Preached June 1, 2008
A bishop of a century ago pronounced from his pulpit and in the periodical he edited that heavier-than-air flight was both impossible and contrary to the will of God. Oh, the irony that Bishop Wright had two sons, Orville and Wilbur! Wright was wrong. Sure of himself, but wrong. He was surely unable to fly. And he had decided that no one else could either. That is a bit like what we have in our story. We have all these practiced soothsayers and magicians and enchanters and sorcerers telling the king that the gods do not reveal themselves to men, because they do not dwell with men. Well, don’t they know so much! As a matter of fact they are half right, as we will see. But they are also half wrong.
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, was starting to have some significant nightmares. These were serious nightmares, because they deprived him of sleep. In other words, he sat up at nights worrying about them. I believe that God was giving him these dreams. Certainly God sovereignly ordained that Nebuchadnezzar would dream these dreams. Nebuchadnezzar was extremely worried about them. He was so worried about them that he called in his dream-interpreters so that they could tell him what the dream meant. However, Nebuchadnezzar wanted to be certain that whatever interpretation came his way would be the correct interpretation. He wanted to know what was going to happen in the future. Not knowing the future at all would be far worse than knowing a bad future.
The dream interpreters came in to Nebuchadnezzar and started talking to him in Aramaic. As a side note, we should know that the text from here to the end of chapter 7 is in Aramaic, not the normal Hebrew of the Old Testament. It is very similar to Hebrew, but has its own dialect. Why is this section of Daniel written in Aramaic? I believe it is because this section deals with God’s sovereignty over the nations. Therefore, the language most likely to be understood by the greatest number of people is the language that Daniel uses.
What the dream interpreters tell the king is that he should live forever. This is normally just a formality, like a salute would be. However, it is placed here ironically, since the king does not feel like he is going to live forever. The servants of the king have many books in dream interpretation. What they plan on doing is looking up in their books the dream that Nebuchadnezzar tells them, and then they will interpret it according to these books that they have available. The problem is that the dream interpreters claim to have the wisdom of the gods. Nebuchadnezzar is so concerned about his dreams that he wants to test the dream interpreters to see if they really have access to divine revelation. Of course, the dream interpreters do not have such access. Nebuchadnezzar knows that if the interpreters can actually tell him what he dreamed, then there won’t be any problem in their telling him what it means. It is important to say here that Nebuchadnezzar does not say this because he has forgotten the dream. He knows what the dream is. What he wants to test is the dream interpreters’ abilities. I think oftentimes we read this passage and think that Nebuchadnezzar is being unreasonable. However, given the claims that dream interpreters made in those days, it is not unreasonable at all what Nebuchadnezzar requests. As the interpreters know very well, however, their own religion is not one of direct revelation from God to man. So, they start stalling. It is likely that the conversation went on longer than what is recorded here, with Nebuchadnezzar getting more and more angry. Finally, the dream interpreters give up. They had every chance of showing their skills, but they knew they did not have it in them. Notice carefully what they say, in verses 10-11. No one can do it. And this is why no king has ever asked such a thing of any magician. No one can do it except the gods, and they are far removed from us. They are only half right. It is true that no human being can do what the king asks. And it is also true that no one but a divine being can reveal such truth to men. However, where they are wrong is in saying that it has never and will never happen. They are as skeptical as Bishop Wright. But it has happened. Not only has God revealed Himself in the Word of God, but He has also dwelt among us. Even in the Old Testament age, God lived in the tabernacle, and later in the temple. He lived among His people. His dwelling is with flesh.
Of course, this is ultimately true in Jesus Christ. He has revealed everything to us that we need to know for salvation. He has also revealed the future. We know what is going to happen. Jesus is coming back with glory to judge the living and the dead. And Jesus is God among us, Immanuel. So, the gods of the Babylonians don’t tell them anything, and don’t live among them. But our God does precisely that. This whole passage, then, teaches us about Jesus Christ, the one who reveals God’s plan, and has come in His own body to earth, in order to save us.
Now, Nebuchadnezzar is really upset by this point. He rightly thinks that if the Babylonian gods are to be of any use to men, then they should be able to tell him what his dream means. So Nebuchadnezzar is very angry with the unhelpful dream interpreters and orders them all executed. Now, Daniel and his friends had only just graduated from Babylon University, and they had only been once in front of the king. That had been a very favorable encounter. Nevertheless, they were not Nebuchadnezzar’s go-to guys just yet. So, they weren’t there when the dream interpreters admitted their failure. However, they were still under the sentence of death.
Now, just imagine being Daniel for a moment. You had been exiled from your own country, put through a very intensive educative process, been saved in the incident regarding eating the food from the king’s table. And now, because of one dream that the king had, you were going to be executed. Wouldn’t that seem like life was meaningless? Why go to all this trouble only to have your life ended in this stupid way? But Daniel did not panic, as one writer tells us. He knew that God was in control, and that there was a reason for why this was happening. He must have remembered the almost identical circumstances that Joseph faced in Egypt. You will remember that Pharaoh also had a dream that no one else could interpret. Joseph was in prison until the man he benefited remembered Joseph. So Daniel remembered that God had revealed the meaning of that dream to Joseph. He knew that God was more than capable of saving him from this situation. And so he remains calm and addresses himself to Arioch in a very tactful way that is designed to give him a chance to save his own life. Afterwards he goes to his friends and asks them to pray that God would reveal this mystery to him. Now, humanly speaking, Daniel’s position was more difficult than Joseph’s position was, since Pharaoh told Joseph what the dream was. But here Daniel didn’t even know what the dream was. But from God’s perspective it was just as easy to do the one as the other, since He knows all things. So, after Daniel and his friends pray to God, God gave Daniel the dream and its interpretation, thus bringing great glory to Himself. Again this shows us about Jesus Christ, since without Jesus we are just as ignorant of God’s plans as Nebuchadnezzar was, and just as much in need of God’s counsel. For unless we know the way of salvation, we will perish. Unless god had revealed to Daniel the dream and its interpretation, he would have perished. But God has revealed to us in the Bible the way of escape in Jesus Christ.
Now, aside from trusting in Jesus Christ, which this passage shows us that we ought to do, there are three main applications. The first is that whenever we find ourselves in a difficult situation, that should drive us to prayer. It is one of the main reasons why God sends us difficult situations: so that we will pray! Furthermore, we should ask others to pray for us, as Daniel asked his three friends to pray for him. God used those prayers in His plan so that He would answer those prayers in a mighty way, thus confirming Daniel’s faith, and spurring him on to praise the Lord with his whole heart.
Secondly, when God delivers us from those difficult situations, we should immediately praise God for that. It does no good to us to be delivered from harm if we will not praise our God and thank Him for His goodness to us. One of the most striking things about Scripture is that after every single instance of deliverance in the Bible, there is some form of worship to God. After the Flood, Noah builds an altar. After the Exodus, Miriam and the women sing of the Lord, who has thrown the horse and his rider into the sea. After God delivered Israel in the time of Deborah, there is a song that she sings. And there are many more examples of this. Notice that Daniel worships God with these words of praise and blessing. Daniel ascribes all sovereignty to God.
That leads us to our third application, which has to do with the sovereignty of God over nations. Look at verse 21 again. God sets up kings, and God removes them. We are in an election year. Many of us have strong thoughts about who we wanted to be President, or who we did not want to be President. And certainly we should have voted, and we should pray that God’s will would be done, and that the new President will be wise and understanding. But there are many people who will wring their hands because Obama got elected, and go around moping all day long. Why? God ordained the outcome. The outcome of the 2008 election did not take God by surprise: He planned it! So we should not worry. Instead, we should pray.
So we should not be like Bishop Wright, who thought that something was impossible, when it is not. We should not think like the dream interpreters, who thought that there was no God to reveal anything to men. Instead, we should trust in the God of revelation, who has revealed Christ to us. Christ will deliver us from our sin and death if we will trust in Him. He has done it before, and He will do it again.