Text: Daniel 2:24-49
When we left Daniel, he, his friends, and all of his co-workers had been ordered executed by the king. As you remember, Nebuchadnezzar had had a dream that had frightened him very much. He asked his wise men – astrologers, sorcerers, diviners, and so forth – to tell him the dream’s interpretation. However, he also demanded that they tell him what his dream was. The text isn’t clear whether this was a test of his wise men’s abilities or if the king had been so scared by the dream that he really could not remember it. In either case, the wise men responded with desperate exasperation that no one had ever asked such a thing before, and no one but the gods of heaven could possibly answer such a request. Then they went on to basically admit that they did not have contact with those gods.
So Nebuchadnezzar rashly decided that they were all crooks that did not need to waste his time, so he called for his executioner and decreed that they should all be put to death – those in the room who failed to answer his requests and all of the rest of them in his kingdom.
Daniel and his three friends, newly minted wise men after completing their three years of training, were not in the king’s room when all of that unfolded, but they were nonetheless among the wise men who were to be executed. As we talked about last week, Daniel intervened in this predicament by praying, with his three friends, for God to reveal to him the dream and its interpretation. God does just that in a vision to Daniel in the night. Daniel offers a deep and compelling praise of God in response, then seeks out Arioch, the king’s executioner, to report that he can answer the king’s request and thus spare his life and the lives of all of the other wise men in Babylon.
We talked last week about the example Daniel sets for seeking out God when we find ourselves in desperate situations. And we talked about the need for our church to seek intervention from God in the face of some attacks that are ongoing against us, seeking to derail our church from accomplishing the mission that God has for us. We need to be about seeking from God what is our place in the story He is writing. We need to ask what we need to be doing. We need to be following Him, trusting Him, and asking Him to deliver us from the Evil One that will stop at nothing from preventing us from being the Body of Christ we are called to be.
You see, we are a part of the story that God is writing. This story is history – the past, present, and future that has been written, is being written, and will yet be written. We are part of it. We have our place. We have our role. And we have an Enemy that would love to see us miss our cue and fail in our tasks.
God gave Nebuchadnezzar a remarkable vision of the future of history from his kingdom on. Daniel himself will have a similar dream during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar’s successor, Belshazzar. Nebuchadnezzar’s was a statue; Daniel’s will be four beasts.
Nebuchadnezzar’s statue was exceedingly tall, dazzling bright, and strangely made up of a mixture of metals. Gold at the top, this changed in turn to silver, then bronze, then iron, and finally a mixture of iron and clay. Each move down the statue results in a less valuable and glorious metal that is in some ways stronger than the previous, more precious metal. Each metal, as God revealed to Daniel, represents a new kingdom. The new kingdom replaces the former, sheds some glory, and gains a kind of strength.
As it happens, this is just how history in fact unfolded. Not so many years after Nebuchadnezzar, who was the gold head of the statue, his kingdom gave way to the Medo-Persian Empire of Cyrus and Darius. It was during their empire that Israel returned from Exile back to the Promised Land during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. The Medo-Persians in turn suffered defeat at the hands of a Macedonian prince named Alexander, who would go on to earn the title "the Great" for leading the Greek armies across the known world from Greece to Persia, back west to Egypt, and as far east as the Indus River. His Empire broke apart almost immediately, but the various Greek kings continued to reign for nearly three centuries until they, in turn, were subjugated under the mighty hand of Rome.
In the end, the entire statue is smashed by a rock carved by no human that then grows to rule over the whole earth. Though the rest of the prophecy has been fulfilled, this last part still awaits its fulfillment. And scholars still are not exactly sure whether it is a picture of the continuing growth and expansion of the church or whether instead it refers to the Second Coming of Christ.
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, it turns out, is a history lesson. Granted, it was a history of things that were yet to unfold. But it is no different than all of the history classes that you or I took during our school days. Nebuchadnezzar was certainly pleased that he and his kingdom were the golden head of the statue. They were the most glorious, the first, and the greatest. He would retain a good spot in history.
But what of us? What do we take away from these history lessons? The mystery of the statue still remains. It’s last empire, Rome, effectively ended in 476 when the city of Rome was overrun by the German barbarians. The eastern half, known by modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, lasted until it was finally swallowed by the Ottomans in the 1460s. No remnant of the Roman Empire now remains.
What can we learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s interpretation in light of what we know about history?
First, I would say that Daniel was not written to satisfy our desire to know the mystery of the End Times. Daniel’s interpretation of the carved stone and its decimation of the statue says nothing more than that God will have the final say, victory, and kingdom of this world. In other words, God wins. The dream and its interpretation do not tell us when, how, or whether or not there will be a rapture before, during, or after a Tribulation period. It says that God wins, and of all things eschatological – of all things about the end of days – that is really all that we need to know for our faith and life. God wins.
Second, the dream tells us that there are major movements in history. Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire lasted for less than a century. The Persians succeeded in their rule for about twice as long. The Greek Empire that began with Philip II, Alexander’s father, in the 350s, ended with Macedonia’s incorporation as a Roman province in 149 BC, another – albeit divided – two hundred years of rule for the Greeks. Rome, of course, depending on how you measure, lasted for somewhere between 700 and nearly 2,000 years before its utter demise.
European history after Rome remains a succession of Empires from Venice to Portugal to Spain to France to England to Germany to England’s successor, the USA. But power doesn’t stay located in any one place for longer than a few centuries at most. It degrades and transitions to yet someplace else, just as the statue revealed in its transitions from gold to silver to bronze to iron and then to brittle clay. In the history of humanity, nothing is forever. As Christians, our allegiance needs not to be to a political state here first, but to God’s kingdom. Remember, God wins in the end. Not Nebuchadnezzar, not Alexander, not Rome and its armies, not even America. It is God’s kingdom, and none other, that survives in all the earth.
Third, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream presents a very different view of the development of history than we are generally taught to believe today. In the dream, Nebuchadnezzar’s empire is represented by gold. Each move down the statue results in a degradation to a lesser metal, eventually winding up with no metal at all in the clay at the toes. In other words, Daniel confirms what many of us already suspect – this generation really is worse than the one before. The days really are more evil. Life really is harder.
In the modern world, overwhelmed in every tenet by Darwin’s theory of evolution, we are taught to believe and accept the inevitable progress of man. We are taught to believe that we are ever improving ourselves, bettering ourselves. We are indoctrinated to expect that one day, working hard enough, we will achieve by our own hard work world peace, the end all diseases, and blissful harmony with each other. In short, the world wants to believe that we are getting better than we were.
Daniel disagrees. So does Paul. And John. And Jesus, for that matter. The lesson of history is that we are utterly corrupted by sin. It’s darkness invades every corner, every aspect, every decision. We are proud and self-interested, beginning, middle, and end, just as Nebuchadnezzar will prove himself in next week’s look at Daniel 3.
Look around at the world today. We preach self-esteem. We cater to the whim of every loud minority, no matter how small. We accept that there is no truth except for what is true for me. We allow women "control over their bodies," disregarding the same independent control for the other body that is forming within her. We accept changes in the formation of the family unit, indoctrinated by the constant presentation of it in our media outlets that we consume so eagerly. We are swayed not by morality or honor or compassion, but by the almighty dollar and what is in it for me.
And we call this improvement and progress? No. This is utter debasement. History is developing all right, just not in the way or direction we would like to believe – and have been misled to believe – that it is. We are clearly following the declining value of the statue’s metals as we move down the ladder of history, not up it.
Fourth, as I have already hinted at, history has a conclusion. This statue of history will be shattered and blown away as chaff in the wind while God’s mighty stone erects His own kingdom in its place. This kingdom of God, Daniel says, "shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever." That is the end, and that is where we are going. And that is a stark contrast to every human empire that has ever existed.
Monte Vista, we are an outpost of this coming kingdom. We are part of laying the groundwork for this kingdom that is surely at our doorsteps. So are we going to allow ourselves to be overcome by infighting, backbiting, gossip, greed, aloofness, pride, and selfishness that are trying to undo us? Or will we take our stand against the devil, work with the world in which we live, but apart from it, aligned to another world? Will we seek to introduce this world to the King of Kings who is coming to reign and wants now to reign in your heart and my heart now, even before his throne room is established here?
We have a choice to make. We can continue down the road of history that leads to nowhere but destruction. Or we can make ready for this stone of destruction and reinstitution. We can ally ourselves with a world already being shattered and ready to blow away, or we can ally ourselves with a kingdom that shall never die.
As for me, I choose the latter. No matter the apparent cost now. I want to stand with my Savior, with the King of History, with the Sovereign who records history before it even occurs. I pray that you, too, will join me in this work.