Question: In Daniel 4:17, who are “the holy ones,” and what is meant by “setteth up over the basest of men”?
Here is the reference:
Daniel 4:17 (KJV) "This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.”
Dan. 4:17 (NIV) “ ‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.’ “
The “Watchers” And The “Holy Ones”
The terms “holy ones” and “watchers” (“messengers” —NIV) in Daniel (vv. 13, 17, 23) refer to angels. The two words are used interchangeably in reference to the same beings. As Daniel interprets the king’s dream, he explains that Nebudchadnezzar “saw a watcher and an holy one coming down from heaven…” (v. 23 KJV). In the Hebrew, there is no “and” separating the two terms. Daniel tells the king that he “saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from the heavens” (23).
“Watcher” is the translation of the Aramaic word ir, whose principal meaning is “awake” or “watchful.” It is a descriptive word that conveys the imagery of God’s angels as being constantly alert, always watching over human affairs as God appoints them. These three occurrences in Daniel are the only time the word ir is found in Scripture.
The angel in Nebudchadnezzar’s dream referred to himself as a “watcher,” saying: "This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones…” Or, as the NIV translates it, “The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict…” (v. 17). In other words, the angel speaking to the king through a dream represents a group of “watchers,” or “holy ones,” in heaven who have been sent by God to deliver a message. They are heaven’s ambassadors. They carry all the authority of God himself in presenting God’s judgment upon Nebudchadnezzar, that he is to be driven from his palace to live like a wild animal for seven years until he repents of his pride and acknowledges that God alone is absolute sovereign over all (vv. 17, 24-27).
“The Basest Of Men”
Verse 17 gives the specific reason for this seemingly harsh judgment:
“…that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men” (KJV).
“The basest of men” refers to people of low social, economic and political standing. The message to Nebudchadnezzar is that the Most High God chooses who is to reign over nations. He may give such power and authority even to the most unlikely and undeserving of people. This same truth is found repeatedly in Scripture:
Job 5:11 The lowly he sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.
1Sam. 2:7-8 The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. “For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; on them he has set the world.”
The message through the “watchers,” God’s ”holy ones,” is a message for us all:
Heb. 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe…”