I’ve not been as regularly blogging as I would like lately… and it’s almost a guarantee that over the next four days of the onething conference, I’m not apt to do much writing then. It seems like a good time to chip in another chapter of Daniel before things get crazy.
One of the things I love about the chapter right off the bat is how God unsettles Nebuchadnezzar with such ease. Here we have the man, who, at the time, was the most powerful person on the planet. He ruled most of the known world and had absolute power over his empire. He commanded a large empire and no doubt had vast numbers of guards. Yet at night, no defense in the world could prevent the Lord from giving him a supernatural dream that would drive sleep from him. With a simple night vision, God shook him to his very core.
When Nebuchadnezzar first demands a dream interpretation from his magicians and astrologers, you’ll notice that they don’t appear initially bothered by this. In the Babylonian culture, dreams were considred to be divine communication. The Chaldeans took it very seriously and developed entire methods of interpretation. In fact, ancient dream manuals have turned up, full of methods for interpreting the imagery found in dreams. Once they had the dream, they could look it up in the manuals, put it in the right formulas, and arrive at what they considered to be an accurate interpretation. However, this time there was a problem. Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t telling them anything.
There have been several theories as to why the king made such a strange demand out of his magicians. Some people speculate that he forgot his dream, largely because of 2:3. However, this seems improbable to me since, if he truly forgot his dream, how could he tell whether or not his magicians got it right?
The idea I prefer is that this was a very political move on Nebuchadnezzar’s part. He had only been in power for a few years, and with the volatile political dynamic of the ancient Middle East, his crown still sat very precariously. He may not have been an interpreter himself, but he obviously had a strong inkling that the dream did not bode well for him. At one level, he couldn’t afford to not know the meaning of the dream. If it was a bad omen, he needed to know what it meant and how he could brace for it. But, at the same time, if the dream was a bad omen, the last thing he wanted was for it to be broadcast across his kingdom that he was vulnerable, inviting foreign attack. He would not have been completely certain of his advisors’ loyalties. What if one of them would hear the dream, give him a falsely favorable interpretation, and then go and encourage his enemies to exploit his weakness?
By requiring his astrologers and magicians to tell him not just the interpretation, but the dream as well, he was attempting to secure his own rule. If someone did correctly tell him the dream, he knew he could count on the interpretation to be true, and the interpretor to be trustworthy. However, if no one could tell him the dream, he would wipe out his entire advisory staff and start over, having sent the signal throughout his kingdom that he was not a man to be trifled with.
I love the way the story is set up in 2:10-11, with the response of the Chaldeans: “There is not a man on earth who can tell the king’s matter; therefore no king, lord, or ruler has ever asked such things of any magician, astrologer, or Chaldean. It is a difficult thing that the king requests, and there is no other who can tell it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.”
Talk about a lead-in. It was true that this was humanly impossible; Daniel confirms this in 2:27. Not only is the weakness of humanity exposed here, but a falsehood about God is also brought to light. God (singular… well, Trinitarian, really, but not “gods”) is the only one who could reveal the secret, but as Daniel would later illustrate, He does dwell among and speak to His people.
When the astrologers could not come through, the king made good on his threats and began ordering executions. Daniel and his friends, who had likely just finished their training and who had not been present at the initial summons, also fell under the death sentence. Although there is much that could be said about Daniel’s response of humility and wisdom in approaching the guard, for the sake of space, I’ll just say… it was humble and wise.
I love the way Daniel seeks the answer — he holds a prayer meeting. He gets his three closest friends, three men who were also pursuing God wholeheartedly, and they seek the mercies of God. In the night, God reveals the dream to Daniel. Daniel, who had consistently stood in faithfulness to God, now received direct revelation concerning the king’s dream.
My favorite part in Daniel 2, and quite possibly my favorite part in the whole book, is the hymn of praise Daniel offers to God upon receiving the vision. It’s so good I’m going to copy the whole thing over here.
Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him. I thank You and praise You, O God of my fathers; You have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of You, for You have made known to us the king’s demand. (Daniel 2:20-23, NKJV)
To me, these three verses nicely encapsulate the theology we find in the book of Daniel. Might and wisdom belong to God. He is sovereign, and holds sway over the rising and falling of kings and empires. To the wise ones, to those who seek His face, He reveals more wisdom. Nothing is hidden from Him; He is infinitely wise, dwelling in light, so that nothing can be concealed from Him. He is the true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who makes known the secrets of His heart to those He loves. He responds when His own call upon His name.
Time and space demand I stop here, but I hope to pick up again as soon as possible with the interpretation of the dream. However, I would encourage you to spend some time in the above three verses. That’s some worthwhile meditation, that is. I feel I could do a whole post on just that part — but that’s another post for another day.
If I don’t write before then, look for me to post again after the onething conference. And if you’re in KC, I’ll be working in the bookstore; feel free to stop in and say hi. I’d love to chat with any of you who are in town.