the decision is a command of the holy ones, in order that the living may know [here it is] that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men."'"

You see it again in the second major section of this chapter. Look at verse 25,

"'you will be driven away from mankind, your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field, you will be given grass to eat like cattle, be drenched with the dew of heaven; seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever he wishes.'"

Look down in verse 32,

"'you will be driven away from mankind, your dwelling place will be with the beast of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever he wishes.'"

There is a variation of this theme in verse 26,

"'it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize,'"

Now you will notice that in the next few words there are a number of italic words, that means they have been added by the translator, so let's just strip them away and see what the Aramaic says, "'"after you recognize that Heaven rules."'" That is the theme of this chapter, heaven rules. This chapter really introduces us to Nebuchadnezzar's second dream. His first, of course, was back in chapter 2, of the image, and this is his third direct encounter with Yahweh, the God of Israel.

Now the events of this chapter are not clearly dated for us, as Daniel will do in later chapters, but there are several clues that make it fairly certain that the events of chapter 4 occurred near the end of Nebuchadnezzar's reign. First of all, it is clear from chapter 4 verse 4 that it was a time of peace across the empire. This was true only in his later days. Also, in chapter 4 verse 30 we learned that he is looking out on all of the construction projects that he has accomplished and enjoying them. So we find that most of his huge building projects are now complete when this chapter unfolds. Again, this happens later in his reign.

In addition to that, there are several secular references that appear to be to Nebuchadnezzar's illness and they also point to a time late in his reign, and I have listed a couple of them here. One of them quoted by the church historian Eusebius, the other Berosus, quoted by Josephus. These apparent references to Nebuchadnezzar's illness also point to a late date in his reign.

Now, when you put the evidence together, we know that his illness began 12 months after the dream that he had, according to verse 29. We know that the illness itself lasted, and we will argue for this, seven years. In addition, there had to be sufficient time after his recovery from the illness in order for him to prosper again as king, which is predicted here and described here, that would have to been at least a year. So, from the dream, the 12 months before it was fulfilled, his illness of seven years, a minimum of a year's recovery, requires a total time period of at least nine years.

Now, when you put it all together, and this is just my nature, I am sorry, but Nebuchadnezzar's reign was 43 years, it was from 605 to 562 B.C., when you put all that I just described to you together, the events of chapter 4 had to occur no later than 571 B.C. and probably about that time, so late in his reign. Now the reason I say all of that is to make clear to you that there is a gap of time. In fact, about 30 years probably passed between the fiery furnace of chapter 3 and the events that we will study in chapter 4. Daniel is now somewhere between 45 and 50 years of age.

Now, chapter 4 is unique for several reasons. It is the only chapter in the Bible that was written by a man who had been a pagan king. It is also the only Old Testament passage written by a Gentile. Of course, the only other exception in Scripture is the writing by Luke in Luke and Acts. Thirdly, it is unique in that it switches back and forth. The writer writing in the first 27 verses in the first person, and there is some argument about verse 19, the first part of verse 19, but let's just assume for now it is all in the first person, then you have the third person, he. So I in the first 27 verses, he then in verses 28 to 33, and then finally back to the first person in verses 34 to 37. Now, the likely explanation for this change is, the material in the middle, written in the third person, describes the period of Nebuchadnezzar's illness, of his madness. And of course, he would not have been a very reliable witness of those times. And so it is written, therefore, in the third person.

So with that background, let's look at this chapter together. The account in chapter 4 unfolds in a series of scenes. The chapter begins with a surprising introduction in the first three verses. Notice verse 1, "Nebuchadnezzar the king to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language that live in all the earth: 'May your peace abound!'" First of all, it is remarkable isn't it, that here we have a chapter written by Nebuchadnezzar, one of the greatest kings of the ancient world.

The way he begins in verse 1 is a typical way that Assyrian and Babylonian kings began their correspondence to the people of their realms. When he addresses the letter to "all the peoples, nations, and men of every language that live on all the earth," don't think that he is thinking South America. He is thinking of that area of the world that was known to him. Basically, the Mediterranean world, and primarily to those in his empire which stretched from, the Babylonian Empire stretched from Egypt in the south to modern day Iran in the north, so a vast sweep of the Middle East.

Now in verse 2 he explains the reason that he is writing, "'It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God Has done for me.'" Literally, the Aramaic text says "'it was beautiful before me.'" It was my pleasure. In other words, he begins by telling us listen, this isn't a perfunctory letter simply required in the performance of my duty. This has not been coerced. I am not reluctant to write this. In fact, it is my true joy to share what God has done for me. By the way, that should be the mindset of every true believer. He was eager to share.

Now he says specifically, "'the signs and wonders.'" The word signs simply is that which points something out. In a very real sense, the same way we use the word sign. On my drive here this evening I passed up White Chapel and there was a sign marking my entrance to the city of Southlake. That is not the city. That sign was just a sign, it was pointing something out. When the word sign is used of God, it means something that points out God's existence and His power. And wonders are those things that produce surprise, shock, or astonishment. And when the two words are used together, the response to God's signs, what He does miraculously, produces wonder and astonishment in those who witness them.

Nebuchadnezzar wants to declare, really what he is saying by signs and wonders, are the miracles that have been absolutely shocking and astonishing, that God has accomplished to convince Nebuchadnezzar. Notice how he says it. He says "'the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me,'" literally, "'with me,'" the Aramaic says, "'the signs and wonders he has done with me,'" to convince me of his existence and power.

What were those signs that pointed to God, to His existence and power that produced wonder in this pagan king? Well obviously, in chapter 2 you have the dream that was revealed and explained. In chapter 3 you have the rescue of the three men from the fiery furnace and "'the appearance of one like a son of the gods.'" And then here in chapter 4 you have the dream that is revealed to him, you have his madness, you have his personal recovery from that madness, and the recovery of his kingdom. Those are, in the ancient world, miraculous in every sense, and still would be today. He says, "'it was beautiful before me to declare to you what God has done with me.'"

Now notice verse 3, "'How great are His signs and how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and His dominion is from generation to generation.'" Nebuchadnezzar here praises God, first of all, for His greatness. How great are those signs, those miraculous things that He has done that point to Him. And he praises God for His power. How mighty are those things which have produced such wonder in me. And he praises God for His sovereignty. "'His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and His dominion is from generation to generation.'"

Now, don't miss the irony in those statements. Think about what has happened to Nebuchadnezzar in this chapter. Think about what we are going to learn. You are familiar with this chapter at some level. Think to what has gone on. Nebuchadnezzar has come to understand that the Most High God rules, that He is sovereign, and He alone is sovereign over all things. Certainly Nebuchadnezzar is not, certainly Babylon's gods are not. And Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom has just been removed from him for a period of seven years. But he says, that is not like God's kingdom, God's kingdom is from generation to generation to generation.

In other words, unlike my own puny kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar would say, there are no interruptions to God's rule. His kingdom is stable and unchanging and eternal. When he wrote this chapter, obviously Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom has already been restored to him, but he is now an old man and he knew that his life and his kingdom would soon end, and that his kingdom would end forever because of his death. But God's kingdom, he says, is not like mine. God's kingdom is everlasting. It is eternal. Unlike that of earthly kings like Nebuchadnezzar, God's kingdom never ends. There are no coups, there are no assassinations, and there is no death. There is nothing to interrupt His eternal rule. Nebuchadnezzar reigned for what, in the ancient world, was an amazing, long, and brilliant career, 43 years; but compared to the reign of God it was as short as your next breath.

Those are the profound and powerful lessons that Nebuchadnezzar learned through the events that unfold in this chapter and the things that he desperately wants us to understand as well. Now don't forget that what we are about to discover in this chapter comes to us from a man who had been a pagan idolater and one of the greatest kings in all of human history. In light of that, what we just read in the first three verses is truly staggering.

Now, in the second scene in this chapter the drama itself begins with what we will call a troubling dream, in verses 4 to 18, a troubling dream. In verses 4 and 5 it begins with a description of the dream's setting. Verse 4 says, "'I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace.'" Here we learn the backdrop of this dream. He refers to his house and his palace. There is some argument among commentators as to, you know, whether house and palace refer to the same place or two different places. They may refer, his house, to his personal residence, his palace, to his official residence; we can't be absolutely certain, but I think he is really talking here about the same place. He is describing the relative calm in his own life and reign.

Notice, he says, there was a time in his reign when he and his kingdom were "'at ease.'" The Aramaic word speaks of contentment and security, "'at ease.'" You know, we live in a troubled world that is often in upheaval like the waves of the sea. Don't you love those times when life is at ease? He was in one of those times, freedom from fear. It was also a time, notice verse 4 says, when he and his kingdom were "'flourishing,'" literally, "'growing green.'" This Aramaic word is related to the Hebrew word that is often used to describe both kings and trees.

Now that is ironic in light of the fact, in this dream, a king is going to be likened to a tree. He says, I was in a time in my kingdom when I and the kingdom were experiencing peace, at ease. All external enemies had been defeated. There was no serious internal threat to the nation. There was nothing but prosperity, both personally and in his official capacity as king. This comes at the end of Nebuchadnezzar's long and effective reign, and he is enjoying relative retirement. One commentator writes, "Suddenly the king's carefree life was shattered by a strange dream."

In fact, the contrast between verse 4 and verse 5 is dramatic. Notice verse 5, "'I saw a dream and it made me fearful.'" Once again, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream. As before, he understood that this dream was somehow an important message from the gods to him, and to his kingdom. And he apparently understood enough to know that the dream described him and his kingdom, and that somehow both would be dramatically cut down in the middle of their prosperity. And of course, that made him truly afraid. Remember now, this is one of the greatest kings of human history, and he is frightened.

Every human being is subject to genuine fear in this life, whether he lives in your house or in the White House. Verse 5, "'and these fantasies as I lay on my bed and the visions in my mind kept alarming me.'" The word for alarming takes us one step farther than fear. He says he was afraid, we understand fear, but this word alarming is something that is more emotionally disturbed than just being afraid. What he is saying is, the thoughts of his mind, either during his dream or after his dream as he thinks back on the dream, the thoughts of his mind terrified him. That is what he says. They kept on terrifying me. This was the setting of the dream.

Now in verses 6 to 9 he goes on a search for the dream's interpretation. Verse 6, "'So I gave orders to bring into my presence all the wise men of Babylon that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream.'" As before, he assembled all the wise men, all of those who were his counselors, all of those who specialized in the interpretation of dreams. As I mentioned to you in chapter 2, we know from secular sources that the Babylonians had books in which the various elements of dreams were explained, and from which these men could then pull and interpret the dream. So he pulls them together to make known to him exactly what his dream meant.

Verse 7, "'Then the magicians, the conjurors, and the Chaldeans and the diviners,'" this is the same group we met back in chapter 2, "'came in and I related the dream to them, but they could not make its interpretation known to me.'" Now you remember back in chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar tested them. He refused to tell them what the dream was about, but this time he does tell them, he does relate the contents of the dream. Still, he says, literally verse 7 says, "'they were not,'" this is what the text says, "'they were not ones making known the interpretation to me.'" The original doesn't say they "'could not,'" it says they "'were not'" making known the interpretation.

Now why do I say that and why is that an important distinction? Because you don't have to exactly be a NASA rocket scientist to figure out that this dream was predicting something really bad for the king and his kingdom. They likely, even these pagan wise men, understood that much. However, they didn't fully understand all of the elements in the dream or its exact message. Whatever they did understand, I expect they probably didn't want to deliver even that bad news to the king.

And so, perhaps like they had back in chapter 2, they stalled and they waited. Verse 8, "'But finally,'" Nebuchadnezzar writes, "'Daniel came in before me.'" Now Nebuchadnezzar makes no attempt to explain here why Daniel arrives after the other wise men. Let me tell you, there are a lot of pages in commentaries, a lot of ink spilled, as to the possible reasons. Let me give you a couple of possible ones that stand out above the others.

Some suggest that as the chief of the wise men, Daniel was only called when the others were unable to help. That seems pretty unlikely. If you are a king you are not going to like, go through the lower tiered guys until you get to the one that can help you. That is not likely. Another explanation is that Daniel simply wasn't at the palace when the wise men were called to assemble. That is certainly possible. I think that is likely what happened in the case of the fiery furnace in chapter 3.

But I think another possibility, and the most likely one, is that Daniel deliberately delayed his arrival in order to highlight the inability of Babylon gods and the wise men to make known the meaning of the king's dream. I think this last option is what verse 8 implies, because notice it doesn't say he was brought in, it says, "'But finally Daniel came in before me.'" He goes on to say, "'whose name is Belteshazzar according to the name of my god.'"

Now it is interesting here that Nebuchadnezzar refers to Daniel both by his Jewish name, Daniel, and by his Babylonian name, Belteshazzar, the name the commander had given him back in chapter 1 verse 7, which is likely the only name by which most of the people in Babylon knew him. Notice what he says though, "'Belteshazzar according to the name of,'" notice, "'my god.'" By the way, Belteshazzar has as a part of it, the word Bel, which is an abbreviated reference to one of Babylon's gods, Marduk. Some have taken this expression, "'according to the name of my god,'" to mean that Nebuchadnezzar never came to truly accept Yahweh as his God, even after the events of chapter 4, but instead, he continued to worship the gods of Babylon and therefore he says "'according to the name of my god,'" Bel or Marduk.

But I think the simplest explanation of this verse is simply that at the time of this conversation Nebuchadnezzar was still a worshipper of Marduk. Notice Nebuchadnezzar's perspective of Daniel in verse 8. He says, in whom is "'a spirit of the holy gods.'" Now that is a very interesting expression and there are two possibilities for what Nebuchadnezzar meant by this expression. One is, as a polytheist, one who believed in many gods, Nebuchadnezzar may have simply been acknowledging that the gods had chosen to speak through Daniel. That is how all the modern translations, including our NAS, including most commentators, understand this expression. He is simply referring to, in him is a spirit of all the gods, the gods have chosen to communicate through him.

But there is a second possibility for what this means. This expression, "'in whom is a spirit of the holy gods,'" in both Aramaic and Hebrew, can legitimately be translated as, "'in him is the spirit of the Holy God,'" because the plural for God can be a plural of majesty, and is often used that way in the Old Testament. I personally think this is likely, because on two previous occasions Nebuchadnezzar has experienced the supremacy of Israel's God. He knew that Yahweh was unlike the gods of Babylon, and I think he here is putting him in a separate category, "'in Daniel is the spirit of the Holy God.'"

Now, if that is what Nebuchadnezzar meant, don't misunderstand, he wasn't referring by "'spirit of the Holy God'" to the Holy Spirit as in the third person of the Trinity. Instead, if that is what he was saying, he was simply saying that the Holy God of Israel had chosen Daniel as a means through which He would reveal Himself, "'in Daniel is the spirit of the Holy God.'" I think that is what he intends to say, and he says it three times in this chapter.

Verse 8, "'and I related the dream to him, saying, "O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, since I know that a spirit of the holy gods,"'" there it is again, "'"since I know that the spirit of the Holy God is in you and no mystery baffles you, tell me the visions of my dream which I have seen, along with its interpretation."'" Notice, by the way, in that verse, that after 30 years (Daniel was made the chief of the magicians back in chapter 2 verse 48, this is some 30 years later.), Daniel is still the chief of the magicians. I think that clearly reflects the excellence with which he fulfilled his duties in Babylon.

And it underscores the respect and confidence Nebuchadnezzar had for him. Notice what he says about Daniel, "'"no mystery baffles you."'" There is nothing that I can come to you with that you can't explain. And then he asked Daniel to interpret the meaning of this dream. But first, he gives him a report of the dream's content in verses 10 through 18. This is fascinating. Let's look at it together.

The report of the dream's content, verse 10, "'"Now these were the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed: I was looking,"'" literally the Aramaic says, "'"looking I was looking."'" In other words, I was watching this carefully unfold, and what I am reporting to you now, I also report carefully what I saw, "'"and behold there was a tree in the midst of the earth."'" The focal point of Nebuchadnezzar's dream was this massive tree standing alone in the middle of the earth. Now that expression, "'"in the midst of the earth,"'" implies that all of Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom, which stretched beyond the borders of the nation of Babylon, is included. So it is not just the nation of Babylon, it now was an empire that included much of the Middle East. And this tree is pictured as standing in the middle of that massive body of land. The tree was centrally located to symbolize its importance and its dominance over that part of the world.

Verse 10 says, "'"and its height was great."'" In other words, this was a huge, think completely out of proportion, tree that towered over a large portion of the Middle Eastern world. In verse 11 he says, "'"The tree grew large and became strong."'" In other words, as this dream unfolded, and as Nebuchadnezzar watched, he saw a small sapling grow into an enormous powerful tree. "'"And its height reached to the sky, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth."'" This tree was so tall that it appeared to touch the sky with a massive trunk and huge hanging branches. It was visible across the entire Mediterranean world.

Verse 12, "'"Its foliage was 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 sky dwelt in its branches, and all living creatures fed themselves from it."'" This is not only a huge massive tree, this is a magnificently beautiful tree. Its foliage, or its leaves, were beautiful, and it produced, he says here, enough fruit for all. It provided shade and shelter for all the "'"beasts of the field,"'" and "'"the birds of the sky"'" made their nests among "'"its branches."'"

Verse 12 ends with a remarkable statement. Notice, literally it says, "'"all flesh fed themselves from it."'" Now, I think Nebuchadnezzar suspected that this tree represented him. That is because trees were often used in ancient times to symbolize great and powerful rulers. You can see it in the Scripture in Ezekiel 17, in Ezekiel 19, in Ezekiel 31, in Amos 2; in all of those places trees represented rulers and that was true outside of the Scripture in the ancient world as well. So I think he understood, to some extent, what was going on.

Verse 13, "'"I was looking in the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed, and behold, an angelic watcher, a holy one, descended from heaven."'" Suddenly, to Nebuchadnezzar's shock, a person appears in the dream. It has just been a tree with animals and birds, and now a person. He says, "'"behold"'" or look. Nebuchadnezzar describes this person in three ways. Notice he says he was a "'"watcher."'" Literally, the Aramaic is ""'one who is awake."'" This word occurs only here in the Bible, three times in this chapter, but often in the Apocrypha. Secondly, he describes him not only as a "'"watcher,"'" "'"one who is awake,"'" but as, "'"a holy one."'" And then thirdly, notice, he describes in verse 13 as he "'"descended from heaven."'"

Now you put those three descriptions together, and it is clear this is referring to an angel. This is a holy angel who remains constantly awake and who always watches the activities of humanity upon the earth. This is not unexpected. Even in Ezekiel 1:18, the cherubim are described as having many eyes with which they watch. I don't think we have any idea how much our lives are scrutinized by, obviously God Himself, but by the powerful creatures that surround this planet and fill this universe. A "'"watcher, a holy one, descends from heaven."'"

Verse 14, "'"He shouted out,"'" literally, "'"he cried in strength,"'" "'"and spoke as follows: Chop down the tree, cut off its branches, strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit; let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches."'" Here the angel commanded, although we are not told who exactly he commanded to do it, although the verb used is plural, so it is a command to a number of people to participate, or a number of creatures, to participate in this. He says the tree is to be destroyed. The massive tree is to be chopped down. Now I can't but say that this invites the question, if a tree falls in your dream, does it make a sound? Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Now once this tree has been cut down, and once it has fallen, notice its branches were to be lopped off. So you get the picture, the tree has been cut down, now the branches have been lopped off. Then all of its leaves are to be stripped from all of the branches that have been cut off and its fruit scattered. In addition to that, all of the birds and the animals that found refuge in and under this tree are forced to flee. You get the picture? It is a powerful picture. This beautiful magnificent tree has been completely decimated and destroyed.

Most of us really don't like that picture, even at a very practical human level. I still remember the day when that 150 to 200 year-old oak tree that stood about there in our worship center had to be cut down to make room for this auditorium. I am so glad that Andrew had the idea of harvesting that wood and making this pulpit and making that cross. And Simone just made me a fountain pen from the residue of it as well. We hate those things. This tree, this beautiful, magnificent tree has been destroyed.

Verse 15, "'"Yet,"'" don't you love that word? "'"Yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground."'" The angel demanded that although the tree itself had been destroyed, its roots and the stump were to be left standing in the middle of that grassy field. Now the fact that the stump is to be left implies two things. It implies, first of all, that life still remains in it. In fact, the Aramaic word for stump here carries the connotation that it is still living.

Secondly, the stump implies that this tree may yet grow again in the future, "'"leave the stump with its roots in the ground, but with a band of iron and bronze around it in the new grass of the field."'" In other words, that remaining stump was to be bound with a band of iron and bronze. Now it is unclear exactly what the angel means, but there are two possibilities. One is that a metal band was to be put binding the top of the stump to keep it from splintering and possibly from rotting. A second possibility is that a metal fence or railing was to surround the stump in order to protect it from people or animals further damaging it.

Verse 15 goes on to say, "'"And let him be drenched with the dew of heaven."'" Did you notice the important change that just happened? "'"Let him."'" We have been reading so far about a tree, but suddenly we learn the tree represents a man, and the angel demands that this man be forced to live outdoors exposed to the elements, "'"let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts in the grass of the earth."'" Two things are implied by that. One is that he will live with domesticated animals in the grass of the field, and he will eat the grass on which those domesticated animals graze.

Verse 16, "'"Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let a beast's mind be given to him."'" The angel also demands that his mind, literally his heart in Aramaic, here I think it is a reference to his reason, his capacity to think and to reason, "'"let it be changed."'" It is very interesting, the Aramaic verb for "'"be changed"'" here, is used in another Semitic language, in Akkadian, for insanity. "'"Let it be changed,"'" his mind is to be changed from that of a man, into that of a beast.

This man that we are talking about would actually come to believe that he is an animal. Now I think you understand, this is a psychological condition called lycanthropy. In this condition a person thinks that he is a particular kind of animal, and lives as if he is. By the way, it still exists. I will share some examples with you, Lord willing, next time we study Daniel together.

The word lycanthropy comes from the Greek words lukos, meaning wolf, and anthropos, meaning man. So literally, it is the wolf man. It originally described the delusion of thinking you were a wolf-like creature. In fact, this is where the superstition of the werewolf came from. Eventually, this name, lycanthropy, came to be used for any delusion in which a person believes himself to be an animal. And it can be any kind of animal. But here, the man in Nebuchadnezzar's dream will think that he is a cow or an ox, which is technically, to be more specific, boanthropy.

Now, we are going to consider this problem in greater detail, Lord willing, next time when we study the actual manifestation of this dream in the life of Nebuchadnezzar, but that is what you need to know for now. "'"Let his heart be changed into that of an animal."'" He is going to think that he is, in fact, an animal and he is going live like one.

Verse 16 says, "'"and let seven periods of time pass over him."'" This is how long this condition, this illness, this madness, would last. Literally, "'"let seven times pass by for him."'" Now the Aramaic word time can refer to any common time period. It can refer to a day. It can refer to a week. It can refer to a month. It can refer to a year. Here it is almost certainly a year, for two reasons. One, because that is how this word is used later in Daniel. In chapter 7 verse 25 it says, "'"He will speak out against the Most High, wear down the saints of the Highest One, he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand,"'" here it is, "'"for a time, times, and half a time."'" In that context, as we will discover, the best way to understand the use of time is, time, times, and half a time is three and a half years. That is the best way to understand it.

In addition, in chapter 4, a period of seven days, a period of seven weeks, or even seven months, is too short a time for all of the effects that we are going to see unfold, to be accomplished. And so, it is reasonable, for both reasons, to assume that this madness would last for seven years. Leon Woods writes in his commentary, "The full cycle of seasons, with all the changes and types of weather involved, would pass over the king seven times."

Verse 17, "'"This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers and the decision is a command of the holy ones."'" Now, don't misunderstand, it is not saying this is purely an angelic decision. The second half of the verse makes it clear that God is the One who rules, that God is the One who makes decisions. And in fact, notice verse 24, "'"this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king."'"

So, what is happening in verse 17 when it says, "'"This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers and the decision is by a command of the holy ones," is, here is a group of angels simply agreeing with and announcing the decision and the commands of God Himself. Now in verse 17 the Aramaic word for decree is the same word used for the decrees that Nebuchadnezzar has already made in this book. Think about that. Nebuchadnezzar has made his decrees, and now God makes His. And God's decree is to judge this man with insanity. Why? Don't miss verse 17. Here is the first time the theme of this chapter is brought out very clearly. "'"In order that,"'" here is why it is decreed, "'"in order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind."'"

This was the purpose of God behind what would happen to Nebuchadnezzar. Notice, it is in order that "'"the living may know."'" Who is the living? Who does that include? Well, obviously it includes Nebuchadnezzar himself. He learns, as we see in this chapter. It includes his officials, who witnessed all of this, up close and personal. It includes his people who would hear, and eventually read this story. It includes Daniel and God's people, who have been taken into captivity. And it includes all of those who read this chapter, including us, "'"in order that all the living may know."'" God did this to Nebuchadnezzar so that you would know something that is true about Him.

It is a lesson about God's sovereignty. I want you to see there are several points here in verse 17 made about the sovereignty of God. This is the point of the story. Don't miss it. First of all, God's sovereignty is a constant sovereignty. He says, "'"that the living may know that the Most High is ruler."'" In other words, is currently and continually sovereign. He is ruling, would be another way to say it. This is a constant reality. There is never a moment in the history of this universe when God isn't on His throne and everything that happens isn't coming from His sovereign purpose. He is ruler. Doesn't that give you great comfort?

Tomorrow morning when you wake up, it may be just a day like any other day, or it might be one of those days when it feels like the world is coming apart. You read a headline that sounds like the world itself might come to an end. History might be permanently disrupted. The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind. It is a current and continual reality.

Secondly, His sovereignty is a real sovereignty. Notice, it is not ethereal, He is sovereign "'"over the realm of mankind."'" I love the way one commentator puts it. Wallace says, "God rules down here, not merely up there." Dale Ralph Davis writes, "God rules in the kingdom of men, smelly, sinful, selfish, scheming men. There is nothing more down-to-dirt than that." It is a very real, nitty-gritty, down-to-earth, down-to-dirt sovereignty. It is right here, on this planet, with all of its sin, with all of its issues. It is a real sovereignty in the realm of mankind.

Thirdly, it is a specific sovereignty. Verse 17 says, "'"and He bestows it,"'" that is, "'"the realm of mankind,"'" "'"He bestows it on whomever."'" You see, God is sovereign not just over the general flow of history, not just over the destiny of nations, but over individual rulers. "'"On whom,"'" He is talking about individuals, individual rulers. It is a very specific sovereignty.

And fourthly, it is an unrestricted sovereignty. "'"He bestows it on whom He wishes."'" There is nothing except God's will that determines who rules. God and God alone gives the nations and kingdoms of men to whomever He wishes. God alone superintends the election, in a country like ours, and the appointment of every national ruler. Think about what that means.

Now, I really want you to think about this, because so many Christians lose, so many American Christians, lose their theological way because we live in a country where we vote. Listen, God doesn't care that we vote. That doesn't change what His plan is one bit. God and God alone determines who sits in the chair, who sits on the throne, who sits in the Oval Office. There has never been a single ruler of a single nation on Earth, however great or small, however long or short that rule might have been, that has occupied his or her throne without God desiring it to be so.

Now, don't misunderstand, that doesn't mean that God approves of all of the characters or actions of this world's rulers. In fact, Scripture is clear the exact opposite is true. Finding a righteous ruler is like finding a gardenia in a garbage dump. The truth is, God strongly disapproves of most earthly rulers. This isn't about His approval. This is about his sovereignty.

Verse 17 simply means that for His own internal purposes, He is completely sovereign over every person who ends up on every throne or in every Oval Office. No one ever comes to power apart from His will. As you have heard me say many times, sometimes they come to power as a blessing on their subjects, and sometimes He allows them to come to power as a curse and a judgment, but never apart from His desire.

Now, of course, the immediate application of Verse 17 is Nebuchadnezzar. The only reason Nebuchadnezzar sat on the throne of Babylon was because God wished it so. In a further confrontation of Nebuchadnezzar's pride, notice, the angelic watcher added in verse 17, "'"and God sets over it the lowliest of men."'" God often chooses to put the lowliest of men in positions of power. What a verse.

Montgomery, speaking of this verse writes this, "This is one of the immortal sentences of the Hebrew Scriptures." Look at it again, verse 17. Here is God's sovereignty. This is going to happen, Nebuchadnezzar. This tree is going to be chopped down. This person is going to think he is an animal, "'"in order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men."'"

Verse 18, "'"This is the dream which I, King Nebuchadnezzar, have seen. Now you, Belteshazzar, tell me its interpretation, inasmuch as none of the wise men of my kingdom is able to make known to me the interpretation; but you are able, for the spirit of the Holy God is in you."'" And that is exactly what God empowered Daniel to do. And Lord willing, we will study his explanation, his interpretation, two weeks from tonight. Let's pray together.

Oh great God, we acknowledge Your sovereignty. Lord, You have brought us to know, through this story and through Your work in our lives, and through the history of redemption, and through everything we read in Your Word, that You are the ruler. You, the Most High God, are the ruler over the realm of mankind, and You, God, bestow it on whom You wish. And sometimes, oftentimes, You set over it the lowliest of men. Oh God, we thank You that whatever tomorrow may bring, whatever the week before us shows, You are on Your throne. You are currently and constantly the ruler of the realm of mankind. Lord, help us as Your people to trust You, to worship You.

Thank You that you demonstrate that rule through your Son. We thank You that even now, He rules. Father, we thank You that someday He will be, as Nebuchadnezzar saw in his earlier dream, He will be the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, that will come and crush the kingdoms of this world to powder, and He will set up His own forever kingdom, in which righteousness will forever be. Lord we long for that day, but until that day, help us to live faithfully, to trust You and to never lose confidence that heaven rules. And we pray in Jesus' name, amen.


Through the Fire - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 3

Heaven Rules - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 4

Heaven Rules - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 4

More from this Series



An Introduction to Daniel

Tom Pennington Selected Scriptures

First Lessons in Sovereignty

Tom Pennington Daniel 1

God's Plan for Human History - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 2

God's Plan for Human History - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 2

God's Plan for Human History - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 2

Through the Fire - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 3

Through the Fire - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 3

Through the Fire - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 3

Heaven Rules - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 4

Heaven Rules - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 4

When Empires Fall - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 5

When Empires Fall - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 5

In the Lions' Den - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 6

In the Lions' Den - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 6

The King of Beasts - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 7

The King of Beasts - Part 2

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The King of Beasts - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 7:1-28

The Ram, the Goat, and the Little Horn - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 8

The Ram, the Goat, and the Little Horn - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 8

The Ram, the Goat, and the Little Horn - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 8

Seventy Years & Seventy Weeks - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 9

Seventy Years & Seventy Weeks - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 9

Seventy Years & Seventy Weeks - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 9

Seventy Years & Seventy Weeks - Part 4

Tom Pennington Daniel 9

The Spiritual War Behind World History - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 10

The Spiritual War Behind World History - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 10

Wars, Rumors of Wars & the Last War - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 11

Wars, Rumors of Wars & the Last War - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 11

Wars, Rumors of Wars & the Last War - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 11

The End of Time - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 12:1-13

The End of Time - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 12:1-13

The Book of Daniel

Tom Pennington Daniel 1-12