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TEXT: Daniel 2:1-49
SUBJECT: Daniel #3: Dreaming of Empire
In 1992, political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, published a best-selling book called The End of History and the Last Man. To his way of thinking, the Soviet Union was the final enemy of liberal, democratic capitalism, and with its fall, the American Way of Life had triumphed worldwide and forever. With the demise of Russian Communism, the United States went from being a superpower (along with Russia and China) to became a hyperpower, a country so mighty that others could not even challenge it, no less conquer it. When I heard Dr. Fukuyama on the radio at the time, I couldn't help thinking of Nebuchadnezzar, his dream of Empire, and what God made of it all.
This is what we have in Daniel 2: a King dreaming of Empire, and finding one--but not his own.
I use the word, 'dream' literally, because that's how the chapter begins, and already, the king's dream of power is exposed for the futile thing it is. Nebuchadnezzar is the mightiest man in the world. He has brought down Pharaoh, the Assyrians, and every power in that part of the world.
His rule seems complete and permanent. Yet for all his so-called power, he can't even control his own dreams. He's master of the day, but the night belongs to Someone Else.
In the second year of his reign, he has a nightmare, and he knows there's more to it than eating too much too late. It wakes him up in the middle of the night, and so troubles him that he can't go back to sleep.
First thing the next morning, he calls for the wise men--the scientists of his age, whom the narrator ridicules as magicians, astrologers, and magicians. They're men who dabble in the dark arts and claim to have a wisdom beyond the earthly.
Eager to show off their wisdom and win the king's favor, they're ready to hear his dream and sure to get the interpretation right.
The problem is: the king won't tell them his dream, either because he can't remember it, or because he doesn't trust their so-called wisdom. The wise men have been eating at the king's table for a long time now, now it's time they prove their worth.
Of course they can't. If they tell them his dream they'll interpret it, but knowing another man's dream is a wisdom that belongs to no one but the gods--
Whose dwelling is not with men.
Neubuchadnezzar is not impressed. They'll tell him his dream--or he'll have their heads. The wise men are stunned and hope the king will cool off in a day or two and see how unreasonable his threats are. But the king knows what they're up to--and if they don't answer him right away, they're dead men.
They have nothing to say and the command is issued: 'Kill them all!' Arioch, head of royal security, passes the orders along and the police start arresting and executing the wise men.
SECRET THINGS BELONG TO GOD
When Arioch gets to the wise men from Judea, he's met by Daniel with a request. Had Daniel and his friends been peddlers of subtlety, Arioch would have ignored their request and killed them on the spot: but they were serious men, men he and other Babylonians respected and learned to trust.
Daniel asks for the same thing the other wise men wanted--time--but, unlike them, he got it. Again, I think, because of the reputation he had with his masters.
Being a matter of life and death, Daniel didn't want to pray alone. He called the three best men he knew, Haniniah, Mishael, and Azariah (we know these men better by their pagan names, but the narrator calls them by the names that connect them to the God of Israel).
After some time in prayer, the dream and its interpretation are given. And you notice, they first they they do is not congratulate Daniel or praise him for his wisdom. Nebuchadnezzar is going to do that, but Daniel and his friends know better. Wisdom is not natural to man, even learned men. It's the gift of God, and when Daniel got it, he did more than snap his fingers or sigh in relief. He praised the Lord--
Blessed be the name of God
forever and ever,
for wisdom and might are His.
There's a lesson here for us: When we're scared or sick with worry, we're more eager to invoke the Lord's help than we are to thank Him for it when He gives it.
There's a story of a roofer losing his footing, and praying, 'Help me, God!' On the way down the roof, he was caught by a nail, and he said, 'Oh, never mind'. I suspect the story was made up, but you know why it caught on: because we're all this way--quicker to ask for a favor than to give thanks for the favors given.
There's a verse we'd do well to memorize and live by, Psalm 50:15--
Call upon me in the day of trouble,
I will deliver you,
and you will glorify me.
THE KING AND GOD
Daniel is brought in and the anxious king hopes his great wisdom can make sense of the appalling dream. But Daniel waves off the praise--
There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets.
God sent him the dream and now God is going to tell him what it means. Daniel is God's mouthpiece, that's all he is. As for the dream--
It starts with a huge image, both magnificent and terrifying. It's the image of a man with a head made of gold, chest and arms of silver, a midsection of bronze, and legs of iron, with toes, made partly of iron and partly of clay.
As Nebuchadnezzar gawked at the great image, a small stone appeared, a stone cut out of the mountain, but without human hands. The stone began pounding away at the image's feet, and soon they cracked and fell to pieces; it kept on pounding until the legs were broken, then the midsection, then the chest and then the gold head. Soon the magnificent Image with it's incredible power, was no more substantial than--
The chaff which the wind drives away.
This is an allusion to Psalm 1 where the wicked are reduced to dust by God's judgment, while the righteous remain intact and firm in His Presence.
As for the little stone? It doesn't stay little for long. It grows into a huge mountain and fills the earth.
The king recognizes the dream, but longs to know what it means. Daniel tells him.: God has decreed five great kingdoms to rise in the world, and his is the first. God has given the kingdom to Nebuchadnezzar and it's as magnificent as fine gold.
But for all its beauty, it won't last. Before long an inferior kingdom will rise to take it's place. This is the Medo-Persian Empire led by Darius (the man who throws Daniel in the Lions' den) and Cyrus, the man who terminates the exile and sends God's holy things and people home.
This Empire will last a lot longer than Babylonia, but it too will fall, to the Greeks under Alexander the Great. Great as it was, it falls to Rome, an Empire both stronger and weaker than the others. In one way, it's as strong as iron, but in another, it's as weak a clay.
In the days of the Roman Empire, God will have had it with wicked human power and replace it with Divine Authority. God's King will be born in the Roman Empire, and He'll break it and establish His own Kingdom, a kingdom totally unlike the ones that came before it, because--unlike Babylon's seventy years and Rome's several centuries, it is lasts forever!
The Great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain and its interpretation is sure.
The king is stunned by God's great wisdom and power, and he falls on his face before Daniel. It looks like Daniel is going to get the glory, but he doesn't. Nebuchadnezzar the most powerful man in the world and a lifelong idolater--
Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets.
The story ends with Daniel's friends promoted to high offices, and Daniel becoming the king's top adviser.
THE VICTORY OF GOD
This is one of the great stories of the Bible and I pity people who don't hear until they're grown. But why is it here? How did it help the people who first read it and what does it say to us?
Let's remember the first people. They were Jews just back from exile. The kingdoms of David and Solomon were long gone and Judea was now a forgotten outpost in a pagan Empire. The temple was a shell of its former self, the economy was ruined, the land was overrun with Gentiles, and most Jews were more interested in making money than in serving God. But some remained true to the Lord, they longed for things to be set right, for God to show His Lordship to the mocking Gentiles and the renegades of Israel.
Would He ever do that? Yes He would. Babylonia was a Golden Empire, but God threw it down. He did the same to the Empires of Persia and Greece. Even the Roman Empire, with its boast of infinite power and eternal duration was broken by the Kingdom of God. After Rome became Christian, Julian the Apostate tried to Re-Pagainize it. But he fell in battle, with these words--
You have prevailed, O Galilean!
Human power and wisdom are the gifts of God. When He takes them back, the mightiest Empires collapse. But God's wisdom and power are not gifts; they're His by right, by nature, and they can no more die than God can die.
As God's King, Jesus shares in all the wisdom and power of Divinity, and this means, His Kingdom rules forever, and one day, it will be established beyond all challenge.
What's the story about? It's about the sovereignty of God; about God's victory over the powers of the world, and our security therein.
Stop worrying about the future. It belongs to Christ, and so do we. Amen. Priase the Lord.
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