Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Daniel 4:17

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

This matter is by the decree of the watchers - See on Daniel 4:13; (note).

The Most High ruleth - He never leaves the government of the world to man, to second causes, or to fortuitous occurrences. What are thus called are his agents; they are no moving causes.

And setteth up - the basest of men -

"Tyrants and kings from Jove proceed

Those are permitted, these decreed."

The throne ennobles no man: to be properly filled, the man must be noble. Some of the greatest and some of the meanest of men have sat on the throne. Kings differ in education, seldom in intellect, from the common mass of men; the power and authority are from God. The king himself may be given either in mercy or in wrath. When James II ruled this kingdom, it might well be said, God hath set up over it the basest of men. His successor was one of the best. The former nearly ruined it both in a civil and religious point of view; the latter was the means of restoring it in both these respects.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

This matter is by the decree of the watchers - See the notes at Daniel 4:13. They are described here not only as watching over the affairs of men, but as entrusted wth the execution of high and important designs of God. The representation is, that one of these heavenly beings was seen by Nebuchadnezzar in his visions, and that this one stated to him that he had come to execute what had been determined on by his associates, or in counsel with others. The idea would seem to be, that the affairs of the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar had been in important respects placed under the administration of these beings, and that in solemn council they had resolved on this measure. It is not said that this was not in accordance with, and under the direction of, a higher power - that of God; and that is rather implied when it is said that the great design of this was to show to the living that “the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men.” In itself considered, there is no improbability in supposing that the affairs of this lower world are in some respects placed under the administration of beings superior to man, nor that events may occur as the result of their deliberation, or, as it is here expressed, by their “decree.” If, in any respect, the affairs of the world are subject to their jurisdiction, there is every reason to suppose that there would be harmony of counsel and of action, and an event of this kind might be so represented.

And the demand - Or, the matter; the affair; the business. The Chaldee word properly means a question, a petition; then a subject of inquiry, a matter of business. Here it means, that this matter, or this business, was in accordance with the direction of the holy ones.

The holy ones - Synonymous with the watchers, and referring to the same. See the note at Daniel 4:13.

To the intent that the living may know - With the design that those who live on the earth may understand this. That is, the design was to furnish a proof of this, so impressive and striking, that it could not be doubted by any. No more effectual way of doing this could occur than by showing the absolute power of the Most High over such a monarch as Nebuchadnezzar.

That the Most High - He who is exalted above all men; all angels; all that pretend to be gods. The phrase here is designed to refer to the true God, and the object was to show that he was the most exalted of all beings, and had absolute control over all.

Ruleth in the kingdom of men - Whoever reigns, he reigns over them.

And giveth it to whomsoever he will - That is, he gives dominion over men to whomsoever he chooses. It is not by human ordering, or by arrangements among men. It is not by hereditary right; not by succession; not by conquest; not by usurpation; not by election, that this matter is finally determined; it is by the decree and purpose of God. He can remove the hereditary prince by death; he can cause him to be set aside by granting success to a usurper; he can dispose of a crown by conquest; he can cut off the conqueror by death, and transfer the crown to an inferior officer; he can remove one who was the united choice of a people by death, and put another in his place. So the apostle Paul says, “There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” Romans 13:1.

And setteth up over it the basest of men - That is, he appoints over the kingdom of men, at his pleasure, those who are of the humblest or lowest rank. The allusion here is not to Nebuchadnezzar as if he were the “basest” or the “vilest” of men, but the statement is a general truth, that God, at his pleasure, sets aside those of exalted rank, and elevates those of the lowest rank in their place. There is an idea now attached commonly to the word “basest,” which the word used here by no means conveys. It does not denote the mean, the vile, the worthless, the illiberal, but those of humble or lowly rank. This is the proper meaning of the Chaldee word שׁפל shephal - and so it is rendered in the Vulgate, humillimum hominem. The Greek of Theodotion, however, is, “what is disesteemed among men” - ἐξουδένωμα ἀνθρώπῶν exoudenōma anthrōpōn In the latter part of the dream Daniel 4:15-16 we have an illustration of what often occurs in dreams - their singular incongruity. In the early part of the dream, the vision is that of a tree, and the idea is consistently carried out for a considerable part of it - the height of the tree, the branches, the leaves, the fruit, the shade, the stump; then suddenly there is a “change” to something that is living and human - the change of the “heart” to that of a beast; the being exposed to the dew of heaven; the portion with the beasts of the earth, etc. Such changes and incongruities, as every one knows, are common in dreams. So Shakespeare -

“True, I talk of dreams,

Which are the children of an idle brain,

Begot of nothing but vain fantasy;

Which is as thin of substance as the air,

And more inconstant than the wind, who woos

Even now the frozen bosom of the North,

And, being anger‘d puffs away from thence

Turning his face to the dew-dropping South.”

Romeo and Julieti1.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The beginning and end of this chapter lead us to hope, that Nebuchadnezzar was a monument of the power of Divine grace, and of the riches of Divine mercy. After he was recovered from his madness, he told to distant places, and wrote down for future ages, how God had justly humbled and graciously restored him. When a sinner comes to himself, he will promote the welfare of others, by making known the wondrous mercy of God. Nebuchadnezzar, before he related the Divine judgments upon him for his pride, told the warnings he had in a dream or vision. The meaning was explained to him. The person signified, was to be put down from honour, and to be deprived of the use of his reason seven years. This is surely the sorest of all temporal judgments. Whatever outward affliction God is pleased to lay upon us, we have cause to bear it patiently, and to be thankful that he continues the use of our reason, and the peace of our consciences. Yet if the Lord should see fit by such means to keep a sinner from multiplying crimes, or a believer from dishonouring his name, even the dreadful prevention would be far preferable to the evil conduct. God has determined it, as a righteous Judge, and the angels in heaven applaud. Not that the great God needs the counsel or concurrence of the angels, but it denotes the solemnity of this sentence. The demand is by the word of the holy ones, God's suffering people: when the oppressed cry to God, he will hear. Let us diligently seek blessings which can never be taken from us, and especially beware of pride and forgetfulness of God.
Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 129-30

Jesus was victor in the second temptation, and now Satan manifests himself in his true character. But he does not appear as a hideous monster, with cloven feet and bat's wings. He is a mighty angel, though fallen. He avows himself the leader of rebellion and the god of this world. DA 129.1

Placing Jesus upon a high mountain, Satan caused the kingdoms of the world, in all their glory, to pass in panoramic view before Him. The sunlight lay on templed cities, marble palaces, fertile fields, and fruit-laden vineyards. The traces of evil were hidden. The eyes of Jesus, so lately greeted by gloom and desolation, now gazed upon a scene of unsurpassed loveliness and prosperity. Then the tempter's voice was heard: “All this power will I give Thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If Thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be Thine.” DA 129.2

Christ's mission could be fulfilled only through suffering. Before Him was a life of sorrow, hardship, and conflict, and an ignominious death. He must bear the sins of the whole world. He must endure separation from His Father's love. Now the tempter offered to yield up the power he had usurped. Christ might deliver Himself from the dreadful future by acknowledging the supremacy of Satan. But to do this was to yield the victory in the great controversy. It was in seeking to exalt himself above the Son of God that Satan had sinned in heaven. Should he prevail now, it would be the triumph of rebellion. DA 129.3

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Ellen G. White
God's Amazing Grace, 41.1

The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. Daniel 4:17. AG 41.1

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Ellen G. White
SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4 (EGW), 1170

28. Associates Understood Faith—These faithful Hebrews possessed great natural ability and intellectual culture, and they occupied a high position of honor; but all these advantages did not lead them to forget God. All their powers were yielded to the sanctifying influence of divine grace. By their godly example, their steadfast integrity, they showed forth the praises of Him who had called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. In their wonderful deliverance was displayed, before that vast assembly, the power and majesty of God. Jesus placed Himself by their side in the fiery furnace, and by the glory of His presence convinced the proud king of Babylon that it could be no other than the Son of God. The light of heaven had been shining forth from Daniel and his companions, until all their associates understood the faith which ennobled their lives and beautified their characters (The Review and Herald, February 1, 1881). 4BC 1170.1

17. Men of Destiny Watched With Vigilance—The Lord God omnipotent reigneth. All kings, all nations, are His, under His rule and government. His resources are infinite. The wise man declares, “The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” 4BC 1170.2

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Ellen G. White
Conflict and Courage, 253

Daniel 4

And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? Daniel 4:35. CC 253.1

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