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4. Nebuchadnezzar's Dearm of Tree

Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. 2I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. 3How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.

4I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace: 5I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me. 6Therefore made I a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make known unto me the interpretation of the dream. 7Then came in the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers: and I told the dream before them; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation thereof.

8But at the last Daniel came in before me, whose name was Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods: and before him I told the dream, saying, 9O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof. 10Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed; I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. 11The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth: 12The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it. 13I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven; 14He cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches: 15Nevertheless leave the stump of his roots 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 in the grass of the earth: 16Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. 17This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men. 18This dream I king Nebuchadnezzar have seen. Now thou, O Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation thereof, forasmuch as all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known unto me the interpretation: but thou art able; for the spirit of the holy gods is in thee.

19Then 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. 20The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth; 21Whose 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: 22It 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. 23And whereas the king saw a watcher and an 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; 24This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king: 25That 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. 26And 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. 27Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility.

28All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar. 29At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. 30The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? 31While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. 32And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. 33The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws. 34And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: 35And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? 36At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. 37Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.

Some join these verses to the end of the third chapter, but there is no reason for this; and it will clearly appear from the context that the edict is here set forth in the king’s name, and other events are inserted. Daniel, therefore, here, speaks in the person of the king; he afterwards narrates what happened to the king, and then returns to his own person. Those who separate these three verses from the context of the fourth chapter, do not seem to have sufficiently considered the intention and words of the Prophet. This passage may seem harsh and rough, when Daniel introduces the king of Babylon as speaking — then speaks in his own name — and afterwards returns to the person of the; king. But since this variety does not render the sense either doubtful or obscure, there is no reason why it should trouble us. We now see how all the sentences which we shall explain in their places are mutually united.

The contents of this chapter are as follow: Nebuchadnezzar was sufficiently instructed in the worship of the God of Israel as one God, and was compelled at the time to confess this; yet he did not depart from his own superstitions; his conceptions of the true God were but momentary, and hence he suffered the punishment due to such great ingratitude. But God intended him to become more and more blinded, as he is accustomed to treat the reprobate and even his elect at times. When men add sin to sin, God loosens his reins and allows them to destroy themselves. Afterwards he either extends his hand towards them, or withdraws them by his hidden virtue, or reduces them to order by his rod, and completely humbles them. He treated the king of Babylon in this way. We shall afterwards discuss the dream; but we must here briefly notice the king’s admonition, that he might feel himself without excuse when he was so utterly broken down. God indeed might justly punish him as soon as he saw he was not truly converted; but before he inflicted the final chastisement — as we shall see in its place — he wished to admonish him, if there were any hope of his repentance. Although he seemed to receive with the greatest modesty what God had manifested by his dream through Daniel’s interpretation of it, yet he professed with his mouth what he did not really possess. And he shews this sufficiently, because, when he ought to be afraid and cautious, he does not lay aside his pride, but glories in himself as a king of kings, and in Babylon as the queen of the whole world! Since, then, he spoke so confidently after being admonished by the Prophet, we perceive how little he had profited by his dream. But God wished in this way to render him more inexcusable, and although he did not bring forth fruit immediately, yet a long time afterwards, when God touched his mind, he very properly recognized this punishment to have been divinely inflicted. Hence this dream was a kind of entrance and preparation for repentance, and as seed seems to lie putrid in the earth before it brings forth its fruit, and God sometimes works by gentle processes, and provides for the teaching, which seemed for a long time useless, becoming both efficacious and fruitful.

I now come to the words themselves; the preface to the edict is, Nebuchadnezzar the king to all peoples, nations, and languages, which dwell in the whole earth, namely, under his sway. He does not mean this to be extended to Scythia, or Gaul, or other distant regions; but since his empire extended far and wide, he spoke boastingly. Thus we see the Romans, whose sway did not reach near so far, called Rome itself the seat of the empire of the whole world! Here Nebuchadnezzar now predicts. the magnificence and mightiness of his own monarchy. Hence he sends his edict to all peoples, and nations, and languages, which dwell on the earth He afterwards adds, it seemed to me good to relate the signs and wonders which the mighty God hath wrought with me No doubt he feels himself to have paid the penalty of his ingratitude, since he had so punctiliously ascribed the glory to one true God, and yet had relapsed into his own superstitions, and had never really said farewell to them. We see how often King Nebuchadnezzar was chastised before he profited by the rod of the Almighty. Hence we need not be surprised if God often strikes us with his hand, since the result of experience proves us to be dull, and, to speak truly, utterly slothful. When God, therefore, wishes to lead us to repentance, he is compelled to repeat his blows continually, either because we are not moved when he chastises us with his hand, or we seem roused for the time, and then we return again to our former torpor. He is therefore compelled to redouble his blows. And we perceive this in the narrative before us, as in a glass. But the singular benefit of God was this, Nebuchadnezzar, after God had often chastised him, yielded at length. It is unknown whether or not this confession proceeded front true and genuine repentance: I must leave it in doubt. Yet without the slightest doubt Daniel recited this edict, to shew the king so subdued at length, as to confess the God of Israel to be the only God, and to bear witness to this among all people under his sway.

Meanwhile we must remark, how this edict of the king of Babylon receives the testimony of the Spirit; for Daniel has no other object or purpose in relating the edict, than to shew the fruit of conversion in King Nebuchadnezzar. Hence, without doubt, King Nebuchadnezzar bore witness to his repentance when he celebrated the God of Israel among all people, and when he proclaimed a punishment to all who spoke reproachfully against God. Hence this passage is often cited by Augustine against the Donatists. 204204     Ep. 166. ad Donat. et alibi For they wished to grant an act of impunity to themselves, when they disturbed the Church with rashness and corrupted pure doctrine, and even permitted themselves to attack it like robbers. For some were then discovered to have been slain by them, and others mutilated in their limbs. Since, then, they allowed themselves to act so licentiously and still desired to commit crimes with impunity, yet they held this principle as of first importance. No punishment ought to be inflicted on those who differ from others in religious doctrine; as we see in these days, how some contend far too eagerly about this subject. What they desire is clear enough. If any one carefully observes them, he will find them impious despisers of God; they wish to render everything uncertain in religion, and as far as they can they strive to tear away all the principles of piety. With the view then of vomiting forth their poison, they strive eagerly for freedom from punishment, and deny the right of inflicting punishment on heretics and blasphemers.

Such is that dog Castalio 205205     Sebastian Castalio is here referred to. He was an opponent of Calvin, and banished from Geneva by his influence. Being a man of extensive learning he was appointed Greek professor at Basil. See Mosheim, cent. 16. section. 3, pt. 2, and the authorities there quoted. and his companions, and all like him, such also were the Donatists; and hence, as I have mentioned, Augustine cites this testimony in many places, and shews how ashamed Christian princes ought to be of their slothfulness, if they are indulgent to heretics and blasphemers, and do not vindicate God’s glory by lawful punishments, since King Nebuchadnezzar who was never truly converted: yet promulgated this decree by a kind of secret instinct. At all events, it ought to be sufficient for men of moderate and quiet tastes to know how King Nebuchadnezzar’s edict was praised by the approval of the Holy Spirit. If this be so, it follows that kings are bound to defend the worship of God, and to execute vengeance upon those who profanely despise it, and on those who endeavor to reduce it to nothing, or to adulterate the true doctrine by their errors, and so dissipate the unity of the faith and disturb the Church’s peace. This is clear enough from the Prophet’s context; for Nebuchadnezzar says at first, it pleases me to relate the signs and wonders which God has prepared for me He had already explained how wonderfully God had treated him; but this had passed away. Now God seizes him a second and even a third time, and then he confesses it to be his boast to explain the wonderful signs of God. He afterwards breaks forth into the exclamation, How mighty are his signs! How remarkable his miracles! His kingdom, is a kingdom of an age, and his dominion is from age to age Without doubt Nebuchadnezzar wished to excite his subjects to the attentive perusal of this edict, and to the acknowledgment of its value, and thus to subject themselves to the true and only God. He calls him The High God, meaning, doubtless, the God of Israel; meanwhile, we do not know whether he cast away his superstitions. I however incline to the opposite conjecture, since he did not put off his errors, but was compelled to give glory to the Most High God. He so acknowledged the God of Israel as to join inferior deities with him as allies and companions, just as all unbelievers, while admitting one supreme deity, imagine a multitude of others. So also Nebuchadnezzar confessed Israel’s God to be Most High; yet, he did not correct the idolatry which still flourished under his sway; nay, he mingled and confused the false gods with the God of Israel. Thus he did not leave behind his own corruption’s. He celebrates indeed with magnificence the glory of the supreme God, but this is not sufficient without; abolishing all superstitions, and promoting that religion alone which is prescribed by the word of God, and causing his pure and perfect worship to flourish.

In fine, this preface might seem a proof of an important conversion; but we shall directly see how far Nebuchadnezzar was from being entirely purged of his errors. It ought, indeed, to affect us exceedingly to behold the king wrapt up in so many errors, and yet seized with admiration of the Divine virtue, since he cannot express his thoughts, but exclaims,His signs how mighty! his wonders how powerful! He added, His kingdom is a perpetual kingdom, and his dominion is from age to age Here he confesses God’s power not to be dependent upon man’s will, since he had just before said, the statue which he had erected was to be worshipped, because he had chosen so to decree it. Now, however, he remits much of this pride by confessing God’s kingdom to be a perpetual one. The narrative now follows. Thus far we have merely a preface, because the edict was diffused among his subjects to render them attentive to the most important subjects.


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