Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
The prophet Ezekiel compared the nation of Assyria, at the height of its glory, to a large tree. He spoke of its great size and beauty and of how it filled the land, "So it towered higher than all the trees of the field; its boughs increased and its branches grew long, spreading because of abundant waters. All the birds of the sky nestled in its boughs, all the animals of the wild gave birth under its branches; all the great nations lived in its shade." (Ezekiel 31:5-6)
The prophet Hosea confirmed the Lord's promise to revive Israel again by using the imagery of a great and mighty tree, "I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. People will dwell again in his shade; they will flourish like the grain, they will blossom like the vine---Israel's fame will be like the wine of Lebanon." (Hosea 14:5-7)
The Lord Jesus, in describing His own kingdom, compared it to a tiny mustard seed sown in the ground that later became a mighty tree. The Lord's kingdom, like the mustard seed, began in a small way: a little baby was born to a poor young couple in a stable on a dark night in Bethlehem. It began humbly: an obscure carpenter from the backwoods town of Nazareth suddenly launched a public ministry that astonished all who heard Him. It began in an unexpected manner: the King came not to be served but to serve others. But this gospel, this little mustard seed, grew and changed the world. "Then Jesus asked, 'That is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches." (Luke 13:18-19)
King Nebuchadnezzar probably found his dream so upsetting because he suspects the tree symbolizes himself and his mighty kingdom of Babylon. A sad fate awaits this tree. "In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. He called in a loud voice: 'Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, the grass of the field." (Daniel 4:13-15a) An angel reveals to Nebuchadnezzar that this tree will be cut down to a stump. As a gardener might enclose a stump from which he hopes new shoots will grow, so that the stump is not removed from the ground, the Lord will enclose and protect the stump in Nebuchadnezzar's dream.
It is at this point that the imagery of the tree becomes more personal. It becomes symbolic of the one who rules over the kingdom. "Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, til seven times pass by for him." (Daniel 4:15b) This man will be afflicted by a mental malady for a period of seven years.
The angel concludes, "The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living might know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone He wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people." (Daniel 4:17) Nebuchadnezzar thinks of himself as a pretty big deal, but he owes everything he has accomplished to Almighty God. Had it not been God's will for him to conquer the lands he conquered, it would not have been possible. The one true God is sovereign over every king and kingdom on earth. He sets up kings and He removes kings. Should He so choose, He could depose Nebuchadnezzar and place the poorest, most humble and uneducated man on the throne of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar needs to acknowledge the fact that he himself is not a god and that there is a God to whom he must answer.
The king now places the matter of the interpretation of the dream into Daniel's hands by saying, "This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men of my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you." (Daniel 4:18) The king is still clinging to his own superstitious and pagan concept of many gods. He does not yet understand that Daniel serves only one God and that it is the Holy Spirit who dwells in this young man from Judah. But the king's life is about to be turned upside down. He's going to enter a time of trouble he could never have imagined himself in, but when he comes out the other side he will know the Most High God. As one of the psalmists testified to the Lord, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word." (Psalm 119:67) Affliction is sometimes the only way God can get our attention, especially in hard cases like that of a prideful and arrogant man such as King Nebuchadnezzar. God, in His love and mercy, will humble the king, but at the end of that time Nebuchadnezzar will say that he, "raised my eyes toward heaven...I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified Him who lives forever."