At the end of Daniel 1 we are told that God gave Daniel three things. Because of his decision not to defile himself with the food and culture of the Babylonians, God granted Daniel wisdom beyond the wisdom of the Babylonians, influence beyond that of any in the kingdom, and health that resulted in long life. However, when we move from the end of the first to the beginning of the second chapter, we find that each of these is at once either disregarded or threatened.
At the end of his period of training, Daniel was presumably graduated into the company of wise men and statesmen referred to by Nebuchadnezzar as “the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers.” But we need to remember that he was still only about eighteen or nineteen years of age and that there were undoubtedly many among those men who were far greater and far more influential than he was. They had been advisers to the emperors of Babylon for many years. In that company Daniel would have been “low man on the pole.” Indeed, when Nebuchadnezzar had his dream an inquiry about it was made to these men. But Daniel did not seem to have been consulted and, in fact, did not even know what was happening until the order was given to execute the wise men. So Daniel had no power and negligible influence. And so far as health and long life are concerned, we find that when the wise men were unable to tell the king what his dream was and the king threatened to kill them all, Daniel, who was not even consulted and whose influence in ancient Babylon did not amount to a hill of beans at this time, was nevertheless also on the verge of extermination.
However, although his gifts were disregarded and although he was now under sentence of death by Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel was wise and the crisis became the occasion through which God brought him to the forefront of leadership.
Here as elsewhere in the story we see the overriding sovereignty of God in this young man’s affairs. In fact, the sovereignty of God is the connection between these chapters. In chapter 1 God gave Daniel wisdom, influence, and health or long life. Now, in spite of the threat to kill Daniel, God fulfills what he has promised. How? By being sovereign over the details of history, which is the book’s theme. If God does not control our lives – from the actions of kings and others in positions of power to the most minute circumstances – then everything in life is uncertain. We are victims of circumstances, and whatever happens will happen. Que sera, sera! But if God is sovereign, as the Bible declares Him to be, and if He is our God – if the promises He makes and the actions He takes are certain of fulfillment – then we can be confident of the future and know that we will be able to live our lives in a way that will please God.
“In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep” (Daniel 2:1). Statesmen are often troubled by the past and have forebodings about the future. But Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was not like the dreams that normal statesmen have. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream had been given to him by God, even though he did not know who this God was; and because it had been given to him by God, it was an accurate revelation. It was prophecy of important events to come.
Unfortunately, Nebuchadnezzar could not remember his dream.
But he had people around him who were supposed to be able to deal with such things. So he called the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers together and announced, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.”
Have you ever been in an interview when the conversation went from bad to worse? That is what seems to have happened here. Each side had a reasonable position. The astrologers argued that they could not tell what the dream meant unless the king told them what the dream was, and the king replied that if they were true astrologers and not fakes, they should be able to divine what he had dreamed. This was going nowhere quickly. Nebuchadnezzar said, “I am certain that you are trying to gain time, because you realize that this is what I have firmly decided… You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.”
The astrologers replied, “There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men.”
Is that not interesting? “No one can reveal it to the king except the gods.” No, but there was one true God who does reveal himself to men, who would later say through Amos, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). Here, God would reveal what he was about to do through Daniel. The stage was set for the first great revelation to Nebuchadnezzar of the reality, wisdom, and power of the one true God.