We began to study the book of Daniel last week; and do you remember the two big ideas or themes from last week? The first is that the Lord is in control. The land of Israel had been overrun by their enemies; Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians; some of the people had been taken away into exile to a foreign land, far from the Promised Land. It may have seemed to some that the Lord was unable to save them; and that Nebuchadnezzar and Nebuchadnezzar’s gods were too powerful for the Lord. Some of them might have thought that everything they believed about God was wrong and he was not really king over all. And yet Daniel made clear that the Lord was still in control; he is still on his throne in heaven where he rules over all; he exalts one nation and brings down another; he raises up this ruler and he humbles another; and the reason Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar was because the Lord — who rules over all — delivered Jerusalem into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands. Nebuchadnezzar did not realise it, but the Lord was the one who gave him the victory; the Lord was the one who enabled him to defeat the Israelites. And the reason the Lord delivered Jerusalem and all Israel into the hands of this pagan king was because of the unbelief and rebellion of the leaders of Israel and the people. Instead of trusting in the Lord and walking in his ways, the Israelites turned away from the Lord. The Lord sent them prophets — again and again and again — to warn them and to call on them to repent and to turn back to the Lord. But they did not listen; and so, eventually, the Lord delivered them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and they were taken away into exile.
But they needed to remember and to believe that the Lord was still in control and he was working out his purposes for them and for the world. And it’s the same today: even though things so often seem uncertain and we wonder what is happening in the world, and why there’s so much wickedness, and why there’s so much unbelief, and why the church is so often weak, and it’s despised and persecuted, we need to remember and believe that our God is still on his throne in heaven as King of kings and Lord of lords and he rules and reigns over all. So, we needn’t be afraid no matter what happens, because our God reigns over all. And instead of being afraid, we must seek to do his will, trusting that our times are in his hands and he will do whatever seems best to him.
And, of course, that takes us to the second main point from last week, because even though Daniel and his friends were far from the Promised Land, and even though they lived in a pagan place, they were careful not to forget the Lord and they were resolved to stand firm in the faith and to remain faithful to the Lord. And so, even though they were given pagan names, they kept their old, Hebrew names. And they refused to let themselves be defiled by the king’s food and drink.
And do you remember? The Lord helped them to stand firm and to remain faithful, because he caused the officials to show them favour; and he ensured that they were healthier than those who ate from the king’s table; and he helped them with their studies so that in the end they stood out as having greater wisdom and greater understanding and greater knowledge than all the magicians and enchanters in the whole kingdom. They were resolved to stand firm and to remain faithful; and the Lord — who is faithful — helped them.
And while we go on living in an unbelieving world, we need to remember and believe that our true home is in heaven with our Saviour. And therefore we must be careful not to become like our unbelieving neighbours, but we must resolve to stand firm in the faith and to remain faithful to the Lord and to walk in his ways, because by faith we belong, not to this world which is destined to perish, but we belong in heaven with Christ our Saviour; and our daily lives must reflect that.
So those were the two bigs ideas or themes which we thought about last week: the Lord is in control of all things and so we can trust in him; and the Lord will help us to stand firm in the faith and to remain faithful to him while we go on living in an unbelieving world. Today we come to chapter 2 where we read how Nebuchadnezzar had a dream with a meaning; and the Lord enabled Daniel to know the dream and to understand its meaning. And the meaning of the dream was about things that would happen ‘in days to come’ or ‘in the last days’. And, of course, if you’re familiar with Acts 2 where the Apostle Peter quoted from the Old Testament prophecy of Joel about God pouring out his Spirit in the last days — then you’ll know that we’re living in the last days. So, although this chapter was written a long time ago, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is about our time. So, let’s look at this passage together.
Verses 1 to 13
And so in verses 1 to 13 we read that the king had dreams which troubled him and he asked his wise men to tell him his dream and its meaning.
Now, some commentators worry about the date of these dreams and how they fit with what we read in chapter 1. In chapter 1, we read how Daniel and his three friends began a three year re-education programme in Babylon. Now, if the three year programme began in the king’s first year, then the second year of the king’s reign would also be the second year of the re-education programme. But would the king really have promoted Daniel — as we read at the end of chapter 2 — and made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all the other wise men before the three year re-education programme had been completed? It’s not likely, is it? It’s not likely that he would have made Daniel one of his rulers when Daniel was still only a student. So, how does the chronology fit together? Well, the first year of the programme took place in the year Nebuchadnezzar became king. However, when it came to dating the king’s reign, the Babylonians didn’t count the year when the king was crowned. They waited until the king’s first full year as king began before beginning to count the years of his reign. And so, Nebuchadnezzar’s first full year as king was the second year of the programme. And during Nebuchadnezzar’s second year as king the three year re-education programme came to an end. And so, when the king had his dream the training programme was finished.
In any case, the king had dreams which troubled his mind. He was sure they meant something. But what? What did they mean? Well, according to verse 2 he summoned the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers and the astrologers to see if they could tell him what he had dreamed. These were all the wise men in the kingdom.
And, in verse 3, the king told them that he wanted them to tell him what his dream meant. Well, they replied in verse 4 by asking the king to describe the dream to them, so that they could explain what it meant. That seems a reasonable request: tell us the dream and we’ll interpret it. But the king refused, because he wanted them to tell him the dream as well as the interpretation. Perhaps he couldn’t remember the details of the dream, the way we often forget a dream in the morning. Or perhaps he suspected the wise men were charlatans and this was a way to find out whether or not they had special powers to interpret dreams. And look at the end of verse 5: the king warned them that if they don’t tell him the dream, he’ll have them cut into pieces and their houses will be turned into piles of rubble. However, if they can tell him the dream, they’ll receive from him gifts and rewards and great honour. So, there’s a promise of great reward for the one who can tell him; and there’s the threat of great suffering for those who cannot tell him.
Well, once again the wise men asked the king to do what he normally did and to tell them the dream. How can we interpret the dream without first knowing what the dream is? But the king wasn’t willing to tell them. In fact, he accused them of stalling for time and for conspiring against him to mislead him and to tell him wicked lies. So, tell me the dream! Tell me the dream and then I’ll be convinced that you know what you’re doing and you can really interpret dreams.
Well, from the king’s threats and promises we get an idea just how much this dream troubled him. He somehow knew this wasn’t an ordinary dream that meant nothing; he somehow knew this was a special dream with a special significance. But the wise men replied to the king that no man on earth can do what the king had asked; and no king had ever asked for such a thing before. What the king asked is too difficult, they complained, and there is no one who can reveal the dream to the king except, they said, the gods. They’re thinking of the pagan gods, of course; false gods. And look at what they said about those false gods:
they do not live among men.
In other words, because they are remote and distant, and live far away from us, they can’t communicate with us. They’re too far away and aloof; and they can’t help us.
And so, we see that they believed in many gods; and the gods they believed in where unable to help them or to communicate with them, because they don’t live among men. But if only they knew the true God, Daniel’s God. If only they knew him, because he does in fact live among men. In the beginning, he made himself known to Adam and Eve and he walked with them in the Garden of Eden. Afterwards, he made himself known to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Later still, he dwelt among his people in the tabernacle and temple, those earthly representations of heaven. And, of course, when the time was right, Daniel’s God would become one of us and dwell among us in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. And even now, he dwells within his people by his Spirit; and he promises to dwell with us forever in the new heaven and the new earth. The pagan wise men believed the gods were too far away and remote; but the true God, the only God, dwells with his people. And more than that: he speaks to us and makes his will known to us by his word, which he has given to us. Their gods could not help them; but our God was able to help Daniel and reveal the dream and its meaning.
However, for now, the king was so angry with his wise men, that he ordered their execution. So, a decree was issued to put all of them to death, including Daniel and his three friends.
Verses 14 to 23
Well, in verses 14 to 23, Daniel found out about the king’s decree. And he went to the king — and presumably Daniel is only summarising the story at this point, because no doubt it wasn’t an easy thing to get an appointment with the king; however, the Lord was with Daniel to help him — and he went to the king and asked for time. Why did he want time? Well, he needed time to seek the help of the Lord. And, according to verse 17, he went to his three friends to explain what had happened and to ask them to plead to God for mercy. And look how Daniel refers to God, because he refers to him as ‘the God of heaven’. Daniel and his friends knew that their times were in the hands, not of Nebuchadnezzar, who was only an earthly king, but their times were in the hand of the heavenly king. And so, in prayer they sought his help so that they might not be executed with the rest of the wise men in Babylon. Just as the apostles and early Christians gave themselves to united prayer when the rulers were against them and were arresting them for preaching about Christ, so Daniel and his friends gave themselves to united prayer when the king was against them. And, of course, let me remind you that you too can join us when we meet together on Wednesdays every week to give ourselves to united prayer. The church is continually involved in spiritual warfare; and the Devil and all his demons are powerful enemies who will do whatever they can to hinder the extension of Christ’s kingdom and to cause the Lord’s people to stumble and to fall into sin. And so we need to pray to the Lord for mercy and for help against our spiritual enemies, so that believers around the world will stand firm in the faith; and that the church will be protected in the face of persecution. And we need to pray to the Lord so that the church will be established in every nation, with men and women and boys and girls joining together to praise him. So, join with us on Wednesdays as we give ourselves to united prayer just as Daniel and his three friends did in the midst of an unbelieving world.
And look at verse 19: during the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. In other words, the Lord revealed to Daniel the dream and its meaning. And look at Daniel’s response; look what he did first of all. Before rushing off to tell the king, he bowed before the heavenly king to praise him and to give thanks to him. He said:
Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
Because he’s full of power, times and seasons and kings and all people are under his authority. And because he’s full of wisdom, he knows all things and can reveal deep and hidden things. And so, Daniel gave thanks to the Lord for revealing to him the mystery of the king’s dream.
Verses 24 to 49
And so, what was the dream and what did it mean? Well, we find out in verses 24 to 49.
Daniel went to the commander of the king’s guard; and the king’s guard went to the king with the news that he had found someone who could interpret the king’s dream. And when the king asked Daniel if this was true, Daniel — instead of taking credit for himself — gave all the glory to God. He stated clearly that no wise man or enchanter or magician or diviner can explain the mystery. However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. And Daniel went on to explain that this God had shown Nebuchadnezzar what will happen ‘in days to come’ or ‘in the last days’. I mentioned at the beginning that we’re living in the last days. The last days began with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ; and the last days will continue until he comes again in glory and power to judge the living and the dead. And so, this present evil age — where there is so much unbelief and rebellion — is in its last days, because when the time is right the Lord will come again to bring this present evil age to a close. We’ve living in the last days; and Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was about the last days. So, what was his dream and what does it mean?
The king saw in his dream a great statue: an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. Its head was made of pure gold; its chest and arms were made of silver; its belly and thighs were made of bronze; and while its legs were made of iron, its feet were made of a mixture of iron and clay. That was the statue. But then the king saw that a rock was cut out of a mountain; but not by human hands. Well, if not by human hands, then it must be by the hand of God. And this rock struck the statue so that the whole statue collapsed and was broken into pieces and became like chaff, dust, on the threshing floor, so that it was blown away by the wind without leaving a trace. And then the rock — which alone was left — became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.
Well, that was the dream which the king had in the night. But what does it mean? Well, the statue made of four parts stands for four kingdoms in the world. The head of gold stands for Nebuchadnezzar himself and the kingdom of Babylon. And so, look at verses 36 to 38 where Daniel makes clear that Nebuchadnezzar was at that time the kings of kings, because the God of heaven had given him dominion and power and might and glory and had placed in his hands mankind and the beasts in the field and the birds in the air. The God of heaven had given Nebuchadnezzar the authority to rule over all. So, he was symbolised in the dream by the head of gold.
But then, after Nebuchadnezzar there will come another kingdom which will be inferior to his, symbolised in the dream by the silver chest and arms. And after that one will come another kingdom, symbolised in the dream by the bronze belly and thighs. Finally there will come a fourth kingdom, symbolised in the dream by the iron legs and the iron and clay feet. This fourth kingdom will be strong like iron and it will smash everything. But just as the feet of the statue were a mixture of iron and clay, so this fourth kingdom will be divided and it will be both strong and brittle.
So, who are these four kingdoms? Well, in one sense, since Daniel doesn’t identify any of them except the first, it doesn’t really matter. However, many commentators believe that since the first one is Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon, then the second is the great Persian Empire; the third is the Greek Empire; and the fourth is the Roman Empire. And, of course, what happened during the time of the Roman Empire? Well, during the time of the Roman Empire, in the days of Caesar Augustus, the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, came into the world as one of us to establish his kingdom on the earth. And the coming of the Lord Jesus is symbolised in the dream by the rock which was cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands. Not by human hands, because he is the Son of God. The mountain from which the rock was cut could either be God himself, who in the Old Testament is likened to a rock; or it could be a reference to the people of Israel, because God established Israel as his chosen people at Mount Sinai. In any case, the rock is Christ who came to establish his kingdom on the earth. And it is an everlasting kingdom. The others kingdom of the world come and go. This king rises to power and then his reign comes to an end and someone else takes over. This empire is exalted and then it comes to nothing. For every king and emperor and president on the earth, there’s always an ‘after you’, because there’s always someone else who comes to power after you. But there’s no ‘after you’ with Christ and his kingdom, because it’s an everlasting kingdom which will never end.
And just as the rock in the dream grew and became a mountain, so Christ’s kingdom is growing throughout the world in these, the last days, through the preaching of the gospel by preachers sent from God who call on sinners everywhere to repent and believe. And whoever repents and believes is added to Christ’s kingdom so that his kingdom is growing throughout the world, and it will continue to grow, in every nation, so that in the end, in the end, when Christ comes again, his kingdom will comprise men and women and boys and girls from every nation. And his kingdom will be the only kingdom, because every other power and authority which sets itself up in opposition to him will be destroyed, and Christ will rule over all; and his kingdom will fill the new heavens and the new earth.
Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar that his dreams was about what will happen ‘in days to come’ or ‘in the last days’. As I’ve said, the last days began with the resurrection of Christ and they will continue until he comes again. So, we’re living in the last days and in these, the last days, we’re seeing the fulfilment of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, because Christ’s kingdom is growing throughout the world.
Well, when Nebuchadnezzar heard the meaning of the dream, he fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honour. And he confessed that surely Daniel’s God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords. He did not become a true believer, because he continued to believe in other gods and to worship them. But nevertheless he acknowledged for the first time that Daniel’s God was greater than any other god they believed in. And he understood that Daniel’s God is the one who reveals mysteries. And, of course, the God of heaven is able to reveal mysteries about what the future holds because he’s the one who has planned all things; he knows what tomorrow will bring, because he has planned what it will bring.
And the king was faithful to his promise and he rewarded Daniel and made him ruler of the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all the wise men. And at Daniel’s request, his three friends received promotion as well, becoming administrators over the province. And because of his exaltation, Daniel is a type of Christ. He points us to Christ, because just as Daniel was taken from being a servant to become ruler over all, so Christ our Saviour — who made himself a servant and who was faithful and obedient to his Father in heaven — was finally exalted to the highest place and received the name that is above all, so that at his name every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. Daniel points us to Christ, who rules over all. And Nebuchadnezzar’s dream points us to Christ, because Christ the Lord is building his kingdom on the earth, a kingdom that will outlast every other kingdom. And just as Daniel, when he was exalted, exalted his friends to places of honour, so all who trust in Christ the Saviour, will be raised up with him to resurrection life and we will reign with him for ever and ever in the life to come.
Well, when we’re worried about the state of the world, when we’re worried about what this leader does and what that leader does, when we’re worried about what the future holds, when we’re worried about the future of the church in the world, when we’re worried because so many refuse to believe the good news, and when we worried because the church is despised and disregarded and persecuted, when we worry about these things, we need to remember and believe that every power and authority and person who sets themselves up against the Lord is coming to nothing; they will not prevail and they will not last. There’s only one kingdom which will last; and it’s Christ’s kingdom.
But, of course, when things are going well for us, and if we’re successful, and if we’re doing well in life, and if we’re accomplishing our ambitions and if we’re making headway in the world and if everyone is praising us and admiring us for what we have achieved, the way the world admired Nebuchadnezzar for his great success, we need to remember that none of it will last; all the praise and the honour and the prizes which the world is able to give us will not last, because this world is destined to perish when Christ comes again.
And so, what counts more than anything else is faith in Christ, because through faith in Christ — who loved us and gave up his life for us — we’re brought into his kingdom; and through faith in Christ we’re kept in his kingdom. And while we go on living on the earth, we’re to stand firm in the faith and we’re to remain faithful to him, trusting in him and praying to him to help us to live, not for our own glory, but for his alone; and all the while rejoicing in Christ our King who is building his kingdom on the earth, a kingdom that will endure for ever and will never, ever come to an end.