Daniel 2 – Part One (I have a dream)

We continue in our series in the OT book of Daniel, with a three-part study in Daniel 2. Today will be all about the story surrounding the dream. Tomorrow we’ll look at how the story intersects with that of  Joseph, and on Monday we’ll look at the content of the dream itself.

By the end of chapter one, Daniel had risen to importance as one of king Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men. His wisdom gets put to the test, as Nebuchadnezzar has a dream.

I have a dream: which I’m not going to tell you…

Daniel 2:1-4 In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. 2 So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, 3 he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.” 4 Then the astrologers answered the king, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”

Nice try, thinks Nebuchadnezzar. If I tell you the dream, you could make any old junk up and claim it’s the interpretation. How would I know if you’re right? I’ve got a better idea:

Daniel 2:5-6 The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: 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. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.”

So they have to tell him the dream first, if their interpretation is to be taken seriously. And he adds some carrot (thanks, Daniel Plan) and stick to focus their minds. The stakes are high.

Daniel 2:7-9 Once more they replied, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.” 8 Then the king answered, “I am certain that you are trying to gain time, because you realize that this is what I have firmly decided: 9 If you do not tell me the dream, there is only one penalty for you. You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.”

The wise men realise they’re beaten, and try to convince the king that what he asks is impossible. But this only makes him more angry:

Daniel 2:10-14 The astrologers answered the king, “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. 11 What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.” 12 This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. 13 So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death, and men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death.

The first Daniel knows of all this is the knock at the door. So he decides that he’ll give it a go.

Daniel 2:14-16 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact. 15 He asked the king’s officer, “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. 16 At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him.

So what does he do? Does he swot up on all those Divination for Dummies textbooks he had to read back in chapter 1? Phone Oprah? See if Leonardo di Caprio and his friends can hook Nebuchadnezzar up to that little dream-sharing machine? No, he gets his friends to pray.

Daniel 2:17-18 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 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.

He knows that something miraculous has to happen. Just like people don’t get strong and healthy on a diet of vegetables and water, people can’t read other people’s dreams. Only God can do this. So they pray. And God answers.

Daniel 2:19a During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision.

This leads to a quick song of praise to God as the source of power and wisdom – as opposed to Babylonian magic arts:

Daniel 2:19-23 Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 21 He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. 22 He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. 23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors: 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.”

He then heads off to see the king.

Daniel 2:24-26 Then Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.” 25 Arioch took Daniel to the king at once and said, “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can tell the king what his dream means.” 26 The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”

To which Daniel says, “You bet. Now I’d like my own cable show and book deal.” No? That’s right, he gives God the credit. He gets to stand in front of the most powerful person in the known world and proclaim the one true God:

Daniel 2:27-29 Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:

And we’ll look at the content of that dream on Monday. (Spoiler: it’s about God being sovereign over history and empires, and his coming reign.) For now, look at Nebuchadnezzar’s response to Daniel’s correct revelation of the dream and its meaning:

Daniel 2:46-49 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. 47 The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.” 48 Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. 49 Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.

To sum up the plot: Daniel needed a miracle. He realised only God could do that, so he prayed. God delivered, giving him supernatural wisdom. Because of that, Daniel got the opportunity to show the king the power of the one true God. And, going forward, a great influence over a pagan empire and its ruler.

For 2nd century Jews to think about

So what might this story have to say to those Jews living in similar times in the second century BC? (See Tuesday’s post for why this is significant.)

Firstly, God is in control. He’s the one who rescues Daniel and his friends. Daniel is a model of trusting God to do the impossible, through prayer rather than through his own ingenuity. Jews under Greek rule often tried to take matters into their own hands and fight against their oppressors – with limited success at best. Daniel sees God as the solution to his predicament, not himself.

Secondly, when – through God’s providence – Daniel gains opportunity and influence with his Gentile overlords, he uses it for God’s glory, not to further his own status and power. There is a case for a “middle way” between fighting the pagan world and giving in to it, and in this story (and elsewhere) Daniel models it for future generations. He accepts foreign rule as the reality, if not the ideal, and works within that for God’s glory – while waiting for God to decisively act and put things right. (More on that when we get to the content of the dream, on Monday.)

For us to think about

Do we really think and act like God is in control when it comes to his kingdom? Or do we put more trust in our own ingenuity to work things out? Compare the time we, as churches, spend praying vs planning, and we’ll get an indication of the answer.

When we do gain influence with our world (leadership, or a respected voice in politics, business, our local community), do we use it to advance our own reputation and status – or to advance God’s? Do we use it to force the values of God’s kingdom onto the wider population, or do we use it to commend them?

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