Daniel chapter two: 2nd year of reign of King Nebuchadnezzar...
In Daniel chapter two we move from God’s dealings with Daniel, Hananiah, Misael and Azariah to the way He speaks into the life of King, Nebuchadnezzar. We also read of four kingdoms that would dominate the world and can link this chapter with chapter seven (when we read of the kingdoms as four beasts).
An uncut rock
During the fourth kingdom, there would be a rock cut without hands (Dan 2:34). This rock referrs to the Incarnate Son of God who steps into history to die in man’s place.
In Israel’s day, God’s altar had to be built with uncut stones on which no knife had been used (Ex 20:24-25; Josh 8:31). This was because there was to be nothing of sinful man in the place of sacrifice. In the ‘rock that was cut out, but not by human hands’ (Dan 2:34), we have the Perfect One coming to be both sacrifice and victor.
Therefore in this prophecy given in Daniel two, we see that the prophesied kingdoms are landmarks and reveal God’s foreknowledge of history as the one who will step into what is ultimately His story.
Jesus entered our world in the weakness of the flesh yet in the power of the Holy Spirit and showed us what man should really be like. The incredible truth is that the Master of history has stooped low to lift us up (Phil 2:5f). In all ways, whether as a triumphant king or suffering servant, God is the absolute master of history.
In Isaiah’s day, we see God’s supremacy as the master of history in His challenge to the idols and demonic powers of the day. Using the language of a law-suit, God says…
"Present your case," says the Lord. "Set forth your arguments," says Jacob's King. "Bring in [your idols] to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so that we may know you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.”
A King steeped in idolatry and the God who communicates
In the book of Daniel we are now in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s personal reign. Before this he would have, as many in royalty did, co-reigned with his father. So what was his reign like?
Nebuchadnezzar’s reign was the reign of a man who was zealous for his gods and like many kings in the ANE, he kept records of all he had built as proof of his dedication to those he worshipped. He was also in a culture that believed that dreams were messages from the gods, yet Nebuchadnezzar was about to get a powerful wake-up call. As already mentioned, God can reach out in any way He likes and the one true God sent a dream in through the door of Nebuchadnezzar’s mind.
Hundreds of years later God communicated with other wise men from Persia who then visited the Messiah a year or so after his birth; so how did this come about?
When Daniel and other Israeli’s were exiled to Babylon, they would have taken their scriptures with them and there would have been those who were interested in studying them alongside other belief systems in the ancient world. Centuries after Nebuchadnezzar and countless other kings had returned to the dust of the ground, Magi (religious scholars from Medo-Persia) who were aware that a Messiah would one day arrive on the scene and begin searching for the ‘king of the Jews’ (Matt 2:1).
The earliest usage of the word ‘Magi’ is found in the Behistun inscription written by Darius the Great. These Magi, like many in the ancient world at that time (as recorded by the Roman historians Suetonius and Tacitus for example), were aware of the growing belief that men from Judea would rule the world. Magi were known to have worshipped the god Ahura (Ahura: ‘light; Mazda: wisdom), a spirit in the Zoroastrian belief system. The Magi believed that light manifested a god’s presence and in seeing the God-give star saw it as heralding the birth of a new King from Judea. Accordingly, they followed the star and brought gifts - as was the custom of Persian people at that time when approaching a god. Their gifts were gold (for a king), frankincense (for a priest) and myrrh (for a sacrifice). In all of this we have a clear reminder that God reaches out in amazing and varied ways.
A pagan King and a servant of God
The events of Daniel chapter two are circa 603 and the One who holds history in his hands reaches into Nebuchadnezzar mind with dreams that leave him troubled and sleepless. Nebuchadnezzar is aware of how manipulative human nature can be and asks his magicians and astrologers to tell him what his dream was and then interpret it.
Nebuchadnezzar’s intense desire to know what his dream meant would have been fuelled by his concern to avoid displeasing the god/gods who may have given it. Forgetting a dream or not interpreting it could have been disastrous. Both the Babylonians and Egyptians had dream-interpreters, but Nebuchadnezzar’s were having a day which was going from bad to worse. Their failure to reveal and interpret the king’s dream resulted in the decree that they should all be put to death. But then Daniel comes into the picture.
As we look at Daniel’s response, we see a young man who recognises that whatever predicament he finds himself in, the first thing he (or anyone else) needs is mercy from God. It’s also interesting to contrast his words before the king with those of Arioch, the man in charge of Nebuchadnezzar’s bodyguard (Dan 2:14-15,24-25). In doing so, we see Daniel’s humility.
Although Daniel had taken the initiative in coming to Arioch to intervene in what was going on, by the time Arioch had spoken to the King, it was Arioch who had found Daniel (v25)! Arioch was a man wanting to look good before the king; Daniel was a man wanting to point to no-one except God (v 27-8).
Daniel: a man who was open to the God who is present
In Daniel’s approach to the King, we do not see a man who is going to stand for God, but one who comes from God and whom God is also with. This is because Daniel is a praying man.
In this world we are in a spiritual battle where prayer is an absolute necessity as we seek God first. Along with his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, Daniel had asked for mercy from God and sought His guidance; therefore Daniel stands with God and in God’s authority is able to speak in to Nebuchadnezzar’s life. Daniel also stood in the knowledge of knowing exactly who he was and did not stand as a man who allowed his worldly circumstances, or the words and power of others, to dictate to him. Daniel sought God before anything else.
“People become satisfied with priestly authority rather than seeking the kingly authority that can transform everything. Those who are in spiritual authority may be able to judge fairly, but they can rarely change things to match the standards by which they judge. Those who exercise priestly authority need to do so with the constant awareness of its limitations. Whenever we discipline or criticise another, we must do so knowing that we lack to the power to change that person for the better. (For example) we might be able to discern the effects of leprosy in others, and ourselves but only Messiah can cleans the leper as he once cleansed us. “
R. Resnik in Divine Reversal p 133.
Living in God’s truth and operating from God’s presence through prayer means that we accept who we are in Him no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in. For example we accept that we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27) and have been adopted into His family (Eph 1:5). We know we are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30) who is spoken of as a deposit (Eph 1:14) guaranteeing the life to come. We are empowered by His Spirit (1 Cor 3:16, 2 Cor 3:18) and, if we are open and willing, can be strengthened by His power in our inner being (Eph 3:16-20).
In seeking mercy we also see Daniel as a humble man who does not assume that the position he gained, or life he lived, deserved any merit from God whatsoever. He, like all true believers, recognised that anything He was able to do was because of God’s grace and loving-kindness to His covenant children.
All that we receive from God is of grace from beginning to end as is our righteousness which comes through Jesus. By way of our position in Christ, we cannot be seen as any more righteous than we are right now because it is through Christ alone that we are accepted by God.
Daniel knew that everything good comes about through God’s grace and this is reflected in his praise to God. Daniel knows that God is the giver and man the receiver. Daniel was open to God and therefore available and is given information about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from the author of all wisdom and power (2:20) and who can change times and set up kingdoms.
The All-Powerful One
In God we have the all-powerful One who gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning (v21). Whatever we may be going through, this truth remains: God is in charge and is the unchanging holy and gracious One - the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8).
As the all-powerful Son of God Jesus chose to withhold His power and stand in our place as man. Although Jesus experienced the frailty of the flesh He never faltered, never sinned and never stopped giving out to others, whether criminal or tax-collector, prostitute or synagogue ruler. In the all-giving One we have the suffering servant (Hebrews 10:5 6) and presence of the true King of Kings who will eventually destroy all opposing kingdoms and powers.
“On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS and Lord of Lords...”
In Daniel two we see that a stone cut from the mountains would smash the kingdoms (depicted in the vision) into smithereens (Ps 1:4-5; Luke 3:17). But why the picture of a stone cut from the mountains?
In many cultures in the ANE, mountains were supposed to be where the gods lived and therefore, in the imagery of a stone being cut from the mountain, Nebuchadnezzar is being made aware of the divine origin of his dream.
God is the only reason any of us have a history
The very reason Nebuchadnezzar existed, let alone had this dream, was because God is involved in the history of man and has been right from the beginning.
The very reason any of us have a history at all is because of decisions made from the foundation of the world. These decisions were made within Trinity and clearly reveal the sacrificial heart of God towards fallen and rebellious man.
In Titus 1:2 we read that eternal life was promised before the beginning of time: that means, God has always been willing to give out of Himself. In 1 Peter 1:20 we read that Jesus was chosen before the creation of the world to come and stand in our place: that speaks of amazing grace. In Revelation 13:8 we see Jesus being spoken of as ‘slain from the foundation of the world: that speaks of amazing mercy and sacrificial love. Then in Ephesians 1:4 we see that in our chosen representative – Jesus – there has always been a place for ‘called-out ones’ (the church) in Him. All across history people find or see God’s work in the most unexpected of places as the following story illustrates.
Kelly Monroe Kullberg, who founded the Veritas Forum at Harvard Law School writes of being at a New Year’s Eve party with graduate students and young professionals. Everyone was looking at the large-screen television as networks around the world transmitted images of New Year celebrations from different time zones. The first celebration was from the island of Tonga and she writes:
“The Tongan villagers in native dress danced on a beach around a large bonfire. What a contrast to my urbane gathering. We expected the Tongans to break into traditional, perhaps animalistic, ritual or song. But instead the Tongan people began a beautiful tribal dance and started singing with uplifted hands, from Handel’s Messiah: “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord. And of his Christ and of his Christ and He shall reign for ever and ever.” Kelly goes on to speak of how the gospel is exploding across different parts of the world and then says: “The gospel is no small story, but the great story that our hearts have desired to know since we were children, before we were taught to stop listening to our hearts and to good reason.”
K.M. Kullberg in, ‘Finding God Beyond Harvard’ p190
A God who crosses the line to stand with us
Jesus is the Alpha and Omega. He is the Servant King who stooped low (Phil 2:6, Rev 1:17-18) and stood in our place, yet is at the same time the All-Powerful One. Jesus is also both the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5) and “the Lamb that was slain” (Rev 5:12) and in these two pictures we see amazing power and love. We see that victory comes about through One who is spoken of as powerful like a Lion, yet not through the destructive power of a tyrant or oppressor, but through obedience, sacrifice and love.
“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear.” Psalm 42:2-3
Jesus crossed the gulf between God’s sheer perfection and man failure not to control us but to instruct us and lead us (in heart and mind) into all truth. In rising from the dead as the perfect sacrifice that death could not hold, He then turns and through the Holy Spirit helps us live our lives no matter what we face.
The divine title ‘Alpha and Omega’ is merism: a figure of speech in which the figurative point is to mention the opposite poles of something in order to emphasise the totality for all that lies between. A modern day example would be ‘lock, stock and barrel’ which initially spoke of the different parts of a gun but now speaks of the whole gun.
The One who is present right now
In being called the Alpha and Omega we are being told that the One who was present at the beginning and will be present at the end is also the God of here and now - this very second. He leads us ever deeper into His ways and gives us the power to overcome sin. In standing in this way, we are standing in the truth as did those in Babylon, those suffering at the hands of Nero and Diocletian, or those being ostracised in their own community today for being a Christian. No matter what we go through, the truth always remains the same: we belong to Him and will overcome the troubles of heart and mind in Him. Our greatest suffering and greatest difficulty comes when we distance ourselves from the One who holds history in His hands.
The whole development of history is under the hands of the One who will, as He sees fit, allow us to reap what we sow yet continues to offer mercy in the very place of our own suffering and degradation.
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."
A statute that stretches across history
In Daniel two we see that the head of gold represented the power and authority of Nebuchadnezzar. Yet there is also the clear statement that it was only because God had allowed him sovereignty (v37) that there was any power for Nebuchadnezzar in the first place.
The second part of the statute represents the Medo-Persian Empire (two arms) and is silver (the Persians were known to use silver in their taxation system). The third part of the statue was bronze representing the Greeks who were known to use the metal in their helmets, shields and weapons. Finally there is the Roman Empire represented by metal (armour and weaponry) and clay. It is worth noting that the destruction of the Roman Empire came from within (all men are clay: Psalm 103:13-14) as immorality and internal fighting weakened the empire.
Whilst in our mind’s eye we can picture the statue spoken of in this chapter, let us remember that the important point is simply this: God is aware of and in control of history; all that comes about is through His permissive will or direct intervention.
The seasons come and the seasons go and with them man’s glory fades like the flowers of the field (Isaiah 40:6-7). Babylon was to last less than seventy years, followed by the Medo-Persian Kingdom which survived in one form or another for around two-hundred years. After this came the Greek Empire (lasting 130 years) with the following power of the Roman Empire surviving for almost five-hundred years. In the midst of this kingdom and in the weakness of the flesh, the Messiah arrived on planet earth.
God’s rule and reign
When the Roman Empire finally imploded, there was one group of people that remained standing amidst all the rubble: the Christian community. Nero had crucified Christians at a notorious garden-party and decade’s later in the Diocletian persecution, thousands of Christians had lost their lives. Yet still the Christians stood undefeated, standing in the power of the Holy Spirit as God’s kingdom spread through ordinary everyday people.
The kingdom of God speaks of God’s perfect rule and reign, which by its very nature cannot be limited or confined to the church or a particular geographical area. The Kingdom of God is God’s rule and reign – the rule and reign of the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Yet it is not the reign of someone who stands on a distant hill and shouts out orders. Instead, God’s rule and reign is something awesome to behold because God has chosen to come close to the rebel who either seeks to run and hide or shake his fist at the only One who can save him. Yet still God reaches out.
Because God reaches out to fallen man we can say that His rule and reign is His salvation-creating activity. It is the work of the supreme Holy One who actively seeks out the lost and chooses to draw so close that He entered the human race as a servant (Phil 2:5-7) and gave His life (1 Tim 2:5-6) so that we could live. Isaiah spoke of this awesomely generous grace over seven-hundred years before Christ, when in speaking of the forthcoming Messiah, he said “for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). In the One who said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) we see ‘Immanuel’ – God with us (Matthew 1:23). In Jesus, the law-giver has come to the aid of the law-breaker. He limits Himself and stands with us in order to help us stand with Him.
There is a well-known, true story that is called ‘The Kiss’ and speaks of the love of a man for his wife which, to me, also speaks of the love of God for each one of us.
A young woman had to have facial surgery for a tumor and during the operation a small nerve which controlled one of the muscles in her mouth was cut. This meant that one side of her mouth would never look the same. Her husband came in and the doctor who was present noted that when he kissed his wife he did so in such a way that he twisted his own lips to accommodate her lips and show her that their kiss still worked.” In Christ, God ‘accommodates’ Himself to us: He fits into our world with the limitations of our flesh in order to make a way whereby we can come home to Him.
The law of God’s kingdom
The law of God’s kingdom is the Law of Agape love (1 John 4:8) and in Jesus we see exactly what that love is like (v9-10). In all that Jesus did, we see a heavenly King who regarded no-one as insignificant or too far gone and saw nothing as too trivial to warrant His attention. Unlike so many around Him, Jesus did not write off the tax collector (Luke 1:1-9), the adulterer (John 8:10-11) or a Centurion and his servant (Luke 7:3ff). In Jesus we see what God’s rule and reign is really like. God’s rule and reign speaks of His power and authority being brought to bear on our lives with the purpose of reconciliation and restoration. God loves us!
“Agape love is ‘indifferent to value.’ That is to say, it is neither kindled by the attractiveness nor quenched by the unattractiveness of its object.”
Prof A. Nygren, Agape and Eros, page 16, SPCK 1982.
In Jesus we see just how much we are loved and living from His presence means that I accept who I am in Him no matter the circumstances I find myself in. I accept that I am made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), am adopted into His family (Eph 1:5) and sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30) who is spoken of as a deposit (Eph 1:14) guaranteeing the life to come. I am empowered by His Spirit (1 Cor 3:16, 2 Cor 3:18) if I am open and willing to His guidance and strengthened by His power in my inner being (Eph 3:16-20).
As the One who knows all things, God is the true Lawgiver (clearly seen in the law of love: Luke 10:27). Through His law, God’s nature and character is known since Laws tell you about the heart of the law-maker. This is clearly seen in the suffering in our world at the hand of people like Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot.
God alone knows how all things fit together (as the true Judge 2 Cor 5:10) and reaches out to both challenge and support man. It is His power that brought Israel out of Egypt and it is His power that took the Egyptian mind-set out of Israel. It is His power that made Gideon a mighty warrior (Jud 6:12), allowed Elijah to demonstrate His power on Carmel (1 Kings 18:21f) and ended the reign of the Babylonian Empire exactly when He wanted to (Daniel 5). It is also His presence and power that encouraged both Daniel and Ezekiel through visions, revealing very clearly that He is the All-Powerful One and master of history.
"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
“Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”
Imagery associated with God
Whilst God is the Holy and unapproachable One in His essential being, He is known by His words and actions and is often likened to that which can be easily understood by those who seek to engage with God. For example, He is spoken of as the eagle who encourages its young to fly and catches them when they fall (Deut 32:10-12), who brought His people of Egypt as on the wings of an eagle (Ex 19:4) and renews His people’s strength so that they soar on wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31).
“Let me praise the LORD! Let everything deep inside me praise God’s holy name! Let me praise the LORD and not neglect or forget all the times God has come through – the LORD God! Who mercifully forgives all of a man or woman’s guilt, who heals you in all your weaknesses, keeps your life safe from the grave! Who puts wreaths of long-range promises and gentle love around your neck, who quiets your deep desires again and again with good things so that the young strength in you is quickened to soar like an eagle.”
Psalm 103:1-5 C. Seerveld translation.
God is also likened to the Lion who guards against all who would attack (Is 31:4) and as One who went before Israel as a pillar of cloud during the day and pillar of fire at night (Ex 13:21-22).
“So since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us give thanks, and through this let us offer worship pleasing to God in devotion and awe. For our God is indeed a devouring fire.”
God is also spoken of as the Lion of Judah (Rev 5:5) and the Lamb who was slain (Rev 5:12). In a worldly sense this is an unlikely combination, yet by way of the Kingdom of God, clearly speaks of the power of sacrificial love which undergirds the world.
As we leave Daniel chapter two, we see that it is God who is in control and who knows how history will unfold. Because of God’s dealings with man we also find an incredibly powerful king placing a displaced exile into an incredibly high position as Daniel is made ruler over the province of Babylon and put in charge of the wise men.