Thursday, January 12, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 5, The King Has A Dream

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 5
The King Has A Dream

King Nebuchadnezzar has been having a very disturbing dream. Most dreams are forgotten as soon as we wake up and even if they are not, we generally recognize them as coming from our own anxieties or experiences. But the ancient world put a great deal of emphasis on dreams, believing they were prophetic in nature, and in this particular case Nebuchadnezzar was correct to be troubled. He somehow sensed this repetitive dream involved his kingdom and his hold over it.

"In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep." (Daniel 2:1) As we learned earlier in our study, the Babylonians reckoned reignal years at the end of them. When Daniel was taken captive, Nebuchadnezzar would have been in his first year as king, at the very beginning of his reign, but the Babylonians didn't count the accession year until it was completed. So his second year, by Babylonian reckoning, would coincide with Daniel's completion of three years of education. Daniel was likely taken to Babylon in late 605 BC, after the death of Nebuchadnezzar's father Nabopolassar in the summer of 605 BC. Nebuchadnezzar was formerly his father's army general and after he was crowned king he got right back on the battlefield to continue annexing the territories that were formerly vassals of Assyria, such as Judah and Egypt. Assyria had held authority over Babylon for about three hundred years until Nabopolassar and his allies, along with his son as army general, defeated them. Now Babylon was intent on making her own everything that Assyria had formerly claimed.

So at about the time Daniel finished his education, Nebuchadnezzar has the same upsetting dream several times in a row, and he has concluded there must be a message in it. He wakes up in the night after having the dream, perhaps in a sweat with his heart pounding, filled with anxiety. He cannot go back to sleep because the dream has disturbed him so. I can sympathize with him. I woke up in the night last night and began thinking about a problem I'm currently having with my health insurance coverage and I lay awake for about an hour with my stomach tied in anxious knots. Then I remembered that losing sleep wasn't going to help anything and that God is in control. This enabled me to fall back to sleep. But Nebuchadnezzar didn't have the kind of peace that you and I have in God. He served pagan gods that didn't exist and that he couldn't have a relationship with. After several long and unhappy nights he realizes he cannot go on like this. "So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, 'I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.'" (Daniel 2:2-3)

The Lord is setting the stage for Daniel's rise to power in Babylon. These men the king calls in to interpret the dream are frauds at best (prepared to make up good news for the king) or under the influence of evil at worst (such as the fortune-telling girl of Acts 16 who was possessed and gave her predictions through the power of an unclean spirit). These men, upon whom the king and his father before him have relied, will be no help to Nebuchadnezzar. But a young Hebrew man named Daniel will be a great deal of help and he will not ascribe his power to any pagan god but to the one and only God, the Maker of all things. Because Daniel is the only man in the kingdom who is able to do what the king asks, he will be promoted above all Nebuchadnezzar's magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers.

"Then the astrologers answered the king, 'May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.' The king replied to the astrologers, 'This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.'" (Daniel 2:4-6) This matter is so important and so urgent that Nebuchadnezzar, in order to make certain these men are giving a true interpretation instead of words that will sound good to him, insists they not only interpret the dream but tell him what the dream was to begin with. He is testing them. If they are truly in communication with the gods, this should not be a problem, for the gods will reveal the dream and its meaning to them. But if they are not receiving their information from the gods, they will be unable to describe the dream, and he will know they are lying about its interpretation. To underline his point, Nebuchadnezzar threatens the lives of these men if they cannot prove they are the real deal.

"Once more they replied, 'Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.' Then the king answered, 'I am certain that you are trying to gain time, because you realize this is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me the dream, there is only one penalty for you. You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.'" (Daniel 2:7-9) The men are astonished. No one has ever asked such a thing of them before, not Nebuchadnezzar's father, not anyone. 

"The astrologers answered the king, 'There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.'" (Daniel 2:10-11) Oh, but they are wrong! There is a God who makes His dwelling with mankind. There is a God who offers friendship and fellowship to man, so much so that, several centuries after the Babylonian captivity, He will come in the flesh as a man to take away the sins of the world.

At this point Nebuchadnezzar realizes anything that comes out of the men's mouths will be lies. If they cannot tell him the dream then they are not true fortune-tellers, and if they are not true fortune-tellers then they can't possibly know what the dream means. "This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon." (Daniel 2:12) One of the commentaries I consulted suggests that perhaps Nebuchadnezzar desired to rid himself of his father's advisers. It could be that he had long suspected they were charlatans. It appears he was correct. He is so furious with the wise men that an execution order is given not only for the native Babylonian wise men but for the Hebrew wise men as well. To Nebuchadnezzar they are all the same. He does not yet understand that there is a difference between the men standing before him and a young man from Judah named Daniel.

"So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death, and men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death. When Arioch, the commander of the king's guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact. He asked the king's officer, 'Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?' Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel." (Daniel 2:13-15) The commander does not owe Daniel an explanation but the Lord gives Daniel grace in this man's eyes just as He formerly gave Daniel grace in the eyes of the chief official and the guard he spoke with about the food from the king's table. There is something about Daniel that people are drawn to. He possesses a dignity and self-esteem that comes from being a child of God, but at the same time he displays a spirit of respect and humility toward those in charge over him. Instead of panicking at the bad news, as no doubt the Babylonian wise men were, Daniel calmly asks an explanation for the king's decree.

Arioch explains the matter and the Bible tells us, "At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him." (Daniel 2:16) Daniel is able to get an audience with the king because he has already impressed him with his wisdom and understanding, as we learned in Chapter 1. The Lord has given Daniel grace in Nebuchadnezzar's eyes and the king is willing to listen to the calm reasoning of this young man. Because of his character and faith, Daniel obtains a stay of execution for himself, his friends, and all the wise men of Babylon. If he had not been a man of faith, blessed with wisdom by God, all the wise men (including himself) would have perished that day. But he is a man of faith and of prayer. Because he is devoted to the Lord, the Lord will give him the help he needs.

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