I saw - a tree - This vision Nebuchadnezzar says made him afraid. What a mercy it is that God has hidden futurity from us! Were he to show every man the lot that is before him, the misery of the human race would be complete.
Great men and princes are often represented, in the language of the prophets, under the similitude of trees; see Ezekiel 17:5, Ezekiel 17:6; Ezekiel 31:3, etc.; Jeremiah 22:15; Psalm 1:3; Psalm 37:35.
Thus were the visions of my head in my bed - These are the things which I saw upon my bed. When he says that they were the “visions of his head,” he states a doctrine which was then doubtless regarded as the truth, that the head is the seat of thought.
I saw - Margin, “was seeing.” Chaldee, “seeing I saw.” The phrase would imply attentive and calm contemplation. It was not a flitting vision; it was an object which he contemplated deliberately so as to retain a distinct remembrance of its form and appearance.
And, behold, a tree in the midst of the earth - Occupying a central position on the earth. It seems to have been by itself - remote from any forest: to have stood alone. Its central position, no less than its size and proportions, attracted his attention. Such a tree, thus towering to the heavens, and sending out its branches afar, and affording a shade to the beasts of the field, and a home to the fowls of heaven Daniel 4:12, was a striking emblem of a great and mighty monarch, and it undoubtedly occurred to Nebuchadnezzar at once that the vision had some reference to himself. Thus in Ezekiel 31:3, the Assyrian king is compared with a magnificent cedar: “Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon, with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of a high stature, and his top was among the thick boughs.” Compare also Ezekiel 17:22-24, where “the high tree and the green tree” refer probably to Nebuchadnezzar. See the note at Isaiah 2:13. Compare Isaiah 10:18-19; Jeremiah 22:7, Jeremiah 22:23. Homer often compares his heroes to trees. Hector, felled by a stone, is compared with an oak overthrown by a thunderbolt. The fall of Simoisius is compared by him to that of a poplar, and that of Euphorbus to the fall of a beautiful olive. Nothing is more obvious than the comparison of a hero with a lofty tree of the forest, and hence, it was natural for Nebuchadnezzar to suppose that this vision had a reference to himself.
And the height thereof was great - In the next verse it is said to have reached to heaven.
To understand these things,—to understand that “righteousness exalteth a nation;” that “the throne is established by righteousness” and “upholden by mercy” (Proverbs 14:34; 16:12; Proverbs 20:28); to recognize the outworking of these principles in the manifestation of His power who “removeth kings, and setteth up kings” (Daniel 2:21),—this is to understand the philosophy of history. Ed 175.1
In the word of God only is this clearly set forth. Here it is shown that the strength of nations, as of individuals, is not found in the opportunities or facilities that appear to make them invincible; it is not found in their boasted greatness. It is measured by the fidelity with which they fulfill God's purpose. Ed 175.2
An illustration of this truth is found in the history of ancient Babylon. To Nebuchadnezzar the king the true object of national government was represented under the figure of a great tree, whose height “reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth: the leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all;” under its shadow the beasts of the field dwelt, and among its branches the birds of the air had their habitation. Daniel 4:11, 12. This representation shows the character of a government that fulfills God's purpose—a government that protects and upbuilds the nation. Ed 175.3Read in context »