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"God, Revealer of Mysteries"



Read Daniel 2:1-49


          This week, we continue our study of the Old Testament book of Daniel.  Last week, we saw God’s work on behalf of this then Hebrew teenager.  The Lord miraculously delivered Daniel and his three friends from a temptation to compromise their faith.  The menu king Nebuchadnezzar had established in his royal academy where these deported Jews were enrolled included food that would have brought spiritual defilement upon them.  Rather than allowing themselves to be defiled, they trusted God and he miraculously gave them a way of escape.  These Hebrew teens gained weight even though they bypassed the main pagan buffet line, instead opting for the salad bar.  We saw from that story that God had his hand on Daniel in a particularly powerful way.  At the end of the narrative, the Hebrews had not only completed their training at the royal academy, but had graduated at the top of their class.  It’s not long however before these Jews face another challenge even stiffer than the one we witnessed in chapter one.  We heard that challenge detailed as we read chapter two.

          As we said last week, the proper lens to look through when reading these stories is one that focuses on God and his activity.  The stories in the Bible are mainly there to teach us something about God as we see him work in the midst of various situations.  As we look for God and his activity in chapter two, the story divides into three sections.  The first section in verses 1-15 is God sets the stage for his glory.  The second section in verses 16 through the first half of verse 19 is where God reveals his glory.  The final section is also by far the longest.  In verses 19b through 49 God receives his glory. You’ll notice that the main theme of the story is God’s glory and not the details of the vision he reveals to Daniel.  Although the story spends 16 verses providing the details of the vision, from a theological and literary point of view, the entire vision is simply one of the ways in which God reveals his glory. That’s so important because sadly, this glorious story in chapter two is frequently taught from a vision/prophecy-centered perspective and not a God-centered lens.  That’s even more unfortunate because the main thrust of this prophetic vision is presented again in another vision later in the book. 

          In the first section, which we have called God sets the stage for his glory; God lays the groundwork for his glory to be revealed.  In this opening section, he creates the problem that he will later solve through Daniel.  Verse one tells us that King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream.  We know that this dream “troubled his spirit” to the point where he could not sleep.  He says in verse three, “I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.”  The king has a dream, doesn’t remember it, but is so troubled in his spirit by it that he absolutely MUST at all cost know both the dream and its interpretation. 

          That’s the vexing challenge the king presents to his court magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and Chaldeans.  Each one of those four classes of advisers is occult oriented.  That is, each of those groups is made up of people who work in occult or demonic magic.  The “magicians” practiced occult magic; the “enchanters” conjured things through spells and incantations.  The “sorcerers” practiced other forms of sorcery and the “Chaldeans” were a group of astrologer/soothsayers.  Because they also acted as spokesmen for the other groups, this entire advisory board is from this point called “Chaldeans.”  You may hear that list and think—what is the difference between an “enchanter” and a “sorcerer?”  The point is that the Babylonians practiced magic the way we in the west practice medicine.  This area was so vast, they needed specialists.  They were very serious about their occult religion and dreams were considered an important way to hear from this supernatural realm.  As pagans, they believed the way to interpret a dream was through these supernatural means of their false occult religion.  Nebuchadnezzar however was evidently not terribly confident in this means of interpretation because in verse nine he says, “Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can show me its interpretation.”

          Nebuchadnezzar was smart enough to know that if he would have remembered the dream and given the details to this bunch, there was no empirical way for him to validate whether their interpretation was truly given “by the gods,” or whether it just happened to be their own creative explanation to satisfy the king.  Nebuchadnezzar essentially sees his forgetfulness of the dream as a good way to determine if these “wise men” were actually functioning with supernatural power or if they were simply making up stuff.  The king confronts the Chaldeans with this challenge and they squirm in discomfort.  They know they could come up with an interpretation that would sound reasonable (and be unverifiable), but to actually tell someone WHAT they dreamed (and so be subject to be proven wrong) was not something they could do.  They finally confess in verse 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.” 

          They say in essence, “King, only the gods themselves could tell you this and they don’t make a habit of dropping in.  This calls for a level of supernatural activity that would require direct divine intervention and the gods just don’t do that.”  When they make that confession, the stage is now set for God’s glory to be revealed.  They admitted that they and their gods were impotent to solve this problem.  Only a willing divine being could do so and they didn’t know any God like that.  God orchestrates a situation that closed the door on any solution being offered by the pagan gods, and in so doing creates a cavernous opening through which he can now enter.  In the second and shortest section of the story, God does just that in verses 16 though the first half of verse 19 as God reveals his glory.  Nebuchadnezzar had begun to initiate his threat to kill all these impotent advisors and this included the newest inductees into this group, Daniel and his friends.  Here we see the utter egomania of this king.  He has only consulted his top advisers and they can’t solve the problem, so he decides because he has a “troubled spirit” and a case of insomnia, to brutally kill the entire highly trained brain trust of Babylon with one fell swoop. Even Hitler didn’t kill all his underlings for his dissatisfaction with a few.

          Daniel and his companions had not yet been promoted to this inner circle of court advisers, so he hears about this murderous decree through the captain of the king’s guard as he is preparing to arrest him.  Imagine this scene.  Arioch says, “Daniel, the king has had a dream he can’t remember and is troubled by it.  Your supervisors can’t solve the problem so ALL of you advisors—even you recent graduates are going to be ripped limb from limb.  Daniel responds with what the narrator says is prudence and discretion.  He says, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?”  I’d say that under the circumstances that certainly qualifies as prudent and discreet! 

          Next, notice Daniel’s immediate response when he hears the nature of the problem. In verse 16 it says, “And Daniel went in and requested the king to appoint a time, that he might show the interpretation to the king.”  Daniel is left with only two options here.  He can either trust God and set up an appointment with the king to reveal and interpret this dream about which he is currently clueless (and in so doing buy some time,) or he can go and sit on death row with the occultists. With God-given faith, Daniel chooses the former.  He then expresses that faith by going home and calling a prayer meeting with Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.  He has them pray so that “Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.”[V.18] God, the hero of the story, then does what he alone can do—and upon which his entire plan is dependent.  He reveals both the contents of the dream and its interpretation to Daniel in a night vision. 

          The third and longest section of the story is God receives the glory.  Let’s begin by briefly describing the contents and interpretation of the dream.  The truth is--God through Daniel not only tells Nebuchadnezzar about his dream, but also about what he was thinking about before he fell asleep.  In verse 29 Daniel says, “To you, O king, as you lay in bed came thoughts of what would be after this, and he who reveals mysteries made known to you what is to be.”  God reads Nebuchadnezzar’s mind in addition to planting this dream in his head and then causing him to forget it.  Daniel in this section on three separate occasions gives God all the credit for his revelation.  In 27 he says to the king, “No wise men, enchanters, magician, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.”  That’s a particularly powerful statement of God’s supremacy in light of the fact that the king’s advisors had earlier told him that “only the gods” could do this.  Daniel clarifies that revealing mysteries is not the purview of “gods” but God—“THE God in heaven”—a common title for Yahweh during this period of salvation history. 

          The contents of the dream are well known to students of the Bible.  The king has seen in his dream an image of a man—it was so bright and mighty that it was frightening. Daniel describes the image beginning with verse 32.  The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze,  33its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.  34As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces.  35Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

          God shows Daniel this image of a man divided into five sections top to bottom with each section composed of a different metal.  The final section, the feet are a mixture of metal and clay (this is where the expression—feet of clay is derived).  Daniel later says that the last four sections represent kingdoms that will come.  Scholars disagree as to the identity of these kingdoms and we’ll look more at that question in chapter seven.  The majority view is the head is obviously Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, the silver chest and arms represent the Medes and the Persians who later defeated Babylon.  The bronze middle and thighs represent Greece through the initial conquest of Alexander the Great, and the legs of iron—the hardest of the metals, represent the mighty Roman Empire with the clay and iron feet often being understood as a later phase of the Roman Empire that is divided into a confederation of some sort.  That’s the majority view and we will look at that again in chapter seven. 

Suffice it to say for now, this image represents the temporal, humanly-governed kingdoms of this earth and because it is standing on feet of clay, it is unstable and cannot last indefinitely.  One implication of the vision is that the kingdoms of this world are not in place by happenstance but by God’s set purpose and ultimately the reason for their successive reigns is because God has put them in place.  When he is ready, he will destroy them all and establish his own kingdom on this earth that, unlike these will never be toppled or even challenged. 

The supremacy of God’s glory over the much lesser glory of these earlier kingdoms is clearly set out in verses 34-35.  There it says, “As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces.  35Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”  These kingdoms are toppled and utterly destroyed by “a stone…cut out by no human hand.”  The Old Testament is replete with references that compare God to a stone or a rock.  Psalm 18:2 says, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” 

In the New Testament, Jesus picks up this image and applies it to himself.  Matthew 21:42-44 says, “Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures:  " 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;  this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?  43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.  44And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him."  Those references tell us that the “stone cut out by no human hand” is no merely human king put in place through human means.  This destroying Stone is Jesus who will come at the end of the ages and destroy the kingdoms of this earth “and the government shall be upon his shoulders.”  This vision is ultimately NOT fundamentally a prediction of future earthly kingdoms, but is a powerful testimony to the supremacy of God over the kingdoms of this earth.  I wonder if, in his wilderness temptations, when Satan offered Christ all the kingdoms of the earth, if Jesus didn’t draw on this text for strength.  He could have with perfect validity said to Satan, “Why would I want this chaff—don’t you know I am going to crush all these into dust and establish God’s eternal kingdom on earth?”

In the third section of the narrative, God, having successfully completed his plan, now receives glory from it.  There are two main expressions of glory given to God, one by Daniel in this powerful prayer of thanksgiving in verses 20-24 after God revealed the dream and interpretation to him, and a second by Nebuchadnezzar after he received the revelation from Daniel.  These two sections are actually more important to the overall message of the story than the contents and interpretation of the dream.  Daniel says in verse 20, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.”  Wisdom is a repeated theme of Daniel’s prayer and this Aramaic word for wisdom does not mean wisdom as it is found in the Proverbs—the capacity to fear God and understand this world.  This “wisdom” speaks to the supernatural insight required to know what is hidden—like the contents of a dream not remembered.  The word for “might” speaks to the power to do miracles and rule over all. Those are the two main elements of God’s glory in this story and Daniel’s prayer of thanksgiving reflects on those two themes.  He describes God’s wisdom and might.

He says in verse 21, “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; [like Nebuchadnezzar and Darius and Alexander and Caesar and Kim Il Sung and Mahmoud Ahmadinejab and Osama Bin Laden] he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; 22he reveals deep and hidden things; [like unknowable dreams and interpretations] he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.  23To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for 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 matter."  That’s the glory God receives from Daniel in this prayer of thanksgiving.  That is no surprise.  Daniel was a good Jew from Judah and of course he will praise his God in response to this miraculous revelation.  What is astonishing is the response of Babylon’s arrogant, pagan god-worshipping king.  After Daniel reveals the dream and its interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar, giving all the credit to the God of heaven, it says in verse 46, “Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him.  47The king answered and said to Daniel, "Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery." 

          The reason Daniel did not stop Nebuchadnezzar from what is essentially offering worship to him is because it was understood that the worship was only given to Daniel as God’s representative.  That kind of relationship was commonly recognized in this day—to worship Daniel was to worship his God.  The King worships the God of Israel, falling prostrate and offering incense to him.  He says that Daniel’s God is the “God of gods and the Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries.”  This is an astounding statement.  It communicates that to the king of Babylon, the God of Israel reigns over his own pagan gods.  As the “Lord of kings,” Nebuchadnezzar recognizes the Lordship of the God of Israel over him and his supremacy over all these other subsequent kings who will reign.  This from a pagan Gentile king. 

This is important because if you’ll remember, Nebuchadnezzar had invaded Judah and carried off temple articles to show that his gods had defeated the god of Israel.  Right here, God lets Nebuchadnezzar know that though he allowed him to plunder his temple for his own purposes (in order to discipline his wayward children,) that in no way meant that the Babylonian demon gods were in any way superior to the God of Israel.  The events of this story are orchestrated only a few years after Daniel is taken captive at least in part to ensure that neither the king or his wise men—whose lives have mercifully been spared by the revelation of Israel’s God—do not harbor the erroneous and blasphemous impression that the God of Israel has been defeated by Marduk.  God is the God of gods and the Lord of Kings.  God vindicates his supremacy over all other gods.

That’s the story from 10,000 feet. Now here are two points of application.  First, this story teaches us:  God is willing to cause us significant short term pain in order to show his glory through us and give us long term joy and blessing.  This and countless other Bible stories teach us that God’s main objective for us is not our short term comfort.  Soon after they arrive in Babylon, Daniel and his friends are placed under a death sentence for nothing more than being part of the king’s leadership cadre.  They are put into an absolutely nerve-wracking situation here and God shows no hesitation to put them through this NOT because he is cruel but first because—he is more concerned for his glory than for our comfort and second because he intends the short term pain to lead to long term joy in Him.  Daniel and his friends had the unparalleled joy in being part of a glorious plan to exalt the God of Israel over the gods of the pagans.  For a true follower of God, that is a privilege worth greatly suffering for.  But beyond that, verse 48 says that “…the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.  Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon.  But Daniel remained at the king’s court.”

That’s important for a number of reasons.  First, it made Daniel perhaps the most influential person in Babylon besides the king.  This young Jew is quickly promoted to the King’s chief advisor which means that the God of Israel would continue to wield influence at the highest levels in this pagan nation.  He was now the boss of all these occultists and could limit their demonic influence over his own Jewish people as well as the rest of Babylon.  Beyond that, Daniel got his friends promoted to posts of high influence as well and their new jobs seem to be out of the realm of the occultists so they would not need to spend as much time with that bunch.  That means that a few days of great stress by God’s grace yielded years of God’s glory and their joy.  This is simply the way God works.  He tears us, and then he heals us for his glory and our greater joy.  Paul comments on this relationship between short term pain and long term joy in Romans 8:18.  He says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  If that was true for Daniel, it is certainly true for those who live on this side of the cross.  If you are suffering—if God is tearing you, if he has orchestrated the details of your life so that you are being squeezed, don’t respond with discouragement or flight.  Ask God how he can be glorified in it and rejoice in the pain because God can wring glory from it.  Also, bank on Romans 8:18 and rejoice in the joy is now, and will be yours.

Second and finally—God will one day destroy all kings and kingdoms and reign forever.  The destroying Stone is Jesus and one day he will come and turn to dust all that opposes him.  One day, all will bow like Nebuchadnezzar—at the feet of God and pay homage to him.  The only question is—will you bow with joy before your Father over his loving Lordship, or with gritted teeth before your mighty Conqueror?  Jesus is the Lord of all.  If you are here today and you have not bowed the knee to him—confessed your sin to him, admitted your devastating need for a savior and accepted his loving reign over your life—do that today.  The question is not IF you will one day do that.  The question is WHEN and will you do it on the way to heaven or the eternal torments of hell.  May God grant to each of us the grace to want his glory more than our comfort and his Lordship more than the gods of this world.


Page last modified on 10/29/2006

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