The Dream of Nebuchadnezzar
February 25th, 1968 @ 8:15 AM
THE WISDOM OF MEN AND OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-25-68 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. These days we are following the Book of Daniel, chapter by chapter, verse by verse. The announced sermon this morning is entitled A Sweep of Human History. We have come to one of the most tremendously significant chapters in all of the Word of God; chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel. One of the most amazing and astonishing of all the revelations God ever gave to man.
As I continued to study and as I prepared the sermon I could not begin to encompass it, what I had thought for to deliver at this hour. I could not begin to encompass it and do it all in this brief time allotted for a sermon. So I have broken it up in two. The sermon this morning I have entitled The Wisdom of Men and of God. And you will see why it is named that. It is a presentation of the first part of this second chapter of the Book of Daniel. Then next Sunday morning we shall study and see what God means as He unfolds all of this vast sweep of human history from the days of the Babylonian Empire unto the consummation of the age.
Now I shall read a few verses to begin the story in the second chapter of the Book of Daniel. And the sermon will fall into two parts. The first part will be an exposition of the text. We shall look at the story. Then the second part of the message will be a presentation of the remarkable, astonishing ways of God, how God does things.
Now it begins like this.
In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar
He dreamed dreams, wherewith his spirit was troubled, and his sleep broke from him.
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.
Then spake the Chaldeans to the king in Syriack, – in Aramaic – O king, live for ever: tell thy servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation.
The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me.
Then the story follows as he becomes increasingly infuriated with these men who purport to have concourse and intercourse with the immortals but they can’t reveal what Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed. Then the king in his fury decrees that all of them as frauds are to be slain.
And Daniel and his three friends have been included among those magi and that meant a sentence of death for him and the three Hebrew children. So they take it to prayer and God reveals to Daniel what it is that the king dreamed. And Daniel is brought in and in great humility and becoming modesty speaks to the king what the king himself had dreamed and forgotten. Now we are going to follow that story.
In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar this is the second year of his reign as the sole emperor, as the sole monarch of the kingdom. He reigned for a while with his father Nabopolassar. And this is two years after the death of his father. So it is about four years from the time that the young man, the youth, Daniel was taken captive into Babylon. It is about one year after Daniel has finished his course in Chaldean lore, language, and logic and all of the mysticism that they were taught in order to know the stars and the future.
Daniel is now one of the magi. He is a servant in the court of the king, one of the wise men. And Nebuchadnezzar is firmly established upon his throne. He has destroyed all of his adversaries and he reigns supreme and alone. So, he’s in a position for God to speak to him. Nebuchadnezzar is the subject of many prophecies in the Bible, such as in Jeremiah chapter 25 and Jeremiah chapter 27. And now God is going to use this pagan, heathen king for an instrument himself through which God will make a tremendous revelation. And God does it in a dream. And Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams.
Now that is not unusual as we read God’s Book. The Lord spoke as the Book of Numbers said, "To Moses face to face" [Numbers 12:8]. But the Lord said that He would reveal Himself in dreams to His prophets [Numbers 12:6]. The Lord revealed to Jacob as he lay asleep with his head on a stone at what he called later Bethel [Genesis 28:11-19]; God revealed to Jacob that he would receive Palestine as his patrimony [Genesis 28:13].
God spoke to Joseph in dreams and the Lord revealed Himself to Solomon in a dream [1 Kings 3:5]. Nor is it unusual that God would speak to a pagan prince, to a heathen monarch in a dream. The Lord spoke to Abimelech in the Book of Genesis, a Philistine tribal chief in a dream [Genesis 20:3]. God revealed to Pharaoh, the Pharaoh of Egypt, the seven years of terrible famine that were coming [Genesis 41:14-32]. God did that in a dream. God revealed to a soldier in the Midianite camp the conquest and victory of Gideon [Judges 7:13-14]. And God did that in a dream. So the Lord is to speak now to a heathen, pagan monarch in a dream.
Now the story continues that Nebuchadnezzar’s spirit was troubled and his sleep brake from him [Daniel 2:1]. He was terrified by the awesome image that he saw in that dream. And fear at night is compounded because of fear of the darkness. And lying there with his soul gripped in fear, the hours wasted away.
And the king sought with every avenue of recognition and recognizance to bring back what it was that he had dreamed but failed. Thoughts chased one another through his mind. And images floated in his memory but in no instance could he make them conform to what he had seen. It had gone from him like the aftermath of a terrible storm at sea. The waves still rise and the sound of the sea continues though the cause of the storm is already passed. So it was with this Babylonian monarch.
He had seen in an awesome vision an image of tremendous proportions, of brilliant metals destroyed by a stone. And the image was decimated and blown away like chaff and the stone grew to fill the earth. But he could not remember it. Yet he had the sense that what he had seen was of vast import. And he desperately wanted to remember what it was and to find out what it meant.
We are like that today. Nebuchadnezzar is a contemporary of our times. He lived thousands of years ago but his face is seen today. We are just like that. The events of these past several decades have been to us like a nightmare, like a terrible dream. We have thought that as history has unfolded in our time and in our day, we have thought that we could see substance in it and meaning and purpose. But just about the time we think we have grasped it then it dissolves away in an impenetrable fog. I can hardly describe the inability of our modern world and the generation in which I live to put together the meaning and the purpose of these events that like shadowy dreams have chased one another across the horizon of modern history.
Why as a boy I can remember when the president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, made the sublime announcement that we were entering a war to end all wars and to make the world safe for democracy. And we sang songs and our soldier men went over there and we destroyed Kaiser Wilhelm the Second and the Prussian Empire. Only to see a worse one, named Hitler, arise. Then we did the same thing again. We took the strength of our American people and combining it with our Allies we destroyed Hitler only to see a worse and more terrible Stalin rise in his stead.
Then we took all of the forces of America and poured them into a Communist camp in order to destroy fascism and found out that Communism is a thousand times more wicked and vile than fascism. We delivered China out of the grasping hand of the Japanese only to learn that we had delivered it into the hands of the Communist Mao Zedong. I can remember the secretary of the foreign mission board standing up in our conventions and saying after the defeat of the Japanese and after the liberation of China we shall have an open door to win that nation to Christ as we have never had before. Only to find the door, like iron, shut in our faces.
It is a terrible dream and no man knows its meaning or can recall its purpose. Nebuchadnezzar is one of our contemporaries and his face is familiar in our day and in our generation. So, the king did what we do. He called for the intellectuals and he called for the intelligence and he called for the brain trusters. And he called for the men of learning and of wisdom and they stand before him, the magicians and the astrologers [Daniel 2:5].
I am dumbfounded as I read history how much the ancient people looked to the astrologer for the future. And yet there is not a great daily newspaper in the United States that would dare publish an addition without a long discussion of astrology in it. What the stars read, it is in our daily newspapers every day here in the city of Dallas. The astrologers and the Chaldeans, they were a cast like the Brahmans in India. They were the elect and the elite. And Nebuchadnezzar calls for the intellectuals of the day to stand before him that he might know the dream and the interpretation thereof, what it meant.
And what a compliment, what a compliment, as these intelligentsia come before the king; they have been trained in all the learning in science and knowledge of the thousands of years that preceded them. And they stand before the king, rich rewards await them. Oh, how much are they favored! And in their skillful use of the king’s excitement they are prepared for the emoluments that follow after.
Then the king makes an astonishing and unbelievable request of them. I have forgotten the dream. I cannot bring it back to my mind. I can’t fit the pieces together. Tell me the dream, you who are knowledgeable, you who have all of the answers. Tell me the dream and the interpretation. And those intellectuals are overwhelmed. They are astonished. They say there is not a man upon the earth that can show the king such a thing. Second, and they say there is not a king that ever lived that made such a demand of his intellectuals [Daniel 2:10]. And third it is no common thing that the king asks of us [Daniel 2:11].
Well, says the king, you are the elite of my court. And you live out of my treasury and you are the ones who have concourse with the immortals and know all the answers. You tell me what I ask of you or you are frauds. Isn’t that a strange thing? The king is skeptical about his own religion. You tell me what this dream is then I will know that you can show the interpretation thereof.
Isn’t that a strange thing about us? We have great confidence we think in the intellectual. But we are always half scared to death he may be leading us down some blind alley. And everything that I read in modern life is a verification of that judgment. He scares us to death. He’s got all the answers. And he knows all the reasons and he can explain to you all the causes. But somehow we have the terrible feeling, insecurity inside of us, that the way they are leading us, our children, and our nation, and our lives is down some terrible, steep abyss. And it’s becoming more true every day of our lives.
So the king is furious. He is enraged. And he makes a decree that all the magi, all of them are to be destroyed. Now this is but an instance of the tragedy when too much power is placed in the hands of one man. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There’s no man in the earth that ought to have the power that is invested in this king. There ought to be counterbalances. There ought to be constitutional laws. There ought to be restraints everywhere.
But this king knows no restraint. And when he says, "Destroy all of the wise men", all the magi, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, yet that’s the law. It’s all in him personally. And that included the death sentence for Daniel and his three friends [Daniel 2:12-13].
So they sought Daniel and his fellows to put them to death. That shows that Daniel and his friends lived apart somewhere in a house to themselves. And it also shows that they were not with these other magi when they were so hastily called in the presence of the king. Because Arioch, the king’s captain, who was to implement the decree, when he came to Daniel, Daniel asked him why and then why is the decree so hasty? [Daniel 2:14-15]
And in that terrible peril Daniel did not lose his presence of mind or his faith in God. And instead of being hauled off by Arioch into a prison where the magi were gathered to be executed, why Daniel is ushered into the presence of the king himself. And Daniel appears before the monarch with great faith and confidence in God, a sublime commitment.
And he said to the king, "I will show you the interpretation thereof." Why he had no idea what it was. He had no idea what the dream was. "But I will show the king the dream and the interpretation thereof." He believed in God. Then he said to the king, "Grant that I have a little time." He did not say to the king, "Why?" [Daniel 2:16] But the following words tell why.
He needed to go to his knees in prayer. You’d have a new world if the statesmen and the intellectuals and the brain trusters today said honestly and frankly to the world, "I don’t understand and I don’t have an answer. But give us time" and they fell on their knees and asked wisdom from God. That’s what Daniel did [Daniel 2:17-18].
So Daniel went to his house. Now he could have prayed by himself. But he found strength in comradeship, and fellowship, and unity, and intercession. We ought to remember that. God says where two or three are gathered together, God says if two of you shall agree on anything; community, fellowship, unity in praying. And he could have gone to his house, shut the door and prayed by himself. But he immediately goes to his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah and those four fall on their faces before God and they are in prayer all night long [Daniel 2:17-18]. There is a wisdom from heaven above and beyond the wisdom of men. And while they are praying God revealed to Daniel the secret; while they were on their knees.
Seventy years later Daniel was interdicted from praying. We will come to that story in the sixth chapter of this glorious book. Any man who calls upon the name of God shall be cast into the den of lions. Seventy years later, this old man then beyond ninety years of age, was interdicted from praying " [Daniel 6:7-8]. I can well think that the old man remembered this time and this hour when prayer had saved his life and what had blessed him in the days of his youth he was not to forego in the days of his age [Daniel 6:10].
And had their been death here or not death, Daniel still would have prayed. It’s a privilege too precious. It’s a blessing too supernal and celestial to be lightly abandoned. And Daniel prayed and asked God’s wisdom. And God answered from heaven. And as you read this beautiful supplication immediately Daniel blessed the name of God. As he was praying and the secret was revealed to him, Daniel quit asking and immediately turned to praising. That’s the way we ought to do.
As Christians we pray in the morning. As Christians we ought to praise in the evening. As Christians we ask of God. As Christians we ought to thank God. We ought not to be Christians in importunity, and asking, and beseeching, and then atheist, and heathen in praising and gratitude.
Immediately he turned his prayer into a praise, and into a blessing, and told the captain of the guard that he had the answer from heaven. And look at his modesty and humility. He says, "The magi do not know. But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets and He will make known to the king the dream and the meaning. And as for me this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any other man" [Daniel 2:27-30].
How fine and how befitting and how apropos, the modesty of this young man Daniel, "It is not I. It is God." As he seeks to take the mind and eye of the king away from him and focus it on the great Almighty in heaven then follows the dream and the meaning which we shall speak of next Sunday morning. It is a revelation of the sweep of human history to the consummation of the age. Now the sermon; all we need is about half a dozen hours in all of these services and we would just do great.
First, first, the remarkable, astonishing ways of God. First, God never forgets or withdraws His mercies from His people. Never. In the story revealed, unfolded here in the Book of Daniel, Jerusalem is in ruins. Judah is destroyed. The temple has been torn down. The sacred vessels are now the property of the spoiler [Daniel 1:1-2]. The glory has departed from between the cherubim. Ichabod, Ichabod has been written over the whole nation of God’s people and they, the daughters and sons of Judah, are seated in captivity by the waters of Babylon.
Oh, such a scene of agony, and misery, and despair! Yet at that time, at this very time, God is so merciful, and so good, and so precious to these Hebrew captives. And He reveals His glory even in their agony and their captivity [Daniel 3:36-45]. God watching over His own, merciful to those that belong to Him revealing Himself. Isn’t that an unusual thing?
How many times do we persuade ourselves that the glory of God is dependent upon our accoutrements, embellishments, upon advantages? My brethren, sometimes when the houses of the Lord have lain in ruins God builds a house and a temple not made with hands, more glorious than the temples of Baalbek or cathedrals of Europe, more splendid that the theatres of Greeks Ionia, more sublime than the temple of Solomon. Sometimes when the outward fabric is dissolved, the inward glory shines forth.
That’s a strange thing. One of those state Lutheran churches in Sweden burned down and as they were renovating it, they took a beautiful statue of Christ that was inside and had survived the confrontation and they put it out on the sidewalk while they were renovating the church on the inside. There were many hundreds of people that had seen and looked upon that sublime piece of sculpture inside the church. But there were thousands, and thousands, and thousands who saw it every day in the great city as it sat out there on the sidewalk.
Many times when the church has lost its miter on the heads, and the Umin and Thumim on the grass, the world has seen the inscription on the brow. The truth of God standeth sure having this seal, God knoweth those who are His. God is not shut up to any advantage, to any embellishment, to any four walls, to any accoutrement. Even though it be the sublime temple in Solomon, God is not shut up to these things.
That was the thesis of the sermon of Stephen in the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts. They thought that without the temple, and without Jerusalem, and without the holy place God could not be worshiped. You don’t need anything to worship God. A kitchen corner sometimes may be more sublime than a cathedral. And these embellishments God doesn’t need. And the Lord in His mercy reveals His glory in the days of the tragedy of this captivity [Acts 8:47-50].
Second, it’s an astonishing thing but God reveals His truth through sufferers, through sufferers. It is while the children of Israel are in the wilderness that God gave the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic legislation [Exodus 20:1-17]. It is while the apostle Paul is incarcerated in dungeons that he writes those sublime epistles [Ephesians 3:1-5]. Isn’t that an amazing thing? It is while Daniel is a captive in Babylon that God speaks to the whole human race. And it is while the sainted John is on Patmos in exile to die of exposure and starvation that God reveals the procession of the saints [Revelation 1:9]. Isn’t that an amazing thing?
When men think they have nothing on earth it is then that God shows them how rich they are in heaven. It is when men close their eyes to time that God reveals the glories of the eternal. That’s the Lord.
Third, God disdains the foolishness of the wisdom of men, the intellectual, the brain truster, "We’ve got the answers. We know." And the Lord looks with disdain and contempt upon man’s wisdom. It is little. It is puny. It is small. It is earthbound. It is little. It is inconsequential and insignificant.
The great wisdom lies in the wisdom of Almighty God. Yet you see these little peacocks strutting across the scene of human history. "We’ve got all the answers. We know." And they teach that. And they imbue in the idea and persuasion of the human family that they know and they’ve got all that we need to know for ourselves. They know the future.
Ah, he that sitteth in the heavens shall lie. How many times is that presented here in the Word of God? God’s wisdom versus man’s wisdom?
The Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind and said,
Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowedge?
Gird up now thy loins like a man. I will demand of thee and answer.
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if you have understanding.
Who hath laid the measures thereof?
Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? How is it this world stays out here in place? – Where is the foundation upon which it rests? – Who laid the cornerstone thereof?
When the morning stars sang together and the suns of God shouted for joy,
"You know so much. Just tell me." And then page after page are these questions, none of which a man can answer.
"Then Job answered the Lord and said, I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear but now mine eyes seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes" [Job 42:1, 5, 6].
Could I cite just one other? The apostle Paul in the days of the flowering of Greek culture and philosophy, writing to the Greeks at Rome said,
The foolishness of God is wiser than man and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For God hath chosen the foolish things of this earth to confound the wise.
God has chosen the weak things of this earth to confound the mighty.
And these things and things that are not to bring to past things that are that no flesh should glory in His presence.
[1 Corinthians 1: 25, 27-29]
What a man knows is so inconsequential compared to the infinite wisdom of God.
But the way for a man, always, no matter who he is, is to acknowledge in God’s presence and in God’s sight, I am as nothing. Where philosophy leaves off, God begins. Where human reason comes to its ultimate consummation, as far as it can go, there God starts. The attitude of the human mind ought always to be, "O Lord wisdom, true wisdom comes from Thee." And if we had that attitude toward the Almighty what a different world it would be. In school, in the nation, in counsels of government, throughout the fabric of human life, Lord, there is a wisdom beyond the few facts that we observe. There is a heavenly wisdom. Give it to us.
Now, hastily, one other thing that I must say, I must say it. How God works. How God does the astonishing, the remarkable ways of the Lord. God blesses the lost and the wicked for the sake of the righteous. The first thing Daniel did was to ask of the king, destroy not the magi of Babylon. That was the first request before he said anything else. Destroy not the wise men of Babylon [Daniel 2:24]. Isn’t that an astonishing thing? For the sake of the saints, God blesses the unrighteous.
God did it in the life of Joseph. He blessed the house of Potiphar for Joseph’s sake [Genesis 39:5]. God did it in the life of the apostle Paul. He saved all of the sailors and all of the prisoners for Paul’s sake [Acts 27:22-25]. God spared all Israel because Moses, God’s servant, stood in the breach [Exodus 32:11-14]. Had there been ten righteous men in Sodom God would have spared the cities of the plague [Genesis 18:32].
The reason this world stands now is because of God’s people in the earth. And when the saints of the Lord are raptured away and taken out of this earth [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], that is the judgment day and the great tribulation. It is your presence here that sanctifies and blesses this earth. And if I had time, another sermon, it’s for Jesus’ sake that we are forgiven. Because of Him we live.
For Jesus’ sake, God has cleansed and washed us and saved us for Jesus’ sake [Ephesians 4:32, Titus 3:5]. The remarkable ways of God and for your sake God blesses our city. And God blesses your family. And God blesses our people.
Now we must sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it a family you, a couple you, one somebody you giving himself to the Lord or putting his life in the fellowship of our church, while we sing the song, while we make the appeal, would you come and stand by me? "Here I am, pastor, and here I come. I make it now." On the first note of this first stanza, come. Out of the balcony, round, on this lower floor down to the floor, "Here I am preacher. I am coming this morning." Make the decision now. And when you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. And the angels will attend you in the way. While we stand and while we sing.
THE DREAM OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The story in the text
A. Dream of Nebuchadnezzar
B. Incompetence of the intelligentsia
II. The astonishing, remarkable ways of God
A. His everlasting mercies to His people
B. God will reveal His truth to sufferers
C. God disdains the wisdom of men
D. God spares the wicked and the lost for the sake of righteousness