Monday, April 21, 2014

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue and the stone cut out without hands

My husband and I were reading Daniel 2 for our family scripture study, and my husband brought up an interesting question about the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue that eventually is broken in pieces by the stone cut out of the mountain without hands.  He said, “I have wondered why the Lord gave that dream to Nebuchadnezzar.”

I started to think about it and seemed to me that the dream may have been an answer to a question that Nebuchadnezzar had.  Can we get an idea of what this question might have been?

The dream essentially depicted a succession of earthly kingdoms and their relative comparison one with each other, ending with a symbolic representation of how the Lord’s kingdom would supersede them all.  This suggests Nebuchadnezzar had been pondering whether Babylon as a kingdom would be permanent or temporary, and if temporary, how long Babylon would last, and how it would compare with the other kingdoms afterward.   This would be a perfectly natural and legitimate issue for a ruler to think about, considering the effort they put into acquiring territory, creating order, and administering laws.  They would wonder how long it would last and how they would be remembered in history.

That the Lord gave Nebuchadnezzar this dream shows that the Lord knew his thoughts and questions and wanted to answer them.  It shows us that the Lord may give revelation in dreams to whomever He wishes, whether the receiver is converted or not.  We also see that this dream was directly related to Nebuchadnezzar’s stewardship as a king.  It gave him perspective about his role on the world’s stage.  He learned his kingdom was quite glorious by worldly standards in comparison with other later kingdoms, but that it still would be broken in pieces by the Lord’s kingdom and agency.  (Quite a mixed message, huh?)

Another question then arises from the first question.  Why then did Nebuchadnezzar require his wise men to tell him the dream as well as the interpretation of it?  It sounds like a petulant command of a man determined to trap his wise men.  From their complaint “There is no king, lord, nor ruler, that asked such things at any magician, or astrologer, or Chaldean,” (Daniel 2:10) they clearly think it unreasonable to expect them to read his mind.

However, we don’t know what powers these astrologers and magicians claimed for themselves.  We might suppose they claimed to speak for the Babylonian gods and to interpret omens to show the will of the gods.  If so, Nebuchadnezzar would have wondered how he might be able to tell whether they really could do as they said.  With this dream, Nebuchadnezzar realized he had been given something to know for sure about the will of the gods (or God) and he would surmise to himself, “If they claim to understand the will of the gods, then they should be able to have the gods tell them the dream and interpret it without me telling what it is, and if they can’t, then they don’t really know what they claim to know.” 

I don’t think Nebuchadnezzar was testing God here.  I don’t think he was yet to the point that he was identifying who was God among all the gods he knew of.  But I think he knew there was some source of divine intelligence out there that had communicated with him and he was trying to figure out who else had that personal connection.  I think I was testing his wise men to see who among them had a similar (or better) relationship with that divine source (who we know to be God). 

The dream also means something to Daniel, a Jew captive in Babylon.  It shows him that the power of Babylon is only temporary and eventually the Lord will triumph over all earthly powers.  It is a message of encouragement, and it is all the more powerful, coming as it does as a dream to a gentile king. 

How does this help us today?  I think it shows us that God can communicate with rulers of nations even today and answer their questions about their stewardships.  Of course, they may still make choices that aren’t the best and which bring unhappy consequences.   Nebuchadnezzar had to learn from going mad for seven years that God had power over him to exalt him or abase him.   Still, it is wonderful to know that God does not leave leaders alone to flounder.