“Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him” (Daniel 4:16).
By all worldly standards Nebuchadnezzar was one of the most remarkable people in history. He is famous for re-building the city and the nation of Babylon in splendor and glory.
A number of clay tablets, now called the Babylonian Chronicles, were discovered in southern Iraq during the 19th century and taken to the British Museum. A translation of these was published in 1956 by Donald Wiseman of the British Museum. They document the history of Babylon from around 747 BC to about 280 BC, a period of 467 years. The first mention of Nebuchadnezzar describes his military actions as the general of his father, Nabopolassar. His father had removed the yoke of Assyria on Babylon and destroyed Assyria’s capital city Nineveh.
After the destruction of Nineveh, Nebuchadnezzar’s father sent him against Harran, where the Assyrians had regrouped, and the city fell. The Assyrians threatened again the following year, but retreated at the approach of the Babylonian army.
Two years later the Babylonian army took three cities across the Euphrates, and two years after that young Nebuchadnezzar, at the head of his father’s army, routed the Egyptian army and a residue of Assyrian forces at the famous Battle of Carchemish (Jeremiah 46:2). He pursued the Egyptians southward as far as Pelusium, and during the push southward he accepted the surrender of Jerusalem, taking his first Jewish captives. He seized some of the elite citizens of Israel and brought them back to Babylon. Among them were Daniel and his three friends, Shadrack, Meshak and Abednego (Daniel 1:1-6).
There were two more occasions that Nebuchadnezzar came to Israel to deal with their continued revolts until Jerusalem was finally destroyed and Zedekiah was taken captive. As punishment for his rebellious leadership, Zedekiah was treated with extraordinary harshness. His sons were killed as he watched, and then his eyes were put out, so the last thing he saw was the murder of his sons. Zedekiah eventually died in a Babylonian prison.
Because of God’s special dealing with the nation of Israel, these are some of the most significant events of ancient history. The captivity of Israel marked the beginning of the Gentile Times which would dominate the land of Israel.
In spite of his military accomplishments, Nebuchadnezzar took the most personal pride in the many building projects that he undertook, especially in the capital city of Babylon. All his accomplishments abundantly illustrate the boast that he made in Daniel 4:30 when he 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 honor of my majesty?”
Some may say that Nebuchadnezzar’s pride was well deserved. He was a great military leader. He was a great builder of Babylon with the ability to manage a massive labor force that accomplished wonderful things.
Through his planning and engineering leadership, Babylon was transformed into a lush, rich nation. In Daniel 4:4 He says, “I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace.” But in the midst of all this success and prosperity Nebuchadnezzar’s life was about to change dramatically. It started when God gave him a dream that troubled and frightened him. The fulfillment of that dream would have a profound effect on him for the rest of his life.
A Tree Cut Down
In Daniel the fourth chapter details of the remarkable dream are given. Nebuchadnezzar saw a great tree that provided food and shelter for all. An angel descended from heaven decreeing that the great tree should be cut down, its branches severed and its fruit scattered. However, the stump of the tree should be left with bands of iron and brass encircling it.
In speaking of this tree the angel said, “Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. The sentence 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 lowest of men” (Daniel 4:16 ASV).
In looking for an explanation of this dream, Nebuchadnezzar turned to Daniel who went on to explain that this vision was about Nebuchadnezzar himself. He said, “You O king are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth” (Daniel 4:22 NIV).
The tree pictured Nebuchadnezzar and his dominion in all its wealth and prosperity. It was a tree that provided shade and food for all those that lived in its branches. But the image then changed from that of a prospering tree to that of a chastened man. Daniel continued to elaborate the meaning of the dream. “This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and give them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue” (Daniel 4:24-27 NIV).
The word “times” (Strong’s 5732) suggests an appointed or designated period of time. For Nebuchadnezzar it was likely seven literal years of eating grass like an animal. However, the word also suggests a larger antitypical picture. The same Hebrew word is used in Daniel 7:25 to describe the 3½ times that the little horn (papacy) would wear out the saints. If one “time” is one prophetic year of 360 days, then 3½ times would point to the 1260 years of papal domination, from 539 AD to 1799 AD. This clear application of “times” helps us interpret its usage in chapter 4.
Seven “times” yields 2520 symbolic days (360 x 7 = 2520). God intended this dream to picture more than the humbling of a proud king. It was also meant to picture the time that the Gentiles would be allowed to have dominion over the people of God from 607 BC to 1914 AD. God’s purpose in allowing such domination is seen in the personal effect it had on Nebuchadnezzar.
“At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High: I honored and glorified him who liveth forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the people of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ ” (Daniel 4:34, 35 NIV).
This was a harvest of righteousness for Nebuchadnezzar. Gone is the arrogance and pride that filled his heart. He acknowledged the supremacy of Jehovah and realized that his own dominion was inconsequential, that men rule only with the permission of God. In this attitude change we see one of the goals of the Divine Plan. Pride, ambition, and greed have all been at the heart of those nations and individuals that have endeavored to rule the world. Permitting them to exercise that rule would someday yield similar humbling results.
In retrospect, mankind will realize that their efforts to dominate the world have resulted in terrible consequences for the masses of people who have lived under them.
Leave the Stump
In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream the Lord provided a hopeful detail. Though the tree was to be cut down and stripped of its branches, it was ordered that the stump be left in place. For Nebuchadnezzar it meant that at a future time his kingdom would be restored. For the Gentile world it meant that their dominion would likewise be returned to them. With the decree that the stump should be left, it becomes clear that the purpose of this entire experience has not been to deprive mankind of self-rule.
The purpose has been to bring man’s dominion of earth into conformity with God’s larger dominion of the universe. The principles of love and justice are prevailing rules that form the basis of God’s dominion. These qualities must be incorporated in the guidelines that will form man’s dominion. This is depicted in the closing words of Nebuchadnezzar’s experience when he said, “ Now 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” (Daniel 4:37).
Bands of Iron and Brass
In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream there was a curious addition. The stump was to be wrapped in a band of iron and a band of brass. Unfortunately, this is one of the details that Daniel does not explain. But there is a striking similarity between this dream and the words of Leviticus 26.
After delivering Israel from Egyptian bondage God warned them against national pride and idolatry. He said, “If ye will not … hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass… And I will send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number ; and your highways shall be desolate” (Leviticus 26:18, 19,22).
As Nebuchadnezzar would be in an animal condition for seven times, so Israel would be punished for seven times as wild beasts would be sent among them. Nebuchadnezzar’s animal-like state corresponds to these wild beasts, and describes the Gentile powers that have dominated Israel since the days of Nebuchadnezzar.1 They have been the instrument used by God to punish Israel. Leviticus offers a different perspective of the Gentile Times. From Daniel 4 we see it from the Gentile view, that they would be allowed to rule for 2520 years. From Israel’s view it would be a period of punishment for their national sins.
The starting point of their national punishment is given in the book of Ezekiel. “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn,2 it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him. (Ezekiel 21:26,27). These words, spoken to King Zedekiah, marked the beginning of Gentile domination over Israel. It coincides with the 2520 years of Gentile rule.
We see then a dual purpose in the Gentile Times. In the larger picture it will serve as a lesson to the entire world regarding the inability of man to rule without conformity to God’s higher dominion. It also served as the instrument used by God to punish Israel for her sins of pride and idolatry.
In the passage under consideration the Lord said that Israel’s heaven would be as iron and the earth as brass. The image here seems to indicate that heaven and earth would not produce their designed results. A heaven like iron brings no rain and describes drought conditions. An earth like brass describes a land unable to sustain its inhabitants. The desolation of Israel would be complete. But drought conditions also picture a disruption in the relationship between God and Israel. God had promised protection and prosperity if Israel would obey. But their wicked actions prevented their national blessing. This time of punishment is mentioned by Jesus when he said, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the Times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). It began with the desolation of Israel by Babylon, and ended in 1914 when World War I began the sequence of events that brought about the return of Israel as a nation, no longer under Gentile control. The re-birth of Israel is a modern day miracle that reveals the very hand of God.
The usage of iron and brass in Leviticus helps us understand the bands of iron and brass that were placed on the tree stump of Nebuchadnezzar. The Times of the Gentiles would not be a spiritually prosperous time. As long as the tree stump was wrapped with bands of iron and brass, true prosperity could not come to the people. The blessings of heaven could not be received as long as there was Gentile rule. The earth could not yield her fruitage as long as the standards for success were dictated by worldly leaders.
In Daniel the 7th chapter the four universal empires are described from God’s viewpoint as wild and destructive animals. There is the lion with wings, the bear with three ribs in its mouth, one like a leopard with four heads and four wings, and the 4th, a terrible beast with iron teeth and ten horns. These are the Gentile nations that dominated the land of Israel; Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. For a further explanation see The Divine Plan of the Ages, page 257.
The three over-turnings of this passage describe the three Gentile powers that would dominate Israel after Babylon. The word “overturn” (Strong’s 5754) means to overthrow. It thus prophetically describes how each empire would overthrow the previous one, and would, as a result, continue the Gentile dominance over the land of Israel.
The lessons from Nebuchadnezzar’s experience are both to the heart and prophetic. First, it was the humbling of a proud king. He learned that his dominion was inferior to the dominion of God and so it was appropriate to acknowledge God’s higher authority.
The prophetic picture drawn for us is twofold. As an integral part of the Divine Plan, God has granted permission for the Gentile nations to have dominion of earth. But this dominion would only yield beneficial results in the context of Christ’s earthly kingdom. As mankind looks back in history, they will see the folly of governing the world without conforming to the principles of God’s dominion.
Every punishment from God is instructive. His permission for Gentiles to rule was also the instrument for instructing Israel. When God allowed the Gentile powers to enter Israel as wild beasts, He was teaching His people the consequences of pride and the result of following other gods. Though painful, these experiences will eventually yield the fruits of obedience and that tiny nation, so long hated by the world, will be used by God to bring blessing to all the families of the earth.
“Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments” (Psalm 119:164).