Theme C: Humbling and Overthrow of the Pagan King (Daniel 4)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

Daniel 4 and Daniel 5 are to be read in concert, chapter 4 introducing theme C of the chiasm, and chapter 5 reprising it (see "The Big Picture in the Book of Daniel" for an explanation of the themes in and structure of Daniel). The topic of both is the humbling or overthrow of the pagan kingdom. The magnificence of Babylon serves as the common setting for the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4 and the demise of King Belshazzar in chapter 5.

In chapter 4, both Babylon’s magnificence and the king’s arrogance reached their zeniths. Yet once again, the king was troubled by his dreams. He saw an enormous tree whose “top reached to heaven” (Dan. 4:11), which provided fruit and shelter for all the animals. But at the command from a “holy watcher, coming down from heaven” (Dan. 4:13), the tree was cut down and the animals scattered. In the dream the stump became a man whose mind was changed into that of an animal and who was constrained to live among the animals and plants for an extended time (Dan. 4:13-16). The king commands Daniel to interpret the dream, once again requiring Daniel to give unpleasant news to an emotionally unstable monarch (Dan. 4:18-19). The interpretation is that the tree represents Nebuchadnezzar himself, who will be punished for his arrogance by being driven insane and made to live like a wild animal until he will “know that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will” (Dan. 4:25). Despite the stark warning, Nebuchadnezzar persisted in his pride, even boasting, “Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?” (Dan. 4:30). As a result, he was punished as the dream foretold (Dan. 4:33).

But perhaps Daniel’s confrontational interpretation made a difference, for after a long time in the wilderness, the king repents, glorifies God, and both his sanity and his kingdom are restored to him (Dan. 4:34-37). Daniel’s stand did not persuade the king to renounce his arrogance before disaster struck, but it opened a door for the king’s repentance and restoration after the fact.

At times our respectful, principled stands may lead to transformation in our workplaces, too. A consultant at an international management consulting firm — call him Vince — tells a story of confronting someone with a bit too much self-importance.[1] Vince was put in charge of a team of promising young employees at one of the firm’s clients, a large industrial company. At the start of the project, a senior partner from the firm began to give a pep talk to the team. One of the client team members — call him Gary — interrupted him. Gary began to question the validity of the project. “Before we embark on this project,” said Gary, “I think we should evaluate whether consulting firms like yours actually add value to their clients. I’ve been reading some articles that say this kind of study may not be as useful as it’s cracked up to be.” The senior partner found a way to continue his pep talk, but afterwards he told Vince, “Get Gary off the team.” Vince — mindful of Jesus’ command to forgive a brother seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:22) — asked permission to see if he could get Gary to change his attitude. “It just doesn’t seem right to damage his career over one mistake, big as it was,” he said. “You have two weeks,” the partner replied, “and you’re putting yourself on the line, too.” By God’s grace — according to Vince — Gary did come to see the validity of the project and flung himself into the work wholeheartedly. The senior partner recognized the change and, at the end of the project, singled out Gary for special recognition at the closing banquet.Vince’s stand made a difference for both Gary and his company.

Name withheld at request of source, telephone interview by William Messenger, January 17, 2010.