It was Saturday afternoon in Beatrice, Nebraska. The pastor was in his study preparing for choir rehearsal later that evening. Members would start arriving at 7:15 for their regularly scheduled practice at 7:30. After arranging the music, the pastor returned home for a quick supper with his wife and daughter. However, as they were about to walk out the door, his wife noticed that their daughter’s skirt was wrinkled and suggested that she change it, making them late. Meanwhile, Ladona, a high school sophomore, was having trouble with her math assignment and stayed a few minutes extra to finish it. She was usually early for practice. Then two of her friends found their car wouldn’t start and called her at the last minute asking for a ride, making them all late. A mother and daughter ran an errand for her elderly mother and were also late. A lathe operator felt convicted to finish a letter that was long overdue. Joyce Black, a secretary, said she was just feeling lazy and dawdled till she too was late. All toll 19 choir members were all late for various reasons—something that had never happened before.
And at 7:25 pm, Westside Baptist Church blew up from a gas leak! Its roof caved in, its walls collapsed, but no one was hurt because no one was there when it happened. Coincidence or providence?
If you say, “providence,” can you think of a verse to support it? I thought of Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” As another pastor put it, “What the unbeliever calls good luck, the believer calls God’s love.” Amen? Colossians 1:16 adds this. This is a paraphrase from the Living Bible. It says, “Christ Himself is the Creator who made everything in heaven and on earth, the things we can see and the things we can’t. He was before all else began, and it’s His power that holds everything together.” He holds our bodies together. He holds our families together. He holds our churches together. He holds our nation together. He holds our economy and our healthcare system together. He is the One who holds this whole world together by His wisdom, power, and love.
As the old gospel song puts it, “He (Jehovah-Jireh, the One true God of the Bible who said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am,” and to Isaiah, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End”—He’s got the whole world in His hands and can turn it in whatever direction He likes.
That’s our theme as we come to Daniel chapter 2. Last week we left Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in Babylon where they’d been taken captive and made eunuchs in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, who ordered them to be taught the literature and language of the Babylonians. This was a crisis beyond description in which they lost their homes, their families, their country, and their virility. But so often that’s how tragedy strikes. It catches us unawares and unprepared for the trauma to follow. And yet, as we saw in chapter 1, these young men were ready for God’s call when it came to them in Babylon because they’d already committed their lives to Him years before the trouble began. And I pray that’ll be true of us as well—that the Holy Spirit will use their faith to ignite our faith so we trust our Lord more than we ever have before. In particular, there are three aspects of God’s greatness I want to highlight as we work through this passage together. The first aspect is—
1. The Greatness of His Knowledge
This chapter opens with Nebuchadnezzar waking up from a nightmare. Verse 29 says that while the king was on his bed, his “thoughts turned to what would take place in the future.” I imagine he was wondering how long his kingdom would last and what the course of world events would be after his reign. So God gave him a dream which, when properly understood, contains the most comprehensive outline of world history that has ever been given—a panorama of events stretching all the way from the time of Daniel (600 years before the time of Christ) to the return of Jesus Christ as our King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But the dream troubled him so much he couldn’t go back to sleep. He had to know what the Lord was saying to him in this dream.
So he immediately called for all the wise men and counselors in his realm and said to them in verse 5: “The command from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you will be torn limb from limb and your houses will be made a rubbish heap.”
Daniel and his friends weren’t present when all of this was happening, which means they were probably still in training. You’ll notice, if you look back at verse one in your Bible, that this took place very early during the captivity in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign.
But my question is: Why would the king demand that they tell him both the dream and its meaning? The answer is: He didn’t trust them! He knew if he told them the dream, they’d simply put their heads together and make something up. But this way – if they could tell him what he dreamed as well – he could be sure their interpretation was true.
The wise men, on their part, thought this was unreasonable and completely impossible. They said to him in verse 10: “There is not a man on earth who could declare the matter for the king inasmuch as no great king or ruler has ever asked anything like this of any magician, conjurer or Chaldean. Moreover, the thing which the king demands is difficult and there is no one else who could declare it to the king except gods whose dwelling place is not with mortal flesh.” Oh, no? They’re about to find out how wrong they are, for God does dwell with mortal man. He is our refuge and strength, a very present Help in trouble—something that He’s about to prove through the interpretation of this dream.
So the wise men tried to bargain for time which made the king absolutely furious, so much so that he ordered all the wise men of Babylon to be destroyed. Verse 13 says, “The decree went forth that the wise men should be slain; and they looked for Daniel and his friends to kill them” as well. All of which underscores two lessons we need to learn:
Lesson #1: The limited knowledge of man. Truth is most of us are fixers. The moment a problem arises, we go into fix-it mode analyzing every side of the issue. “If I do that, then this will happen. But if I do this other thing, I think I can get it to come out the way I want.” Every day you and I invest tremendous amounts of mental and emotional energy trying to solve problems that come our way. But here’s the flaw in our method. Not only are these minds incapable of processing enough information to make the right decision; but these processors themselves are full of bugs.
Remember the film that came out several years ago called “A Beautiful Mind?” It was based on the life of John Nash, the brilliant mathematician and Nobel Laureate who could see patterns in nature and behavior too subtle for anyone else to see, which was great until he began to see patterns and hear voices that didn’t exist. As a genius, it was his natural inclination to solve all his problems with his mind, but as a paranoid schizophrenic, it got to the point where he couldn’t trust his own mind to tell the difference between fact and fiction. He had to rely on his wife to tell him what was real and what was not.
The same thing is true of us. The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is the way of death.” Or to say it another way, you can’t trust your own thoughts and feelings. You need a reality check, which is found in daily dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ and His written Word. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, admitted that not even he was smart enough to go it alone. He advised, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”
Lesson #2: The unlimited knowledge of God. Listen to how Daniel puts it in verse 21 as he prays for the ability to understand this dream. “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him.”
Back in the late 90’s a heresy began to develop which is called open theism. It’s the idea that in order for man to have free will, God can’t know the future. He may have a good idea of what’s going to happen, but He doesn’t know for sure because if He knew for sure, that would mean our actions are pre-determined. And I have a good theological word for that. Baloney! The truth is God’s knowledge is so complete that He’s not only able to predict the future; He knows for certain everything that will ever come to pass. He says of Himself in Isaiah 46:10 says, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.’”
So my advice is to stop relying on your own wisdom and start relying on the unlimited knowledge of God. For He promises when we do that, He will graciously direct our paths into the best possible future for us. I like the lifeguard’s answer when asked by the reporter, “How can you tell if someone’s in trouble when there are so many bathers on the beach and so much noise in the water?” His answer, “No matter how great the noise and confusion, there has never been a single time when I failed to distinguish the cry of distress from everything else. I can always tell.” And so can our Savior. He sees it all and brings all of that knowledge to bear when we call upon Him in faith. That’s the second truth I want to highlight in this chapter—
The executioner was at the door, and through no fault of their own, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were bound for the gallows. So they had to do something fast, and what was that? They asked for a little more time since they weren’t there to hear the king’s original decree. And then they went to prayer, and God answered because God always answers prayer. Verse 17 continues: “Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night.”
The lesson is this. God doesn’t shield us from crisis situations. On the contrary, He was the One who put them in this situation pushing them onward and upward to a new level of faith because that’s how faith is formed—by putting us in situations where our only resource is God so we learn firsthand that when we have nothing left but God, God is enough. It might be a frightening diagnosis from your doctor, the loss of a job, a conflict in your marriage, or too much month and not enough money. But it’ll be something. God will put you in a situation of great stress and then come to your rescue when you call upon Him in faith. That’s His invitation in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”
Listen to how He did it in the case of these four young men. First, He revealed the dream and its interpretation to Daniel, and then notice what verses 46-47 say: “Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face and did homage to Daniel, and gave orders to present to him an offering and fragrant incense. The king answered Daniel and said, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.”
Furthermore, verse 48 adds, “The king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. And Daniel made request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego over the administration of the province of Babylon while Daniel was at the king’s court.” And the point is, my fellow control freaks, we aren’t in control regardless of how hard we try. But God is! He knows every detail of your life and has promised to work all those things together for your good if you’ll trust Him in simple childlike faith. I say that with absolute confidence because of the way He did it for Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, Abraham, Job, Jacob, and Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, and David, Deborah, Hannah, Esther, and Mary, all the other heroes of the faith, and in my life too more times than I can remember.
I’m thinking back right now to the problems we had with our healthcare insurer 28 years ago. Our church was in the middle of a building program, so in October we stepped out in faith and made a large 3-year commitment to it. The pastor has to set the example. Right! Then a month later, the day before Thanksgiving, our 4-year-old daughter Heidi was diagnosed with a large malignant and inoperable tumor in her abdomen. By God’s grace, He healed her after weeks of intensive prayer and surgery at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. But that didn’t take care of the thousands of dollars of medical bills we owed. But we had health insurance. So no worries!
Then in January our drain field failed, and we had to spend thousands of dollars on a new one. So now we’re emotionally exhausted and thousands of dollars behind on our bills, only to learn two months later when collection notices started arriving in the mail that our medical insurer had gone bankrupt. We, of course, called the insurance commissioner, all the while making minimum payments on our bills, so it wouldn’t ruin our credit. But nothing we did made any difference and now it’s going on a year since the surgery with no hope in sight. So what do you do at a time like that? You get down on your knees and pray for God’s mercy? And will He give it to you? In our case, after months of intense stress and intensive prayer, we got a personal call from the owner of the insurance company saying that he was going to sell off some of his assets and pay all our insurance claims, which he did, not only making it possible for us to pay our bills, but to keep our commitment to our church as well.
So trust Him no matter what trials you’re facing today. Ask Him for His mercy, and He’ll give it to you in abundance. Remember David’s words in Psalm 23. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” We don’t chase God’s mercy. It chases us. “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
We who love Jesus are walking by faith, not seeing one step that’s ahead. Not doubting one moment what our lot might be, but looking to Jesus, instead.
We praise our dear Savior for loving us so, for planning each care of our life. Then giving us faith to trust Him for all, the blessings as well as the strife.
Things don’t just happen to those who love God, to us who are in His hand. No matter the lot, the course, or the price, things don’t just happen they’re planned.
3. The Greatness of His Power
Now on to the dream itself. Daniel says to Nebuchadnezzar in verse 31: “You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary splendor, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome. The head of that statue was made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.”
“You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” So the dream was impressive. But even more amazing was its fulfillment.
Let me sketch it for you. Daniel explained that each type of metal represented a different world empire to come. For example, in verse 38, he says to Nebuchadnezzar, “You are the head of gold,” referring both to the king and his kingdom. But Babylon’s power didn’t last long. It was conquered in 539 B.C. by the Medes and Persians.
That’s pictured in the chest and arms of silver. The silver indicates an inferior form of government and the arms its two parts—the Persians and Medes. That was followed by the belly of bronze symbolizing the Greek Empire founded by Alexander the Great. It occupied a huge geographical area but was even less glorious in quality. The Greeks ruled the world from 331 to 63 B.C. at which time it was conquered by the most powerful of all the empires—Rome, its strength picture in its legs of iron. All of which was perfectly fulfilled in history. But here’s the interesting thing. Verse 43 says that one day that last empire will try to rise again. You see, Rome wasn’t conquered like the other kingdoms. It collapsed from within due to its corruption, and since that time it’s simply been divided among smaller nation states with every ruler from Charlemagne to Napolean to Hitler trying to resurrect it. Remember Mussolini, Italy’s dictator during World War II? He bragged, “I believe in the resurrection of the Roman Empire.”
And in fulfillment of prophecy, the Roman Empire will rise again. Many of us think we see it beginnings of this in the European Union. But the good news is. It won’t last for long. That’s seen in the ten toes made of iron and clay. Ten nations will form an alliance trying to mimic the power of Rome but like iron mixed with clay, it won’t hold together. For verse 45 adds that at the end of that time, a stone cut out of the mountain without hands will crush not just the last kingdom, but all the kingdoms of gold, silver, bronze, and iron, at which time Jesus Christ the King of Kings and Lord of Lords will return from heaven, destroy all the wicked empires and rulers of this world and set up a kingdom that will last forever.
Two other encouraging things that come out of this prophecy: The first I discovered when I was preaching on the book of Daniel back in the early 1980’s, when people were still worrying about the Soviet Union and their goal of world domination. President Reagan called them “the evil empire” and demanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” When I read this, I realized, “Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. They were all prophesied to be world empires, but not Russia. Russia isn’t on the list.” Nor is any other nation slated for world domination except the Revived Roman Empire ruled by antichrist, and that’ll last only a short time till Jesus comes and puts him in his proper place. The other encouraging note is that mankind is not going to destroy this world in a nuclear war. If left to himself, he would. But God hasn’t left us to ourselves. Nor is He going to give man the power to destroy His creation. That’s a right He’s reserved for Himself. Daniel makes it clear. What’s going to bring about the end of this world is not nuclear war but the coming kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Verse 44 promises: “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands…The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.” I love the way the French chemist, Pierre Bethelot, put it over 100 years ago now. He said, “In 100 years of physical and chemical science, man will discover what the atom is. It is my belief that when science reaches that stage, God will come down to earth with His big ring of keys and say to humanity, “Gentlemen, it’s closing time.” And I say, “Even so, come quickly, Lord.” Amen?
You see, those old deists like Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Voltaire, and Rousseau couldn’t have been more wrong. They believed that when God created the world, He wound it up like a clock and then left it to run in its own. But that isn’t true. The truth is He’s got the whole world in His hands and He cares very deeply about everything that happens within it, especially what happens to you and to me. So let’s learn to lean not on our own understanding, but on His wisdom, trying Him to lead us and guide us more than we ever have before. Amen? Pray with me, please.