Friday, October 9, 2015

Interpretation of Dreams (Daniel 2)

Announcement: Because it would fit better into my life and has just basically been a thing anyway, I will be changing the time of these blog posts from morning to noon. So you can expect this blog to update in the future at noon on Mondays and Fridays. Thank you!

With our wonderful background knowledge, we are ready to get into a nice run-down of the different sections of the book. (I promise we won't have another background post next week.) Remember that the focus of this book (and the Aramaic chapters in particular) is to show God's sovereignty at a time when it looks like the Babylonian gods are stronger than He is.

But how does our familiar story about Nebuchadnezzar's dream of a statue made of all sorts of material actually show God's sovereignty? It does in more ways than you might think. Let's dig in. 

(I have been much cheaper with my writing style, since I started this exposition on Daniel; I'm sorry, but it takes a lot of time to write exposition, so something had to go.)

We're going to start after Nebuchadnezzar has his dream, and the language of the book shifts to Aramaic. It is here that we see Nebuchadnezzar's magicians, astrologers, sorcerers, and Chaldeans (hereafter just Chaldeans because that's what the book does) come and ask for the dream, so they can interpret it.

This group of people is important. This group of people is essentially a collection of religious people who would reign the power of the Babylonian gods to answer a given question. Nebuchadnezzar hopes that they will be able to interpret his dream.

But apparently, he has forgotten his dream entirely. This shouldn't be a problem clearly as the gods of Babylon will be sure to reveal to the Chaldeans what he dreamed too. And if they shan't, then the Chaldeans will be exposed as frauds and be cut into pieces and their houses will be made into... yeah. That's totally Nebuchadnezzar. Totally.

But shocker! The gods of Babylonian do not reveal to the Chaldeans the dream! It's almost as if the Babylonian gods don't exist or something. Sarcasm aside, the beginning parts of this chapter clearly show that the Chaldeans do not have the power that they claim to have, and it does place suspicion on the power of their gods.

Indeed, the words of the Chaldeans in verse 10-11 are rather telling,
"The Chaldeans answered before the king, and said, There is not a man upon the earth that can shew the king's matter: therefore there is no king, lord, nor ruler, that asked such things at any magician, or astrologer, or Chaldean. And it is a rare thing that the king requireth, and there is none other that can shew it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh."

Oh, only the gods can reveal it. That seems problematic, since they don't dwell among us. How are we supposed to respond to this?

Well, Nebuchadnezzar is rash, so he decrees that all the wise men get killed. And so they obviously go after Daniel and his fellows because they fall into this category. You may think it bad storytelling that I introduce that Daniel and his fellows are wise men here, but take it up with the Bible. It seems that God was trying to stress that the story is not actually about Daniel, but rather His own power.

Daniel asks the king for time to know the dream and the interpretation thereof. The king grants it for some reason, probably the hand of God. And so Daniel went back and told his companions, and they prayed to the God of Heaven. Indeed, these verses are ones that specifically highlight the process by which God and not man revealed the truth of the dream. In verses 17-23, we read,
"Then Daniel went to his house, and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions: That they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast now made known unto us the king's matter."

The secret was revealed to Daniel, and he recognizes that it was God who revealed this to him and spends the time to praise Him, revealing to the world, that God is able to resolve issues of dreams that according to the Chaldeans, no man can reveal.

It is interesting to note that the Chaldeans would have been religious people that the selected audience of this text would have respected and listened to, meaning that this whole interpretation of the dream thing has great significance to them because the Chaldeans essentially said it was impossible.

And so Daniel reveals the dream and its interpretation to the king. But when he does so, he tends to want to highlight the fact that you know, the Chaldeans couldn't do it, but God can. The emphasis in these verses (as in the rest of the chapter) is on the superiority of God over the Chaldeans. Look in verses 27-30,
"Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king; But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these; As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter: and he that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass. But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart."

So the dream itself is also kinda important in showing God's sovereignty over the nations. We will examine this in more detail with the future visions of the book of Daniel, starting in chapter 7.

But for now, let's examine that Nebuchadnezzar saw a statue, where the head was of gold, breast and arms of silver, his belly and thighs of brass, his legs of iron, and his feet of iron and clay.

And they all fell to pieces because a stone "made without hands." That expression indicates a divine intervention, where God comes in and destroys this statue.

Daniel interprets this dream as portraying the nations of the world that would come after Babylon, which was the strongest of them and the golden head. In hindsight, we can see how this proved true as the Babylonian empire was conquered by the Medo-Persians, who were conquered by the Greeks, who were conquered by the Romans, and so on. This is a very relevant showing of God's sovereignty over the nations and His ability to fulfill His prophecies.

But it actually wouldn't have meant all that much to the Babylonians or the Jews at the time, as they couldn't look back to hindsight to see that this was true. Instead, they would look to authorities that they trusted to make sense of the strange turn of events, which is probably why this account ends with Nebuchadnezzar's proclamation in verse 47,
"Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret." 

Indeed He is.

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