I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me. So I commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me. When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers[b] and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me. Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.) I said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me. These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches;from it every creature was fed. “In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field. “ ‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him. – Daniel 4:4-16
In this passage King Nebuchadnezzar is hanging out in Babylon “contented and prosperous” and God gets his attention with a disturbing dream. I have had my share of disturbing dreams, usually after I have watched a disturbing movie or television program. When I was a kid my parents pretty much let me watch as much television as I wanted. I was the youngest of five kids and I think my parents were just plain tired of saying “no”. I was also allowed to watch movies that were probably not so good for my young soul. One such movie was the island of Dr. Moreau which was released in 1977. This would have made me about 12 years old at the time it came out. I do not remember where I actually watched it, but I do remember it scared the heck out of me. I think what made it so scary for me was to see the main character, Andrew Braddock played by Michael York, slowly loosing his humanity as he was genetically transformed into an animal by Dr. Moreau. King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is predicting something similar – he will be “given the mind of an animal”.
There is something particularly scary about things that look human, but are not really human. Perhaps that is part of the fascination and obsession our culture seems to have with zombies. I personally do not get the whole zombie thing. I remember I felt a similar sense of irrational fear when I first saw the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) with Donald Sutherland. Seeing people transformed into something that looked human but was not human was disturbing. In that movie the people were given the mind of an alien which is almost worse. I also found it a bit ironic, and in hind sight a bit profound, that the movie ended with the song Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes. Ultimately, the only thing that separates us from animals and aliens is our humanity and the souls that reside within us.
But I digress, perhaps I am in still in “vacation mode”…back to the passage in Daniel and the reference to water. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that he is sharing with Daniel so that Daniel, and God, can help him interpret and understand it. The dream begins with the image of a large tree, somewhat reminiscent of the imagery that Ezekiel was given in his prophecy about Assyria shared with Pharoah (Ezekiel 31:1-18). The “tree” in this case is Nebuchadnezzar and he is about to be felled by “a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven” – God.
The dream takes a somewhat confusing and odd turn next when after being cut down and stripped of branches and leaves (stripped down to the soul), “the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field…drenched with the dew of heaven…”. So it seems the power and prestige of Nebuchadnezzar will fall and yet he will be allowed the remain “a stump” bound with iron and bronze. I am not sure I understand the reference to iron and bronze. Perhaps it is an allusion to the culture and infrastructure that he has built up which will continue in his absence. I do not know. It does seem that God is leaving the possibility that the king can potentially be restored and “regrow”.
He will be drenched with “dew from heaven”. In previous passages dew has represented the presence of God in the form of His spirit. It seems like this meaning makes sense here too. God is saying that in order to be healed and restored Nebuchadnezzar must submit his heart and soul to God’s spirit, i.e. “drenched with the dew of heaven”. He must allow his heart to be channeled as it was put back in Proverbs 21:1-3.
The take home messages from this passage from me are 1) don’t let your kids watch unlimited television and movies; 2) people placed in positions of power should be wary of becoming too contented and prosperous; and 3) in the end God wins no matter how much it seems like someone is “getting away” with being successful separate from God.
Prayer: God help us to view our possessions and positions as opportunities to accomplish your purposes rather than a place to simply be content and prosperous.