Bible Text: Daniel 2:1-23 | Preacher: Steve Wakeford | Series: In His Hands | Kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall. Daniel co-operated with the despot but did not compromise. And God was faithful to him.
Are you someone who has lots of dreams and remembers them all? Or maybe you’re someone who doesn’t remember hardly any of your dreams? Or maybe you’re like me. I know that I have dreams. Sometimes I remember bits and pieces of them. Occasionally I’ll remember all of a dream. But sometimes I don’t remember if I had any dreams at all. Dreams are weird things, aren’t they?
Sometimes dreams are romantic. I remember a dream I had when I was in year five. There was this girl at school I liked but she didn’t seem interested in me, Then one night I had this dream of rescuing her from being attacked by a shark at school camp! Naturally, she fell in love with me. Life’s pretty simple when you’re eleven.
Then there are dreams that are just really fun. Whatever puts a smile on your face is the thing you’re dreaming about. For me, those sort of dreams usually involve a 911 GT3 RS. It’s probably different for most of you. But some of you probably also dream about 911 GT3 RS like me. But whatever floats your boat, the dream starts, and you’ve got a smile on your face. You’re having a great time, but then you wake up because you’ve got to go to the toilet! And you’re so disappointed because the dream was so cool. So you go as quickly as you can, you don’t turn the lights on, and you rush back to bed. But it’s dark so you trip over a shoe or something on your floor. You’re still trying to not wake up properly. Then you do your best to get back into the dream. And you can’t. It’s gone. That’s so frustrating!
Then there are those dreams you don’t understand. They’re so weird that you wake up and think about explaining it to someone, but decide not to because it would sound like you took acid before you went to sleep.
Then there are dreams we don’t like that much. Those dreams are usually related to what’s going on in life, so if there’s something really stressful going on, it’s hard to sleep anyway. But when we do get to sleep, our dreams are really tense. So we wake up feeling anxious instead of refreshed. In times of high-level, long-term stress, our anxiety affects our sleep and our dreams, and we just wake up drained. I don’t know if that’s happened to you but I’ve experienced that a bunch of times, and it’s horrible. That’s usually when you have that dream where you’re falling and you can’t grab hold of anything? You want to yell out for help, but nothing comes out of your mouth. You can feel your heart beating faster and faster. Then you wake up with a jolt. You’re panicking. Your eyes dart around your bedroom looking for danger. Then you lie back down with your eyes wide open. You want to go back to sleep because you’re tired. But you’re almost afraid to go back to sleep because you don’t want to get back to that dream.
I reckon that’s probably how Nebuchadnezzar felt after he woke up in Daniel 2. I reckon he completely freaked out. Verse 1 tells us that his mind was troubled and he couldn’t go back to sleep. This dream has him spooked. Now, at the time, Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man on the planet. What is it that powerful people fear most? Losing power. He’s not sure what the dream means, but he’s scared.
So he calls in his wise men: enchanters, astrologers, diviners, and magicians. These guys advise him about all sorts of stuff: from foreign policy to civil law to interpreting dreams. One of the resources the wise men have is their dream de-coding book. Back in the day, people thought that dreams were the gods’ way of telling you things. So over the years, the wise men had built up a library of reference books. It was a pretty simple system. The dreamer would tell the wise men their dream. The wise men would look up that that particular type of dream in their book. Then they would tell the dreamer what the dream meant. Easy.
In the past, Nebuchadnezzar has done this plenty of times. But this time is different. This dream isn’t normal, and he knows it. He doesn’t want an answer out of a book. He wants the truth. But deep down, I think he knows his wise men are fakes. He thinks he’s never going to know the real meaning of the dream. That’s scaring him more than he wants to admit. Sometimes when people are scared they get angry and irrational.
In verse 5 and again in verse 9, Nebuchadnezzar tells them that he wants one of them to not only interpret the dream but tell him what it was first! They’re stuffed and they know it. The wise men don’t actually have any power. All the stuff they do is smoke and mirrors. In verse 11, they admit it.
What the King asks is too difficult. No one can reveal the dream to the King except the gods and they do not live among humans! (NIV)
I don’t know if you’ve ever been into horoscopes, but they’re in the back of every magazine and newspaper. If you Google ‘horoscopes’, you get 130 million results in .3 of a second. It’s human nature for us to want to know the future. That’s why people read horoscopes. But they’re absolute rot.
Before she was a Christian, a friend of mine used to write horoscopes. She wasn’t an astrologer and she didn’t know much about star signs. But she was, and still is, a really good writer. So she wrote a horoscope that was in a bunch of magazines and newspapers. She just made the whole thing up. I reckon Nebuchadnezzar knows his astrologers and enchanters and wise men are like that. They’re just making stuff up. And Nebuchadnezzar is right.
He’s so angry with them that he orders to be executed every wise man, enchanter, and magician in Babylon. But the trouble is that Daniel and his three friends are in that group. They’re part of the wise men of Babylon. From verse 14, Daniel hears that he’s to be put to death. So he carefully asks why. Then once he hears what’s going on, he goes in to see Nebuchadnezzar and asks for time to interpret the dream. And when he gets home, have a look at verse 17:
Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. (NIV)
Let’s just have a think about this for a moment. When we’re faced with a crisis, what do we do? We could panic. If you’re a bloke, you usually try to fix it yourself, or just hope that the problem goes away. If you’re a woman, maybe you talk about it over with friends. Maybe you freak out or cry or get angry. We all have different ways of dealing with a crisis. But look at what Daniel does. In a crisis, he finds his mates and they pray. They plead for mercy from the God of heaven that they might be saved.
It seems to me that if you want to get anything done you have to pray. All the way through the Bible, God’s people are people of prayer. When they’re not people of prayer they’re usually in trouble! Ezra 9, Nehemiah 9, and Daniel 9 are all prayers that each of those blokes prayed. Every letter Paul writes in the NT starts with him praying for the people to whom he’s writing. Jesus prayed heaps, and you’d think that he’d be the one bloke who probably didn’t need to pray!
You can go to Martin Luther’s house in Germany and walk through it in the top room is his study his desk is against a wall under a window that looks out over the city. There are two grooves worn into the floorboards where he would kneel and pray. The last 500 years of church history were shaped by a bloke who prayed so much he wore grooves in his floorboards. I’m not convinced I could wear a dent in my carpet! John Wesley once said that he had so much to do each day, he simply had to get up at 4am so that he had enough time to pray about all the stuff he had to do.
Pray first, then act. This is what Daniel and his friends do. They pray, hear from God, then act. I need to hear this because I get the order messed up. I encounter a problem. Sometimes I think then I act. Sometimes I act first and then think later. Either way, I so often pray last! Which is a bit like saying to God, “Are you OK with what I’ve decided to do after I’ve done it.” We’ve probably all done that! Daniel shows us the order it’s meant to be: a crisis, so pray, and get your friends to pray with you. Being a Christian is a team sport. We’re not in this alone. Hear from God then act.
God answers this prayer immediately and positively. He reveals the dream and its meaning to Daniel in a vision that night. In verse 29, Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar what he saw in his dream. He saw a huge statue of four parts: a head of gold; arms and chest of silver; a belly and thighs of bronze; and legs and feet of iron mixed with clay. Then there’s this rock, cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands. The rock strikes the statue, which crumbles to dust and is blown away by the wind. The rock remains and grows. It gets massive and eventually fills the whole world.
Nebuchadnezzar wants to know what part of the dream represents him. Does the whole statue, or part of the statue, or the rock, represent him? So from verse 36, Daniel gives Nebuchadnezzar the interpretation of the dream.
The four parts of the statue represent four kingdoms. Babylon is the head of gold. You can see that in verse 38. Daniel says to Nebuchadnezzar, “You, King Nebuchadnezzar, are that head of gold”. Three other kingdoms will follow the Medo-Persian empire. Then comes the Greek empire. And lastly, the Roman empire is represented here by the legs and feet of iron and clay. Daniel doesn’t identify the kingdoms here in chapter 2. But he does identify them later in the book of Daniel, so we know these are the kingdoms to which the dream refers.
Then, from verse 44, Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of the rock. At some point in the future, God is going to break into history in a massive, earth shattering way. His kingdom will expand and fill the earth and will endure forever. As Daniel says in verse 45, the dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy. Daniel didn’t know how this was going to happen. He just knew it would.
We are a bit different to Daniel. From where we stand in history, we know how God did this and we know when. During the Roman empire, Jesus turned up. He’s the rock that was cut out of the mountain, but not by human hands. Jesus brought God’s kingdom to earth not by military might but by love. He did not come with the pride and arrogance of an earthly king, but with humility. Although Jesus is the king, he came to serve. He came to live the life we haven’t lived and die the death we deserve to die. From our vantage point, we know about the cross. We know that Jesus died. We know that Jesus didn’t stay dead. We know about the empty tomb. We know Jesus won the victory over Satan, sin, and death. We know that one day every eye will see and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Daniel said it like this to Nebuchadnezzar in verse 45:
“The great God has shown the King what will take place in the future.” (NIV)
Daniel spoke not about what might happen in the future, or what Daniel wants to happen in the future, but what will happen in the future. You and I would say, “What has happened in the past.”
Well, Nebuchadnezzar is pretty shocked. He knows his own wise men couldn’t have done what Daniel just did. So he promotes Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. And the rest of the book is now set up for us.
I want us to notice a couple of things as we wrap this chapter up. One of the things Daniel teaches us really well is how we live in a culture that is opposed to God. I think it’s easy to forget this, but Daniel worked for a ruler who had destroyed his home and his city after a siege that lasted around two years. We don’t read anything about Daniel’s family so there is a good chance that Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers had killed Daniel’s parents, brothers, and sisters. He was taken from Jerusalem when he was a young teenager, and he never made it back home. I think it’s easy for us to forget the tears Daniel cried when he thought about his home and his family and his friends who didn’t make it to Babylon. He would have cried when he remembered the temple in Jerusalem where God met with his people.
And yet Daniel treats Nebuchadnezzar with great respect. In verse 36 he calls him ‘the king of kings’. He calls him ‘your majesty’. He says that the kingdoms following Nebuchadnezzar’s are inferior. He respects the king, while at the same time he never shrinks back from his primary allegiance to the God of Israel.
Someone wiser than me says it like this: Daniel cooperated but didn’t compromise. I think that helps us figure out how we interact with our culture as it becomes harder and harder for us to be outspoken for our faith. We can still cooperate with our government and our workplaces and our employers and so on, but we need to make sure we don’t compromise. Exactly where we draw that line will be different in each circumstance. It’ll take a great deal of prayer and wisdom to know where to draw the line. But this is one of the things that stand out. Daniel and his friends draw the line clearly and early. And they don’t cross it for anything. It’s cooperation without compromise.
Daniel 2 also tells us something that all of God’s people need to hear from time to time. Kingdoms rise and fall. Empires come and go. Human history is littered with tyrannical rulers who rise up, one after the other, but in the end they all amount to precisely nothing. God’s kingdom is different. It turned up about 2,000 years ago when Jesus conquered Satan, sin, and death. It will outlast every king, ruler, dictator, kingdom, and empire. The Roman empire was knocked over by the Visigoths and Vandals, who were knocked over by the Byzantines, who were knocked over by Muslim expansion, who were knocked over by the Crusaders, who were knocked over by Muslims again. Then the Portuguese were the world superpower, then the Spanish, then the French, the Turks, the British. Hitler had shot at it. So did Stalin. Chairman Mao revolutionized China and right now, we’re all holding our breath waiting to see if militant Islam, China, Russia or a revitalized USA will come out on top. I’ve left a few out but you get the idea.
Daniel would tell us that it doesn’t really matter. Kingdoms come and go. They rise and fall. But God’s kingdom just marches on. What does that mean?
Every day people become Christians. Every day God’s Kingdom expands and is filling the whole earth. A while ago a few mission agencies got together and crunched the numbers. They wanted to see what was happening across the world and how effective Christian mission work was. In the end they came up with what they said was a fairly conservative figure. Every day roughly 53,000 people are saved. They are transferred from death to life from all sorts of different religions and countries, many of them in places where Christians are horribly persecuted. 53,000 people every day! Most of us are surprised and delighted by that. But I’m not sure our friend Daniel would be surprised. Daniel didn’t know what that rock was that struck the statue and reduced it to dust. He didn’t know who it might have been. But Daniel has been in heaven for a fair while now, and he’s known Jesus for at least a couple of thousand years. He’s seen history play out exactly as God said it would. In that dream, God’s kingdom grows bigger and bigger. There isn’t a country on earth where there are no Christians.
Kingdoms come and go. Some are more powerful than others. Some are more evil than others, but in the end, all of them bend the knee to Jesus.
That brings me to the last thing that Daniel 2 gives us: it gives us an antidote for doubt. Remember what Daniel went through. His home and country were destroyed. God’s temple had been flattened. His parents and family were almost certainly dead. He was living in exile. How often would doubts over God’s goodness and power and sovereignty have gone through Daniel’s mind? I reckon doubt would have been a constant companion for Daniel. I think that’s why the message of the whole book of Daniel is that God is resolutely, absolutely, 100% in control of all that happens. Here in Daniel chapter 2, that theme would have been the one thing Daniel needed to hear more than anything else: kingdoms rise and fall, but God’s kingdom goes on for all eternity.
All of us have moments of doubt. They can be caused by our own sin from time to time. But more often our doubts come when we’re really suffering through something: relationship breakdown, mental illness; emotional, physical, or psychological abuse; separation or divorce; serious illness; the death of someone we love; betrayal by someone we trusted. All of those things and more can cause us to doubt God’s goodness to us and his sovereignty over everything. I’m not sure Christians talk about this enough. So let’s go. Doubt is quite a normal thing in the Christian life. And there is an eternity of difference between doubt and disbelief. Disbelief cuts us off from Jesus. Doubt doesn’t.
Doubts among Christians are quite normal. Just in case you doubt that, here’s the end of Matthew 28, and a verse that I think gets almost no attention. Look at this:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. (NIV)
Now, normally when you hear those verses read, whoever is reading them just keeps on going and gets to the bit where Jesus tells his disciples and us that our job is to tell the world about him and baptise the ones who believe! And that’s great. But what about the bit where some of the disciples are still doubting? They’ve just hung out with Jesus for the past month and a half after he died and rose again! He’s got nail marks in his hands and feet and a decent stab wound in his side. He can walk through doors and just randomly appear here or there, and some of the disciples are still doubting! I don’t feel so bad about my doubts now!
If those guys had doubts, I should probably expect to have doubts as well. They believed though, didn’t they? All the apostles died for their faith. These guys believed in Jesus with all their hearts. So we have to know that there’s an eternity of difference between doubt and disbelief. I think that’s another reason why Daniel is here in the OT. Remember verse 45:
The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy. (NIV)
God wants us to know that he knows what he is doing. He told Daniel this stuff almost 600 years before Jesus turned up and brought God’s kingdom in. Jesus was always God’s ‘Plan A’. There was no ‘Plan B’. It might look a mess to us at times. But from God’s perspective it all fits together exactly the way he designed it to.
It’s a bit like a tapestry. From the back it just looks messy and chaotic. But from the front it’s beautiful. Our problem is that most of the time, when we’re looking at life, it’s like we are looking at the back of the tapestry, not the front. I think Daniel gives us a glimpse at the front of the tapestry. It reminds us that yes, kingdoms rise and fall, empires come and go, but God’s kingdom is eternal. And that is the kingdom of which every Christian is a part. We will still doubt from time to time, but as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus and what he has already done for us, those doubts will fade into the background as quickly as they surface.