I assume we have all had a bad dream or nightmare at some points in our lives? Isn’t it awful when you have a bad dream that wakes you up and makes you feel nervous, frightened or confused? I don’t know what bad dreams you have. I often have a dream about failing a French exam at school, and others in which I’m either being chased by a stranger or find myself falling through the sky. I wonder if any budding psychologists here today can let me know later what they mean?!
Our OT Bible reading today is about a difficult dream. A dream had by King Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of the Babylonian Empire around 580BC. King Nebuchadnezzar had recently invaded the country of Israel and ruthlessly destroyed its capital city, Jerusalem. His army took many captives from Jerusalem, and brought them back home to Babylon (modern day Iraq). One of these Jewish servants was an able young man called Daniel. Daniel was a man who knew and loved God. A man whose life story we will be hearing all about over the next few weeks.
Like many dictators and autocrats in history, King Nebuchadnezzar seems to have suffered from insecurity and perhaps paranoia, because his dream troubled him greatly, and disturbed his sleep (v.1). Ironically, even though he was probably the most powerful man in the world, Nebuchadnezzar was still scared by his difficult dream. He wanted to know what it meant, and fast!
As we follow Nebuchadnezzar’s search for a solution to his dream, we will see him make an unreasonable request, we will see Daniel’s dramatic intervention, and finally we will encounter a global kingdom even greater that Nebuchadnezzar’s.
- An Impossible Request: A Dictator’s Demand!
Nebuchadnezzar began his search for an answer to his dream by summoning his own “magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers” (v.2). Spiritual civil servants, you might say, who were well known for offering plausible interpretations of dreams. But Nebuchadnezzar wanted to be sure that these wise men weren’t fooling him. He wanted to be sure that they were telling him the true meaning of his dream, not just guessing. So he set them a test: Before they could tell him what his dream meant, they had to tell him what his dream was!
But how could these Babylonian wise men know what dream Nebuchadnezzar had had in his sleep? How unreasonable! Impossible! So they said to him “What you ask is too difficult. No one can tell you your dream except the gods!” (v.11). This made King Nebuchadnezzar furiously angry, and he resorted to arbitrary rule and ruthlessness. Like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, he cried “Off with their heads!” He “ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon” unless someone could quickly tell him the meaning of his dream! (v.12).
- A Dream Explained: God Speaks!
Nebuchadnezzar’s unreasonable request was not only bad news for his pagan advisers, but also for Jewish Daniel and his friends. They too were counted as wise men, and fell under the scope of Nebuchadnezzar’s death sentence. Yet Daniel did not panic, and in verses 14 to 18 of our chapter today Daniel does three things. Three things we should also do in times of crisis or anxiety:
- Firstly, Daniel shows courage. Daniel went before his dictator and “asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him” (v.16).
- Secondly, Daniel turned to his fellow believers, to “his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah” asking for their support (v.17).
- And thirdly, Daniel joined them in prayer (v.18). Daniel knew that God, and God alone, could interpret the king’s dream to save him and his friends.
When confronted with difficult situations today, like a bad diagnosis, a job interview or an uncertain future, I hope we can learn from Daniel’s behaviour. I hope you and I can have courage, I hope we can turn to our Christian friends for support, and I hope we will turn to our God in prayer.
The good news for Daniel, and the good news for us today, is that God doesn’t stay silent. God can speak, and he can tell us things we could never find out for ourselves. God can reveal truths about himself, about ourselves and about the future that we could only guess at on our own.
During the night, we are told, God gave Daniel the meaning of the King’s dream. God spoke words of knowledge for the king, words which were also words of salvation for Daniel and his friends. No doubt Daniel hurried to see the king as soon as the sun rose! But if you were listening carefully, did you spot what Daniel said to the King before he described his dream? Did you notice that Daniel made sure the King knew that God had given him the meaning of the dream. In verse 28 he says to the King: “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries!” (v.28). Daniel wanted the King to know that God speaks, and he speaks with unequalled authority, knowledge and wisdom! In fact, five times in this chapter we are told that God speaks and reveals mysteries (v.11,22,23,28,47). It is a fact the author of this passage really wants us to take to heart!
Daniel proceeds to tell King Nebuchadnezzar his dream (v.29). The king dreamt of a giant statue. A statue with a head of gold, a chest of silver, a waist of bronze and legs made of iron and clay. These four parts of the statue represent four great kingdoms or empires. Four great superpowers (as we might call them today) who will come and go - one after another. The golden head on the statue represented King Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, his own Babylonian Empire. But his empire wouldn’t last forever, and would be replaced by three others.
It should be no surprise that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream came true! Because three great empires did indeed follow his own. First came the Persian Empire, symbolised by the statue’s silver chest. After the Persians came the Greeks, represented by the bronze waist on the statute. And lastly came the Roman Empire, represented by the statue’s iron and clay legs and feet. Unsurprisingly, God had spoken truthfully to Daniel and revealed the future for the King.
The great news is that God still speaks truthfully today. Sometimes Christians today claim to hear God speak in dreams or visions or other unusual experiences. That may be true. But by the far the most common way to hear God’s voice is in Scripture. The Bible is standard by which all other alleged words from God are to be judged. The Bible is a sure guide to God’s character and commands, his promises and his purposes. It is a trustworthy source of knowledge. Without God’s words, we can all be a bit like King Nebuchadnezzar – confused, uncertain and sometimes a little scared.
We can be sure God speaks through the Bible because he guided and inspired all the different people who wrote it, like he inspired Daniel in our story today. So as we prayerfully read the Bible we can be confident we are hearing God’s voice. That’s why, of course, the Bible is an essential part of our church meetings on Sunday, and why we should read it regularly alone and at house group in-between.
The nation has just celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation. During her coronation service at Westminster Abbey the Queen was given a copy of the Bible, and the following words were said: “Our gracious Queen… we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom…These are the lively Oracles of God.” Those are words we should all take to heart, not just Her Majesty.
- An Amazing Rock: God’s in control!
Lastly today, did you notice that there was a stone as well as a statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream? A small rock untouched “by human hands”, but straight from God (v.34). A small rock which flew through the air and then hit the base of the statue, causing it to shatter, collapse and be blown away by the wind. A little rock does a demolition job on Nebuchadnezzar’s big man! And the stone didn’t stay little, did it? Because it grows to become a great mountain. A “huge mountain…that filled the whole earth” (v.35).
Thankfully God had told Daniel what this unusual and amazing rock signified. The rock represented God’s kingdom. A kingdom which would start small, like a little stone, but would grow as big as the globe. And God’s kingdom did indeed start small, when baby Jesus was born in insignificant Bethlehem 2000 years ago, when the Romans ruled the world. But God’s kingdom has grown every day since then. It has grown all around the globe as people recognise Jesus as God’s chosen King. It continues to grow even today as people come to Christ from every nation. Compared to God’s kingdom every worldly kingdom and human power is tiny, temporary and fragile. No human president, prince or power will last forever, but Jesus is Lord for all time.
The fact that Jesus is sovereign is great news for Christians. It’s great news because it means we can pray to Christ with confidence. If Jesus is Lord, nothing is beyond his control. Our almighty God has the power to answer prayers, just like he answered Daniel’s. So let’s keep praying!
Because Christ is in ultimate control of the cosmos we can also be courageous. We can confront powerful people and difficult situations with confidence and courage, just like bold Daniel before Nebuchadnezzar. If God is on our side he will help us, come what may. We may face trials and tribulation, but his Spirit will never leave us nor forsake us - so be bold! As the old song goes: “Dare to be a Daniel; Dare to stand alone; Dare to have a purpose firm; And dare to make it known!”
Finally, because Christ is in control we can have great hope for the future. One day he will return to earth and become the world’s undisputed king, even greater than Nebuchadnezzar. No other country or kingdom will compare to his. One day Jesus will make the whole world new. It will be even more spectacular to see than King Nebuchadnezzar’s splendid palace. Something every Christian can look forward to!