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Nebuchadnezzar’s Pride And Punishment

This chapter which occupies such a large portion of the book of Daniel is more than a profound story of how God can bring a proud man low. Undoubtedly, it is the climax of Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual biography which began with his recognition of the excellence of Daniel and his companions, continued with the interpretation of the dream of the image in chapter 2, and was advanced further by his experience with Daniel’s three companions.

In the background of this account is the obvious concern of Daniel the prophet for the man whom he had served for so many years. Daniel, a man of prayer, undoubtedly prayed for Nebuchadnezzar and eagerly sought some evidence of God’s working in his heart. While the experience of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4 was not what Daniel had anticipated, the outcome must have approximated Daniel’s fondest hope. Although some like Leupold, after Calvin, “doubt whether the king’s experience led to his conversion,” it may well be that this chapter brings Nebuchadnezzar to the place where he puts his trust in the God of Daniel. Even merely as a lesson in the spiritual progress of a man in the hands of God, this chapter is a literary gem.

In the light of Daniel’s revelation of the broad scope of Gentile power beginning in chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar’s experience seems to take on the larger meaning of the humbling of Gentile power by God and the bringing of the world into submission to Himself. In the light of other passages in the Bible speaking prophetically of Babylon and its ultimate overthrow, of which Isaiah 13 and 14 may be taken as an example, it becomes clear that the contest between God and Nebuchadnezzar is a broad illustration of God’s dealings with the entire human race and especially the Gentile world in its creaturely pride and failure to recognize the sovereignty of God. The theme of the chapter, as given by Daniel himself in the interpretation of the king’s dream, is God’s dealings with Nebuchadnezzar “till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Dan 4:25). Not only is the sovereignty of God demonstrated, but the bankruptcy of Babylonian wisdom forms another motif. It is obviously by design that this chapter precedes the downfall of Babylon itself which follows in chapter 5. To push this to the extreme of making it a particular application to Antiochus Epiphanes in the effort to support a late date of Daniel is, however, without justification. There is nothing whatever to link this passage to the second century B.C. In fact, it is far more applicable to that fateful night in October 539 b.c. when Babylon fell as recorded in Daniel 5.

The content of the chapter is in the form of a decree recording his dream, Daniel’s interpretation, and Nebuchadnezzar’s subsequent experience. Whether written by Nebuchadnezzar himself, or more probably by one of his scribes at his dictation, or possibly by Daniel himself at the king’s direction, the inclusion of it here in Daniel is by divine inspiration. Although critics have imagined a series of incredible objections to accepting this chapter as authentic and reasonably accurate, the narrative actually reads very sensibly and the objections seem trivial and unsupported.

Those who reject chapter 4 of Daniel without exception assume that the account is not inspired of the Holy Spirit, that an experience like Nebuchadnezzar’s is essentially incredible, and that it is a myth rather than an authentic historical record. Such objections obviously assume that higher criticism is right in declaring Daniel a forgery of the second century B.C. This conclusion is now subject to question not only because of the fallacious reasoning which supports it, but because it is now challenged by the documentary evidence in the Qumran text of Daniel, which on the basis of the critics’ own criteria would require Daniel to be much older than the second century b.c. (see Introduction). Conservative scholarship has united in declaring this chapter a genuine portion of the Word of God, equally inspired with other sections of Daniel.

Introduction of Nebuchadnezzar’s Proclamation

4:1-3 Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.

Although it is clear that the opening verses are an introduction to the decree of Nebuchadnezzar, various versions differ in their versification, with the Massoretic beginning the decree at the close of chapter 3. The Septuagint rendering of chapter 4 also differs considerably from the Hebrew-Aramaic text, used for the King James Version translation. Charles summarizes the differences in these words,

In the Massoretic text, which is followed by Theodotion, the Vulgate, and the Peshitto, the entire narrative is given in the form of an edict or letter of Nebuchadnezzar to all his subjects. It begins with a greeting to ‘all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth,’ and proceeds to state the king’s desire to make known to them the signs and wonders that the Most High had wrought upon him (1-3). He then recounts a dream which troubled him, and tells how he summoned the magicians, Chaldeans, and soothsayers to make known its interpretation.

Charles then contrasts this with the Septuagint,

Turning now to the LXX we observe first of all that there is nothing in it corresponding to the first three verses in the Massoretic, which transform the next thirty-four verses into an edict. The chapter begins simply, in the LXX, with the words: ‘And in the eighteenth year of his reign Nebuchadnezzar said: I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house’: then follows in the same narrative form the next thirty-three verses. At their close comes the edict as a result of the king’s spiritual and psychical experiences, in which are embodied very many of the phrases in iv.1-3. A close study of the texts and versions has forced me to the conclusion that the older order of the text is preserved in the LXX and not in the Aramaic.

Although liberal critics generally unite in a low view of this chapter, not only assigning it to a pseudo-Daniel of the second century but finding the text itself suspect, there is insufficient evidence in favor of the Greek translation of the Septuagint. Even Montgomery, who does not regard this as authentic Scripture, rejects the view that the Septuagint is the older text than the present Aramaic text, although he considers the Aramaic also a revision of an earlier text. There is actually little justification for all these variations of unbelief. The chapter on the face of it is credible, albeit a record of supernatural revelation. Generally, those who accept the sixth century date for Daniel also accept this chapter more or less as it is.

The first verse of chapter 4 is the natural form for such a decree, beginning with the name of the sender, the people to whom it is sent, and a general greeting. That it should be sent “unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth” is not out of keeping with the extensive character of Nebuchadnezzar’s empire, although he was well aware of the fact that all of the earth’s geography was not under his power. It is similar to the extensive decree ofDaniel 3:29 which is addressed to “every people, nation, and language.” Montgomery is obviously prejudiced in his judgment, “As an edict the document is historically absurd; it has no similar in the history of royal conversions nor in ancient imperial edicts.” The folly of this kind of objection is evident in that if Montgomery had found one example in any other literature his criticism would become invalid, but he feels perfectly free to ignore the parallels in chapter 3 and chapter 6 of Daniel. In this case, as is so often true, the critics argue from alleged silence in the records, although admittedly we possess only fragments of ancient literature. This chapter is no more difficult to believe than any other unusual divine revelation.

Although the benediction, “Peace be multiplied unto you,” is strikingly similar to some of Paul’s greetings in his epistles, it was a common form of expression in the ancient world. A greeting very much like 4:1 is found in Daniel 6:25 where Darius wrote a similar decree with almost the same wording. It is possible that Daniel himself affected the form even if he did not write it as in both places he is in a position of high authority, and the edicts in both cases may have been issued under his particular direction. The decree in any case actually begins with the word peace as that which preceded it was the address.

Nebuchadnezzar then sets the stage for the presentation of his experience by declaring that it was his judgment that the amazing signs and wonders wrought in his life by “the high God” were of such unusual significance that he should share them with his entire realm. The expression signs and wonders is a familiar idiom of Scripture occurring, as Leupold notes, in many passages (Deu 6:22; 7:19; 13:1, 2; 26:8; Neh 9:10; Is 8:18, etc.). Because it is so biblical, it has led to questions by higher critics; but actually there is a great deal of similarity between Babylonian psalms and biblical psalms, and there is nothing technical about this phrase. The expression “the high God” is another evidence that Nebuchadnezzar regards the God of Israel as exalted; but it is not in itself proof that he is a monotheist, trusting only in the true God.

Nebuchadnezzar’s exclamation of the greatness of God and His signs and wonders is quite accurate and in keeping with his experience. The signs wrought in his life were indeed great, and God’s wonders were indeed mighty. His conclusion that the kingdom is an everlasting kingdom extending from generation to generation is a logical one based on his experience and reveals God in a true light (cf. Ps 145:13).

Wise Men Unable to Interpret Dream

4:4-7 I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace: I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me. Therefore made I a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make known unto me the interpretation of the dream. Then came in the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers: and I told the dream before them; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation thereof.

Nebuchadnezzar’s account of his experience describes his secure and flourishing situation in his palace prior to the dream. In his early reign he was active in military conquest. Now his vast domains had been made secure, and Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilling his heart’s desire by making Babylon one of the most fabulous cities of the ancient world. He was already enjoying his beautiful palace; and at the time of the dream itself he was in bed in his house as indicated in verses 5 and 10. In describing himself as “flourishing in my palace” he used a word meaning “to be green” such as the growth of green leaves on a tree, an evident anticipation of the dream which followed. In this context of security and prosperity surrounded by the monuments of his wealth and power, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which made him afraid. The sequence in verse 5 that he “saw a dream” and had “thoughts upon my bed” as well as “visions of my head” seems to imply that the dream came first, and then upon awakening from the dream which was also a vision his thoughts troubled him. The expression made me afraid is actually much stronger in the original and indicates extreme terror or fright.

As he contemplated the meaning of his experience, he issued a decree to bring all the wise men of Babylon before him to make known its interpretation. As illustrated in chapter 2 this was a standard procedure, and the wise men of Babylon were supposed to be able to interpret mystical experiences. Upon being told the dream, the wise men, described here in their various categories, as also in Daniel 2:2, did not make known to the king the interpretation. It seems that they not only did not make known the interpretation but were unable to do so, as Leupold translates this expression, “but they could not make known to me the interpretation.” Even though the dream was adverse and might present a problem in telling Nebuchadnezzar, they probably would have made some attempt to explain it to him, if they had understood it.

Daniel Told the King’s Dream

4:8-18 But at the last Daniel came in before me, whose name was Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods: and before him I told the dream, saying, O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof. Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed; I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth: the leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it. I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven; he cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches: nevertheless leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth: let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men. This dream I king Nebuchadnezzar have seen. Now thou, O Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation thereof, forasmuch as all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known unto me the interpretation: but thou art able; for the spirit of the holy gods is in thee.

For some unexplained reason Daniel was not with the other wise men when the king told his dream. Coming in late, he was immediately addressed personally by Nebuchadnezzar in attempt to have his dream interpreted. Questions have been raised why verse 8 not only calls him Daniel but adds the expression “whose name was Belteshazzar.” In view of the fact that this is part of a record where Daniel is prominent, why the double name?

The answer, however, is quite simple. This decree was going throughout the kingdom where most people would know Daniel by his Babylonian name, Belteshazzar. The king, in recognition of the fact that Daniel’s God is the interpreter of his dream, calls Daniel by his Hebrew name, the last syllable of which refers to Elohim, the God of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar explains that his name Belteshazzar was given “according to the name of my god,” that is, the god Bel. The double name is not unnatural in view of the context and the explanation.

Of Daniel it is said “in whom is the spirit of the holy gods.” It is debatable whether gods is singular or plural, as it could be translated either way. Young, with a wealth of evidence from Montgomery, considers it a singular noun and thus a recognition by the king “that the God of Dan. was different from his own gods.” This distinction is borne out by the adjective “holy” (4:8, 18; 5:11). The philological evidence supports the singular, although Leupold agrees with Driver that the noun and its adjective are plural and a reflection of the king’s polytheism. Driver notes, “The same expression occurs in the Phoenician inscription of Eshmunazar, king of Sidon (3—4 cent. B.C.), lines 9 and 22.” The word holy, according to Young, refers to gods who are divine, rather than specifically having moral purity. The ultimate judgment of the expression depends on how well Nebuchadnezzar comprehended the nature of Daniel’s God. He obviously had high respect for the God of Daniel and may have had a true faith in the God of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar, having justified his singling out Daniel of all the wise men, now records in his decree his conversation with Daniel which includes a restatement of his dream.

Daniel, addressed by his heathen name, is further described as the “master of the magicians.” This was intended by Nebuchadnezzar to be a compliment in recognition of the genius of Daniel. Having already spoken of his intimate contact with God and the indwelling of the Spirit of God in him, he refers to Daniel’s thorough knowledge of the whole field of Babylonian astrology and religion. Leupold suggests that magicians should be translated “scholars” to give the true meaning and avoid the implication of mere magic.

Nebuchadnezzar, on the basis of his previous experience, restates that the Spirit of God is in Daniel and that secrets do not trouble him, that is, he is able to declare their meaning. Of interest is the statement concerning the prince of Tyrus, “Behold, thou art wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that they can hide from thee” (Eze 28:3). This statement, which the critics work hard to explain, as it confirms a sixth century Daniel, also supports the idea that Daniel’s fame had spread far and wide. By the expression, “tell me the visions of my dream,” Nebuchadnezzar obviously meant that Daniel should interpret the dream which the king was now to relate. Verses 10-12 have been regarded as in poetic form if some alteration of the text were permitted, and verses 14-17 are considered free verse also, but with no metrical evenness. Most conservatives ignore this as requiring too much alteration of the text to conform to the poetic pattern. The ideas are poetic, if the form is not.

In his vision, Nebuchadnezzar saw a tree apparently standing somewhat by itself and dominating the view because of its great height. Porteous notes that Bentzen “refers to a building inscription of Nebuchadnezzar in which Babylon is compared to a spreading tree.” The use of trees in the Bible for symbolic purposes as well as in extrascriptural narratives is found frequently (cf. 2 Ki 14:9; Ps 1:3; 37:35; 52:8; 92:12; Eze 17). An obvious parallel to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is recorded in Ezekiel 31, where the Assyrian as well as the Egyptian Pharaoh are compared to a cedar of Lebanon. Young states, “Among the commentators Haevernick particularly has illustrated the fondness with which the Orientals depicted the rise and fall of human power by means of the symbol of a tree.” In extrabiblical literature, there is the account of Astyages the Mede who had a dream in which a vine grew out of the womb of Mandane his daughter and subsequently covered all Asia. Herodotus interpreted this as referring to Cyrus. Another famous illustration is that of Xerxes, who in a dream was crowned with a branch of an olive tree which extended over the world. According to Haevernick, there are similar allusions in Arabic and Turkish sources. Nebuchadnezzar probably anticipated that the tree represented himself, and this added to his concern.

As Nebuchadnezzar described his dream, the tree was pictured as growing, becoming very strong and very high until it was visible all over the earth, obviously exceeding the possibilities of any ordinary tree. Abundant foliage characterized the tree, and it bore much fruit so that it provided for both beast and fowl and “all flesh fed of it.” This obviously included all beasts and fowls. Whether or not it was intended to apply literally to men is open to question, but symbolically it included mankind as under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar.

As Nebuchadnezzar observed the scene, an actor appears in the form of “a watcher and an holy one” who is described as coming “down from heaven.” This expression has generated a great deal of comment, especially by liberal critics who consider this a vestige of polytheism. Even Keil says, “The conception… is not biblical, but Babylonian heathen.” In the religion of the Babylonians, it was customary to recognize “council deities” who were charged with the special task of watching over the world. The question raised on this passage is whether Nebuchadnezzar uses this heathen concept.

In his detailed note on the subject of watchers, Montgomery refers to the considerable role played by the “watchers” in the intertestamental literature and to a possible occurrence in the Zadokite fragment. He quotes Meinhold as drawing attention in this connection to “the eyes of the Cherubs,” in Ezekiel 1:18, and “‘the seven, which are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth,’ Zech. 4:10,” and goes on to trace the still closer parallel with “‘the Watchers’” ( sho„mÿri‚m) and “‘the Remembrancers of the Lord’” ( hammazkiri‚m áeth-Yahweh) of Isaiah 62:6.

In the light of the full revelation of the Word of God, the most natural conclusion is that this person described as “a watcher and an holy one” is an angel sent from God even though the word angel is not used. That angels are watchers, or better translated “vigilant, making a sleepless watch,” is not foreign to the concept of angels in Scripture. The expressions “watchers” and “the holy ones” are mentioned in verse 17 by the messenger himself. Nebuchadnezzar seems to use the term in its heathen connotation as he understood it. He probably would not have understood what was meant by using the term angel in this connection, although he used angel himself in 3:28. The extended discussion of Keil on this point does not clarify the issue too much but probably says all that can be said, even though his conclusions are not entirely satisfactory.

The heavenly messenger cries aloud, literally cries “with might.” To the unnamed listeners, he calls for the tree to be cut down, its branches cut off, its leaves to be shaken off, and its fruit to be scattered. The beasts under it and the fowls in its branches were instructed to get away. The record does not say that the command is carried out, but this is implied.

Special instructions, however, are given regarding the stump; and these indicate that the tree will be revived later. The stump is to be bound with a band of iron and brass. The purpose of this is not clear unless in some way it helps preserve it. However, in real life, such a band would not prevent the stump from rotting; and it is probable here that it is symbolic of the madness which would afflict Nebuchadnezzar and hold him symbolically, if not in reality, in chains. The stump is to be surrounded by the tender grass of the field, to be wet with the dew of heaven, and to have its portion with the beasts of the earth. It seems evident that the description goes beyond the symbol of a stump to the actual fulfillment in Nebuchadnezzar’s experience. This becomes more clear in verse 16 where the person in view is given a beast’s heart instead of a man’s heart. This, of course, has no relationship to the characteristics of the stump. The prophecy is concluded with the expression, “let seven times pass over him.” This may refer to seven years or merely to a long period of time. Probably the most common interpretation is to consider it seven years as in the Septuagint. It is certain that the period is specific and not more than seven years.

The messenger then concludes that his decree proceeds from “the watchers” and from “the holy ones.” The purpose is that people living in the world may recognize the true God described as “the most High” and acknowledge Him as the true ruler of men, who has the power to place “the basest of men” over earthly kingdoms. That God can set up in a position of power the lowliest of men is a common truth of Scripture (see 1 Sa 2:7-8; Job 5:11; Ps 113:7-8; Lk 1:52; and the story of Joseph). This statement is a direct confrontation of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride in his own attainments and power.

The major problem of verse 17 is the reference to the watchers and the holy ones who seem to originate the decree. If these are understood as agencies of God, who actually is the source, the problem is alleviated. The verse itself calls our attention to the fact that God as “the most High” is the ultimate sovereign and certainly does not imply that the messengers are in any sense independent of God. The problems created by this text, therefore, are greatly overdrawn by those who see this in conflict with the scriptural doctrine of God.

In concluding his statement concerning the dream, Nebuchadnezzar appeals to Daniel to provide the interpretation. He explains to Daniel that the wise men of Babylon were not able to do this, but he expresses confidence in Daniel, “for the spirit of the holy gods is in thee” (cf. 4:8). The stage is now set for Daniel’s interpretation.

Daniel Interprets the Dream

4:19-27 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him. The king spake, and said, Belteshazzar, let not the dream, or the interpretation thereof, trouble thee. Belteshazzar answered and said, My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies. The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth; whose leaves were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all; under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and upon whose branches the fowls of the heaven had their habitation: it is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong: for thy greatness is grown, and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth. And whereas the king saw a watcher and an holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, Hew the tree down, and destroy it; yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him; this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king: That they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule. Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.

Keil summarizes the situation facing Daniel with these words, “As Daniel at once understood the interpretation of the dream, he was for a moment so astonished that he could not speak for terror at the thoughts which moved his soul. This amazement seized him because he wished well to the king, and yet he must now announce to him a weighty judgment from God.” No doubt, Daniel was not only troubled by the content of the dream but by the need to tell Nebuchadnezzar the interpretation in an appropriate way.

Verse 19 introduces both names of Daniel again, the Hebrew name in recognition that he is acting as a servant of the God of Israel and his Babylonian name by which he was known officially. Daniel’s consternation at the interpretation of the dream is indicated in that he “was astonied for one hour,” to be understood as being in a state of perplexity for a period of time. An accurate translation would be “was stricken dumb for a while” (ASV), or “was perplexed for a moment.” The Revised Standard Version translation, “for a long time,” is probably inaccurate. Probably a full sixty minutes would have been too long for him to have remained silent in these circumstances.

Nebuchadnezzar comes to his rescue in this situation and urges him not to let the dream trouble him. The comment reflects his respect for Daniel as a person as well as an interpreter of the dream, and indirectly this is an assurance that Daniel himself need not fear the king regardless of what he reveals.

With this encouragement, Daniel replies with typical oriental courtesy that the dream be to them that hate Nebuchadnezzar and the interpretation to his enemies. Leupold believes that there is an ethical objection to Daniel’s sinking to mere flattery in this case and avoiding the real import of the dream. He interprets the statement as meaning that the dream would please the king’s enemies. It would seem more natural, however, to have the expression refer to Daniel’s wishes in the matter. It is hard to see how the expression in any sense would be flattery. Daniel had a high regard for Nebuchadnezzar and undoubtedly wished the interpretation of the dream could be otherwise than it was.

Having begun his interpretation, he now describes Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in detail, restating what the king had already told him. With the facts of the dream before him, he then proceeds to the interpretation in verse 22. Daniel immediately identifies the tree as representing Nebuchadnezzar. Just like the tree in the dream, the king had grown and become strong, had grown great and reached unto heaven with his dominion to the end of the earth. After recapitulating the announced destruction of the tree and the other details which the king already had recited, Daniel proceeds to the detailed interpretation in verse 24. It is significant that he mentions here, “this is the decree of the most High,” which is Daniel’s interpretation of the expression in verse 17 “the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones.” Although Nebuchadnezzar’s description did not immediately specify divine agency, it is clear that this is the interpretation according to Daniel in verse 24.

The meaning of the tree being cut down and the attendant circumstances is then defined. Nebuchadnezzar is to be driven from ordinary association with men and will dwell with the beasts of the field. In this condition he will eat grass as the ox and suffer the dew of heaven until he understands that God gives to men the power to rule as He wills. The interpretation of the stump with its bands of iron and brass is that Nebuchadnezzar will retain control of his kingdom and that it will be restored to him after he comes back to his senses. To have had his mind restored without the kingdom would have been a hollow victory. In spite of his pride, Nebuchadnezzar was to know the graciousness of God to him.

The expression, that the heavens do rule, is of particular interest for it is the only time in the Old Testament where the word heaven is substituted for God. This usage became prominent in later literature as in 1 Maccabees and in the New Testament in Matthew where the term kingdom of heaven is similar to kingdom of God. Daniel, in using the expression the heavens do rule, is not accepting the Babylonian deification of heavenly bodies, as he makes clear in 4:25 that “the most High” is a person. He is probably only contrasting divine or heavenly rule to earthly rule such as Nebuchadnezzar exercised, with the implication that Nebuchadnezzar’s sovereignty was much less than that of “the heavens.”

With the interpretation of the dream now clearly presented to Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel, as a prophet of God, gives a word of solemn exhortation to the king. With utmost courtesy, he urges the king to replace his sins with righteousness and his iniquities with showing mercy to the poor, if perchance God would lengthen the period of his tranquillity. Nebuchadnezzar undoubtedly had been morally wicked and cruel to those whom he ruled. His concern had been to build a magnificent city as a monument to his name rather than to alleviating the suffering of the poor. All of this was quite clear to Daniel as it was to God, and the exhortation is faithfully reproduced in this decree going to Nebuchadnezzar’s entire realm.

This passage has created some controversy because of a mistranslation in the Vulgate which reads in translation, “Cancel thy sins by deeds of charity and thine iniquities by deeds of kindness to the poor.” This, of course, is not what is recorded in the book of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar is not promised forgiveness on the ground of good works or alms to the poor; but rather the issue is that, if he is a wise and benevolent king, he would alleviate the necessity of God’s intervening with immediate judgment because of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride.

The Dream Fulfilled

4:28-33 All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.

Although fulfillment of the dream was not immediate, the decree sums it up concisely, “All this came upon king Nebuchadnezzar.” Twelve months later as he walked in the palace in Babylon, one of his crowning architectural triumphs, and looked out upon the great city of Babylon, his pride reached a new peak as he asked the question “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” From the flat roof of the palace, he undoubtedly had a great perspective. This statement contradicts any notion of some critics that he was not actually in Babylon at that time. Everything points to the contrary. What he surveyed was indeed impressive. There are frequent mentions of the great buildings of Babylon in ancient literature.

Montgomery finds this description of Nebuchadnezzar precisely fitting the historical context: “The setting of the scene and the king’s self-complaisance in his glorious Babylon are strikingly true to history. Every student of Babylonia recalls these proud words in reading Neb.’s own records of his creation of the new Babylon; for instance (Grotefend Cylinder, KB iii, 2, p. 39): ‘Then built I the palace the seat of my royalty ( e‚kallu mu‚sŒa‚b sŒarru‚ti‚a), the bond of the race of men, the dwelling of joy and rejoicing’; and (East India House Inscr., vii, 34, KB ib., p. 25): In Babylon, my dear city, which I love was the palace, the house of wonder of the people, the bond of the land, the brilliant place, the abode of majesty in Babylon.’ The very language of the story is reminiscent of the Akkadian. The glory of Babylon, ‘that great city’ (Rev. 18), remained long to conjure the imagination of raconteurs. For the city’s grandeur as revealed to the eye of the archaeologist we may refer to R. Koldewey, Das wieder erstehende Babylon,1913 (Eng. tr. Excavations at Babylon, 1915), with its revelation of Neb.’s palace, the temples, etc.”

beastThe building of Babylon was one of Nebuchadnezzar’s principal occupations. Inscriptions for about fifty building projects have been found, usually made of brick and sometimes of stone. Among the wonders of Nebuchadnezzar’s creation were the gardens of Semiramis, the famous “hanging gardens” regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The gardens were planted on top of a building and served both to beautify and to keep the building cool from the heat of summer. They probably were in view of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. Although his palaces which he constructed were all in Babylon, there were numerous temples built in other cities. The city of Babylon itself, however, was regarded as the symbol of his power and majesty; and he spared no expense or effort to make it the most beautiful city of the world. If the construction of a great city, magnificent in size, architecture, parks, and armaments, was a proper basis for pride, Nebuchadnezzar was justified. What he had forgotten was that none of this would be possible apart from God’s sovereign will.

No sooner were the words expressing his pride out of his mouth than he heard a voice from heaven, “O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee.” The voice goes on to state how Nebuchadnezzar will be driven from men and fulfill the prophecy of living the life of a beast until the proper time had been fulfilled and he was willing to recognize the most high God. His transition from sanity to insanity was immediate, and so was the reaction as he was driven from the palace to begin his period of trial. Added in verse 33 is that which had not been previously mentioned—that his hair would grow like the feathers of an eagle, completely neglected and matted, and his nails would grow like birds’ claws. How quickly God can reduce a man at the acme of power and majesty to the level of a beast. The brilliant mind of Nebuchadnezzar, like the kingdom which he ruled, was his only by the sovereign will of God.

Scripture draws a veil over most of the details of Nebuchadnezzar’s period of trial. It is probable that Nebuchadnezzar was kept in the palace gardens away from abuse by common people. Although given no care, he was protected; and in his absence his counsellors, possibly led by Daniel himself, continued to operate the kingdom efficiently. Although Scripture does not tell us, it is reasonable to assume that Daniel himself had much to do with the kind treatment and protection of Nebuchadnezzar. He, no doubt, informed the counsellors of what the outcome of the dream would be and that Nebuchadnezzar would return to sanity. In this, God must have inclined the hearts of Nebuchadnezzar’s counsellors to cooperate, quite in contrast to what is often the case in ancient governments when at the slightest sign of weakness rulers were cruelly murdered. Nebuchadnezzar seems to have been highly respected as a brilliant king by those who worked with him, and this helped set the stage for his recovery.

Although his insanity was supernaturally imposed, it is not to be regarded as much different in its result from what might be expected if it had been produced by natural causes. The form of insanity in which men think of themselves as beasts and imitate the behavior of a beast is not without precedent. Keil designates the malady as insania zoanthropica.

Young in his treatment of this designates the disease as Boanthropy, i.e., he thought himself to be an ox, and cites Pusey as having collected considerable data on the subject. A person in this stage of insanity in his inner consciousness remains somewhat unchanged, but his outer behavior is irrational. Young states, “Pusey adduces the remarkable case of Pere Surin, who believed himself to be possessed, yet maintained communion with God. It is true to fact, then, that Neb., although under the influence of this strange malady, could lift up his eyes unto heaven.” In any case, the malady supernaturally imposed by God was supernaturally relieved at the proper time.

Raymond Harrison recites a personal experience with a modern case similar to that of Nebuchadnezzar, which he observed in a British mental institution in 1946. Harrison writes,

A great many doctors spend an entire, busy professional career without once encountering an instance of the kind of monomania described in the book of Daniel. The present writer, therefore, considers himself particularly fortunate to have actually observed a clinical case of boanthropy in a British mental institution in 1946. The patient was in his early 20’s, who reportedly had been hospitalized for about five years. His symptoms were well-developed on admission, and diagnosis was immediate and conclusive. He was of average height and weight with good physique, and was in excellent bodily health. His mental symptoms included pronounced anti-social tendencies, and because of this he spent the entire day from dawn to dusk outdoors, in the grounds of the institution … His daily routine consisted of wandering around the magnificent lawns with which the otherwise dingy hospital situation was graced, and it was his custom to pluck up and eat handfuls of the grass as he went along. On observation he was seen to discriminate carefully between grass and weeds, and on inquiry from the attendant the writer was told the diet of this patient consisted exclusively of grass from hospital lawns. He never ate institutional food with the other inmates, and his only drink was water… The writer was able to examine him cursorily, and the only physical abnormality noted consisted of a lengthening of the hair and a coarse, thickened condition of the finger-nails. Without institutional care, the patient would have manifested precisely the same physical conditions as those mentioned in Daniel 4:33… From the foregoing it seems evident that the author of the fourth chapter of Daniel was describing accurately an attestable, if rather rare, mental affliction.

The experience of Nebuchadnezzar has been compared by liberal critics to the “Prayer of Nabonidus,” in Cave IV Document of the Qumran literature. The prayer is introduced as, “The words of the prayer which Nabonidus, King of Assyria and Babylon, the great king, prayed…” The prayer describes Nabonidus as being afflicted with a “dread disease by the decree of the Most High God,” which required his segregation at the Arabian oasis of Teima for a period of seven years. An unnamed Jewish seer is said to have advised Nabonidus to repent and give glory to God instead of the idols he formerly worshiped. Because of the parallelism between this account and that of Nebuchadnezzar, liberal scholars who consider the book of Daniel as written in the second century have concluded that the account of Nabonidus is the original account, and that what we have in Daniel 4 is a tradition about it which substituted the name of Nebuchadnezzar for that of Nabonidus. As Frank M. Cross has expressed it,

There is every reason to believe that the new document [the Prayer of Nabonidus] preserves a more primitive form of the tale [Daniel 4]. It is well known that Nabonidus gave over the regency of his realm to his son Belshazzar in order to spend long periods of time in Teima; while Nebuchadnezzar, to judge from extrabiblical data, did not give up his throne. Moreover, in the following legend of Belshazzar’s feast, the substitution of Nebuchadnezzar for Nabonidus as the father of Belshazzar (Dan. 5:2) is most suggestive. Evidently in an older stage of tradition, the cycle included the stories of Nebuchadnezzar (cf. Dan. 1-3), Nabonidus (Dan. 4), and Belshazzar (Dan. 5).

Conservative scholars, who recognize the genuineness of the book of Daniel as a sixth century b.c. writing, see no conflict in accepting both Daniel 4 as it is written and the “Prayer of Nabonidus” as having some elements of truth, although apocryphal. In fact, as the discussion of Daniel 5 brings out, the fact that Nabonidus lived at Teima for extended periods, well attested in tradition, gives a plausible explanation as to why Belshazzar was in charge in Babylon in Daniel 5. It is not necessary to impugn the record of Daniel in order to recognize the uninspired story relating to Nabonidus.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Restoration

4:34-37 And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.

Although the previous narrative had been couched in the third person, Nebuchadnezzar now returns to first person narrative. He records how he lifted up his eyes to heaven and his understanding returned. Whether this was simultaneous or causal is not stated, but looking to the heavens possibly was the first step in his recognition of the God of heaven and gaining sane perspective on the total situation. Nebuchadnezzar’s immediate reaction was to express praise to God, whom he recognizes as “the most High.” What effect this had on his belief in other deities is not stated, but it at least opens the door to the possibility that Nebuchadnezzar had placed true faith in the God of Israel.

In praising and honoring God, he attributes to Him the quality of living forever, of having an everlasting dominion, and of directing a kingdom which is from generation to generation. These qualities of eternity and sovereignty are far greater than those attributed to Babylonian deities. Because of His sovereignty, God can consider all the inhabitants of the earth as nothing. He is able to do as He wills whether in heaven or in earth, and no one can stay his hand or ask, “What doest thou?” Even as these words of praise were uttered to God, his reason returned to him. No doubt his counsellors had maintained some sort of a watch upon him, and upon the sudden change the report was given. They immediately sought his return to his former position of honor. Apparently the transition was almost immediate, and Nebuchadnezzar was once more established in his kingdom. It is in this role that he is able to issue the decree and make the public confession that is involved.

Nebuchadnezzar concludes with praise and worship for the “King of heaven,” whom he describes in conclusion, “all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.” Nebuchadnezzar’s experience brings the obvious spiritual lesson that even the greatest of earthly sovereigns is completely subject to the sovereign power of God. Montgomery summarizes the chapter concisely, “Neb. holds his fief from Him who is King in heaven and in the kingdom of man.”

The debate as to whether Nebuchadnezzar was actually saved in a spiritual sense remains unsettled. Such worthies as Calvin, Hengstenberg, Pusey, and Keil believe the evidence is insufficient. As Young and others point out, however, there is considerable evidence of Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual progress of which chapter 4 is the climax (cf. 2:47; 3:28; 4:34-35). There can be little question that he acknowledges Daniel’s God as the omnipotent eternal sovereign of the universe (4:34, 35, 37). His issuance of a decree somewhat humiliating to his pride and an abject recognition of the power of God whom he identifies as “King of heaven” (4:37) would give us some basis for believing that Nebuchadnezzar had a true conversion. Inasmuch as in all ages some men are saved without gaining completely the perspective of faith or being entirely correct in the content of their beliefs, it is entirely possible that Nebuchadnezzar will be numbered among the saints.

In chapter 4 Nebuchadnezzar reaches a new spiritual perspicacity. Prior to his experience of insanity, his confessions were those of a pagan whose polytheism permitted the addition of new gods, as illustrated in Daniel 2:47 and 3:28-29. Now Nebuchadnezzar apparently worships the King of heaven only. For this reason, his autobiography is truly remarkable and reflects the fruitfulness of Daniel’s influence upon him and probably of Daniel’s daily prayers for him. Certainly God is no respecter of persons and can save the high and mighty in this world as well as the lowly.

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The Deliverance of Daniel and Darius (Daniel 6:1-28)

A friend of mine once remarked, “A lot of crimes are not sins, and a lot of sins are not crimes.” Our text indicates he was absolutely right. In the sixth chapter of Daniel, this righteous man is convicted of a crime which is not a sin. Daniel purposefully committed this crime because he did not wish to commit a sin, which was not a crime.

Daniel’s deliverance from the lion’s den, one of the most popular and well-known Bible stories, is not the first great deliverance in the Book of Daniel, but it is the best loved. Daniel and his three friends are divinely delivered in chapter 1 from a confrontation with the Babylonian government and Nebuchadnezzar its king. While these four godly Hebrews were willing to be called by Babylonian names, attend Babylonian schools, and even work for a Babylonian government, they were not willing to eat the food served at the king’s table.

God granted these men favor in the eyes of their foreign superiors, and they were allowed to eat vegetables, rather than the food set aside for them by their king. Because of their faithfulness, God gave these men an extra measure of wisdom, greatly impressing king Nebuchadnezzar, who gave them positions of influence and responsibility in his kingdom.

In chapter 2, once again God delivered Daniel and his three friends. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream he could not understand; neither could his counselors and wise men reveal or interpret the dream. In anger, the king commanded the execution of all the wise men of the land, including Daniel and his friends. In the providence of God, Daniel learned of the king’s dilemma and was able to reveal to the king his dream and its meaning, sparing his own life and the lives of the other Babylonian wise men.

In chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar created a great golden image, before which the people of all nations were to bow in worship. Daniel’s three friends refused to bow down. Again in anger, Nebuchadnezzar threatened them with death if they did not obey his decree. Refusing to obey, they were thrown into a fiery furnace. God was present with them there and preserved them from death, injury, and even the smell of fire. The king was so impressed he issued a decree guaranteeing the Jews freedom to worship their God without hindrance.

Chapter 4 speaks of Nebuchadnezzar’s deliverance. He is delivered from his pride and oppression when, for a period, his sanity and kingdom are removed from him, and he must live like a beast of the field. From his own testimony, it appears he came to genuine repentance and saving faith as a result of God’s working in his life.

Chapter 5 witnesses Belshazzar’s condemnation in contrast to Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion in chapter 4. Because of his rejection of the truth, and his blasphemy against the God of Israel, only one day in the life of Belshazzar is recorded in Scripture, only to announce his condemnation and death.

Now, in chapter 6, Daniel’s life is in danger, and he will experience God’s deliverance. Daniel 1reveals what set Daniel apart from the rest of his Jewish peers and brought him to a position of prominence and power in king Nebuchadnezzar’s administration. But chapter 6 identifies what sustained Daniel over the many years of his ministry and enabled him to survive the crises of his life.

While Daniel deservedly commands center stage of our text, much can be learned from King Darius and even Daniel’s peers, who seek to arrange his downfall and destruction. Once again in the Book of Daniel, we are reminded that God is able to deliver His people, even in a distant land. The inspired and inspiring words of our text have much to teach us.

Daniel in the Critics Den

Two books which share the same title are entitled Daniel in the Critics Den. Correctly, two Christian authors have compared Daniel’s experience in the lion’s den to the critics’ attack on the Book of Daniel itself. Chapter 6 is one of the portions under heaviest attack. A message as important and encouraging as that found in our text could be expected to come under attack.

The primary issue of chapter 6 is the identity of Darius. Secular history has no record of a king named Darius. We need no outside confirmation of reliability if we believe the Bible to be divinely inspired, accurate, and authoritative. If we reject the Bible’s authority, historical confirmation of its teachings will certainly be insufficient to change minds.

One explanation suggests Darius is simply another name for Cyrus, a view some respected evangelical scholars hold. Our previous text in chapter 5 indicated that until recent years, nothing was known of Belshazzar. In twenty or forty years, we may know as much about Darius as we now know about Belshazzar. We must not be distracted from the richness and the blessings of this chapter by the clamoring of the skeptics, who would not take this chapter seriously even if Darius were a well-known king. What truly offends the unbelieving mind is the claim of a miraculous divine deliverance, not the lack of historical evidence. God’s miracles and moral standards are both offensive to fallen man.

The Conspiracy

1 It seemed good to Darius to appoint 120 satraps over the kingdom, that they should be in charge of the whole kingdom, 2 and over them three commissioners (of whom Daniel was one), that these satraps might be accountable to them, and that the king might not suffer loss. 3 Then this Daniel began distinguishing himself among the commissioners and satraps because he possessed an extraordinary spirit, and the king planned to appoint him over the entire kingdom. 4 Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God.” 6 Then these commissioners and satraps came by agreement to the king and spoke to him as follows: “King Darius, live forever! 7 “All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the high officials and the governors have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions’ den. 8 “Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction.

Daniel 5 informs the reader of Belshazzar’s defeat and the end of the Babylonian kingdom, the “head of gold” of Daniel 2. The kingdom of the “Medes and the Persians” commences at the end of chapter 5, when Darius becomes the first king of this new empire at approximately 62 years of age (Daniel 5:31).

Chapter 6 accounts Daniel’s rapid rise to power, the threat it posed to his peers, and ultimately to his own life. Verses 1-9 depict a sequence of events which give birth to a conspiracy against Daniel, leading to a law which makes Daniel a criminal and sentences him to the death penalty.

Darius may have been new at the task of ruling an empire, but he was far from naive. To establish himself and his rule over the territory formerly ruled by Babylon, he appoints 120 satraps, each responsible for a certain geographical region. The king’s major concern was corruption. He knew that political power afforded the opportunity not only for oppression but for corruption. Darius feared he would not be able to adequately supervise the satraps with such a large kingdom, and they would enrich themselves at his expense. For this reason, the king appointed three governors over the one-hundred and twenty satraps. He wanted to create a system of accountability which would prevent him from suffering loss.

Darius may have become familiar with Daniel in a number of ways. It certainly appears unusual for this Hebrew, who had been so intimately associated with the Babylonian kingdom Darius had just overthrown, to rise so quickly to a position of power under this Mede. While the text does not say, we would hardly be wrong to conclude that, as before, God gave Daniel favor in the sight of this king.

Daniel’s rise to power under Darius did not rest upon his remarkable accomplishments of the past. We are told Daniel “began distinguishing himself among the commissioners and satraps” because of the “extraordinary spirit” he possessed. I believe Darius recognized not only Daniel’s wisdom but his integrity and faithfulness. Here was a man he could trust in a leadership position who would not cause him to “suffer loss.” Recognizing his unique abilities, Darius planned to promote Daniel, placing him in charge of all the commissioners and the satraps.

The king’s plan to promote Daniel seems to have become public knowledge; at least the commissioners and satraps knew. The thought of Daniel’s promotion created much consternation. This crisis must be taken most seriously. Why? What distressed them so greatly? The common view is that Daniel’s peers were jealous. Perhaps so, but the matter seems more serious to them.

The context supplies the reason for their distress. His ability threatened them, but more so his honesty. The king was delighted to find a man of ability and honesty. To the corrupt leaders of the kingdom, Daniel’s ability and honesty seriously threatened their corruption. They could neither corrupt Daniel nor deceive him. If he were to rise above them, they could not continue.

Daniel’s testimony is awesome, his character and ability unsurpassed. His work is such that not even his enemies can bring a charge against him. His flawless faithfulness to the king and his obedience to the laws of the land forces his enemies to pass a new law aimed directly at him and his destruction. The only fault to be found with Daniel is that he is too godly. What Christian would not want to be regarded as highly as Daniel?

Somewhere a conspiracy is born. First, Daniel’s opponents began to talk about Daniel. Eventually, they conspired to keep Daniel from the promotion the king planned to carry out in the near future. Although Daniel’s enemies were of one heart and purpose, they have a most difficult task ahead of them. Daniel surpassed them in his wisdom, his character, and his standing with the king. Keeping Daniel from rising above them and ruling over them would be no easy task.

Two contemporary political events may help us understand the mindset and motivation of these politicians against Daniel.

First is the opposition to Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas. The Senate Judiciary Committee members most definitely would not wish to be under the same scrutiny they are giving Judge Thomas. The committee’s concern stems essentially from their desire to be re-elected. Concern over Judge Thomas’ views on abortion has nothing to do with the rights of the unborn, but with the votes they will lose should they fail to convince their constituencies they are pro-abortion, doing all they can to prevent a pro-life nominee from becoming a Supreme Court justice.

The Supreme Court’s task is not only to judge the laws of Congress according to the standard of the constitution but to to maintain a balance of power. The Senate Judiciary Committee understands all too well that a conservative and pro-life justice may not only change the balance of power on the Supreme Court, but it may also lead to the overturning of a number of the laws passed by the Congress as unconstitutional. No wonder they are seeking to turn the tide of congressional opinion against Judge Thomas.

The second contemporary illustration is the unsuccessful coup in Russia. Conservative communist political leaders saw, with great apprehension, the tide in the USSR turning away from communism and toward democracy. They saw the transition reaching a critical point of no return and sought to forcibly regain control. They were willing to risk their lives to remove Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin from power. They knew that allowing these men to grow in power and popularity would be the end of communist domination of the USSR.

We may now better understand Daniel’s situation. These politicians, skilled in corruption, saw an end to their positions and profits should Daniel be appointed over them. Yet, as hard as they tried to find some basis for accusing Daniel to the king, they could not do so. To achieve their purpose of doing away with Daniel, they must achieve three goals:

(1) They must discredit Daniel in relationship to his religion and the Law of Moses by which he lived.

(2) They must discredit Daniel by passing a new law, which was purposely designed to lead to Daniel’s death.

(3) They must do away with Daniel against the king’s will. They would have to do away with Daniel in a way that forced the king to eliminate Daniel, a way which he could not escape.

To do this, the conspirators found it necessary to deceive the king. A group seems to have come before the king as a delegation, representing themselves as the spokesmen for the entire number of prefects, satraps, officials, and governors. Their deception led the king to conclude that Daniel too agreed with their proposal.

They urged Darius to pass a law requiring no petition be made in all the land unless it were made to the king. Their proposal seemed to be in the king’s best interest, helping to establish his rule over the former kingdom of Babylon. The proposal is similar in some respects to Nebuchadnezzar’s described in chapter 3. By fashioning a golden image and requiring every citizen to bow down to it, king Nebuchadnezzar thought he would give unity and cohesiveness to his kingdom. By requiring all men to make their petitions to Darius, they would acknowledge him as the source of their every blessing. The difference between Nebuchadnezzar’s plan in chapter 3 and this plan in chapter 6 is that this was not Darius’ idea. This proposal originated with the conspirators.

The law was for a limited time 30 days, a short enough period that the king might not scrutinize the plan carefully. It would be temporary, setting a precedent. The conspirators insisted the decree be a law of the Medes and the Persians so it could not be revoked. This would prevent the king from reversing the law once he realized Daniel was the victim of this proposed legislation.

The king should have known better. No doubt he reminded himself of this many times the night Daniel spent in the den of lions. Nevertheless, he signed the law, little realizing where it would lead, just as the conspirators failed to realize where their deceit would lead. The death planned for Daniel in the lion’s den would be their own. It is a dangerous thing to oppose those who serve the living God.

Daniel Accused and the King Aghast

10 Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously. 11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God. 12 Then they approached and spoke before the king about the king’s injunction, “Did you not sign an injunction that any man who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, is to be cast into the lions’ den?” The king answered and said, “The statement is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” 13 Then they answered and spoke before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the injunction which you signed, but keeps making his petition three times a day.” 14 Then, as soon as the king heard this statement, he was deeply distressed and set his mind on delivering Daniel; and even until sunset he kept exerting himself to rescue him. 15 Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Recognize, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or statute which the king establishes may be changed.”

From our text, it may seem this new law affected only Daniel. Had Daniel not disobeyed the law and been divinely delivered, things would have been quite different for the Jews held captive in Babylon. This law aimed directly at Daniel also affected every Jew. If the law had not been nullified, every Jew would have been prevented from praying legally to the God of Israel. Every faithful Jew could have been charged, convicted, and put to death. The potential evil of this law may have gone farther than even its authors ever conceived.

Daniel learned about the legislation the king had foolishly signed and executed. What options did he have? Several must have come to mind, all of which he rejected:

(1) Obey the new law, making his petitions to the king.

(2) Appeal to the king to change or repeal the law.

(3) Cease praying altogether, making no petitions for 30 days.

(4) Limit his prayers to thanksgiving and praise, simply setting aside his petitions for 30 days.

(5) Simply continue to pray, privately.

Daniel chose none of these options. He could not redirect his prayers to the king. It would do him no good to appeal to the king. The king himself wanted to change the law, but as a law of the Medes and the Persians, it could not be revoked. Daniel knew his needs were daily needs and that he should petition God daily for those needs. Petitions could not be delayed. If Daniel ceased to pray, Daniel would have sinned against his God. He would have broken God’s law in order to obey man’s laws.

The last option seems to be the most tempting, at least to me. Why did Daniel simply not pray out of sight? After all, is not prayer a private matter? Does not our Lord later advocate private prayer and express disdain for public prayer?

1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. 5 … And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:1, 5-6).

We know our Lord was not condemning all public prayer, but rather teaching His disciples not to pray in order to appear pious and gain the praise of men. Daniel’s “public prayer” would surely not bring him praise, but it would result in his prosecution as a law-breaker.

Why then does Daniel pray publicly? What compelled him to pray publicly, knowing it would bring him to the lion’s den? There seem to be several reasons.

(1) Unlike chapter 1, Daniel seems to have had no opportunity to protest the law signed by the king and no way to avoid obedience to the law without compromise.

(2) The issue was a matter of law and of public policy and practice; thus its violation must be public.

(3) Private disobedience would have been hypocritical and hindered his testimony. His opponents expected Daniel to disobey the law, publicly.

(4) It was necessary in order for Daniel to persevere in his normal disciplines of godliness. Daniel had a life-long habit of praying toward Jerusalem three times a day. His enemies knew this and were confident he would continue. Daniel would not set aside those regimens that were normal in pursuing godliness (2 Peter 1:3,4).

(5) This particular law implied something utterly inconsistent with and contrary to God’s law. To make that point, he had to publicly violate that law.

The last reason seems to me the primary basis for Daniel’s decision to disobey the laws of the land. Consider the following texts in light of the king’s injunction:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set, and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:10-17).

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee, how much less this house which I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of Thy servant and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to listen to the cry and to the prayer which Thy servant prays before Thee today; that Thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, toward the place of which Thou hast said, ‘My name shall be there,’ to listen to the prayer which Thy servant shall pray toward this place. And listen to the supplication of Thy servant and of Thy people Israel, when they pray toward this place; hear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling place; hear and forgive … When they sin against Thee (for there is no man who does not sin) and Thou art angry with them and dost deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near; if they take thought in the land where they have been taken captive, and repent and make supplication to Thee in the land of those who have taken them captive, saying, ‘We have sinned and have committed iniquity, we have acted wickedly’, if they return to Thee with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who have taken them captive, and pray to Thee toward their land which Thou hast given to their fathers, the city which Thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for Thy name; then hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven Thy dwelling place, and maintain their cause, and forgive Thy people who have sinned against Thee and all their transgressions which they have transgressed against Thee, and make them {objects of} compassion before those who have taken them captive, that they may have compassion on them (for they are Thy people and Thine inheritance which Thou hast brought forth from Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace), that Thine eyes may be open to the supplication of Thy servant and to the supplication of Thy people Israel, to listen to them whenever they call to Thee. For Thou hast separated them from all the peoples of the earth as Thine inheritance, as Thou didst speak through Moses Thy servant, when Thou didst bring our fathers forth from Egypt, O Lord God” (1 Kings 8:27-30, 46-53; cf. also 2 Chronicles 6:20-40).

There we sat down and wept, When we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst of it We hung our harps. For there our captors demanded of us songs, And our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” How can we sing the LORD’S song In a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, May my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, If I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy. Remember, O LORD, against the sons of Edom The day of Jerusalem, Who said, “Raze it, raze it, To its very foundation.” O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, How blessed will be the one who repays you With the recompense with which you have repaid us, How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock (Psalm 137:1-9).

God made a promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 known as the Abrahamic covenant. In this covenant, God promised Abraham a land, a seed, and a blessing. Through Abraham, his seed, and his blessing, the nations too would be blessed. When Jacob left the promised land to flee from his brother and to seek a wife among his relatives, he had a vision of a ladder on which angels were ascending and descending. For the first time in his life, he was awe-struck that this land of Canaan was a “holy place.” Even more, somehow it was a place of mediation, a place where heaven and earth met.

The same truth is later affirmed by Solomon at the time of the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. God’s dwelling place was not the temple, Solomon confessed. Even the heavens were not able to contain God, much less a temple in Jerusalem. But Jerusalem was the place where God chose to meet with men and to bless them. Solomon spoke in his prayer of men praying toward Jerusalem, the place where God would meet with men to bless them. He specifically spoke of God’s people praying toward Jerusalem from the lands where they were captives.

One such prayer recorded for us is Psalm 137. There, from Babylon, the psalmist cries out to the God of Israel. The eyes of the psalmist look toward Jerusalem and long to return there to worship God. Jerusalem is in ruins, but the psalmist is not deterred from looking toward that city. It did motivate him to petition God to judge those who brought about the destruction of this city.

I believe Daniel consistently prayed toward Jerusalem three times a day for the more than seventy years of his sojourn in Babylon. Ironically, we can confidently assume that many of those prayers of petition were for the blessing of the king and kingdom of Babylon (see Jeremiah 7:13-17; 11:1-14; 14:11; 29:4-7). The conspirators passed a law intended to prevent the very prayers which brought God’s blessings on this nation and its people.

The Jewish captives brought the blessings of God on the kingdom of their captors. The city of Jerusalem not only symbolized the hopes of the Jews, but it is the place their God met with them and heard their prayers. God chose to mediate His blessings through His chosen people, the Jews, and through His chosen place (Jerusalem).

While the king may not have thought through the implications of the injunction which he made law, Daniel did. The law passed by the conspirators, in effect, made Darius the mediator between all “gods” and men. I do not believe the king was declaring himself to be a “god.” Neither do I believe he put himself above all “gods.” But his injunction did make him the link between all those in his kingdom and any “god.”

Here the conflict between Daniel’s faith as a Jew and the injunction of Darius became irresolvable. According to the new law, the king was “mediator for 30 days.” According to Daniel’s Law, the Old Testament Scriptures, the God of Israel is God alone, and those who would be blessed will be blessed through His people, Israel. Their petitions must be directed to God, but through the place of His blessing, Jerusalem. There was no way Daniel could redirect his petitions to the king, rather than to God, by facing Jerusalem.

It does not seem possible for Daniel to pray to God, toward Jerusalem, other than by literally looking in that direction. This meant his window would be open and he would be visible when he prayed. He prayed publicly, in defiance of the law of the Medes and the Persians, because he believed there was no other choice.

I can almost see the conspirators deciding how they will catch Daniel breaking their law. His prayer life was so consistent they could literally pick the time to gather outside his window to catch him in prayer.

Although, it was no great accomplishment to catch Daniel in prayer, the conspirators approached the king very carefully with this news. Accusing a man of the king’s favor was dangerous. They began by asking the king about the law which had just gone into effect. He reiterated that he had indeed passed the law forbidding any petition be made except to him. He further acknowledged that the penalty for breaking this law was to be cast into the lion’s den. Only at this point did the conspirators shock the king with the announcement that Daniel has been found violating this very law. Their accusation was meant to impress upon the king that Daniel had not merely broken the law once, he was persisting in violating this law, showing in their minds complete disregard for the king and his authority.

King Darius responds to this report very differently than his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. When told of the refusal of the three Hebrews to bow down to his image (see Daniel 3:13-18), Nebuchadnezzar became furious and intent on putting them to death. Darius was greatly distressed and spent the remaining daylight hours trying to find a way to deliver Daniel from the lion’s den.

The conspirators refused to be put off by the king’s resistance. After spending the day seeking to arrange Daniel’s release, they returned and reminded the king the law Daniel had broken was a “law of the Medes and the Persians” and thus irrevocable. Essentially, they told the king he had no choice. He was bound by the law he had signed and subject to the plot of the conspirators who had convinced him to sign it.

Daniel in the
Den, And Darius in Distress

16 Then the king gave orders, and Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions’ den. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you.” 17 And a stone was brought and laid over the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signet rings of his nobles, so that nothing might be changed in regard to Daniel. v18 Then the king went off to his palace and spent the night fasting, and no entertainment was brought before him; and his sleep fled from him.

Reluctantly, the king gave the order for Daniel to be brought in and thrown into the lion’s den. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar, who defied any god to deliver the three Hebrews from death in the fiery furnace, Darius speaks words of encouragement to Daniel. He assures Daniel that His God would most certainly deliver him. Is it possible that this king, unlike Belshazzar, had read the historical records of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom and come to believe in the God of the Hebrews? It certainly seems so. The king’s final words to Daniel are a commendation of this man’s faithful and constant obedience to his God. Having spoken words of faith and hope to Daniel, he had Daniel lowered into the lion’s den, the stone cover put in place and sealed. No man dared tamper with the stone to deliver Daniel.

Something very interesting and significant strikes me about this paragraph. Can you see it? Although Daniel is the one wrongly accused and in the process of his own execution, the entire paragraph is about the king. The king orders Daniel lowered into the lion’s den; the king speaks words of encouragement to Daniel; the king abstains from entertainment that night and sleep eludes him.

It appears the king suffered more than Daniel. I believe Daniel had a great night’s sleep. The angel of the Lord was there with him, much as He was present with the three Hebrews in the furnace. The mouths of the lions were stopped, preventing any harm to Daniel. I wonder if Daniel had a lion for a pillow that night. It could easily have been so.

Daniel’s Deliverance
and His Enemies Destruction

19 Then the king arose with the dawn, at the break of day, and went in haste to the lions’ den. 20 And when he had come near the den to Daniel, he cried out with a troubled voice. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Then Daniel spoke to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.” 23 Then the king was very pleased and gave orders for Daniel to be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. 24 The king then gave orders, and they brought those men who had maliciously accused Daniel, and they cast them, their children, and their wives into the lions’ den; and they had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.

The king had not slept well that night, if at all. He had been deceived by his ministers, and his most trusted servant had been set up, falsely accused, and cast into the lion’s den. As powerful as this ruler of the greatest kingdom on earth was, he was powerless to deliver Daniel. Dawn must have welcomed the end of a fitful night. Quickly, he made his way to the lion’s den, calling out to Daniel. I am convinced this king had every hope that Daniel was divinely delivered.

The king shouted very specific words into the lion’s den. Just as he had not wished Daniel “good luck” as he left him the previous evening, his first words to Daniel were pointed: “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?”

What joy must have filled the king’s heart when Daniel responded to his call. Daniel gave glory to God for delivering him through His angel. He also reiterated his innocence of any wrong doing, linking this to his deliverance.

With much pleasure, the king gave orders to remove Daniel from the lion’s den. With great indignation, the king also gave orders to arrest those who had maliciously accused Daniel, along with their families, and had them cast into the den of lions. Lest some skeptic explains Daniel’s miraculous deliverance by suggesting all the lions had the flu, the account is given of the devouring of Daniel’s enemies and their families. While they could not harm Daniel, they would perform as expected with anyone else. God not only delivers His people from their enemies, He also delivers their enemies to the judgment they deserve for oppressing His people.

The King’s Decree

25 Then Darius the king wrote to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language who were living in all the land: “May your peace abound! 26 “I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; For He is the living God and enduring forever, And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, And His dominion will be forever. 27 “He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders In heaven and on earth, Who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.”

The king’s decree is similar to that of his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. It sounds something like the Hallelujah chorus to me. I cannot imagine these words coming from anyone other than a true believer in the God of the Jews. The decree, like that of Nebuchadnezzar, is addressed to all the people of his kingdom, and perhaps anyone else who would hear and heed it.

It acknowledges the God of Daniel as sovereign. Darius declares that Daniel’s God is a far greater king than he, and that God’s kingdom is much greater than his earthly kingdom. He is the one who delivered Daniel. By inference, He is also the One to whom men should rightly address their petitions. Since God had done what the king could not do in delivering Daniel, God is the One whom men should worship and the One to whom their petitions in prayer should be made.


28 So this Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

These closing words in chapter 6 inform us that while the careers of Daniel’s enemies came to an abrupt halt, Daniel’s life was preserved. His effective ministry continued, not only throughout the administration of Darius, but also into the reign of Cyrus, through whom God would deliver the captive Jews back to their land to rebuild the temple.


Daniel’s deliverance from the lion’s den is a great story which wears well, even with repetition. What can we learn from this text as we conclude?

(1) This text suggests that Christians who would live holy lives should expect persecution; it also explains why. Daniel was persecuted by his peers because he was godly. Daniel’s godliness posed a serious threat to his peers, who used their positions corruptly to benefit at the expense of both their king and those under their authority. Whenever holy living threatens the sinful lifestyle of others, persecution may be expected. The New Testament confirms the lesson we learn from Daniel.

But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me! And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Timothy 3:10-13).

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you; but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.… Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Peter 4:1-5, 12-19).

The Scriptures instruct us to expect persecution for living in a way that pleases God. Beyond this, the Scriptures also indicate there have been and will be times of official persecution, when human governments and the laws of the land will be used to oppose and oppress the saints. So it was, for a short time, in Daniel’s life. So it will also be as the last days draw near. The Book of Revelation especially speaks of such times of persecution and oppression, but so do the latter chapters of the Book of Daniel. Americans have never known official opposition and persecution to the gospel and to the practice of our faith, but we may very well see the beginnings of it, especially as the end times appear to be coming upon us.

American Christians have always thought of themselves as “law-abiding Christians,” and so we would hope to be. But when official opposition to our faith and service to God come about, we must be prepared, like Daniel, to disobey those laws which directly conflict with God’s law, and we must be willing to suffer the consequences. Saints in other parts of the world know what this is like. In time, we may be able to better identify with Daniel and his three Hebrew friends. May God give us the grace to respond in the way Daniel did, to His glory.

(2) Our text assures us of divine deliverance when we serve God faithfully and are persecuted for doing so. It also assures us that God will judge those who persecute us. In the closing chapters of Deuteronomy (and in the life of Moses), God told the Jews they would be unfaithful to Him, and He would discipline them by giving them over to those nations which would take them into captivity in foreign lands. He also promised to bring them to repentance, to rescue them, and to restore their nation. In addition, God promised to punish their enemies, who so cruelly oppressed them as His chastening rod. The deliverance of Daniel in chapter 6 is an example of divine deliverance and retribution on the enemies of God and His people.

Daniel’s persecution did not come about due to his sin, but rather because of his righteousness. He suffered because he was godly. When Daniel was found guilty under the law of the Medes and the Persians, the king was unable to save him. But God’s hand was not hindered. Darius believed God would deliver Daniel; he assured him of God’s protection as he went to the lion’s den. God sent His angel and shut the lion’s mouths. He also brought about the destruction of Daniel’s enemies.

The account of Daniel’s deliverance was written to assure the saints of every age that God is able to deliver His people, even when men are unable to do so. What the king of the most powerful kingdom on earth could not do, God did. God knows how to deliver his own from judgment and how to deliver His enemies to judgment:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:4-9).

While we may be confident that God will deliver the righteous and destroy the wicked, we may not be certain how and when He will do so. There are many times when God allows the wicked to prosper in this life, leaving their day of judgment for eternity (see Psalm 73). There are many times when God allows His saints to suffer persecution and death, to deliver them through death, rather than from it. While Paul was assured of his ultimate deliverance, he was ready and willing to be delivered either from death or through it, as we can see in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Philippians (especially verses 12-26).

In the “Old Testament hall of faith,” recorded in the 11th chapter of the Book of Hebrews, some of the heroes of the faith were delivered from death, among whom Daniel seems to have been numbered (see Hebrews 11:32-34). Others, however, were delivered through death (see Hebrews 11:35-40). We dare not presume that God will always keep the righteous from persecution and death. We can always be certain that God will deliver us, whether in life or in death. Since our hope is not for earthly pleasure or success, but rather on that heavenly city and God’s eternal blessings, we can face either life or death with joy and confidence. God will deliver His people, and He will also deliver the wicked to judgment.

The same God who delivered Daniel from the lion’s mouths will also deliver us, in His way, and in His time.

16 At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, in order that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the lion’s mouth (2 Timothy 4:16-17).

(3) This account of Daniel and the lion’s den is a lesson in dealing with the crises of life.You may have read that excellent little pamphlet entitled, “Thy Tyranny of the Urgent.” Its essence is that we fail to concentrate on the important things when confronted by the crises which appear urgent. The “urgent” matters of life keep us from the “important” things. Daniel is an example of a man who knew the difference between the “urgent” and the “important.” When times of “crisis” confronted him, he refused to panic and to change his priorities and practices. He persisted in seeking first God’s kingdom, trusting Him to provide the rest. The king and the conspirators could agree on one thing: Daniel was consistent and persistent.

The way to deal with the crises of life is to establish godly disciplines in the routine times of life, and then to refuse to depart from them in times of crisis. We know little of the godly discipline evident in the life of Daniel. It takes as little as a touch of fatigue or a football game on television to set aside our spiritual disciplines. Daniel would not forsake his regimen even when men passed a law against it.

Some believe men do extraordinary things at times of crises. There may be some truth in this perspective, but I suggest times of crisis are those times when great men continue to persist in the good things they have practiced all along, when it was easier to do so.

(4) Daniel’s prayer life should serve as both a rebuke and an encouragement to Christians today. Daniel had a life-long pattern of praying toward Jerusalem three times a day. Anyone who knew anything about Daniel seemed to realize this. How many of us could claim to be as faithful in our prayer life as Daniel was? What a rebuke!

What missing ingredient explains the difference between Daniel’s consistency and our lackadaisical attitude toward prayer? There are probably many answers, but I call your attention to one. According to our text, Daniel’s prayers consisted of thanksgiving and petition (6:10; see also 9:4-19). Daniel was aware that every provision, every circumstance, every event (including those which came from his enemies), came from the hand of His sovereign God, for his good, and for God’s glory. God’s blessings were so full, so frequent, and so gracious Daniel could not possibly cease praying for 30 days. He would get too far behind in his praise and thanksgiving and never catch up.

Daniel also saw himself as continually dependent upon God for his every need. He saw himself as powerless, without the provisions God gave to him daily. He saw himself as unable to please God and his earthly superiors, apart from God’s grace. He prayed because he was aware of how great his needs were, and because he knew that only God could meet them.

This is why our prayer life (mine included) is so weak, so anemic, so sporadic and undisciplined. We don’t fail to go to bed at night, because we know we need to, and our body reminds us by being tired. We don’t fail to eat, because we know we must. But we really do not sense the desperate need to pray. We fail to grasp our daily dependence on God and His provisions. All too often we forget it is only God who can meet our fundamental needs. When we do sense the need for help, we usually begin by going to others first, and God last. Daniel knew he had needs; he knew only God could meet them, and thus he made daily prayer a priority in his life.

(5) The story of Daniel’s deliverance from the lion’s den in our text is an illustration of the gospel. This chapter illustrates what men dislike about God which causes them to oppose Him. What bothered Daniel’s peers and turned them against him was precisely the same thing which bothered the Jewish religious leaders about Jesus. They were petrified at the thought of our Lord’s authority because of His holiness.

For fallen, sinful, men, power and authority is the opportunity to use people for our own selfish gain. The satraps and governors used their position and power for personal gain. They sought to enhance themselves through the abuse of their power at the expense of their king who was in authority over them, and at the expense of those under their authority. This is why the king appointed the three commissioners over the satraps. He knew that they were causing him to suffer loss as they sought to add to their gain.

When word got out that the king planned to promote Daniel over all of them, they were petrified. A godly man in authority is a threat to every ungodly man under his authority (seeProverbs 20:8). This explains why the men about to be placed under Daniel’s authority were willing to take risks to keep Daniel from being promoted. It is also the reason the scribes and Pharisees were terrified at the thought of Jesus being in authority over them. They wished to persist in their sins and to profit from them. They devised a scheme to put Jesus to death, even as Daniel’s enemies formed a conspiracy to bring about his death.

The lordship of our God is not a threat to those who want to be forgiven and delivered from their sins. It is only dreaded by those who wish to remain in their sins. Instead of using His power and authority to profit at man’s expense, Jesus gave Himself sacrificially, dying for our sins, so that we might gain at His expense. Here is the Christian perspective on leadership and authority. Here is the model for Christian leaders, in marriage, in the home, and in the workplace.

Daniel’s enemies sought to use the law to bring about Daniel’s demise. They abused the irreversible law of the Medes and the Persians to bring Daniel under condemnation. No one, they thought, including the king, could rescue Daniel from the law and its condemnation.

What the king could not do, God did, not by keeping Daniel from death or by casting the law aside. Daniel was condemned according to the law, but the mouths of the lions were shut. Daniel paid the penalty of the law, and now he was free to serve God. In New Testament terms, Daniel “died to the law.”

This is what the gospel is all about. God gave us His law. It is a perfect standard of holiness. It too is unchangeable and irreversible. Because we are sinners, we have violated the law, fallen short of God’s standard of holiness, and come under the sentence of death. Jesus took on human flesh and died in the sinner’s place. He died to sin and the law, and then rose from the dead. Those who are in Christ by faith have been set free from the condemnation of the law and are free to serve the living God.

Have you experienced the freedom from the condemnation of the law which God has provided in Jesus Christ? All you need do is admit you are a sinner, condemned by God’s law, and to trust in the Lord Jesus as the One whom God sent to die in your place. He not only died to sin and the law’s condemnation, He also rose from the dead in newness of life. If you have never received God’s gift of salvation in Christ, I urge you to trust in Him today.

Chapter 6:
Questions and Answers

(1) How did the king feel about Daniel and why? How does this explain his rise to power under this Median king, when he had formerly served the Babylonian kings?

The king held Daniel in very high regard. It seems likely that the king learned of Daniel through past dealings with him, or by means of some of the historical records of Babylon. Daniel did not rise to power solely on the basis of his past accomplishments, however. Because of the extraordinary spirit (“Spirit” ?) within him, he continued to distinguish himself above all of his associates. Both in character (honesty, trustworthiness, and loyalty) and in practical skill and wisdom, Daniel overshadowed his peers and thus gained the king’s respect and trust. While this cannot be proven, it would almost seem as though Daniel had become a friend to the king and not just an employee.

Daniel was submissive to the government under whose authority God placed him. Thus, he could as easily be a loyal supporter of Darius as he had been of Nebuchadnezzar.

(2) How did Daniel’s peers feel about him, and why?

Daniel’s peers may have respected him at first. They could also have looked down on him because he was a Jew. But once Daniel rose to power, they quickly began to fear him and regard him as their enemy. This was because Daniel was not only more capable, and about to be put in authority over them, but also because he was a man of honesty and integrity. For this reason, they knew that Daniel would not tolerate the corruption which had become their practice. Their corrupt administration would end soon after Daniel’s promotion, and they knew it.

(3) How were Daniel’s enemies able to get him in trouble?

To their dismay, Daniel’s enemies learned there was no basis for any accusation against Daniel. He was diligent and faithful in the execution of his duties—far more than they! He was also free from corruption. They concluded the only way they could accuse Daniel would be to pass a law which contradicted the Old Testament law Daniel observed faithfully. They knew that if Daniel had to choose between God’s law and the law of the land, Daniel would disobey human law.

They proposed this new law to the king as though all of the officials, including Daniel, had been consulted and approved. They persuaded the king to think the law would serve his best interests, without revealing to him their true motivation. Because it was proposed as a “law of the Medes and the Persians,” it could not be revoked or reversed. Since it was a law in effect for only 30 days, the king may not have considered this legislation very carefully.

(4) How did the king respond to the news that Daniel had broken the new law he had just signed? Why?

The king was surprised and greatly upset. He seems to have known he was deceived and used by his officials, and that he made a foolish decision in signing the proposed law. He appears convinced that Daniel was innocent of any real crime. He probably recognizes by this time that the whole matter was a scheme cooked up by some of his other officials, so that Daniel’s promotion could be aborted. The one man in whom the king had complete confidence was now charged with a crime. Perhaps worst of all was the king’s growing realization that there was nothing he could do to stop Daniel’s execution.

(5) Why was the king unable to help save Daniel?

The king was bound by the law of the Medes and the Persians. It would seem that the Medo-Persian empire, like our own nation, was a government of laws, and not of men. Signing this injunction into law as one of the “laws of the Medes and the Persians” was to make the law irrevocable. The king was powerless to save Daniel, in spite of his strong desire to do so.

(6) What happened to Daniel?

Daniel was cast into the den of lions, just as the law required. But God sent His angel, who not only shut the lions’ mouths but kept them from hurting him in any way. Daniel was kept safe through the night. Having paid the penalty of the law, he was released.

(7) What happened to Daniel’s enemies?

The destruction Daniel’s enemies had planned for him became their destiny. By the king’s orders, those who falsely accused Daniel of wrong-doing were cast into the lions’ den, along with their families. They were immediately destroyed, which only underscores the miracle God performed on Daniel’s behalf.

Daniel and the Lion's Den(8) Why was Daniel spared from death, when many Old Testament saints were not? Does God spare everyone who is godly and has faith from danger or death?

We are not told why God chose to deliver Daniel, while He allows others to suffer persecution and death and their oppressors to apparently prosper. In Hebrews 11 we find two kinds of saints: (1) those who were delivered from danger or death, and (2) those who were delivered through danger or death (see Hebrews 11:32-40). We should remember that our Lord was without sin, and yet God did not spare Him, but delivered Him up to suffer and to die. We can at best say that God purposes for some to suffer and even die to accomplish His purposes, and others He delivers for His purposes. It would seem in Daniel’s case that God delivered him as a reminder to the Jews that as He delivered Daniel, so He would deliver Israel from her captivity. Furthermore, Daniel’s life may also have been prolonged because God still had prophecies to reveal to him and through him (see Daniel 10:1ff.).

(9) What was the king’s response to Daniel’s deliverance?

The king believed that God not only could but would deliver Daniel, and so he encouraged him before unwillingly casting him into the den of lions. When the king came out to the den of lions, he called to Daniel, asking him if his God had delivered him. He most happily ordered Daniel removed from the lion’s den and his enemies thrown inside.

(10) Compare Darius with Nebuchadnezzar.

Both kings, in my opinion, came to a genuine faith in the God of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar seems to have been more stubborn in his resistance, while Darius seems to have believed more quickly. Nebuchadnezzar set up his golden image on his own initiative; Darius passed his law at the initiative of his officials. Nebuchadnezzar was fiercely angered when the three Hebrews refused to bow down to his image, defying any god to deliver them from the death he threatened. Darius was greatly distressed to find Daniel accused of disregarding his new law, taking every possible measure to deliver him from the lions’ den. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar, Darius assured Daniel that his God would deliver him. The decrees which both kings sent throughout their kingdoms after coming to faith are very similar.

(11) What is the meaning and significance of Darius’ decree?

The decree was the king’s public testimony that God had delivered Daniel from the “curse of the law” which he had passed. It was a witness to his personal faith. It was also an implied warning to anyone in his kingdom who would be tempted to resist Daniel, to persecute the Jews, or to try to accuse anyone else of breaking the 30 day injunction he had wrongly signed.

(12) Do you think king Darius was a true believer? What evidence is there for your conclusion?

I believe Darius was a true believer, like Nebuchadnezzar. This is consistent with the prophetic significance of the Book of Daniel and other prophecies that Israel’s disobedience would not only result in the discipline of God’s people but also in the salvation of the Gentiles. Darius not only regretted signing the 30 day law, he sought to reverse it or at least to arrange for Daniel’s release. He encouraged Daniel that his God would deliver him. He fasted and perhaps prayed for Daniel’s release the night Daniel was in the lion’s den. He came to the lion’s den early the next morning, expecting Daniel to have been delivered. He sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, praising the God of Israel as the sovereign God. Such praise does not come from the lips of an unbeliever.

(13) What can we learn from this chapter?

This chapter helps us understand why Christians will be persecuted for their faith, and how such persecution can even become a part of public policy, forcing saints to break those laws which oppose the law of God. It also teaches us that God is able to deliver His people, even when men are powerless to do so. He may deliver them from death, or through it. It is a reminder of the importance of prayer, and of a disciplined life, making the pursuit of godliness a habit, which will not be broken, especially by danger or panic. It is also an illustration of sin and temptation, as the self-seeking, self-serving officials oppose Daniel and deceive the king into passing an evil law. As well, it is an illustration of the gospel, for it was by being delivered through the curse of the law of the Medes and the Persians that Daniel was saved. He bore the penalty and came out alive, so that he no longer was subject to the law or its penalty.

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The Golden Image Of Nebuchadnezzar

The account of the golden image which was erected on the plain of Dura records Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction to the revelation of chapter 2 in which he was symbolized by the head of gold. The astounding courage and deliverance of Daniel’s companions, who refused to worship the image, has inspired the people of God in similar times of trial. The chapter as a whole, however, is often regarded as merely providing historical insight into the characteristics of this period. Works devoted to study of the prophecies of Daniel often omit consideration of chapter 3 entirely as do S. P. Tregelles and Robert D. Culver. Others, such as Geoffrey R. King, interpret the chapter as not only history but parable and prophecy. The introduction of the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 3 immediately following Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great image depicting Gentile times, even if its parabolic implications are ignored, obviously is intended to convey not only spiritual truth in general, but characteristics of the times of the Gentiles. Its study, accordingly, not only provides spiritual insights but contributes to the overall presentation of prophecy in Daniel.

The Image of Gold

3:1-7 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits (90 feet), and the breadth thereof six cubits (9 feet.) he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of musick, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. (Emphasis mine.)

The erection of the golden image by Nebuchadnezzar is clearly subsequent to the events of chapter 2 since Daniel 3:12, referring to the appointment of Daniel’s companions over the affairs of the province of Babylon, and Daniel 3:30 imply that the event was subsequent to Daniel 2:49. The exact date of the erection of the image, however, is debated. The Septuagint and Theodotion connect the event with the destruction of Jerusalem, which, according to 2 Kings 25:8-10 and Jeremiah 52:12, places this event in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. There is no certainty, however, that there is a relationship between the destruction of Jerusalem and the erection of the image, although the general narrative and the fact that Daniel apparently is away would imply considerable passage of time. It may well be, however, that twenty years elapsed between chapter 2 and chapter 3.

The image of gold is described as being sixty cubits (90 ft.) high and six cubits (9 ft.) broad, a very impressive sight erected in the plain of Dura. The Hebrew word for image implies, as Leupold says, “An image in the very broadest sense,” probably in human form although the proportions are far too narrow for a normal figure. Scripture does not solve this problem, but most commentators agree that images of this kind in antiquity frequently varied from ordinary human proportions. The image may have been on a pedestal with only the upper part of the image resembling human form. The obvious intent was to impress by the size of the image rather than by its particular features. Leupold cites numerous ancient images such as that of Zeus in a temple at Babylon; the golden images on the top of the Belus temple, one of which was forty cubits high; and the Colossus at Rhodes which was seventy cubits high. While an image of this size was unusual, it was by no means unique; and there is no reason to question the historical accuracy of its dimensions.

Although Nebuchadnezzar had tremendous wealth and could conceivably have erected this image of solid gold, it is probable that it was made of wood overlaid with gold as was customary. Montgomery observes, “Its construction of gold has also given rise to extensive argument, with charge of absurdity on one side, e. g., JDMich [J. D. Michaelis], with defence based on the fabulous riches of the East on the other. But Herodotus’ statements about the golden idols in Babylon afford sufficient background. (Cf. Pliny’s account of an all-gold image of Anaitis, which was looted by Antony, Hist, nat., xxxiii, 24.) The gold consisted in overlaid plates, for which we possess not only abundant Classical evidence … but also that of the Bible.” The “golden altar” (Ex 39:38) was actually wood overlaid with gold (Ex 37:25-26). Idols overlaid with gold are mentioned in Isaiah 40:19 and Isaiah 41:7. Jeremiah describes the same process (Jer 10:3-9). The appearance of the image, however, was much the same as if it were solid gold.

The use of the golden metal for the image may have been derived from Nebuchadnezzar’s previous experience with the image of chapter 2 where Daniel informed him that he, Nebuchadnezzar, was the head of gold. Although Nebuchadnezzar did not do this intentionally, the dimensions of six cubits wide and sixty cubits high introduces the number six which is prominent in the Bible as the number of man (cf. Rev 13:18). The intended significance of the image from Nebuchadnezzar’s point of view is, however, debatable. It may have been in honor of the god of Babylon, either Bel or Marduk, but in this case it would have been natural to mention the name of the god. Nebuchadnezzar may have regarded the image as representing himself as the embodiment of divine power, and the worship of the image would then be a recognition of his personal power. In view of his pride as dealt with in chapter 4, this becomes a plausible explanation.

The image was set up “in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.” The expression Dura, as Leupold states, “is a rather common name in Mesopotamia, being a name that is applicable to any place which is enclosed by a wall,” and a number of locations bear this title as Keil points out. Both Keil and Young mention two possible locations which seem to be eliminated by being too far from Babylon. As Young states, “The name Dura has occurred in classical sources; Polybius 5:48, Amm. Mar. 23:5, 8; 24:1, 5 mention a Dura at the mouth of the Chaboras where it empties into the Euphrates, but this can hardly be reckoned as being in the province of Babylon, and another Dura is mentioned as being beyond the Tigris not far from Appollonia, Polybius 5:52 and Amm. Mar. 25:6, 9. This also would be too distant.”

The consensus of conservative scholarship is that the most probable location is a mound located six miles southeast of Babylon consisting of a large square of brick construction which would have ideally served as a base for such an image as Nebuchadnezzar erected. Montgomery earlier had come to the same conclusion based on the findings of Oppert Its proximity to Babylon would make it convenient and yet its location in a valley plain would make its height impressive. The fact that a specific name is given to the location, which implies an intimate knowledge of Babylon in the sixth century B.C., as Young points out, “is in reality an evidence of genuineness in that it seems to presuppose some knowledge of Babylonian geography.”

The image having been erected, Nebuchadnezzar, according to the Scripture record, gathered the principal officials of his empire for its dedication. As there are parallels in similar situations in the ancient world, such as Sargon’s feast upon the completion of a palace erected at Dur Sharrukin, scholars, both liberal and conservative, have agreed that this ceremony is in keeping with the times. Such a display of officials was on the one hand a gratifying demonstration of the power of Nebuchadnezzar’s empire and on the other hand was significant as recognizing the deities who in their thinking were responsible for their victories. The worship of the image was intended to be an expression of political solidarity and loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar rather than an intended act of religious persecution. It was in effect a saluting of the flag, although, because of the interrelationship of religious with national loyalties, it may also have had religious connotation.

The list of the officials gathered for the event has occasioned comment because some of them are Persian rather than Babylonian terms. The speculation as to why Persian terms should be used is much ado about nothing. It would be natural for Daniel, who may have written or at least edited this passage after the Persian government had come to power, to bring the various offices up-to-date by using current expressions. The fact that Daniel was so familiar with these offices is another evidence that he lived in the sixth century B.C.. The official titles used in Daniel 3:2-3 help to date the book in the sixth century and refute the second century date given by the critics. The Septuagint versions (Old Greek and The-odotion) are hopelessly inexact and are merely guesswork in their rendering of ‘drgzr, “counsellor”; gdbr, “treasurer”;dtbr, “law-officer”; t(y)pt, “magistrate, police chief.” Kitchen points out,

If the first important Greek translation of Daniel was made some time within c. 100 BC-AD 100, roughly speaking, and the translator could not (or took no trouble to) reproduce the proper meanings of these terms, then one conclusion imposes itself: their meaning was already lost and forgotten or, at least, drastically changed long before he set to work. Now if Daniel (in particular, the Aramaic chapters 2-7) was wholly a product of c. 165 BC, then a century or so in a continuous tradition is surely embarrassingly inadequate as a sufficient interval for that loss (or change) of meaning to occur, by Near Eastern standards. Therefore, it is desirable on this ground to seek the original of such verses (and hence of the narratives of which they are an integral part) much earlier than this date, preferably within memory of the Persian rule—i. e. c. 539 (max.) to c. 280 BC (allowing about fifty years’ lapse from the fall of Persia to Macedon).

The exact functions of each office are not given, but seven classes of officials are designated. The official titles and their modern meanings are as follows:


Aramaic (singular form)



















law official, judge





Keil probably gives the best explanation of the various terms. The princes are administrators, guardians or watchers, and the chief representatives of the king, corresponding to the Greek expression satrap, The division of the empire into provinces (satrapies.) The governors were commanders or military chiefs. The captains seemed to refer to presidents or governors of civil government. The judges were counsellors of the government or chief arbitrators. The treasurers were superintendents of the public treasury. The counsellors were lawyers or guardians of the law. The sheriffs were judges in a stricter sense of the term, that is, magistrates who gave a just sentence. The rulers were lesser officials who were governors of the provinces subordinate to the chief governor. The list of officers stated in verse 2 is repeated in verse 3 and some of them are repeated in verse 27. They had been summoned by messengers sent by Nebuchadnezzar to participate in this important event.

According to verse 3, they were assembled before the image awaiting the call to universal worship signalled by the cry of the herald. The word for herald ( ka„ro‚z), because it closely resembles the Greek word ke„rux, introduces the interesting problem of Greek words in Daniel. Several of the instruments listed in verse 5 also seem to be of Greek origin. This has been claimed as confirmation that Daniel wrote during the period of Greek dominance of Western Asia.

Archer and others have challenged whether these words are actually Greek words, pointing out that karoz (herald, classified as a Greek word by Brown, Driver, and Briggs Lexicon, has in recent works like Koehler-Baumgartner’s Hebrew Lexicon been traced to the old Persian khrausa, meaning “caller.”

Conservative biblical scholarship has fully answered the objection of critics which would tend to reflect upon the accuracy and historicity of the book of Daniel. Robert Dick Wilson, for instance, has pointed out that the argument actually boomerangs as, if Daniel was written in a Greek period, there would be many more Greek words than the few that occur here and there. The fact is that there is nothing strange about some amount of Greek influence in Babylonian culture in view of the contacts between them and the Greeks. Greek traders were common in Egypt and western Asia from the seventh century B.C. onward. The Greek mercenaries, who served as soldiers for various countries, are found more than one hundred years before Daniel, as for instance in the Assyrian army of Esarhaddon (682 b.c.) and even in the Babylonian army of Nebuchadnezzar. Not only did the Greeks affect the Semitic world but also influences of Assyria and Babylonia appear in the Greek language as well.

Recent studies on the musical instruments mentioned in Daniel 3 conducted by T. C. Mitchell and R. Joyce have given support to the authenticity of these instruments in the sixth century b.c. Further studies by Yamauchi support the conclusion that Greek words in Daniel are not to be unexpected and in fact refer to the interchange of cultures in the ancient world.

Not much help is given by attempting to find synonyms for these instruments as actually we do not have any information as to their precise character. T. C. Mitchell and R. Joyce provide a table for all six instruments with their corresponding translations in nine different translations. Actually, none of the alternate terms improve much on that which is provided in Daniel 3:5 and repeated in verses 7, 10, and 15. These instruments probably provided as full an orchestra as could be arranged in Babylon.

The cornet was obviously a horn instrument, the word coming originally from the horn of a beast which was sometimes used to make a musical instrument. The flute was probably made of reeds with a sound similar to a fife. The harp was some sort of a stringed instrument. The sackbut may have been a triangular board to which strings were attached. The psaltery, sometimes also considered a harp, was another stringed instrument with twenty strings. The dulcimer is a wind instrument. To these were added other instruments described as “all kinds of music.”

At the sound of the music, all those gathered were to “fall down and worship the golden image,” that is, they were to fall prostrate to the ground and do homage. This has been taken by some to prove that the image was a deity or idol. But Keil and others are probably correct that they were simply recognizing a symbol of the power of the empire which included recognition of heathen gods but was not the specific object of their homage. As Keil puts it, “A refusal to yield homage to the gods of the kingdom, they regarded as an act of hostility against the kingdom and its monarch, while every one might at the same time honour his own national god. This acknowledgment, that the gods of the kingdom were the more powerful, every heathen could grant; and thus, Nebuchadnezzar demanded nothing in a religious point of view which every one of his subjects could not yield. To him, therefore, the refusal of the Jews could not but appear as opposition to the greatness of his kingdom.” There is, therefore, no direct parallel between this and the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes which liberals cite as the background for this story in Daniel. Antiochus was attempting to destroy the Jewish religion, but this was not Nebuchadnezzar’s objective. A fair analysis of the situation in Daniel 3 is that the issue was more political than religious, but it was obnoxious religiously to Daniel’s three companions.

tannurThe herald made plain that anyone who did not obey the command to fall down and worship would be cast immediately into the burning fiery furnace. Montgomery suggests that the furnace “must have been similar to our common lime-kiln, with a perpendicular shaft from the top and an opening at the bottom for extracting the fused lime; cf. illustration of such an Oriental tannur or ta‚bu‚n in Benzinger, Hebr. Archaologie, 65, and Haupt’s description, AJSL 23, 245. Hav. notes Chardin’s remarks on the existence of similar ovens in Persia for execution of criminals (Voyage en Perse, ed. Langles, 6, c. 18, end, p. 303).” This would explain both the way in which the victims were put into the furnace and the circumstances which permitted the king to see what was happening inside the furnace.

The expression the same hour has in it the thought of “immediately” but cannot be pushed to the extent of concluding that the furnace was already burning. The threat of being executed by being burned alive was sufficient to cause the entire group to fall down and worship when the music sounded. Apparently, the only exceptions were the three companions of Daniel. It is useless to speculate how this related to Daniel himself. Either Daniel considered this a political act which did not violate his conscience, or Daniel did not worship and his high office prevented his enemies from accusing him, or more probably, Daniel for some reason was absent. The stage was now set for the trial of the three faithful Jews.

Daniel’s Companions Accused by the Chaldeans

3:8-12 Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews. They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever. Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

Although the historic account previously given by Daniel does not include that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had not bowed down to the golden image, the Chaldeans, who were the court astrologers, approach the king and bring their accusation. Undoubtedly there was resentment against these Jews who had been placed by Nebuchadnezzar in charge of the province of Babylon because they were of another race and of a captive people. It was quite clear to the Chaldeans also that the Jews did not worship the gods of Babylon and were actually a foreign element in the government. They saw in the fact that the Jews had not worshiped the image an occasion to bring accusation against them. The expression accused is a translation of an Aramaic expression common to Semitic languages which literally means, “they ate their pieces,” hence, to devour piecemeal. This connotes slander or malicious accusation which devours the accused piece by piece.

The Chaldeans approached the king with the customary courtesies addressing Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live for ever.” They remind the king of the details of his decree and the penalty for disobedience. With the stage thus set for the accusation, the Chaldeans make three charges against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. First, they show no regard for the king. Second, they do not serve the gods of the king. Third, they do not worship the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

The form of the accusation is almost a rebuke to the king himself. It is clear that the Chaldeans had deep-seated resentment against the Jews and felt the king had made a serious mistake in trusting these foreigners with such high offices. They remind the king that these men are Jews, different in race and culture from the Babylonians. The king had set them over the affairs of the province of Babylon, the most important province in the empire and the key to political security for the entire realm. The personal loyalty of such officers should be beyond question; but, as the Chaldeans point out, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had not shown any regard for the king himself.

The second accusation that they do not serve Nebuchadnezzar’s gods is more than merely a religious difference. The whole concept of political loyalty, of which the worship of the image was an expression, is bound up in the idea that Nebuchadnezzar’s gods have favored him and given him victory. To challenge Nebuchadnezzar’s gods, therefore, is to challenge Nebuchadnezzar himself and to raise a question as to the political integrity of the three men accused. As proof of their suspicions, they charge Daniel’s three companions with not worshiping the golden image. The arguments were calculated to arouse the anger of Nebuchadnezzar and to bring about the downfall of these three men with the possibility that the Chaldeans themselves might be given greater authority in political affairs.

Daniel’s Companions Refuse to Worship the Image

3:13-18 Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Then they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

The argument and accusation of the Chaldeans had a telling effect upon Nebuchadnezzar, who regarded the disobedience of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego not only a threat to his political security but also a personal affront. However, in view of the fact that they probably had held their offices for some years and had evidently been efficient in the conduct of their duties, Nebuchadnezzar in spite of his anger gave them a second chance which lesser men might not have been offered. Highly enraged, he commanded to bring the men before him. He asked them two questions: first, “Do not ye serve my gods?” and second, “Do not ye… worship the golden image which I have set up?” The fact that he distinguished between serving his gods and worshiping the image, though they are interrelated, seems to confirm the idea that the worship is primarily political, although the fact that they do not worship his gods is a condemning circumstance. He gives them the opportunity to obey the command to worship, restating in full the description of the music and the obligation to fall down and worship. He makes clear the alternative that they “shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.” The repetition of the entire edict no doubt was done with a flourish; and, although he was probably well aware of the jealousy of the Chaldeans and took this into account, he makes it clear that there is no alternative but to worship the image.

Golden Image Of NebuchadnezzarThe question Nebuchadnezzar asked in verse 14, translated “Is it true” in the King James Version and Revised Standard Version, is translated “Is it of purpose?” in the American Standard Version. Scholars differ on the proper reading here and resulting translation, but Montgomery and Rosenthal support the King James Version translation, “Is it true.”

It is an amazing fact that Nebuchadnezzar adds the challenging question, “Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” He is quite conscious of the demonstration of the superiority of the God of the Hebrews over Babylonian gods in interpreting his dream in chapter 2, but he cannot bring himself to believe that the God of the Jews would be able in these circumstances to deliver these three men from his hand. The fact is that Nebuchadnezzar feels supreme in his power and does not expect any god to interfere. Rabshakeh made the same arrogant and blasphemous claim when threatening King Hezekiah (Is 36:13-20)—the claim to the possession of a human power so great that there is no divine power to which the victim can turn for help.

The reply of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to the king might ordinarily call for a long discourse explaining why they could not worship the image. They seem to recognize, however, that all this would be of no avail and that the issue is clearly whether their God is able to deliver them or not. Accordingly, they confront the king with their confidence in God to such an extent that they say, “we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” Such an answer by itself might be considered arrogant and disrespectful to the king; but coupled with the explanation, it is clear that they feel their case is not in their hands anyway. The Aramaic word hashhin translated “careful,” may be considered a technical word for “need.” Hence, the statement may be translated, “there is no need for us to answer thee in this matter.” A further difficulty is occasioned by the expression O Nebuchadnezzar which in the Massoretic is in the vocative. Young translates the entire sentence as omitting whatever formal address they made with the record here simply saying that they “said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need with respect to this matter to make defense before thee.” Montgomery holds that no discourtesy was intended, “The discourteous vocative of the Mass. pointing was not only impossible in etiquette but also in the spirit of the writer.”

Although the full salutation to Nebuchadnezzar seems to have been omitted, Daniel gives the gist of their reply and in so doing answered the question raised by the king in verse 14 when he asked, “Is it true?” Actually there was no doubt about what they had done, but their purpose in not conforming was in question. Was it really true that their purpose in nonconformity was to dishonor the gods of Babylon and to disobey Nebuchadnezzar. Their explanation leaves no question as to the answer. They state positively that their God is able to deliver them from a fiery furnace. The article should be omitted before “burning fiery furnace” in verse 17, with the resultant meaning that He could deliver them from any fiery furnace, not just the one immediately at hand. They not only affirm that their God is able but that He will deliver them.

The three men, however, also face the alternative that God might not deliver them. The expression, “But if not,” should be understood as referring to the deliverance not to the ability of God. They take into consideration that sometimes it is not in the purpose of God to deliver faithful ones from martyrdom. Even if God does not deliver them, however, this will not change their decision in which they refuse to worship the gods of Babylon as well as the golden image. Leupold aptly says, “The quiet, modest, yet withal very positive attitude of faith that these three men display is one of the noblest examples in the Scriptures of faith fully resigned to the will of God. These men ask for no miracle; they expect none. Theirs is the faith that says: ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him,’ Job 13:15.”

Daniel’s Companions Cast into the Furnace

3:19-23 Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated. And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.

burning fiery furnaceThe answer of the three men to Nebuchadnezzar left no doubt as to their determined purpose not to serve the gods of Babylon and worship the image. After all, this was forbidden in Exodus 20:4-6. Nebuchadnezzar takes their determination not only as proof of the full accusation made by the Chaldeans but also as evidence of disloyalty to him personally. His anger knows no bounds as stated in the expression “full of fury” or “filled with anger.” He is as angry as he possibly could be under any circumstance, his face is distorted, his pride has been severely punctured, and he gives the foolish order to heat the furnace seven times hotter than usual, as if this would increase the torment. Actually, a slow fire would have been far more torture as Geoffrey King puts it, “And then he lost his temper! That is always the mark of a little man. His furnace was hot, but he himself got hotter! And when a man gets full of fury, he gets full of folly. There is no fool on earth like a man who has lost his temper. And Nebuchadnezzar did a stupid thing. He ought to have cooled the furnace seven times less if he had wanted to hurt them; but instead of that in his fury he heated it seven times more.”

Instead of giving Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego another opportunity to refuse to bow before the image as Nebuchadnezzar had originally proposed, he now immediately commands their execution. The strongest men in the army are selected, who bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego as a preliminary to casting them in the burning fiery furnace. The Scriptures relate that they are bound in their coats, hose, and hats as well as other garments. Normally criminals are stripped before execution; but in view of the form of the execution and the haste of the whole operation, there was no particular point in stripping off their clothes. This later becomes a further testimony to the delivering power of God.

While the men were prepared for execution, the furnace is heated until it is extremely hot. This would not necessarily take very long, but it must have added a high note of tension to the entire situation as the multitude waited probably in dead silence. When the furnace, reached its proper heat, the king demanded immediate execution of his orders. In casting the three men into the furnace, the strong men who did it were killed by the flame which reached out to take their lives. As the decree had indicated that they should be thrown into the midst of the furnace, so it was executed.

The Septuagint inserts the “Prayer of Azariah” and the “Song of the Three Youths” with some additional explanation. Conservative scholarship is agreed that this is not part of the scriptural text, although it is possible that these men, godly as they were, might have expressed prayer in a similar way if time permitted. Verse 23 of the text has also been challenged by Charles who claims it is an interpolation and needless duplication of verse 21, and that part of the passage has been lost. Actually the narrative reads very well as it is, and the objections are without proper ground. Even in ordinary narrative important facts are sometimes repeated more than once. Nebuchadnezzar had now accomplished his purpose, his decree had been fulfilled, and he could leave to the furnace the task of consuming these men who had challenged his authority and his gods.

The Miraculous Deliverance from the Furnace

3:24-27 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, came forth of the midst of the fire. And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them.

Nebuchadnezzar apparently was seated in such a way as to be able to observe the interior of the furnace from a safe distance. What he saw, however, brought him to complete astonishment. He could not believe his eyes and in his excitement stood up and asked his counsellors whether the three men had not been cast bound into the midst of the fire. The occasion of his question was what he saw. Instead of three men, he saw four; instead of being bound, they were free; instead of writhing in anguish in the flames, they were walking about in the fire and making no attempt to come out; further, it was quite apparent that they were not hurt; most astounding of all, he had the impression that “the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” It is probable that, at these pronouncements, Nebuchadnezzar’s counsellors also rose to look into the furnace; and led by Nebuchadnezzar, they came as close as they could to see the miraculous deliverance.

Most contemporary scholars translate the phrase the Son of God, as “a son of the gods.” While it is entirely possible that the fourth person in the fiery furnace was indeed the Son of God, it would be doubtful whether Nebuchadnezzar would comprehend this, unless he had prophetic insight. The Aramaic form elahin is plural and whenever used in the Aramaic section of Daniel seems to be a plural in number, as the singular is used when the true God is meant. The textual problem of Daniel 6:20 where Darius refers to the true God is decided in favor of the singular by Kittel rather than the plural. On the basis of this consistent use, the translation “a son of the gods” is preferable and in keeping with Nebuchadnezzar’s comprehension at this point in his experience. The presence of a fourth person in the furnace nevertheless added to Nebuchadnezzar’s astonishment at the miracle he was witnessing.

Addressing the three faithful men in the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither.” It was immediately apparent to Nebuchadnezzar, as well as the others who watched, that the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego was greater than the gods of Babylon. In using the expression “the most high God,” Nebuchadnezzar was not disavowing his own deities but merely recognizing on the basis of the tremendous miracle which had been performed that the God of Israel was higher, hence “the most high God.”

At the command of Nebuchadnezzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who could not obey the king in the matter of worshiping the image, do not hesitate to fulfill his command in this instance. The assembled multitude led by the king’s most important officials acted as witnesses of the delivering power of God. Although obviously all the great throng could not get close enough to see precisely what had happened, Scripture records that “the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counsellors” witnessed the event. There could be little question that a mighty miracle had been performed. The hair of the three Hebrews had not been singed, their garments in which they had been bound had not changed, and not even the smell of fire was retained. Leupold translates coats as “shoes” which would be most remarkable as they had walked on the hot ashes. The fire had damaged their garments in no way; only the ropes which bound them, the symbols of Nebuchadnezzar’s unbelief and wrath, were destroyed in the flames.

Just as the reign of Nebuchadnezzar is symbolic of the entire period of the times of the Gentiles, so the deliverance of Daniel’s three companions is typical of the deliverance of Israel during the period of Gentile domination. Particularly at the end of the Gentile period Israel will be in fiery affliction, but as Isaiah prophesied, “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” (Is 43:1-2).

The Decree of Nebuchadnezzar

3:28-30 Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, in the province of Babylon.

Just as Nebuchadnezzar had acknowledged Daniel’s God at the conclusion of chapter 2, so here Nebuchadnezzar admitting the power of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego issues a decree in oriental style commemorating the event. First, he recognizes the delivering power of their God “who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him.” That the heathen gods used messengers to accomplish their purpose was generally believed, and Nebuchadnezzar analyzes the event in this way. Although there is no clear proof that the fourth person in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego was actually deity or an angel—as all we have is Nebuchadnezzar’s conclusion on the basis of what he saw—it may well be that the protector of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego was Christ Himself appearing in the form of an angel. The expression the Son of God (3:25) is a translation of the Aramaic bar áela„hin, which means “a divine being.” Nebuchadnezzar interprets this in verse 28 as a maláak, meaning, “an angel.” The alternative that God sent a mighty angel to protect them is, of course, also plausible and in keeping with other Scripture.

golden image which was erected on the plain of DuraNebuchadnezzar not only recognizes the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego but now belatedly commends them for their trust in God even though it resulted in changing his word. He recognizes the superior obligation of the men not to worship any deity except their own. This was a remarkable admission for a king in Nebuchadnezzar’s situation.

Having given this preamble, Nebuchadnezzar now makes his decree. In it, he does not deprecate his own gods but recognizes the fact of the power of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. He calls upon all the people in his realm not to say anything amiss concerning this God at the threat of being cut to pieces and their houses made a dunghill. That the king has the power to do this was obvious to everyone. The basis of his decree is the simple statement, “because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.” It is clear at this point that though Nebuchadnezzar is greatly impressed, he has not yet been brought to the place where he is willing to put his trust in the God of Israel.

The chain of events which had brought about this miracle also consolidated the position of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego as principal officials in the province of Babylon. Whatever their former rank and authority, they are now promoted.. Although probably in the same office, they were relieved of any opposition and had the special favor of the king in what they did.

As pointed out in an extended discussion by Leupold, the nature of this trial and persecution was quite different from that of Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C.; and scholars who attempt to draw parallels to support the idea of a pseudo-Daniel writing the book of Daniel in the second century have no real basis in fact. Nebuchadnezzar at least respected the God of Israel, something which was quite untrue in the case of Antiochus Epiphanes. As recorded in the Word of God, it is characteristic of Gentile times that there will be tensions between obedience to God and obedience to men. This will reach its peak in the future great tribulation when once again the tension between obeying an earthly ruler and obeying God will result in many martyrs.

Taken as a whole, chapter 3 is a thrilling account of young men who remained true to God under severe trial. The common excuses for moral and spiritual compromise, especially the blaming of contemporary influences, are contradicted by the faithfulness of these men. In spite of separation from parents and of the corrupting influences of Babylonian religion, political pressure, and immorality, they did not waver in their hour of testing. Critics are probably right that Daniel intended this chapter to remind Israel of the evils of idolatry and the necessity of obeying God rather than men. But the main thrust of the passage is not an invented moral story which actually never happened, as critics infer, but rather a display of a God who is faithful to His people even in captivity and is ever ready to deliver those who put their trust in Him. The contrast of the God of Israel to the idols of Babylon is a reminder that the god of this world, behind Gentile dominion, is doomed to judgment at the hands of the sovereign God. This is illustrated in the fall of Babylon and of the succeeding empires of Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. The downfall of these nations is a foreshadowing of the end of the times of the Gentiles when the Lion of the tribe of Judah returns to reign.

Chapter 3, the first of four chapters dealing with individuals, is an obvious preparation for chapter 4, which relates Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion. In the deliverance of the three faithful companions of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar is confronted by the superior power of God which can nullify Nebuchadnezzar’s commandment to execute the three men. This is a preparation for the lesson he was to learn in chapter 4 that all of his power was delegated by God and could be withdrawn at His will. In this chapter we see for the last time Daniel’s three companions, and no further reference is made to their subsequent experiences.

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Nebuchadnezzar’s Vision Of The Great Image

Beginning with the second chapter of Daniel, the grand outline of the program of God for the period of Gentile supremacy and chastisement of Israel is presented for the first time. Tregelles, in his introduction to chapter 2 of Daniel, observes, “The book of Daniel is that part of Scripture which especially treats of the power of the world during the time of its committal into the hands of the Gentiles, whilst the ancient people of God, the children of Israel, are under chastisement on account of their sin.”

What is true of the book in general is especially true of chapter 2. Nowhere else in Scripture, except in Daniel 7, is a more comprehensive picture given of world history as it stretched from the time of Daniel, 600 years before Christ, to the consummation at the second advent of Christ. It is most remarkable that Daniel was not only given this broad revelation of the course of what Christ called “the times of the Gentiles” (Lk 21:24), but also the chronological prophecy of Israel’s history stretching from the rebuilding of Jerusalem to the second advent of Christ. These two major foci of the book of Daniel justify the general description of the book as world history in outline with special reference to the nation of Israel.

Interpretations of the book of Daniel, and especially chapter 2, divide into two broad categories. Higher critics who label the book of Daniel a second century forgery challenge the prophetic meaning of chapter 2 at every turn and assert that the writer is merely recording history. If they are right, an exposition of this chapter becomes a meaningless interpretation of a curious but unimportant document.

On the other hand, reverent scholars have consistently defended the authenticity of this book as a genuine portion of the Word of God written by Daniel in the sixth century B.C. Only if this second view is adopted, which assigns to Daniel the role of a genuine prophet and regards the book as inspired Scripture, can a sensible explanation be given of the broad prophecies which this chapter details.

Among those who regard this chapter as genuine Scripture, there is a further subdivision into two classes: (1) those who interpret the vision from the amillennial or postmillennial point of view; (2) those who interpret the vision from a premillennial perspective. The difference here resolves itself largely in differing views of how the image is destroyed, and how the revelation relates to the present age and the two advents of Christ. Few chapters of the Bible are more determinative in establishing both principle and content of prophecy than this chapter; and its study, accordingly, is crucial to any system of prophetic interpretation.

Nebuchadnezzar Dreams Dreams

2:1 And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, wherewith his spirit was troubled, and his sleep brake from him.

The important event of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation is introduced by the statement that the dream occurred “in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.” The question immediately arises how this relates to the three years of the training of Daniel and his companions described in chapter 1. This time indication, standing first in the sentence for emphasis, is connected to the previous chapter by and or “now” (the conjunction waw). This implies consecutive information but not necessarily chronological succession.

Although critics have assailed this reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s second year as an inaccuracy, the explanation is relatively simple. Nebuchadnezzar had carried off Daniel and his companions immediately after his victory over the Egyptians at Carchemish, which probably took place May-June, 605 B.C. Wiseman states, “The effects of the Babylonian victory were immediate and far-reaching. ‘At that time,’ recorded the chronicler, ‘Nebuchadrezzar conquered the whole area of Hatti,’ the geographical term Hatti including, at this period, the whole of Syria and Palestine.”

According to Wiseman, “The effect on Judah was that King Jehoiakim, a vassal of Necho, submitted voluntarily to Nebuchadrezzar, and some Jews, including the prophet Daniel, were taken as captives for hostages to Babylon.” This was June-August 605 B.C. Daniel and his companions, therefore, entered their training at Babylon soon thereafter, probably after Nebuchadnezzar had been made king, September 7, 605 b.c. at the death of his father, Nabopolassar. In view of this sequence of events, Leupold concludes that “the phrase ‘in the second year’ is both harmless and unassailable.” It was actually the third year in modern reckoning. Leupold continues, “The Babylonian manner of reckoning a king’s reign did not regard the unexpired portion of the last year of the deceased monarch as the first year of the new king, but reserved that designation for the first full year of the new monarch’s rule. Since the kings did not, as a rule, die at the close of the last year of their reign, there were usually months intervening between reigns, which would allow just enough latitude to make the initial phrase of our chapter entirely proper.” In other words, the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign was not counted, and this gives a plausible explanation of why the dream could occur in the second year and yet conceivably follow the three school years of Daniel’s training. Edward Young, after Driver, supports the idea that the three years of Daniel’s training were not necessarily three full years by illustrations from Hebrew usage.

The chronology of the period, following Wiseman, Thiele, and Finegan, seems to require the following order of events.

May-June, 605 B.C.: Babylonian victory over the Egyptians at Carchemish

June-August, 605 B.C.: Fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar, and Daniel and companions taken captive

September 7, 605 B.C.: Nebuchadnezzar, the general of the army, made king over Babylon after the death of his father, Nabopolassar

September 7, 605 b.c to Nisan (March-April) 604 B.C.: Year of accession of Nebuchadnezzar as king, and first year of Daniel’s training

Nisan (March-April) 604 b.c to Nisan (March-April) 603 b.c: First year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, second year of training of Daniel

Nisan (March-April) 603 b.c to Nisan (March-April) 602 b.c: Second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, third year of training of Daniel, also the year of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream

The arguments of Montgomery and others that the datum of Daniel 1:20-2:1 is hopelessly contradictory were based on an obvious prejudice against the historicity of Daniel. These objections are satisfactorily answered by scholars such as Robert Dick Wilson, who show there is no evidence of a positive nature which contradicts Daniel’s statement here or elsewhere.

The important event which took place is simply expressed in the statement that “Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams.” As dreams is plural, it implies that he had several dreams which were of such character that he was troubled by their significance and unable to sleep. The Hebrew for “dreamed dreams” can be understood to be the pluperfect, i.e., “had dreamed dreams.” This would imply that the dream took place somewhere in the sequence of events of chapter 1 but is only now being detailed. Hence, it allows for the conclusion that the dream was interpreted before Daniel’s graduation at the end of his three years of training. Commentators generally have been so occupied with the plural of dreams that the verb has been neglected.

The Hebrew for troubled indicates a deep disturbance inducing apprehension. Nebuchadnezzar seems to have sensed that this was more than an ordinary dream and was a response to his questioning concerning the future, mentioned later by Daniel in 2:29. The result was that “his sleep brake from him.” Literally, because of the passive form of the verb, Leupold translates it “was done for,” or as Montgomery translates it, “sleep broke from him.”

Geoffrey R. King, in an extended comment on this, observes, “As is so often the case, the cares of the day became also the cares of the night. Now Nebuchadnezzar did a thing which no believer in God should ever dream of doing: Nebuchadnezzar took his problems to bed with him.” However, Nebuchadnezzar was no Christian; and after all. the circumstances and the dream were providentially induced by God Himself. On other occasions in Scripture, dreams have been used by God to give revelation to a Gentile ruler as in the cases of Abimelech (Gen 20:3) and of Pharaoh (Gen 41:1-8), which is an interesting parallel to Nebuchadnezzar’s experience. Sleeplessness also has its purpose in divine providence as in the case of Ahasuerus in Esther 6 which started the chain of events leading to Haman’s execution and Israel’s deliverance. Nebuchadnezzar’s experience was obviously ordered by God.

All the Wise Men Summoned

2:2-3 Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to shew the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king. And the king said unto them, I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit was troubled to know the dream.

Because of the king’s agitation, he apparently immediately summoned all four classifications of wise men here described as “the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans.” The designation, wise men, which does not occur in verse 2, is found in verse 27. Numerous similar listings occur throughput Daniel (1:20; 2:10, 27; 4:7; 5:7, 11, 15). Wise men, apparently a general description of all of them, are referred to frequently alone (2:12, 13, 14, 18, 24, 48; 4:6, 18; 5:7, 8) and the Chaldeans are mentioned elsewhere also (1:4; 2:4; 3:8; 5:11). Magicians is the translation of a Hebrew word with a root meaning of stylus or a pen, according to Leupold, and hence could refer to a scholar rather than a magician in the ordinary sense. Astrologers is also translated “enchanters,” referring to the power of necromancy or communications with the dead according to Leupold but is understood as “astrologers,” by Young. This translation suggests the study of the stars to predict the future. Young, however, does not specifically define astrologer. Sorcerers are those who practice sorcery or incantations. The most significant term, however, is the Chaldeans. This is usually interpreted as a reference to a group of astrologers. But the name itself designates a people who lived in Southern Babylonia (cf. Gen 11:28) and who eventually conquered the Assyrians when Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar, was their king. It would be only natural for the conquerors to assert themselves at the level of wise men, and there is no justification for seizing on this reference to Chaldeans as an inaccuracy. The obvious purpose of the recital of all four classes of wise men is that the king hoped, through their various contributions, to be able to interpret his dream.

With the wise men before him, the king announces that he has dreamed a dream, using the singular of dream indicating that only one of his many dreams was really significant prophetically.

Revelation of the Dream and Its Interpretation Demanded by the King

2:4-6 Then spake the Chaldeans to the king in Syriack [Aramaic], O king, live for ever: tell thy servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation. The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me: if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill. But if ye shew the dream, and the interpretation thereof, ye shall receive of me gifts and rewards and great honour: therefore shew me the dream, and the interpretation thereof.

The Chaldeans, acting as spokesmen for the group, then address the king. The phrase “in Aramaic” introduces the extended section written in Aramaic instead of Hebrew, beginning with verse 4 and continuing through chapter 7. Much discussion has arisen concerning this simple statement. The obvious reason for this reference is that, from this point on, Daniel uses Aramaic, which although similar to the Hebrew also differs from it. Although some critics, such as Driver, question whether Aramaic was spoken at the time of the sixth century B.C. in Babylon, it seems reasonable to assume that it was a language familiar to Daniel and was the language commonly used by the Jews in Babylon instead of Hebrew. It is not necessary to deduce from this that it was the formal court language, but there is no real evidence that the Chaldeans did not use Aramaic in addressing the king. The Aramaic section of Daniel deals with prophecy of primary interest to the Gentiles and to Daniel’s day.

In the light of recent scholarship, the dogmatic dismissal of the Aramaic of Daniel is no longer tenable. As K. A. Kitchen has written, “This subject has been closely studied by two or three generations of modern scholars— S. R. Driver, R. D. Wilson, G. R. Driver, W. Baumgartner, H. H. Rowley, J. A. Montgomery, H. H. Schaeder, F. Rosenthal, and various others. Nevertheless, there is today ample scope for reassessment. The inscriptional material for Old and Imperial Aramaic and later phases of the language is constantly growing.”

Kitchen goes on to state, concerning the “entire word-stock of Biblical Aramaic” which is largely Daniel, that “nine-tenths of the vocabulary is attested in texts of the fifth century b.c. or earlier.” Most of the findings have been fifth century, as there is a scarcity of sixth century B.C. texts; but, if Daniel’s Aramaic was used in the fifth century, it in all probability was also used in the sixth century b.c. The conclusion is quite clear that Driver and company argued from a priori assumption that Daniel is a second century forgery and on the lack of available materials. Materials are now coming to light, however, and contradict his point of view. Driver’s position is no longer tenable if recent discoveries be admitted.

The Chaldeans, eager to please the king, address him with typical elaborate oriental courtesy, “O king, live for ever” (cf. 1 Ki 1:31; Neh 2:3; Dan 3:9; 5:10; 6:21). They declare with confidence that, if the king would tell them the dream, they would give the interpretation.

In reply to the Chaldeans, the king said, “The thing is gone from me.” This translation (KJV) has been challenged by many expositors. All agree that the translation is difficult because the word used, azda, occurs only here and in verse 8. Franz Rosenthal translates the word, “publicly known, known as decided.” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX), this word with slight alterations is considered to be a verb form meaning “is gone from me,” that is, the dream had been forgotten. The verb could, however, also mean “gone forth” in the sense of “I have decreed.” Such expositors as Keil, Leupold, and Young agree that the king actually had not forgotten the dream. Young translates the word as meaning “sure” or “certain,” a definition supported by the Syriac and based on the assumption that the word is of Persian origin. Hence the translation would be, “The thing is certain with me,” or “fully determined.”

The debate as to whether the king actually had forgotten his dream cannot, at the present state of investigation, be determined finally. In favor of the idea that the king had forgotten the dream would be the argument that he, anxious to know its interpretation, would certainly have divulged it to the wise men to see what they had to offer by way of interpretation. This would be in keeping with the translation “The thing is gone from me,” which is still a possibility.

There are, however, a number of reasons why the king might have been induced to make this extreme demand of his counselors in order to test their ability to have real contact with the gods and divulge secrets. The king was a young man who had been extraordinarily successful in his military conquests. He undoubtedly had developed a great deal of confidence in himself. It is entirely possible that the wise men were much older than the king, having served Nebuchadnezzar’s father. It would be understandable that the king might have previously been somewhat frustrated by these older counselors and may have had a real desire to be rid of them in favor of younger men whom he had chosen himself. Nebuchadnezzar might well have doubted their honesty, sincerity, and capability, and may even have wondered whether they were loyal to him. He may also have questioned some of their superstitious practices.

In his combined frustration with his counselors and his irritation stemming from the uncertainty of the meaning of the dream, it is entirely possible that Nebuchadnezzar should have suddenly hardened in his attitude toward his wise men and demanded that they should not only interpret the dream but also state the dream itself. Such a capricious action on the part of a monarch is in keeping with his character and position. It may have been a snap decision arising from the emotion of the moment, or it may have been the result of frustration with these men over a long period. It is significant that the younger wise men, such as Daniel and his companions, were not present.

To reinforce his demand for both the dream and its interpretation, Nebuchadnezzar declares that the wise men “shall be cut in pieces” and their houses “made a dunghill.” This was not an idle threat but was in keeping with the cruelty which could be expected from a despot such as Nebuchadnezzar. It was all too common for victims to be executed by being dismembered, and whether their houses were literally made a dunghill or simply a “ruin” as Young and Montgomery favor did not really matter. Driver states, “The violence and peremptoriness of the threatened punishment is in accordance with what might be expected at the hands of an Eastern despot; the Assyrians and Persians, especially, were notorious for the barbarity of their punishments.”

If, however, the wise men were able to respond to the king’s request, they were promised “gifts and rewards and great honour.” It was customary, when monarchs were pleased with their servants, to lavish upon them expensive gifts and great honor, a custom to which the Bible bears consistent testimony, as in the case of Joseph, Mordecai, and Daniel himself. “Rewards” is the translation of a Persian word, a singular rather than plural, and has the idea of a “present.” To receive these, they had only to tell the king the dream and its meaning. Obviously, the wise men were confronted with a supreme test of their superhuman claims. If they had genuine supernatural ability to interpret a dream, they should also have the power to reveal its content.

The Demand of the King Repeated

2:7-9 They answered again and said, Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation of it. The king answered and said, I know of certainty that ye would gain the time, because ye see the thing is gone from me. But if ye will not make known unto me the dream, there is but one decree for you: for ye have prepared lying and corrupt words to speak before me, till the time be changed: therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that ye can show me the interpretation thereof.

Confronted with the king’s ultimatum, the wise men repeated their request to be told the dream and again affirmed their ability to interpret it. It would seem that if the king had actually forgotten the dream, the wise men would have attempted some sort of an answer. The fact that they did not tends to support the idea that the king was willfully withholding information about the dream. Even if the king was hazy as to the details of the dream and could not recall it enough to provide a basis of interpretation, he probably would have been able to recognize complete fabrication on the part of the wise men. In any case, they did not attempt such a subterfuge.

The king, however, cuts them off abruptly, stating that he is sure that they are simply trying to gain time. The phrase “of certainty” stands first in the sentence for emphasis. He accuses the wise men of attempting to “gain the time,” literally, “to buy” time, “because ye see the thing is gone from me.” This last phrase is a duplicate of the statement in verse 5 with the same problem of interpretation and could be translated “because ye see the thing is certain with me,” or “determined by me.” Nebuchadnezzar’s accusation implies that he did remember the main facts of the dream sufficiently to detect any invented interpretation which the wise men might offer.

Keil commenting on this states,

That the king had not forgotten his dream, and that there remained only some oppressive recollection that he had dreamed, is made clear from ver. 9, where the king says to the Chaldeans, “if ye cannot declare to me the dream, ye have taken in hand to utter deceitful words before me; therefore tell me the dream, that I may know that ye will give to me also the interpretation.” According to this, Nebuchadnezzar wished to hear the dream from the wise men that he might thus have a guarantee for the correctness of the interpretation which they might give. He could not thus have spoken to them if he had wholly forgotten the dream, and had only a dark apprehension remaining in his mind that he had dreamed. In this case, he would neither have offered a great reward for the announcement of the dream, nor have threatened severe punishment, or even death, for failure in announcing it. For then he would have given the Chaldeans the opportunity, at the cost of truth, of declaring any dream with an interpretation. But as threatening and promise on the part of the king in that case would have been unwise, so also in the sight of the wise men, their helplessness in complying with the demand of the king would have been incomprehensible. If the king had truly forgotten the dream, they had no reason to be afraid of their lives if they had given some self-conceived dream with an interpretation of it; for in that case, he could not have accused them of falseness and deceit, and punished them on that account. If, on the contrary, he still knew the dream which so troubled him, and the contents of which he desired to hear from the Chaldeans, so that he might put them to the proof whether he might trust in their interpretation, then neither his demand nor the severity of his proceeding was irrational.

It seems clear from the entire context that Nebuchadnezzar was not willing to accept any easy interpretation of his dream but wanted proof that his wise men had divine sources of information beyond the ordinary. He also sensed that they were attempting to gain time, hoping that his ugly mood would change. He wanted them to know that he had made up his mind.

Final Plea of the Wise Men Denied

2:10-13 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 show it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh. For this cause the king was angry and very furious, and commanded to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. And the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain; and they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain.

Although the Chaldeans had confidently claimed to be able to interpret the dream, they were baffled by the demand to tell the dream itself. With as much courtesy as they could summon, they attempted to communicate to Nebuchadnezzar that his demand was unreasonable and that “no king, lord, nor ruler” would expect such a revelation from his wise men. The phrase “before the king” delicately expresses their consciousness that they were standing in the presence of an absolute ruler. They confess that the king’s demand is beyond any human knowledge, even such as they might possess. With an attempt at subtle flattery, they refer to him as king, lord, and ruler, which could be translated by combining the three terms as “great and powerful ruler,” as Young suggests. The thought is that such a great and powerful ruler as Nebuchadnezzar would be too great a man to expect such knowledge of his servants. That which the king demands is “rare” or “difficult” and is a matter which only the gods could reveal. The expression “whose dwelling is not with flesh” may distinguish gods who are above human connection and those who might appear in human form, but the probable meaning is that only god and not men could reveal a secret like the dream. This very statement, reflecting the bankruptcy of human wisdom, sets the stage for Daniel’s divine revelation.

The humility of the wise men and their protestation were of no avail. It apparently only confirmed the king’s suspicion that they were incompetent and incapable of really helping him. It only made him more angry, the word “furious” coming from a root similar to that from which came the Hebrew word for the wrath of Pharaoh (Gen 40:2; 41:10).118 Accordingly, the decree is issued “to destroy all the wise men of Babylon.” By “wise men” he included not only the four classes that were before him but all others such as Daniel and his companions. Although Babylon could refer to the entire empire, it is probable that the decree was limited to the city of Babylon (2:49; 3:1).

It is not entirely clear from verse 13 whether the executioners killed the wise men right where they were when found or whether they were being collected for a public execution. The latter is probably the case as subsequent scripture reveals that Daniel has the time to ask questions. Montgomery writes, “It was not to be a Sicilian Vespers but a formal execution under the proper officials and in the appointed place, hence the first purpose of the officials was to assemble the condemned.”

The fact that Daniel and his companions were included among the wise men has given rise to the false accusation that he had become a part of the heathen religious system of Babylon. There is no support whatever for this in Scripture. His training in chapter 1 did not make him a priest but merely a counselor of the king. But as such, he was included in the broad category of wise men.

Daniel’s Request for Time to Seek Interpretation or the Dream

2:14-16 Then Daniel answered with counsel and wisdom to Arioch the captain of the king’s guard, which was gone forth to slay the wise men of Babylon: He answered and said to Arioch the king’s captain, Why is the decree so hasty from the king? Then Arioch made the thing known to Daniel. Then Daniel went in, and desired of the king that he would give him time, and that he would shew the king the interpretation.

When Daniel is informed of the decree of the king, it is stated “Then Daniel answered with counsel and wisdom to Arioch the captain of the king’s guard.” Although the wise men previously could hardly be accused of discourtesy, there seems to be an additional dignity and calmness in Daniel’s approach to the problem. As Keil expresses it, “Through Daniel’s judicious interview with Arioch, the further execution of the royal edict was interrupted.”

Arioch, as the captain of the king’s guard, had the duty also of serving as chief executioner, although he personally may not have had the responsibility of killing the wise men. Accustomed as he was to the cruelty of his day, Arioch apparently did not question the king’s decree. When Daniel, however, asked the question, “Why is the decree so hasty from the king?” a discussion followed in which Daniel is apprised of the total situation. That Arioch would take time to explain this to one already condemned to death speaks well both of Daniel’s approach and of Arioch’s regard for him. That Daniel refers to the decree as “hasty” or “severe” has been held by some to contradict his prudence. Obviously, however, a decree to execute wise men who have not had an opportunity to speak to the king was indeed harsh and severe, and occasioned Arioch’s explanation.

In verse 16, only the briefest summary is offered of what actually transpired. Undoubtedly, Daniel expressed to Arioch the possibility that he could interpret the dream and secured Arioch’s co-operation in going before the king. It would hardly have been suitable, especially with the king in the mood he was in, for Daniel to go in to the king unannounced without proper procedure. Possibly, the king by this time had cooled down a bit. In any event, Daniel was given his audience in which he asked for time and promised to show the king the interpretation. In contrast to the other wise men who were so filled with terror that they had no plans and had already been cut off from any additional time, Daniel, who had not been a part of the king’s frustration with his older counselors, was granted his request. It is possible that Daniel’s calm assurance that his God was able to help him somehow impressed the king that here was honesty and integrity quite in contrast to his fawning, older counselors.

Daniel and His Companions Pray for Wisdom

2:17-18 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.

Daniel lost no time in going to his own house and informing his three companions. His purpose was an obvious one, that they might join him in prayer that God would reveal the secret. As they shared in the danger, so they could share also in the intercession. They were to seek “mercies of the God of heaven,” or “compassion” sometimes used of the mercy or compassion of men (Dan 1:9; Zee 7:9), or more commonly of the mercies of God (Neh 9:28; Is 63:7, 15; Dan 9:9, etc.).121 The mercies or compassions of God are in contrast to the decree of Nebuchadnezzar of death for the wise men without mercy.

The reference to “the God of heaven” or literally “of the heavens” is an obvious contrast to the religious superstitions of the Babylonians who worshiped the starry heaven. Daniel’s God was the God of the heavens, not heaven itself. Abraham first used this term in Genesis 24:7, and it is found frequently later in the Bible (Ezra 1:2; 6:10; 7:12, 21; Neh 1:5; 2:4; Ps 136:26). Although these four godly young men were in great extremity, one can almost visualize them on their knees before God, fully believing that their God was able to meet their need. Instead of being in a panic, they prayed. For this supreme hour of crisis they were well prepared, as their faith had been tested previously (see chap. 1). The result could be expected: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Ja 5:16). They obviously were motivated by the desire to save their lives. That they would be willing to die if necessary is revealed in chapter 3. Their petition was to the effect that they would not be included in the decree of death which extended to all the wise men of Babylon. Verse 18 does not necessarily imply that the other wise men had already perished, although this is a possibility. The probability is that Daniel’s ultimate deliverance also extended to the other wise men.

Daniel’s Prayer Answered

2:19-23 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.

Deliverance came to Daniel and his companions in the form of a night vision. This apparently was not a dream but a supernatural revelation given to Daniel in his waking hours. Possibly both he and his companions prayed on into the night, and the vision came when Daniel was awake. The nature of the revelation required both a vision and its interpretation as the image was a visual concept. Hence a vision was more proper than a dream, although frequently God revealed secrets to prophets in dreams as well as visions. There is no foundation for the critical claim that this was a low form of divine revelation. Modern criticism tends to regard a dream as a lower form of revelation than a vision and hence depreciates Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The reasoning is that a dream is a natural event, whereas a vision is a supernatural experience and therefore a better medium for revelation. Montgomery writes, for instance, in commenting on the vision of Daniel, “It comes by night, as again in c. 7, but in a ‘vision,’ not in a dream, the lower means of communication to the Pagan.” Attempting to classify the value of revelation on its medium is beside the point. The only question is whether the revelation is from God, and its importance stems from its author rather than the means of revelation.

Most significant is Daniel’s immediate response in a hymn of praise as he blessed the God of heaven who had answered his prayers. The hymn not only reveals the devout thankfulness of Daniel but also the depth and comprehension of his faith. The first phrase of his psalm, “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever,” reflects, as does the entire psalm, Daniel’s acquaintance with hymns of praise found in the Psalms and other Scriptures of the Old Testament. In praising “the name of God” Daniel is speaking of God in His revealed character. W. H. Griffith Thomas writes, “The name stands in Holy Scripture for the nature or revealed character of God, and not a mere label or title. It is found very frequently in the Old Testament as synonymous with God Himself in relation to man… In the New Testament the same usage is perfectly clear.”

Griffith Thomas cites as illustrations of usage Proverbs 18:10; Psalm 74:10; 118:10; Matthew 28:19; John 1:12; 2:23; 3:18; 5:43; 10:25; 17:6, 26; Philippians 2.10. Montgomery adds this comment, “The saint praises the Name of God, i.e., God in his self-revelation, for his omniscience and omnipotence, attributes revealed in human history, 5:21. His power is exhibited in his providence over ‘times and seasons,’ Moff. [Moffatt], ‘epochs and eras,’ and in his sovereign determination of all political changes. In this expression lies a challenge to the fatalism of the Bab. astral religion, a feature which in its influence long survived in the Graeco-Roman world.”

A parallel to this hymn can be found in Psalm 113:1-2, as well as in Psalm 103:1-2. To God, Daniel attributes wisdom and might, as in Job 12:12-13, 16-22, and God’s might is mentioned frequently as in 1 Chronicles 29:11-12. Daniel’s God also “changes the times and the seasons,” an evidence of sovereign power (cf. Dan 7:25). David the psalmist declared, “My times are in thy hand” (Ps 31:15). Here again Daniel is contrasting his God to the deities of Babylon who supposedly set the times and seasons by the movements of the sun, moon, and stars. Daniel’s God could change this.

Daniel’s faith also contemplated a God greater than the king’s, and who could, therefore, remove a king or set up a king. This was not Babylonian fatalism but a sovereign God who acts as a person with infinite power. Such a God is also able to give wisdom to those who are wise and knowledge to those able to receive it. The wise men of Babylon were not so wise, for they were not the recipients of divine wisdom. To those wise enough to trust in the God of Daniel, however, and who had sufficient insight to see through the superstitions of Babylonian religions, there was the possibility of divine understanding. God’s power over kings is hailed in Job 12:18 and Psalm 75:6-7, and His divine wisdom is a frequent theme of Scripture. From the same God, Solomon had sought an understanding heart (1 Ki 3:9-10); and the Scriptures record that “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore” (1 Ki 4:29). Such was also to be Daniel’s experience.

In Daniel’s ascription of greatness to God, he emphasizes that God not only has knowledge and wisdom but power to do what He wills. Daniel’s God is in control of history and hence can reveal the future as in the king’s dream. This description of God can be contrasted to Daniel 7:25 where the little horn, the future world ruler, shall “think to change times and laws,” that is, take the place of God who “changeth the times and the seasons” (Dan 2:21). Daniel later comments on man’s complete dependence upon God for wisdom in Daniel 2:30.

God’s capacity to reveal secrets is mentioned specifically in verse 22. This again is attested by other Scriptures such as Job 12:22 (cf. 1 Co 2:10). The darkness does not hide anything from God, as David wrote in Psalm 139:12. Although knowing what is in darkness, God characteristically dwells in light. In Psalm 36:9 it is declared, “In thy light shall we see light,” that is, God’s light is presented as the light by which men see. In the gospel of John, the Logos, Christ, is identified as the light of the world (Jn 1:9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46).

Having attributed to God these infinite qualities of wisdom, power, sovereignty, and knowledge, Daniel directly expresses his thanks to God for His revelation to him of the secret. Although no mention is made of his deliverance from death, obviously this is included. Although Daniel does not have the infinite wisdom and power of God, he has that which is derived by divine impartation, wisdom and might—wisdom and ability to interpret the dream.

The expression God of my fathers is a common one in the Old Testament, here Elohim being used for God, rather than Jehovah (Gen 31:42 also uses Elohim, the common name for God rather than Jehovah, the peculiar name of the God of Israel). As Leupold notes, the reference to “my Fathers” indicates that Daniel “is having an experience of God’s mercy which is analogous to that to which the fathers of old give testimony on the pages of the sacred story.” Significant also is the fact that thee stands first in verse 23 for emphasis, “Thee I thank,” and with a desire to place God first. Again, this is in contrast to the Babylonian deities whom Daniel knows to be frauds. Notice should be made of the pronouns, namely, that while the revelation was given to Daniel as an individual, it was what “we [plural] desired,” and through Daniel the king’s secret was “made known unto us,” that is, Daniel’s companions. Daniel does not attribute to his own prayers any special efficacy.

Daniel Reports Revelation of the Secret

2:24-28 Therefore Daniel went in unto Arioch, whom the king had ordained to destroy the wise men of Babylon: he went and said thus unto him; Destroy not the wise men of Babylon: bring me in before the king, and I will show unto the king the interpretation. Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste, and said thus unto him, I have found a man of the captives of Judah, that will make known unto the king the interpretation. The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof? 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, show 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.

Daniel, now fully in command of the situation, reports to Arioch not to destroy the wise men of Babylon. This is another confirmation of the fact that the decree had not been executed and the wise men were only in process of being rounded up. In support of his request Daniel declares, “I will show unto the king the interpretation.” The poise of Daniel, in feeling free to tell Arioch not to carry out the command of the king, reveals that Daniel fully understood that God’s hand was upon him and that he would probably be richly rewarded by the king for the information he was able to give.

Arioch also at once saw the importance of what had happened and, using his office to introduce Daniel to the king, attempted to get as much credit as he could under the circumstances for discovering a man who could reveal the secret. His statement is obviously designed to help him participate in the reward, “I have found a man of the captives of Judah, that will make known unto the king the interpretation.” It is understandable that Arioch would not give God the credit for the interpretation but rather “a man of the captives of Judah.” The introduction of Daniel also served to disassociate him from the wise men who had previously incurred the king’s wrath. Although there is no mention of Daniel’s previous audience with the king which probably at the time had only the king’s briefest attention, now the eager king immediately addresses Daniel, “Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof?” The form of the sentence makes the knowledge of the dream the prominent part of the question. Daniel’s Babylonian name, Belteshazzar, is understandably inserted here as a means of proper identification.

Daniel’s answer is a masterpiece of setting the matter in its proper light and giving God the glory. Although the temptation to imagine supernatural powers as resident in him was possibly present, Daniel immediately declares that what has been revealed to him was a secret which no wise men of Babylonia could have discovered, “The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king” (cf. Gen 41:16). The repetition of all classes of the wise men is an indication that no branch of Babylonian religious superstition could possibly have met the king’s need. In describing the wise men, a new word is used to describe “the astrologers” with reference to the idea that astrologers consider various parts of the heavens as having particular significance or power. By using this particular word, Daniel is preparing the way to introduce his God as the God of the whole heavens. In stating that the wise men could not be expected to reveal the secret, Daniel is, in effect, defending them somewhat from the king’s wrath while at the same time affirming their impotence.

Having disposed of any possible solution of the problem on the part of the wise men, Daniel now seizes the opportunity to glorify his own God and, at the same time, disavows that the interpretation of the dream stems from any innate powers which he might have. Daniel declares, “but there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days.” This implies that the God of Daniel is far superior to the god of the Babylonians and that He is the God who is able to reveal secrets as well as know them.

Of particular interest to all expositors is the expression, “in the latter days.” Driver is quoted by Montgomery as limiting this expression to the perspective of the alleged spurious Daniel of the second century. Driver states, “[… in the latter days] lit. in the end (closing-part) of the days. An expression which occurs fourteen times in the O. T., and which always denotes the closing period of the future so far as it falls within the range of view of the writer using it. The sense expressed by it is thus relative, not absolute, varying with the context.”

This would, in effect, regard it as stopping short of the coming of the Messiah in the New Testament. Driver, however, goes on, “Elsewhere it is used of the ideal, or Messianic age, conceived as following at the close of the existing order of things: Hos. 3:5; Is. 2:2 (Mic. 4:1); Jer. 48:47, 49:39; comp. 23:20 (30:24). Here, as the sequel shews, it is similarly the period of the establishment of the Divine Kingdom which is principally denoted by it (w. 34, 35; 44, 45); but the closing years of the fourth kingdom (vv. 40-43) may also well be included in it.” Leupold objects to any implied limitation on the Messianic content and writes, “But to stop short at this point and to deny Messianic import to the passage as such is misleading. Though the content must determine how much of the future is involved, a careful evaluation of all the passages involved shows that from the first instance of the use of the phrase (Gen. 49:1) onward the Messianic future is regularly involved. In this passage the Messianic element will be seen to be prominent.” Conservative scholars usually regard this expression as including the Messianic age in general, with some considering it especially the end of the period.

The Aramaic phrase which is translated “in the latter days” or “in the latter part of the days” is almost a transliteration of a Hebrew expression which is common in the Old Testament. Daniel is unquestionably using this Aramaic expression in the same sense as its Hebrew counterpart; and, accordingly, its definition should be based on Hebrew usage. The expression is found as early as Genesis 49:1 where Jacob predicts the future of his sons. The term is employed by Balaam in Numbers 24:14 and Moses in Deuteronomy 4:30; 31:29 in connection with the future of Israel. An examination of these prophecies indicates that the latter days include much that is now history. But with reference to the consummation in Messianic times, Jeremiah uses the expression a number of times to refer to the climax of the age relating to the second coming of Jesus Christ (Jer 23:20; 30:24; 48:47; 49:39). Ezekiel identifies the times of the invasion of Gog and Magog as “in the latter days” (38:16). The expression is also found in the minor prophets (Ho 3:5; Mic 4:1) in reference to the Messianic age.

On the basis of scriptural usage, it is clear that “the latter days” is an extended period of time regarded as the consummation of the prophetic foreview involved in each instance. Accordingly, Robert Culver’s definition is accurate that the expression “refers to the future of God’s dealings with mankind as to be consummated and concluded historically in the times of the Messiah.” He goes on to point out that the expression always has in view the ultimate establishment of the Messianic kingdom on earth, even though “the latter days” include an event now history, such as the division of Israel in the promised land. On the basis of scriptural usage in the Old Testament, it can be concluded that the expression is larger than that of Messianic times specifically, but that it always includes this element in its consummation.

In the New Testament there is allusion to the Old Testament concept in Acts 2:17-21 (cf. Joel 2:28-32), but elsewhere reference to “the last days” (Jn 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 7:37; 11:24; 12:48; Acts 2:17; 2 Ti 3:1; Heb 1:2; Ja 5:3; 2 Pe 3:3) and “last time” (1 Pe 1:5, 20; 1 Jn 2:18; Jude 18) must be interpreted contextually and is not always the same concept as “the latter days” (cf. Jn 7:37). The latter days for Israel are not precisely the same as the last days for the church, as the Old Testament characteristically spans the present age without including it in consideration.

Taking both the Old and New Testament uses together, it is clear that the latter days for Israel begin as early as the division of the land to the twelve tribes (Gen 49:1) and include the first and the second advent of Christ. The last days for the church culminate at the rapture and resurrection of the church, and are not related to the time of the end for Israel. Culver is going beyond the New Testament revelation when he writes: “Interpretation of ‘the latter days’ must allow it to include not only the first advent and the second advent with the coming of Messiah’s future kingdom, but also the age intervening between the advents in which we now live. We are now, and have been since Jesus came, in the latter days. Daniel actually does not deal with the age between the two advents except for the time of the end, and the New Testament does not clearly use it of the present church age. Culver, however, properly concludes that “the time of the end” as found in Daniel 11:35 is not identical to “the latter days.”

In the context of Daniel 2, “the latter days” include all the visions which Nebuchadnezzar received and stretches from 600 B.C. to the second coming of Christ to the earth. It is used in a similar way in Daniel 10:14, including the extensive revelation concerning the remainder of the kingdom of Medo-Persia, many details concerning Alexander’s empire as in chapter 11, and the consummation called “the time of the end” in Daniel 11:36-45. These prophecies served to give added detail not included in the revelation to Nebuchadnezzar. Having stated the general purpose, Daniel now is able to unfold what will occur “in the latter days,” namely, the majestic procession of the four great world empires, and its destruction and replacement by the fifth empire, the kingdom from heaven. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and the visions he had in the dream can now be unfolded.

The Purpose of the Dream

2:29-30 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.

Nebuchadnezzar had had a meteoric rise to power as one of the great conquerors and monarchs of the ancient world. He had begun his brilliant career even while his father was still alive, but after his father’s death, he had quickly consolidated his gains and established himself as absolute ruler over the Babylonian empire. All of Southwest Asia was in his power, and there was no rival worthy of consideration at the time. Under these circumstances, it was only natural that Nebuchadnezzar should wonder what was going to come next. His meditation on this subject should not be confused with the dream which followed, but rather it was the preparation for it in the providence of God.

In this context Nebuchadnezzar had his dream; and God, referred to here by Daniel as “he that revealeth secrets” (in effect a new title for God), had used the dream as a vehicle to reveal the answer to Nebuchadnezzar’s question. As Nebuchadnezzar was a remarkable man, so was the dream a remarkable revelation. While Daniel still has the attention of the king eager to learn the secret of his dream, he presses home the fact that the dream was a means of divine revelation in which God had signally honored the Babylonian monarch.

Before proceeding to the dream, however, Daniel once more emphasizes the fact that the secret had not come to him from any natural or accrued wisdom, but because God in His providence had selected Nebuchadnezzar as the recipient of the dream and Daniel as its interpreter that Nebuchadnezzar and others should receive this revelation. The expression “for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king” is better translated as a passive, i.e., “that the interpretation may be made known to the king.” The construction is actually impersonal. Daniel now is able to proceed to the dream itself.

The Dream Revealed

2:31-35 Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.

Daniel first declares the king saw “a great image.” This must have been immediately most fascinating to the king as it was evident to him, if he remembered the dream at all, that Daniel was on the right track. By image is not meant an idol as Hitzig holds but a statue corresponding to human form. It was “great” in the sense of being immense or large in form, and by its very size the statue must have been overwhelming in its implication of power. Even Nebuchadnezzar, the absolute ruler, recognized this as something greater than himself.

In addition to the great size of the statue, it was remarkable for its brilliant appearance. It apparently reflected light, indicated by brightness which is described as “excellent,” or unusual in its brilliance. The image apparently was not seen at a distance but as standing very close to Nebuchadnezzar, “stood before thee.” The total effect of the image was “terrible” or “terrifying.” Nebuchadnezzar, fearless man that he was, cringed before this unusual spectacle.

Having revealed the impression that the image had made on Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel quickly proceeds to describe the metallic character of the image, namely, its head of gold, its breast and arms of silver, its abdomen and thighs of brass (i.e., bronze or copper), the legs of iron, and the feet part of iron and part of clay or pottery. There is an apparent symbolism in the major metals and the form of the image. As Keil observes, quoting Kliefoth, “Only the first part, the head, constitutes in itself a united whole.” The silver is divided into the arms and breast. The brass apparently extends from the abdomen into the upper legs or thighs. The legs, of course, also constitute a division which ends in the toes of the feet with further subdivision.

The preciousness of the metal deteriorates from the top or gold to the clay of the feet, and there is a corresponding lower specific gravity; that is, the gold is much heavier than the silver, the silver than the brass, the brass than the iron, and the clay in the feet is the lightest material of all. The approximate specific gravity of gold is 19, silver 11, brass 8.5, and iron 7.8. The gold head has twice the weight of similar amounts of the other metals. The weight of brass varies according to the amount of tin or zinc which is added to the copper. While the materials decrease in weight, they increase in hardness with the notable exception of the clay in the feet. The image is obviously top heavy and weak in its feet.

As Daniel reveals, the king in his dream saw the stone described as “cut out without hands” smite the image at its feet, the weakest place in the image, with the result that the feet are broken. Then in rapid succession the disintegration of the entire image follows, and it breaks into small pieces corresponding to the chaff of a summer threshingfloor. Then a wind blows away the chaff until the pieces of the image totally disappear. The stone which destroyed the image grows into a great mountain and fills the whole earth.

The stone which is cut out without hands is stated later in Daniel 2:45 to be cut out of a mountain. There is no evidence, however, that the stone rolls downhill as Leupold infers. In the absence of an express statement, it is possible that the stone flies through the air as a missile. In any event, it smites the image with terrific force.

Daniel’s description is a masterpiece of concise and yet complete narration. As Leupold says, “There is not a superfluous word in Daniel’s entire description and account.” Nebuchadnezzar is so fascinated by the obvious accuracy of the revelation to Daniel that he does not interpose a word. This permits Daniel to proceed immediately to the interpretation.

The Interpretation: Babylon the Head of Gold

2:36-38 This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.

Daniel now makes a clear transition from the dream itself to its interpretation. Considerable attention has been focused by commentators on the “we.” Did Daniel mean by “we” God and himself, or his three companions who had joined with him in prayer as Leupold suggests, following Keil, or is it merely an editorial plural which Young states is “employed with a certain humility, for the message was not Dan.’s own.” Of the various interpretations, the editorial plural, which would denote more humility than “I” seems to be the best explanation.

Nebuchadnezzars DreamNebuchadnezzar is addressed as “king of kings,” which position of power Daniel assigns as a gift from “the God of heaven”; and therefore his kingdom is one of power, strength, and glory. Critics have seized upon this as not a suitable reference to the king of Babylon. Young points out that there is not sufficient evidence to support such a criticism, especially in view of the fact that the inscription of the Persian king Ariyaramna (610-580 B.C.) is called “king of kings.” Although there is no clear evidence how such a king as Nebuchadnezzar would be addressed by his subject, there is no contrary evidence that such a title would not be fitting. As a matter of fact, it was quite accurate, for Nebuchadnezzar was actually a supreme monarch who was above all the kings of his generation. Interestingly, Ezekiel gives exactly the same title to Nebuchadnezzar in Ezekiel 26:7.

More significant than Daniel’s description of supreme authority to Nebuchadnezzar is his fearless declaration that Nebuchadnezzar owes all his power to the God of heaven who has revealed this secret to Daniel. How different this is from the subservient respect given by the other wise men. Here is a voice of truth which even Nebuchadnezzar must receive with submission.

Daniel, however, does not deprecate the role of Nebuchadnezzar and goes on in verse 38 to describe his universal rule over “the children of men, the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the heaven.” He summarizes it: God “hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.” Some have regarded this as hyperbole in that Nebuchadnezzar actually did not control the entire earth’s surface and the men, beasts, and fowls of the entire earth. What is obviously meant, however, is that he is in supreme authority insofar as any man could be.

Heaton, following the suggestion of Bentzen, considers the reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s authority over both men and nature to be a reflection of the Babylonian New Year Festival. Heaton states, “The sweeping terms in which his sovereignty over men and all living creatures is described in vv. 37 f. may well reflect elements of the Babylonian New Year festival, when the reigning king was annually enthroned as the earthly representative of the god and the Epic of Creation was recited… Nebuchadnezzar’s dominion over the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven recalls the God-given status of man as it is depicted in Gen. 1:26, which is itself closely related to the Babylonian Epic of Creation.” At one fixed element in the ceremonies, they recited the Epic of Creation in honor of the creator god, Marduk, whose representative the king was supposed to be. This and other references in the book of Daniel suggest that Daniel is the author, for the writer had a good knowledge of Babylonian and related mythologies stemming from his three years of study and other intimate contact with Babylonian life.

The identification of the head of gold with Nebuchadnezzar is a reference to the empire as personified in its ruler. As Young points out, critics have had a field day in attempting to explain this expression, but there is no solid reason for not taking it in its simplest sense, that is, that the reference is to the king as the symbol of the empire.

The Interpretation: The Second and Third Kingdom to Follow

2:39 And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.

Daniel mentions only in the briefest way the second and the third kingdoms represented by the upper and lower parts of the body. Brief as is the reference, critics have lost no time in taking exception to the normal interpretation that Daniel has in view here of Medo-Persia and Greece, empires which he later identifies by name (5:28; 8:20-21; 11:2). The statement that the second kingdom is “inferior” means inferior in quality but not necessarily in every respect.

Persia actually had more territory than ancient Babylon, and the Greek Empire was greater than the Persian. The Roman Empire was greatest of all in extent. To infer, however, from the larger geographic area of succeeding kingdoms that they were not “inferior” is to misread both the meaning of the dream and Daniel’s comment upon it. Daniel did not say that the head was larger in size than the body; but the nature of the metal, gold, was more precious than that of silver or brass, which were obviously inferior metals. History certainly confirms that the Medo-Persian Empire, and the empire of Alexander which followed, lacked the central authority and fine organization which characterized the Babylonian Empire. The image and Daniel’s comment upon it is most accurate. Daniel himself seems to imply that the inferiority of the succeeding empires does not prevent them from wide geographic control, for he specifically states that the “third kingdom” will “bear rule over all the earth.”

The descending scale of value of the four metals suggests the degeneration of the human race through the ages, as implied in Genesis 4. Classical writers, such as Hesiod (Works and Days, 109-201), and Ovid (Metamorphoses I, 89-150), conceive of history in this way. This concept contradicts the evolutionist’s interpretation of human history. Instead of man beginning in the dust and consummating in fine gold, God reveals man in the times of the Gentiles to begin with fine gold and end in dust.

The descending value of the metals, however, permits their ascending strength, which suggests increased military might during the times of the Gentiles, leading to the final world conflict of Revelation 16 and 19 to which Daniel refers (11:36-45).

Daniel does not make any comment on the symbolic meaning of the breast which would contain the heart or of the lower part of the body containing the abdomen. It is probably reading too much into the Scriptures to infer from this that Cyrus, the Persian, was a noble man with some compassion for Israel and to conclude, according to oriental custom, that this is supported by the fact that the abdomen is considered the seat of affection. More important and significant is the fact that the third empire ends with the upper part of the legs, or the thighs, indicating that the third empire would territorially embrace both East and West. This will be quite significant in analysis of the next world empire, unnamed in Daniel, but obviously Rome.

Interpretation: The Fourth Empire, Rome

2:40-45 And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.

The fourth kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represented by the legs and feet of the image is obviously the most important. Daniel gives more attention to this fourth kingdom than to the preceding kingdoms put together. Because various schools of prophetic interpretation have differed more on the fourth kingdom than on the three preceding kingdoms, it is necessary to give particular attention to what Daniel actually says.

The first aspect of interpretation of the fourth kingdom stresses the strength of the iron legs and their power to break in pieces and subdue all that opposes. This, of course, was precisely what characterized ancient Rome. As Leupold states it, “The Roman legions were noted for their ability to crush all resistance with an iron heel. There is apparently little that is constructive in the program of this empire in spite of Roman law and Roman roads and civilization because the destructive work outweighed all else, for we have the double verb ‘crush and demolish [“break in pieces and bruise,” AV].’”

The description of Rome is so apt in verse 40 that most conservative commentaries agree that it represents the Roman Empire. Critics who accept the late date for Daniel and who proceed on the principle that prophecy of the future in detail is impossible offer a discordant note, as previously indicated, and identify the four kingdoms as Babylon, Media, Persia, and the Alexandrian kingdom. By this means they escape the admission that even a second century date for Daniel would involve considerable prophecy of the future. Those who acknowledge Daniel as a sixth century writing by the prophet Daniel, having already accepted the concept of the validity of predictive prophecy, have no real difficulty in accepting the fourth kingdom as that of Rome. Even with this agreement, however, there is serious disagreement on the identification of the feet of the image and the destruction of the whole by the stone cut out without hands.

Because of difference even among orthodox commentaries on the meaning of the feet of the image, it is all the more significant that Daniel gives special attention to this, and in fact, says as much about the feet of the image as he does about the whole image above the feet.

Daniel dwells at length upon the fact that the feet and the toes are part of potters’ clay and part of iron. On the basis of this, Daniel observes, “The kingdom shall be divided.” There has been much discussion on the meaning of the word divided. Young feels that this is simply a reference to composite material. Here it seems that too much is being made of too little. What Daniel implies is simply that the material which forms the feet portion of the image is not all one kind but is composed of iron and pottery, which do not adhere well one to the other. This is what Daniel himself brings out in subsequent explanation.

The presence of the iron in the feet, however, is an element of strength as Daniel states, “but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron.” The clay is obviously not still in its soft state but has been hardened into tile as Montgomery holds. Montgomery comments on clay, as follows: “The one stumbling-block in the description of this fine work of artifice is the word translated ‘clay.’ The word ( h¬asap) which appears with phonetic modifications in all Sem. stocks exc. Heb., invariably means a formed pottery object, whether a complete vessel or its fragments, i.e., potsherds. And so the ancient VSS universally render the word.”

Montgomery goes on to explain that an entirely different word is used for raw clay. On the use of the tile in Babylon, he continues, “There is no question about the use of tile work in ancient Babylonian architecture; we have the terracotta reliefs in Greek art, the tiling of Saracenic art, while the tile-covered towers of modern Persia are witness to this ancient mode of construction.” The intrusion of tile in an essentially metal construction, while perhaps decorative, has the symbolic meaning of weakness. Keil expresses it, “As the iron denotes the firmness of the kingdom, so the clay denotes its brittleness. The mixing of iron with clay represents the attempt to bind the two distinct and separate materials into one combined whole as fruitless, and altogether in vain.” This weakness extends to both feet of the image; and, accordingly, the division indicating that the kingdom was divided is not only reflected in the division of the two legs and feet but in the further subdivisions of the feet into toes, where the weakness of the iron and clay mixture becomes more evident.

This is brought out in verse 42 where the toes expressly are said to be part of iron and part of clay which Daniel interprets as indicating that the kingdom is partly strong, because of the presence of iron, and partly breakable, because of the brittleness of the pottery. Daniel’s description of the image and the dream has been quite sparing of words and is a masterpiece of condensation. In describing the feet, however, he goes over the same point several times to the extent that critics have called this redundant.

A clear interpretation of the meaning of iron and clay, apart from the inherent weakness, is not given except as indicated in verse 43. Here the statement is made that the mingling of the two materials means that “they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.” Because this description is not entirely clear, it has given commentators a good deal of latitude in using their imagination. As Keil points out, “The mixing of themselves with the seed of men (ver. 43), most interpreters refer to the marriage politics of the princes.”

Another common interpretation of the meaning of the mixture of clay and iron is that it refers to diverse forms of government, such as democracy as opposed to dictatorship.

In view of the fact that the text actually does not tell us, probably the safest procedure is to follow the argument of Keil and gain the interpretation from the meaning of the metals in the three preceding kingdoms. Keil accordingly writes, “As, in the three preceding kingdoms, gold, silver, and brass represent the material of these kingdoms, i.e. their peoples and their culture, so also in the fourth kingdom iron and clay represent the material of the kingdoms arising out of the division of this kingdom, i.e. the national elements out of which they are constituted, and which will and must mingle together in them.” While intermarriage may form an element of it, it is not necessarily the main idea. Keil concludes, “The figure of mixing by seed is derived from the sowing of the field with mingled seed, and denotes all the means employed by the rulers to combine the different nationalities, among which the connubium [intermarriage] is only spoken of as the most important and successful means.” The final form of the kingdom will include diverse elements whether this refers to race, political idealism, or sectional interests; and this will prevent the final form of the kingdom from having a real unity. This is, of course, borne out by the fact that the world empire at the end of the age breaks up into a gigantic civil war in which forces from the south, east, and north contend with the ruler of the Mediterranean for supremacy, as Daniel himself portrays in Daniel 11:36-45.

An important aspect of the fourth kingdom which is portrayed in the two legs is often overlooked by expositors, partly because of difficulty of fitting it into history precisely and partly because some do not feel that this aspect has a particular meaning. Because of the problem some have questioned whether the fourth empire is really Rome after all. The dilemma of the interpreter is illustrated in the comment of Geoffrey R. King, who claims the first three kingdoms or empires “proved by history” but finds it difficult to trace this proof of the fourth empire. King writes,

This is where I find I have to join issue with the commonly accepted interpretation. I have heard it said more than once or twice that the two legs of the image represent the Roman Empire, because in A.D. 364 the Roman Empire split into two. There was the Eastern Empire, with its capital at Constantinople and the Western Empire, with its capital at Rome. Two legs, you see. All right. But wait a minute! To begin with, the division occurs before you get to the iron! The two legs begin under the copper, unless this image was a freak. Nebuchadnezzar knew nothing about our modern sculptury, futuristic and grotesque, where a man’s legs may begin and end anywhere! But this was a plain, straightforward, honest-to-goodness figure with his feet in the right place! So you see, you cannot do anything with these two legs. After all it is a man and a man cannot help having two legs anymore than he can help having two arms. Why don’t they make something of the two arms of silver? I don’t think there is any significance in the two legs at all. And, of course, if you want to make two parts of the Roman Empire to be represented by the two legs, you are in difficulty because the Western Empire only lasted for a few hundred years, but the Eastern Empire lasted until 1453. You have to make this image stand on one leg for most of the time!”

King goes on to question the interpretation that the feet portion of the image is the revived Roman Empire of the future and concludes, “But now, having come to study it carefully, I wash my hands of the whole of it.” King then identifies the foot stage of the image as being Muslim governments we know today and identifies the Antichrist as a Muslim.

Probably the best solution to the problem is the familiar teaching that Daniel’s prophecy actually passes over the present age, the period between the first and second coming of Christ or, more specifically, the period between Pentecost and the rapture of the church. There is nothing unusual about such a solution, as Old Testament prophecies often lump together predictions concerning the first and second coming of Christ without regard for the millennia that lay between (Lk 4:17-19; cf. Is 61:1-2).

This interpretation depends first of all upon the evidence leading to the conclusion that the ten-toe stage of the image has not been fulfilled in history and is still prophetic. The familiar attempts in many commentaries to find a ten-toe stage of the image in the fifth and sixth centuries a.d. do not correspond to the actual facts of history and do not fulfill the ten-toe stage. According to Daniel’s prophecy, the ten-toe stage is simultaneous, that is, the kingdoms existed side by side and were destroyed by one sudden catastrophic blow. Nothing like this has yet occurred in history.

If the leg stage of the image has been fulfilled in history, it obviously does not correspond to the period of more than a thousand years stretching from the time of Christ to when the Roman Empire finally gasped its last. As King has rightly pointed out, during most of this period it would have had to stand upon one leg.

The solution, therefore, is a simple and yet effective means of understanding this image. The upper part of the legs represented the twofold stage of the last period of the Alexandrian Empire, which especially concerned the Jews, namely, Syria and Egypt. This was two-legged because it embraced two continents, or two major geographic areas, the East and the West. The Roman Empire continued this twofold division and extended its sway over the entire Mediterranean area as well as western Asia.

In ordinary history Egypt was usually grouped with Syria as belonging to the East because of the long relationship politically and commercially which tied Egypt to western Asia. By contrast Macedonia in Europe was considered the West. From the divine viewpoint and especially the prophetic outlook which is symbolized in the image of Daniel, both Egypt on the continent of Africa as well as the European nations, including Macedonia, could well be considered the Western division, which eventually expanded to include the whole Mediterranean area west of Asia. The image portrays the divine viewpoint, which anticipated the rise of the Roman Empire and its geographic inclusion of the East and the West. This was recognized ultimately in the political division of the East and West by Emperor Valentinian I in a.d. 364. Although Daniel does not deal with the interadvent age as such, it still is true that at the time of the first advent of Christ Rome already was geographically spread over the East and the West. Prophetically it indicates that at the time of the end Rome again will involve both the East and the West.

The meaning of the two legs, therefore, is geographic rather than a matter of nationalities. A comparison of the extension of the various empires will reveal that the Babylonian Empire and the Medo-Persian Empire extended principally over western Asia, although Egypt was also conquered. In the Alexandrian Empire, the Western division began to take real form and power was divided between Syria and Egypt. The Roman Empire embraced a much wider territory in which the Western division became fully as strong as the Eastern, and this seems to be portrayed by the two legs.

This political and geographic situation continued to the time of Christ; and if Daniel’s vision ended here only to pick up the situation again at the end of the age, it would be understandable that the two legs would be seen as equal. The feet portion of the image representing the final stage will also include on an equal basis the Eastern and Western areas once possessed by ancient Rome. In view of the fact that there is nothing whatever in the image of Daniel to portray events from the time of Christ to the present time, if the feet stage be considered future, this interpretation makes sense out of a symbol which must at least in its major elements correspond to the facts of history.

The crux of the interpretation of the entire symbolic vision is found in the prediction of a kingdom which the God of heaven will set up. According to verse 44, this is a kingdom which will never be destroyed, will never be left to other people, shall destroy and break in pieces the preceding kingdom, and will stand forever. There is general agreement among all classes of expositors that the kingdom which shall not be destroyed is indeed the kingdom of God. Having agreed on this important point, however, expositors are widely divided concerning the nature of the kingdom, the nature of the destruction of the preceding empires, and the time element which is provided.

In general, expositors may be divided into premillennial and amillennial interpretation, with the postmillennial view being included as a variation of amillennialism. According to both amillenarians and some postmillenarians, the kingdom of God which is here mentioned is that which was introduced by Christ at His first coming. This, of course, presupposes the destruction of the image by the church in succeeding centuries. This view is confidently offered as if it were supported by history. Leupold, for instance, while conceding that there were many factors in the destruction of Rome, states, “All students of history are ready to grant that the Christian Church was able to salvage out of the wreckage of the Roman Empire all elements that were worth conserving. But it is just as true that the Christian Church broke the power of pagan Rome. The disintegrating and corrupt empire crumbled through decay from within as well as through the impact of the sound morals and the healthy life of Christianity that condemned lascivious Rome… Christianity was in a sense God’s judgment upon sinful Rome.”

The principal difficulty is that as a matter of fact Christianity was not the decisive force that broke the Roman Empire. The main reason was its internal decay and the political conditions which surrounded it. Further, the decay of the Roman Empire extended for more than a thousand years after the first coming of Christ. In other words, the time factor was greater than the period from Nebuchadnezzar to Christ. To have such a long period of time described in the symbolism of a stone striking the feet of the image and the chaff being swept away by wind simply does not correspond to the facts of history. In view of the very accurate portrayal of preceding history by the image, it is a reasonable and natural conclusion that the feet stage of the image including destruction by the stone is still future and unfulfilled. There is certainly no evidence, nineteen hundred years after Christ, that the kingdom of God has conquered the entire world.

Not only is there no scriptural evidence whatever that the first coming of Christ caused the downfall of Gentile world power which is still very much with us today, but express prophecies relating to the second advent of Christ picture just such a devastating defeat of Gentile power. Revelation 19:11-21, which all agree is a picture of the second coming of Christ, is expressly the time when Jesus Christ assumes command as King of kings and Lord of lords. It is declared that at that time “He should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron” (Rev 19:15). If it were not necessary to make Daniel’s image conform somehow to the amillennial and postmillennial concept of the gradual conquering of the world by the gospel, no one would ever have dreamed that the smiting by the stone of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream described a long process now more than nineteen hundred years underway and still far from completion.

Young states extensively some of his objections to considering the destruction of the image as being fulfilled at the second coming of Christ. He objects that this interpretation “makes too much of the symbolism.” He objects that Daniel 2 does not state that there are ten toes on the image although he admits that Daniel 7:24-27 speaks of ten kings as being the last stage of Gentile power. He further holds that the image is smitten on the feet, not on the toes. Such minor criticisms, of course, are irrelevant to the main question, because the feet and the toes are obviously all part of the same period. The fact is that his interpretation does not give any reasonable explanation of the catastrophic character of the stone smiting the image.

The only rule on which prophetic interpretation can be judged is whether the interpretation corresponds to the fulfillment. Nothing is more evident after nineteen hundred years of Christianity than that the stone, if it reflects the church or the spiritual kingdom which Christ formed at His first coming, is not in any sense of the term occupying the center of the stage in which Gentile power has been destroyed. As a matter of fact, in the twentieth century the church has been an ebbing tide in the affairs of the world; and there has been no progress whatever in the church’s gaining control of the world politically. If the image represents the political power of the Gentiles, it is very much still standing.

Accordingly, the interpretation is much preferred that the expression “in the days of these kings” refers to the kings who rule during the last generation of Gentile power. While it is true that this is not specifically related to the toes of the image, in the nature of the case the destruction will come for the last generation of rulers. Inasmuch as other passages speak specifically of ten kings in the end times (Dan 7:24; Rev 17:12), it is not unreasonable to hold that this is a reference to the final state of the kingdom and the final rulers.

The description of the stone as being cut out “of the mountain without hands” has sometimes been referred to Mount Zion specifically, but it is better to consider this as a symbolic picture of political sovereignty. The stone is part and parcel of the sovereignty of God of which it is an effective expression. The symbolism clearly makes this originate in God rather than in men. The effect is that the fifth kingdom, the kingdom of God, replaces completely all vestiges of the preceding kingdoms, which prophecy can only be fulfilled in any literal sense by a reign of Christ over the earth. The fact is that the amillennial interpretation, attempting to find fulfillment of the destruction of the image in history, does not provide a reasonable explanation of this passage. Only the premillennial position, which assigns this event as coinciding with the second advent of Christ, gives literal fulfillment to the symbolism involved in the destruction of the image.

In concluding his interpretation, Daniel reaffirms the absolute certainty of the fulfillment of the dream, stating again that its interpretation comes from God, that the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. Taken as a whole, it assures the ultimate rule of God over the earth to be fulfilled, not only in the millennial kingdom but in the continued display of the sovereignty of God in the new heaven and the new earth.

Nebuchadnezzar Worships and Promotes Daniel

2:46-49 Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him. The king answered unto Daniel, and said, 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. Then the king made Daniel a great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon. Then Daniel requested of the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, over the affairs of the province of Babylon: but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.

Nebuchadnezzar, overwhelmed by the tremendous significance of the image and the demonstration that Daniel’s God was greater than any god whom he worshiped, fell upon his face and worshiped Daniel, commanding an oblation and sweet odors be offered to him. Critics have lost no time criticizing Daniel for accepting this as equating him with deity. It is quite clear, however, from the resulting conversation of the king with Daniel, that Nebuchadnezzar merely regarded Daniel as a worthy priest or representative of his God and was honoring him in this category. This is brought out in the king’s statement to Daniel, “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.” In other words, even the king understood that Daniel was the ambassador and representative of God but not deity himself. It is probably for this reason that Daniel permitted the king to do what he did. In any case, it hardly would have been proper for Daniel under these circumstances to have interrupted the king with a protest.

An interesting parallel is found in Josephus, recording the instance where Alexander the Great bowed before the high priest of the Jews. When Parmenion, one of his generals, asked him why, when ordinarily all men would prostrate themselves before Alexander the Great, he had prostrated himself before the high priest of the Jews, Alexander replied, “It was not before him that I prostrated myself, but the God of whom he has the honour to be high priest.” In view of the previous statements of Daniel repeated several times and Nebuchadnezzar’s own statement of verse 47, the record leaves no doubt that Daniel was not claiming deity or any of the powers of deity. It is clear that Nebuchadnezzar did not worship Daniel again.

In the process of offering worship to Daniel’s God, Nebuchadnezzar actually pays a great tribute to the God of Daniel. It is most significant that he does not even mention his own gods which had failed to produce a suitable revelation, except in the statement that Daniel’s God is “a God of gods,” that is, Daniel’s God is supreme over any other gods commonly worshiped in a polytheistic system. Although Nebuchadnezzar was short of true faith in Daniel’s God at this point in his life, the evidence that Daniel’s God could reveal a secret and may indeed have been the author of his dream impressed Nebuchadnezzar with the fact that no other god could be greater.

In keeping with the king’s desire to honor Daniel and also according to his promise, Daniel is now exalted and immediately becomes a great man. Many valuable gifts are given to him, and he is installed in the exalted position of ruler over the whole province of Babylon as well as chief of the governors over the wise men. Although critics reprobate this position as objectionable for a Jew, no doubt Daniel found a way to avoid involvement in the usual practices of divination, heathen rites, and other things that might normally fall to this office. As Young points out, however, if Daniel had lived in the second century during a period of strict legalism among the Jews, it would be doubtful that Daniel would have been pictured as receiving such honors from a heathen king.

Having been thus signally honored by the king, Daniel, in fairness to his three companions who had joined him in prayer that the secret might be revealed, requested that they too might have a position of power and influence in the province of Babylon. Apparently, although Daniel had great authority, it did not include appointing such officials without the king’s permission. Granting Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to positions of trust in the government of the province of Babylon. Daniel himself apparently had a position of honor “in the gate of the king,” by which is meant that he served in the court itself. Thus Daniel, the obscure Jewish captive who could have been lost to history like many others if he had compromised in chapter 1, is now exalted to a place of great honor and power. Like Joseph in Egypt, he was destined to play an important part in the subsequent history of his generation.

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul Text, Studies in The Book of Daniel

The Hand of God in History

Have you ever seen a tragedy coming and could do nothing to stop it? One evening as my family and I returned from a school outing, a car passed us at incredible speed, losing control as it sped by. Careening out of control, the car bounced along the center median, rupturing the gas tank and spewing a trail of gas down the highway. Sparks flew as the underside of the car scraped the concrete curb.

Instantly, the sparks ignited, and flames followed the car to its final halt. We watched helplessly while the flames caught up with the car, ignited the gas tank, and engulfed the car in flames. A wall of fire between us and the automobile prevented our rendering aid. Thankfully, those on the other side of the flames were able to rescue the passenger.

Reading Daniel 5 gives me that same feeling of helplessness and distress. From our distance in time, our knowledge of history, and the account of Daniel, we know the king, and likely those dining with him at his royal banquet, are destined for destruction. Yet we can do nothing to prevent it. Helplessly, we look on as judgment day comes for king Belshazzar.

Announcement of the king’s coming judgment begins by a mysterious hand writing on the wall of the banquet hall. Crying aloud, the king summons the wise men of Babylon. Their inability to fulfill his instructions only adds to his frustration. When his ability to interpret such matters is made known to the king, Daniel enters the scene.

It was in chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel that king Nebuchadnezzar had a distressing dream, which he demanded that his wise men reveal and interpret; they could not do so. Daniel revealed the dream and its meaning to king Nebuchadnezzar, and in so doing spared the lives of the wise men. In chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar had yet another dream. Once again, the king first sought the meaning from the other wise men of Babylon. When all others failed to explain the king’s dream, Daniel revealed its meaning and called on the king to repent, so that the threatened outcome might be delayed or prevented.

Another king now sits on the throne in Babylon. His name is Belshazzar, and Nebuchadnezzar was his “father.” For years, the skeptics pointed to this chapter as yet another evidence of the late date and fictitious character of the Book of Daniel. More recent findings have led many Bible scholars, even some of the more liberal ones, to agree with the facts presented in this chapter.

Recent archaeological findings have named Belshazzar and identified him as the son of Nabonidus. Now, conservative scholars generally agree that Belshazzar shared a co-regency with his father, especially in his father’s absence from Babylon. This could explain how Belshazzar offered the man who could interpret the writing on the wall the position of third ruler of the kingdom (Daniel 5:16).

Nearly 25 years have passed since the events of chapter 4 and over 70 years since chapter 1. Now advanced in years, Daniel is a senior statesman in Babylon. He has outlasted a number of kings and in his time Belshazzar, the last of the Chaldean kings of Babylon, will be killed and Babylon will pass from Chaldean rule to rule by Darius the Mede.

In chapters 1-4, we have an account of the life of Nebuchadnezzar, the first Babylonian king to rule over the captive Jews. The account looks at several events in the life of this great king, which eventually bring him to his knees in worship and praise of the God of Israel. Daniel then passes over several kings, giving us this brief account of the last day in the reign of Belshazzar, the last of the Chaldean kings.

The death of Belshazzar at the hand of Darius is a partial fulfillment of the prophecy revealed to king Nebuchadnezzar by his dream in chapter 2. There, Daniel informed Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom was the first of four kingdoms to precede the coming of Messiah. His was the kingdom of gold, to be followed by a lesser kingdom of silver (Daniel 2:39). The kingdom of silver is introduced in Daniel 5, when Darius captures Babylon, and Belshazzar is put to death. The Medo-Persian kingdom is born, fulfilling the first part of the prophecy revealed through Daniel.

Belshazzar’s Blasphemous Banquet

1 Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand. 2 When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, in order that the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. 3 Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

Understanding how things went from bad to worse in these verses is not difficult. As a college student, I worked several months for a caterer. One night we catered a banquet for a group of socialites in the city of Seattle. As the night wore on and the alcohol flowed freely, I saw and heard things I never would have expected or believed from people normally very proper and dignified.

Such seems to have been the scene at Belshazzar’s banquet.52 One thousand of the king’s nobles were invited, along with their wives or other women. The king was responsible for what happened, and too much wine seems to have contributed to his poor judgment. A false sense of pride and self-sufficiency seems to have dominated the dinner party. The king remembered the expensive vessels which Nebuchadnezzar, his father,53 had taken when he defeated and captured Jerusalem. How much more impressive the evening would be if they drank their wine from the gold and silver vessels from the temple in Jerusalem.54

And so the vessels were brought in. The wine continued to flow freely, and toasts began to be offered. That these pagans were engaged in a kind of drinking bout with the sacred temple vessels was bad enough, but the ultimate blasphemy was toasting the gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone.55

God has a limit to how far He will allow men to go in their sin. In His longsuffering and mercy, God may allow men to continue in their sin for a time. But there is a time for judgment.56 The king and his Babylonian dinner guests crossed the line that fateful night in the banquet hall of Babylon. Judgment day had come, and the writing on the wall announced its arrival.

The Handwriting on the Wall

5 Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing. 6 Then the king’s face grew pale, and his thoughts alarmed him; and his hip joints went slack, and his knees began knocking together. 7 The king called aloud to bring in the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners. The king spoke and said to the wise men of Babylon, “Any man who can read this inscription and explain its interpretation to me will be clothed with purple, and have a necklace of gold around his neck, and have authority as third ruler in the kingdom.” 8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the inscription or make known its interpretation to the king. 9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, his face grew even paler, and his nobles were perplexed.

Knowing the power of the Babylonian kings,57 Belshazzar must have seen many men stand in fear and trembling before him. Now it was his turn to tremble. In that torch-lit banquet hall, the revelry had reached its peak, doubtlessly with loud boasting and toasting, laughter and celebration. Likely, the king was the life of the party. Perhaps he was closest to the sudden emerging of the mysterious hand in the light of the nearby lamp.

One might have thought the king was having a heart attack. Barely able to stand, his face was ashen and seized with terror. The raucous laughter turned to deafening silence with all eyes on the king. The king’s eyes were fixed upon the hand as it wrote. As a sense of foreboding and panic fell on the crowd, all eyes turned to the mysterious writing on the wall. The king’s actions alarmed all who were present.

One can only imagine the scene. Already affected by too much wine, the king’s terror robbed his legs of all strength. The lower part of his body seems to have lost control. Crying aloud in fear, his speech probably slurred, the king immediately summoned his wise men to the banquet hall. What did these words on the wall mean? He must know. A tempting reward was offered to anyone who could interpret the meaning of the handwriting on the wall.

Some think the king did not recognize the words, while others believe he only failed to understand their meaning. Since the words seem to be written in Aramaic, and there are only three, it may be that he recognized the words but did not understand their meaning. Unable to decipher their meaning, the wise men come and go. The king’s fear and distress intensifies while the others remain terror stricken.

The Recommendation of Daniel

10 The queen entered the banquet hall because of the words of the king and his nobles; the queen spoke and said, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts alarm you or your face be pale. 11 “There is a man in your kingdom in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father, illumination, insight, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him. And King Nebuchadnezzar, your father, your father the king, appointed him chief of the magicians, conjurers, Chaldeans, and diviners. 12 “This was because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas, and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Let Daniel now be summoned, and he will declare the interpretation.”

The queen mother58 does not seem to have attended the banquet, but eventually the cries of those in the banquet hall reach her ears, and she arrives on the scene. Taking note of Belshazzar’s appearance and demeanor, she tries to calm him. She informs the king that in the past a man named Daniel had successfully dealt for many years with such difficult matters. Daniel could decipher the words and their meaning.

The queen has great confidence in Daniel’s ability based upon his track record in the history of Babylonian affairs. Her summary of Daniel’s accomplishments in verse 12 suggests that Daniel performed other amazing tasks throughout the lifetime of king Nebuchadnezzar. Those recorded in the Book of Daniel are but a sampling of Daniel’s ministry to the king.

Sadly, we must observe that the queen mother’s confidence in Daniel does not seem to have been related to any personal faith in his God. She refers to Daniel and his great wisdom in pagan terms and makes no reference to Daniel’s God as the God of the Jews. She simply refers to his wisdom as having its source in “the gods.” His wisdom was extraordinary, but not the wisdom of a sovereign God. Her knowledge of Daniel and his God is superior to that of Belshazzar, but inferior to that of Nebuchadnezzar’s final assessment (see Daniel 4:2-3, 34-37). Her confidence does seem to produce a calming effect on the king and his guests. The king summons Daniel to appear before the king and his guests that very night.

Daniel is Summoned

13 Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? 14 “Now I have heard about you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that illumination, insight, and extraordinary wisdom have been found in you. 15 “Just now the wise men and the conjurers were brought in before me that they might read this inscription and make its interpretation known to me, but they could not declare the interpretation of the message. 16 “But I personally have heard about you, that you are able to give interpretations and solve difficult problems. Now if you are able to read the inscription and make its interpretation known to me, you will be clothed with purple and wear a necklace of gold around your neck, and you will have authority as the third ruler in the kingdom.”

When Daniel arrived, the king was eager to assure himself that this was the man the queen mother had recommended with the credentials to perform the task at hand. His questions all pertain to Daniel’s ministry during the reign of his “father” Nebuchadnezzar. They will, to some degree, become the basis for Daniel’s indictment of the king’s sin in the verses which follow. The question then will not be whether Daniel demonstrated divine wisdom, but what this king did with the knowledge of such wisdom.

The failure of all the other wise men in the kingdom is reported to Daniel in the words of verse 15. Daniel was being asked to do what no other wise man in Babylon could do, all having failed before Daniel was summoned. If Daniel was able to fulfill the king’s request, there would be a reward. The king promised royal clothing, a gold necklace, and a position of power directly under him. Obviously, the king was eager to know what those words on the wall meant.

Daniel’s Indictment

17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Keep your gifts for yourself, or give your rewards to someone else; however, I will read the inscription to the king and make the interpretation known to him. 18 “O king, the Most High God granted sovereignty, grandeur, glory, and majesty to Nebuchadnezzar your father. 19 “And because of the grandeur which He bestowed on him, all the peoples, nations, and men of every language feared and trembled before him; whomever he wished he killed, and whomever he wished he spared alive; and whomever he wished he elevated, and whomever he wished he humbled. 20 “But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit became so proud that he behaved arrogantly, he was deposed from his royal throne, and his glory was taken away from him. 21 “He was also driven away from mankind, and his heart was made like that of beasts, and his dwelling place was with the wild donkeys. He was given grass to eat like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind, and that He sets over it whomever He wishes. 22 “Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, 23 but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand. But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and your ways, you have not glorified. 24 “Then the hand was sent from Him, and this inscription was written out.

Daniel begins by turning down Belshazzar’s reward. Let the king keep his gifts or give them to someone else. Why would he decline Belshazzar’s offer? Daniel knows that the king’s gifts are virtually useless. What good would it do Daniel to be given the third highest office in the administration of Belshazzar when his reign would end that very night? Daniel was God’s servant, divinely gifted to interpret dreams. He would not prostitute his gift by using it for his own gain. His was a gift of grace, and he would use it that way. Finally, Daniel was not “for hire.” As God’s prophet, Daniel spoke to men for God. He was not like Balaam, whose ministry could be bought. When the king pressed Daniel to take the gifts, Daniel did so, knowing he had faithfully carried out his task as God’s servant.

Verses 18-24 are fascinating. In these verses Daniel explains the guilt of king Belshazzar. The writing on the wall, explained in verses 25-28, speak of the imminent judgment of God which will fall upon Belshazzar and his kingdom, due to sin. Daniel spends more time on the king’s guilt than on his punishment, as he devotes more time to explaining the reason for the writing than the meaning of the writing.

Verses 18-24 are intriguing also because they focus on Belshazzar’s father, Nebuchadnezzar. Belshazzar’s sin is attributed to his failure to learn from history. The great head of gold was Nebuchadnezzar, the one into whose hand God gave king Jehoiakim, the king of Judah. He was the one who had brought the vessels from the temple in Jerusalem to Babylon (1:1-2; 5:2). Under his reign, Daniel’s divinely bestowed wisdom became evident and was displayed on various occasions. The queen mother’s words in 5:10-12 focus on Daniel’s wisdom during the days of Nebuchadnezzar. Now, when Daniel rebukes this king, he does so because he ignored the lessons he should have learned from the past, through his father’s experiences with Daniel and his God.

The events of Daniel 4 are now repeated, as a lesson which not only Nebuchadnezzar learned but which Belshazzar his son should have learned as well. God sovereignly granted Nebuchadnezzar power, glory, and majesty, and he exercised that power and authority over mankind. But his heart became proud, and he acted arrogantly. God temporarily took away his power and his kingdom, and he became like the beasts of the field, eating grass and living in the elements without shelter. All this happened so that he might recognize God as the ruler over mankind and recognize that all human authority is delegated to men by God, from whom all authority is derived.

Belshazzar knew these things, and yet he had not learned from them. His heart was now proud and haughty like that of his forefather Nebuchadnezzar. He exalted himself against the God of heaven, as evidenced in his profaning the holy vessels taken from the temple. His sin was shared by those who ate and drank toasts with him that night. Rather than glorifying the God of heaven, whom he had heard about in relationship to his forefather, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar blasphemed the name of God by profaning the temple vessels. This was the reason for the writing on the wall. The blasphemous use of the vessels and the writing on the wall were inseparably related. Judgment day had arrived.

Daniel’s Interpretation

25 “Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’ 26 “This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENE’— God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. 27 “‘TEKEL’— you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. 28 “‘PERES’— your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”

Three little words compose the message, one of which was repeated. They seem to be Aramaic words. While these words may have been familiar to the king, the message in writing was so terse he could not understand it. Now, Daniel is about to interpret the meaning of the words on the wall.

Scholars have spent considerable effort to explore the origin and meaning of each of these three terms.59 We need not rely on such efforts to determine the meaning of the writing on the wall. The king did not need a dictionary; he needed the interpretation of the meaning of these three words as written, in the context of that moment of history. In effect, it would seem that the message on the wall was a kind of abbreviation, summed up in three words. Imagine a three point message!

Daniel explained that the twice-used term ‘MENE’ informed the king that God had numbered his kingdom and was putting an end to it (verse 26). In effect, God seems to be saying to Belshazzar, “Time’s up.” ‘TEKEL’ meant the king had been weighed on the scales of divine justice and found deficient. The king had given God short measure. ‘PERES’60 is the divine notification that the Babylonian kingdom was to be divided and handed over to the Medes and the Persians (verse 28).

Daniel’s Reward

29 Then Belshazzar gave orders, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom.

Verse 29 describes the king’s response, which, like his life and administration, was found wanting. Belshazzar’s response to Daniel imply two sad realities. First, the king’s response indicates he believed Daniel had given him the true interpretation of the writing on the wall. He rewarded Daniel as he had promised to anyone who could interpret the writing on the wall. When he rewarded Daniel, he gave testimony to the truth of the interpretation Daniel had given. Surely he would never have rewarded Daniel for an interpretation he believed to be inaccurate.

Second, the king’s response is sadly deficient. While Daniel is not said to have urged the king to repent, as he did with Nebuchadnezzar (4:27), prophecy affords sinners the opportunity to repent.61 Daniel does not indicate how much time is left for the king. We know from the final verses of the passage that the night would not pass before the king was put to death. For him, there were only minutes—at the most hours—to repent, and he did not do so.

Is this one final act of pride described in verse 29? Did the king take such pride that his word would be carried out that he spent his last moments bestowing the promised reward upon Daniel, a reward Daniel had already turned down? Or did the king think that putting Daniel in a position of power might change things? I believe Daniel turned down the reward before he interpreted the writing on the wall because he wanted the king to know his was a ministry of grace. The king’s insistence on rewarding Daniel, even in the last moments of his own life, was to be understood as a rejection of grace. The king’s promise was fulfilled, but at the same time, his doom was sealed. How tragic to be preoccupied with purple clothing, a gold necklace, and the promotion of men, rather than with eternal destiny.

Mene Mene Tekel UpharsinBelshazzar’s Reward

30 That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. 31 So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two.

While Daniel had not given a time frame for when his kingdom would end, the inference of Daniel’s words was that time had run out for the king. Did the king even have time to sober up enough to understand what Daniel had told him? That very night the writing on the wall was fulfilled. Belshazzar was killed, and Darius the Mede came to power.

Secular history fills in much detail here showing how the Babylonian king felt secure within the walls of that great city and how Darius managed to lower the level of the River Euphrates which flowed through the city so that his army could enter the city unhindered. Daniel omits these details, perhaps because they diminish the impact of the swift and devastating fulfillment of prophecy.

Daniel intends for us to grasp this one thing: the Word of God is sure. God brought about the downfall of Babylon and Belshazzar, its king, just as He said. The history books provide details of this defeat, but Daniel underscores the one thing they will all omit: the death of Belshazzar and the defeat of Babylon was the judgment of God on a city and a people who profaned the name of the God of Israel. God will not be mocked.


We see from our passage that the events of that fateful final night in Belshazzar’s banquet hall did not profit him at all. We may conclude then that Daniel 5 was written more for our edification than for Belshazzar. Let us conclude our study by highlighting some of the lessons we should learn from the writing on the wall.

(1) The deadly nature of the sin of pride. Pride is the evil response of sinful men to the grace of God. It is taking personal credit for what God has given or accomplished. Pride was the root sin necessitating the disciplining of Nebuchadnezzar, as we learn both from Daniel 4 and our text in chapter 5. Pride was also the sin of Belshazzar. It led to his blasphemous acts with the temple vessels and, ultimately, to his death.

The Bible views pride as a dreaded and deadly sin. In our culture today, pride is seen more as a virtue. In our culture, it is not something men have too much of, but something men believe they lack and need more of. Why does the Bible condemn men for thinking too highly of themselves and command them to do otherwise (see Philippians 2:1-11), while our culture tells us the great evil, the source of many social ills, is the lack of self-esteem? If self-esteem is not another name for pride, then what is it, and when is it ever described, defended, or advocated in the Scriptures?

Like his father, Belshazzar did not see God for who He is. He had no adequate grasp of the greatness of God, which always results in humility—a realistic view of ourselves. Only when we esteem God rightly do we see ourselves correctly. Pride swells men’s ego to the point that God is small, and He can be controlled by men. True worship sees God as “high and lifted up,” infinitely wise and all-powerful. True worship causes men to fall before God in humble praise and adoration. To fail to acknowledge the glory of God and pursue and promote one’s own glory is to pursue death. We must not fail to learn this from the death of Belshazzar.

(2) The inadequacy of secular wisdom. Three times in the first five chapters of Daniel, the wisest men in the land were summoned by the king to tell him the truth which had been divinely revealed. Each time, the wise men were forced to acknowledge their inability to do so. Secular wisdom can never provide the answers for the all-important, spiritual and eternal issues of life:

8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8, 9)

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 FOR WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 OR WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36; see also 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2:6-16).

A popular phrase frequently heard in Christian circles today says something like this: “All truth is God’s truth.” On the face of it, this is surely true. The problem is in placing secularly derived truth on the same level as divinely revealed truth. God’s truth, as revealed in His Word, is the only truth we need to be saved and to live godly lives in this world (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:22-25; 2:1-3; 2 Peter 1:2-4, 16-21; 3:14-18).

Why are Christians turning more and more to the secular wisdom of men (sometimes Christian men) for that which is essential for life and godliness? Are the Scriptures not sufficient? Is the cross of Christ not the solution for sin? What does the world offer that is better than the Bible has to offer? Christians are turning to secular wisdom for truth, guidance, and direction, when the Book of Daniel turns us to divine revelation. It is time to get back to the Book!

(3) Seeing the hand of God in history. The spiritual, divinely inspired account of the fall of Babylon differs greatly from that of secular accounts. I must admit it was tempting for me to “fill in” some details of the fall of Babylon from sources outside the Scriptures. But then it struck me: Daniel’s account includes all that God felt it necessary for us to know. It is not wrong to know more, but all we need to know, God has revealed in the Bible.

Daniel’s account differs greatly from the secular accounts of the historians. How and why Daniel differs is significant and instructive. Secular accounts focus on the political and administrative blunders of Belshazzar and Babylon. Daniel focuses on the moral failures of Belshazzar and the nobility of Babylon. Secular history would look at the death of Belshazzar and his kingdom from a political point of view. The Bible describes the same incidents from a spiritual viewpoint. The moral failure was that of pride. The sin was that of blasphemy and failing to give God the glory which is His. Secular accounts would focus on diverting of the river which passed under or through the walls of Babylon, while the Bible focuses on divine judgment. The city fell because this was God’s judgment on a wicked nation and a wicked king.

Daniel 5 describes the hand of God in the writing on the wall, but it also describes the hand of God in the history of Babylon and of Israel. To Belshazzar the “hand of God” was a bizarre and frightening thing. To the Christian, seeing “the hand of God” in history should be a constant mindset. Allow me illustrate this mindset.

In the past, we have seen the division of the USSR, the downfall of the Communist party, and the Communist domination of the Soviet Union. As we have watched the news, people have even had opportunity to ask questions of Soviet leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. In all of the explanations, the simplest, ultimate reason for the fall of Communism has been overlooked: Communism rule in Russia has toppled because God has divinely judged it. Communism was allowed to rule for a time. Communism denies the existence of God and resists the church of Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the gospel. Communism was given its day in the sun to achieve those purposes which God had for it. Now, judgment day has come for Communism. The cause of the events which have taken place in Russia are not found in the political realm but in the spiritual realm. We must see the hand of God in the history of the USSR.

(4) Learning from history. I am impressed that while Belshazzar’s punishment was revealed by the writing on the wall, this king’s sin was the result of his failure to heed the lessons which his father, Nebuchadnezzar, had learned. The basis for Belshazzar’s judgment was his failure to heed history and the lessons of his father. All the king needed to know in order to honor God and be spared from divine judgment, he did know. But he failed to act on what he knew from history. Even when the day of judgment was revealed through the writing on the wall, he still did not repent.

When you and I stand before God, all of the Bible will be the basis for divine judgment. We cannot say we did not know better nor can we plead ignorance. No one, in all of time, has been given so much revelation as we. I must ask: “What have you done with the revelation you have received through the Bible?” As God held Belshazzar responsible for what had happened to Nebuchadnezzar, so he will hold you and I responsible for what has happened to men through history, as revealed in His Holy Word. We must learn to heed the lessons of history.

(5) The judgment of God. Daniel 5 is the inspired account of the judgment of God, falling upon the kingdom of Babylon and upon its king, Belshazzar. How sad to read of a king who parties while his kingdom crumbles, and who fails to repent even when the day of judgment is divinely revealed to him. Refusing to heed the “hand-writing on the wall,” he was judged for it. The final minutes of life were spent in matters pertaining to his earthly kingdom, rather than in seeking entrance into the eternal kingdom.

The judgment of Babylon and of Belshazzar were certain. They were also imminent. Yet the king never seemed to grasp this and act accordingly. His actions are typical of all who are blinded by sin. For this reason, our Lord warned of the dullness of men’s hearts and minds, even as the day of judgment approaches:

32 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree; when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 even so you, too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away. 36 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that NOAH ENTERED THE ARK, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming, 43 But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will (Matthew 24:32-44).

Only two letters are different in the names Belshazzar (the king) and Belteshazzar (Daniel). The life of the king was cut short, while the life of the prophet was extended, so that he outlived several Babylonian kings and served in the Medio-Persian court as well as the Babylonian court. But the difference between Belshazzar and Belteshazzar is not in the spelling of their names; the difference is in their relationship to God. Belshazzar resisted and rejected the grace of God and the revelation which he was given through history and the prophet Daniel. Belshazzar reaped the wrath of God. Belteshazzar, Daniel, trusted in God and served Him faithfully. Daniel believed, obeyed, and proclaimed God’s Word, and lived on. Not only did Daniel live long in this world, but he will live forever in the kingdom of God. May you not be like Belshazzar but like Belteshazzar.

1 “Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon; Sit on the ground without a throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans. For you shall no longer be called tender and delicate, 2 Take the millstones and grind meal, Remove your veil, strip off the skirt, Uncover the legs, cross the rivers. 3 Your nakedness will be uncovered, Your shame also will be exposed; I will take vengeance and will not spare a man.” 4 Our Redeemer, the LORD of hosts is His name, The Holy One of israel. 5 “Sit silently, and go into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans; For you will no more be called the queen of the Chaldeans; 6 I was angry with My people, I profaned My heritage, And gave them into your hand. You did not show mercy to them, On the aged you made your yoke very heavy. 7 Yet you said, ‘I shall be a queen forever.’ These things you did not consider, Nor remember the outcome of them. 8 Now, then, hear this, you sensual one, Who dwells securely, Who says in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me. I shall not sit as a widow, Nor shall I know loss of children.’ 9 But these two things shall come on you suddenly in one day; Loss of children and widowhood. They shall come on you in full measure In spite of your many sorceries, In spite of the great power of your spells. 10 And you felt secure in your wickedness and said, ‘No one sees me.’ Your wisdom and your knowledge, they have deluded you; For you have said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’ 11 “But evil will come on you Which you will not know how to charm away; And disaster will fall on you For which you cannot atone, And destruction about which you do not know Will come on you suddenly” (Isaiah 47:1-11).

6 Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. 10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth, And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:6-11).

Chapter 5:
Questions and Answers

(1) What do we know about king Belshazzar and the “queen” of Daniel 5?

For some time, no record existed of any king Belshazzar among the archaeological records known to scholars. Liberal scholars used this to prove that Daniel was mistaken in his information, showing that the Book of Daniel was not written in the 6th century B.C. but considerably later. Later findings have proven there was a Belshazzar, who was the son of Nabonidus and who ruled as vice-regent under him. In his father’s absence, he functioned as the king. So it was that Belshazzar offered the man who could interpret the writing on the wall the third place of power in the kingdom, after Nabonidus and himself.

The “queen” referred to in verses 10-12 seems not to have been Belshazzar’s wife, but his mother. This conclusion is based on her words to Belshazzar which sound more “mother-like” than “wife-like” . She speaks with more authority than a wife would in those times. Further, since this was a banquet for the nobles and their wives, it seems unlikely that the wife of Belshazzar would have been absent from the banquet. The “queen” was absent, which would be understandable if this woman were the king’s mother. Finally, the “queen” seems to have a better recollection of Daniel’s ministry to Nebuchadnezzar in the past, which would indicate that she was older than Belshazzar.

(2) Compare king Belshazzar with Nebuchadnezzar.

Nebuchadnezzar was the first king of Babylon; Belshazzar was its last. Nebuchadnezzar’s victories, including the defeat of Jehoiakim of Judah, brought Babylon to world power status. Belshazzar’s defeat spelled the end of the Babylonian empire. Four chapters are devoted to Nebuchadnezzar, during which God used Daniel to bring this man to faith. One chapter is devoted to Belshazzar. Daniel is summoned to the king on the last day of the king’s life, on which he dies, is judged, and removed by the God of Israel because of his sin. Nebuchadnezzar had a long, forty three year reign; Belshazzar’s reign is much shorter.

(3) How did Belshazzar obtain possession of the temple vessels? What occasion prompted Belshazzar to use the temple vessels? What use did Belshazzar make of the temple vessels? Why was God offended by their use?

Nebuchadnezzar took possession of the temple vessels when he defeated Jerusalem (see Daniel 1:2; 2 Kings 24:13). He took the vessels back to Babylon, where he placed them in the house of his god. Belshazzar knew this and decided to mock Israel and her God by using the temple vessels in a blasphemous way. It almost seems this was an act of protest and rebellion against the favor shown to the God of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar. Had king Nebuchadnezzar issued decrees giving glory to the God of Israel? Had he put aside the pagan religion of Babylon? Then Belshazzar, it seems, would restore the old religion by mocking the God of Israel. It was his final and fatal act. God did not allow this blasphemy to go unchallenged, for that very day He judged Babylon and Belshazzar.

(4) What is the relationship between verses 1-4 and 5-9?

Verses 1-4 are the last straw, the final act of blasphemy which brings upon Belshazzar and the banquet nobles the judgment of God, foretold by the writing on the wall in verses 5-9.

(5) What do we learn about Daniel, the queen, and Belshazzar from verses 10-12?

These verses record the recommendation of Daniel by the queen mother. He was the one, she assured Belshazzar, who could interpret the writing on the wall. These verses indicate that Daniel’s ministry during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar was extensive and well-known. Belshazzar was aware of the experiences of his father. He both could and should have known about Daniel, but he seems to be ignorant of those truths which could have saved him from God’s judgment. The queen mother, while confident of Daniel’s abilities, views him not in terms of his relationship to the one all-powerful, sovereign God of Israel, but as only one among many wise men who served the “gods.” She does not reflect the knowledge of, or faith in, God that we can see in Nebuchadnezzar.

(6) What is different about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 4 and the writing on the wall in chapter 5?

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 4 was interpreted by Daniel, but his interpretation gave the king hope of avoiding God’s discipline if he repented (4:27). In addition, the discipline of Nebuchadnezzar was for a period of seven years after which he would be restored. Belshazzar was given no such hope or encouragement. His blasphemous act would result in his death. His judgment is declared shortly before it occurred, not so this king could repent as much as that the reader might recognize the fall of Babylon and the death of Belshazzar as the fulfillment of God’s purpose of judging this king and his kingdom.

(7) How does Daniel become involved in the matter of Belshazzar’s dream? Why was it especially appropriate for Daniel to interpret the king’s dream?

Daniel was called upon because no other wise man in Babylon could interpret the writing on the wall and because the queen mother recommended him so highly. Daniel had interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream in chapter 2, which told of the passing of this kingdom of gold to be replaced by the kingdom of silver, that of Medio-Persia. It was likely for Daniel to be summoned, because he was a prophet of the God of Israel, to whom Belshazzar refused to give glory and honor, choosing rather to blaspheme His name. It was also fitting for Daniel to be called because he was so prominent during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, from whose experiences Belshazzar should have learned humility. But he did not.

(8) According to Daniel’s words in our text, what was the sin of Belshazzar for which he was being judged by God?

Belshazzar was judged for his pride and for not learning humility from history. He did not learn the lessons God had given Babylon through the experiences of king Nebuchadnezzar. Specifically, the king evidenced his pride through his blasphemous act of using the temple vessels to toast the gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

(9) Why was the king told of his destruction only hours before his death? How did the king respond? How did his response differ from that of his father, Nebuchadnezzar?

The purpose for revealing king Belshazzar’s judgment does not seem to be to call him to repentance but to demonstrate to the reader that the fall of Babylon and its king was an act of divine judgment, due to sin. Nebuchadnezzar repented when the wisdom and power of the God of Israel was demonstrated. Belshazzar does not repent. Nebuchadnezzar died in faith; Belshazzar died in unbelief. Nebuchadnezzar came to know the salvation of God; Belshazzar came to experience the wrath of God.

(10) What purpose does chapter 5 fulfill in the argument of Daniel?

Among other things, Daniel 5 is a picture of the coming judgment of God upon sinful men and nations. In the Book of Daniel, chapter 5 demonstrates that while God raises up heathen nations and uses them to accomplish His plans and purposes for Israel, He will also judge them for their sins.

(11) What lessons are being taught in Daniel 5?

Daniel 5 reminds us of the awesome reality of the coming day of judgment, when our Lord will judge those men and nations who have rejected His revelation and who have refused to give glory to Him. It is a reminder of the certainty and the swiftness of God’s judgment and of the way in which sinners remain oblivious to their judgment, even within moments of their own destruction.

This chapter testifies that God’s hand is always present in human history, an awareness which Christians should keep uppermost in their minds. History is the outworking of God’s purposes through men and nations, whether they believe in Him or not.

This chapter represents the third occasion in the first five chapters of Daniel in which human wisdom is inadequate and unable to solve the deepest and most urgent matters of life. Only God’s wisdom, as revealed through His servants the prophets, has the words of life by which men may be saved and spared from God’s eternal wrath.

Nebuchadnezzar’s discipline, of which Belshazzar is reminded in this chapter, and the judgment of God brought upon Belshazzar and Babylon, are due to the pride of men. Pride takes credit for what God has done and does not give God the glory He alone deserves. Daniel exposes the damning sin of pride.


52 For similar events, recorded in the Bible, see Esther 1 and Mark 6:14-29.

53 It is generally understood and accepted that the term “father” was used more loosely in the Old Testament of one’s forefather, who may have been a grandfather or even a more distant “father.”

54 See Daniel 1:2; 2 Kings 24:13; 25:15; Ezra 1:7, 11.

55 It is interesting that the descending order of these metals is the same as that found in Daniel 2 for the metals which represented the various kingdoms. See Daniel 2:32.

56 See Genesis 15:12-16; 18:16-33.

57 See Daniel 5:19.

58 Various theories attempt to identity the “queen” in this text. The best seems to be that this was not the king’s wife but rather his mother. Her words sound more like that of a mother than a wife, and she seems to have a better knowledge of previous history than Belshazzar. Furthermore, she was not present at the banquet, which would not have been unusual if this were the king’s mother (who wants his mother to see him drunk and disorderly?). It would have been a social blunder if it were his wife; it was, after all, a banquet at which the king, his nobles, wives and concubines were present (see verse 2).

59 It seems to be fairly conclusively proven, for example, that all three terms are units for the measurement of weight. Various theories also show how the letters and words were arranged. There even seem to be puns or word plays here.

60 The “U” of the term ‘UPHARSIN’ is equivalent to “and.” ‘PHARSIN’ is the plural of ‘PERES.’

61 See Jeremiah 18:5-8; Jonah 3.

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul Text, Studies in The Book of Daniel

Nebuchadnezzar Learns About the Birds and the Beasts

Current world events have resulted in the radical reshaping of the USSR. The recent Russian coup was the desperate effort of a dying political regime to regain power over millions of people. The failed attempt gave those nations which were once a part of the Soviet Union an opportunity to declare their independence and throw off the shackles of communism. Never in my lifetime has such a dramatic change happened so quickly and with so little bloodshed.

President Mikhail Gorbechev of the USSR was deposed for several days before it became evident that the coup had failed. For those few days, he was removed from his position and power. Although he was later released and returned to office as President of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev has not been the same man since. Quickly, others, especially Boris Yeltsin, rose to a power and prominence even greater than Gorbechev. Formerly, nations which recognized the authority of the USSR submitted themselves to the rule of President Gorbachev now we have President Putin. Not so today. These nations now are declaring themselves free from communist party domination and the USSR. A few days’ loss of power produced a radical transformation in the USSR and the rule of its president.

Centuries ago, another powerful leader was temporarily set aside. Daniel 4 records the events of at least eight years when Nebuchadnezzar was the powerful king of Babylon. During this time, the king was warned in a dream of divine discipline. Choosing to disregard the warning, Nebuchadnezzar became insane for seven years, and his position and power were removed while he lived like an animal.

Following the seven years of divine discipline, Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity was restored. His kingdom was also restored, and his majesty and splendor were given back and even increased. But Nebuchadnezzar was never the same again. On the surface, our text describes the way God dealt personally and individually with Nebuchadnezzar. The lessons learned by this king have a much broader application than just to Gentile kings. That which God taught Nebuchadnezzar, He was also seeking to teach His people, Israel. Beyond this, as we explore our text, we should see that these lesssons are of vital importance to every Christian and every non-Christian.

Rhema WordOur Text in Context

Daniel 4 is the last of four chapters which depicts the way God used Daniel and his three friends to impact Nebuchadnezzar, the king who not only defeated Jerusalem and Judea, but who carried them into Babylonia. As the prophets had long warned, and as Daniel informs us (see Daniel 1:1-2; 9:1-19), this was from the hand of God, who was chastening His people for their persistent sin and rebellion.

Progressively king Nebuchadnezzar came to learn about the God of Israel and to acknowledge His superiority over the gods of Babylon. In chapter 1, we see the faithfulness of Daniel and his friends to God and to His law. The king seems ignorant of Daniel’s God but recognizes the superior wisdom of Daniel and his three friends. He even appoints them to sit among his wise men. In chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar learns that Daniel’s God is all-wise and able to reveal the future to men. In chapter 3, he learns that Israel’s God is not only all-wise, but all-powerful. Daniel’s God is able to deliver those who trust in Him, even from a powerful king. But in chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar comes to grips with Israel’s God in a very personal way. Somewhere in the events of this chapter, the king is radically changed. We would say he was saved. The God whom Nebuchadnezzar once knew only intellectually, he now comes to trust and worship in a very personal way. Chapter 4 is the high point of Nebuchadnezzar’s life, a point he reached by being brought to an all-time low.

The Nature of Our Text

Chapter 4 is a continuation of chapters 1-3 in that Nebuchadnezzar is the central character.49 Chapters 1-4 may be viewed as a unit, with chapter 4 as the conclusion of this first section in Daniel. This chapter could, and did, stand alone, and its uniqueness should be recognized and appreciated.

Although chapter 4 originally stood by itself as a letter from the king of Babylon, it has been neatly integrated into the Book of Daniel. The letter was written to all the peoples, of every language (4:1). Verses 1-18 are written in the first person (“I”) and verses 19-33 in the second and third person (“you,” “the king”). This is necessary in part because someone of sound mind must describe the king’s insanity. Finally, in verses 34-37, the text returns to a narration in the first person (“I”), where the king once again publicly praises the God of Israel, while humbly acknowledging his own humiliation and restoration.

Some dispute that Nebuchadnezzar became a true believer in these verses. Their reluctance to acknowledge his conversion is understandable, for the text focuses not on Nebuchadnezzar’s salvation but on his removal and restoration from office. I do not know of any unbeliever who could write as Nebuchadnezzar has in these verses. His introductory words and conclusion sound similar to those written centuries later, penned by the apostle Paul, words which do not exalt men, but God.

The Structure of Our Text

The structure of Daniel 4 may be outlined as follows:

(1) Verses 1-3 — Nebuchadnezzar’s Greeting

(2) Verses 4-12 — Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream: Part I

(3) Verses 13-18 — Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream: Part II

(4) Verses 19-27 — Daniel’s Interpretation and Exhortation

(5) Verses 28-33 — Nebuchadnezzar Put Out to Pasture

(6) Verses 34-37 — Nebuchadnezzar’s Praise

Nebuchadnezzar’s Greeting

1 Nebuchadnezzar the king to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language that live in all the earth: “May your peace abound! 2 It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me. 3 How great are His signs, and how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation.”

Flattering though it may not be, Daniel 4 is more than a biographical sketch of events in the life of king Nebuchadnezzar. It is more than an authorized account of the fall and rise of this Gentile king. This is a personal testimony, directed to all peoples, of every language, not just one nation or race. The focus is not on man, but on the one true God, the God of Israel. One would hardly expect such a testimony in light of these words from the king in the previous chapter:

14 “… Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you will not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:14b-15).

This king, mighty in battle, the instrument through whom the king of Judah was defeated and taken captive, now sends forth a greeting of peace and not war. He who once worshipped his own heathen deities now publicly praises the God of Israel! Introducing his account of what this God has personally done in his life through mighty signs and wonders, this earthly king speaks of God and of His eternal kingdom. If these are not the words of a convert, I do not know what more could be asked as proof of conversion. The verses that follow describe the events which convinced and converted this once heathen king.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream—Part I

4 “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace. 5 I saw a dream and it made me fearful; and these fantasies as I lay on my bed and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. 6 So I gave orders to bring into my presence all the wise men of Babylon, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream. 7 Then the magicians, the conjurers, the Chaldeans, and the diviners came in, and I related the dream to them; but they could not make its interpretation known to me. 8 But finally Daniel came in before me, whose name is Belteshazzar according to the name of my god, and in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and I related the dream to him, saying, 9 ‘O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, since I know that a spirit of the holy gods is in you and no mystery baffles you, tell me the visions of my dream which I have seen, along with its interpretation. 10 Now these were the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed: I was looking, and behold, there was a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. 11 The tree grew large and became strong, and its height reached to the sky, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. 12 Its foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches, and all living creatures fed themselves from it.

Verses 4 and 5 set the scene. The king is about to describe the dream which caused him such distress. But first he informs us that the dream came to him in the ease and luxury of his earthly kingdom when, in his own words, he was “at ease” and “flourishing” (verse 4). There was nothing intrinsically evil about his success, his power, or his wealth. But something was drastically wrong with his attitude toward his prosperity and his use of his position and power. His prosperity played a part in his problem, as Daniel will soon indicate to the king.

Once again, God revealed future events to the king in a night dream (see 2:1-3, 28-29). What he saw greatly troubled the king (verse 5). Calling for his wise men, this time he did not demand that they first declare his dream to him; he knew this was too much to ask. He told them his dream and then asked for their interpretation. As before, none of the king’s heathen wise men could declare the meaning of the dream.

At last, Daniel appears before the king. We are not told that the king summoned Daniel specifically, but he does seem confident that Daniel would be able to interpret his dream. He refers to Daniel by his Babylonian name, Belteshazzar, rather than his Hebrew name. No mention is made of Daniel’s God, but only of the “spirit of the holy gods” (verse 8).

Why did the king not summon Daniel first? Why does he not mention Daniel’s God? Why the more general reference to the “gods” ? It is not difficult to theorize the answers. At the pinnacle of success, pride and arrogance have swollen the king’s ego. How could he retain his pride if he admitted the futility of his own religion? How could he keep his image and honor, and praise the God of one of the nations subject to him?

Doubtless, Nebuchadnezzar believed Daniel could interpret his dream, but he wanted to give his wise men an opportunity first. Today we hear the expression, “Buy American.” If possible, Nebuchadnezzar wanted to “Buy Babylonian.” He wanted one of his heathen wise men to interpret the dream. Likely it would be more flattering than what Daniel would reveal. And he would not be forced to face the superiority of Daniel’s God. Daniel was Nebuchadnezzar’s last chance. Only when all else failed did he call upon this Hebrew to interpret his dream, (Who of us can say we Always pray first? no one.) Even when Daniel stood before the king, the king dealt with him only as a man in touch with the gods like the rest of his wise men. He seems to hope Daniel will deal with him as a heathen rather than as a Hebrew.

The king begins by telling Daniel the first part of his dream in verses 10-12, the “good news” portion, which did not trouble him. But this was the way the dream began; a great and mighty tree reached high into the sky, prominent for all the world to behold. Its boughs and fruit provided both food and shelter for the birds and the beasts of the earth.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream—Part II

13 ‘I was looking in the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed, and behold, an angelic watcher, a holy one, descended from heaven. 14 He shouted out and spoke as follows: “Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit; let the beasts flee from under it, and the birds from its branches. 15 Yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, but with a band of iron and bronze around it in the new grass of the field; and let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts in the grass of the earth. 16 Let his mind be changed from that of a man, and let a beast’s mind be given to him, and let seven periods of time pass over him. 17 This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers, and the decision is a command of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes, and sets over it the lowliest of men.” 18 ‘This is the dream which I, King Nebuchadnezzar, have seen. Now you, Belteshazzar, tell me its interpretation, inasmuch as none of the wise men of my kingdom is able to make known to me the interpretation; but you are able, for a spirit of the holy gods is in you.’

Most distressing to the king was the second act of his dream. An “angelic watcher” enters the scene, calling for the tree to be cut down. Its branches were to be removed and its fruit scattered. A metal band was to be put around the stump, prohibiting its growth. The “tree” was now to become a creature, living in the open field among the beasts and having the mind of a beast.

The king may not have understood the symbolism, but the words spoken by the watcher clearly spelled trouble for Nebuchadnezzar. The words struck terror into the heart of this proud, arrogant ruler:

“This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers, and the decision is a command of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes, and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Daniel 4:17).

The king implores Daniel to inform him of the dream’s meaning.

Daniel’s Interpretation and Exhortation

19 “Then Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar, was appalled for a while as his thoughts alarmed him. The king responded and said, ‘Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation alarm you.’ Belteshazzar answered and said, ‘My lord, if only the dream applied to those who hate you, and its interpretation to your adversaries! 20 The tree that you saw, which became large and grew strong, whose height reached to the sky and was visible to all the earth, 21 and whose foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt and in whose branches the birds of the sky lodged— 22 it is you, O king; for you have become great and grown strong, and your majesty has become great and reached to the sky and your dominion to the end of the earth. 23 and in that the king saw an angelic watcher, a holy one, descending from heaven and saying, “Chop down the tree and destroy it; yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, but with a band of iron and bronze around it in the new grass of the field, and let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts of the field until seven periods of time pass over him” ; 24 ‘this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: 25 that you be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place be with the beasts of the field, and you be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes. 26 And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules. 27 Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.’”

Fully grasping the dream and its interpretation must have dramatically changed Daniel’s facial expression. From Daniel’s body language, the king must have read that the revelation he had received from the dream was bad news. Nevertheless, the king was intent on knowing the meaning of the dream. He encouraged Daniel not to be distressed by what the dream meant. In truth, it seems that Daniel was more deeply affected by the dream than the king.

Daniel prefaced his interpretation with a sincere expression of his love and concern for the king. He wished that the dream applied to the king’s enemies and not the king himself. Daniel is truly committed to serve his king and to contribute to his well-being. In Daniel, we see a man who not only understands biblical submission, but one who practices it. He now reveals to Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of his dream, concluding with a course of action which might avert or delay the adversity of which the king is warned.

On the one hand, the tree depicts things as they were. The increasing height and beauty of the tree depicts the rapidly increasing majesty and splendor of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. On the other hand, the tree reveals the ideal, or the standard, by which Nebuchadnezzar’s reign is evaluated. It is on the basis of the failure of Nebuchadnezzar to live up to this standard that he is brought low, as indicated in the second portion of his dream.

Nebuchadnezzar judged himself and his kingdom according to the standard of greatness, power, and glory. By this standard, the king had done well. The “tree” was not created primarily for its own greatness or glory. It was to provide shelter and food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the field, providing for and protecting the earthly animals.50

The text’s inference is that Nebuchadnezzar failed to grasp the purpose for his kingdom in the divine economy. He looked at his kingdom in terms of how well it promoted and displayed his own power and glory, not in terms of the purpose for which God had ordained it. For example, while God had raised up Nebuchadnezzar to defeat, capture, and preserve the Jews of Jerusalem and Judah, Nebuchadnezzar had set himself on a course of action which would have destroyed the Jews (see chapter 3). Rather than look upon wealth and power as a divinely bestowed stewardship, to be used to benefit the weak and the poor, Nebuchadnezzar seems to have used his power to oppress the powerless. For this reason, Nebuchadnezzar will be brought low, or, in the figure of the tree, he will be cut down and his stump banded for a period of seven years.

Reluctantly, Daniel reveals to king Nebuchadnezzar that a time of divine discipline lies ahead. Instead of being a great tree, from which the earthly creatures may find food and shelter, the tree will be cut down and join the earthly creatures. Rather than remain as a tree, the king is about to become bird-like and beast-like. His hair will become like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws (verse 33). His food will be that of the beasts of the field. He will graze like a beast and live in the field without shelter, so that the dew of heaven will drench him (verse 25). Even his thinking will be beast-like (verse 16).

All that happens to the king will be done not for his ultimate destruction, but for his deliverance and restoration. The time of his humiliation is seven years. The basis for his restoration will be his acknowledgement of the sovereignty of Almighty God, who rules in heaven, and who both raises up kings and puts them down. His restoration to sanity and power will come when he acknowledges that he is God’s unworthy servant, who has been given power to benefit and bless others rather than exalt and glorify himself.

Verse 27 must be recognized as a key verse. Daniel goes beyond the dream and its meaning to urge the king to take preventative measures, forestalling if possible this divine discipline and prolonging his prosperity. Daniel exhorts the king to “break away from his sins” and to “do righteousness,” to cease his “iniquities” and to “show mercy to the poor.”

It is here that the king’s sins are more specifically exposed and the nature and manifestation of true repentance is made known to the king. His pride and arrogance are exposed as the root of his sin. The fruit of his sin seems to be self-promotion and the oppression of the poor.

It is imperative that we see Daniel linking pride and oppression in this text. The king’s pride has resulted in the oppression of the poor. The king’s humiliation is to be the cure, resulting in justice and mercy. What is the connection between pride and oppression?

Pride is a kind of plagiarism. It attempts to grasp for ourselves the glory which belongs to another. Nebuchadnezzar took all the glory for the greatness of his kingdom; he did not give glory to God. In effect, he began to set himself in the seat of God, reminiscent of other glory-seeking creatures, including Satan himself (see Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28). Taking glory which does not belong to us causes us to see ourselves as better than others. Pride ignores and denies the truth that prosperity comes from God, as a gift of His grace, and not the reward for our greatness. Pride also interprets others’ poverty as proof of inferiority and the penalty for inferiority. Sooner or later, pride justifies the use of power as rightly taking advantage of the poor to gain from their weakness.

The Christian’s perception of wealth and poverty is the opposite—the strong are to help the weak. The pagan perception of wealth and poverty assumes the strong have the right to gain at the expense of the weak. Pride then has led to oppression.

Jonah’s life is an example of this. As a Jew, Jonah believed he was better than the Gentiles. He neither wanted nor needed grace; indeed, he despised it. Nor did he want the Ninevites to experience the grace of God. Jonah did all he could to hinder the salvation of these heathens and even desired to watch them perish. The pride of the self-righteous always reject grace and charity.

The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were proud and self-righteous. Like Nebuchadnezzar, they regarded their position, power, and prestige as a reward for their superiority. The poverty and affliction of others was regarded as divine punishment for their sins. The pride of those in positions of power led to oppression, and later our Lord accused the scribes and Pharisees of “stealing widow’s houses” (Matthew 23:14).

If Nebuchadnezzar was to be “saved” from divine chastening, he must recognize that his position and power were not a reward for his merits, but a gift of divine grace. He must cease using his power to further his personal “kingdom” and begin using his position and power to benefit the weak and the oppressed. This would be true repentance, and it might prolong his prosperity.

Nebuchadnezzar Put Out to Pasture

28 “All this happened to Nebuchadnezzar the king. 29 Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. 30 The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’ 31 “While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, 32 and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes.’ 33 “Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.”

Note the difference here and what is described in Daniel 2. In chapter 2, after Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar his dream and its interpretation, the king honored and promoted Daniel. Here we find no expression of appreciation from the king, nor a promotion or advancement of Daniel. From the silence of the text, the king only politely thanked Daniel at best, choosing not to take his interpretation seriously. The dream itself seems to have had no great impact on the king’s attitude or actions.

An entire year passes in silence. Twelve months later, the warning of this dream seems entirely forgotten. The king, in his palace enjoying the fruits of his power and prosperity, looks about him and sees only the splendor of the works of his own hands. It seems to be only in his own reasonings that the king revelled in the glory of this kingdom as the result of his greatness:

‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’ (verse 30).

The thought had no more than passed through his mind when the announcement of the commencement of his humiliation came to the king. His sovereignty was to be removed. His sanity was to be taken away. He who thought himself better than other men was now to be considered unworthy to dwell among men. Henceforth, he would dwell among the cattle, eating grass like the beast of the field. This would take place for seven years, until that time when the king recognized the sovereignty of God over men and kings and kingdoms, and his sanity returned.

Immediately, the pronouncement was fulfilled. In one brief verse, the king’s humiliation is described, showing that the dream and its interpretation were precisely fulfilled. Daniel summarizes in one verse what our morbid curiosity would have taken chapters to describe. There is never edification in muddling in man’s sin and depravity. How high this king had come in power and glory; how low he fell in humiliation and dishonor.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Praise and Promotion

34 “But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 and all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’ 36 “At that time my reason returned to me. and my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. 37 Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”

At the end of the appointed time, the king did the only thing he, in his beastly state, could do. He merely lifted his eyes toward heaven. It was his way of acknowledging that God in Heaven is sovereign, and that He reigns over the affairs of men and of nations. His sanity returned, and then with his whole heart and mind he worshipped the Most High God. Unlike mortal men, God lives forever. His kingdom, unlike the passing kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar, endures from generation to generation. Nebuchadnezzar was acknowledging in every possible way the infinite superiority and supremacy of God. Unlike the king of Babylon, God is able to act according to His will, in heaven and on earth. In His sight, those who inhabit the earth are as nothing. How paltry and pathetic the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar now appears in contrast to the glorious kingdom of the eternal, all-wise and all-powerful God.

Nebuchadnezzar’s repentance brought about his restoration. Not only did he regain his sanity, he regained his kingdom. He was sought out by his counselors and nobles. His power and greatness increased above that he possessed before his downfall. His final words are those of testimony and worship, addressed to the King of heaven, praising Him for His truth, His ways, His justice and compassion in the lives of mortal men.


This lesson was a very personal and private intervention of God in the life of king Nebuchadnezzar, bringing him to his knees first in humiliation and then in praise. But it is a lesson for all, and thus the king makes his testimony a matter of public record, even though it does not flatter him. What lessons can we learn from this text? Along with your own thoughts, consider these:

(1) Pride is a form of insanity. Nebuchadnezzar’s experience highlights and illustrates an important principle in the relationship between pride and insanity. Pride is actually a form of insanity. Insanity is a condition in which one loses touch with reality, living in an unreal world. Sanity is seeing things as they are and then living appropriately.

I believe our text indicates that Nebuchadnezzar’s pride was insane. His chastening allowed his insanity to ripen and come into full bloom. Holding too high an opinion of oneself and lightly regarding the glory of God is insane. When one fails to live up to his or her capacity and calling as created by God, we are no better than the beasts of the field. The king’s sin made a beast of him. And so does all sin in each of us (see Psalm 73:22; Romans 1:18-32).

(2) Worship is man’s highest calling, setting him apart from the beasts of the field and giving him the basis for sanity. If the king’s self-congratulations were the cause of his humiliation, his worship was the turning point for the return of his sanity and his restoration to power. Worship is man’s highest calling. It sets men apart from the beasts. Worship sees God for who He is and man for who he is, and thus life as it truly is. Worship is the foundation for sanity. When men failed to worship God, they began their fall and became no better and little different from the beasts (Romans 1:18-32). Worship turns men to God in humility, gratitude, and worship, based upon the wonder of His grace. Worship is the way to wisdom, because it humbles us and exalts God.

(3) Our worship is directly related to our witness. Daniel chapter 4 is actually king Nebuchadnezzar’s personal testimony. He endeavors to share with others what God has taught him. Witnessing should be to the praise and glory of God. It should be an act of worship. Whether those who hear our witness turn to faith in God, God has been publicly praised in and by our witness. Too many people share their faith only as a duty and not as a delight. Their witness is not the overflow of a grateful heart, done as to the Lord, but a painful duty. We should learn how to worship and witness from this Babylonian king.

(4) Salvation should not be separated from the sovereignty of God. Recently, growing debate has surfaced over the issue of “lordship salvation.” I do not wish to reopen the debate or to take sides with the major spokesmen. I do believe that salvation is by grace, apart from works. But I also believe that our passage teaches the importance of the lordship (sovereignty) of God to the doctrine of salvation. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty was king Nebuchadnezzar’s principle obstacle. In our fallen state, we are proud, arrogant, and self-sufficient. We neither want nor accept grace. Grace is that which is extended to the helpless and the needy. Pride admits no needs, and oppresses the needy.

When the king praised God for His sovereignty, he was restored to his sanity and power. I believe it was also at this time that he was saved. While the point of the passage is not the conversion of this king, I do not think we can avoid acknowledging the radical change in this man’s life. How can an unsaved man utter the praises which come from the lips of Nebuchadnezzar? How many unbelieving kings would share the testimony of their pride and subsequent downfall as Nebuchadnezzar has done? This man seems to have come to faith in God through the events of chapter 4, and the crucial issue seems to be the sovereignty of God.

How then can we think that the sovereignty of God is not vital to evangelism and the conversion of the lost? Is the sovereignty of God something of such minor import that it can be put off until a later time, after the unbeliever has come to faith? I think not. The fall of man occurred because men failed to acknowledge and abide by the authority of God. The crucial issue which divided Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders was His authority. One cannot knowingly reject the sovereignty of God and come to Him for salvation. To come to Jesus for salvation is to come to Him as Lord. Those who have rejected Him in life will, before the throne, acknowledge Him as Lord. Jesus is Lord! Salvation is based upon this vital truth, for the Lord is the one who died and rose again, for our deliverance. The One who has all power is the One who has the power to save men from their sins.

(5) Authority is not a position of status but a place of service. There has always been an unbiblical, ungodly view of power. Jesus referred to this mindset as typical of the Gentiles. Unfortunately, it also characterized the Jews, and even the disciples of our Lord:

35 And James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Him, saying to Him, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 And they said to Him, “Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40 “But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant toward James and John. 42 And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45).

The Gentiles view power and authority as the basis for being served. Men seek to rise to positions of power and authority so that others under them might serve them. So it was with Nebuchadnezzar. But God places men in authority so that they may serve those under them. Leadership is not characterized by status but by service and self-sacrifice. Our Lord exercised authority in this way, and it should be the way of his followers:

1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow-elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock, 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time … (1 Peter 5:1-6)

Power is a gift of grace, not a reward for merit. It is given to make men strong so they may serve the weak. Power is never given to bolster the ego of one who is divinely strengthened or enabled. These truths apply to those in leadership, but also to every Christian. Every Christian is divinely empowered with a spiritual gift or gifts to serve others, ultimately serving our Lord. None should be prideful and glory in his gift because of the abilities God has given. Rather, we should be grateful, humble, and alert for opportunities to use our strengths to minister to those who are weak.

(6) The lesson God had for Nebuchadnezzar also applied to the Jews. God raised up Nebuchadnezzar to power and position. God gave king Jehoiakim and the other captive kings into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands (see Daniel 1:1). Nebuchadnezzar was successful and rose to power by the grace of God, not due to his own merit (see Daniel 4:17). When he became proud and took credit for divine grace, God humbled him—not to destroy him but to deliver him, to make of him a humble and grateful worshipper. Humiliation was ultimately God means of exalting the king. What appeared to be his destruction became the means of his deliverance. To be restored, the king must repent, acknowledge the sovereignty of God, and demonstrate his repentance by showing forth righteousness in being merciful to the poor.

Nebuchadnezzar’s rise and fall almost exactly mirrors the rise, fall, and restoration of the nation Israel. Israel was not chosen because of her greatness or potential. She was chosen in spite of her weakness and insignificance, to serve God and bring glory to Him. When God made this people a great nation in Egypt and was about to bring them into the blessings of Canaan, He warned them of the danger of pride, cautioning them about taking credit for His grace (see Deuteronomy 6-8). He warned them of His chastening if they failed to obey His laws, to worship Him alone, and to care for the poor and the oppressed (see Deuteronomy 28).

Israel failed to heed these warnings and those of later prophets, just as Nebuchadnezzar failed to heed the warning of his dream from Daniel. And so this nation was humbled by defeat and captivity. This nation, which was to exercise authority in the name of God, was removed from authority. They were scattered among the nations, as Nebuchadnezzar was put among the beasts of the field. Just as Nebuchadnezzar was delivered by acknowledging God’s sovereignty and grace, and by worshipping Him, so the Israelites would be delivered and restored.

The story of Nebuchadnezzar’s elevation, humiliation, and restoration should have given hope to the nation Israel, for just as he was put down and later restored, so would they be. The restoration of this Gentile king was recorded to give hope to the humbled, captives of Judah, who would also be restored to their position of leadership in God’s economy.

(7) Sooner or later, all mankind will be humbled before God and acknowledge His sovereignty. Nebuchadnezzar bowed before God after seven years of humiliation. He became a worshipper of the One true God. He will continue to worship and serve God for all eternity. What Nebuchadnezzar did many years ago, every man and woman will do in the future. All mankind will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. Some Jews and Gentiles will do so by professing faith in Him as Savior and Lord:

34 “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, 35 UNTIL I MAKE THINE ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR THY FEET” ‘ 36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:34-36).

8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART” — that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation, 11 For the Scriptures says, “WHOEVER WILL CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” (Romans 10:8-11).

After death, those who reject Jesus as Savior and Lord will not be given another chance to choose Him as Savior. But they will be required to acknowledge Him as LORD:

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

I must now ask you the most important question you will ever answer: “What have you done with Jesus Christ?” Have you trusted in Him as Savior and Lord? I am not speaking about mere intellectual assent. Years before the events of Daniel chapter 4 Nebuchadnezzar had recognized the wisdom and the power of the God of Israel. But he had not placed his trust in Him. I am not asking if you know about God. I am asking if you have come personally to trust in Him, to love Him, and to worship Him. Your response to the Lord Jesus Christ is the most important issue of your life.

Chapter 4:
Questions and Answers

(1) How does chapter 4 of Daniel fit into the context of the book?

Chapters 1-4 of Daniel all take place during the reign of king Nebuchadnezzar. In chapter 1, Nebuchadnezzar is the king who defeated Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and who took captives back to Babylon, including Daniel and his three friends. While the king did not seem to be aware of the faith of Daniel and his friends, he did recognize the superior wisdom God had given them, and thus he appointed them as his advisors. In chapter 2, through Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar came to understand the superiority of the God of the Jews as the God who knows the future and reveals future events to men. In chapter 3, through Daniel’s three friends, Nebuchadnezzar came to understand that the God of the Jews is able to deliver His people from the hands of those who would seek to destroy them. Now, in chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar not only learns about God, but he seems to come to know God personally, through his dream and its fulfillment. In chapter 5, we leave king Nebuchadnezzar and move to the times of king Belshazzar. Thus, chapter 4 is the conclusion to the narrative of God’s working in the life of king Nebuchadnezzar.

(2) What is unique about this chapter?

Chapter 4 fits very nicely into the context of chapters 1-4, serving as the conclusion to the account of Nebuchadnezzar. But as one looks more carefully at chapter 4, it becomes evident that this chapter is a separate work included in the Book of Daniel. Chapter 4 is the personal testimony of king Nebuchadnezzar, who writes of his pride, his humiliation, and his restoration. The first and final sections of this chapter are written in the first person (“I”).

(3) Why did Nebuchadnezzar not call for Daniel first, rather than after all the other wise men? Why did Nebuchadnezzar refer to Daniel by his Babylonian name?

It would seem that the king had every confidence that Daniel would be able to interpret his dream (see verses 8 and 9). He may have delayed calling for Daniel because he preferred to give his own counselors first chance. It may also be that Nebuchadnezzar sensed that Daniel’s God would not be so easy on him as his own “gods” would have been. Daniel’s interpretation of the king’s first dream, recorded in Daniel 2, was not altogether flattering, for he told the king the days of his kingdom were numbered, and that the reign of the Gentile kings was to be cut off by the coming Messiah. Nebuchadnezzar’s reference to Daniel by his Babylonian name, and in terms of the “gods” more generally, may have been his conscious or unconscious effort to avoid any comparison between the God of Israel and the gods of the Babylonians. While the king had previously given testimony to the superiority of the God of Israel, he did not really prefer to do this. Far better that Daniel’s God be seen as one among the many (gods), than as the One who is God over all (Lord of lords), or so Nebuchadnezzar seems to have thought.

(4) For what evil was Nebuchadnezzar being chastened?

Nebuchadnezzar was being rebuked and exhorted concerning his attitude of pride and arrogance. He was also informed indirectly of his sin with regard to the poor. In his arrogance, Nebuchadnezzar seems to have been oppressing the poor, rather than protecting and providing for them. As the “tree” was to provide food and lodging for the birds and the beasts, so Nebuchadnezzar was to provide for his people, particularly for the poor.

(5) How was Nebuchadnezzar’s pride related to his oppression of the poor?

Pride takes the credit (glory) for that which we have not accomplished. Nebuchadnezzar took pride in his rise to power, in his mighty kingdom, and in his defeat of the Jews. All this was God-given, apart from any merit on the king’s part. The king thought his prosperity proved him to be better than others. He seems also to have concluded that the poverty of others proved them to be inferior. Thus, the powerful and prosperous begin to reason that they have the right to gain at the expense of the poor. One can use his strength to take from the weak. The Bible teaches the opposite. God makes men strong so that they can minister to the weak (see Romans 15:1-3; Ephesians 4:28). This same tendency of the strong to prey upon the weak is evident among the Jews (see Jeremiah 7:1-7; 22:13-23; Ezekiel 34:1-6; Matthew 23:14).

(6) How is Nebuchadnezzar’s discipline and restoration a lesson to the Jews and to every Christian?

Nebuchadnezzar was raised up to power and prosperity by God. Rather than give God the glory and use his power to serve others, Nebuchadnezzar became proud, arrogant, and an oppressor. God first warned him by means of his dream. Then God humbled Nebuchadnezzar for a time. All this was to bring the king to his senses, so that he would acknowledge, serve, and worship God.

Israel too was elevated to a position of power, preeminence, and prosperity by God. He made this insignificant people into a great nation, a nation through whom He would rule the earth. Israel became proud and arrogant, taking credit for the prominence and prosperity God had given them by grace. God warned His people of coming judgment through the law and the prophets. They, like Nebuchadnezzar, did not heed God’s warnings. Also, like Nebuchadnezzar, Israel would be humbled, stripped of her power, prominence, and prosperity. The Jews would be scattered and humbled, until they once again turned to their God in humility and in grateful worship. Just as the king’s humiliation was God-given, to bring him to faith, so Israel’s humiliation would turn their hearts to God, so that He might forgive and restore them to a place of blessing. Thus, the king’s humiliation, repentance, and restoration was intended to give hope to Israel, that, through their humiliation, they might be brought to repentance and restoration.

(7) What are the evidences that Nebuchadnezzar became a true believer in this chapter?

In Daniel 2 and 3, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the greatness of Israel’s God, to reveal and to deliver His people. The king took steps to guarantee the Jews the freedom to worship their God without interference. In chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar himself becomes a worshipper of God. He moves from a kind of intellectual awareness of God’s character and attributes to a personal response to them, that of worship and of witness. No heathen could say the things which Nebuchadnezzar has said of God.

2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed” ; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:2-3).

(8) What is the relationship between salvation and the sovereignty of God?

The so-called “lordship salvation” controversy has become a heated and divisive debate. I wish to simply point out here that Nebuchadnezzar appears to have come to a personal faith in God in our text, and that the sovereignty of God seems to be the crucial issue. Up to this point, Nebuchadnezzar had been willing and able to acknowledge that God knows all and that He is all-powerful. Here, he confesses that He is Lord.

In Satan’s fall, Lucifer rebelled against God’s sovereignty. So too Adam and Eve rebelled against the authority of God in the Garden of Eden. When our Lord introduced and presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah, the crucial issue was that of His authority. When the apostles called upon men to be saved, they urged them to acknowledge Him as Lord. I do not see how anyone can turn to a God for salvation who is not Lord. And I do not see how the fall can be reversed apart from submission to the authority of God. Trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation delivers a death blow to pride, because it requires an acknowledgment of our sin and inability to save ourselves, and a confession that Jesus is both Lord and Savior.

Related Passages For Your Consideration

Psalm 1; 145:8-13
Isaiah 6; 10:15-19, 33-34; 11:1-5
Jeremiah 17:7-8
Ezekiel 17; 31

49 There is, of course, a sense in which Daniel and his three friends are the central characters, which I would not dispute. But notice that while Nebuchadnezzar is prominent in every chapter (1-4), Daniel is not referred to in chapter 3, and his three friends are unnamed after chapter 3. Only Nebuchadnezzar is present in all four of the first chapters of Daniel.

50 The accuracy of this imagery is interesting. Today, in the Pacific Northwest, environmentalists are seeking to prevent the cutting down of those trees which provide a habitat for the spotted owl.

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Faith and the Furnace

(Nebuchadnezzar Puts the Heat on the Hebrews)

The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego is a story we all know well. Who does not know how these three Hebrews were cast into the fiery furnace and came out alive? Familiarity with the story of the fiery furnace is one of two major obstacles which prevents us from benefitting from this passage as we should.

We are told automobile accidents often happen close to home. Because we are so familiar with the area, we pay less attention. In the same way, familiar passages of Scripture may receive less of our attention. Christians, and many others, know the stories of David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah, and Jonah and the “whale.” We may fail to grasp the meaning and message they were intended to convey because of our superficial understanding of the characters and events.

A second barrier is our mentally filing the story of these three Hebrews under the category of “fairy tale” or “myth.” Some commentators candidly admit, even advocate, that this story is merely a myth, and not history. They, at least, are conscious of their perspective on this passage. But many of us have heard this story so often in Sunday School that we may have lumped Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego with Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

My goal is to challenge your childhood perception of this favorite and familiar story. We must see this event as history, not fairy tale. We must feel the heat of that fire and smell the smoke of that ancient furnace. Our study will consider this text in light of both its context in the Book of Daniel and in the history of Israel. The message of our text is as vital to Christians today as it was to the Israelite of old. Carefully consider the words of Daniel 3 and look to God’s Spirit to enlighten your mind’s understanding and to quicken your heart’s belief and application.

The Stage on
Which the Scene is Played

The same stage upon which today’s events are being played is also the setting of past biblical events. Imagine for a moment that you are an American soldier sent to the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War to liberate Kuwait. As part of a tank battalion, you are scanning the landscape for enemy troops. As you fire rockets, taking out a bridge over the Euphrates River, you recall that here, or nearby, is where it all began. The Garden of Eden may have been near this spot (Genesis 2:10-15). Imagine tank tracks in the Garden of Eden!

Near here, or nearby, Nimrod built the city of Babel, and the kingdom of Babylon had its birth (Genesis 10:8-10). Centuries ago, about the time of Abraham, men concentrated themselves in a city on the plain in Shinar (Genesis 11:1-2). They intended to build not only a city, but a tower of bricks and stone with tar as mortar (Genesis 11:3-4). God frustrated and ended their efforts by confusing their language and scattering them. The place became known as Babel (later Babylon), which meant confusion (Genesis 11:5-9).

In this land, God called Abraham. Abraham was commanded to leave Ur of the Chaldeans, a place within the range perhaps of your tank’s cannon. Abraham left this place, the cradle of civilization, to go to an unknown and, as yet, undesignated place, where God was to bless him and others through him (Genesis 11:27–12:3).

Centuries later, after countless warnings from God through the prophets, Israel was taken captive and dispersed by Assyria. Little more than a hundred years later, the southern kingdom of Judah was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, just as God had foretold.

You wonder, surveying the plain stretching out before you, if this is where the tower of Babel was built and if it is the same place where Daniel’s three friends were cast into the fiery furnace. Was the furnace really a brick-kiln, as many have suggested? Was this kiln left by the ancients who sought to build the tower of Babel out of bricks and stone? The king’s image may have been constructed upon the same historical stage other earlier scenes had already been acted out.

Our Approach to Chapter 3

We will avoid “straining gnats” in order to pursue the “camels” of our passage (see Matthew 23:24). The text leaves some matters unspecified or unexplained which, from the silence of the passage, I understand to be mysteries by divine intention. We should spend little time seeking to learn what God has omitted.

A good example of intentional silence in Daniel 3 is the king’s “image.” I was tempted to use a play on words and call verses 1-7, “The King’s Self-Image.” But this title does not take the silence of the text seriously enough. We know very little about the image which Nebuchadnezzar set up. Whether this image was a representation of the king, of a known deity, or something totally different, we are not told. We should not seek to learn what God has withheld from us.

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Avoiding the “secret things” withheld, we will give our attention to those things mentioned. Chapter 3 has several obvious repetitions we should note and respond to accordingly. The first repetition is the references to the political officials gathered for this occasion (see 3:2-3, 24, 27). Another striking repetition is the listings of the various musical instruments (3:5, 7, 10, 15). Yet another is the frequent reference to the peoples of all the different nations (3:4, 7, 29).

Our lesson will minimize speculation, and concentrate on that which is both clear and emphatic in our text.

The King’s Command

1 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold,40 the height of which was sixty cubits and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.41 2 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent word to assemble the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. 3 Then the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces were assembled for the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed: “To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, 5 that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. 6 But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.” 7 Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.

Few doubt that Daniel intended to indicate a relationship between the statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2 and the king’s image in chapter 3.42 Much is omitted in the chapter 3 account, such as when the events took place in Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. But the precise timing of the events of chapters 1-4 does not contribute to the argument or the message of the Book of Daniel.

Indeed, we may have something to lose by knowing more. For instance we are not told what the image of chapter 3 represents. Is it an image of the king or of some deity? Why are we not informed? A high regard of Scripture assumes this information is withheld because it is not important. Little would be gained by knowing any more about the king’s image. Yet we may lose by knowing more.

Israel was commanded to serve God alone, and thus all idols were forbidden (Deuteronomy 5:7-10; 6:14-15). When the Israelites defeated their enemies and took the images of their gods, they were to destroy them. They were not to keep them even for the value of their metals (Deuteronomy 7:25-26). God specifically forbade the Israelites to avoid satisfying their curiosity about how the idols were used:

“When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?’ You shall not behave thus toward the Lord your God, for every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:29-31).

I believe Daniel avoided giving more information about the king’s image in obedience to this command. To give any more information was to provide what could become a snare to the reader. Think of it. If you knew more about the king’s image, would you not attempt to understand how this idol was to be worshipped? Daniel’s silence concerning the details of this idol was deliberate and instructive.

For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil (Romans 16:19).

We are told only that king Nebuchadnezzar had an image constructed 90 feet high and 9 feet wide, to which the entire nation was commanded to bow down. This was not merely an act of respect toward the king, but an act of worship.43 Daniel’s three young Hebrew friends found this something they neither could nor would do, even on penalty of death.

What Daniel does describe in detail may puzzle us. He describes the various levels of political and administrative leadership in Babylon, and then repeats them. He does the same for the various musical instruments, which make up the “orchestra” that provides the musical cue for all who will worship the image. There is also reference made with repetition to the peoples and nations of every language. Why does Daniel place the emphasis here?

Allow me to suggest a possible explanation. King Nebuchadnezzar, still an unbeliever, has been given divine revelation through a dream and told its interpretation in chapter 2. He grasps this revelation as an unbeliever and his understanding and response are impaired (see 1 Corinthians chapter 2). Viewing the revelation of Daniel 2 through the eyes of unbelieving king Nebuchadnezzar provides a better understanding of the king’s goals and methods described in chapter 3.

The king knew his dream pertained to the future of not only his kingdom but of kingdoms to follow. He knew the metals of the statue diminished in value. Though his kingdom was that of gold, those which followed were of silver, bronze, iron, and finally iron mixed with clay.

From his perspective, the king did not focus on the “stone cut out without human hands” (2:34) as the cause of the demise of the entire statue. Instead, he concentrated on the weakness of the statue itself. What was this weakness? It was the feet made of iron mixed with clay. They had no strength. When the stone struck the statue at its feet, the entire statue fell, disintegrated, and was blown away by the wind.

If you were a heathen king, intent on extending your rule and creating some kind of political immortality, what would you have done based on the dream of chapter 2? Would you not try to strengthen the feet? Made of a mixture of iron and clay, they had no strength. We know what the iron and clay mixture represented, and so did the king:

40 “Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces. 41 And in that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery, so some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle. 43 And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery (Daniel 2:40-43, emphasis mine).

The weakness of the final kingdom, which in the king’s mind causes the entire statue to collapse, is the mixture of races and a resulting lack of cohesiveness. This is the “problem” which king Nebuchadnezzar set out to “fix” in Daniel 3.

Nebuchadnezzar, from the very beginning, seems intent on fulfilling a grand objective. He wants not only to establish a great kingdom, but it seems he envisioned a world empire. He hoped, like all ambitious despots and Satan, who stands behind them, to rule the world. Thus, in chapter 1 we find the king assembling a large pool of advisors representing the various schools of wisdom from all over the world. In this sense, he welcomed Daniel and his three Hebrew friends (remember that Solomon was renowned for his wisdom).

When the king learned from his dream that the mix of races weakened the last kingdom, he set his mind to solve this problem rather than deal with the stone of his vision. How could he change the course of history? How could he eliminate the fatal flaws of that final kingdom to prolong the life of the statue and thus his glory?

Daniel 3 suggests that the king determined to solidify his dominion by unifying the many races and nations under his rule with a common religion and object of worship. This posed a serious threat to the Jews. Other nations, who believed in more than one god, simply added this idol to their list of deities to be worshipped. The Jews, however, worshipped God alone. They could not be faithful to their God and worship anyone or anything else. Humanly speaking, if the king’s command stood, it could mean the end of the Jewish faith.

The first time the image is to be worshipped appears to be at its dedication ceremony, described in Daniel 3. This initial ceremony is important in determining how successful the king’s plan for unifying his empire will be. I believe this occasion is carefully designed and orchestrated to lead a unified worship of the image by those of every nation and language.

The dedication ceremony is to lead to a climactic act of worship. There is an “orchestra” which appears to include instruments from around the world. The orchestra itself is symbolic of the unity the king seeks to produce and protect. The orchestra gives the cue for all to fall down in worship in a carefully prescribed way.

The political authorities of the land are the first group of participants. These leaders fall into various groups identified repeatedly by Daniel, representing not only the different levels of government but the various races, languages, and cultures integrated into the government of Babylon. Even the clothing may have been representative of the nations and cultures gathered there to worship one image as one nation.

Nebuchadnezzar Puts the Heat on the HebrewsHad things gone according to the king’s plan, it would have been a very spectacular ceremony. A huge crowd—virtually all who lived in Babylon—would have gathered, the awesome golden image standing high above the crowds. Not far away, the furnace was burning, smoke billowing from its top. Everyone knew they must choose between the two. It was the image or the furnace; bow down or burn.

The political powers, who led in worship, were to be followed by the rest of the peoples of the land.44 Daniel’s three Hebrew friends were numbered among the political leaders, thanks to Daniel’s recommendation and the promotion given them by Nebuchadnezzar himself (see Daniel 2:48-49).

The celebration began. The orchestra signalled the political leaders that it was time to bow down. The rest of the masses were to follow the example of the leaders, perhaps in some kind of grouping, bowing down to the golden image. But this never happened. The celebration which began was never completed.

The Chaldean’s Charge

8 For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. 9 They responded and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king: “O king, live forever! 10 You yourself, O king, have made a decree that every man who hears the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of music, is to fall down and worship the golden image. 11 But whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.”

The counselors of the king, which would include the Chaldeans, may have been the next to bow in worship. The Chaldeans would have noted the failure of the three to fall down rather than the king or the other political leaders. They, after all, were on their faces before the idol. How could they look about for those who did not bow down?45

The charge made against the three Hebrews was three-fold:

They showed disregard for the king’s authority.
They did not serve his gods.
They would not bow down to the image.
The Chaldeans were men who owed their lives to Daniel and his friends. Had Daniel not revealed the king’s dream and its meaning to Nebuchadnezzar, all of the wise men of the land would have been put to death. Now, they show their gratitude by pointing out the disobedience of the three Hebrews to the king.

The Chaldeans’ opposition is not difficult to understand, given the goal of Nebuchadnezzar to use foreigners as a part of his administration. The Chaldeans were the “natives” of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar himself was a Chaldean. Daniel and his three friends were outsiders, yet they had higher positions in Nebuchadnezzar’s administration than the Chaldeans. The attack on the three Hebrews was an attack “against the Jews” (3:8).46

While the Chaldeans did not devise a scheme to bring about the demise of the three Hebrews (as others would later do with Daniel in chapter 6), they certainly took advantage of the situation. They apparently interrupted the ceremony, reporting to Nebuchadnezzar that these three Jews refused to bow down. When the king stopped the ceremony, everyone must have looked on with great interest to see how the matter would be handled and to see if the three Hebrews would buckle under to the king’s orders.

The King’s Offer and the Hebrews’ Response

13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you will not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

The king, who had appointed these men to their high positions, probably valued their service. Realizing his reputation was at stake, he gave them, before all present, a second chance. He would instruct the orchestra to play once more, and if they bowed down, the matter would be forgotten.

What the king said next proves to be the most significant statement to come from his lips: “What god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” (verse 15).

He was soon to find out. Like Pharaoh of old, he would learn that the God of Israel is to be heard and obeyed; the God of Israel is able to deliver His people.

The response of the three Hebrews may at first seem to be too abrupt and even disrespectful.

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16b-18).

The king had raised the issue —who was able to deliver these three? They responded that they need not give Nebuchadnezzar any answer because he was not their deliverer. They need not make their defense to him. He could not deliver them and this is why they could not bow down to his golden image. God was their Deliverer. He had proven so at the Exodus, and afterward He commanded His people not to bow down to any image.

The God of the Jews was their Deliverer. He was able to deliver them from the fiery furnace. They did not presume that He was going to do so. He could if in His sovereignty, He chose to do so. The statement which follows is significant: “He will deliver us out of your hand.”

The confidence of these three comes not from any personal assurance of deliverance from the furnace, but from God’s promise to the captives of Babylon that He would deliver them from captivity and restore them as a nation:

Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans. For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them again to this land; and I will build them up and not overthrow them, and I will plant them and not pluck them up, and I will give them a heart to know Me for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart (Jeremiah 24:4-7, see also Deuteronomy 30:1-10; Jeremiah 27:22; 29:10-14; 32:36-38).

Whatever happens to them personally, God has promised to deliver and restore His people. Their hope is in God, their Deliverer. One thing is non-negotiable: they will not bow down to this image.

There is a strong note of irony here. The Jewish captives of Babylon are in bondage because of their idolatry (see Isaiah 2; 30:19-22; 31:7; Jeremiah 8:19; Ezekiel 5:1-12; 6:1-10; 14:1-5; 16:15-23; 20:39-40; 22:1-4; 23). Israel was commanded not to make or worship idols, on penalty of death. Until their Babylonian captivity, they persisted in their idolatry. Idolatry was one of the reasons for their being in Babylon.

Now, with the making of this golden image and the dedication ceremony, Daniel’s three friends find themselves commanded to worship this idol, or die. God said, “Worship idols and die,” while Nebuchadnezzar said, “Worship my idol or die.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were determined to flee from idolatry, even if it meant death; Nebuchadnezzar commanded them to practice idolatry, or they would surely die. In doing what seemed to lead to certain death (refusing to bow down to the golden image), the three Hebrews were delivered from death. These three remained faithful to God and to His law, even when threatened with the fiery furnace. In contrast, Israel persisted in her idolatry, even when warned not to do so. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego are the ideal Israelites, who obey God’s law even when it is life-threatening. They would rather face the wrath of men than the wrath of God.

Taking the Heat
of Nebuchadnezzar’s Wrath

19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. 20 And he commanded certain valiant warriors who were in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, in order to cast them into the furnace of blazing fire. 21 Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. 22 For this reason, because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. 23 But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up.47

We can almost see the redness of Nebuchadnezzar’s face when he hears these men will not obey this command, even if it means the furnace. Thousands of his subjects must have been listening and looking on. The orchestra was set, ready to play once again. All of Babylon’s political leaders were assembled, ready to bow down once again. The masses stood by too, ready to bow as well. Only these three Hebrews would not bow down.

Nebuchadnezzar was so hot, he commanded that the furnace be fired even hotter. This furnace may have been a brick-kiln, perhaps used in making the base for the golden image. The top was like a chimney, where smoke from the fire could escape. It could serve a second purpose as well—offenders could be cast into the fire by being thrown down from above. At the bottom there was a door or hole through which fuel could be added and air for combustion introduced.

The three Hebrews, bound tightly and still in their festive dress, had to be carried to the furnace and then thrown in. The fire was so intensely hot that those charged with the unpleasant task of throwing the men into the fire were consumed by the flames which belched from the furnace. These three men did not stand a “prayer of a chance,” unless their God was able to deliver them. They were cast into the top of the furnace, bound hand and foot.

The King’s Astonishment

Come out, Servants of the most High God!

Come out, Servants of the most High God!

24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he responded and said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “Certainly, O king.” 25 He answered and said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” 26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. 27 And the satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them.

The king’s vantage point must have afforded him a view of the furnace from below so that he could look into the flames through the bottom door where fuel and air were introduced. With utter amazement, the king looked inside. He was astonished! While the executioners were slain by the flames, the three Hebrews were not. They were walking about inside the furnace. Their bonds had been loosed, but the flames did them no harm.

Something else puzzled Nebuchadnezzar. There were not three men walking about in that furnace, but four. More troubling was that the fourth person in the furnace was not like the other three. The king turned to his high officials, who were looking on. He asked them if there were not three men cast into the fire. They wisely agreed. He called their attention to the fact that four men were now in the fire, and one had a god-like appearance. Whatever that appearance was, he knew it was not human and assumed it to be divine.

Drawing near to the door of the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar called into the flames, telling the men to come out. He referred to these men not only by name, but also as “servants of the Most High God.” This was perhaps motivated by the fourth man in the fire. Fortunately for the king and the rest, the fourth person did not come out with the other three.

The king and his officials now witnessed the full extent of the miracle God had performed in their sight. Neither the clothing nor the bodies of the men had been harmed by the intense heat and the flames. Their hair had not been singed; their clothing was not damaged. There was not even the smell of smoke to be detected. Their deliverance could not have been more complete. The only thing they lost in those flames were the ropes which bound them.

The King’s Announcement

28 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore, I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” 30 Then the king caused Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to prosper in the province of Babylon.

Before we consider the words Nebuchadnezzar spoke at the end of Daniel 3, let us recall what we have read at the beginning of the chapter. Nebuchadnezzar had planned to further his kingdom by assembling a large crowd, all of whom would bow in worship to an image he had made. Men had to choose between bowing down to the idol or being burned in the flames of the furnace. The “god” represented by this idol was to be honored and worshipped. Those who resisted were to be destroyed. Yet Nebuchadnezzar’s final words are praise and adoration for these three “rebels,” who refused to bow down, and for the God whom they served, even to death.

This day’s events had not turned out the way the king had planned. He intended to turn the nation to worship his idol. That failed. He planned to subordinate all worship to this “god.” That failed, too. All of the energy and expense to produce worship of a false god was to no avail, and the king fell to his knees before the God of Israel.

His question, asked only moments before, “What god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” is now answered by the king who asked it. Nebuchadnezzar blessed the God of these three Hebrews, as the God who had delivered them from death. He praised them for their faithfulness in obeying their God, even unto death. Significantly, the king praised these men for their exclusive (monotheistic) worship of their God. Unlike the rest, they were not willing to serve any other god in addition to the one God they worshipped and served.

The king’s decree goes beyond praise. It declares punishment for any who interfere with the free worship of the Jews. Nebuchadnezzar tried to interfere with the religion of the Jews. Their God had intervened and delivered them from the king’s wrath. Now the king seeks to insure this will not happen again. Anyone, the king declared, who so much as speaks against the worship of these men will be torn limb from limb and their property confiscated. All this because no other God had shown himself able to deliver as their God had done.

Finally, the king promotes Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, causing them to prosper in their administration of the province of Babylon.


Nebuchadnezzar’s decree set a legal precedent of paramount importance in Babylon. It determined the way religion was to be practiced in Babylon for years.

Other decisions have had a similar impact on the history of the people of God. In chapter 18 of Acts, the Jews charged Paul with holding and promoting a religion which was not Jewish. Their hope was to obtain a legal precedent which distinguished Judaism from Christianity. If this could be accomplished, Christianity would, from that time onward, be regarded as illegal by Rome. Rome would no longer protect the preaching of the gospel but would persecute Christians. When Gallio pronounced that Christianity was Jewish, the church and the preaching of the gospel enjoyed the continuing protection of Rome.

Another landmark case is described in Exodus 1-2. The Egyptians sought to exterminate the Jewish race by killing all the Hebrew boy babies, first by having the midwives kill them in the birth process, and later by drowning the babies in the Nile River. Pharaoh ordered the Hebrews and the Egyptians to “throw into the river” the Hebrew boy babies. Then Pharaoh’s daughter took a Hebrew baby out of the Nile. She even named him Moses, which signified that she took him out of the water (see Exodus 2:10). The actions of Pharaoh’s daughter virtually nullified the Pharaoh’s decree, thus reversing the death sentence imposed by the Egyptian king. If Pharaoh’s own daughter would not kill a Hebrew baby, but spare it from death in the Nile, what Egyptian would throw a baby into the Nile?

In the Book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar has been divinely granted victory over Judah and Jerusalem. The king deported many of the Jews to Babylon. In his effort to unify all of his Babylonian empire by worshipping one god, he has declared it illegal to worship only one God. The religion of the Jews was in the process of being outlawed, right there before the image as the orchestra played and the peoples of every nation began to bow down to it. Had the events of chapter 3 not taken place and the king made the decree of verse 29, the Jews would not have been able to legally practice their worship of God.

In the providence of God, the Chaldeans pressed the link of the three friends of Daniel with the Jews as a group. The end result guaranteed all Jews freedom of worship. The faithfulness of this small remnant of three Jews brought the protection of the worship of all the Jews in Babylon.

In addition to the precedent set by this decree of Nebuchadnezzar, a number of other lessons are to be learned from our text.


In chapter 1, Daniel and his three Hebrew friends were able to serve their God without disobeying the government of their land. In chapters 2 and 6, this is not possible, and so the people of God chose to obey God rather than men.

Submission to authority is a principle which must never be put aside. God is the ultimate authority. He has ordained other authorities under Him, as His instruments. This includes human government. Generally when we submit to such authorities, we do so in submission to God. To oppose these authorities is to oppose God (see Romans 13:1-7; Ephesians 6:1-3). Jesus taught that we sometimes need to distinguish between our obligations to God and men and give each their appropriate dues (see Matthew 22:15-22). There are those unpleasant occasions when, in order to obey God, we must disobey human authority. In such cases, we must obey God, rather than men (Acts 5:29).

Nebuchadnezzar’s command to bow down to the golden image is one of those rare instances when godliness is expressed by civil disobedience. There was no chance, as in Daniel 1, for the three Hebrews to please God and the king at the same time. What the king commanded was clearly condemned by the Old Testament Scriptures. We can learn some valuable lessons from Daniel’s friends about civil disobedience.

Civil disobedience is only permissible when obeying man’s commands would violate God’s commands. When placed in a position where we must either obey God or men, then we must obey God and disobey men. If obedience to one of man’s laws would result in our disobedience to one of God’s laws, we must obey God by disobeying men.

A number of Christians would say a hearty “Amen,” but many go much farther than the Scriptures seem to warrant. Most of the civil disobedience of our time is very different than that of the three Hebrews. For Daniel’s friends, obedience to the king’s command would have required them to commit the sin of idolatry. They could not do what God had forbidden. If the law commands that we have an abortion, following the example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego would require our refusal to have an abortion. But when the law allows a woman to have an abortion (a terrible thing, I agree), does the Bible encourage us to break those laws of the land which do not require us to sin in order to obey them? The civil disobedience of our time is not primary, but secondary. I do not find a biblical precedent for disobeying legitimate laws because another law is unbiblical.

Even when our obedience to God requires us to disobey a human law, there are proper ways to disobey. Daniel’s three friends disobeyed the command of Nebuchadnezzar, but they did so in a submissive manner. They did not seek to overthrow the king and set up another government. They did not attempt to call attention to their disobedience. Neither did they encourage others to follow their example. They quietly obeyed God by not bowing down; and then, without resistance, they accepted the king’s punishment. They left the rest to God. This kind of godly disobedience is far from inflammatory. It is the only kind of disobedience I find in the Bible.


Unlike some today, Daniel’s friends did not believe that faithfulness to God guarantees freedom from suffering and tribulation. We know from the Scriptures that those who would live godly lives should expect suffering and tribulation (see 2 Timothy 3:12; Hebrews 11 and 12; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 2:18-25; 4:1-19).

In our suffering we gain and we grow. We experience a deeper level of fellowship with Christ (Philippians 3:10). We find Him present with us in the fires of our tribulations in a way we may not have previously known. From our text, we know that God was with Daniel and his three friends at all times. But in the fiery furnace, God was with these three in a very special way. How often we pray God would keep us from suffering, rather than keep us through suffering. Often God reveals Himself in our suffering in a much more personal and glorious way. So it was with these three. God was present with them in the furnace.

While these men bore witness to their faith by what they refused to do, God’s power was most dramatically demonstrated in the fire. When Christians suffer well, the world takes note that the faith of the believer is not a fair-weather faith. Suffering is the opportunity for God to bear witness through us.

Lastly, suffering is a beneficial experience because it purifies. The Bible likens going through tribulation to going through a fire (see 1 Peter 1:7). Fire purifies metals. It burned off the ropes which bound the three Hebrews. What the fire of affliction and suffering takes from us, we would be better off without (see 1 Peter 4:1-6).


Nebuchadnezzar sought to inaugurate the worship of a new god on the basis of fear. The citizens of Babylon, with the golden idol and the fiery furnace before them, had to choose one or the other. The refusal by these three Hebrews to bow down to the image was based upon a principle our Lord reiterated many years later:

“Do not fear those who can kill the body, but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Nebuchadnezzar’s anger was fierce, his countenance frightening, and his furnace intensely hot. Nevertheless, Daniel’s three friends feared the wrath of God more than that of the king. They knew that the fires of hell were more devastating than the fire of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace. These Hebrews feared God more than men, and thus they obeyed God rather than men.


Over the years, I have observed a number of ceremonies in which oaths or vows were taken. I thought little of them, until I started to listen more closely to what was being said in the vows. The vows of a number of seemingly beneficial secular organizations are frightening and unbiblical if the words are taken seriously. We should take them as seriously as Daniel’s friends took bowing down to the golden image. Our loyalty and obedience are to God, first and foremost.


Why should we be surprised that Nebuchadnezzar failed to understand the revelation from God in chapter 2? Apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the natural man will never grasp what God is saying or doing. Nebuchadnezzar is an example of what Paul taught in 1 Corinthians:

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND WHICH HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.”

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that He should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

Apart from the ministry of the Spirit, we will distort and pervert the Scriptures as badly as the pagan Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.


Our text foreshadows the end times, when the Antichrist seeks to unify mankind by false religion and worship. We can see the similarity of Daniel 3 to the events described in the Book of Revelation (see chapters 13-14, 17-18, noting the references to Babylon). Satan, too, seeks to rule over men through false worship. In our text, however, this would-be antichrist is destined to become a saint, as we shall see in chapter 4. God can turn anti-Christ’s into worshippers of Christ.


What these three young men did was incredible! They stood up against the most powerful nation and king of their time. Standing virtually alone, they stood up by faith, a faith which qualified them to be listed in the “hall of faith” :

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight (Hebrews 11:32-34, emphasis mine).


This chapter is really about deliverance. The king expected all of Babylon, including the Jews, to fall down before his idol, because he was the one who could deliver or destroy them. “What god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” , he asked them. To this he later replied, “there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way” .

The three Hebrews did not make any defense to this king because they knew he was not their deliverer. Their Deliverer was the God who delivered them from bondage in Egypt, who forbade His people to worship idols, and who promised to deliver them from Babylonian captivity. Their Deliverer was God.

Theirs was a complete deliverance, because God accomplished it. They were not merely delivered from the fire; they were delivered through the fire. They were delivered through the fire which brought death to their executioners and in a way that destroyed only their bonds.48 They were delivered from sizzling, singeing, and even the scent of smoke. That is complete deliverance.

The deliverance which God has accomplished for us is like that described in Daniel 3. It is, first and foremost, God’s deliverance. It is not a deliverance from all suffering and trials, but one which exists because God Himself experienced the fire. As the fourth person was present with the Hebrews in the furnace, Christ has endured the wrath of God, in our place. We are delivered from God’s eternal wrath because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, suffered for us, in our place. Deliverance, all deliverance, has been accomplished on the cross of Calvary.

I doubt that you and I fully grasp the extent of the deliverance we have in Christ. We say we believe that God has delivered us from Satan, sin, hell and death, but do we really believe it? Why do Christians frantically seek deliverance from drugs, addictions, fear, guilt, and bitterness in sources other than the shed blood of Jesus Christ? We do not fathom or experience the totality of the deliverance which God has for us now, let alone in eternity. God’s deliverance is complete deliverance.


Would Nebuchadnezzar seek to establish his kingdom by initiating a common religion and worship? It would fail. The words written in the last book, the Book of Revelation, put Daniel 3 into perspective. As you read these words at the close of our lesson, remember that one of those among this throng of worshippers from every nation and language will be none other than Nebuchadnezzar, on his face before God, in wonder, adoration, and praise:

And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints, and they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped (Revelation 5:6-14).

Will you be among that throng who worships God for all eternity? You, like Nebuchadnezzar, must acknowledge your sin and trust in the God who delivers from hell, through His Son—the stone of Daniel 2—Jesus Christ. (Salvation.)

Chapter 3:
Questions and Answers

(1) Where do you think Nebuchadnezzar got the idea to make an image of gold?

The idea probably came from his dream described and explained in Daniel 2. From that dream, he learned that the entire statue (the Gentile kingdoms) disintegrated because a stone struck the feet which were weak. The weakness, he was told, was due to a racial mixture in the last kingdom. Seeking to “fix the feet” by making an idol of solid gold and creating one religion, Nebuchadnezzar constructed the gold image and required every race and culture to worship it. Nebuchadnezzar may have hoped to change the course of history and prolong the glory of his kingdom.

(2) What should Nebuchadnezzar have learned from his dream and the interpretation of Daniel, as recorded in Daniel 2?

Nebuchadnezzar was still a pagan though he had acknowledged the God of Daniel and his three friends as a God of wisdom and revelation. In chapter 3, he learned that the God of Israel was also the Deliverer of His people. What the king did not take seriously enough was the stone, the real cause of the statue’s destruction and the creator of the new, eternal, kingdom which replaced Gentile rule. Rather than “fix the feet,” he needed to fall at the feet of the “stone,” Jesus Christ.

Nebuchadnezzar did not yet grasp the sovereignty of God over history. Although he was told the dream and its interpretation were trustworthy (2:45), he still believed he could change the course of history.

(3) According to verses 2 and 3, who was specifically commanded to bow down to the image? Why these people?

The political and governmental leaders of the nation are in focus because Daniel and his three friends were in this group. I believe there were thousands present, who were to follow their leaders in the worship of the image. Among this group were the Chaldeans, who revealed to the king that the three Hebrews did not bow down.

(4) How and why were Daniel’s three friends singled out as wrongdoers with regard to the image? What was the real, underlying reason for the case against the three Hebrews? How did God use this for good for His people?

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, seem to have been the only ones at the dedication who did not bow down to the image. The charges made by the Chaldeans against them as Jews, and in a sense this was correct for it was their Jewish faith which forbade them to worship any idol.

The Chaldeans should have been grateful to the three Hebrews and to Daniel because through them the king’s dream was revealed and interpreted which avoided the execution of all the Babylonian wise men.

The Chaldeans had a special animosity toward Daniel and his friends, which was probably racially motivated. The Chaldeans were the natives of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was a Chaldean, and yet the king promoted these Jews rather than the Chaldeans to the highest positions in the nation. They seem to be acting out of jealousy and racial bigotry.

After God delivered these three Jews, the king’s decree guaranteed religious freedom to all the Jews. The faithfulness of Daniel’s three friends brought freedom of religion for the entire Jewish community in Babylon.

(5) Why is no mention made of Daniel in chapter 3?

Daniel wrote this book; he is the one describing the events of chapter 3. He chose, for some reason, to exclude himself. We can only assume that Daniel was not charged because he had greater authority and prestige than the other three, or more likely, because Daniel was not there.

(6) How is the issue in chapter 3 similar to the problem Daniel and his three friends faced in chapter 1? How and why is their response different in chapter 3 than in chapter 1? How is their outcome different?

Both chapters deal with submission to God and to human government. In chapter 1, the four Jews served God and government, offending neither God nor the government. In chapter 3, they had to choose God or government, being unable to serve both at the same time. Thus, in chapter 3, godly men had to obey God by disobeying government.

In chapter 1, Nebuchadnezzar did not realize the superior wisdom of Daniel and his three friends. In chapter 3, the king clearly understands the issue is over whose god is more powerful, his god or the God of the Hebrews. In both chapters, Daniel and his friends are promoted, but in the latter Nebuchadnezzar recognizes God working miraculously to deliver His servants and acknowledges the superiority of their God over his.

(7) Why did the three Hebrews answer the king as they did?

They knew their destiny was not really in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, but God. They made no defense to him because he was not their deliverer. Their deliverer was the God who delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage and then forbade His people to worship idols. The issues of deliverance and idolatry were therefore inseparably linked in God’s dealings with Israel. They knew God was able to deliver them from or through the fire. They also knew that God had promised to deliver the nation from Babylonian bondage. Their faith and hope was in God, not man.

(8) What is accomplished by the events of chapter 3?

for Daniel’s three friends?
for the Jews in Babylon?
for Nebuchadnezzar?
for the enemies of the three Hebrews?
for the reader of this account?
Daniel’s three friends are delivered and even promoted because of their faithfulness, and are included in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 (see verses 32-34).

Their deliverance reversed Nebuchadnezzar’s requirement of the Jews to bow down. It also protected Jewish worship by promising punishment for any who would seek to hinder their worship.

Nebuchadnezzar is humbled to some degree and given greater revelation concerning the God of the Jews. Nebuchadnezzar understands in chapter 2 that the God of the Israelites is the source of wisdom and knowledge. He learns in chapter 3 that He also intervenes in human history to deliver His people.

The enemies of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were shown the folly of their own “faith” and the power of the God of the Jews to preserve and deliver them.

The reader of the account is reminded that God is the only Deliverer. Deliverance comes from God, to the people of God. Deliverance is complete. It will keep us through the fire of tribulation and adversity.

(9) What are the issues in this text?

Submission to the state and civil disobedience
Divine deliverance
The preservation of the Jews
The Antichrist of the last days
Whom do we fear?
Fallen man’s comprehension and response to divine revelation
The conversion of Nebuchadnezzar


40 The image could have been solid gold, or wood overlain with gold (see Exodus 37:25-26; 39:38; Isaiah 40:19; 41:7; Jeremiah 10:3-9).

41 “The archaeologist Julius Oppert states that he found on one of these mounds a large brick square, forty-five feet on a side and twenty feet high, which he believes was the foundation of this very image.” Leon Wood, A Commentary of Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 80.

42 While there seems to be a connection between the statue of chapter 2 and the image of chapter 3, there are striking contrasts between these two representations. Consider these contrasts:

Images of Chapter 2: (a) divine origin; (b) a vision only; (c) made of different metals; (d) not an object of worship; (e) privately revealed to Nebuchadnezzar; (f) fairly well described; (g) prompted king to bow down.

Images of Chapter 3: (a) human origin; (b) a reality; (c) made only of gold; (d) an object of worship; (e) revealed to all; (f) described only generally; (g) men commanded to bow down.

43 The term worship is employed 11 times in chapter 3 in reference to the king’s image.

44 One can see how disturbing the refusal of three high-level leaders to fall in worship would have been to Nebuchadnezzar. If the leaders were to worship first, followed by the people, what rebellion might that produce in the general population? These men were setting a bad example before all, and at the first ceremony of worship. Such disobedience would not be tolerated by the king.

45 None of the three Hebrews tried to call attention to their civil disobedience in refusing to bow down to the golden image. They were not trying to make an issue of this matter, but only being obedient to their faith and to the Law as quietly and inconspicuously as possible. Had the Chaldeans not made an issue of their failure to fall down, there would have been no confrontation.

46 This linking of the three friends of Daniel with the Jews was to work in favor of the Jews, as we shall soon see.

47 It is at this point in the text that Greek versions include a long addition: a prayer, a prose description of their deliverance and a hymn, commonly known as the Benedicite, supposedly sung from the furnace by the three men, or by Azariah alone (according to Theodotion). Evidence from Qumran has shown conclusively that these additions were not part of the original. Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1978), p. 106.

48 What a picture this is of their future deliverance from Babylonian captivity. They were, in Babylon, delivered from the bondage of idolatry. They were not in any way adversely affected by the fire of tribulation in Babylon.

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul Text, Studies in The Book of Daniel

The Dream Which Nearly Became a Nightmare

There are times when it seems we have set something disastrous and irreversible in motion. The second chapter of the Book of Daniel describes one such time. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a disturbing dream. He wanted to know its meaning, and he summoned a number of his senior staff: magicians, conjurers, sorcerers, and Chaldeans. Their assignment was more difficult than any he had ever given them before. Nebuchadnezzar wanted not only to know the meaning of his dream; he insisted they first tell him his dream!

For any king to ask this would be distressing. For Nebuchadnezzar to demand this of his staff was disastrous. The king’s dream nearly became a nightmare for his advisors. Nebuchadnezzar, known for being brutal, demanding, and tyrannical, had no hesitation in dealing severely with those whom he considered his enemies. We know that he ordered Daniel’s three friends to be cast into a fiery furnace. From Jeremiah 29:22-23, we learn that the king of Babylon roasted Zedekiah and Ahab in the fire. Our text in Daniel 2 tells us he intended to put all the wise men in his land to death because they could not do the impossible.

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream started something which appeared impossible to stop. He demanded that his dream be told, and only after this that it be interpreted. His advisors sought to reason with him, but to no avail. Finally, in frustration, they told him that what he asked was unreasonable. They not only admitted their limitations, they even acknowledged the inability of their gods. The king’s demand was beyond what they or their gods could do. It would take a God of a very different kind, a God whose “dwelling place is not with mortal flesh” (Daniel 2:11).26 Nebuchadnezzar soon heard about the only God who could accomplish the king’s demand. It was the God of Daniel and of his three Hebrew friends, the “God who is in heaven” (Daniel 2:28).

The first four chapters of Daniel are a unit. While Daniel and his three friends are prominent in these chapters, king Nebuchadnezzar is also a central character. In chapter 1, he defeats Jehoiakim, king of Judah, a victory which God brought upon the king and his kingdom (Judah) as a judgment for their sin and rebellion.

Nebuchadnezzar took captives (including Daniel and his friends) to Babylon and made some a part of his administration. He also placed some of the vessels from the temple of God in Jerusalem in the house of his god in Babylon as a sign that his god was better than Israel’s God. He was wrong and will say so in the fourth chapter of Daniel.

In chapter 1, Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel and his three friends part of his administration. He did so, not because he thought so highly of Daniel’s God or because he respected Daniel’s convictions, but simply because Daniel and his friends were “ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm” (Daniel 1:20). At first thought, this evaluation, “ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers,” seems like an exaggeration. We will see from our text it is not an exaggeration at all.

Now in Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar comes to have respect not only for Daniel but also for his God:

The king answered Daniel and said, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery” (Daniel 2:47).

Nebuchadnezzar has come a long way, but not yet far enough. He is hardly in the household of faith. In chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar acts on the basis of the revelation given to him in chapter 2, but in a way that is inconsistent with the message of his dream. If the king learned in Daniel 2 that the God of Israel is the giver of wisdom and revelation, he will learn from chapter 3 that He is also the God who delivers his people. In the last chapter of this unit, Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar bows before Him as the only true God (see Daniel 4:3,34-37).

Chapter 2 describes a significant step forward for the king of Babylon and also a step forward for Daniel and his three friends. If the wisdom of these young Hebrews is recognized in a general way in chapter 1, it is even more evident in the crisis of chapter 2. As a result of Daniel revealing the king’s dream and its meaning, he is elevated to a high level position in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom.

The meaning of his dream, of vital importance to Nebuchadnezzar, is also of great importance to us. What did the dream mean for Nebuchadnezzar and what is its meaning for us?

Guiding Principles for
the Interpretation of Daniel 2

Serious students of Scripture disagree over the interpretation of the king’s vision in chapter 2. Scholars do not agree concerning the nations and periods of time depicted here. How, then, are we to approach this chapter? What are the guiding principles for our interpretation?

First of all, we should remember this is prophecy. Until all of these prophecies are completely fulfilled, we will not understand them. Unfulfilled prophecies always cause us confusion, even as they confused the prophets who revealed them (see 1 Peter 1:10-12).

Second, when Daniel interpreted this dream to the king, he did not supply all the details. He did not identify the kingdoms or the kings (except for the first kingdom and Nebuchadnezzar himself). The interpretation and even the application of this dream did not require a complete understanding of the vision and all of its details. It only required a general, overall grasp of the dream and its meaning.

Third, we should seek to understand the dream and its interpretation in light of the way Daniel and the king understood it. Daniel’s words to the king are critical to the interpretation of the dream. Daniel’s own response to the dream, in verses 20-23, indicates his understanding of the dream. The king’s response to the revelation of the dream and its meaning, recorded in verse 47, tells us what the dream meant to him.

In this lesson, our approach to the king’s dream and its meaning will not focus on what Daniel, the king, or biblical scholars today find perplexing. We will try to grasp the dream and its meaning from that which Daniel and the king did understand. The meaning of the dream for Daniel and the king should be the same for us. Let us seek to walk in their steps, to learn what they learned, and then to apply this to our own lives, by God’s Spirit.

Dream Becomes a Nightmare

1 Now in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar,27 Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him. 2 Then the king gave orders to call in the magicians, the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans, to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. 3 And the king said to them, “I had a dream, and my spirit is anxious to understand the dream.” 4 Then the Chaldeans spoke to the king in Aramaic:28 “O king, live forever! Tell the dream to your servants, and we will declare the interpretation.” 5 The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, “The command from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you will be torn limb from limb, and your houses will be made a rubbish heap. 6 But if you declare the dream and its interpretation, you will receive from me gifts and a reward and great honor; therefore declare to me the dream and its interpretation.” 7 They answered a second time and said, “Let the king tell the dream to his servants, and we will declare the interpretation.” 8 The king answered and said, “I know for certain that you are bargaining for time, inasmuch as you have seen that the command from me is firm, 9 that if you do not make the dream known to me, there is only one decree for you. For you have agreed together to speak lying and corrupt words before me until the situation is changed; therefore tell me the dream, that I may know that you can declare to me its interpretation.” 10 The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who could declare the matter for the king, inasmuch as no great king or ruler has ever asked anything like this of any magician, conjurer or Chaldean. 11 Moreover, the thing which the king demands is difficult, and there is no one else who could declare it to the king except gods, whose dwelling place is not with mortal flesh.” 12 Because of this the king became indignant and very furious, and gave orders to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. 13 So the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain; and they looked for Daniel and his friends to kill them.

The dreams Nebuchadnezzar experienced in the night were God’s response to his thoughts as he waited for sleep to come:

“As for you, O king, while on your bed your thoughts turned to what would take place in the future; and He who reveals mysteries has made known to you what will take place” (Daniel 2:29).

The king was pondering what the future held. Through his dreams, God revealed the future and its implications.

It is possible, as some have suggested, that the king actually forgot the dreams, and that is why he demanded that his wise men tell the dream and then its interpretation. I think the king remembered his dream, but wanted to be certain of a genuine interpretation, not a fabrication. Anyone can “interpret” a dream; few indeed can tell you what your dream was. The king required both.

King Nebuchadnezzar was in a bad mood when he called his wise men. His dream troubled him so greatly he could not sleep afterward (2:1). Two things caused the king such distress over his dream. First, he believed his dream was very important. In his culture and religion, dreams were a means of revelation from the gods.29 He wanted to know what the gods were trying to tell him. Secondly, like the Pharaoh of Joseph’s day who did not understand his dream, there was an ominous sense that something was wrong. Because he lacked the interpretation of his dream, he did not know what was wrong, or what he should do about it.

A great sense of urgency arose when the king’s senior wise men gathered before him. After briefing them of the situation, he demanded they tell him his dream and its meaning. The assembled wise men, representing the various heathen methods for obtaining “divine guidance,” were unanimous about one thing: the king was being unreasonable in asking them to do the impossible. No king, they protested, had ever asked this of his counselors. They could promise an interpretation if he told them his dream, but he should not demand that they reveal his dream. This was beyond their ability and the ability of their gods.

Their response to the king not only reveals their impotence, but also that of their gods. It testifies to the futility of the heathen religions and introduces the God of Daniel, who can do what they and their gods cannot:

10 The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who could declare the matter for the king, inasmuch as no great king or ruler has ever asked anything like this of any magician, conjurer or Chaldean. 11 Moreover, the thing which the king demands is difficult, and there is no one else who could declare it to the king except gods, whose dwelling place is not with mortal flesh” (Daniel 2:10-11).

The king was now both frustrated and furious. He demanded all the wise men in Babylon be put to death. We are not sure whether the wise men were being killed as they were arrested, or whether they were all being rounded up for some kind of mass execution. It is uncertain whether any wise men actually died before Daniel spoke to the king. We do know, with certainty, that the king fully intended to kill every one of his wise men throughout the land. The process of execution was under way, whether or not any executions had actually occurred before Daniel took action.

At this point, the Jewish reader of the day would not be greatly distressed at the pronouncement of the death penalty for heathen wise men who worshipped and worked in the name of false gods. But in this instance, a strange and providential twist of fate takes place, putting Daniel and his three friends right in the middle of the crisis. Though the Hebrew youths were not among those whom the king summoned, they were nevertheless included among those sentenced to death.

To summarize the story up to this point, the situation looks dismal, if not disastrous, and by divine design. Only when things seem impossible is God’s hand undeniably present. The king’s demands were unreasonable because they were impossible, humanly speaking. Here at the point of impossibility, the powerlessness of the “gods” of the heathen became evident. The wise men who stood before Nebuchadnezzar confessed with their own lips that their gods could not accomplish what the king demanded. They even admitted that any “God” who could fulfill the king’s request would be a “God” of a different (higher) order.

I am reminded of the words of the magicians of Egypt, who were attempting to reproduce the miracles God accomplished by the hand of Moses. For a time, their “miracles” seemed like those of Moses (see Exodus 7:11-12, 22; 8:6-7). But there came a time when these magicians had to throw up their hands and confess that they had come to their limit:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, that it may become gnats through all the land of Egypt.’” And they did so; and Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff, and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats through all the land of Egypt. And the magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast. The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said (Exodus 8:16-19).

The “gods” of Egypt were no match for the God of Israel. Would Pharaoh ask who the God of Israel was, that he should obey His command?30 God would let him know, along with all of Egypt.31

God providentially orchestrated the events of Babylon so that the “gods,” along with all those who called on them, were shown to be worthless and powerless. At the same time, God created a situation in which His four servants would be in danger, and for whom He would prove to be their deliverer. Furthermore, in the midst of these circumstances, God would demonstrate that He could do what no other god could do—foretell history. All things are possible for God; there is no impossible situation. In situations which appear insurmountable, the faith of His saints grows strong, and His power and majesty is demonstrated to all. The crisis here is by divine design, as is every crisis involving the people and purposes of God.

The lesson for the kingdom of Judah, now captive, should be apparent. Assyria has captured and dispersed the tribes of Israel. Babylon has defeated Judah and taken the people captive. The temple and Jerusalem has been (or soon will be) destroyed. Chances for Israel’s recovery and restoration seem to have vanished, and Judah’s situation is humanly unalterable. Now God will show Himself able to do the impossible, in a way no one would have ever expected—through a heathen king (Cyrus) and a heathen kingdom (Persia).32

Daniel’s Discretion
and Nebuchadnezzar’s Delay

14 Then Daniel replied with discretion and discernment to Arioch, the captain of the king’s bodyguard, who had gone forth to slay the wise men of Babylon; 15 he answered and said to Arioch, the king’s commander, “For what reason is the decree from the king so urgent?” Then Arioch informed Daniel about the matter. 16 So Daniel went in and requested of the king that he would give him time, in order that he might declare the interpretation to the king.

Daniel was indeed a man of great wisdom which came from God, evident especially in times of crisis. Imagine being a highly regarded resident of Babylon, a part of Nebuchadnezzar’s government, and discovering there is a warrant out for your arrest. Worse yet, Daniel was marked for execution for something with which he had nothing to do. Did he know what was happening, or why?

Rather than reacting, Daniel approached Arioch, “with discretion and discernment,” asking the reason behind the haste and urgency of these recent events.33 Arioch, like Ashpenaz before him (see 1:9-10), showed kindness to Daniel by answering his questions.

Daniel, who did not initiate this crisis, did show initiative in responding to it. If something were not done, he and his three friends would soon die. Had Daniel ever interpreted a dream before? Whether he had or not, this incident displayed his divine gift. Daniel, like Joseph before him, was fully persuaded that what the king demanded, God was able to do, through those who called upon Him for mercy in time of need. On this basis, Daniel requested the king for time to discern the dream and its meaning in order to reveal it. The delay was granted.34

Revelation Requested
and Gratefully Received

17 Then Daniel went to his house and informed his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, about the matter, 18 in order that they might request compassion from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his friends might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven; 20 Daniel answered and said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. 21 And it is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men, and knowledge to men of understanding. 22 It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him. 23 To Thee, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for Thou hast given me wisdom and power; even now Thou hast made known to me what we requested of Thee, for Thou hast made known to us the king’s matter.” 24 Therefore, Daniel went in to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon; he went and spoke to him as follows: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon! Take me into the king’s presence, and I will declare the interpretation to the king.”

No evidence indicates Daniel wanted to be a hero. Daniel acted as he did because he was put “between a rock and a hard place.” He was forced to act. If he did not act, not only he, but his three Hebrew friends would die, along with all the other wise men of Babylon.

Daniel acted on faith. Once he understood the problem, he knew the solution. What was impossible for the wise men of Babylon was possible for the God of heaven, the God of Israel. God knew the future. More than this, God planned the future, in eternity past. Daniel had every confidence that the king’s dream not only came from God but would be revealed and interpreted to the king by God, if he and his friends but petitioned Him to do so.

Daniel hastened to his house, where he found his three friends. He told them what had happened in order that they might pray with him for God to have mercy on them and deliver them by revealing the dream and its message to Daniel.

As the dream came to Nebuchadnezzar in the night, so the dream and its meaning came to Daniel in a night vision (verse 19). Daniel’s response seems immediate. His prayer of praise reveals Daniel’s gratitude for receiving the answer to their prayers. It reveals more as well. Let us focus briefly on three dimensions of this prayer:

(1) What the king’s dream reveals about the superiority of God to the “gods” of Babylon;

(2) What the king’s dream reveals about God; and

(3) What the revelation of the dream and its meaning reveals about God’s love and care for His people.

First, Daniel’s praise focuses on the superiority of God to the “gods” of Babylon. Neither the wise men nor their gods could satisfy the king’s demands. They were too difficult for them. God revealed the dream and its meaning for the king. The God who answered the prayers of Daniel and his friends was the “God of heaven” (verse 19), the God about whom the wise men spoke but did not know. As opposed to the Babylonian gods, whose purposes and plans were determined by the stars and seasons, the God of heaven changes the times and epochs. (a point of time distinguished by a particular event or state of affairs; a memorable date: His coming of age was an epoch in his life.)35

Second, Daniel’s prayer gives insight into the message which God was giving to Nebuchadnezzar through his dream. As the king pondered the future, God informed him through his dream that the future is in God’s hands and is not determined by kings. Indeed, even the rise and fall of kings is the work of God and not men. Wisdom and power belong to God; and thus the king, who was looking to men, should have been looking to the God of Israel for wisdom.

Third, the dream demonstrated God’s care for His people Israel. The four young Hebrew captives, about to be put to death, prayed for mercy and deliverance. Their request was answered with the revelation of the king’s dream and its interpretation to Daniel. Even in captivity, God continues to care for His own.

Daniel Points Nebuchadnezzar to God

25 Then Arioch hurriedly brought Daniel into the king’s presence and spoke to him as follows: “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can make the interpretation known to the king!” 26 The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream which I have seen and its interpretation?” 27 Daniel answered before the king and said, “As for the mystery about which the king has inquired, neither wise men, conjurers, magicians, nor diviners are able to declare it to the king. 28 However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed. 29 As for you, O king, while on your bed your thoughts turned to what would take place in the future; and He who reveals mysteries has made known to you what will take place. 30 But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me for any wisdom residing in me more than in any other living man, but for the purpose of making the interpretation known to the king, and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind.”

What a contrast between Arioch and Daniel in these verses. Arioch is quick to take the credit for something he did not do. He attempts to claim the credit for finding someone who could interpret the king’s dream. Nothing could be further from the truth.36 He may have attempted to find Daniel to arrest him, but there is no indication that he did find him. Daniel may have sought him out. Arioch’s words to Nebuchadnezzar expose his attempt to use the situation to further himself.

Daniel would have far greater opportunity to claim some of the credit for what he was about to do, and thus to gain from the gift God had given to him. Instead, at the outset of his meeting with Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel clearly stated that it was God who determines and reveals the future, not men. Daniel, simply an instrument of God, faithfully pointed to God as the One who should be the object of the king’s trust praise.

Daniel reiterates what the wise men had already told the king. Neither wise men, conjurers, magicians, nor diviners were able to make this dream known to the king. It was impossible for them. It was also impossible for Daniel. It was only possible for God, who revealed the dream and its meaning to Daniel. The “God in heaven” of whom the wise men spoke (2:11) was Daniel’s God. He would make known to the king the dream and its meaning. God’s use of Daniel was due to grace, not because of any merit of Daniel on his own (Daniel 2:30).

Gone With the Wind:
Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream Revealed

31 “You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary splendor, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome. 32 The head of that statue was made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34 You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay, and crushed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”

The occasion for the king’s dream was very different from the occasion when God gave Daniel its content and as its meaning. Daniel and his friends prayed to the God of heaven, the God of Israel, knowing that He determined the future and that He alone could reveal it to men. The king did not pray at all, and certainly not to the God of the Jews. He simply pondered the future. Surely this king was not thinking hypothetically. He must have been wondering what the future held for him. God knew his thoughts and gave him a dream which answered his inner questions.

How the king must have eagerly awaited this time when his dream might be revealed to him, when he would be assured that the interpretation was genuine! In the king’s dream, what he visualized was a great statue of unusual splendor. It had a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, a bronze belly, and legs of iron, with its feet a mixture of clay and iron.

It was not the statue which distressed the king so much as what happened to it as his dream continued. A stone was mysteriously cut out, fashioned without human hands. Striking the statue on its feet, the entire image fell, disintegrating into dust. The winds blew every trace of the statue away as though it never existed. The stone, on the other hand, became a great mountain which filled the whole earth.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream Interpreted

36 “This was the dream; now we shall tell its interpretation before the king. 37 You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength, and the glory; 38 and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold. 39 And after you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth. 40 Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces. 41 And in that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery, so some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle. 43 And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery. 44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. 45 Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true, and its interpretation is trustworthy.”

That was it! That was the dream. Daniel’s description exactly matched the king’s vision. Now it was time for Daniel to tell the king what it all meant. The one statue was a composite, so to speak, of the kingdoms of the Gentiles, beginning with that of Nebuchadnezzar, and continuing through history. Nebuchadnezzar was the head of fine gold, an indication of the superiority of his kingdom to those which followed. Nebuchadnezzar was indeed a great king, but his power, strength, and glory were all from God.37 The extent of his rule (2:38) sounds much like the rule which God gave to Adam and Eve, in the beginning (Genesis 1:26).

After Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, three others would follow. Almost nothing is said of the second and third kingdoms, except for one thing: they will become progressively inferior to the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar. A great deal is said of the fourth (and last) kingdom; more attention is given it than all the rest, which is most interesting because it was the farthest removed from the days of Nebuchadnezzar. Why should this kingdom receive such attention in the interpretation?

I think it is because this is the kingdom struck by the stone; it is the kingdom whose fall topples the entire statue, rendering it virtually non-existent in the end. This kingdom, while it receives much attention from Daniel, is not named, nor are all the details pertaining to it explained. The only detail is that the mixture of iron and clay, which weakens the statue, is that of a racial intermingling (Daniel 2:43).

When this final kingdom comes to power, the end is near. The final days will fulfill the details of this prophecy. The end of this kingdom is brought about by the mysterious “stone made without hands” —the stone which brings about a new, eternal kingdom.

King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his faceDaniel ends the interpretation by informing Nebuchadnezzar that the vision was from God, indicating to him what would take place in the future. The matter was certain,38 and the interpretation reliable.

Before we consider the response of Nebuchadnezzar to Daniel’s words, let us summarize some important observations concerning the statue:

(1) There is a unity, a bond between the four kingdoms, as indicated by the vision. There is one statue, but four distinct kingdoms. Somehow these four kingdoms are related or share something in common. The common element seems to be that these were all Gentile kingdoms, kingdoms which subjugated and dominated the nation Israel.

(2) There is a downward progression, a deterioration of the kingdoms. The head of gold is glorious, the breast of silver of a lesser greatness. The belly of brass deteriorates to legs of iron and feet which are a mixture of iron and clay.39 Things don’t get better, only worse.

(3) There is, in the end, a disintegration of the entire statue. Granted Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was great, but when the stone strikes the feet of the statue, the entire statue collapses, disintegrates, and blows away. In the end, the greatness of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom (not to mention all the rest) is blown away. Somehow Nebuchadnezzar is to see the link between his kingdom and the other three, and to see that he shares in the final destiny of the entire statue.

(4) There is an unknown, mysterious “king,” who destroys the entire statue, who nullifies all of these kingdoms, bringing them to nothing while establishing his own kingdom.

(5) The kingdoms of Nebuchadnezzar and those who follow him pass away, and a greater, eternal kingdom does not.

(6) Greater emphasis is on the first and fourth kingdoms than on the rest. The first kingdom is given attention because Nebuchadnezzar is the king. The fourth kingdom receives more emphasis than the other three, I believe, because it is the final kingdom which will be struck down by Messiah at His appearance and bring the others to nought.

(7) Much in this vision is not interpreted or explained, which neither Daniel nor Nebuchadnezzar seem to have understood. In this vision, none of the kingdoms or kings are identified, except the first kingdom (Babylon) and its king (Nebuchadnezzar). What was not interpreted did not need to be known by Daniel or the king. The meaning and interpretation of these mysterious details will be evident when they are fulfilled.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Response Recorded

46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face and did homage to Daniel, and gave orders to present to him an offering and fragrant incense. 47 The king answered Daniel and said, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.” 48 Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 And Daniel made request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego over the administration of the province of Babylon, while Daniel was at the king’s court.

The response of Nebuchadnezzar is truly amazing. Imagine Sadam Hussein, falling before a Jewish Christian, acknowledging the God of Israel as the only true God, and falling prostrate before one of His servants. Nebuchadnezzar was a much greater man, in power and in reputation.

In chapter 1, the king thought of the God of Israel as a lesser “god,” as one defeated by his “gods” (see 1:1-2). He seems to have cared little about Daniel’s God, or about Daniel’s convictions. He is impressed only by Daniel’s superior performance (1:18-20). But now, in light of the events of chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar falls prostrate, acknowledging the superiority of the God of Israel as the “God of gods,” “Lord of kings,” and a “revealer of mysteries.” Nebuchadnezzar has not yet come far enough to be called a saint, but he has come a long way in his understanding of the God of Israel.

Nebuchadnezzar was a man of his word. He gave Daniel many gifts, just as he promised the wise men, if they would but tell him his dream and its meaning (see 2:6). Along with the gifts, Daniel received a promotion. He was made ruler of the entire province of Babylon and placed in charge of all the wise men of Babylon. Here was something for the wise men of Babylon to ponder. Their gods had nearly gotten them killed. Daniel’s God had saved their lives.

While Arioch attempted to use Daniel’s God-given gifts and abilities to further his own position, Daniel used his newly gained standing with Nebuchadnezzar to further his three friends. He spoke to the king on their behalf, and they were appointed with charge of the whole province of Babylon during the time Daniel was at the king’s court.


Before we focus our attention on the central theme and message of the king’s vision, consider three secondary lessons which we can learn from our text.

(1) Our text contributes to our understanding of spiritual leadership. Daniel did not seek prominence. He did not set his sights on spiritual leadership. He sought to be faithful to His God and to his calling. It was only when he was put “between a rock and a hard place” that he stepped forward. It is often in the crisis situations of life that leaders emerge. So it was with Daniel. He was, in a sense, forced to lead. Had he not acted as he did (humanly speaking), he and his three friends would have died. Daniel’s leadership came about when he acted out of necessity and out of faith, in a way that set him apart from the rest. This seems to be the way most of the leaders in the Bible were set apart.

(2) Impossible situations expose the futility of human wisdom and power and of false gods and religions. At the same time, they provide the setting for which the power and wisdom of God to be undeniably demonstrated. God brought about the crisis of Daniel 2. In so doing, He showed the wise men of this world to be unwise, and by testimony of their own lips showed their gods powerless. God’s power was so evident through the faith of Daniel and his friends that the king fell before this man and his God.

(3) Evangelism is the work of God, brought about by the workings of the Spirit of God. I am greatly impressed by what Daniel could have said, but did not. Daniel told the king his dream and its meaning. He did not tell the king what to do about the message God had revealed to him. He did not press the king to “close” the matter of his faith in God. The events of chapter 2 brought Nebuchadnezzar a long way from where he had been, but he was not yet ready to profess his faith in this God. All too often Christians are telling others what to do, when they should be concentrating on the proclamation and interpretation of God’s Word, trusting in the Holy Spirit to prompt men to take action as He guides them.

There are times when God does give clear application. Joseph not only interpreted the Pharaoh’s dreams, but then went on to recommend a specific plan of action. This was in order to preserve men from starvation, and especially to save the nation Israel. But often we make applications where God has not. Let us be careful not to rush beyond biblical revelation. The Holy Spirit knows better how to apply the Word of God than we do.

The major thrust of the king’s dream, as revealed and interpreted in Daniel 2, is so obvious we almost miss it. I fear that we usually miss this “camel” because we are too busy looking at the “gnats.” The lesson for the king can be summed up in these words:


Nebuchadnezzar lay on his bed that eventful night, thinking about what the future held. No doubt his thoughts were focused on his reputation, his role in changing the course of history, and especially on his glory and fame. How humbling was the message of his dream!

His kingdom did have fame and glory. He was the head of gold. But his kingdom would pass, only to be replaced by another, and then another and another. In the end, One was coming who would put an end to all human kingdoms and establish a kingdom that was eternal. “Gone With the Wind” —that was the message of this king’s dream and the way it is with all human glory and power and works.

If the king wanted to be a part of a kingdom filled with glory, which lasted forever, he must “look to the rock” of his vision. It is not the head of gold, nor the breast of silver, nor even the entire statue which is glorious and eternal, but the stone. The stone brings the destruction of the statue and the creation of an everlasting kingdom.

Throughout the New Testament, our Lord taught the people of His day the same lesson God was teaching Nebuchadnezzar through his dream. Jesus warned men that the kingdoms of the world would pass away and that they should set their hearts and minds on the kingdom of God, which He had come to establish. He is the stone “fashioned without hands” (see Luke 1:35). He is the One whose kingdom is eternal and glorious.

Nebuchadnezzar was thinking of his empire. God instructed him in his dreams to submit to a great King and to be a part of an eternal empire, an eternal kingdom. Jesus is that King, and the kingdom of Heaven is the empire. Those who trust in Him have not only obtained immortality, but salvation, eternal life, glory, and peace. May we, like Nebuchadnezzar, turn from our own earthly empires to the heavenly empire of God.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love him.” For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God (1 Corinthians 2:6-10).

According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

Chapter 2:
Questions and Answers

(1) How do we go about interpreting the prophecies of Daniel 2, knowing there is so much disagreement among Bible scholars in their interpretations?

The words of Deuteronomy 29:29 should serve as our guide: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”

Disagreement between sound, serious Bible scholars is most often found in areas unclear or dogmatic. I believe that there is much about prophecy we are not supposed to understand. This was true even of the prophets themselves (see 1 Peter 1:10-12). Our main responsibility is to focus on what God has made clear to us, to believe it, and to act upon it in faith.

We should approach the prophecies of Daniel 2 in light of what God has told us through Daniel. We should understand what he understood, what he explained to Nebuchadnezzar, and what Nebuchadnezzar therefore came to understand himself. We should pay attention the main points, and not the unexplained details.

(2) What events lead up to Daniel telling the king what his vision was, and its meaning?

King Nebuchadnezzar had gone to bed and was thinking about the future (verse 29). God gave the king dreams that night which informed him about the future and about his attitude toward it. These dreams were distressing to him, especially since he did not know what they meant. He was not able to sleep the rest of the night. When he got up, he summoned some of his leading wise men and demanded from them that they tell him his dream and its meaning. They protested that this was unreasonable, requiring more wisdom and greater gods than Babylon had to offer. The king was furious and ordered all the wise men of Babylon to be put to death. This order included Daniel and his three friends. After learning from Arioch what the problem was, Daniel went before the king and asked for time to learn the dream and its meaning. He and his friends then prayed to the God of Israel for mercy, by giving Daniel the dream and its meaning. God answered their prayers by revealing these things to Daniel. Daniel went to Arioch and then the king, to tell him what God had revealed to him in his dream.

(3) How and why does Daniel end up in a position of power and honor?

Daniel did not seek the prominence, honor, or position which he gained as a result of the events of chapter 2. Daniel and his three friends, through no fault of their own, fell under the death sentence pronounced by the king on all the wise men of the land. This prompted Daniel to seek out the king, and to assure him that he could reveal the dream and its meaning, because his God was the God who controlled and foretold future events. Daniel was careful not to take credit for his God-given ability, but in spite of this Nebuchadnezzar gratefully rewarded him with gifts and a high position for himself, and also a promotion for his three friends (at Daniel’s request).

(4) What was the vision which the king saw in the night?

Nebuchadnezzar saw a great and awesome statue. Its head was made of gold; its chest and arms were silver; its belly was bronze; its legs were iron, and its feet were a mixture of iron and clay. As Nebuchadnezzar looked on with amazement, a stone (shaped without human hands) was fashioned and struck the image on its feet. The image did not merely topple, it disintegrated, and the wind blew its dust away, so that there was nothing left of the statue. The stone, on the other hand, became a great mountain.

(5) What was the interpretation of the vision?

The statue was a representation of the Gentile kingdoms, from Babylon to the time of the coming of Christ. Nebuchadnezzar was the first kingdom, the head of gold. Three other kingdoms would follow. The second and third kingdoms are barely discussed. Each kingdom seems to be of decreasing value (begining with gold and ending with iron and clay). The final kingdom is overthrown by the “stone” (Christ), and establishes an eternal kingdom in its place.

(6) What is the meaning of the vision?

Essentially, God is warning Nebuchadnezzar against pride and preoccupation with his own kingdom, or with earthly kingdoms in general. Gentile kingdoms will, in the end, be done away with and their glory will be forgotten. The “king” who should gain our attention and our worship is the Messiah. He will, at His coming, put down earthly kings and kingdoms, and establish His eternal kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar should set his mind not on earthly things, but on heavenly things.

(7) What is the meaning of this vision for us?

It is exactly the same as it was for Nebuchadnezzar. As our Lord taught, we should not lay up treasures on earth, but rather in heaven. We should not focus on the temporal, but on the eternal. We should not dwell on ourselves, and our glory, but on God and His glory.

(8) What change occurs in Nebuchadnezzar as a result of this vision and its interpretation?

Significant changes occurred in the attitudes and actions of Nebuchadnezzar. From one who worshipped his own Babylonian gods as superior to the God of Israel, this king now acknowledged Him as superior to his gods. He greatly honored Daniel and his friends and promoted them to high level positions. But he was not yet what we would call a true believer. This will not come until chapter 4. The events of chapter 3 reveal to us that he did not yet “get the message” fully.


26 How much greater God is than these wise men could even imagine. He is a God who “dwells in heaven” (2:28), but He would also be the God who dwells in human flesh (Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 1:21-23; 1 John 1:1-4).

27 Some critics make a great deal that here we are told it was the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, contending this contradicts the reference in Dan. 1 to a three year training period (1:5). Several answers can be given. First, fractions of a year may be counted as an entire year in Hebrew usage. Second, Daniel and his friends may have commenced their training before Nebuchadnezzar formally became king.

I see no real problem in the first place. In Dan. 1, we were told that Daniel had the ability to understand and interpret dreams and visions (1:17). The incident in chapter 2 may have occurred before the training of Daniel and the others was completed. Daniel’s actions, described in chapter 2, may be the occasion when Daniel discovered his God-given ability to interpret dreams. This may also have been the incident which called the king’s attention to the vastly superior wisdom of Daniel and his friends. Too much has been made here of too little, as is the way with the critics, who strain the gnats and swallow the camels of Scripture (see Matt. 23:23-24).

28 At this point, the language changes from Hebrew, the language of the Jews, to Aramaic, the language of the Babylonians. There is no structural explanation for the change in language. The Hebrew language does not end at the close of one division and the Aramaic begin at a new division. You can, at best, find a paragraph break at verse 4, but this is at the beginning of the verse and the language changes to Aramaic in the middle of the verse.

The change in language occurs at a point of great interest in the story of king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream–when king Nebuchadnezzar demands that his wise men tell his dream and explain its meaning or be put to death. Abruptly the language changes so the Jewish reader, who knows only Hebrew, cannot follow to the story’s conclusion. What happened? A Hebrew could find out how the story ends only by learning Aramaic (which would be very humbling for a Jewish captive), or by asking a foreigner who knows Aramaic.

There is a message here for the Jews, in this change from Hebrew to Aramaic. God is reminding the Jews of their captivity, and thus of their sin and divine judgment (see, for example, Isaiah 28:11). He may be encouraging them to learn Aramaic. Although He had always spoken to the Jews in their own (Hebrew) tongue, God is now revealing Himself to the Gentiles through a Gentile tongue. (Remember that the New Testament was written in Greek.) This change in language is but another painful reminder to the nation Israel that the times of the Gentiles has begun.

29 The dreams of Pharaoh, as recorded in Genesis 41, are similar. While Daniel was a “prophet,” he was not a typical prophet, like those who stood before Israel and spoke to men for God. His calling was like that which Joseph had with the Pharaoh in Egypt. Daniel was a prophet especially equipped to speak for God to a Babylonian king. Since this king believed that the “gods” spoke to men through dreams, God spoke to him through dreams, and sent his “prophet” Daniel to interpret these dreams. God revealed the future to this king in the way he was most inclined to recognize as a word from God.

30 Exodus 5:2.

31 Exodus 7:5.

32 Ezra 1:1-4.

33 Daniel asked God to supernaturally reveal what men did not and could not know, but he asked men like Arioch what he did know. God gave Daniel favor with Arioch so that he was willing to tell him what he needed to know.

34 The king reveals unusual confidence in Daniel here. While he would grant no delay to the wise men (2:8-9), he did grant time to Daniel.

35 I think this expression, “times and epochs” is broad enough to include the various “dispensations.” The God of heaven is the One who brings about the “times of the Gentiles.”

36 There is actually no evidence that Arioch ever found Daniel, as he claims. While we might assume Arioch found Daniel to arrest him, this may not have been the case at all. Daniel’s friends were at his home, where he later joined them. Since his friends needed to be filled in on what was happening (2:17), it seems likely that Daniel was not at home, to be found or arrested, but that somehow he learned of the order to arrest all the wise men. I think Daniel sought out Arioch to find out what was happening. This would mean that Arioch did not really “find” Daniel in the first place. We know from verse 24 that Daniel “went in to Arioch.” In Arioch’s behalf, it should be pointed out that he had great faith in Daniel. By taking credit for finding Daniel and claiming he could meet the king’s demands, Arioch might benefit from Daniel’s success, but he also stood to suffer with Daniel if he failed. Arioch linked his fate with Daniel’s. The executioner could have been executed if Daniel was not able to tell the dream and its meaning.

37 Note that wisdom is not included here as a description of Nebuchadnezzar, as it is linked with power in Daniel’s prayer in verse 20.

38 In the beginning (verse 1) of this chapter, we were told that the king had dreams (plural), not just a dream (singular). Nebuchadnezzar, much like the Pharaoh of Joseph’s day, may have had more than one dream. Phaoah’s dreams were similar in nature and identical in meaning (see Genesis 41:1-8). Joseph pointed out to Pharaoh that since there were two dreams, the matter was determined and irreversible (Genesis 41:32). It may have been very much the same with Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. Daniel’s words suggest this could be the case.

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Filed under Daily Biblical Studies for the Soul Text, Studies in The Book of Daniel

Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Daniel 1:3-21)

Texans have an expression for being in a difficult situation. They call it “being between a rock and a hard place.” That is an appropriate title for this message because Daniel seems to be caught in the middle between God and Nebuchadnezzar. If Daniel were to follow exactly the plans Nebuchadnezzar had for the Hebrew captives, he would defile himself and displease God. If Daniel simply refused to do what Nebuchadnezzar expected, he would be in trouble with the king who had taken him captive.

This is not the only time in Daniel where we will find tension between pleasing God and pleasing those in authority. In chapter 3 Daniel’s three friends must choose between bowing down to the king’s image and being thrown into the fiery furnace. In Daniel 6, Daniel’s choice is between forsaking his prayers and facing the lions.

The dilemma Daniel faces in chapter 1 is different from that found in Daniel 3 and 6. In these latter chapters, the issue is: Pleasing God OR Pleasing men.

In chapter 1, Daniel and his friends face the opportunity for: Pleasing God AND Pleasing men.

The task at hand was not an easy one. For Daniel and his friends, it would require commitment and perseverance. Beyond that, it would require divine strength and intervention and certainly supernatural motivation. Daniel and his three friends did not do “what comes naturally” in this chapter. They did “what comes supernaturally,” to the glory of God.

Think for a moment how a person like Daniel could have felt toward God and toward government, because of what had happened to him. From what little we are told of Daniel’s early childhood (see Daniel 1:1-2), we can surmise that he grew up in Judah, perhaps in the city of Jerusalem. He was likely born of parents high in the social rankings of Judah, maybe even of royal blood (Daniel 1:3). Daniel’s life dramatically changed for the worse (or so it seemed), through no fault of his own.

Long before Daniel’s day, the united kingdom of Israel once ruled by Saul, David, and finally Solomon, divided into two nations. The northern kingdom, known as Israel (sometimes called “Ephraim” by the prophets) was consistently wicked, worshipping idols and forsaking the law of God. The southern kingdom, known as Judah, was often wicked, too, but had times of repentance and revival.

The prophets of God warned of future judgment against Israel if she did not repent from her wicked ways. Israel did not listen, and God’s judgment came upon this wayward nation in the form of defeat and dispersion by the Assyrians.

Assyria was eager to extend her empire by adding the southern kingdom of Judah to her conquests, but God intervened, sparing Judah from the hand of the Assyrians. God pointed to the fall of Israel at the hand of the Assyrians as an object lesson for wayward Judah. He warned of a similar fate for Judah at the hand of the nation of Babylon. Judah refused to heed these warnings, so captivity came upon the southern kingdom as well.

Daniel, along with a number of other Hebrew youths, were part of the first wave of captives held hostage in Babylon. Several attacks on Jerusalem would follow, with many Hebrews deported to Babylon to spend 70 years in captivity. As were others, Daniel was torn from his native land, his family, and his friends, so far as we know, never seeing his homeland again. It is even possible, since Daniel is called a eunuch, castration was a part of his humiliation as a Hebrew hostage.

How easy it would have been for Daniel to become bitter toward Babylon, toward his own people [after all, Israel’s sin brought on God’s judgment], and even toward God [God gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:2)]! We are not told about the attitudes and actions of any of the other Hebrew hostages, but it is probably safe to assume they did not respond the way Daniel and his friends did.

The first chapter is critical to our understanding of the entire Book of Daniel, providing the historical setting for the entire book, and especially revealing the mind set of Daniel and his three friends. It explains, in part, the reasons for Daniel’s rise to a position of great influence in the Babylonian government.

Chapter 1 introduces Nebuchadnezzar, the king under whom Daniel serves in chapters 1-4, as being impressed with Daniel and his friends because of their wisdom. As the book proceeds, the king begins to understand that their wisdom is from God. In Daniel 1, Nebuchadnezzar places the articles he took from the temple in Jerusalem, the “house of God,” into the house of his god supposing that his “god” is greater than the God of the Jews. By chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar is humbling himself in worship and praise before the God of the Jews, acknowledging Him to be the God of the universe—God alone.

Daniel 1 presents those who live in the “times of the Gentiles,” whether Jew or Gentile, with the ideal, the goal for which every Christian should strive—pleasing God and pleasing men. Daniel and his friends are the “ideal Jews” who did what the Jews as a nation did not do. They refused to defile things the Jews persistently practiced. In our text, Daniel and his friends provide us with a model of biblical submission, primarily a submission to God, but also a submission to those under whose authority God has placed us.

Chapter 1 instructs us in holiness. Daniel and his friends knew where and how to “draw the line” between what was defiling and what was not. We who desire to live godly lives will find much to gain from the example of Daniel and his friends, as revealed in this great text of scripture.

Finally, our text establishes a connection between godliness and wisdom. As a result of their actions, Daniel and his three friends are given wisdom which far surpasses that of all others in Babylon, whether Jew or Gentile. Our text has much to say to us about the source of true wisdom. Let those who would be wise learn from Daniel and his friends and listen well to what the Spirit of God has to teach us, through these men, about godly living in an ungodly world.

Historical Background

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; 19 and he brought them to the land of Shinar, 20 to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.

The defeat of Jehoiakim and the capture of Jerusalem and Judah should have come as no surprise. For a long time, Judah had been warned of divine judgment at the hand of Babylon.

Therefore thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am about to give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall take it. And the Chaldeans who are fighting against this city shall enter and set this city on fire and burn it, with the houses where people have offered incense to Baal on their roofs and poured out libations to other gods to provoke Me to anger. Indeed the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah have been doing only evil in My sight from their youth; for the sons of Israel have been only provoking Me to anger by the work of their hands,” declares the Lord. “Indeed this city has been to Me a provocation of My anger and My wrath from the day that they built it, even to this day, that it should be removed from before My face, because of all the evil of the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah, which they have done to provoke Me to anger—they, their kings, their leaders, their priests, their prophets, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 32:26-32).

Over a century before Nebuchadnezzar marched on Jerusalem and Judah, the circumstances of this divine judgment are announced by Isaiah to King Hezekiah:

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts, ‘Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and all that your fathers have laid up in store to this day shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,’ says the Lord. ‘And some of your sons who shall issue from you, whom you shall beget, shall be taken away; and they shall become officials in the palace of the king of Babylon’” (Isaiah 39:5-7).

Judah’s captivity was a divine judgment for the sins of this nation. Daniel’s prayer, recorded in chapter 9, reveals his grasp of this fact. Daniel was fully convinced that it was God who gave Jehoiakim king of Judah, into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. It was this knowledge which enabled Daniel to deal with his own circumstances in the godly manner evident throughout the Book of Daniel.

The Setting

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding, and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. And the king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service. Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach, and to Azariah Abednego.

Nebuchadnezzar’s empire was rapidly expanding. He needed men of great ability to fill positions of power and responsibility in his administration. He instituted a plan which would identify the most gifted and skillful Hebrew captives available and prepare them for positions of responsibility. Daniel and his Hebrew peers were the “cream of the crop” in Judea. Nebuchadnezzar knew this well. This, in fact, is why these young men were taken captive to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar set about a carefully planned course of education.

Ashpenaz, placed in charge of this training project, was to select the finest and most qualified candidates from among the Hebrew captives. Those selected had to be physically and mentally flawless, as well as highly trained and proficient in a broad range of knowledge and skills. They were to be the most promising candidates for court service that could be found.

These men would require further education, for which the king made provision. I do not understand from our text that the king was attempting to brainwash the Hebrew captives. Those selected were already highly trained and knowledgeable. Their schooling had already been virtually completed before their captivity. What they did need, in order to serve in the court of the king of Babylon, was to speak, to read and to write in Aramaic, the language of that land. They needed language school. As I perceive verse 4, this is precisely of what their education was to consist. No doubt the study of Chaldean literature would involve the religion and culture of Babylon, but the principle purpose of their schooling was not to tempt these youths to forsake their culture or religion as much as it was to equip them to serve in the administration of a Babylonian king.

Those who find brainwashing seem to read too much into the text and do not take the text’s words literally enough. They also fail to understand the mindset of the polytheist, the person who believes in many gods. The polytheist is not troubled or offended that someone may believe in gods other than his own. In fact, the polytheist is often more than willing to consider adding the gods of others to his own gods. The only thing which greatly offends the polytheist is exclusionism, believing their God is the only God. We should not be surprised that the sailors on board that sinking ship with Jonah, urged him to call out to his own gods, even though not their own:

“Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish” (Jonah 1:6).

The Assyrians sought to strip the Israelites of the northern kingdom (and the others whom they captured) of their religion and culture. The Babylonians were content to allow their captives to worship their gods and practice their religion, so long as it did not challenge the religion at Babylon. Later on, the Persian king Cyrus would go so far as to assist the Jews in reestablishing their religion, even to rebuilding the temple.

I believe that Nebuchadnezzar operated his empire on the premise that the broadest possible representation of skills, cultures, and religions strengthened his rule rather than weakened it. Diversity was not a liability to him, but an asset. This may be why there are so many types of wise men (magicians, conjurers, sorcerers, and Chaldeans—see Daniel 2:2) in the service of Nebuchadnezzar.

Nebuchadnezzar also provided those being schooled with food from his own table. I am not convinced that Nebuchadnezzar had any intention of offending any who ate of his food, or of being the cause of their defilement. To eat food from the king’s table was an honor and a privilege. It was the finest food available. Joseph, for example, honored his brothers by feeding them from the food at his table (Genesis 43:34). David provided a place at his table for Mephibosheth, the son of his friend Jonathan (2 Samuel 9). This was no cafeteria food like we ate in our college days. The Hebrew captives were given the opportunity to eat gourmet food at every meal.

In addition to the schooling Nebuchadnezzar provided for the Hebrew captives, he provided each of them with a new name. Much has been made of both the Hebrew and Babylonian meanings of their names, which has been and will be discussed further later.

Avoiding Defilement Without Offense

Any of the following four points in Nebuchadnezzar’s program for the Hebrew captives could have posed a problem for Daniel and his friends:

(1) Exchanging their Hebrew names for Gentile names.

(2) Attending a Babylonian school.

(3) Participating in the government of a Gentile nation which had no fear of God, which worshipped heathen gods, and which had overcome the southern kingdom of Judah.

(4) Eating food which was served at the king’s table.

From our text, we find three of these associations with Babylon posed no problem for Daniel and his friends. Only one of these four areas—that of eating the food served at the king’s table—was considered defiling. Why was eating the king’s food defiling, while the other associations were not? What distinguished this one area from the other three? Let us briefly consider each of these four areas and seek to learn why Daniel and his friends distinguished the one area from the other three.


No doubt the Hebrew names of Daniel and his friends may have been offensive to the king and other Babylonians. While all their Hebrew names point to the God of Israel, their Babylonian names appear to refer to the heathen gods of Babylon. Why, then, would the giving of a Babylonian name not be considered defiling?

(1) In the first place, the Babylonian names were not a matter of choice for either Daniel or his three friends. We know that the names we are called are not a matter of our choice, or even our preference. The king (not to mention anyone else) could call Daniel whatever he wanted.

(2) Likely Daniel was aware of an Old Testament precedent for a heathen king giving a new (foreign) name to a Hebrew in his service. Pharaoh gave Joseph the name “Zaphenath-paneah” (Genesis 41:45). Joseph did not reject this name, nor is there even so much as a hint that God considered the name defiling to Joseph.

(3) In the Old Testament Scriptures, name-giving was most significant when God gave the name. In some cases, God gave a person’s name before or at the time of birth. This was the case with the Lord Jesus (Luke 1:31). Also God changed the names of some individuals. He changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and that of Sarai, his wife, to Sarah (see Genesis 17:4-5, 15). The change of a person’s name had to do with a change God was bringing about in their destiny. Since only God can change a person’s destiny, it is only His name-giving that is of the greatest significance.

Think about this in the context of the Book of Daniel. To name someone or something, or to change ones name, is to claim authority over the one named. Adam, who was placed in authority over all the creatures in the garden, including his wife, gave each of them names (Genesis 2:20, 23). When the commander who was placed over Daniel and the other Hebrews changed their names, he was expressing his authority (and thus that of Babylon) over them. As later events in the Book of Daniel will reveal, the king himself will fall before Daniel and acknowledge the power of his God. The “claim” implied in the new name is a claim which the Babylonian potentate will later renounce. The renaming of the four Hebrews is therefore shown to be inconsequential, because these men belonged to God and were under His authority and control.


We know that the Babylonians were heathens. They did not worship the God of Israel; they worshipped pagan gods. It is unlikely that the Hebrews would attend a Babylonian school for three years without hearing some things contrary to the scriptures and to the faith of these young men. Was attending a pagan school not a defilement for Daniel? According to our text, neither he nor his friends thought so. Why? Let me suggest several possibilities.

In the first place, the purpose of the Babylonian education was not to brainwash the Hebrew captives, in my opinion, but to teach them to speak, read and write Aramaic, the language of the land. As polytheists, the Babylonians were not threatened by differing religions or other gods.

Second, education, even a secular education, is not intrinsically evil. Education is not to brainwash but communicate ideas. The student is not compelled to agree, or to believe what he is taught.

Third, these young men were not highly impressionable children who would unquestioningly accept anything they had been taught. These were well-taught men grounded in the Old Testament scriptures. Daniel is certainly familiar with the prophecy of Jeremiah at least, and probably much more (see Daniel 9:1-19). They had the Old Testament scriptures as the standard by which to judge all they were being taught, and they evidenced the courage to stand on their own.

Had these four Hebrew youths been required to attend a Babylonian preschool, it might have been a different matter.