Russell Brand, the comedian and actor, married to Katy Perry, is the life of the party, and a notorious womaniser. But he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a number of years ago.
Mike Tyson was one of the most feared and ferocious heavy weight boxers in the world. But he also loves breeding and racing pigeons.
Things aren’t always what they seem. The confident and powerful are often feeling something DIFFERENT on the inside. Sometimes THE APPEARANCE is very different from THE REALITY.
And that’s the big idea of these chapters. Israel’s been defeated by Babylon. Her best and brightest carried off to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. The Jewish temple vessels now sit in the temple of Babylon’s gods.
Everything points towards God being defeated. That He’s dead. And it’s Babylon that rules the world. But the reality is very different from the appearance. God is very MUCH on the throne. He’s alive and powerful and active. He’s the Lord of kings.
A king’s dream (2:1-23)
And on a SMALLER scale, things aren’t always what they seem either. The confident and powerful are often feeling something DIFFERENT on the inside.
Like with King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. ON THE SURFACE he looked like he had it all. The greatest king of the greatest empire of the century. An architect, a conqueror, a builder. Cities, riches, even foreign nations like Israel, in the palm of his hand. The envy of everyone.
And yet, when he drifted off to sleep. When he let go of the control of his mind, his dreams were DISTURBING. They betrayed his insecurities. Fuelled his fears. And he wanted to know what they all meant.
But he doesn’t trust his advisors. Perhaps they’re plotting against him. They’ll just tell him what he WANTS to hear. The only way to get to the truth is if he can find someone who can tell him THE DREAM / AS WELL AS what it means. That will weed out the impostors and traitors from the TRUE advisors.
But that’s an impossible order for ANY PERSON. There in v10 the wise men protest.
“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. 11 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.”
They’ve spoken TRUE ENOUGH. But their answer just makes the irrational Nebuchadnezzar even CRAZIER. He orders the execution of all the wise men in Babylon.
Which somehow includes Daniel and his friends as well (v13). Even though they’re still only halfway through their apprenticeship.
When Daniel finds out the news, he sends a message to the king. And gets some time to find out about the dream. Daniel and his mates get together for a prayer meeting straight away. V18, they plead for mercy from God about the dream. So they won’t be executed.
They hit the sack that night without any answer. But during the night God sends Daniel a dream, and reveals the mystery to him.
And from v20 we read Daniel’s prayer of thanksgiving. And it really sums up all we learn about God in these chapters. Probably even sums up THE WHOLE BOOK. Look there from v20.
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 21 HE CHANGES TIMES AND SEASONS; HE SETS UP KINGS AND DEPOSES THEM. HE GIVES WISDOM TO THE WISE AND KNOWLEDGE TO THE DISCERNING. 22 HE REVEALS DEEP AND HIDDEN THINGS; HE KNOWS WHAT LIES IN DARKNESS, AND LIGHT DWELLS WITH HIM. 23 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.”
A dream’s meaning
So, next morning, armed with God’s gift, he heads up to the palace. And when the king asks him whether he knows the dream and its meaning, Daniel replies (v27)
“No wise MAN, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but THERE IS A GOD IN HEAVEN who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come.
And then he explains the dream and its meaning. From v31. A statue made up of four parts. The head of gold. Shoulders and arms of silver. Belly and thighs of bronze. And, finally, legs of iron, with feet a mixture of iron and clay.
But then a rock was cut out that smashed into the feet of iron and clay. The whole statue crumbled, turned to dust, and the wind blew it away.
But the smashing rock (v35) became a huge mountain that filled the whole earth.
That’s the vision. No wonder Nebuchadnezzar was paranoid. And then from v37, Daniel explains to Nebuchadnezzar what it means.
37 You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; 38 in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.
And after Nebuchadnezzar, there’ll be three OTHER kingdoms that rise up. Each one inferior to the one before it.
And then from v44, we see what the smashing rock is about.
44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
That’s the dream, and its meaning. As impressive as the statue is. As powerful as human kingdoms LOOK. The reality is DIFFERENT. God will tear them down. Nothing will be left. And he’ll establish HIS kingdom to replace them all.
And the end result is that Nebuchadnezzar’s pretty relieved. Sure, God’s the One who’s set him up with all his power. And God’s the one who’ll eventually destroy all the human kingdoms. But at least it won’t happen in Nebuchadnezzar’s time. He’s not going to be betrayed by one of his wise men. And he says in v47
“Surely your God is the God of gods and THE LORD OF KINGS and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”
The wise men got it right about God. No MAN can reveal dreams and what they mean. DANIEL got it right. God changes times, sets up kings, and reveals hidden things. And now, Nebuchadnezzar gets it right. God is the LORD of kings, and revealer of mysteries.
That was NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S dream. We’ll find out more about his reign in coming weeks. But if we jump forward about 50 years, and through the book to Ch 7, we read about ANOTHER dream. One Daniel HIMSELF had.
And it’s got the same basic message, but with a whole lot more DETAIL thrown in. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream didn’t give us any idea about the TYPE of reign these kings had. Nor about WHY God brought them to an end.
And because it was a dream for a foreigner, there’s also no mention of how God’s PEOPLE fit in. For how all this history affects Daniel and his countrymen. Which is really where the rubber hits the road for us readers.
But Daniel’s dream fills in all those details. So flip over to Ch 7 with me for a few moments.
It’s a DIFFERENT dream to Nebuchadnezzar’s. But, in lots of ways, it’s the SAME. It’s describing the same events. There are four successive kingdoms, and they’re all ESTABLISHED by God, and then DESTROYED by God.
But instead of being parts of a statue that does nothing, these kingdoms are violent, scary animals. They’re powerful and active and blood-thirsty.
Nebuchadnezzar was scared by HIS dream. Imagine if he’d seen DANIEL’S dream!
It’s a dream that fits into a type of writing called APOCALYPTIC. The book of Revelation is ANOTHER example of a dream that fits this style of writing.
It’s a style about TWO SIDES. Dark and light. Good and evil. About imagery and numbers. About heavenly beings, and other realities.
And the general rule for reading this type of literature is that everything is SYMBOLIC. It REPRESENTS something else. But if we’re meant to know WHAT the symbols represent, we’re normally TOLD. So, it’s best not to GUESS. Just stick to the BIG PICTURE.
So, from v4 of Ch 7, we’ve got four great beasts. The first one is LIKE a lion, but with wings. Then the wings are torn off and it’s made to stand on its feet like a man, and a man’s heart is given to it.
Then there’s a beast that looks like A BEAR. It’s raised up on one side, with three ribs in its mouth.
Then there’s something that looks like a leopard. It’s got wings as well. As well as four heads. And it’s given authority to rule.
The FOURTH beast, v7, is the scariest of all. Large iron teeth. And it crushed its victims, and trod the scraps into the ground. It had ten horns, plus another one that grew up, uprooting three of the others. This little horn had eyes like a man, and spoke boastfully.
Who can stand in his way? Who will bring him to account?
But then, just like in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, God destroys not just the boastful horn, but ALL the kingdoms.
It’s not a rock that strikes a statue this time. But God on his judgment throne, v9. The Ancient of Days, who stands outside of time. On the throne of his reigning power. Clothed in pure white holiness. Flaming fire of judgment. Blazing wheels of omnipresence.
The court was seated, the evidence presented, and the wicked horn destroyed. The OTHER beasts are stripped of their authority, and given suspended sentences. And justice is served.
It’s a picture of God’s final judgment. He won’t let these beastly authorities go on forever. Their time is limited. Injustice and evil might be winning the day at the moment. But God’s got them all on a short leash.
It’s a picture of hope for God’s people. Everything has a use by date. Like your fridge. Fried rice might last a few days, milk might last a week. Cheese might last a month. But even those pickles right up the back. The ones you’ve forgotten about. Eventually THEY’LL pass their use by date. And they’ll go off. And they’ll be tossed.
Same with all the EARTHLY kingdoms. Some will last a few months, or a year. Others will last for decades. But eventually they’ll all be called to account. And God will destroy them all. And establish his ETERNAL, CREATION –WIDE kingdom. Where justice and peace and rest RULE instead of chaos and evil.
Lord of the kings
But there’s one final detail of God’s eternal kingdom. And we can’t understand the kingdom until we understand the figure that’s at the centre of it all.
He’s introduced in v13. And he’s the one who corresponds to the rock that destroys the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Ch 2. He’s the one who grows into a gigantic mountain that fills the whole earth. I’ll let Daniel take up the story. (v13)
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
This son of man / is the one who’s given the keys for the kingdom of God.
And notice he doesn’t come out of the churning chaotic waters of the sea. But verse 13 – he comes from the clouds of heaven. And he’s not some distorted, sick perversion of God’s creation – some beast. He’s perfect and right and ordered.
He’ll rule forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed. And all peoples and nations will worship Him. He’s LORD of the kings.
God was Lord of the kings in Ch 2. But he’s SHARING that reign with ANOTHER.
You know, before I said we got to be careful in thinking we should pin down each element of this dream to individual rulers or kingdoms. But when it comes to ‘the son of man’ we CAN pin it out. We’re TOLD who it refers to. Not in Daniel mind you. But when we get to the New Testament. When we get to the person of Jesus.
Listen to what Jesus said about himself when he talked about judgment day. Mark 7:37
Jesus said “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in the adulterous and sinful generation, THE SON OF MAN will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” [Mark 7:37-38]
And jump forward to the time of Acts. Jesus has returned to heaven. And Stephen, one of the disciples who’s witnessing about him, is being stoned to death. And listen to what he says, as the rocks are raining down on his head.
Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” [Acts 2:54-55
Stephen recognizes Jesus as the Son of Man. He’s LORD of the kings. The Jesus who reigns over every kingdom NOW. And who’ll, one day, deliver judgment over them all. Who’ll be ashamed of SOME, and PROUD of others.
A king’s people
Which brings us to the FINAL part of Daniel’s dream. To the king’s PEOPLE. Those who belong to the Ancient of Days, and to the Son of Man. Those like Daniel and his friends. And US, TOO.
Up to v15 they don’t get a mention in Daniel’s dream. But then, as Daniel troubled, and asks one of the heavenly beings what’s going on in his dream, he’s told (v18). The four beasts are four kingdoms that will rise up.
18 But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever-yes, forever and ever.’
We haven’t heard about them before, but as we jump down a few verses, Daniel fills in the details of what he saw before. The fourth beast had been crushing VICTIMS. But down in v21 we find out they’re SAINTS – God’s people.
21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the saints and defeating them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.
Or down in v25. The little horn
will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time.
These beastly, human kingdoms are vicious and brutal. And they’re out to get God’s people.
It doesn’t matter who or when they were. They were doing it in Daniel’s time, and in Jesus’ time, and in every time until NOW. And they’ll KEEP doing it until God returns to judge them.
The FIRST point is God’s appointed them. He’s set them up. He’s given them their power. But he’s also got them on a short leash. He’s controlling the damage they can do. That’s the point, I think, of the “times, time, and half a time.” A period of 3 ½ “somethings”. It’s half of seven. Half of what God COULD allow, but he shortens it.
The SECOND point to do with the saints. Is that at the end of this shortened period of persecution, God will VINDICATE them. Declare them innocent, and set them up victorious. V26.
26 “‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. 27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.
And that’s what we’re LONGING for. It’s our HOPE. The goal of our faith. It’s what the Christian life is about NOW. Recognising that God IS on the throne. That Jesus IS the one who has received all honour and power and glory. But not seeing the FULL IMPLICATIONS of that yet.
The sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms WILL be handed over to us. As long as we continue faithfully with our eyes fixed on the Jesus, the Son of Man who DESERVES our worship and allegiance.
But for the moment, the Christian life, across the world, is every bit as brutal as Daniel’s dream. It’s a life of Christian men, women and children being persecuted, and brutalised, and discriminated against, and martyred.
Just ask the Egpytian Coptic Christians who’ve had their homes and churches burned to the ground, and even lost their lives. Or the Christian women throughout Africa raped by Muslim militia. Or the Nth Korean or Chinese Christians imprisoned for years at a time.
And you just have to ask Daniel and his friends. Faithfully following God despite being far from home, ruled by a brutal tyrant. At risk of death.
And, on a smaller, lighter scale, it’s the reason WE suffer in a fallen world. Why, even though we’re faithfully following Jesus, our lives are littered with sickness and death and broken relationships and misunderstanding and tragedy.
God IS on his throne. He’s setting up rulers and bringing them down. All according to his plans and his timeframe. One day, Jesus WILL be revealed as the Judge and King of all. And all will worship him. And we’ll receive the kingdom in all its glory. A kingdom that will replace every OTHER kingdom.
And that’s worth LONGING for, and LIVING for.