In our last two essays we have been working our new study, which is a study of the book of Daniel. In the course of those two studies, we reviewed the historical background; we looked at the story, in chapter one, about how Daniel and certain other young people from Judah were taken into exile in Babylon in 606 or 605 B.C. And we saw that they remained loyal to God, while making the best of their bad situation.
Then in the last essay we studied, in 2:1-24, the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, and the drama surrounding his demand that his wise men tell him both the dream and its interpretation. Of course this was an impossible demand, apart from God. But God revealed both the dream and its interpretation to Daniel.
In the process we noted a several important points in relation to Daniel’s character. First, he had great faith in God, and trusted him completely. Second, he believed in and practiced prayer. And third, he was humble, though this third characteristic comes out more clearly in today’s lesson. It was the presence of these characteristics in Daniel that enabled him to handle properly some very “heady” and important spiritual gifts from God.
In verses 2:25-30 Arioch brings Daniel into the presence of the king. Notice in verse 25 that Arioch tries to make capital for himself out of Daniel’s revelation. He said to the king: “I have found … a man … who can make known to the king the interpretation.”
Daniel on the other hand was quite humble. He wanted no credit for himself; but wanted to give God all of the credit. He said:
No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show the king the mystery that the king has asked. But, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.
The contrast between the attitudes of Arioch and Daniel is instructive. Arioch wishes to accumulate as much political gain for himself as possible, even though he had little to do with the situation. But Daniel wanted no gain for himself. He just wanted God to be glorified.
Now then, in verses 31-35 Daniel reveals the dream. We see that the dream was of an image. And he gave several descriptive words in relation to it, which helps us to visualize it. First, it was “great,” meaning huge, though its actual size is not given.
Second, it was exceedingly bright, apparently indicating that it was made of shining metal. This proves to be true.
Third, it was standing before the king in the dream, which suggests it had a human form. This again proves to be true.
And fourth, it was “terrible” or “frightening.” This would mean in the sense of awesome.
Then Daniel gave more details. Its head was Gold, its chest and arms silver, its belly and thighs bronze, its legs iron, and its feet a mixture of iron and clay.
Then in the dream, a stone not cut by human hand, struck the image on its feet and broke them in pieces. This caused the rest of the statue to crumble into dust. The stone on the other hand grew to fill the whole earth.
Then in verses 36-45 we see the interpretation. It concerned four kingdoms that were to succeed one another in future history. The first clearly is identified as Nebuchadnezzar’s own kingdom. Scholars differ on the identification of the others. We will discuss that, but not at this point, because it becomes clearer as additional visions are presented in the book. We will take up that subject in future lessons.
But it is clear in this vision that each succeeding kingdom is less important than the previous ones. That is symbolized by the decreasing value of the material making up the statue. And when the future kingdoms represented by the feet and toes arrive on the scene, they will be considerably weaker as well. The fact that the feet and toes are made of a mixture of iron and clay symbolizes that. The word used for the clay refers to baked clay. Thus it is a hard, brittle kind of clay that breaks easily.
In verse 44 the interpretation begins to reveal the symbolism of the stone not made with hands that had broken the feet of the statue, and consequently destroyed the entire statue. Clearly the dream was saying that Kingdom of God would replace the kingdoms of men. That is the easy part.
But there are several other things to note. Note first that this kingdom will be established solely by God. No human hand will be involved.
Second, its rule will be absolute. The other kingdoms will be “like the chaff” that is blown away by the wind; and God’s kingdom will fill the earth (v. 35).
A third observation needs to be made at this point, which is both more difficult to explain and to grasp. It is a phenomenon that will be seen rather consistently in connection with the visions of the book, because of the genre of literature with which we are dealing. At the end of the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, there is a leap to the end time.
That is, the interpretation was dealing with historical kingdoms that were to come into historical existence. But then suddenly the interpretation leaps to the events of the end time. This is characteristic of apocalyptic literature, which is the genre to which the book of Daniel belongs. The book of Revelation is an example of an apocalyptic work that is found in the New Testament.
I have wrestled with how much to talk about apocalyptic literature, but it is very difficult to understand either Daniel or the Revelation, if one doesn’t understand something about it. So let me say just a little about this kind of literature. The word “apocalyptic” comes from the Greek word apocalypsis, which means “revelation.” That is why the book of Revelation sometimes is called the Apocalypse of John, rather than the Revelation of John. Persons who do that are simply using the Greek word that means the same thing.
The Jews who developed apocalyptic literature had suffered much persecution. They invented, and in later times turned to, this type of literature when historical events were the most negative from their religious point of view.
That is, when it seemed that there was no hope whatsoever for the people of God unless God himself would directly intervene in their situation, they tended to express their hope in apocalyptic terms, because apocalyptic speaks of the end time when God is going to personally intervene.
This literature has many characteristics. I will give you only the most significant. You will recognize that some of them are present in Daniel; and if you are familiar with the Revelation, many of them are present there as well.
The primary characteristic is the so-called doctrine of the two ages. The two ages are: the present age and the age to come. The present age is temporary and evil, and is largely under the control of Satan. The age to come, will be eternal and glorious, and under the control of God or his Messiah.
You can see from this doctrine that there is a cosmic conflict going on between Satan and God. Apocalyptic literature announces that God eventually will win. Indeed from the Christian point of view, God already has been won at the cross. The continuing warfare is like the continuing war in World War II Europe after D-Day. The war was in effect won; but many people still were dying while the final submission of Germany was obtained.
Other characteristics of apocalyptic are: –It deals with nations and epochs more than with individuals.
–It features the Son of Man coming on clouds of glory.
–It features demons and angels.
–It is pessimistic about the present age.
–It features a seer, who expresses fear and dread.
–It contains discourse cycles or visions.
–And it contains much rich imagery and symbolism.
Still another characteristic, which we have just seen in Daniel, is the tendency in the visions to predict future historical events, but then to leap suddenly to events that will take place in the end time.
All right, let’s come back to Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The dream indicates that beginning with Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom four historical kingdoms would arise. But then there is a leap to the end time kingdom of God that will replace the kingdoms of the world.
In verses 46-49, we see Nebuchadnezzar’s response to Daniel’s interpretation. The king was deeply impressed. First, he worships Daniel as God’s representative (v. 46). In other words he was not thinking that Daniel was a god, bur merely a representative of the god.
Second, the king gave Daniel’s God, all the credit (v. 47). This did not mean that he had begun to believe that there is only one God. He simply believed that Daniel’s God had demonstrated that he was the greatest of the gods
And third, the king gave Daniel two high offices and great gifts (v. 48). The second office, head of the wise men, was the more significant, because it gave Daniel access to the king.
Notice that Daniel took care of his friends. He asked for, and received, permission to delegate the rule of the province of Babylon to them while he remained at court.