Daniel 2 Bible Study: Faith under pressure and the God of the impossible

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Book of Daniel Bible Study Commentary Chapter 2:1-23

Daniel Chapter 2: Faith under pressure and the God of the impossible

by I Gordon

Daniel chapter 2 presents us with a very interesting little passage. As we shall soon see, Daniel, through no fault of his own, will find himself in a seemingly impossible situation with a death sentence hanging over his head. How did it get to this? Well, it involves God, a dream, and a cranky stressed-out king! In fact, everyone in this chapter will find themselves under some pretty intense pressure. And that's what we are going to look at in this Bible study lesson - Faith under pressure and the God of the Impossible.

A God-given bad night sleep...

Dan 2:1-4 In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. 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.' Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic, 'O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.'

Have you ever had a dream so vivid and real that you wake up startled, sweating, or with a pounding heart? Well King Nebuchadnezzar had one of those. But it came with a small twist - it was totally God given and it shook this king to his very core. God has been known to disturb the odd person's sleep from time to time but always at an opportune time.  [1]  We'll examine the dream in detail next week but in brief Nebuchadnezzar saw a great and impressive statue that was smashed to pieces by a stone. That stone became a great mountain that filled the whole earth.

Now this had the king completely freaked out!  [2]  ... Was the statue a representation of him? Was it his kingdom? When is it going to be smashed? You can imagine the thoughts that swirled in his head. He has all the power and wealth of the then known world but death is a great leveller and faced with the pressure of his possible death the king demands answers! Nothing else matters! Job contains an interesting word on this:

Job 33:14-18 For God does speak--now one way, now another-- though man may not perceive it. (15) In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, (16) he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, (17) to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, (18) to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.

Well Nebuchadnezzar was 'terrified with warnings' alright! So he summons his 'wise men' - Basically a bunch of Spiritists and New Agers! The only ones not asked to consult were the Bible believers. Seems things haven't changed!  [3]  But this motley bunch of 'wise men' are pretty confident saying  'O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it  .' Like most mediums and clairvoyants they are probably thinking that they can just be clever and make up some vague waffly answer and get away with it... But the king has other ideas.

And you thought you were grumpy in the mornings!

Dan 2:5-9 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 honour  . So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.' 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 that this is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me the dream, there is just 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.'

The king isn't ready to play the wise men's little games however. He is grumpy. Very grumpy. Obviously likes a good night's sleep! In fact, if the wise men can't tell him both the dream itself and the interpretation then they will be cut into pieces and their houses will be turned into piles of rubble  [4]  . Nice. On the plus side, if they can state both the dream and the interpretation all manner of rewards and honour will be theirs. So, quite literally, life and death stood before all involved. The foundation of all men was now to be tested. If they knew God and were given revelation they would live. If their so called wisdom was based on a lie or false hope, they would die. In a similar way all mankind now stand and all will be ultimately tested. Where is your hope? What is your foundation? Is it in the true God?

With the king dictating such extreme outcomes it is good to ask why he would do this. On a natural level the king is probably sick of 'wise men' that make it up as they go along. He is probably sick of their greasy advice that just tells him what he wants to hear. But on a more spiritual level it is God again who is behind this. And be assured that when God causes extreme things to happen (then or now), it is so He can act extremely.  [5]  God sometimes allows things to happen in our lives that are completely out of our control, as it was to become for Daniel, so that God HAS to act! And then God, and only God, can get the glory. We'll continue on and see if He gets the glory in this situation.

Daniel, the man of God.

Dan 2:10-17 The astrologers answered the king, 'There is not a man 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 men  .' This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. 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. At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him.

So King Nebuchadnezzar has asked the impossible, which the king's magicians and astrologers openly acknowledge. Only the 'gods' can provide an answer for this and 'they do not live among men.' Well, the real God does dwell with His people and this shall soon be shown true. What I really liked about this passage though is Daniel's response when he finds out that he is about to be put to death (along with his friends). Does he panic? Does he freak out? Not at all! This boy (and remember, Daniel is still a teenager or possibly early 20's at this stage) knows God. And, as Major Ian Thomas said 'It is the presence of the Lord Jesus that allows a man to be gloriously detached from the pressure of circumstance!' Well, Daniel seems to be gloriously detached from the pressure of having his life on the line! That is the presence of God. Nothing else can do that. Someone once asked Einstein's wife if she understood the theory of relativity. She replied that she didn't but that Albert did and he could be trusted. How much more should we trust God! We may not know what is going on but God does and he can be trusted!

Proverbs 3:25-26 Do not be afraid of sudden fear Nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes; (26) For the LORD will be your confidence And will keep your foot from being caught.

In our day the pressure is on more and more. There is pressure with jobs, health, relationships... far more strain upon families and difficulties in raising children...world financial turmoil and associated anxiety are increasing. Things are getting harder. There is a shaking going on so that those things that are unshakable may remain (Heb 12:26-29). So are you convinced of the faithfulness of God? Daniel was able to remain calm when the pressure came on because of his close relationship to the Lord. May we be the same!

Best be organising that prayer meeting though! 

Dan 2:18-19 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.  He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery  , so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision.

Nothing like a good old trial to get the prayer life firing though! Daniel's first action is to get on the blower and call for a prayer meeting! He swings straight into action and organises his three friends to begin praying to 'plead for mercy'. There is no doubt that in these days we need prayer, we need each other, and we need to be praying for each other! No doubt about it. Make sure you have people around you that you can ask to pray in times of trial. Daniel did. And make sure you take things straight away to the Lord instead of stewing on them for a while!  [6] 

So the Lord answered him and granted the answer to the mystery. The Bible says that it was revealed 'during the night'. We do not know whether Daniel kept praying till he received an answer of whether he was able to rest and sleep without yet getting the answer. Either way, Daniel showed great faith in a faithful God.  [7]  He is certainly a wonderful example to us today.

Glory and praise to where it belongs!

 Dan 2:19-23 Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said:
'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 have 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.'

I love how this section concludes with Daniel offering up this wonderful word of praise. You can only imagine how much joy and amazement would have been in his heart at this time towards the Lord who had revealed this great mystery and saved them from a certain death. And of course, God gets the glory because only He could show them the answer and spare their lives. God doesn't 'need' anything. He is self sufficient. So what then can we give Him? Well, only our praise and our lives. Daniel also understood that God gives 'wisdom to the wise' and 'knowledge to the discerning'. This reminds us of what Jesus said - 'To him who has, more will be given.' If we have the wisdom to know that true knowledge and understanding is given from God, then more wisdom will be added to us because we will learn to rely on God and seek His wisdom.

I also like how Daniel said 'He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.' Obviously Daniel was thinking about the king's dream that had been revealed to him. But God reveals more than this. He can reveal the reasons concerning the dark times that we go through. Job 12:13-23 is a similar passage to Daniel 2:19-23. Verse 22 of Job 12 tells us  'He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light.  ' What we would consider times of darkness is still light to the Lord.

In our age the pressure is on but God knows what lies in the darkness. May we be like Daniel and commit all things unto the one who holds our lives in His hand. He is still the God of the impossible. He reveals deep and hidden things. And He gives wisdom and power to those in need.

Conclusion - The purpose of the dream

So as a conclusion and review, let's just explore why God give this dream? What was God's purpose? This was such a dramatic event but God had a purpose in mind for all concerned. So what was the purpose for Nebuchadnezzar? For Daniel? For Babylon's wise men and onlookers? What about the purpose for us today?

The purpose for Nebuchadnezzar

Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon that had just defeated Israel. The purpose of the dream for this king is to remind him that all earthly kingdoms will be crushed and smashed, including his own, and that only the Lord's kingdom is eternal. It was a dream specifically designed to put the fear of God into his heart! And it seemed to have worked! All those that are ignoring God can learn from this!

The purpose for Daniel

Daniel was a young man exiled in Babylon. Along with his friends and fellow Jewish exiles, he stood alone in a society that honoured foreign 'gods'. But through this dream God was reminding Daniel that He was the One who was in control. He ordained the rise and fall of kingdoms. Though exiled, Daniel would have received tremendous encouragement to see the God of Israel firmly in control even down in Babylon! We too can learn and take heart from this as we live in societies that no longer honour God.

The purpose for Babylon's wise men and on-lookers

God was showing them who the true God is. He was showing them that all their wisdom, 'gods' and everything that they placed their hope in amounted to nothing. They would be shown up by a young Israelite boy whose God, unlike theirs, was alive and active!

The purpose for all today

This God-given dream that Nebuchadnezzar had accurately listed the world empires that would rise (and fall) from that day down to the return of Jesus Christ. What an amazing dream! What an amazing God who declares the end from the beginning! Believers can look at this and know that God is in control despite the chaos of world events. They can know that it is all building for the grand finale where the stone cut without human hands (the Lord Jesus) smashes the kingdoms of the world and establishes His own on this planet. Come Lord Jesus!

[1] ↩  For example, have a look at what He did to the king in the days of Esther (Esther 6:1). How perfect was His timing then? Or what about the dream He gave Pilate's wife in Matt 27:19. He also gave Abimelech a dream telling him that 'he was a dead man' because he had eyes for Abraham's wife Sarah! (Gen 20:3). Each dream or sleep disturbance was always at the most opportune time!

[2] ↩  Just in the small print you've got to understand that in those days they believed dreams were messages from the 'gods'. So here he is seeing this great statue getting smashed to pieces and he has got to be thinking - 'Is that statue me? Is this a message from the gods to say that my time is up? Am I the statue?'

[3] ↩  There has been an interesting move back to psychics, mediums and their like in our age. They say that we live in a post modern world. Just as a quick history lesson note the following:

Pre-Modernism : Until 1700's: People believed in absolute truth, divine revelation, gods and spirits.

Modernism : 1700 - 1980's: Human logic and reasoning pushed, the age of enlightenment, scientific discovery, general belief that we can achieve what we need through science and logic and belief in God or spirits is frowned upon as 'superstition'.

Post-Modernism 1980's onwards: Absolute truth can't be found or known. People create their own truth and the only absolute moral is tolerance. What is interesting is that in this post modern world where everyone has their own truth and belief is that spirituality is making a comeback... but it is coupled with the belief that there is no absolute truth so anything goes. You see this when you switch on your TV. Note all the programs about Psychics, mediums, witches and the paranormal.

[4] ↩  The king is under extreme pressure and obviously he is passing some of that onto the 'wise men'.In our day, if we are not performing at work or times are tough we might say something like 'I could get the boot... I'm facing the chop... looks like I'm gunna get the axe.' Well, for these 'wise men', including Daniel, these were not just figures of speech! It was quite literal!

[5] ↩  For example, specifically leading Israel into a dead end at the Red Sea, surrounded by the sea on one side and the entire Egyptian army on the other! Or Gideon sprinting down the hill, yelling at the top of his voice, with 300 fellow Jews, to take on the entire Midian army. As someone (well, many people) have said 'Man's extremity is God's opportunity!'

[6] ↩  Check out Hezekiah's reaction when faced with overwhelming odds in Isaiah 37:14-21. It is a great example of laying things out before God in humility and prayer!

[7] ↩  Here is a quiz starter. Please name the three most 'righteous' men in the Old Testament. Who would you go with? Enoch? Abraham? Joseph? Joshua? All great men.... no doubt about it. But they don't make God's top three list. Have a look in Ezek 14:14, 28:3.