If chapter 1 reveals the powerful single-mindedness of Babylon the second chapter displays its impotence. Certainly no rebellion, no internal strife, no new enemy marching on Babylon with a vast army characterised those days. Nebuchadnezzar was as much in control as ever. Nothing had changed outwardly. If a visitor came he would see a triumphant prosperous nation at peace. What he did not know was that Nebuchadnezzar was in a torment because of the recurrence of a dream. Now we all dream, and our dreams are generally unmemorable fancies. Isaac Watts writes in his hymn “Our God, our help in ages past,” those lines,
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
Dreams are evanescent and unreal. But one dream which refused to die at dawn caused an uproar in Babylon. It almost wiped out the intellectuals. It certainly shook up everything and everyone. Does our God’s sovereignty stretch to dreams ? The king was deeply upset. His mind was obsessed by a constant nightmare, and he soon dreaded the night hours. So he took out his frustration on his wise men: “Now you smart fellows tell me what dream I’ve had, and then also give me its interpretation,” he said savagely. They looked at him in astonishment: “No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer,” (2:10). What if your neighbour turned to you and held a pistol against your head and said, “Tell me the dream I had last night.” They were terrified because the king proceeded to summarily order their execution (v.12 and 13).
This is what God can do with a dream – it is lighter than a cobweb, and just as flimsy, yet death threatened Daniel and all the cream of the intelligentsia of the empire because of a dream. If a dream from God can do that what will it be like when God himself comes? How easy it is to terrify strong men outside of Christ. Why do all the famous people have to go out with bodyguards? Why did Tiger Woods request armed guards when he took part in his first British Open ? Why do film-stars live in fortresses? Why do Presidents drive about in bullet-proof limousines? Because they are all terrified of what might just happen to them. This absolute monarch, the mightiest man in the whole world, was scared because he saw his future. Daniel tells him (v. 29), “Your mind turned to things to come … what is going to happen.” Nebuchadnezzar through his network of spies knew everything that was going on in palace, city and empire, but he didn’t want to face up to the unavoidable future. Yet the dream insisted that he dwell on that, and his cruelly-bought peace vanished.
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was a revelation from God. The voice of the Lord was saying to him that his throne was not an impregnable rock of ages. God started to rock this king, just a little, but night after night, and it was like a ship in a storm for Nebuchadnezzar. So what did he do? What do men of the world do when death comes and knocks on their door, and they start to look at their futures ? As they shower they find a lump and they think of their futures, or they get a new chest pain as they climb the old hill and they think of their futures. Or God takes someone from them and they think of their futures. What lies before them ?
What do men do at such times ? Unless grace intervenes they begin to look to other men; they do not look towards the living God. They look to the wits of men to deal with the unknown future. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream drove him to man. He cried, “Send for my men, the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell me what I’ve dreamed.” That’s what the world does. What’s going to happen in the new millennium ? Send for the futurologists, and the stargazers. Let the experts give us a printout as to what may happen. But Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men were speechless at this request. They said, “First, tell us the dream; give the text and we’ll exegete it.” Nebuchadnezzar was no fool. Anyone can give a prophecy. It doesn’t take much imagination to cobble together sweet-sounding promises about the future. But here were his experts who claimed to be in touch with the heavens, men who knew the meaning of life. They said they could predict the future. They were intimate with his victory-giving gods – weren’t they? Surely it was not difficult for men who knew the gods to be smart enough to tell him the dream itself as well as the interpretation. This was a test of their authority, set by the king. Nebuchadnezzar would not play ball: he wanted to be told the dream first as a proof that their interpretation would be true truth. He grimly shook his head and sent out his execution squad to round up all the smart men of the kingdom (2:13). The whole academic community was at its wit’s end, the government was in crisis, and all the might and wisdom of Babylon was shown to be bankrupt.
Many men will give us their ideas about the future. Some will speak about death and what lies beyond it. There are even men within the professing church who for their own fancies will dismiss the resurrection of the dead. What authority do they have for their theories to be believed ? At the University of Chicago Divinity School there has been an annual “Baptist Day” for many years when leaders of that denomination in Illinois are invited to the School. Their support is encouraged, and those who go bring their packed lunches and sit and eat together on a grassy knoll in between listening to theologians. One year the Divinity School invited the late Dr Paul Tillich to speak. Tillich was born in Germany in 1886 and in 1933 he went to Union Seminary, New York. Tillich lectured that “Baptist Day” on the resurrection of Christ, giving his restitution theory, that the resurrection took place in the “ecstatic” experience of the disciples and that it restored Jesus to the dignity of the Christ in their own minds, that it probably belonged to the time prior to Peter’s confession, not an event belonging to the time after the death of Jesus. Tillich told them that the resurrection of the body was a symbol expressing the truth of “essentialization.” and that heaven and hell were to be taken seriously, but not literally. The lecture was long, almost two hours, and given with a strong German accent. Then there was a question time. An old minister rose to his feet: “Docta Tilick, I got a question;” the congregation turned around and looked at him. He slowly lifted an apple out of his lunch bag and took a bite. There was an embarrassing pause, “Docta Tilick … my question is a very simple (munch munch) … I don’t know much about essentialisation, nor about this restitution theory (crunch crunch) … and I don’t speak a word of German … all I wanna know is this, … this apple I’m eating (chew chew), … is it bitter or is it sweet ?” The plain white-haired man was old, and from a minority race, and so could not be belittled. In exemplary scholarly fashion Dr. Tillich replied courteously, “I cannot possibly answer that question, for I haven’t tasted your apple.” The white-haired preacher dropped the remains of the apple into his lunch bag, looked at Dr. Paul Tillich and said calmly, “Neither have you tasted my Jesus.” There was a smattering of applause in the room.
What authority does any man have to speak of death and the future ? Let’s see something divine that we may have grounds to believe them when they speak of our futures. So the Lord Jesus Christ was speaking to a dense crowd of the possibility of the forgiveness of sins through entrusting themselves exclusively into his safe keeping, when a paralysed man was lowered from the roof to his feet (Mark 2:1-12). “Son, your sins are forgiven,” said Jesus to him. “Who can forgive sins but God only ?” thought the experts looking on, hearing and judging everything. “What is easier ?” said Jesus to them, “to say your sins are forgiven, or to say take up your bed and walk ?” We all know the answer to that question. To talk about forgiveness, and to give interpretations of dreams, and to say that resurrection and heaven and hell are symbols – all that is far easier to talk about than to speak to a paralysed man these words, “Take up your bed and walk.” If a man says that then all eyes are focused on the patient. Will he be healed ? As they looked the paralysed man got up, and the people were shown another proof of the divine authority of the Son of God through whom does come forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Nebuchadnezzar was saying, “Talk is cheap. Show me you are really in touch with the gods and can be trusted in predicting the future by telling me what my dream actually was.” But they were bankrupt. God gave a man a dream – just one constant dream – and it started to take apart what the mightiest military machine in the world had at such cost put together. There was no-one amongst all the diviners who had that authority that comes from a true knowledge of the divine to tell the King what his dream was. Many claimed they had that knowledge, but no one could prove it when it came to the test.
Now Nebuchadnezzar had an additional worry: the dream and now the total failure of human wisdom. He was surrounded, he realised, by ambitious pretenders, and his solution to that dilemma was to wipe out the bourgeoisie. That’s a familiar response: “You’ve got a degree. You’ve got some office. You’ve got some influence. We’re going to cut your heads off. Because it’s you who are the dangerous subversive people.” Haven’t we heard it in our own century in Russia, in Cambodia, in China ? There’s the knock at the door in the night, and the secret police are taking people off in their cars and your husband becomes one of the disappeared ones ? It happens when the supremos fear for the future, have been let down, and distrust all their underlings. A knock came on Daniel’s door (2:13) when Daniel and his friends hadn’t even been asked about the dream. The first time they found out about this brutality was when somebody was pulling them out saying, “Come along. We knew where you lived.” But Daniel had learned from his first clash with Babylon what to do, and in the palace he appealed to the commander of the guard and asked Arioch if he were condemned to death, and why: “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree ?” (2:15). When he got the answer he went from the commander’s presence to the king himself for he had a special place in the king’s affections. Nebuchadnezzar had found Daniel “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom” (1:20), and Daniel asked the king, “Give me some time. I’ll tell you the dream, and I’ll interpret the dream, but give me time.”
Daniel used the time so well. He didn’t plot his escape. He didn’t hold a conference with all the wise men. He said, “Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, come, we need to pray, “plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery” (2:18). Four young men, four Old Testament Christians, a long way from home, went down on their knees and spread out their predicament before God. For years young people in this town met on Friday afternoon 4 o’clock. They weren’t allowed to attend it until they were 11 years of age, and the younger ones looked forward to the day when they would be able to join their older friends at the meeting.They came home from school and they prayed for an hour. They had been to the summer camps and had been blessed with the fellowship of young people in prayer so that they decided they would go on meeting together to pray. They gathered for an hour over a period of ten years in different houses. They prayed for God’s name to be glorified and for God to bless their friends and churches. They were just a group of young people who made that decision themselves. They didn’t see a great awakening in Aberystwyth, but they saw their friends becoming Christians, and virtually all of them went on to be married in the Lord and a lot of them continue to come to the Aberystwyth conferences each year with their spouses and children. Young people meeting and praying generally become contented adults who still meet and pray.
Daniel and his friends didn’t ask for the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. They desired the actual content of the dream. “Lord reveal to us the mystery. What dream did you give to Nebuchadnezzar? Grant us the knowledge of that revelation” (2:18) they cried. Nebuchadnezzar had gone to the wisdom of the world for help, and Daniel went to that Wisdom from above. He addressed the throne of the universe. Nebuchadnezzar wanted to destroy the people, and Daniel wanted to preserve them. That night the vision came, the revelation was given as Daniel slept (2:19). Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t sleep, but Daniel could sleep as sweetly as Peter could sleep in prison, both with the threat of death hanging over them. Daniel could rest, and rise to praise God for his omnipotence, singing,
“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 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” (2:20-23).
Then Daniel went to the commander of the guard and said, “Don’t start killing anyone, take me to the king and I will give the dream.” Nebuchadnezzar said with astonishment, or perhaps in scorn, “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it ?” (2:27). “No,” Daniel said. “No man, not the wisest man on earth can do that. What the future holds in store no one knows. I have no greater wisdom than other men, but, “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (2:28). Daniel had been given the dream and its interpretation that the “king may know the interpretation” (2:30). God had not given his word in order for Daniel to meet with his circle of young friends and “share” it with them, any more than God has given it to us for “sharing sessions,” but rather that we preach it before kings and nations. This Conference is for all of Wales. We sing, O that the world might taste and see the riches of his grace. There are meetings like this in the Great Hall, but there are meetings also on the Aberystwyth promenade under the great heaven. The Lord has given us a Book of wisdom about the future. What lies before us. What is death? What lies after death? What is the eternal state? How can I be safe? God has told us the answers to these questions. The Lord has shown himself in Christ in his royal conquest of death, and in his resurrection. What is ultimate reality? Is it death? Or is it Jesus Christ and that resurrection the third day ? The New Testament answer shows us that ultimate reality is not that coffin, and not a decaying corpse, but it is in Him who is the resurrection and the life. That is the revelation we take to the whole world.
What was Nebuchadnezzar’s dream? It was of a huge statue standing like Blackpool tower or even the CN Tower in Toronto, visible for miles around. Its head glistened in the sunshine because it was of gold, its chest and arms were of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly iron and partly baked clay (2:31-33). What kingdoms did that statue represent? Truth is there is no kingdom it does not represent. It stands for every world dominion that man builds, every human empire and system, every power structure of man, all the great hegemonies of the ages. Sometimes they are gold, sometimes they are silver, sometimes they are bronze, sometimes they are clay – yet they are always the same. Men make them. Men erect them. Men prop them up. The shining gold of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the silver of the Celtic civilisations, the steel of the Iron Curtain, the clay of the Berlin Wall. They were different in Daniel’s day. They will be different in the future. But they are not like a mountain, they are like the heroic statues men have erected all over the world to celebrate their own prowess.
Nebuchadnezzar is given the application of the dream to his own age, “You are that head of gold” (2:38), and after him other kingdoms, probably Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. But the King with them all will be shattered into smithereens by a rock “cut out, but not by human hands” (2:34 and 45). That rock represents the Messiah; and its expansion, as it becomes “a huge mountain and filled the whole earth” (2:35), is the growth of the Messianic kingdom. It “will never be destroyed … it will itself endure for ever” 2:44). The stone which the builders reject, and have refused to build upon thinking how fragile it looks, that very stone is coming rumbling, remorselessly, irresistibly, on and on, destroying man’s great structures one by one, growing like a mighty mountain and triumphing over them. God make all mankind witness this as the 20th century was closing. Imposing structures, and the very statues of Eastern Europe, fell while the kingdom of God quietly expanded. It is still increasing: the stone from above must become a mountain.
Kings have boasted that they will build something which will last a thousand years and they’ve been destroyed in less than a decade. The kingdom of our God and of his Son Jesus Christ is overwhelming. We gather here, thousands of miles away from Babylon, on the shores of the Irish Sea. Here we are, centuries after Daniel lived or even after they crucified the Lord Jesus Christ. They said as they put his body in a grave, “Well, he won’t bother us any longer.” Yet for us the greatest reality in all the world is that Son of God. He dwarfs us all, and we live for him. He has supplied us the meaning of life. He is our forgiveness and our acceptance with God.
Men and women what lies before everyone of you is an open-ended encounter with the Rock of Ages. That is the next great stage of your eternal journey. We are on our way to that. There is an appointment that you are going to make, and it is with this Rock. It destroys everything that resists it. Everything has to make room for this Omnipotence. It is going to fill the whole earth and in that earth which he will fill he will not be an intolerable execration, nor some filthy swear word. His name will be like perfume poured forth, the fragrance of the cosmos. One day there will be a multitude of ten thousand times ten thousand singing praise to the Rock of ages that was cleft for them. Have you thought of that? Or are you like children building sand castles with your backs towards the advancing tide?