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Daniel 4

The Humbling of Nebuchadnezzar

Nebuchadnezzar's Hanging Gardens

I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace (Daniel 4:4).

Although the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are not mentioned in this text, writers of antiquity wrote of them and were astounded by their beauty. The Babylonian priest and author Berossus described them circa 290 BC, as did the Jewish writer Josephus (AD 70–100). These authors attribute their construction to Nebuchadnezzar as a way to please his Median wife Amytis. They are described as being filled with a lush variety of trees, herbs, vines, and shrubs, requiring substantial irrigation.

The Tree Dream

There was a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great (Daniel 4:10).

The cedars of Lebanon were famous as the tallest of all trees in the ancient world, and it is quite probable that Nebuchadnezzar knew of them. In fact, it may well be that he pictured such a tree in his dream. The massive timbers of these trees were exported for large-scale construction projects in Egypt, Israel (e.g., Solomon’s palace and Temple in Jerusalem), and Mesopotamia. Today the majority of the areas where the cedars once grew is now deforested. The ones pictured here grow in a protected park at Arz ar-Rab, Lebanon.

Put to the Axe

Cut down the tree and cut off its branches (Daniel 4:14).

Axes were common in antiquity, being made from a variety of metals (including bronze and iron) and being used both for military and domestic purposes. Military axes tended to be lighter weight and thinner, thus able to be swung quickly and able to penetrate well. But they could also be used for tasks like cutting wood if necessary. This military axe head from the Persian Gulf region dates to about 800 BC; it is missing its wooden handle.

Bound Stump

Yet leave the stump in the ground, with a band of iron and bronze, in the grass of the field (Daniel 4:15).

The purpose of the band of iron and bronze may have been to keep the stump in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from breaking apart and disintegrating. That is the purpose of the bands around the trunk of this old oak tree in Hebron. Because of its age, this particular tree has been traditionally identified as Abraham’s oak (Gen 18:1). In truth, though, it is not quite that old.

The Annals of Nebuchadnezzar

And let seven times pass over him (Daniel 4:16).

This cylinder from Babylon records events from the first half of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. It is unclear when this significant period of madness occurred, but in all likelihood it was during the second half of his rule, which is largely undocumented. (Perhaps that lack of documentation is not coincidental.)

Babylon's Glory

The king spoke and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built . . .” (Daniel 4:30).

These reconstructed walls in the area of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace give some sense of the original splendor of his massive building projects. Humanly speaking, the king had much to boast about; he ruled over a vast empire from his capital, which was one of the largest cities in the world at that time. But as he learns, God is able to humble even a man such as himself. This image by Hamody al-Iraqi is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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