True Wisdom - Daniel 2
We all dream as we sleep. Some dreams are vivid; others are forgotten as soon as you wake up. Some are pleasant; others are distressing. Sometimes you have recurring dreams. My recurring dream is that I am facing graduation (from somewhere) and I discover the week of finals that graduation hinges on a final exam in a history class that I didn’t realize I was a part of and never attended. Like many dreams, I have no idea what it means.
This morning we are going to look at one man’s dream. It is the dream of the King of Babylon, a guy by the name of Nebuchadnezzar. His dream troubled him so much that he went to extreme measures to get an interpretation. There was a sense of foreboding in the dream that kept him from rest. We will discover that this particular dream was a vivid picture of what was going to happen in the future. At this point Nebuchadnezzar is just confused. This dream will be expanded in future chapters of Daniel.
Before we get to the dream, let’s remember our context. Daniel and his friends, along with the King and many of the leaders of Israel have been captured by the Babylonians and taken to Babylon. Even though these men do not seem to have been treated badly, they have still been taken from their home. In a few more years a larger group of exiles would join them in Babylon.
Daniel and his friends were just teenagers. They had been enrolled in a three year indoctrination program. Depending on how the phrase the “second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar” is figured, the young men were either still in training or very new graduates of the program. Keep this background in mind as we look at the details.
The King’s Dream; The Wise men’s Nightmare (2:1-12)
Part of the training for the Astrologers or magicians of Babylon was, “How to Interpret Dreams”. Some of these dream interpretations have been discovered by archaeologists.
The Babylonians interpreted dreams by looking at the stars, deciphering symbols, or looking at the organs of sheep. In other words they interpreted dreams through the occult.
Nebuchadnezzar called for the astrologers and magicians to interpret his dream. However, the King made a request they were not expecting:
If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. 6 But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor.
Initially, the men thought the King misspoke. They said, “All you have to do is tell us the details, and we will tell you what the dream means.”
Nebuchadnezzar had not misspoken. He knew that people who interpret dreams could tell you that the dream meant anything based on their own imagination. So, the King said: “If you guys really do have a line to god when it comes to interpreting dreams . . . your god should also be able to tell you the substance of the dream as well!
The King was serious. He said if they did not tell him the dream he would conclude that they were engaged in a scam and he would have them torn to pieces (literally!) and their houses would be destroyed. On the other hand, if they succeeded he would reward them greatly. The men responded saying it was an impossible assignment. So, true to his word, the King ordered that all the so-called wise men of Babylon be executed.
Daniel Seeks the Lord’s Help
Daniel and his friends were not at this meeting. However, they were members of the wise men union. Consequently, their names were on the membership list of those to be killed!
When the King’s captain, a guy named Arioch, came to take Daniel and friends into custody, we are told Daniel replied “with wisdom and tact”. Daniel knew how to handle people. He did not hide, run, resist, or stand and make threats. Instead, he asked, “Why is this happening?” One of the first rules of crisis management is this: understand the true nature of the crisis!
When Daniel found out about the dream and the request of the King, he asked the captain for an appointment to see the King to tell him that if he gave him the night he would give him the dream and its interpretation. That night Daniel did something noteworthy. He did not go home to consult the notes from his “Interpreting Dreams” class. He didn’t call for an all night meeting with his friends to brainstorm. He gathered his friends and asked them to pray.
We are told very simply: “During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision”. Daniel, filled with gratitude, praised God,
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons;
he sets up kings and deposes them.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.
I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.”
The Dream and Its Interpretation
Before Daniel gave Nebuchadnezzar the interpretation, he made sure the credit for the interpretation was given to its proper source: the Lord. The answer to this problem was not a skilled interpreter . . .the answer was in the Lord God Almighty! Daniel said,
No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come.(27,28)
In humility Daniel recounted the dream. There was a giant statue with several parts:
The head was made of gold
The chest and arms were silver
The it’s middle and hips were bronze
The legs were iron but the toes were a compound of iron and clay
Then a rock “was cut out, but not by human hands.” It struck the statue on the feet and the statue collapsed.
The rock then turned into a mountain that filled the earth.
Daniel said the dream described a sequence of nations (or empires). Each empire would be less magnificent or valuable than the other (gold, silver, bronze, iron) but each would grow in strength.
The most natural interpretation is as follows:
The gold head we know represented Nebuchadnezzar. He was a powerful King.
From future chapters we know that the Chest of silver represented the Medo-Persian Empire. They defeated the Babylonian Empire (we will read about it in chapter 5).
The belly and thighs represent the Greek Empire which defeated the Medo-Persians under the leadership of Alexander the Great.
The legs and feet represent the Roman Empire who supplanted the Greeks. The Roman Empire was big and strong but because it was made up of so many different kinds of people, it was also constantly in conflict. Daniel said, This mixture explains the mixture of clay and iron in the feet. Even though Rome would be powerful . . .their foundation would be weak and vulnerable.
There is still one more piece of the dream. The rock that topples the statue will be a kingdom that God raises up; it is the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom began with the coming of Christ. When Jesus began His ministry he told everyone that “the Kingdom of God was at hand”. Jesus frequently talked about the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The rock was Christ, and the mountain is the church. This Kingdom will never be destroyed or taken over by others (44)
The Response of the King
We know that Daniel got the dream right because Nebuchadnezzar bowed before Daniel and acknowledged the wisdom and power of Daniel’s God. This does not mean that Nebuchadnezzar is converted. He is however impressed. Nebuchadnezzar believed in many different gods, so acknowledging one god didn’t necessarily mean anything at this point.
Like Joseph before Him, who interpreted a dream for Pharaoh, Daniel was promoted (Daniel made sure his friends were promoted too). Daniel (remember he is most likely a teenager) was put in charge of the other wise men. Though this surely created a little dissension among the older wise men (which helps explain what happened in the next chapter). However, Daniel was responsible for the wise men being delivered from execution so they owed him their lives.
I realize that the dream and the details of the dream is a little overwhelming at first (we will return to the details later in the book). However, don’t miss the practical lessons that are clear in the text.
We see the contrast between the limits of the world and the true wisdom of God. This entire account is a contrast between the wisdom of men and the wisdom of God. Nebuchadnezzar may have been the most powerful man in the world at the time but he had no idea how to make sense of the vision that was given to him. The wise men of Babylon were the smartest men in the world but they could not understand the dream.
It was only as Daniel and his friends sought the Lord that they were able to know the dream and understand its interpretation. This was a lesson not only to the Jewish exiles in Babylon but also to us: the wisdom of God is superior to the wisdom of men.
As you listened to the account did you find a question rising in your mind? Why did this interpretation seem to satisfy Nebuchadnezzar? The dream declared that Nebuchadnezzar’s empire would not last. What is comforting about this?
Here’s my theory: Nebuchadnezzar’s anxiety was not only from the dream but from the ultimate questions the dream provoked about life. The dream may have caused him to ask: what is the point of it all? Is this really all there is? It is the same kind of question King Solomon asked in the book of Ecclesiastes.
Nebuchadnezzar learned that the answer to life’s deepest questions is not found in the wisdom of men, it is found only in the wisdom and knowledge of God. I think Nebuchadnezzar found comfort in realizing that there is a plan and a purpose in life.
Do those same questions haunt you? Many people believe the answer to life’s questions will be found if they can get more stuff, be paid more money, get more education, find a different mate, or live in a new home. We run to therapy, look at the polls, search the Internet, take a class, or stay awake during the night worrying. We are looking for answers in all the wrong places.
If you are like me my instinct is to try to every means before bringing the need to the Lord. Daniel reminds us that we have things backwards. God is sufficient to meet any need. The wise person turns to the Lord first!
But how do we tap into that wisdom? I don’t believe God’s normal course is to speak to us in visions. We now have the Bible. . . we don’t need visions to hear from Him. So, our first step must be to seek the Lord through prayer with our Bibles open before us.
I realize you may not know where to look in the Bible. So here are some tips.
Don’t underestimate God’s ability to lead you. If you regularly read the Bible you have learned that God regularly speaks to you from unexpected places in the Bible. God has an uncanny ability to bring us to just the right text at just the right time. We don’t need to search the Bible in a panic. Ask God to guide you and then open the Bible and attentively begin reading. You will be amazed at how often the Holy Spirit speaks just what you need to hear.
Search the Bible topically. Some Bibles have a topical reference section in the back of the Bible. There are good books on the market that list topics (Like Nave’s Topical Bible). You can go to our website and search our sermon archive or use the resource on our home page to search topically. Most Bible programs and some Bible apps give you the ability to search the Bible topically. You could type in the word “fear” or “children” and get a list of all the verses on that topic. When you do this, read the surrounding verses so you are reading the verses in their proper context.
Ask a friend to guide you to appropriate passages.
Make a habit of writing down verses that speak to a particular topic. Write them in a notebook (paper or digital) or even in the inside cover of your Bible.
Much of the time God’s wisdom runs counter to the wisdom of the world. Do not be surprised if the Bible gives you different advice than your friends. Daniel’s story reminds us that only the Lord has the true answer to life’s questions.
We see that the Kingdom of God is Superior to the Kingdoms of Men. What this dream proclaimed is that the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires were temporary. They were great and powerful, but they could not endure. The Kingdom of God alone will endure forever.
This raises an important question: what Kingdom are you pursuing? Are you serving the temporary kingdoms of this world or the Kingdom of God? Is your confidence in the power of men, or in the power of God? Do you spend more time stumping for political leaders than you do asking God to work in our nation? Do you measure yourself by the standards of this world or by the standard of Heaven? We are working hard to make our mark in a kingdom that is going to pass away while doing little to prepare for the Kingdom that will endure forever.
This second chapter of Daniel reminds us to take a wider view of history. We can live for the moment, clutching whatever we can for as long as we can, or we can live for the Lord and be part of the Kingdom that will last through eternity. We need to consciously think about these choices.
We see a Message of Hope for God’s People. Put yourself in the shoes of the exiles who were with Daniel in Babylon. Daniel’s testimony reminded them that there was coming a day when things were going to be better. They may be in a foreign land right now, but they were not forgotten. God had not died. They would not always be exiles; God had not abandoned them. His Kingdom, and His people, would triumph.
This truth should encourage us because it reminds us that the events and circumstances of life are not arbitrary or meaningless. Life has a purpose. YOU have a purpose! God is working through the circumstances of life. I admit that I often don’t understand why things happen as they do. However, Daniel reminds me that just because I do not see what God is doing does not mean that He is not at work.
If we will learn this lesson we will find strength to endure difficult times. Think about this practically.
Isn’t it easier to endure the pain of treatments for illness when you know there is coming a day when you will be better?
Wouldn’t it be easier to keep working with a group of kids if you knew someday in the future (even 20-30 years later) those kids were going to build on the lessons you are teaching them now?
Aren’t we spurred on in our efforts as parents by the belief that there is coming a day when our kids will truly appreciate the investment we are making in their lives?
Wouldn’t it be easier to serve in a research department if you knew your research was eventually (perhaps not even in your lifetime) going to lead to a cure for a devastating disease?
This is what Daniel teaches us: God is working in your life; there is an answer to the ultimate questions of life. That answer is found in a Sovereign who has reached out to us through Jesus Christ.
Have you realized that truth? Are you churning like Nebuchadnezzar? Do you need to see that the real purpose of life is not found in the stuff we own or the cars we drive? Are you willing to make a change?
You can continue to run. You can continue to stay awake nights afraid of what might happen. Or you could stop, turn to the Lord who made you, and rest in the One He has provided to set you free. Jesus is the answer to the ultimate questions of life. He came so that you might know forgiveness, purpose, and hope. Isn’t it time to start running to Him rather than to the empty wisdom of a confused world?