There is something significant that happens in Daniel 2 that the English reader typically misses.
When Daniel 2:4 says: ‘The Chaldeans spoke to the king in Aramaic’, the entire text thereafter shifts from Hebrew into Aramaic all the way until Daniel 7:28. Why? Aramaic was the language of the international world of the time (as Latin later became and as English is today).
It was the language that the elites of every country could speak.
Daniel is the only book of both the Old and New Testaments that is written in two languages. It is intentionally a bi-lingual book. What does this tell us? Well, it tells us that the message of Daniel is not just intended for believers/Jews but for all the nations of the world. The book of Daniel is very much a book about how believers are to live “life in the real world”. It is meant to show the entire world through narrative what kingdom distinctiveness (Christian distinctiveness) looks like.
Read Daniel 2:1-49
Notice the two things we must come to terms with if we are to live with distinctiveness:
1) The Location of our Identity
2) The Depth of our lack
Question: Why was Nebuchadnezzar so anxious and troubled? We know that his inner turmoil was great because he’s losing sleep over it. So why was he so troubled in spirit?
It is important to remember that whenever we have negative emotions like this it is usually because we have exalted something finite to a pretended ultimacy. Tim Keller writes,
One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life. When we center our lives on the idol, we become dependent on it. If our counterfeit god is threatened in any way, our response is complete panic. We do not say, ‘What a shame, how difficult,’ but rather ‘This is the end! There’s no hope!’
Another quotation is very insightful and helpful. Thomas Oden says,
When I interpret some particular possibility as a threat to some value I consider necessary for my existence, I experience anxiety . . . Anxiety becomes neurotically intensified to the degree that I have idolized finite values that properly should have been regarded as limited. The more I worship finite gods, the more I make myself vulnerable to intensified anxiety (Two Worlds, p. 97).
What Thomas Oden is saying is that when something that we consider essential to our existence (i.e. something that we believe we can’t live without) is threatened, we become anxious. And the more our confidence is placed in that finite value (god) the more anxious we become. This is why Nebuchadnezzar is losing so much sleep.
He has placed his confidence in a finite god.
Question: So what is Nebuchadnezzar’s finite god?
Power and Success
Nebuchadnezzar was finding his identity in his achieved power and success as a leader, and he ultimately became unreasonable in his requests (Daniel 2:12).
Usually anxiety comes directly from having our identity in the wrong place
Where might your identity be if you are experiencing intense anxiety at the thought that you might have done very poorly on a test?
Where might your identity be if you are experiencing intense anxiety at the thought of having to speak in front of a group of people?
Where might your identity be if you are experiencing intense anxiety at the thought of not being able to fix something you think you ought to be able to fix?
Where might your identity be if you are experiencing intense anxiety at the thought of your political party losing an election?
You see if you are seeking your identity in anything other than Christ, you will not be able to live in a secular culture with kingdom distinctiveness
The location of your identity is absolutely crucial if you are to live with kingdom distinctiveness. When we build our lives on earthly success, relationships, approval, comfort, popularity, political power, and the like, we lose our distinctiveness though we may engage in a million different Christian activities. Christian distinctiveness is not really seen in what you do.
Christian distinctiveness is seen in where you find your identity
In other words, the distinctiveness of your Christianity is seen at the motivational level because you do not become anxious when you lose power, success, approval, acceptance, comfort, or whatever. That is what shows us to be different and it is what demonstrated Daniel to be different.
Daniel 2:9 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.” 10 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. 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.” 12 This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon.
What does the word “this” reference? I think we find what “this” references in verse 11.
Daniel 2:11 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.”
I believe that it is this statement that enrages him (in verse 12) and leads to the death decree. What does this tell us?
Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man on earth, but now he is being brought up against the fact that he is still just a man
The dream was bringing him to terms with his limits and finitude. The wise men in v.12 bring up a very sore subject with a powerful person–”you are just another human being”–there are limits to what human beings can actually accomplish. Nebuchadnezzar knows this dream as something to do with his own fall from power, but his inability to discover the meaning is driving the nail deeper with the additional reminder that he is not God.
We must be careful not to think that we are any different than Nebuchadnezzar. Our own desire to be God is seen in numerous ways. Our worry and anxiety often reveals that we are sure we know better than God how our life should go. Much of our drive for beauty or success is a desire for a ‘glory’ and importance that only belongs to God.
People who live with kingdom distinctiveness are well aware of their lack and limits
Anytime we get overly upset at the loss of control in a situation, or the interruption of our plans or schedule, we are demonstrating that we have the same problem as Nebuchadnezzar.
How are you when someone interrupts your plans for a nice leisurely day?
How are you when your political party loses an election?
So if we are to live with kingdom distinctiveness we must come to terms with the location of our identity and our own personal lack. When we do, we hold everything in this world loosely. Nothing really rattles us.
How did kingdom distinctiveness play out in Daniel’s secular context?
I want you to notice the similarities and differences between Daniel’s behavior in chapters 1 and 2.
In chapter 1, Daniel was very tactful. We see this again in chapter 2:14. He is very “tactful” with a pagan (Arioch) who had power over him. He must have been a very winsome, persuasive man, since he knew how to talk attractively to people who should not have been inclined to listen.
Also, we again see Daniel depending on God to reveal that His wisdom is greater than their wisdom. Both chapter 1 and chapter 2 is a ‘wisdom contest’–of God’s wisdom against the Babylonians. In both situations, Daniel literally ‘stuck his neck out’, and if God had not answered or intervened, he would have been lost.
Both times there is both a compliance-and-yet-defiance balance. On the one hand, he is simply doing what the king has demanded–interpreting the dream as a wise man. He is doing his job. Yet on the other hand, he lets it be known very clearly that it is God who is the sole source of what he is doing. “no wise man, enchanter, or magician can explain to the king this mystery.” (v.27)
Daniel is giving God public credit
In chapter 1, Daniel does not ‘make a federal case’ out of his conscience problem with eating the king’s food. He does everything he can not to publicly, dramatically profess his faith. He is not needlessly ‘showy and loud’ about his faith. In chapter 1 he only talks to the chief official about it. He does not crow, ‘We are believers! We will not eat defiled food!” There is no note of anything like that.
But here now, in chapter 2, the situation calls for tremendous boldness. He certainly could have told the king the dream without making such a strong statement as he does in v.27-28. He could have easily said, “King, here’s the dream and the interpretation”, instead of loudly saying, “what I am about to do should show you that my God is superior to all the learning and philosophy and religion of your Babylonian civilization!”
It is breath-taking to compare v.27 and v.12. When he says, “no human being can answer your question—only God” in v.27, he is saying exactly what the astrologers said in v.11 that set him into a rage. So Daniel, though he does not have to make such a bold public witness here–does so. While in chapter 1, when he could have done so—he did not.
Daniel 2:17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 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. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said: “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.”
I think the answer is that he was a man who sought for mercy and wisdom in prayer (ala Proverbs 26:4-5).
Daniel 6:10 tells us that he prayed three times a day. Daniel was a man of prayer and you can be sure that every time he prayed he was asking God for mercy and wisdom.
It’s important to realize that Daniel did not only seek for mercy and wisdom in prayer. He was also a man who prayed with a spirit of worship and adoration. His prayer of praise in vv.20-23 shows that in prayer Daniel did not only make petitions and requests, but he sought fellowship with and experience of God’s presence. It is not ‘petition’ but adoration that makes a person into the kind of greathearted courageous person that Daniel shows himself to be before the king.
What must we do to pull it off ourselves? How do you actually live with distinctiveness? How do we become people like this?
The answer is found in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The important thing to understand is what the head of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue represents.
Daniel 2:36 “This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. 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.
So the gold head is Nebuchadnezzar. The point of the gold is to say that this kingdom of the world is considered a dazzling and awesome kingdom. It’s attractive and powerful. It’s where dreams can come true and life can be lived to the fullest. That is some of what the symbolism of the gold points to.
But notice what the feet are made of.
Daniel 2:32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.
Question: What does this tell us? The very foundation of this dazzling kingdom of man is
weak and fragile. It has no lasting or abiding quality. It will crumble and fall. It’s just a
matter of time.
But notice what we learn in verse 34.
Daniel 2:34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them.
Verses 44-45 tell us more about this cut out rock.
Daniel 2:44 “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. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands– a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. “The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.”
Notice that . . .
This stone is “cut out, not by human hands” (v.34). This is in complete contrast to the statue, which is a work of the greatest human art, skill, and craftsman ship.
Stone is the least valuable of all the substances. So the kingdom of God is considered (by the world’s standards) to be something small and insignificant.
In actuality, the kingdom of God is eternal and unconquerable.
But here is the most significant thing we must recognize:
Matthew 21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
Jesus is the stone that (1) the kingdom of God is built upon, and (2) crushes the kingdoms of this earth.
If we are to live with kingdom distinctiveness, we must daily remember that there is no salvation to be found in the world—no lasting identity, no lasting satisfaction, no wholeness.
These things are only found in Jesus.