Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Sep 16 2019 - Daniel 4:1-23 – The dream of the tree

Imagine for a moment that you served a tyrannical ruler who could order your instant execution or throw you into a fiery furnace if he did not like something you said or did – or even if he was just a little out of sorts that morning. Now imagine that you had an unpleasant message to deliver to him. How would you feel?

This is the situation facing Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar has had another dream and its meaning is similar to the first but is now focussed entirely on Nebuchadnezzar himself. This time he dreams of an immense tree that seemed to tower up to the sky so that it was visible from the ends of the earth. Its fruit provided food for all people, and animals sheltered under its branches. An angel then called for the tree to be cut down and destroyed, leaving only its stump and roots in the ground.

Nebuchadnezzar called together his wise men but this time recounted his dream to them. None of them could tell him what it meant. The king then called Daniel forward, confident that he could interpret the dream because he knew that "the spirit of the holy gods" was in him. God does indeed reveal the meaning of the dream to Daniel, but its meaning terrifies him (v. 19). How is the king going to respond when Daniel tells him what it means?

Daniel reluctantly tells the king, "Your Majesty, you 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" (v. 22). But God has determined to cut Nebuchadnezzar down to size. He will be reduced to living like a wild animal, "drenched with the dew of heaven … until seven times pass by for him" (v. 23).

The opening verses of this chapter in which Nebuchadnezzar tells his story anticipate its conclusion as he will learn that the kingdom of God alone "is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation" (v. 3).

God calls his people in every generation to "speak truth to power"; to tell those who believe that they have absolute power in this world that they are but mortal creatures, given life and breath for a moment before they are swept away and forgotten. Those who exalt themselves need to remember that their lives are in the hands of God to whom they will be called to give account for every word spoken and every action taken. How do we feel about this responsibility God has given us as those who possess the Holy Spirit of the living God?

One thing we should remember is that no matter how powerful human authorities may be – or suppose themselves to be – they, like Nebuchadnezzar, are often troubled by fears and terrors that plague their minds (see v. 5). They are not immune from fears of what tomorrow may bring.

We are, of course, called to speak always with grace, though sometimes, like the Lord Jesus whom we follow and serve, we may need to speak with controlled anger. Above all, we need to examine first our own lives, to be more critical of our own failings than we are of the failings of others. We need humility and wisdom to know when and what to say and when to be silent. We need to be careful to keep ourselves in close communion with God if we are to speak in his name. If we are to fight the battles of God's kingdom, we need to put on the full armour of God and to give ourselves to prayer, guided and empowered by the Spirit of God so that we can discern the battles he wants us to engage in (see Ephesians 6:10-20), and how best to fight them.

Father God, help us, like the disciples on and after the Day of Pentecost, to be filled with your Spirit and equipped with your word and your wisdom that we may be able to speak with authority and grace to those who are in positions of power in contemporary society. We pray particularly for Christians in positions of influence in government and parliament that they will have the courage to speak up for what is right and good and for what will lead to blessing for the many rather than privilege for the few. Help them to serve the purposes of your kingdom.

Peter Misselbrook