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23And whereas the king saw a holy watcher coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave its stump and roots in the ground, with a band of iron and bronze, in the grass of the field; and let him be bathed with the dew of heaven, and let his lot be with the animals of the field, until seven times pass over him’—

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Nebuchadnezzar's Dream Interpreted. (b. c. 570.)

19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him. The king spake, and said, Belteshazzar, let not the dream, or the interpretation thereof, trouble thee. Belteshazzar answered and said, My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies.   20 The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth;   21 Whose leaves were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all; under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and upon whose branches the fowls of the heaven had their habitation:   22 It is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong: for thy greatness is grown, and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth.   23 And whereas the king saw a watcher and a holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, Hew the tree down, and destroy it; yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him;   24 This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king:   25 That they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.   26 And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule.   27 Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.

We have here the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream; and when once it is applied to himself, and it is declared that he is the tree in the dream (Mutato nomine de te fabula narratur—Change but the name, the fable speaks of thee), when once it is said, Thou art the man, there needs little more to be said for the explication of the dream. Out of his own mouth he is judged; so shall his doom be, he himself has decided it. The thing was so plain that Daniel, upon hearing the dream, was astonished for one hour, v. 19. He was struck with amazement and terror at so great a judgment coming upon so great a prince. His flesh trembled for fear of God. He was likewise struck with confusion when he found himself under a necessity of being the man that must bring to the king these heavy tidings, which, having received so many favours from the king, he had rather he should have heard from any one else; so far is he from desiring the woeful day that he dreads it, and the thoughts of it trouble him. Those that come after the ruined sinner are said to be astonished at his day, as those that went before, and saw it coming (as Daniel here), were affrighted, Job xviii. 20.

I. The preface to the interpretation is a civil compliment which, as a courtier, he passes upon the king. The king observed him to stand as one astonished, and, thinking he was loth to speak out for fear of offending him, he encouraged him to deal plainly and faithfully with him; Let not the dream, nor the interpretation thereof, trouble thee. This he speaks either, 1. As one that sincerely desired to know this truth. Note, Those that consult the oracles of God must be ready to receive them as they are, whether they be for them or against them, and must accordingly give their ministers leave to be free with them. Or, 2. As one that despised the truth, and set it at defiance. When we see how regardless he was of this warning afterwards we are tempted to think that this was his meaning; "Let it not trouble thee, for I am resolved it shall not trouble me; nor will I lay it to heart." But, whether he have any concern for himself or no, Daniel is concerned for him, and therefore wishes, "The dream be to those that hate thee. Let the ill it bodes light on the head of thy enemies, not on thy head." Though Nebuchadnezzar was an idolater, a persecutor, and an oppressor of the people of God, yet he was, at present, Daniel's prince; and therefore, though Daniel foresees, and is now going to foretell, ill concerning him, he dares not wish ill to him.

II. The interpretation itself is only a repetition of the dream, with application to the king. "As for the tree which thou sawest flourishing (v. 20, 21), it is thou, O king!" v. 22. And willing enough would the king be to hear this (as, before, to hear, Thou art the head of gold), but for that which follows. He shows the king his present prosperous state in the glass of his own dream; "Thy greatness has grown and reaches as near to heaven as human greatness can do, and thy dominion is to the end of the earth," ch. ii. 37, 38. "As for the doom passed upon the tree (v. 23), it is the decree of the Most High, which comes upon my lord the king," v. 24. He must not only be deposed from his throne, but driven from men, and being deprived of his reason, and having a beast's heart given him, his dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and with them he shall be a fellow-commoner: he shall eat grass as oxen, and, like them, lie out all weathers, and be wet with the dew of heaven, and this till seven times pass over him, that is, seven years; and then he shall know that the Most High rules, and when he is brought to know and own this he shall be restored to his dominion again (v. 26): "Thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, shall remain as firm as the stump of the tree in the ground, and thou shalt have it, after thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule." God is here called the heavens, because it is in heaven that he has prepared his throne (Ps. ciii. 19), thence he beholds all the sons of men, Ps. xxxiii. 13. The heavens, even the heavens, are the Lord's; and the influence which the visible heavens have upon this earth is intended as a faint representation of the dominion the God of heaven has over this lower world; we are said to sin against heaven, Luke xv. 18. Note, Then only we may expect comfortably to enjoy our right in, and government of, both ourselves and others, when we dutifully acknowledge God's title to, and dominion over, us and all we have.

III. The close of the interpretation is the pious counsel which Daniel, as a prophet, gave the king, v. 27. Whether he appeared concerned or not at the interpretation of the dream, a word of advice would be very seasonable—if careless, to awaken him, if troubled, to comfort him; and it is not inconsistent with the dream and the interpretation of it, for Daniel knew not but it might be conditional, like the prediction of Nineveh's destruction. Observe, 1. How humbly he gives his advice, and with what tenderness and respect: "O king! let my counsel be acceptable unto thee; take it in good part, as coming from love, and well-meant, and let it not be misinterpreted." Note, Sinners need to be courted to their own good, and respectfully entreated to do well for themselves. The apostle beseeches men to suffer the word of exhortation, Heb. xiii. 22. We think it a good point gained if people will be persuaded to take good counsel kindly; nay, if they will take it patiently. 2. What his advice is. He does not counsel him to enter into a course of physic, for the preventing of the distemper in his head, but to break off a course of sin that he was in, to reform his life. He wronged his own subjects, and dealt unfairly with his allies; and he must break off this by righteousness, by rendering to all their due, making amends for wrong done, and not triumphing over right with might. He had been cruel to the poor, to God's poor, to the poor Jews; and he must break off this iniquity by showing mercy to those poor, pitying those oppressed ones, setting them at liberty or making their captivity easy to them. Note, It is necessary, in repentance, that we not only cease to do evil, but learn to do well, not only do no wrong to any, but do good to all. 3. What the motive is with which he backs this advice: If it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility. Though it should not wholly prevent the judgment, yet by this means a reprieve may be obtained, as by Ahab's humbling himself, 1 Kings xxi. 29. Either the trouble may be the longer before it comes or the shorter when it does come; yet he cannot assure him of this, but it may be, it may prove so. Note, The mere probability of preventing a temporal judgment is inducement enough to a work so good in itself as the leaving off of our sins and reforming of our lives, much more the certainty of preventing our eternal ruin. "That will be a healing of thy error" (so some read it); "thus the quarrel will be taken up, and all will be well again."