King Nebuchadnezzar addresses all the people of his empire, praising "The Most High God." But then he flashes back into a crazy tale—turns out, he wasn't always the kind of person who acknowledged "The Most High God."
He begins by discussing another deeply disturbing dream he had. (Nebuchadnezzar is telling this story, looking back on things that already happened—but chronologically, the dream happens sometime after the fiery furnace debacle ends.)
He sees a massive tree, spreading out over the earth, full of fruit, and providing shade and shelter and food to all the animals and birds.
But a "holy watcher" (some kind of angel) comes down from heaven and orders the tree cut down. The angel says it should be stripped of its leaves and branches, and left as a mere stump covered with a "band of iron and bronze."
It becomes clear that the tree symbolizes a human being, since the angel then says that "he" should be bathed in dew and have his mind changed from that of a human into that of a beast. "He" will need to stay that way until "seven times" (seven years) have passed over him.
The angel says that this needs to happen because the holy watchers want the symbolic human tree to realize that there is no one above the Most High.
Tree-Fallin', Now He's Tree-Fallin'
Nebuchadnezzar again calls on Daniel to interpret the dream. Daniel obliges, but says that he wishes the dream were meant for Nebuchadnezzar's enemies. But as it is, the dream is meant for Nebuchadnezzar—he is the tree that is going to get cut down
Daniel explains that Nebuchadnezzar is like the tree. Since he's king of this huge empire, he's responsible for giving everyone food and shelter and protection.
But Nebuchadnezzar is about to get cut down to size. He's going to go mad, flee human society, and live out in the woods with the wild animals, eating grass for food. After seven years, he'll get back his sanity and acknowledge the Most High God.
Daniel doesn't say that Nebuchadnezzar can avoid this fate, but he advises him to atone for his sins by becoming more righteous and to be merciful to the oppressed.
Skip ahead twelve months: Nebuchadnezzar—still sane—is walking around on the rooftop of his palace in Babylon, admiring his city.
He starts musing aloud to himself, rhetorically asking if this isn't a pretty awesome city, dedicated to his own personal glory and majesty.
At that moment, a voice from heaven announces to him that the sentence is going to be fulfilled against him. He's going to lose control out in the kingdom and go mad in the wilderness.
And he does go mad. It all happens exactly as it was predicted: he ends up growing his hair "as long as eagle feathers" and his fingernails and toenails become like talons.
Finally, seven years later, he regains his sanity and his kingdom when he suddenly confesses that there is no one higher than God. He recites a hymn praising God and implying—by stating that God's kingdom endures forever—that he is far more powerful than any earthly king.
So, like Job, he regains everything that he had lost, and "still more greatness was added to me."
He concludes with a final brief hymn, saying that God "is able to bring low, those who walk in pride"—a pretty obvious reference to the way he used to be.