Have you ever had a disturbing dream, one that you had over and over again? I have. About once a year I dream that it’s Sunday morning, the church is full, I get up to speak and my mind is blank! All that I studied for and prepared for is gone. Or before the start of the service, I can’t find my bible or message outline. I’ve talked to other pastors who have had a similar dream. One pastor dreamed that he’s at the church and ready to go, but he’s in his underwear. Of course that dream has turned into a nightmare. Those who study dreams say that everyone dreams, and even though it may seem that our dreams last all night we only dream about an hour and a half out of every eight hours we sleep.
Most of the times our dreams are just jumbled nonsense like my no sermon deal, but there have been times when dreams have turned out to be very significant. In the Bible there are examples of world leaders having dreams, dreams that were much more than dreams. They were God’s way of communicating significant truth, and today we are going to look one of those dreams, and the events surrounding it. I’m referring to a dream that Daniel tells us about in the 2nd chapter of his book, a dream that King Nebuchadnezzar had 2600 years ago, a dream that has been coming true ever since. But, before we look at this amazing dream, let me remind you that this book that we are studying, Daniel, is made up of two things: narrative and prophecy. The first six chapters are mostly true stories from the life of Daniel, familiar stories like the one we studied last week. The last six chapters are prophecies given to Daniel by God.
This second chapter is special in that it gives us a little of both, narrative and prophecy.
The first verse gives us the setting. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is in the 2nd year of his reign. Assyria, which had been Babylon’s chief enemy, had completely collapsed 5 years earlier.
This made Nebuchadnezzar the absolute dictator of an empire that reigned with unchallenged authority over most of the known world, and you may not know this but he was the first world leader to rule this much of the planet. He controlled from Greece, all the way around to Egypt, and eastward into India. He built a beautiful city, the ancient city of Babylon, the ruins of which are 40 miles from modern day Baghdad. Merril Unger gives us a picture to help us imagine its grandeur. He writes:
“[Ancient Babylon] included vast fortifications, famous streets like the Processional, canals, temples and palaces. The Ishtar Gate led through the double wall of fortifications, and was adorned with rows of bulls and dragons in colored enameled brick. Nebuchadnezzar’s throne room was likewise adorned with enameled bricks. Not far distant were the hanging gardens, which to the Greeks were one of the seven wonders of the world. How well to the words of Daniel 4:30 fit this ambitious builder/king: [Nebuchadnezzar says: ‘Is not this great Babylon, which I have built for the royal dwelling place by the might of my power and to the glory of my majesty?”
All this goes to show that Nebuchadnezzar was one of the greatest world leaders of all time. By the way you may remember that before the first Gulf War Saddam Hussein declared himself to be the reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar. Saddam vowed to rebuild the ancient city of Babylon and restore it to world power status, which explains why he got in a fight with bordering nations so often.
But back to Nebuchadnezzar. At this point in his reign he had it all: youth, strength, wealth, fame, and power unparalleled in this world. He had huge armies at his command and all this was eclipsed by the fact that he couldn’t get a good night’s sleep, the reason he couldn’t is because he kept having this recurring, troubling dream. As I inferred, this was much more than a dream, it was a message from God to Nebuchadnezzar and to you and me as well, a message we need to hear and understand. As we review it, and the story that surrounds it, we’ll stop from time to time, so that I can point out three main things we can learn from this 2600 year old dream that is still coming true.
After having this same dream over and over and over again, Nebuchadnezzar was understandably troubled. He wanted to know what this was all about. He wanted to understand the dream and what it had to do with him and his mighty kingdom. So he called together his wise men. Think of these wise guys as a cross between an astrologer and a librarian and as you read the story, you can almost see them falling all over each other eager for their master’s praise. You see, in their minds, this dream was a golden opportunity for them to get in good with the king. They thought they couldn’t miss, because they had tons of books about interpreting dreams, and they were very good about spinning their interpretations to please Nebuchadnezzar. They thought that once he told them his dream, they could then “cash in” on his insomnia. But Nebuchadnezzar surprised them. He basically said, “If you guys are so wise, then you tell me what I’ve been dreaming, .and then give me the interpretation to boot.” Obviously Nebuchadnezzar was no dummy, he knew that anyone could fabricate an interpretation once the dream was disclosed and he hungered for real truth. He wanted real answers. And as incentive to get them he told his wise men that if they couldn’t do the job they would be killed and their homes destroyed. It was a “deliver or die, publish or perish.” This wasn’t an idle threat, Nebuchadnezzar was well known for violence.
His wise men said that as much as they wanted to, they couldn’t interpret the dream because they didn’t know what it was, and in their explanation they said a very true thing. It’s in verse 11: “No man can do this. Only a god could.” I don’t know about you, but I get excited when I read that, because our God, the only true God can do anything. He is all, loving, all, wise, and all, powerful. And contrary to what these wise men said next, as John 1:14 says, in Jesus, He, “…became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”
In spite of their insight in verse 11 these “wise men” weren’t servants of God, they were fakes and frauds. Nebuchadnezzar had called their bluff. And let me just pause and say that consulting horoscopes and psychics in our day is not only foolish, it is sinful. The people who provide this kind of information, today’s “wise” men and women are either fakes, or servants of our adversary, so we should stay away from them.
I read that Barbara Bush, wife of our 41st president, was once told by an astrologer, and this was unsolicited. She didn’t seek him out. He just told her this. He said that since both she and George Bush are Geminis they should never have gotten married, because any astrologer worth his star chart knows Geminis just can’t get along. Later she made fun of his statement by saying, “George and I have just celebrated 50 years of marriage. Every time I have a bad day, I tell George that astrologer was right.”
Back to our story. The wise men admitted to Nebuchadnezzar that they couldn’t do what the king requested so he followed through with his threat and ordered that all his wise men be killed. Execution squads were sent to carry out his orders, which included Daniel, Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego who had only recently graduated from their Babylonian university and been admitted to the ranks of the king’s wise men. When the executioner came for Daniel he used his God, given people smarts. With respect and great composure he asked for clarification. He didn’t have a heart attack. He didn’t have a panic attack. He didn’t even go on the attack. Verse 14 says He replied with wisdom and tact saying, “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?” Then after the executioner explained, Daniel bravely went to Nebuchadnezzar, and asked that he be given a chance to fulfill his king’s request.
By the way, I think he was able to walk right into Nebuchadnezzar’s presence because this sleep deprived king had grown to trust Daniel and his four friends. Remember in chapter 1 it says that after his post, graduation interview with them Nebuchadnezzar found them each worth ten of his other advisors. And Nebuchadnezzar not only met with Daniel. He gave him something he wouldn’t give the rest of his “wise” men. He granted Daniel time to both discern his dream and it’s meaning. I think when we emulate Daniel and decide to live by our God given convictions with respect and tact, people are impressed. Remember, all people are made by God, so all people hunger for God, and when we graciously live Godly lives people are drawn to Him. Note that according to verse 18, Daniel uses the time Nebuchadnezzar gave him to pray. Many of us would probably have used that time to leave town, to get as far from Nebuchadnezzar and his execution squads as possible, but not Daniel. Daniel knew who was really in charge. He believed God was all, wise and completely sovereign so he and his three friends prayed. They went right to the top and asked God Himself for help. This is the first main thing we can learn from the events surrounding this dream.
- Prayer is to Proceed our Problems
Do you remember Paul’s words from Philippians 4:6, 7 where he says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” A rough paraphrase would go like this, “Don’t worry about ANYTHING, pray about EVERYTHING. Go to God, ask for His help FIRST!”
God encourages us to come boldly before His throne. He wants us to bring Him our questions. I like how someone once put it, “Can’t sleep.. don’t count sheep, talk to the Shepherd.” When we find ourselves with our backs against the wall, we must stop relying on self and ask God for His guidance. James 1:5 says,“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, Who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” I love this verse because that phrase, “without finding fault” tells me that to God there is no such thing as a dumb question. God invites all our inquiries, all of them. He loves to help us decide what to do, .so when you have an issue and you don’t know what to do, the first thing you must do is pray, take it right to the top! Remember, God is completely sovereign. He is the One Who is truly in charge.
After he prayed, Daniel was at peace. He was able to sleep even though a sword literally hung over his neck, and as he snoozed, God answered his prayer. As Daniel slept the deep sleep of someone who literally rested in the character of God, our Heavenly Father told him both Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and it’s meaning, and what happened next provides us a second bit of important instruction. At this point many of us would leap out of bed, grab our robes and head for the king’s palace yelling, ‘I’ve got it! I’ve got it!’ But not Daniel. No, before he went to King Nebuchadnezzar, he went back to God, he went back to Nebuchadnezzar’s superior and praised Him. Look at verses 20-23. Daniel says,
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are His. He changes times and seasons; He sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him. I thank and praise You, O God of my fathers: 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.”
Don’t you admire Daniel! Aren’t you impressed with this young man!? The first thing he did was give four verses of solid, specific praise! Now be honest, how often do we respond to God’s blessings in that way?
- Praise is a Priority When God Answers
I don’t know about you, but I need to embrace this instruction because so often when God intervenes in my life I’m tempted to grab a little glory for myself or we simply take God for granted and forget to thank Him, but not Daniel. He knew that without God there would be no interpretation, no wisdom, no audience with the king. In fact, Daniel knew there would be no kings and countries at all if God did not will it, so we need to be like this ancient prophet. We must always praise God for His great faithfulness. Praise reminds us how capable and gracious our God is. It reminds us that without Him, we can do nothing. “Praise God!”is a phrase that should always be on our lips because God is the Source of every good and perfect gift.
About 20 years ago Orel Hershiser was pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They had just won the World Series. And Orel had been named the Most Valuable Player. During the series a TV camera zoomed in on him sitting in the dugout just before the 9th inning started. He was leaning against the wall. His lips were moving but the microphones couldn’t pick it up. When he was a guest on the Tonight Show, Johnny Carson asked him what he had been saying. Orel said, “I wasn’t saying anything.” And Carson responded, “Well, then, tell us what you were doing.” Orel replied, “I was singing.” Johnny said, “You were singing? I didn’t know you were a singer. Come on, let’s hear it!” And Orel said, “Nah. I don’t want to.” But the audience clapped and said, “Yeah! Let’s hear it! Sing Orel!” So, Orel Hershiser acquiesced and on network TV he sang the song cameras had caught him singing in the dugout. He sang: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise him above Ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost! Amen!” Johnny Carson was speechless. The whole audience was dead silent. Then one person stood up and started clapping. And soon, the whole audience joined in applause. This song was Orel’s way of saying, “God, You are the only reason I’m a Most Valuable Player. You’re the one who gave me my ability. You’re the reason why my life has been so blessed. I’m giving You all the credit. Praise You Lord!”
When Daniel met with King that’s what he did. I don’t know if he put music to verses 2:20-23, but in the privacy of his room and then as verse 27-28 as he stood before Nebuchadnezzar, he made it clear that the interpretation came from God and God alone. When you read this part of chapter two you see that, including proper nouns and pronouns Daniel referred to the Lord thirteen times and used only five pronouns to refer to himself and his three friends. Even then, the focus was still on God as the Source of all that had happened. What incredible maturity for a young man of 17! Daniel said, “No man can do this, but there is a GOD IN HEAVEN and He both can and has!” Then in verses 29-45 Daniel shares with Nebuchadnezzar both the dream and it’s interpretation as given by God Himself. And we’ll look at that in the next post.
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