King Nebuchadnezzar was enraged when he realized that his wise men could not interpret his dream. He didn't just want it interpreted; he was demanding that they first describe his dream and then interpret it.
"My decision is firm," the king barked. "If you do not make known the dream to me, and its interpretation, you shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made an ash heap" (Daniel 2:5). King Nebuchadnezzar thundered these words to the royal guards, who immediately laid hold of the wise men.
Why would a beloved prophet of God want God to judge him? Doesn’t the Bible show that God’s judgment is reserved for evil people? Read God’s view on this seeming paradox.
Shocked numb, the formerly favored officials contemplated Nebuchadnezzar's gruesome sentence. After years of favor, years in which they enjoyed the trappings of royalty, they were, in a moment, reduced to the humiliation accorded a common slave, consigned to an imminent and ignominious death.
The guards quickly got out ropes and began binding the wise men before the king.
Already the cry rang out through the inner palace walls, echoing a death knell: "Find Daniel and his companions, for they are to die with the rest of the wise men!" bellowed the captain of the guard (Daniel 2:13, paraphrased). The night brought fear and uncertainty, a critical time for God's chosen and faithful representatives in Babylon: Daniel and other Jewish exiles who had been faithfully serving the government of the empire.
Why would God allow the monarch and his minions to include His faithful servants in this harsh judgment? The wise men could not conjure up and interpret the dream, but why would Daniel and his friends have to die along with them? Surely God must have had good reason for permitting this cruel condemnation along with the others.
Before we find out why God allowed government officers to arrest His faithful followers, let's briefly examine King Nebuchadnezzar's self-perception.
Nebuchadnezzar's elegant empire
Although Nebuchadnezzar's domain was vast and the city of Babylon a marvel of its time, such had not always been the case. It all started with the city of Babel, where its earliest inhabitants attempted to build the Tower of Babel (Genesis 10:10; Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Bible Dictionary, 1966, p. 115). About 1830 B.C., the city began its rise to prominence. Between 1728 and 1686 B.C., Hammurabi ascended to the throne and conquered southern Babylonia but also sought to bring all of Mesopotamia under his rulership.
King Nebuchadnezzar had to be acutely aware of the long line of the kings of Babylon who preceded him. This knowledge likely inspired him to make his reign memorable. Merrill Unger depicts Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon:
"The Ishtar Gate led through the double wall of fortifications and was adorned with rows of bulls and dragons in colored enameled brick. Nebuchadnezzar's throne room was likewise adorned with enameled bricks. The tall ziggurat was rebuilt. Herodotus said this ziggurat rose to a height of eight stages. Near . . . [was] the Temple of Marduk or Bel, which the king restored. Not far distant were the hanging gardens, which to the Greeks were one of the seven wonders of the world" (ibid.).
Probably Nebuchadnezzar wanted to eclipse the fame of former Babylonian kings, establishing his building programs as the greatest ever:
"The East India House Inscription, now in London, refers to about twenty temples he rebuilt or refurbished in Babylon and Borsippa, and also to a vast system of fortifications and large shipping docks. On one of his inscriptions, Nebuchadnezzar boasted, 'The fortifications of Esagila [the temple of Marduk] and Babylon I strengthened, and established the name of my reign forever'" (Gleason L. Archer, Jr., The Expositor's Bible Commentary, 1985, Vol. 7, p. 65).
Daniel's writings capture the insatiable ambition of King Nebuchadnezzar when he unwisely boasted, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?" (Daniel 4:30). This verse gives a clue to why King Nebuchadnezzar might have forgotten Daniel's warning from God (Daniel 4:27). God used this ruler's pride to show His great glory. The stage was set for God to reveal, through Daniel, the great prophecy that outlined the "times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24), a period that to date has exceeded 2,500 years (from about 580-560 B.C. to the present).
The king was a dreamer
King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream-literally. God induced the dream, and that dream mystified the monarch. "Now in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was so troubled that his sleep left him . . . And the king said to them [the wise men of Babylon], 'I have had a dream, and my spirit is anxious to know the dream'" (Daniel 2:1-3).
God was intervening in the affairs of men, specifically using this king as His instrument of communication. The message God placed in Nebuchadnezzar's mind, through his dreams, was so awesome that it frightened him, muddling his analytical powers. By reading ahead in Daniel 2, we, some 2,500 years later, can know the meaning and significance of Nebuchadnezzar's dreams. But, for the ruler at that time, stark terror-the horror of the unknown-blurred his thinking.
If a god, especially one of his gods, were sending him an omen and his trusted wise men couldn't describe the content of the dream and interpret it, what good were they to him?
"Apparently Nebuchadnezzar had already decided on an unheard of test of their magical abilities to interpret his dream. Before they explained its meaning, they would have to give its contents. He apparently reasoned that, if they had the powers of divination they claimed, they ought to be able to relate what he had dreamed-for surely their gods would know this and be able to pass it on to their devotees. If, however, he simply related the dream to them at first, then they might come up with some purely human and essentially worthless conjecture. He was interested, not in speculation, but in supernatural disclosure" (Archer, pp. 40, 41).
The king was so focused on obtaining an accurate explanation of his dream that, when it wasn't immediately forthcoming, he abruptly ordered that the wise men be put to death.
Unlocking God's secrets
Daniel's reputation and close previous association with King Nebuchadnezzar hadn't escaped the attention of Arioch, the captain of the royal guard (Daniel 1:17-20). When Arioch, acting on the king's hasty order, came to arrest Daniel and escort him to await his execution, he found the man of God calm and quite capable of questioning a respectful Arioch. "Why is the decree from the king so urgent?" Daniel wanted to know (Daniel 2:15).
Arioch quickly recounted the macabre scenario to Daniel. Maybe the captain reasoned that Daniel might just be able to make sense of the king's dream. After all, the king (in his more rational moments) and others of the royal court believed Daniel to be more competent than any of the magicians and astrologers of the realm (Daniel 1:19-20). Daniel confidently came before the king and asked for more time to discover the dream and its interpretation. God, if He so chose, could demonstrate His sovereignty over all human kings and reveal the dream and its meaning.
With the king's permission, Daniel quickly returned to his house, where he recounted the situation to his colleagues. Daniel's actions and words provide us a key to unlocking God's hidden secrets. "Then Daniel went to his house, and made the [king's] decision known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, that they might seek mercies from the God of heaven concerning this secret, so that Daniel and his companions might not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon" (Daniel 2:17-18).
The next verse indicates that these Jews' faithful action unlocked the secret of God: "Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. So Daniel blessed the God of heaven" (Daniel 2:19). Daniel consistently relied on his relationship with God. His commitment was steadfast. In the face of great personal danger, Daniel turned immediately to His Creator.
From death's door to rulership
"Blessed be the name of God forever and ever," Daniel prayed, "for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him. I thank You and praise You, O God of my fathers; You have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of You, for You have made known to us the king's demand" (Daniel 2:20-23).
Clearly, thanks to Daniel's relationship with the Eternal, he knew that God follows His own time schedule, that He is more powerful than human kings and governments, that He imparts knowledge and wisdom and that He alone reveals His hidden secrets to His prophets (Amos 3:7). While Daniel thanked God, he had every confidence that God had revealed to him the dream and its correct interpretation.
Arioch, realizing that Daniel had come to know the king's dream and its explanation, quickly ushered Daniel in to see King Nebuchadnezzar, attempting to take some credit for the hoped-for resolution of the problem: "I have found a man of the captives of Judah, who will make known to the king the interpretation" (Daniel 2:25).
The skeptical monarch then questioned Daniel: "Are you able to make known to me the dream which I have seen, and its interpretation?" (Daniel 2:26).
At this point, Daniel, instead of immediately revealing the dream and its meaning, first lectured the king on the limitations of his other presumably wise men and the greatness of Almighty God, who alone can reveal His secrets to mankind (Daniel 2:27-30).
The dream explained
Then Daniel, raptly attended by the king and his court, began.
"As for you, O king, thoughts came to your mind while on your bed, about what would come to pass after this . . ." (Daniel 2:29). Daniel diplomatically acknowledged Nebuchadnezzar's concern for Babylon's future welfare and that God was revealing important information to the king. "He who reveals secrets has made known to you what will be" (same verse).
Daniel explained that the dream included a great image of a being with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron and feet of a tenuous mixture of iron and clay.
Then, in the dream, a stone appeared that struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, crumbling and turning it into little more than a heap of dust. Wind blew the image's dusty remains away until nothing was left. The stone then grew larger and became a mountain that filled the whole earth (Daniel 2:31-35).
At this point, King Nebuchadnezzar may well
"have been leaning forward to hear the explanation from what he now knew to be a spokesman from God" (Archer, p. 45).
Daniel continued. "This is the dream. Now we will tell the interpretation of it before the king" (Daniel 2:36). God's servant's elucidation of the king's night vision amounted to one of the most important prophecies of the Bible and one of the longest in the period predicted by the prophecy.
Nebuchadnezzar himself represented the image's head of gold. Then three mighty kingdoms would succeed him and his great Babylon. They would all be uprooted and destroyed in the end time by a fifth world-governing power: the Kingdom of God, ruled by the Stone (Jesus Christ), carved out without hands (Daniel 2:36-45).
God not only kept Daniel safe from death's door; He inspired King Nebuchadnezzar to appoint Daniel to a position of even more prominence in Babylon. The king declared Daniel ruler of Babylon under himself and chief administrator over his wise men (Daniel 2:48).
Daniel, mindful of his friends, petitioned the king to promote his companions, who were officially known by their Chaldean names, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, to help govern the affairs of Babylon.
God preserved Daniel because he lived up to the meaning of his name: "God is my judge." He knew that only God could pass righteous judgment on him. The apostle Peter explained that Jesus Christ similarly placed Himself in the hands of God the Father, knowing God judges righteously: "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:21-23).
Daniel with the lions
Much later in his life, while serving under a different king, Daniel depended on God to save Him when he was cast into a den of lions. By this time Daniel was advanced in age, possibly in his 80s (Archer, Vol. 7, p. 6). In 539-538 B.C., Darius the Mede assumed the kingship over Babylon after defeating King Belshazzar. He ruled contemporaneously with, but under, King Cyrus (Unger, p. 241; Daniel 6:28).
"It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, to be over the whole kingdom; and over these, three governors, of whom Daniel was one . . ." (Daniel 6:1-2). Because Daniel evinced "an excellent spirit," the king "gave thought to setting him over the whole realm" (Daniel 6:3).
This moved the other governors and satraps (officials subordinate to the governors) to jealousy, and they contrived a decree that, if the king signed it, would surely send Daniel to his death. The document proclaimed "that whoever petitions any god or man for thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions" (Daniel 6:7).
The satraps had tricked the king into signing the decree that automatically left Daniel in a dilemma. Daniel was faithful to the king (1 Peter 2:17-18), but He knew that honoring God comes before honoring any man.
"Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days" (Daniel 6:10).
The die was cast. The king, too late, realized he had foolishly signed such a decree. But apparently there was no way out, and Daniel's fellow governors reminded their ruler that "the law of the Medes and Persians" states "that no decree or statute which the king establishes may be changed" (Daniel 6:15).
King Darius was bound by law to cast Daniel into the lions' den. As the executioners lowered Daniel into the presence of the hungry beasts, the king reassured Daniel that "your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you" (Daniel 6:16). Darius was distraught over Daniel's plight and his part in his friend's sentence of death. The king spent the night fasting, tossing and turning in his bed (Daniel 6:18). He rose early the next morning, hurried to the lions' den and cried out, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?" (Daniel 6:20).
Daniel replied: "O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you" (Daniel 6:21-22). The king was relieved that his friend and adviser was safe and well, and he commanded guards to take Daniel out of the den. "So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God" (Daniel 6:23).
But, shortly thereafter, the petty officials who had envied Daniel's favored status found themselves cast headlong into the presence of the lions. "And the king gave the command, and they brought those men who had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions-them, their children, and their wives; and the lions overpowered them, and broke all their bones in pieces before they ever came to the bottom of the den" (Daniel 6:24).
The king publicly acknowledges God
King Darius also sent a decree to be read throughout the Persian kingdom. In that document, he acknowledged the supremacy and uncontested sovereignty of Daniel's God, substantiating the omnipotence of the Eternal by recounting His divine deliverance of Daniel from the lions (Daniel 6:25-27). "So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian" (Daniel 6:28). Daniel prospered because he continually committed his life to God.
Daniel willingly submitted himself to God's judgment, and indeed God judges all of mankind (Revelation 11:18; Revelation 19:15-21). God promises to sternly judge those who cruelly oppress His people (Revelation 6:9-11).
Some unwittingly assume that God's judgment must be harsh. God judges according to one's works, good or bad. But, because Christians repent of their wrong ways and try their best to do God's will, God looks at their heart from a different perspective. Judgment is now on the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), not yet on the world at large.
God's judgment of His people is linked with deliverance and salvation. When the saints suffer at the hands of envious evildoers, they can go before God in prayer and ask Him to intervene and adjudicate, or judge, on their behalf. In Daniel's times of trouble, he invariably turned to God and placed his problems and his life into God's hands. We can do the same.
"Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:19).
Daniel committed his life to God. Sometimes he suffered, but he always trusted God to deliver him from trials. You and I can live as Daniel lived. For those who are careful to live as Daniel lived, we can be thankful that God-not some human being-is their judge.