<< Daniel 4:14-16 : Nebuchadnezzar’s Vision of the Great Tree >>
“He cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches: nevertheless, leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth: let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him.”-DAN. iv. 14-16.
THE experience of human life brings before us very wonderful vicissitudes. The rise and the fall of individuals and of empires alike exhibit the instability of human affairs, and how uncertain is the possession of those treasures of wealth and power for which ambition pants. Multitudes struggle for the splendours of earth, and a few attain them; for a time they seem the favoured children of fortune, their splendour dazzles mankind, and they stand on the summit of human greatness. The superficial envy them, the fumes of flattery swell their pride, their smiles are courted by those who surround them as gracious tokens of the favour of superior beings. But the tide turns, adversity sets in, shock after shock comes until all is is wrecked, prosperity, fame, health, sanity all gone, and the former idol of multitudes, the petted favourite of fortune, has sunk so low, that scarcely one remains to do poor service of all those who formerly watched and waited on his nod.
History has never failed to afford such instances of the rise and fall of human beings, but certainly few have been so complete as that furnished in this chapter, and which was foreshadowed to king Nebuchadnezzar in his astonishing dream; a dream which portrayed to him his greatness, his fall and his restoration. He stood in the midst of the earth, a potentate, the mightiest among men; his arms had vanquished all who had resisted him, and he had so extended and embellished his capital, that it not only far exceeded the magnificence of any other city, but also owed so much to him that he might be regarded as a second founder.
While, however, he was at the very summit of his brilliant career, the awful dream was given him, which he felt also was more than a dream. He feared it was a vision of coming events. Anxious and troubled, be sought for its exact interpretation, and at length obtained it from the fearless and faithful Daniel. The terrible fulfillment of this, no doubt, divinely appointed dream took place twelve months afterwards, when every particular was realized. In the midst of his greatness, the king lost his reason, had a mania for acting as a beast, a mania well known to physicians, until his humiliation was complete; when his reason returned, his counsellors and lords sought him once more, his kingdom was re-established, and he issued a decree containing the account of the whole matter, and closing with the grand lesson, which the whole of these wonderful events had impressed upon him, ” Now I Nebuchadnezzar, praise, and extol, and honour the king of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment, and those that walk in pride, He is able to abase.” Never, perhaps, has this lesson been taught with greater force, never proclaimed with greater clearness. No condition is beyond the reach of change. The greater the height, and the greater the fall. Earthly riches find wings and fly away. How important, therefore it is that we look for our stability in eternal things, our riches in that inner wealth which supplies the heart with heavenly graces, and the mind with those gems of spiritual wisdom which shine brighter in adversity, and will gleam with angelic radiance for ever. Give me neither poverty nor riches is-the prayer of the truly wise, but give me, O Lord, the grace of contentment with my lot, whatever it may honestly be, and the love of being useful in the righteous performance of the duties of my station. Let us pray for such a daily cultivation of the graces of heaven, as may enable us in humble thankfulness to respond when the cry is raised “The bridegroom cometh,” “Our lamps are ever burning, Lord, Thy servants are ever ready.”
Let us turn now from the individual application of this wonderful history to its wider bearing, in the disclosures it makes, of that Babylonish state of the Church of which it was at once the warning and the symbol. Jerusalem had become a prey to Babylon, and Babylon had attained a pitch of astounding greatness, pomp, and power. The inflated phantasy of the possessor of this seemingly impregnable position of grandeur assumed, that it was fixed, and beyond all danger of disturbance. We learn, however, that at the very acme of their glory, and in the very hour of their fullest triumph, the stroke would come which would break down the power of Babylon; which would hew down the tree, cut off its branches, shake off its leaves, and scatter its tower. Nebuchadnezzar’s own name signified the anguish of judgment. The Babylonish spirit is the spirit of pride united to religion. It is self-love masquerading in saintliness.
Self-love appears in myriad forms, from the fawning whine of the street beggar, who will cringe and cajole, but who loves his lazy indolence too much to give himself to steady work, to the despot who to deck HIMSELF with fame and grandeur will waste whole kingdoms, will send the wail of widows through thousands of cottages, fill the air with the orphan’s cry, and maim and slaughter hundreds of thousands of human beings. Self-love appears sometimes as the polite but over-reaching tradesman, sometimes as the pilfering cheat, sometimes as the maraudng midnight ruffian, or the enraged assassin, but the character in which it becomes most appallingly extravagant, most exacting, most baleful, most intensely cruel, is when it comes forth in the garb of religion. It then transfers to itself the awful attributes of the Almighty, issues its fiats as infallible decrees, and assumes to inflict eternal as well as temporal miseries, upon those who are not submissive to its will.
This is the true and terrible Babylon, of which the other was the shadow going before. The word Babel means confusion. And, certainly, it is impossible to conceive of greater confusion than is introduced into insanity, when instead of its meek spirit of serving and mustering to others, of self-denial, of loving deference to others, and taking the lowest seat; of returning good for evil; of seeking to spread light and truth around as God’s universal gifts to train all men to happiness and to heaven, we are introduced to gaudy grandees with high sounding titles, claiming to lord it over all the world, to apostles of darkness and mystery who pretend to dispense with the teaching of science and common sense and to have their decrees admitted on pain of destruction here if they can inflict it, and of everlasting ruin which they claim to be able to bestow. This spirit of Babylon is abundantly described both in the Old and the New Testaments. Thus, we read in Isaiah respecting Babylon, ” And, thou saidst, I shall be a lady for ever, so that thou didst not lay these things to thy heart, neither didst remember the latter end of it. Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest ………………..
The first living thoughts on the subject of religion which grow up in the soul, green and vigorous, from well-supplied heavenly knowledge, are the leaves of this tree. The leaves of the spiritual tree are charming, and they are for medicine (Rev. xxii.). The flowers, are the still higher beauties of spiritual thought; the spiritual sense of the Word affords abundance of heavenly flowers, and the fruits are all the virtues of an upright life, duties done, integrity maintained, every rightful claim of position and employment cheerfully adopted and obeyed. When religion has developed itself to become such a tree, then society flourishes in blessed security, then an individual so circumstanced will be prosperous and happy. The beasts of the field, the natural affections, the fowls of heaven, all soaring rational thoughts, will dwell under its principles, like grand boughs covering and protecting everything, and there is spiritual food for all.
But ambition is Babylonish, when it seizes these grand things, and renders them subservient to its arrogant self-seeking; substituting man and a vain-glorious hierarchy for God and true principles, seeking self-glory, self-merit, and selfish power, instead of regeneration and growth in heavenly love and wisdom. This is Babylon, and great as its influence and power may seem when it has attained its height, and enmeshed everything in its swelling pride, at the summit of its power the Divine Judge provides for its overthrow, The stroke on the bell of Providence soon sounds when blasphemy is full. So was it with Nebuchadnezzar. In the hour of his haughtiest self-inflation the fiat of judgment came. “The king spake and said, Is not this great BabyIon that I have made for the house of the kingdom, by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty. While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; the kingdom is departed from thee” (ver. 30, 31).
When Christian Babylon attained its most audacious state of arrogancy, which had been swelling with pride for three hundred years, from the time of Hildebrand to that of Boniface VIII., whose time was almost wholly taken up with virulent quarrels for supremacy with the most powerful government of his epoch; just after he had made the 11l0St monstrous assertion of his power over kings and governments, he was seized and imprisoned by the objects of his wrath, and was so stung with the violence of his passion that he lost his reason, and died by his own violence. It was the divine decree, hew down the tree and cut off his branches. When Leo X. again imagined the time had come to make the grandest building in the world, as the magnificent symbol of papal greatness, then came the REFORMATION, and the strongest portions of Christendom were lost to Christian Babylon; again, the decree went forth, “Hew down the tree and cut off its branches; shake off his leaves and scatter his flower, let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from its branches.”
Again, in our own time, we have seen the same preposterous claims to stop the progress of science, to arrest the diffusion of the Bible, and to claim personal infallibility forthe head of Christian Babylon, but no sooner was this done than the temporal power and state for which there had been so much cursing and excommunications, and so much slaughter, was entirely lost. It was again the decree going forth, “Hew down the tree and cut off its branches; shake off his leaves, and scatter his flower.” But a great system, which has been diffused through many ages and interwoven with the entire life of many kingdoms and myriads of people, cannot at one stroke be altogether destroyed and removed. It has spread, and it has lived by an accommodation to the weaknesses, the errors, the prejudices, and the barbarism of the times, and was itself a semi-barbarism. It must continue, though with greatly reduced power, and only gradually die away. It has also much good, much piety, and, much charity and virtue enclosed within it, though chiefly among its humbler members. For their sakes it must live on and even to some extent revive again, though, with humbler claims, and purified through suffering.
Hence, we read, ” Leave the stump of his roots in the earth.” that is, let the Babylonish persuasion remain in the Church, there are vast numbers who yet cannot bear to have it altogether rooted up. Let it be made firm “with a band of iron and brass.” Iron is the symbol of the truth of the letter of the Word, and brass or copper of a good life in the external virtues of religion. This binding and strengthening by the inculcation of the duties of a pious life, is the same as Moses pronounced respecting Asher—”Let Asher be blessed with children: let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil. Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so , shall thy strength be” (Deut. xxxiii. 24, 25). The shoes are of iron and brass when the rule of life is true and good. Divine Mercy watches over such, in, whatever church they may be, and as their days, whether stormy or fair, cold or warm, so their strength shall be. They shall be shod with the gospel of the preparation of peace (Eph. vi. 15). Let it be comforted “in the tender grass of the field,” and be wet with the dew of heaven.
The tender grass of the field corresponds to the tender promises and comforts of religion. The obedient servant of the Lord can feed in the rich meadows of the Holy Word, and be cheered and strengthened by the tender grass of the field. The dew of heaven too will come quietly down upon such. Calm, holy meditations will diffuse peaceful wisdom throughout their Blinds, “their heavens will drop down dew.” The Lord Himself will be a dew to them, as He said, “I will be as a dew unto Israel, and he shall grow as the lily” (Hosea xiv. 5). They cannot have a man’s heart, for that is a heart that freely learns and rationally investigates, freely weighs, and freely follows the truth. This cannot be given in Babylon, but an obedient heart can, like that of an ox that knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib (Isa. i. 3). Let this spirit of obedience be given him, until he is fully weaned from the insanities of spiritual pride, and he has learned that all power and all merit belong to the Most high, and man in himself is utter evil, and a mass of corruption. When trials and reflection have brought about this conviction, andmade it lasting, their work has been accomplished, seven times will have passed over the man who has gone through this tribulation, his reason will be restored, and he will be well. Allthis happened to king Nebuchadnezzar, king, of Babylon, and he sent out his decree proclaiming the result in the memorable words, “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, and extol, and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride He is able to abase.” All this has happened to the spiritual Babylon, which has been crushed, and then again restored, and done useful works among those portions of society who are not firm-minded enough to rise above superstition, and walk by the light of clear heavenly truth rationally understood. The Most High is ruling among the children of men, and giving the kingdom to whomsoever He will, for His will is perfect goodness, guided by perfect wisdom. Let us never forget also, that every Christian needs to guard himself against the spirit of Babylon. There are many little popes, in pulpit and in pew, who cannot bear with others or suffer their infallibility to be questioned, without bitter anger being excited. This is also the essence of Babylon. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Author: Jonathan Bayley— The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)