Daniel 2: A Dream and A Statue

Sun, 17/09/2017 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

The more reliably you know the future, you more accurately you can plan in the present.

If you know what weather we’ll get here next summer, you can decide whether to save up to try and go abroad.

One decision many of us have taken is to go through life trusting the person of Jesus. We’ve done that, not knowing what tomorrow will bring. When we get to the future, will we be glad we did so? As we look back on now, will we see trusting the person of Jesus as a wise move, or not?

Sometimes, we’re really in the dark. There are phases of life when things seem to be going wrong, and we cannot see what God is doing. There are times it can feel that our trust in him is misplaced. Sometimes, being known as a Christian, and making decisions that flow from that, can make life more difficult rather than easier. Sometimes it looks like it might be folly to trust him. We long for some reassurance along the way, some reassurance that we’re on the right track.

That’s the situation that Daniel and his three friends were in.

Let me fill in for those of you who weren’t here last week, and remind those of us who were: Who is Daniel, and what is his situation?

They have recently been deported from Jerusalem, where they used to live, to the capital city of the superpower of the day: Babylon. After some training, Daniel and his three friends entered the kings service, members of the Babylonian civil service. They were clear on their identity. They were Jews, servants of the God of Israel. But they were in a foreign land, in captivity, where other gods were worshipped. They immersed themselves in Babylonian life; they served the king faithfully. But they remained homesick. They knew their true home was elsewhere.

The story

Today we get to see Daniel at work in his new job. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. The trouble is, it unsettled him badly. He remembered what he dreamt the last time he slept, and ever since then he’s been unable to sleep. He’s too worried.

The narrator of our story knows how to tell a good story. We’re kept in suspense as readers. We don’t know what was in the king’s dream. Nobody did, except the king.

So, verse 2,”the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers”. They think he must be confused. He asked them to tell him what he had dreamed. That’s not the deal. Normally, he tells them what he’s dreamed, they look it up in their volumes of dream interpretation, and come back with the answer. So they politely ask the king to tell them the dream.

This is when it turns nasty. He wasn’t confused. This was a deliberate omission. Forget their books of dreams. He wants some way to know they haven’t cooked the books. If they can tell him what the dream was, then they really do have access to the gods, and their meaning can be trusted. There’s a threat. “If you don’t do this, you’ll become body parts. Clear?”

And so the king’s sword hangs over everyone in the royal court, including Daniel and his friends.

Daniel and his friends urgently pray. God answers their prayer and reveals the dream’s meaning. Daniel and his friends are spared. Better than that, they’re promoted and rewarded. Verse 48: “Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men”. Those are the wise men whose lives Daniel and his God have just saved.

Twice, the story is interrupted. We listen to words of praise from one of the characters. We want to know what happens next, but we are made to stop and listen.

We listen first to Daniel, as he praises his God in verses 20 to 23. Then we listen to Nebuchadnezzar, as he praises Daniel’s God in verse 47. Nebuchadnezzar’s words are a summary of Daniel’s, and they give us two key truths about God. These are the truths that are driving the whole story.

God alone is lord of kings

First, God alone is lord of kings. God alone is lord of kings.

We hear this from Nebuchadnezzar. Verse 47: “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings.” We get it from Daniel, verse 20: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.”

God alone is lord of kings. Which means he deposes kings, and raises up others in their place.

It’s what we see in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. He sees a great statue – with a gold head, a silver body, thighs of bronze, and legs that are a mixture of iron and pottery. The explanation is that these are four great empires. Nebuchadnezzar’s empire of Babylon is the head of gold.

Three successive empires will follow. There are different views on what those are. The kingdom of Media overlapped with both Babylon and Persia. Some people think Media is the silver, followed by Persia and then Greece. Others think that Media and Persia together are the silver, followed by Greece and then Rome. Let’s not get stuck on the exact kingdoms. The overall message is clear: One kingdom follows another. Babylon will end, and another will come after.

Just think how verse 39 must have stuck in Nebuchadnezzar’s throat. “After you, another kingdom will arise, inferior to yours.” “After you”. We like to think we’ll live forever. Rulers like to think they’ll rule forever. But there’s an “after you” for all of us.

There’s a great irony in verse 4. In come the courtiers, and they use the standard royal greeting. “May the king live for ever!” Except he won’t. That’s the whole point. God deposes kings. He raises up other kings. God alone is lord of kings.

I’m old enough to remember Christmas 1989. It took just 4 days for Nicolai Ceausescu to fall. One day, he was delivering a speech from a balcony in Bucharest, ever the leader of the crowds below. Only this time it went wrong. They began to boo and jeer. The various communist officials who had bolstered the regime quickly saw that the Ceausescus were over. 4 days later they were tried and executed.

He’d ruled Romania for 22 years. To the people under his thumb, it felt like he’d always be there. But for him, too, there is a lengthy period of history bearing the heading: “After you”.

Not only will God bring down individual earthly kingdoms. This pattern repeats on a bigger scale. There’s a rock that strikes the statue and destroys it. The whole statue goes in one fell swoop. In practice, these earthly kingdoms fall one after another. But there’s another perspective. God is destroying all earthly power, all earthly kingdoms, all earthly authority.

And replacing it with this rock, which grows to become a huge mountain. We don’t have to guess what the rock represents. We’re told. Verse 44: “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure for ever.”

God himself will set up another kingdom. Like the others, it’s a kingdom on earth. (Verse 35: It fills the whole earth.) But in every other way, it’s unlike all the kingdoms before it. This one lasts forever. This one is indestructible. This one is supernatural. This one eventually destroys all that went before it.

The dream works at lots of levels. God brings down individual kings, and raises new ones in their place. God brings down whole empires, and raises new ones in their place. God brings down all earthly kingdoms as a block, and raises a new one in its place.

God alone is lord of kings.

Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in the person of Jesus. Some of you will know the song Mary sings when she learns she’s to be the mother of the Lord Jesus. She includes these words: “He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.”

With the arrival of Jesus, many lost their thrones. The religious and civil authorities felt threatened by Jesus, and they killed him. All of us who go through life thinking that we are God meet our match when Jesus comes along.

But all who bow before him, who humbly recognise that he is the one true king, get to be lifted up by him. We get a place of honour in the kingdom that will last forever.

God alone is lord of kings.

God alone reveals mysteries

The second truth driving this account is this: God alone reveals mysteries. God alone reveals mysteries.

We need to understand what we mean by the word “mysteries”. It simply means something you wouldn’t know unless you were told. A bit like you wouldn’t know that I had muesli for breakfast unless I told you.

Look again at Nebuchadnezzar’s words of praise, verse 47: “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”

We get it in Daniel’s praise as well. Verse 22: “He reveals deep and hidden things; knows what lies in darkness, light dwells with him. I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors: have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, have made known to us the dream of the king.”

God can do this. God alone can do this. God alone reveals mysteries.

This comes out in many ways in the story. There’s the failure of the court experts. Their job titles are piled up in verse 2. But no matter how many PhDs they have between them in divination, in predicting the future, they cannot do it. They’re on earth, on the stage of history, in the room where the events take place. They’re desperate from a word from outside, a voice outside the room, the playwright to speak. But they haven’t got one.

Even they admit that this is impossible. Their craft is a load of snake oil. It’s unreasonable of the king even to ask. They’re to die because they cannot do the impossible. Verse 10: “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.”

It comes out in the urgent need for prayer in verse 18. Daniel knows his God can help. And nothing but God’s intervention can save their lives at this point. Unless God speaks, they’ll die. So they pray. It all hangs on God.

You know how it is in the films. The hero is captured. They’re all going to die. But suddenly someone else comes to the rescue. An unexpected rescuer from outside. It’s the twist in the story you’d never seen coming. Daniel knows that won’t happen here. God alone reveals mysteries. If he doesn’t, nobody else can save them.

And we know Daniel’s God did do it. Because Daniel got the dream right. Nebuchadnezzar knew exactly what he saw in his dream. It’s how he’d mark the papers of his sorcerers. Their interpretation of the dream can only be trusted if they get the dream itself right. The story ends with Daniel getting his reward. So he must have got the dream spot on.

God alone reveals mysteries.

It’s exactly ten years since the failure of the bank, Northern Rock. Here’s what one industry professional said when interviewed about what happened: “That was the first bank run in the UK since Victorian times. It was a very, very unusual event. It tells us that you not only don’t know what’s around the corner when bad things are happening; you don’t know what’s around the corner when anything’s happening.”

God can see perfectly around corners. That’s because he’s in charge – in charge of kings, empires, the whole flow of history. Nothing is hidden from his sight, because he’s the one writing the story. It’s his story. And because God’s in control, he knows. And because God knows, he can make it known. God alone reveals mysteries.

Application and Conclusion

Those are the two big truths driving this gripping story. God alone is lord of kings. God alone reveals mysteries.

How does all of this help us?

Well, God doesn’t reveal every mystery. Let’s be honest. Frequently we’re in the dark. We don’t know what God’s doing. On the world stage, in our own lives, in the lives of those we love, it’s like walking through dense fog. You can’t see where you’re going. Maybe God knows what he’s doing, but we don’t know what he’s doing, and sometimes we don’t know what we’re doing either.

This passage is designed to reassure us. Verse 22 says that God “knows what lies in darkness and light dwells with him.” God has perfect night vision. Even when we’re in the dark, God can see everything clearly.

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of waking up in an unfamiliar room. No street lights. No moon. Pitch black. You fumble around, trying to find the light switch. Praying there are no 3-pin plugs or Lego bricks on the floor. Then you find it, turn it on, and you can see everything clearly. You blink, and all is well.

That’s the contrast between how we see life and how God sees life. We’re frequently in the dark, fumbling. And all the time, God sees as clearly as we do when the light are on.

But that’s not the only reassurance here. God may not reveal every mystery, but this shows us that we can trust him completely when he does reveal his hand.

What God has told us is absolutely rock solid. Solid as a rock. Because that’s what he shows us here.

The kingdom of the Lord Jesus will expand and advance. One day it will fill the whole earth. Those who stand on that rock are standing on the one place of safety when the floodwaters of judgement come. The house built on the rock stands firm.

The reverse is also true. Those who stumble over that rock will fall. Those on whom the rock falls – will be crushed, dashed to dust like the precious metals of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

Pin all your hopes on Jesus, and he won’t let you down. God has revealed that much to us. We can be sure that the Lord of kings and revealer of mysteries is right.

And we can trust God with all the details of his plan that are still dark to us. Light dwells with him.

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