Unraveling the Mystery of the Great Tree
1. What happened to King Nebuchadnezzar, raising what questions?
JEHOVAH allowed King Nebuchadnezzar to become a world ruler. As Babylon’s monarch, he had great wealth, a sumptuous table, a grand palace—everything he desired in a material way. But suddenly he suffered humiliation. Becoming mentally deranged, Nebuchadnezzar acted like a beast! Driven away from the royal table and the imperial residence, he lived in the fields and ate grass like a bull. What led up to this calamity? And why should it concern us?—Compare Job 12:17-19; Ecclesiastes 6:1, 2.
THE KING MAGNIFIES THE MOST HIGH
2, 3. What did the king of Babylon wish for his subjects, and how did he view the Most High God?
2 Shortly after his recovery from that complete mental collapse, Nebuchadnezzar sent throughout his realm a remarkable report of what had occurred. Jehovah inspired the prophet Daniel to preserve an accurate record of these events. It begins with these words: “Nebuchadnezzar the king, to all the peoples, national groups and languages that are dwelling in all the earth: May your peace grow great. The signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed with me, it has seemed good to me to declare. How grand his signs are, and how mighty his wonders are! His kingdom is a kingdom to time indefinite, and his rulership is for generation after generation.”—Daniel 4:1-3.
3 Nebuchadnezzar’s subjects were “dwelling in all the earth”—his empire embracing most of the world of Bible record. Regarding Daniel’s God, the king said: “His kingdom is a kingdom to time indefinite.” How those words magnified Jehovah throughout the Babylonian Empire! Moreover, this was the second time that Nebuchadnezzar had been shown that the Kingdom of God alone is eternal, standing “to times indefinite.”—Daniel 2:44.
4. In connection with Nebuchadnezzar, how did Jehovah’s “signs and wonders” begin?
4 What “signs and wonders” did “the Most High God” perform? These began with the king’s personal experience related in these words: “I, Nebuchadnezzar, happened to be at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace. There was a dream that I beheld, and it began to make me afraid. And there were mental images upon my bed and visions of my head that began to frighten me.” (Daniel 4:4, 5) What did the Babylonian king do about this disturbing dream?
5. How did Nebuchadnezzar view Daniel, and why?
5 Nebuchadnezzar summoned Babylon’s wise men and told them the dream. But how they failed! They were totally unable to provide an interpretation. The record added: “At last there came in before me Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar according to the name of my god and in whom there is the spirit of the holy gods; and before him I said what the dream was.” (Daniel 4:6-8) Daniel’s court name was Belteshazzar, and the false deity that the king called “my god” may have been either Bel or Nebo or Marduk. Being polytheistic, Nebuchadnezzar viewed Daniel as one in whom there was “the spirit of the holy gods.” And because of Daniel’s position as prefect over all of Babylon’s wise men, the king referred to him as “the chief of the magic-practicing priests.” (Daniel 2:48; 4:9; compare Daniel 1:20.) Of course, faithful Daniel never abandoned the worship of Jehovah to practice magic.—Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 18:10-12.
AN IMMENSE TREE
6, 7. How would you describe what Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream?
6 What was the content of the Babylonian king’s frightening dream? “Now the visions of my head upon my bed I happened to be beholding,” said Nebuchadnezzar, “and, look! a tree in the midst of the earth, the height of which was immense. The tree grew up and became strong, and its very height finally reached the heavens, and it was visible to the extremity of the whole earth. Its foliage was fair, and its fruit was abundant, and there was food for all on it. Under it the beast of the field would seek shade, and on its boughs the birds of the heavens would dwell, and from it all flesh would feed itself.” (Daniel 4:10-12) Reportedly, Nebuchadnezzar was fond of the great cedars of Lebanon, went to see them, and had some brought to Babylon as lumber. But he had never beheld anything like the tree seen in his dream. It occupied a prominent position “in the midst of the earth,” was visible earth wide, and was so fruitful that it provided food for all flesh.
7 There was much more to the dream, for Nebuchadnezzar added: “I continued beholding in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, look! a watcher, even a holy one, coming down from the heavens themselves. He was calling out loudly, and this is what he was saying: ‘Chop the tree down, and cut off its boughs. Shake off its foliage, and scatter its fruitage. Let the beast flee from under it, and the birds from its boughs. However, leave its rootstock itself in the earth, even with a banding of iron and of copper, among the grass of the field; and with the dew of the heavens let it be wet, and with the beast let its portion be among the vegetation of the earth.’”—Daniel 4:13-15.
8. Who was the “watcher”?
8 The Babylonians had their own religious concept of good and evil spirit creatures. But who was this “watcher,” or sentinel, from heaven? Called “a holy one,” he was a righteous angel representing God. (Compare Psalm 103:20, 21.) Imagine the questions that must have plagued Nebuchadnezzar! Why chop this tree down? What good is the rootstock restrained from growth by bands of iron and of copper? Indeed, what purpose is served by a mere stump?
9. Basically, what did the watcher say, and what questions are raised?
9 Nebuchadnezzar must have been completely mystified as he heard the watcher’s further words: “Let its heart be changed from that of mankind, and let the heart of a beast be given to it, and let seven times pass over it. By the decree of watchers the thing is, and by the saying of holy ones the request is, to the intent that people living may know that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind and that to the one whom he wants to, he gives it and he sets up over it even the lowliest one of mankind.” (Daniel 4:16, 17) The rootstock of a tree does not have a human heart beating inside it. For that matter, how can the heart of a beast be given to a tree’s rootstock? What are the “seven times”? And how does all of this relate to rulership in “the kingdom of mankind”? Surely Nebuchadnezzar wanted to know.
BAD NEWS FOR THE KING
10. (a) Scripturally speaking, what can trees symbolize? (b) What is represented by the great tree?
10 Upon hearing the dream, Daniel was momentarily astonished, then fearful. Urged by Nebuchadnezzar to explain it, the prophet said: “O my lord, may the dream apply to those hating you, and its interpretation to your adversaries. The tree that you beheld, that grew great and became strong . . . , it is you, O king, because you have grown great and become strong, and your grandeur has grown great and reached to the heavens, and your rulership to the extremity of the earth.” (Daniel 4:18-22) In the Scriptures, trees can symbolize individuals, rulers, and kingdoms. (Psalm 1:3; Jeremiah 17:7, 8; Ezekiel, chapter 31) Like the immense tree of his dream, Nebuchadnezzar had “grown great and become strong” as the head of a world power. But “rulership to the extremity of the earth,” involving the whole kingdom of mankind, is represented by the great tree. It therefore symbolizes Jehovah’s universal sovereignty, particularly in its relationship to the earth.—Daniel 4:17.
11. How did the king’s dream show that he would experience a debasing change?
11 A debasing change was in store for Nebuchadnezzar. Pointing to this development, Daniel added: “Because the king beheld a watcher, even a holy one, coming down from the heavens, who was also saying: ‘Chop the tree down, and ruin it. However, leave its rootstock itself in the earth, but with a banding of iron and of copper, among the grass of the field, and with the dew of the heavens let it become wet, and with the beasts of the field let its portion be until seven times themselves pass over it,’ this is the interpretation, O king, and the decree of the Most High is that which must befall my lord the king.” (Daniel 4:23, 24) Surely courage was needed to give the powerful king that message!
12. What was going to befall Nebuchadnezzar?
12 What would befall Nebuchadnezzar? Imagine his reaction as Daniel added: “You they will be driving away from men, and with the beasts of the field your dwelling will come to be, and the vegetation is what they will give even to you to eat just like bulls; and with the dew of the heavens you yourself will be getting wet, and seven times themselves will pass over you, until you know that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind, and that to the one whom he wants to he gives it.” (Daniel 4:25) Apparently even Nebuchadnezzar’s court officials would ‘drive him away from men.’ But would he be cared for by compassionate herdsmen or shepherds? No, for God had decreed that Nebuchadnezzar would dwell with “the beasts of the field,” eating vegetation.
13. What did the tree dream show would happen to Nebuchadnezzar’s position as world ruler?
13 Just as the tree was cut down, Nebuchadnezzar would be toppled from world rulership—but only for a time. Daniel explained: “Because they said to leave the rootstock of the tree, your kingdom will be sure to you after you know that the heavens are ruling.” (Daniel 4:26) In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream the rootstock, or stump, of the felled tree was allowed to remain, although it was banded so that it would not grow. Similarly, the “rootstock” of Babylon’s king would remain, though banded from flourishing for “seven times.” His position as world ruler would be like the banded tree stump. It would be kept safe till seven times had passed over it. Jehovah would see to it that during that period nobody would succeed Nebuchadnezzar as Babylon’s sole ruler, although his son named Evil-merodach may have carried on for him as acting ruler.
14. What did Daniel urge Nebuchadnezzar to do?
14 In view of what was foretold concerning Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel courageously urged: “Therefore, O king, may my counsel seem good to you, and remove your own sins by righteousness, and your iniquity by showing mercy to the poor ones. Maybe there will occur a lengthening of your prosperity.” (Daniel 4:27) If Nebuchadnezzar would turn away from his sinful course of oppression and pride, perhaps this would change matters for him. After all, some two centuries earlier, Jehovah had determined to destroy the people of Assyria’s capital, Nineveh, but he did not do so because its king and his subjects repented. (Jonah 3:4, 10; Luke 11:32) What about proud Nebuchadnezzar? Would he change his ways?
THE DREAM’S INITIAL FULFILLMENT
15. (a) What attitude did Nebuchadnezzar continue to manifest? (b) Inscriptions reveal what about Nebuchadnezzar’s activities?
15 Nebuchadnezzar remained proud. Walking about on the palace roof 12 months after his tree dream, he boasted: “Is not this Babylon the Great, that I myself have built for the royal house with the strength of my might and for the dignity of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:28-30) Nimrod had founded Babylon (Babel), but Nebuchadnezzar gave it splendor. (Genesis 10:8-10) In one of his cuneiform inscriptions, he brags: “Nebuchadrezzar, King of Babylon, the restorer of Esagila and Ezida, son of Nabopolassar am I. . . . The fortifications of Esagila and Babylon I strengthened and established the name of my reign forever.” (Archaeology and the Bible, by George A. Barton, 1949, pages 478-9) Another inscription refers to about 20 temples that he renovated or rebuilt. “Under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule,” says The World Book Encyclopedia, “Babylon became one of the most magnificent cities of the ancient world. In his own records, he rarely mentioned his military activities, but wrote of his building projects and his attention to the gods of Babylonia. Nebuchadnezzar probably built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.”
16. How was Nebuchadnezzar about to be humiliated?
16 Boast though he did, proud Nebuchadnezzar was about to be humiliated. Says the inspired account: “While the word was yet in the king’s mouth, there was a voice that fell from the heavens: ‘To you it is being said, O Nebuchadnezzar the king, “The kingdom itself has gone away from you, and from mankind they are driving even you away, and with the beasts of the field your dwelling will be. Vegetation they will give even to you to eat just like bulls, and seven times themselves will pass over you, until you know that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind, and that to the one whom he wants to he gives it.”’”—Daniel 4:31, 32.
17. What happened to proud Nebuchadnezzar, and in what circumstances did he soon find himself?
17 Nebuchadnezzar promptly lost his reason. Driven away from mankind, he ate vegetation “just like bulls.” Out among the beasts of the field, he certainly was not sitting idly in the grass of a virtual paradise, enjoying refreshing breezes daily. In modern-day Iraq, where Babylon’s ruins are located, temperatures range from a high of 120 degrees Fahrenheit [50°C] in the summer months to well below freezing in wintertime. Unattended and exposed to the elements, Nebuchadnezzar’s long, matted hair looked like eagles’ feathers and his uncut fingernails and toenails became like birds’ claws. (Daniel 4:33) What humiliation for this proud world ruler!
18. During the seven times, what took place with regard to Babylon’s throne?
18 In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the great tree was felled and its stump was banded to prevent growth upward for seven times. Similarly, Nebuchadnezzar “was brought down from the throne of his kingdom” when Jehovah struck him with madness. (Daniel 5:20) In effect, this changed the king’s heart from that of a man to that of a bull. Yet, God reserved Nebuchadnezzar’s throne for him until the seven times ended. While Evil-merodach possibly acted as the temporary head of government, Daniel served as “the ruler over all the jurisdictional district of Babylon and the chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.” His three Hebrew companions continued to share in administering that district’s affairs. (Daniel 1:11-19; 2:48, 49; 3:30) The four exiles awaited Nebuchadnezzar’s restoration to the throne as a sane king who had learned that “the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind, and that to the one whom he wants to he gives it.”
19. After Jehovah restored Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity, what did the Babylonian king come to realize?
19 Jehovah restored Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity at the end of seven times. Then acknowledging the Most High God, the king said: “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up to the heavens my eyes, and my own understanding began to return to me; and I blessed the Most High himself, and the One living to time indefinite I praised and glorified, because his rulership is a rulership to time indefinite and his kingdom is for generation after generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are being considered as merely nothing, and he is doing according to his own will among the army of the heavens and the inhabitants of the earth. And there exists no one that can check his hand or that can say to him, ‘What have you been doing?’” (Daniel 4:34, 35) Yes, Nebuchadnezzar did come to realize that the Most High is indeed the Sovereign Ruler in the kingdom of mankind.
20, 21. (a) How did the removal of the metal bands around the dream tree’s rootstock find a parallel in what happened to Nebuchadnezzar? (b) What acknowledgment did Nebuchadnezzar make, and did this make him a worshiper of Jehovah?
20 When Nebuchadnezzar returned to his throne, it was as though the metal bands around the dream tree’s rootstock had been removed. Concerning his restoration, he said: “At the same time my understanding itself began to return to me, and for the dignity of my kingdom my majesty and my brightness themselves began to return to me; and for me even my high royal officers and my grandees began eagerly searching, and I was reestablished upon my own kingdom, and greatness extraordinary was added to me.” (Daniel 4:36) If any court officials had despised the deranged king, now they were “eagerly searching” for him in complete subservience.
21 What “signs and wonders” the Most High God had performed! It should not surprise us that the restored Babylonian king said: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, am praising and exalting and glorifying the King of the heavens, because all his works are truth and his ways are justice, and because those who are walking in pride he is able to humiliate.” (Daniel 4:2, 37) Such an acknowledgment, however, did not make Nebuchadnezzar a Gentile worshiper of Jehovah.
IS THERE SECULAR EVIDENCE?
22. With what disorder have some identified Nebuchadnezzar’s madness, but what should we realize regarding the cause of his deranged state?
22 Some have identified Nebuchadnezzar’s madness with lycanthropy. Says one medical dictionary: “LYCANTHROPY . . . from [lyʹkos], lupus, wolf; [anʹthro·pos], homo, man. This name was given to the sickness of people who believe themselves to be changed into an animal, and who imitate the voice or cries, the shapes or manners of that animal. These individuals usually imagine themselves transformed into a wolf, a dog or a cat; sometimes also into a bull, as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar.” (Dictionnaire des sciences médicales, par une société de médicins et de chirurgiens, Paris, 1818, Volume 29, page 246) The symptoms of lycanthropy are similar to those of Nebuchadnezzar’s demented state. Since his mental illness was divinely decreed, however, it cannot specifically be identified with a known disorder.
23. What secular testimony is there to Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity?
23 Scholar John E. Goldingay cites several parallels to Nebuchadnezzar’s madness and restoration. For instance, he states: “A fragmentary cuneiform text apparently refers to some mental disorder on Nebuchadnezzar’s part, and perhaps to his neglecting and leaving Babylon.” Goldingay cites a document called “The Babylonian Job” and says that it “testifies to chastisements by God, illness, humiliation, seeking interpretation of a terrifying dream, being thrown over like a tree, being put outside, eating grass, losing understanding, being like an ox, being rained on by Marduk, nails being marred, hair growing, and being fettered, and then to a restoration for which he praises the god.”
SEVEN TIMES THAT AFFECT US
24. (a) The great dream tree symbolizes what? (b) What was restrained for seven times, and how did that come about?
24 As represented by the great tree, Nebuchadnezzar symbolized world rulership. But remember, the tree stands for rulership and sovereignty far grander than that of Babylon’s king. It symbolizes the universal sovereignty of Jehovah, “the King of the heavens,” especially with respect to the earth. Before Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians, the kingdom centered in that city with David and his heirs sitting on “Jehovah’s throne” represented God’s sovereignty with reference to the earth. (1 Chronicles 29:23) God himself had such sovereignty chopped down and banded in 607 B.C.E. when he used Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem. Exercise of divine sovereignty toward the earth by a kingdom in the line of David was restrained for seven times. How long were these seven times? When did they begin, and what marked their end?
25, 26. (a) In Nebuchadnezzar’s case, how long were the “seven times,” and why do you so answer? (b) In the major fulfillment, when and how did the “seven times” begin?
25 During Nebuchadnezzar’s madness, “his very hair grew long just like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.” (Daniel 4:33) This took longer than seven days or seven weeks. Various translations read “seven times,” and alternatives are “appointed (definite) times” or “time periods.” (Daniel 4:16, 23, 25, 32) A variant of the Old Greek (Septuagint) reads “seven years.” The “seven times” were treated as “seven years” by the first-century Jewish historian Josephus. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 10, Chapter 10, paragraph 6) And certain Hebrew scholars have viewed these “times” as “years.” “Seven years” is the rendering in An American Translation, Today’s English Version, and the translation by James Moffatt.
26 Evidently, Nebuchadnezzar’s “seven times” involved seven years. In prophecy, a year averages 360 days, or 12 months of 30 days each. (Compare Revelation 12:6, 14.) So the king’s “seven times,” or seven years, were 360 days multiplied by 7, or 2,520 days. But what about the major fulfillment of his dream? The prophetic “seven times” lasted much longer than 2,520 days. This was indicated by Jesus’ words: “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24) That ‘trampling’ began in 607 B.C.E. when Jerusalem was destroyed and the typical kingdom of God ceased to function in Judah. When would the trampling end? At “the times of restoration of all things,” when divine sovereignty would again be manifested toward the earth through symbolic Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God.—Acts 3:21.
27. Why would you say that the “seven times” that began in 607 B.C.E. did not end 2,520 literal days later?
27 If we were to count 2,520 literal days from Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 B.C.E., that would bring us only to 600 B.C.E., a year having no Scriptural significance. Even in 537 B.C.E., when the liberated Jews were back in Judah, Jehovah’s sovereignty was not manifested on the earth. That was so because Zerubbabel, the heir to David’s throne, was made not king but only governor of the Persian province of Judah.
28. (a) What rule must be applied to the 2,520 days of the prophetic “seven times”? (b) How long were the prophetic “seven times,” and what dates mark their beginning and their end?
28 Since the “seven times” are prophetic, we must apply to the 2,520 days the Scriptural rule: “A day for a year.” This rule is set out in a prophecy regarding the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 4:6, 7; compare Numbers 14:34.) The “seven times” of earth’s domination by Gentile powers without interference by God’s Kingdom therefore spanned 2,520 years. They began with the desolation of Judah and Jerusalem in the seventh lunar month (Tishri 15) of 607 B.C.E. (2 Kings 25:8, 9, 25, 26) From that point to 1 B.C.E. is 606 years. The remaining 1,914 years stretch from then to 1914 C.E. Thus, the “seven times,” or 2,520 years, ended by Tishri 15, or October 4/5, 1914 C.E.
29. Who is “the lowliest one of mankind,” and what did Jehovah do to enthrone him?
29 In that year “the appointed times of the nations” were fulfilled, and God gave rulership to “the lowliest one of mankind”—Jesus Christ—who had been considered so base by his foes that they even had him impaled. (Daniel 4:17) To enthrone the Messianic King, Jehovah loosened the symbolic iron and copper bands around the “rootstock” of his own sovereignty. The Most High God thus allowed a royal “sprout” to grow from it as a manifestation of divine sovereignty toward the earth by means of the heavenly Kingdom in the hands of David’s greatest Heir, Jesus Christ. (Isaiah 11:1, 2; Job 14:7-9; Ezekiel 21:27) How we thank Jehovah for this blessed turn of events and for unraveling the mystery of the great tree!
WHAT DID YOU DISCERN?
• What did the great tree of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream symbolize?
• What befell Nebuchadnezzar in the initial fulfillment of his tree dream?
• After his dream’s fulfillment, what acknowledgment did Nebuchadnezzar make?
• In the major fulfillment of the prophetic tree dream, how long were the “seven times,” and when did they begin and end?
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