A Study of Daniel 2:1-28
Introduction: Cornell University recently conducted a survey of elderly Americans about their biggest regret, and the professor who conducted the study was astounded by the results. He had expected people to talk about things like, maybe an affair they had gotten involved in, or a shady business deal, or some addictive issue. But by far the biggest item he repeatedly heard was: “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time worrying. I regret that I have worried so much about everything.”[i] It’s hard not to worry; even kings have problems as we learn in Daniel 2. We can make four observations from this passage:
1. The Plague of Crippling Anxiety (v. 1). Nebopolassar liberated Babylonia from Assyria and set up an independent dynasty, which he bequeathed to his son, Nebuchadnezzar II, who become the most powerful ruler of his time and spent vast amounts of money beautifying his capital city of Babylon. He had lots of time—his reign covered over forty years—and he didn’t travel very much. He primarily stayed at home working on his capital. He made it the most magnificent metropolis of antiquity. Herodotus said the wall around Babylon was 56 miles around and was so thick a race could be run on the top of it with four chariots. Nearly everything was made of bricks, and the bricks were pained or covered with enameled tiles of brilliant blue, yellow, and white, all stamped with Nebuchadnezzar’s name. In the city of the city was a great ziggurat rising up 650 feet into the sky, taller than the pyramids of Egypt. Near the ziggurat was the giant Temple of Marduk, and around the temple spread out the city, often in wide and brilliant avenues, crossed by crowded streets and filled with humanity. The main boulevard was flanked with 120 brightly enameled lions. Punctuating the skyline of the city were Nebuchadnezzar’s three enormous palaces. (It’s possible the famous hanging gardens were located here, although that tradition is currently up for grabs among archaeologists). Babylonian civilization reached its zenith under Nebuchadnezzar. There was an explosion of architecture, of course, along with painting, sculpture, and so forth. Ditto for literature and learning. The Babylonians were famous for their mathematics, astronomy, and calendar development. Advancements took place in medicine and the sciences and philosophy.[ii] Yet as we get to know Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2, we find a man so anxious that he’s having nightmares. History is full of examples of leaders who, behind closed doors, suffered breakdowns from the stress—Stalin, when Hitler invaded; Yitzhak Rabin, at the most crucial moment of the Six-Day War. If kings battle stress, it’s no wonder if we do too.
2. The Danger of Defective Thinking (verses 2-11). Nebuchadnezzar turned to the Magi, to the intelligentsia, but their advice was based on unsounding thinking because they had a fatal flaw in their philosophy—an inadequate view of God. They viewed God is inapproachable and far removed, saying, “Now one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans” (v. 11). As we read that sentence, we can’t help but think of our Sunday morning studies of John’s Gospel, and to that matchless prologue that says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us” (John 1:1, 14). The only true answer of stress, worry, and anxiety is spiritual—it involves God. And it involves a God who is near, who is among us, with whom and in whom we can abide. If a person doesn’t realize that, there is no true answer for the stresses of life.
3. The Wisdom of Steady Reactions (v. 12-16). Daniel’s leadership is seen in his unwillingness to panic, even though it appeared he and his friends would be executed along with all the Magi of Babylon. He spoke calmly, with wisdom and tact, and he asked for time. See Exodus 14:13; Isaiah 7:4; and Matthew 8:26.
4. The Power of Praying Friends (v. 17-28). Going back to his house, Daniel explained the matter to his friends. Nothing is more powerful than a handful of friends who pray together. Here were four Jewish young men, exiles, virtual slaves. But their prayers changed the flow of history. I have a friend I deeply appreciate whose name is Elmer Towns—a leader in Christian education for many years. He is co-founder of Liberty University, and the list of his accomplishments is remarkable. Recently I read his personal testimony of his conversion, and I was delighted to read it because it had to do with my alma mater, Columbia International University. There were twin brothers named Billy and Bert Harding, who were students at CIU, but who also preached weekends at a Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia. When these brothers were in Savannah, they held a three-hour prayer meeting every morning, from five until 8. No one came and stayed the entire time, but church people would stop by as they could on their way to work. The brothers had a list of sixty high school students who needed the Lord. One summer, the brothers invited another CIU student to preach a revival—it was during the last two weeks of 1950—and the power of God came down on that little church. One night no one responded to the invitation, but Bill Harding went down and stood in front of the communion table. He said, “Someone here has been touched by God tonight, and you’re supposed to come forward and get saved, but you’re hanging onto the pew in front of you. I want you to do home, kneel by your bed, look into Heaven, and say, ‘Lord, I’ve never done it before; Jesus come into my heart and save me.’” That night, Elmer Towns did what Bill Harding said—and that was how he came to Christ, through the prayers of a group of people in a small church.[iii]
[ii] See Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol 1: Our Oriental Heritage, chapter IX.
[iii] Elmer Towns in his book How God Answers Prayer.