Our reading today begins with Daniel chapter 4. In the Aramaic text, 4:1-3 are actually 3:31-33. This makes more sense as the praise of God by Nebuchadnezzar in these three verses go with his acknowledgment of YHWH as the Most High God (4:2 – see 3:26). Verse 4 (4:1 in the Aramaic text) begins a new subject: Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream. This is written from the first-person point of view by Nebuchadnezzar (adding to the debates about the book discussed yesterday). Here, Nebuchadnezzar again calls the magicians and the wise-men, but this time he tells them about the dream (vv. 6-7 – see 2:7-11). But they could not interpret it for him.
Once again, it is Daniel to the rescue. There are a few Aramaic expressions worth noting in this section. First, “the spirit of the holy gods” (v. 8, 9, 18 – see also 5:11)) can be a reference to the pantheon of Babylonian gods (in which Nebuchadnezzar may or may not be including YHWH at this point), or it can be interpreted singularly as “the Spirit of the Holy God” (which may be YHWH, or may be Bel, after whom Daniel is named in Aramaic – “Belteshazzar” means “Bel protect the prince”). Based on verse 17, I lean towards the Spirit of the Holy God Who is YHWH. In any case, the king knows that Daniel has been given a supernatural gift to interpret dreams.
The second term is to consider is “watcher” (v. 13, 17). In Babylonian religion (and other religions in the ancient world), “watchers” were heavenly beings (like angels) who made up the divine counsel of the gods. In verse 17, we see that this watcher (or “holy one”) delivers the “word (or command) of the holy ones” to reveal “the Most High.” In Jewish theology, the “holy ones” were indeed heavenly beings that made up the divine council of God (see Psalm 89:5-7). I would venture to say that the religion of the Babylonians had an element of truth to it. The judgment about to brought upon Nebuchadnezzar is from God (v. 24), but according to the decision of His divine council (v. 17 – see 1 Kings 22:19-23).
When Daniel interprets the dream, we see that the tree is Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 20-22). It is a description of how Nebuchadnezzar views himself (see his pride and self-appointed status as a god in chapter 3). God will humble the exalted by chopping down the tree; by lowering Nebuchadnezzar – the self-appointed god – to the level of a mindless animal (v. 23). Daniel encourages the king to repent of his sins in order to avoid judgment (v. 27). We see the same pattern that we saw over and over with the kings of Judah: God sends predictions of judgment (and even partial judgments) in order to bring them to repentance. Ultimately, the kings of Judah did not repent. But Nebuchadnezzar does.
In verses 28-33, we see that the dream becomes reality. While Nebuchadnezzar wallowed in his pride (vv. 29-30), he is humbled that he may know it is God Who made him king (v. 32 – see 2:37, 5:18). The tree is cut down, but the stump remains. Nebuchadnezzar is restored when he repents and humbles himself (vv. 34-35). So God does for him what He would have done for the kings of Judah: He exalts him (v. 36) that he may exalt God (v. 37).
Chapter 5 records the pride of another king, and the fall of the kingdom for his refusal to repent. That this account follows the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s repentance and exaltation is no accident. This is a message for God’s people. The exalted will be humbled, and the humble will be exalted. For a long time this account was thought to prove that the book of Daniel was historically inaccurate. Nabonidus was king when Babylon fell to Persia, and there was no record of a Babylonian king named Belshazzar. More recent discoveries, however, prove that Nabonidus crowned one of his sons as his co-regent of Babylon. That son’s name was Belshazzar. This is the Belshazzar in chapter 5.
Belshazzar’s pride is a contrast to the repentance of Nebuchadnezzar. Note that there is a jump of about 23 years between chapter 4 and chapter 5. God is now bringing judgment on Babylon (like He did on Judah) because the king opposed Him (like in Judah). Belshazzar has a party (5:1) and uses the vessels taken from the Temple in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (see 1:2, 2 Chr 36:7) to drink out of (vv. 2-4). So God gives this king a vision. He sees the fingers of a human hand (creepy!) write on the wall (v. 5). So he calls the magicians to interpret the writing (v. 7). Note that Belshazzar offers to make the interpreter “third ruler in the kingdom.” This tracks with him being the co-regent with his father (because there are already two rulers).
As expected, the Babylonian magicians can’t interpret the writing (v. 8). So, once again: Daniel to the rescue (vv. 10-12). Note that calling Nebuchadnezzar Belshazzar’s father (v. 11) is akin to the Jews calling Abraham their father a thousand years after he died, or Christians calling him our father. Belshazzar was likely not even related to Nebuchadnezzar by blood. Before Daniel interprets the writing on the wall, he explains to Belshazzar why this happened at all. He should have learned a lesson from what happened to Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 18-21). But he has not. He is proud (v. 22) and has exalted himself against God (v. 23). So God has judged him and will destroy the kingdom (vv. 24-28), just like He did to Judah.
In verse 29 we see that yet another king bestows upon Daniel great authority. And even though Babylon was destroyed (without a fight) that night (v. 30), we see that even the king (Darius) of the new kingdom (Persia) gives Daniel authority (6:1-3). And, like with Daniel’s three friends, envy turns people against him (v. 4), and they try to trap Daniel by his obedience to YHWH (v. 5). So they convince Darius to forbid the worshiping of any god for 30 days (vv. 7-9). Darius is either gullible, weak, or both.
Like his three friends, Daniel does not stop worshiping YHWH under threat of death (v. 10), which his enemies knew would happen (v. 11). When they bring the news to Darius (vv. 12-13), he realizes he has been tricked and tries to argue Daniel out of the punishment (v. 14), but to no avail (v. 15). When Daniel is brought to the lion’s den, Darius effectively prays to YHWH for his deliverance (v. 16), then stays up all night praying and fasting (v. 18). Like Nebuchadnezzar, it appears that Darius also knows that YHWH is above all other gods. That Daniel was saved by God (v. 22) inspires Darius to mimic Nebuchadnezzar in acknowledging YHWH (vv. 25-27 – see 4:1-3).
The chapter ends with the reign of Cyrus (v. 28 – this indicates that this prosperity was throughout the reign of Cyrus). This is the Cyrus that God would use to return a remnant to the land (see Isa 44:28, 45:1, 2 Chr 36:23). This is a pointer to the subject matter of the rest of the book. We will see that the visions of Daniel are from before the end of the reign of Cyrus (7:1, 8:1, 9:1, 10:1). This is because they are connected thematically. We will now read of the visions of Daniel that have to do with the restoration of the remnant – both physical and spiritual.