The God of Heaven – Reveals the Future
Daniel ch.2 :1-49
Do you sleep well? I guess many of us don’t sleep as well as we’d like to. Lying awake at night can be depressing particularly if we start to worry about things.
Nebuchadnezzar has had a bad night. He didn’t sleep well and when he did his dreams disturbed him. Now we will know what that is like too but in this case Nebuchadnezzar was sure his dreams that night were out of the ordinary, he was convinced that they had an important meaning. The trouble was it all escaped him. Nebuchadnezzar was, however, a powerful man and in a position to do something about it! But who could help him?
Turning to the Experts
I don’t know whether Nebuchadnezzar waited for the morning to come or whether he summoned his experts in the middle of the night – after all, he wasn’t the kind of person many would say "no" to and he didn’t tend to think much about the interests of others when his own interests were at stake.
We can tell just how important it all was to Nebuchadnezzar by the conditions he gave his experts:
Not only must the experts explain to him the significance of his worrying and unsettling dream they also had to tell him what he actually saw in his dream.
His experts were seriously worried – no-one had ever made such demands before, this was an impossible and unreasonable request and they played for time and asked to be told what the dream was – their underlying suggestion was that if only they knew the content of the dream they would be able to explain it.
But Nebuchadnezzar smelled a rat – they were going to stitch him up and he wasn’t about to allow that to happen. No, they must do as he said; they must tell him both his dream and its meaning or else they would pay for it with their lives!
The king had been worried before but now when he can’t get his way immediately he acts little a spoilt child and begins to throw the toys out of his pram; Nebuchadnezzar is now seriously angry. How unreasonable sinners can be with their demands and how prone to violence and destruction when capable of it!
The experts – who were all magicians, enchanters and sorcerers – were supposed to be experts in the black arts but they couldn’t do what Nebuchadnezzar demanded of them. They tried to argue but all to no avail – failure to do what Nebuchadnezzar demanded would leave them facing death. Their final recorded words sound a last desperate plea:
v.11 "The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh."
This was the best that the theology of Babylon could come up with and it proved to be useless to them. The "gods" in Babylon might not dwell with men but a very different truth had been revealed by the God of Daniel’s people. Indeed the great hope of Daniel’s people was that the LORD would keep his promises to them, promises that insisted:
Ex 29:45 "I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God."
The NT of course develops this truth more fully still with the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ of whom we learn:
Jn.1:14 "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."
Babylon’s theology is that of the world and of the ideas that prevail in the eyes of godless men and women – you will find no lasting hope there but rejoice and be glad for the theology of the Bible is different and it will point you in an entirely different direction.
But we must get back to the situation with Nebuchadnezzar.
Frustrated despots who can’t get their own way are dangerous people and Nebuchadnezzar was just such a one. He called the captain of his guard, Arioch by name, and commissioned him to execute the wise men of Babylon. Although the counsellors who had failed the king had all been magicians and sorcerers the death sentence was not limited to them – others such as Daniel and his friends were now caught up in it all though they had previously known nothing of what had taken place.
Not for the first time in the book Daniel shows the value of politeness. Arioch has received an important order, the situation is delicate, on a knife edge and Daniel approaches him with prudence and discretion to which Arioch responds. As soon as Daniel learned what had caused this crisis he made an appointment to see Nebuchadnezzar.
Why so? So that he might tell Nebuchadnezzar what he wanted to know.
This was a step of faith for Daniel. He did not yet know anything about Nebuchanezzar’s dream or its interpretation but he confidently tells the king he will tell him what he wants to know.
Humanly speaking the task was impossible but Daniel was not relying upon his own abilities and he knew that all things are possible with God (cf.Mt.19:26). But Daniel was neither cocky nor a loner – he quickly returned to his friends and urged them to pray earnestly with him for God to show them mercy. If God did not give them the details of the dream and its interpretation then their lives would very soon be over!
And God heard their prayer!
How many encouragements there are for us to pray in the Bible! I don’t promise you that you will always get what you want in prayer but you certainly won’t get an answer if you don’t pray!
Daniel is given all the info he needs during a night-time vision and his first reaction is to thank and praise God for his mercy!
Daniel’s God is worthy of praise!
v.19 "Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven." This is the God that his ancestors had known and served – the God of Israel.
He then gave a number of reasons why this God deserved to blessed forever and ever:
He possesses wisdom
He is powerful
He is sovereign:
concerning times and seasons
concerning the appointment and removal of kings
concerning the distribution of wisdom and knowledge
He reveals and makes known deep and hidden things;
Such are the general truths for which Daniel blesses God but he goes further for he has personal dealings with this God too. Daniel give thanks and praise because:
God has given him wisdom
God has given him might
God has given him and his friends what they had asked for
If this is our God too then why wouldn’t we want to pray and trust him? Why wouldn’t we want to praise and bless him too? As we so often sing: "What a friend we have in Jesus!"
An Urgent Visit
Had Arioch already begun to carry out his gruesome orders to kill the wise men of Babylon? We don’t know but Daniel acts quickly to prevent any further loss of life. He tells Arioch not to carry out Nebuchadnezzar’s command because he is about to satisfy the king’s conditions and tell him the interpretation of the dream.
Not long after Daniel is introduced to Nebuchadnezzar’s presence who wants to know if Daniel can really do it.
What an opportunity for Daniel to blow his own trumpet and to claim superiority over all the other wise men of the empire but he will not do it!
It’s not me who is important, he says, it’s my God! And he speaks briefly to Nebuchadnezzar about the God in heaven who reveals mysteries before continuing to explain what those mysteries are.
May we too learn not to miss such opportunities but be ready to speak of our God!
The Dream Revealed and Explained
Nebuchadnezzar had been greatly troubled by his dream – I wonder how he now felt as he heard this young man telling him exactly what he had seen in it. The earlier sense he had had that this dream was important and significant was surely underscored as Daniel reminded him of what he had dreamt. A sense of awe must have grown as he heard detail after detail being recounted – here was something to make you sit up and listen.
The Word of God is like that. It is sharper than a two-edged sword and can speak clearly to us in ways that are relevant to our everyday lives. Do you sit up and listen?
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was about an image he saw – Daniel was enabled to tell hi both the dream and what it meant.
The image, in the form of a statue, was both impressive and frightening and it represented a succession of empires: each was given its power and authority by God and each was indicated by a different metal:
The head of the image was of gold and this stood for Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian empire itself.
The chest and the arms were of silver – this represented the kingdom that was to arise after Babylon’s decline – this was the Medo-Persian (sometimes also known simply as the Persian) Empire.
Next came the middle and thighs which were made out of bronze – the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great with its extension over the entire known world.
The fourth element of the image concerned the legs and feet and consisted of a mixture of iron and clay. The picture is of remarkable strength married to a certain brittleness – it pointed to the Roman Empire.
The next element in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was a stone not cut from a mountain but not by human hands which rolled into the statues feet causing its utter destruction. This stone continued to grow until it filled the whole earth.
This final kingdom was of a different kind altogether to the earlier four empires. This final kingdom has a heavenly origin unlike the others and unlike the others will know no end.
The dream Nebuchadnezzar had looked ahead through the succeeding centuries right down to the time when Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God while the Roman empire was dominating the world 5-6 centuries later. Jesus would also describe this Kingdom as having a small inauspicious beginning – the picture he used was of a small grain of mustard seed that would eventually grow into a grand plant.
We should be clear here about the implications of what Daniel is saying – the reason why God is able to predict the future is because he is the One who decides and determines what will happen there! This is a God who knows what he is talking about, has the power to do what he says and who can therefore be trusted.
Nebuchadnezzar is impressed by Daniel. This is understandable but his way of expressing himself is not to be commended. Such behaviour as that would only be appropriate when offered to Daniel’s God. It is true that Nebuchadnezzar is also impressed by Daniel’s God and marvels at him but we would be wise to be cautious as Nebuchadnezzar evidences little of genuine faith despite his protestations.
This should alert us to the fact that men and women are quite capable of making what sound like very promising declarations of faith which turn out in the long run to be nothing of the sort.
Yet for the moment Nebuchadnezzar acts in a positive manner. In addition to his expressed appreciation of Daniel’s God he promotes the faithful Daniel to a position of greater responsibility. This pattern of faithfulness being followed by blessing or promotion is a theme that recurs (see 3:30; 5:29; 6:28). Daniel wants the blessings of faithfulness to be shared and asks if his faithful friends can be promoted too – a request which is granted.
What are we to make of all this? Is it to be anything more than an interesting story for us to think about for half an hour or so?
Well if you are a Christian let me tell you that you can safely keep on putting your trust in this God. Like Daniel and his friends circumstances may turn against you but whatever the trial, whatever the century, whatever the geographical location, whatever the ruler – it is our God who reigns and he can be trusted.
This God tells the truth – always – and we can:
ask him for the wisdom we need
trust him for all his timing
rely upon his strength
remain faithful to him
If you are not yet a Christian believer it is just such a God who calls you to put your trust in him. He is unlike the many and varied gods of this world who might promise much but never deliver. The God of Heaven is not remote but has come close in the person of Jesus to dwell among us. He will save you, provide for you, keep you and never-ever abandon you. What a God he is! What keeps you from coming to him and coming today?