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Pages 215-218 of the Jehovah's Witness book "What Does the Bible Really Teach?" contains a section entitled 1914​—A Significant Year in Bible Prophecy. In that section Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the great tree which was cut down and banded in iron until 7 times passed over it, recorded for us in Daniel chapter 4, is interpreted as:

In the Bible, trees are sometimes used to represent rulership. (Ezekiel 17:22-24; 31:2-5) So the chopping down of the symbolic tree represents how God’s rulership, as expressed through the kings at Jerusalem, would be interrupted.

Some interesting mathematics are then applied to the '7 times' in order to transform that period into 2520 years and thus arrive at the year 1914 as being the end of this interruption of God's rulership, but that is an aside.

My question for the Jehovah's Witness tradition is this:

Given that the tree in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, as recorded in Daniel 4, is very specifically interpreted by Daniel as representing Nebuchadnezzar;

The tree you saw, which grew and became strong, so that its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth, whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which beasts of the field found shade, and in whose branches the birds of the heavens lived— it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth. And because the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field, and let him be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven periods of time pass over him,’ this is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules. - Daniel 4:20-26

and given that the very specific interpretation of this dream is immediately related by Daniel as very specifically happening in history to Nebuchadnezzar;

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While the words were still in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles' feathers, and his nails were like birds' claws. - Daniel 4:28-33

and also that the prophesy of the restoration of Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom after 7 times had passed is also specifically fulfilled to Nebuchadnezzar;

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever - Daniel 4:34 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. - Daniel 4:36

How can "So the chopping down of the symbolic tree represents how God’s rulership, as expressed through the kings at Jerusalem, would be interrupted." possibly be what the Bible really teaches?

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Jehovah's Witnesses believe Daniel chapter 4 has a dual fulfillment.

  1. The first fulfillment is given in the chapter itself as Nebuchadnezzar loses and regains power.
  2. The second fulfillment is in the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E by Nebuchadnezzar and the restoration of God's Kingdom in Heaven in 1914 C.E., 2520 years later.

There are several reasons for believing that this prophecy has a dual fulfillment. They are given here: (bold mine)

Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, p. 133, 134 - "Appointed Times of the Nations"

Related to “appointed times of the nations.” The vision definitely had a fulfillment in Nebuchadnezzar himself. (See Da 4:31-35.) Therefore, some view it as having direct prophetic application only to him and see in this vision merely the presentation of the eternal verity of ‘God’s supremacy over all other powers​—human or supposedly divine.’ They acknowledge the application of that truth or principle beyond Nebuchadnezzar’s own case but do not see it as relating to any specific time period or divine schedule. Yet, an examination of the entire book of Daniel reveals that the element of time is everywhere prominent in the visions and prophecies it presents; and the world powers and events described in each such vision are shown, not as isolated or as occurring at random with the time element left ambiguous, but, rather, as fitting into a historical setting or time sequence. (Compare Da 2:36-45; 7:3-12, 17-26; 8:3-14, 20-25; 9:2, 24-27; 11:2-45; 12:7-13.) Additionally, the book repeatedly points toward the conclusion that forms the theme of its prophecies: the establishment of a universal and eternal Kingdom of God exercised through the rulership of the “son of man.” (Da 2:35, 44, 45; 4:17, 25, 32; 7:9-14, 18, 22, 27; 12:1) The book is also distinctive in the Hebrew Scriptures for its references to “the time of the end.”​—Da 8:19; 11:35, 40; 12:4, 9.

In view of the above, it does not seem logical to evaluate the vision of the symbolic “tree” and its reference to “seven times” as having no other application than to the seven years of madness and subsequent recovery and return to power experienced by one Babylonian ruler, particularly so in the light of Jesus’ own prophetic reference to “the appointed times of the nations.” The time at which the vision was given: at the critical point in history when God, the Universal Sovereign, had allowed the very kingdom that he had established among his covenant people to be overthrown; the person to whom the vision was revealed: the very ruler who served as the divine instrument in such overthrow and who thereby became the recipient of world domination by divine permission, that is, without interference by any representative kingdom of Jehovah God; and the whole theme of the vision, namely: “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” (Da 4:17)​—all of this gives strong reason for believing that the lengthy vision and its interpretation were included in the book of Daniel because of their revealing the duration of “the appointed times of the nations” and the time for the establishment of God’s Kingdom by his Christ.

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  • Seeking clarification here, in light of what the Bible has to say about God as ruler. What does Psalm 66:7 mean when it says of God “He rules for ever by his power, his eyes watch the nations”? Why no mention of an interrupted heavenly kingdom rule here in Psalm 103:19? “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” Why did Jesus say “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18) after his resurrection? Who is “the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” in 1 Timothy 6:15? – Lesley Apr 2 at 10:13
  • @Lesley Those are some very good questions. I think they merit a separate post, since they aren't directly related to the main question here. – 4castle Apr 2 at 14:30

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