Daniel 4: The Dream of the Watchers
Apr 16, 2015
The fourth chapter of Daniel was King Nebuchadnezzar’s official testimony that was entered into the records of Babylon. Whereas Daniel 3:30 speaks of “the king” in the third person, Daniel 4:1 shifts to the first person, as the king speaks personally. It was his statement and explanation as to how he spent some years afflicted by a mental problem that had a spiritual cause. Some commentators identify this mental disease as lycanthropy, where a man imagines himself to be a wolf or some other animal.
The first four chapters of Daniel record four opportunities for the king of Babylon to turn from his false gods and to seek the true God of heaven. In chapter one the king’s interest ought to have been piqued when he saw how the three Hebrew students prospered without eating the king’s food. In chapter two the king came face to face with proof that the God of Daniel was indeed the true Revelator from heaven. In chapter three the king saw proof that the God of heaven could deliver His servants even from the fiery furnace. Further, he even saw Jesus for himself, though at a safe distance.
These events took place over a period of years. Although they are all back to back in these chapters, we should understand that they did not take place immediately one after the other. During the intervening years, after the excitement died down, the king reverted back to his usual kingly practices. Though he was impressed by the miracles that he had witnessed, those miracles did not change his heart. As we will see shortly, though he recognized the sovereignty of the Most High God, he did not claim that God as his own God. Neither did he command that all other gods (idols) be removed from the city in favor of the Most High God.
And so, chapter four records the judgment of God upon the prideful king, where God humbled him and gave him a final opportunity to repent and to fulfill the responsibilities of the Dominion Mandate that God had entrusted to him. He did indeed humble himself and acknowledge the God of heaven, but no permanent change took place. His descendants did not continue to take his decree to heart. Hence, in Daniel 5 we see the divine judgment fall upon Babylon itself, and the empire passed the Dominion Mandate to the next beast empire, Medo-Persia.
Daniel 4:1-3 begins this way:
1 Nebuchadnezzar the king to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language that live in all the earth:
May your peace abound! 2 It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me. 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.
This proclamation was addressed to all the people and nations of the earth. It was not possible for him to send this notice literally to all nations around the globe, but no doubt he sent this by messenger to every nation within his reach. Copies of the official document were delivered to the kings only, but the message itself was addressed to every individual, whether they heard it or not.
The King’s Dream
Dan. 4:4-6 says,
4 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace. 5 I saw a dream and it made me fearful; and these fantasies as I lay on my bed and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. 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.
The dream came while the king was secure and "at ease" in his palace, having no reason to be fearful of any nation that might attack him. This suggests that the dream alarmed him because he suspected that he was the "tree" in the dream. So he called the experts to see what they would say. Unlike the situation in chapter two, the king related his dream to the various groups of experts and required only that they should give him its interpretation. Daniel 4:7 continues,
7 Then the magicians, the conjurers [Magi, “wise men”], the Chaldeans, and the diviners came in, and I related the dream to them; but they could not make its interpretation known to me.
Recall that Daniel had been made the head of the Order of Magi in Daniel 2:48 after revealing and interpreting the king’s earlier dream. Yet the text above seems to indicate that Daniel arrived late and was given opportunity only after the others had failed to find an interpretation of the dream. Daniel 4:8 continues,
8 But finally Daniel came in before me, whose name is Belteshazzar according to the name of my god, and in whom is a spirit of the holy gods [or God]; and I related the dream to him, saying…
The king knew Daniel by his Hebrew name, but also identifies him by his official Babylonian name, “Belteshazzar according to the name of my god.” Belteshazzar means “Bel’s Prince.” Strangely enough, the king refused to claim Daniel’s God as his own but was content to serve Bel [known as Baal in Phoenicia] as a god of lesser power. Thus, the king still claims Bel to be “my god.” Speaking to Daniel he says in Daniel 4:9,
9 O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians [Magi], since I know that a spirit of the holy gods [or 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.
It is plain to see that the king remembered Daniel’s success with the earlier dream and still had great confidence in the prophet. The king then related his dream to the prophet in Daniel 4:10-17. He begins, saying,
10 Now these were the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed: I was looking, and behold, there was a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. 11 The tree grew large and became strong, and its height reached to the sky, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. 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.
As we will see, this was a picture of Babylon itself, which in turn was represented by the king. Trees represent men in Deuteronomy 20:19, but Ezekiel 17:24 extends this to nations as well. Nebuchadnezzar himself greatly admired the tall, stately cedars of Lebanon and even cut down some of them to bring back to Babylon.
The kingdom of Babylon was a beautiful and majestic “tree,” and because it had received the Dominion Mandate from God, it was “in the midst of the earth” and “visible to the end of the whole earth.”
Babylon did not literally rule the whole earth, but the Dominion Mandate gave Babylon the responsibility to establish the Kingdom of God throughout the whole earth. It was the same in earlier days when Judah had carried the Dominion Mandate. Judah had never ruled the entire earth, but it had been responsible to put all things under the feet of Christ. The transfer of authority from Judah to Babylon merely shifted that responsibility to a series of other kingdoms, and when each of them failed to fulfill the responsibility of the Mandate, they were held accountable before God.
The king continues in Dan. 4:13, 14,
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. 14 He shouted out and spoke as follows: “Chop down the tree and 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.”
The “angelic watcher, a holy one,” is an unusual term, but it indicates some kind of divine messenger (angel) who “descended from heaven.” The term “watcher” is from the Aramaic word iyr, (“roused, or wakeful one”) which corresponds to the Hebrew uwr (“watcher, guard”). It is a guard or sentry who is “on his watch.” When the time comes for Babylon to be called into account for its failure to fulfill the responsibilities of the Dominion Mandate, the sentry issues the command for the tree to be defoliated and chopped down.
Daniel 4:15, 16 continues,
15 “Yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, but with a band of iron and bronze [“copper”] around it in the new grass of the field; and let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts in the grass of the earth. 16 Let his mind be changed from that of a man, and let a beast’s mind be given to him, and let seven periods of time pass over him.”
The stump of Babylon’s “tree” was to be left alive but restricted, bound by the bands of Greece (copper) and Rome (iron). Even so, Babylon would yet play a role in the future, so it was not to be uprooted. Babylon’s final role remains undefined in Daniel, but the rise of Mystery Babylon was later revealed to John in the book of Revelation.
The tree represented both the king and the kingdom of Babylon. So the impersonal “tree” was then described as a man (note: “his,” and “him”). Verse 16 gives this “tree” the mind of a man but says that it was to be exchanged for the mind of a beast. This foreshadows the various “beasts” in Daniel 7 and 8. In other words, the governments of these empires were ruled by men who had been given the hearts of various beasts.
Nebuchadnezzar’s failure to fulfill the terms of the Dominion Mandate was a foregone conclusion from the standpoint of God’s sovereign choices, but in no way did this relieve him of the legal responsibility to bring forth the fruits of the Kingdom. His failure brought divine judgment not only upon Babylon but upon the successor kingdoms of men which were to rule until the rise of the Kingdom of God.
The watcher concludes his statement in Daniel 4:17 saying,
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 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.”
Here we see that there is more than one “watcher,” for what it is worth. Further, since messengers (angels) can be either spiritual beings from heaven or earthly messengers on earth, there may be a connection between certain saints or “holy ones” on earth and the angels at their command. Angels are commanded by both God and men, and when men learn the will of God they are often given the responsibility of issuing the decrees on behalf of God and the Divine Court. If, however, men’s imaginations or heart idols lead them to make decrees that do not truly reflect the decisions of the Divine Court, then their words are overruled and fall to the ground.
Neither Daniel nor Nebuchadnezzar tell us if there is more to this story than meets the eye. The possibility remains, however, that Daniel himself (or others who stood watch here on earth) may have given voice to a Divine Court decision, bearing witness to the heavenly “watcher.” Because of the law of the double witness that establishes all things, it is my view that when the time comes for God to issue a decree, He reveals it to one or more of His servants on earth in order to find an earthly witness to establish all things. So Amos 3:6-8 says,
6 If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city, has not the Lord done it? 7 Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets. 8 A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord has spoken! Who can but prophesy?
When God speaks, “who can but prophesy?” The prophecy is the earthly witness to a heavenly voice in order that heaven and earth may bear witness to establish a matter. Men are not to initiate such decrees, but they are indeed required to bear witness to all that God speaks.
If we apply this principle to the decree of the watchers in Daniel 4, it seems apparent that there was an earthly witness as well as a heavenly witness. Perhaps when both witnesses fulfilled their responsibilities, then the message was given to Nebuchadnezzar in the form of a dream. The king then concludes by saying in Daniel 4:18,
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 a spirit of the holy gods [or God] is in you.”
The king’s confidence in Daniel is amazing.
This is part 13 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Daniel." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones