In our last essay we began our new study, which is a study of the book of Daniel. I gave some historical background; and then we looked at the story found in chapter 1 about how Daniel and certain other young people from Judah were taken into exile in Babylon in 606 or 605 B.C. And then we saw them make the best of their bad situation. They were given an opportunity to study; and they excelled in their studies.
They were trained to be Babylonian wise men; and at the end of their training, they graduated at the head of their class. And they did this under adverse circumstances. They had to learn the Chaldean language and customs, which placed them at a disadvantage in their competition against the young men from Babylon. Moreover they wanted to remain true to God, which was difficult. For example, along the way they had to figure out how to avoid the rich diet of the king’s table, evidently because it contained foods forbidden by the Jewish law. They succeeded in doing that.
And God blessed them. He gave them learning, skill in letters, and wisdom. And he gave Daniel a special gift, an ability to understand visions and dreams (v. 17). That was why, when they stood before the king on graduation day, they were the four top students. Indeed the king found them to be ten times better than the other “magicians and enchanters” in the kingdom.
Now then, we are ready to look at the first 23 verses of chapter two. Note first the four different terms used to designate the wise men: magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and Chaldeans. In verses 12 and 27 respectively, two additional terms are used; namely “wise men” and “astrologers.”
Many commentators think these differing names indicate different specialties among the wise men in general. And this may be true to an extent. But on the other hand, the terms seem fairly interchangeable. At any rate, the term “wise men” seems to be a good general term to cover all of these groups. Therefore I have decided to use that term.
Second, note that Nebuchadnezzar made an impossible demand of his wise men. He asked them to tell him both the dream and the interpretation of the dream. Some scholars have proposed that Nebuchadnezzar forgot the dream, and he couldn’t tell it to the wise men. But the tone of his words in verses eight and nine suggest that he didn’t trust them; and he was testing their abilities.
Third we note that both the punishment promised and the rewards offered were excessive. If they failed, they would be killed, torn limb from limb, and their houses destroyed. The phrase at the end of verse five that reads “laid in ruins” in the NRSV reads literally, “made a dung hill.” So it’s a rather vivid picture.
On the other hand if they succeeded in the challenge, they would be given gifts and rewards and be promoted to high office. Later in the chapter we will see how massive the reward Nebuchadnezzar had in mind was. This was typical of ancient despots. They had that kind of absolute authority within their kingdoms; and they often acted excessively in carrying out their will.
The wise men were not able to do what Nebuchadnezzar asked. And we find out what happened next in verses 12-16. The king did what he had promised. He decreed that all of the wise men were to be killed. Of course this now included Daniel and his friends.
As soon as Daniel heard about the decree, his reaction was, Whoa! Time out! He figured he was too young to die. Fortunately Daniel knew the man who was responsible to carry out the king’s command. He was the “captain of the king’s guard (NIV),” or “the king’s chief executioner;” and his name was Arioch. His was an extremely important position, because the captain of the king’s guard supervised the carrying out of all the king’s commands (e.g., Jer. 40:1-6).
Arioch’s position gave him access to the king; and he could get someone an audience with the sovereign. Since Daniel knew Arioch, he told Arioch that he could interpret the king’s dream, and he asked for an appointment with the king.
Then we see in verses 17-23 that Daniel took action. Daniel obviously knew that God was their only hope to save their lives. Arioch may have been able to get Daniel an audience with the king. But Arioch could not tell Daniel what to say. Daniel actually had to know Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation; or he was a dead man.
So he went home and told his three friends, who apparently were house mates, to pray. Notice that he told them to seek God’s mercy. Because without God’s taking mercy on them, that is, without a supernatural revelation of the needed information, they could not escape death.
And God answered their prayers! Interestingly the revelation did not come instantaneously. It did not come during the prayer meeting. Rather it came to Daniel in a night vision.
Once Daniel had the information, he instinctively broke out in praise to God. He began with general praise in verse 20: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.”
Then in verses 21 and 22 he gave three specific examples. First, God “changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.” In other words God is in control.
Second, God “gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. How interesting! This is the opposite of what we might have expected. I would have anticipated him to suggest that God would give wisdom and knowledge to those who especially needed it. But Daniel says God gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. I believe that Daniel meant by the wise and discerning those who know and worship the true God, who have faith in him, and who pray to him for wisdom and knowledge.
And then third, God “reveals deep and hidden things.” And of course this is what he has done for Daniel. The Lord revealed to Daniel the content of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which was information could receive no other way.
Finally, in verse 23 Daniel gives God praise; and thanks for what he has done. He thanks the Lord for the wisdom, power, and information that God has given him. Notice that even though God revealed the information directly to Daniel, Daniel indicates that it was revealed to “us,” including his friends, because they all prayed for that life saving result.
The Christian life theme for this lesson is “Handling God’s Gifts.” And it seems to me that we have two significant factors in relation to that theme. Daniel was the recipient of some “heady” and important gifts from God that he handled very well. And the key to his mature handling of the gifts appears to have been two-fold. First was his prayer life. Daniel was totally loyal to God, and he accomplished that loyalty by his commitment to prayer. Some of this comes out later in the book; but I want to mention it now.
And second, Daniel was able to handle the Gifts God gave him, because of his humility. He never thought of himself as worthy of the gifts. He never swelled with pride over what God gave him. And he never tried to take credit for himself.
The next paragraph, which we will study in the next essay, tells of Daniel’s being ushered into the presence of the king.