The Dream of Nebuchadnezzar
February 25th, 1968 @ 10:50 AM
THE DREAM OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-25-68 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services with the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message from the second chapter of the Book of Daniel. It was announced that the message would be entitled The Sweep of Human History, but as I studied and prepared, I found that I could not begin to encompass the sermon in so short a period of time, even though in the order of the service, I am increasingly being given more time and more time in which to preach.
I sometimes say to these young men and my fellow pastors and preachers in our state evangelistic conferences, for the most part, the preacher will pace up and down the floor of his study, wondering, “What shall I preach next Sunday? Where can I find a message next Sunday?” They labor as they ruminate, cogitate, explore, reconnoiter, say: “What shall I preach next Sunday?” I tell them, “You know, I do that. I pace up and down the floor of my study, only my problem is a little different. You see, I preach the Bible.” And I’m trying to get them to preach the Bible. “And I have a problem, I pace up and down my study. But my problem is this, O Lord God, how in the earth am I going to get into that hour of worship all that I’ve got in my soul to say? And O Lord God, I’m afraid I’m going to die or Jesus is going to come again before I get through what I want to preach in the Bible.”
Well, these days, I am preaching through the Book of Daniel, and that same pattern obtains. So the sermon this morning is kind of an introduction, though not an introduction as such. It is a message in itself. But next Sunday at this hour, we shall come to the sweep of the times of the Gentiles that God revealed to a pagan monarch named Nebuchadnezzar; a revelation of human history until the consummation of the age [Daniel 2:31-45]. Now because every moment is precious I am just going to start with the text, and the sermon is divided into two parts. The first is a presentation of the story here in the Bible. Then the second part of it will be an acknowledgment of the astonishing and remarkable ways of God.
Now the first part of the message: “In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar” [Daniel 2:1], that is, he had been reigning alone for two years. He was co-monarch with his father, Nabopolassar, for about two years. So in the second year of the full reign of Nebuchadnezzar, that would be about four years since he took Daniel a captive into his court [Daniel 1:1-6]. It was about one year after Daniel had been initiated into all the mystical secrets of the magi [Daniel 1:3-7]. So Nebuchadnezzar is secure in his throne. All of his enemies have been liquidated. And God has a revelation to make through him. “In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams…” [Daniel 2:1]. This king is the most mentioned of all the pagan kings in the Bible—by far. He is the subject of prophecy himself, such as you read in the twenty-fifth chapter of Jeremiah [Jeremiah 25:1, 9], and the twenty-seventh chapter of Jeremiah [Jeremiah 27:6, 8, 20]. And now God is going to use this heathen monarch as a vehicle for the revelation of one of the most stupendous visions in all history. There is no other chapter in the Bible that has the tremendous outreach, inclusiveness, significance as this second chapter in the Book of Daniel. So the Lord is going to speak this message through a heathen monarch. Now He is going to do it in a dream [Daniel 2:1-11].
This is not unusual. In the Book of Numbers, the Lord said that He will speak to Moses face to face. But with others, as prophets, He will reveal Himself in visions and dreams [Numbers 12:5-8]. So we read that Jacob, as he lay down in a place that he called Bethel, with his head on a stone, in a dream God promised him his patrimony, the land of Palestine [Genesis 28:10-15]. It was in a dream that God appeared to Joseph [Genesis 37:5-9]. And it was in a dream that God appeared to Solomon [1 Kings 3:5]. Now, God has done that to a heathen tyrant as Nebuchadnezzar [Daniel 2:1]. In a dream God spoke to Abimelech, a tribal chief in Philistia [Genesis 20:3]. In a dream God spoke to Pharaoh and revealed the seven years of plenty and of famine [Genesis 41:1-7, 14-32]. And in a dream God spoke to one of the soldiers of the Midianites, when He had Gideon overhear. And that dream was that the army of Gideon would destroy the Midianites [Judges 7:13-15]. So what I read here is not different or unusual. God does this. And He is speaking to Nebuchadnezzar, and through him, reveals this marvelous sweep of the centuries and millennia of the future [Daniel 2:1, 26-45].
Now in the dream, the Book says, “Nebuchadnezzar’s spirit was troubled, and his sleep brake from him” [Daniel 2:1]. He was terrified by what he saw, and he could not recall it [Daniel 2:2-5]. All he knew was that it was a terrible vision. But the sequence and the imagery flowed evanescently through his mind. And as he tried to grasp its meaning, it evaded him. And the harder he tried, the more certainly he failed. As he sought to pluck out of memory what he had seen, all that he knew was that it was one of vast import and connotation. And it was a terrible thing, this image made out of bright, shining metal destroyed by a stone, and the image blown like the chaff before the wind, and that stone growing to fill the earth [Daniel 2:31-35]. And it filled him with terror. And being in the night, the long weary hours added to his agitation—his soul gripped in fear, his spirit troubled—and he couldn’t sleep [Daniel 2:1].
We think of this man as having lived thousands of years ago. He’s our contemporary. I see his face everywhere. We are like this Nebuchadnezzar. These last several decades to us have been like terrible dreams. The events of history that have passed before our eyes, at times we think we can read in them meaning and purpose and sequence and consequence. Then when we seek to resolve that purpose and find it, it is evanescently foggy. It fades before our eyes. It eludes our grasp. What is this thing that is happening? And what is this that we have watched before our very eyes?
I have never felt such confusion as has increasingly clouded the life of our people as in a bad dream, the purpose and meaning of which we could not recall. It has eluded us. Why, I can remember when the president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, made the call to the nation that we were going to enter a war to end all wars. We were going to make the world safe for democracy. And the terrible cost of that First World War and the destruction of Kaiser Wilhelm II but laid the foundation for a more terrible Hitler. Then once again, our country plunged into the holocaust, and we destroyed Hitler, only to be laid into the hands of a more terrible Stalin. And our fight with our allies against fascism but opened a door for a flood of atheistic, merciless and cruel, bitter communism.
These men that we poured into the Pacific theater of the war to destroy Japan and to liberate China; why, I remember when the secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, convention after convention, made the grand announcement that after victory we would have the greatest opportunity of missionary evangelization and outreach that the world had ever seen. And after the destruction of Japan and the liberation of China, we but found an iron door in our face in Mao Tse-tung and the Red government. And to the infinite, illimitable surprise of the western world, France, under an ambitious de Gaulle, will seek to bring England to her knees and to destroy the strength of the economic life of America. Like a bad dream, and we seek and probe and search to recall its purpose and its meaning, but it eludes us.
I am just saying that Nebuchadnezzar is contemporary. I see his face today, he’s one of us. And the dream that he can’t recall and the meaning and the purpose and the interpretation that he can’t understand, finally, he does what all of us do. He turned to the intellectuals of his day [Daniel 2:2]. These are the men who are high in state. And he calls for the magi and the Chaldeans [Daniel 2:2]. They were the elect, and they were the select! They were the men of books. They were the braintrusters. That had all of the answers—all of them—just like our intelligentsia arrogate to themselves today. The wisdom of God is spurned, repudiated, scoffed at, derided, laughed at, scorned. And in the presence of the intelligentsia of our world today, “We have all the answers,” they say, “ask us, ask us.”
So Nebuchadnezzar the king did what we do today. He turned to the learned in this world’s wisdom: to the intelligentsia in the things of his day and time—the smart, the learned. So they came and stood before the king [Daniel 2:2]. I can just see them file in. All the emoluments, the rich rewards that would follow as they skillfully and shrewdly used the excitement of the king to their own advantage. They come and stand there. “Just ask us. We know.” So the king says, “I dreamed a dream—significant, meaningful—but I cannot recall it. Tell me the dream, you who have all the answers. You who know, tell me the dream, and then the interpretation thereof” [Daniel 2:3, 5]. And in confusion, like our intellectuals today—all that I can see is that they are leading us into an indescribable abyss, whether it be in personal relationships, whether it be in moral tone and life, whether it be in family circle, whether it be in national destiny, wherever I look they are leading us into disintegration and degeneration.
“We’ve got the answers!” So the king says, “Give me an answer, what is this?” Then in confusion, the intellectuals say, “Why, there is not a man on the face of the earth that could answer that” [Daniel 2:2-9]. Then they said again, “Nor is there any king or sovereign that ever asked such a thing” [Daniel 2:10]. Yet they know—then finally they said, “It is a rare thing, it is an uncommon thing that the king requireth” [Daniel 2:11]. Is it? Is it? These men who are framing our destiny, who are guiding our lives, who are teaching our children, who are framing our moral concourse, you mean to say that after you arrogate to yourself such tremendous responsibilities, then you don’t know the meaning? And you don’t know the purpose? And you don’t have an answer for where we’re going or why?
And the king was furious [Daniel 2:12]. He himself doubted his own religion. “You tell me the dream,” he said, “and I will know that you can show me the right interpretation” [Daniel 2:9]. Well, in his fury, and here is another instance of a monarch who has no restraints, and all ancient monarchies were like that—how much we need constitutional law. We need boundaries. We need counterbalances. There is no such thing as a man having tremendous power and not being corrupted by it. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And Nebuchadnezzar, in his fury and in his rage, decrees that all the magi are to be destroyed, all of them—all of them! [Daniel 2:12-13]. That included Daniel, and it included his three friends.
So when the decree goes out that Daniel and his three Hebrew friends are to be destroyed, why, Arioch, the king’s captain comes to implement and execute the decree. And he comes to find Daniel [Daniel 2:13]. And I know from this that Daniel and his brethren lived apart, somewhere apart. And I know from this, that they were not there when those magi were hastily filed in to give the king the answers of why and when and where [Daniel 2:2-5]. And he asks, “Why so hasty?” [Daniel 2:14-15]. And then Daniel, not losing his presence of mind, nor the sublimest faith in God that you could ever find, Daniel says, “I will interpret the dream” [Daniel 2:16]. And he had no idea what it was, but he believed God would show it to him. “I will interpret the dream. God will tell me. God will reveal it.” Ha! I can imagine this modern pseudoscientific world. “God, ha! A wisdom from heaven, ha!” That is this world.
But Daniel, instead of being ushered into the chamber of execution, is ushered into the presence of the king and desired of the king that he might have time [Daniel 2:16]. Why? The next words tell why: because he wanted to get on his knees and make it a matter of prayer [Daniel 2:17-18]. Ah, what a world of change and difference if men confessed, “I don’t have an answer,” then shut themselves with God and made it a matter of supplication and intercession. There is a wisdom from heaven that is different from the wisdom of men. God can speak and God knows. So Daniel says to the king, “May I have time?” [Daniel 2:16]. And the king granted the request. And Daniel goes to his knees [Daniel 2:17-18].
Another thing about him: he could have prayed by himself, alone, but he didn’t. He gathered those three friends who were in the court with him. And he told them what had happened, and he asked them to pray by his side. Now I hear it here often. I hear it on my own staff, and I hear it throughout the members of the church. Can’t I pray alone? Can’t I pray by myself? Why, certainly. But there is another kind of prayer. There is fellowship in prayer. There is communion in prayer. There is unitedness in prayer. And there are times when as a people, and as units, and as groups, we ought to pray. Daniel did. He called his three friends, and all four of them got on their knees and importuned heaven for an answer from above [Daniel 2:17-18].
You know, I often think about this Daniel, and you would too if you were studying his life. In the sixth chapter, when we come to it, he was interdicted from praying. “You call on the name of your God, and you will be cast into a lion’s den” [Daniel 6:7-9]. But I can imagine the old man: this is seventy years later in the sixth chapter when Daniel was more than ninety years of age. I can imagine the old man thinking, “There was a time in my youth when my life was saved because I prayed [Daniel 2:13, 18, 46]. And shall I forego now in age what blessed me thus in youth?” [Daniel 6:10]. Well, whether yes or no, I think Daniel would have prayed had he died. Had he been executed, he would have prayed. The sublimest fellowship, the most precious of all comforts and strengths from talking to God—and they made it a matter of prayer. And while they were praying—all night prayer meeting—while they were praying, God revealed to Daniel the secret, the know-how, the reason, the interpretation [Daniel 2:19].
God will do that for any man that will call upon His name. “Lord, I don’t know, and I don’t see, and I don’t understand.” From the chief of staff of the armies of the United States, to the president of the United States, to the governors of our land, to the chief justices of our courts, everywhere, anywhere that men would turn to God, God would reveal the answer. And He did as Daniel supplicated and sought God’s face [Daniel 2:19].
Now I haven’t time to read that prayer, but in the midst of it, in the midst of it, Daniel turns and blesses the name of God. He praises God [Daniel 2:20-23]. We ought to be that way. We could ask God in the morning, we ought to praise God in the evening. We could ask God in supplication, but let us not forget to praise God in songs and in words of gratitude. We ought not to be Christians in asking and then heathen and atheists in thanksgiving. And Daniel, in the midst of his prayer, began to praise and bless the name of God. “Thank You, Lord. Bless Thy name, O God, how good You have been to us” [Daniel 2:19-23].
Then with great humility and unusual modesty, Daniel, standing before the king, said, “We do not know, nor could the magi ever know, but there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and He makes known to the king the stupendous import of these days and the centuries to come” [Daniel 2:27-29]. Then he says of himself, “As for me, the secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any other man.” And he directs the attention of the king away from himself to the great Lord God who presides over the circle of this earth [Daniel 2:30]. Then immediately follows the glorious dream and the revelation [Daniel 2:31-45]. And that will be our sermon next Sunday.
Now I have four things to say coming out of this story. And all four of them are remarkable, astonishing revelations of how God does and how God works. First: in the dissolution of the outward fabric and the outward frame that to us is so vital to the knowledge and worship and presentation of God Himself, in the dissolution of that outward frame, the dissolving of that fabric, that to us is so tragic, yet to God, it is but the occasion of a more glorious and supernal revelation and building.
Now look at it here in the life of Daniel and in this revelation God’s going to make through His prophet. Jerusalem is in ruins, and the temple of Solomon is torn down. And Judah is destroyed. And the sacred vessels are now the possession of a heathen king [Daniel 1:1-2]. The glory has departed from between the cherubim, and Ichabod, Ichabod is written all over the face of God’s people [1 Samuel 4:21]. The sons and the daughters of Judah are seated on the banks of the rivers of Babylon, there to weep and to sob in their agony [Psalm 137:1-4]. Wouldn’t you suppose that was the end of the way? But in that tragedy and in that unspeakable loss and sorrow [Daniel 1:1-2], God was doing some greater thing and building some greater monument. For, out of that tragedy of the captivity [Daniel 1:1-2], God began to reveal His great, ultimate, consummating purposes that embrace the nations and peoples of the whole earth [Daniel 2:36-45]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing how God does?
We think that the accouterments, that the embellishments, that the advantages that we accrue to heaven by all of these things and things and things, walls and temples, and rituals and ceremonies and liturgies, we think without them God could not work. It is the opposite. Sometimes, in the breaking of these things, in the dissolution of these fabrics, sometimes in the destruction of a Jerusalem, or the tearing down of a temple, there will be occasion for God to rear a more beautiful house, one not made with hands, more glorious than the temples of Baalbek, or more impressive than the theaters of Greek Ionia, or more splendid than the glorious temple of Solomon, and even more worshipful than the cathedrals of Europe.
My brother, God has decreed that the saints shall inherit the earth [Matthew 5:5], and these sometimes to us tragedies that overwhelm God’s people are just occasions for the Lord God to burst through in greater glory. Sometime when you have occasion, read again the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 7:1-53]. That is Stephen’s sermon where he is avowing that God is not tied to any place or to any building or to any ritual [Acts 7:47-50]. But God was worshipped in old time, anytime, anywhere a man would build an altar and call on His name. And Stephen is saying—and what was true then is true today—God can be worshiped anywhere. Sometimes a kitchen corner is as fine a place to seek God’s face as the most handsome cathedral the world has ever seen. God’s not tied down to walls or to buildings or to temples or to ceremonies. And in the destruction of these things, sometimes the glory of the Lord will break through.
Second: an astonishing and remarkable thing how God will reveal His truth to sufferers. Ah, we may learn somewhat in our strength, I know. But if you would really come to know God, it is in suffering that He reveals Himself. This is the whole revelation of the Book. I don’t know of any exception to it. While the children of Israel were in the wilderness, then God revealed Himself by fire, by a column of smoke [Exodus 13:21], by the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17], by the Mosaic legislation, while they were in the wilderness [Deuteronomy 5:31]. While the apostle Paul was incarcerated in a dungeon and suffering affliction, God spoke to him the great doctrinal truths of the church [Ephesians 3:1-12]. It is while Daniel is a captive in a heathen court that God will reveal the sweep of human history [Daniel 2:17-45]. And it is while the sainted John is on the lonely Isle of Patmos to die of exposure and starvation, that he’ll see the vision of the glory of God’s marching saints [Revelation 1:9]. Isn’t that something? Isn’t that strange? These who think they have nothing in earth, God just reveals to them how much they have in heaven [Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:5]. These who close their eyes on time are those to whom God reveals the glories of eternity [Matthew 6:19-20]. It is always in suffering that God will make known His will, the riches of His grace [Ephesians 2:8], His mercy [2 Corinthians 4:17].
Third—I sometimes wonder, how do these things sound when I say them? Because I don’t read it and it is so easy to misunderstand. But the thought, third: God disdains, holds in derision the wisdom of this world [1 Corinthians 1:25]. Ah, how smart we think we are! Why, out of God’s five hundred billion, trillion, infinitude of miles, why, we may get a man two hundred and ninety some odd thousand miles away from here, and they land on the moon—and ah, we worship ourselves! Think of it. And the whole concourse of all of it is an infinitesimal speck that you can’t even see in God’s universe. Yet we think we know so much.
As Nebuchadnezzar calls in the intellectuals of his day, and they stand before him [Daniel 2:2]: “We have the answers,” they avow. “That preacher doesn’t have it, and that Book doesn’t have it.” You know, it’s a strange attitude they have toward that Bible. Oh, I meet it everywhere! “What the Bible needs to do is to be made conformable to modern science.” Well, what modern science? If you changed and rewrote this Bible to conform to what men think they know, you’d have to rewrite it every ten years! There’s not a science book in the world, ten years old, that is accepted. Why, it changes, it changes. Men don’t know, and then they learn a little more. Then it changes. “The word of God stands for ever” [Isaiah 40:8]. The wisdom of men is like small dust compared to the wisdom of God.
There is a wisdom of men; there is also a wisdom of God. I meet that so many times in the Bible. Job, you know, even though he was cast down, yet his spirit wasn’t broken, and he was contending and arguing and defending:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,
Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up thy loins like a man; and I will ask you and you answer.
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Where were you?
Who and what and where are the foundations to which it is fastened? Or who laid the corner stone of it;
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
You just tell me, this world out here in space—where did that come from? And who did it? And how does it hang there on nothing? [Job 26:7]. And then page after page, God asks Job those questions. And when God got through asking Job questions, none of which he could answer, none of which no man can answer, why:
Job answered the Lord, and said, O God I beseech Thee,
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.
Lord, having seen Thee, all other wisdom and knowledge are as dust in the balance.
Paul avowed the same thing. In the letter to the Greek church at Corinth:
The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men…
For God hath chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of this world to confound the things that are mighty…
Yea, and God has chosen the things in this world that are not, to bring to nought the things that are: That no flesh should glory in His presence.
[1 Corinthians 1:25-29]
Oh, how men ought to bow before the great God! Lord, I know a little, but it is so infinitesimally little. “Lord, I understand somewhat, but there is a vast and illimitable areas in which my mind cannot probe. Lord, in humility and in confession, I kneel before Thee [Matthew 11:28-30]. Lord, be Thou my teacher and let me learn of Thee.” And God answers when men seek like that. I must close. Our time is gone.
Four: it is a remarkable thing, this way of God, how God saves and spares the wicked and the lost for the sake of the righteous. The first thing Daniel did when he was brought in before the king was not to make any other request but this, “Destroy not the magi of Babylon, save them” [Daniel 2:27-28]. Save them! And for Daniel’s sake, they were saved. That’s the Lord! Had there been ten righteous men in Sodom, just ten, God would have spared the cities of the plain [Genesis 18:32]. And it is because of God’s people in the earth that judgment does not fall. That ushers in the great tribulation [2 Thessalonians 2:6-7] when the church, God’s saints, are raptured away, or caught away [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. It is the righteous people, God’s people, that keep this earth.
And a last sentence: “It was for Jesus’ sake that we ourselves are forgiven” [Ephesians 4:32]. Not for any righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, He saves us [Titus 3:5]. It’s for Jesus’ sake that our names are written in the Book of Life, that our sins are forgiven; not for what we are, but for what He is [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27; Luke 10:20]. That’s God! That’s the Lord!
Now we must sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, giving your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], or putting your life in the fellowship of this dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25], come and stand by me. The throng in this balcony round, the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these stairways at the front or the back on either side, into the aisle and here to the front: “Here I come, pastor, I make it this morning.” Decide now! Decide now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. That first step God will bring victory, and angels will attend your way. Come now, do it now, you, while we stand and while we sing.