Exposition of Daniel 3:1–12 A deadly test of loyalty

Daniel 3:1–12

1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. 3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.

4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: 5 As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

7 Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

8 At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May the king live forever! 10 Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon — Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego — who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”

No one could have an experience such as Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a terrifying image without being affected by it. This seems the most obvious explanation for the king’s decision to erect a huge image at a location that was probably about 16 miles southeast of Babylon.[1] The image height and width (“sixty cubits high and six cubits wide,” verse 1) fit right into the Babylonian numerical system based on the number 60. The height and width of the image are believed to convert to 90 feet by 9 feet, and the image is likely to have rested on a base.[2] For comparison, a contemporary image of the Texas hero Sam Houston stands 67 feet tall on a 10-foot base beside I-45 in Huntsville.

The base of Nebuchadnezzar’s image may have been discovered by a team that included the French archaeologist Julius Oppert; the brick structure they found consisted of a square base measuring 14 meters (46 feet) on a side and 6 meters (20 feet) high.[3] The statue would have risen another 70 feet above the base. Similar to the king’s frightening dream, this golden image was designed to impress and probably represented a Babylonian deity,[4] likely Marduk, since Nebuchadnezzar demanded worship of it (verse 5). Its gold-plated form would have been visible for many miles. It is perhaps not accidental that, based on our calculations, the golden top of the image would have been visible from the walls of Babylon 16 miles away. Perhaps you can imagine the proud Nebuchadnezzar gazing at his mighty work, gleaming in the distance.

Having built so impressive an image, Nebuchadnezzar invited high officials from every province to assemble at the dedication (verse 2). The highest office was the satrap, a term unfamiliar to us. “Satrap” was a word from Old Persian that meant “protector of the realm.”[5] A satrap was roughly equivalent to one of our governors but may have had some military powers as well. All the lower officials were also summoned.

The situation at the dedication of the image was quite simple even if the logistics were complex. The herald instructs the officials that when the orchestra plays, they must fall down and worship the golden image (verses 4–5). But Nebuchadnezzar had left nothing to chance. Nearby stood a blazing furnace, probably used to fire the bricks for the base and structure and to smelt the gold for the plated image. The herald proclaims that anyone not performing as ordered would immediately be thrown into the blazing furnace (verse 6). Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer describes such furnaces by saying, “Judging from bas-reliefs, it would seem that Mesopotamian smelting furnaces tended to be like an old-fashioned glass milk bottle in shape, with a large opening [at the top] for the insertion of the ore to be smelted and a smaller aperture at ground level for the admission of wood and charcoal to furnish heat.”[6] Such furnaces could reach 1830 degrees F.

Soon the musical instruments sounds, and the many officials fall down and worship the golden image (verse 7). Except for three.

In seconds, certain Babylonians, who were either “astrologers” (NIV, NLT) or “Chaldeans” (ESV, NET, HCSB, CEB) approach Nebuchadnezzar, who was himself a Chaldean, to snitch on those who did not fall down. The accusers first identify the men by ethnicity, Judeans or “Jews” (NIV) and then by name: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (verses 8–12). Miller expresses the intensity of the accusations by saying, “‘Denounced’ [NIV for verse 8] is literally ‘ate the pieces of,’ a phrase suggesting severe hatred and bitter language.”[7]

Many have pointed out that Daniel is apparently not present, since there is no doubt that he would have behaved as his friends did. The most likely explanation is that he is back in Babylon tending to the affairs of government while these proceedings take place. After all, Nebuchadnezzar has no reason to doubt Daniel’s loyalty, and this ceremony is all about loyalty.

But there is a much more important reason that Daniel is not mentioned. The Book of Daniel is not primarily about Daniel! While Nebuchadnezzar designed the image to demonstrate the supremacy of the Babylonian gods, chiefly Marduk, and the splendor of his own reign, the actual outcome of the chapter is to dramatically show the supremacy of Yahweh, the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. But, in saying this now, we run ahead of the story, which continues in my next post.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Tolul Dura is located at 32.3963889 N, 44.6711111 E, on the southwest side of Al Madhatiyah, Babil Province, Iraq. Ancient Babylon is located at 32.536389 N, 44.420833 E, 4 miles north of the Iraqi city of Hillah.

[2] Wood, Daniel, 80.

[3] Julius Oppert, Expedition Scientifique en Mesopotamie (1862), page 1:239. For the text (in French) see this link: http://bit.ly/TgydG3

[4] Collins, Daniel, 182.

[5] Wood, Daniel, 81.

[6] Gleason L. Archer, Daniel, EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985) 56.

[7] Miller, Daniel, 116.

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Exposition of Daniel 2:36–49 The God of Heaven

Daniel 2:36–49

36 “This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. 37 Your Majesty, you are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; 38 in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.

39 “After you, another kingdom will arise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. 40 Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron — for iron breaks and smashes everything — and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others. 41 Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. 42 As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. 43 And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.

44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands — a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.

“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.”

46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. 47 The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”

48 Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. 49 Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.

You have to wonder whether Nebuchadnezzar feels a chill go down his spine when he realizes that, unlike others, Daniel knows exactly what he had seen in his dream — the terrifying image smashed to dust by the world-engulfing stone. Hearing the interpretation may reveal threats against his kingdom or even his life. Courage is required to hear such things.

Daniel’s first statement defies Babylonian pride: “You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has granted you sovereignty, power, strength, and honor” (verse 37, NET). This one sentence dominates the entire interpretation by declaring that the God of heaven appoints rulers over the kingdoms of men, including mighty Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar thinks himself king of kings by military conquest, but, no, says Daniel; it was a gift. And his voice rings true because he is revealing things that no one else could possibly know. Nebuchadnezzar realizes this knowledge is unique because he has sentenced all seers without this knowledge to death.

In case anyone thinks that the authority God gives to Nebuchadnezzar is limited, God also grants him sovereignty over all people and animals within his empire (verse 38), a decision that reminds us of the authority given to Adam and Eve to be God’s vice-regents over the earth (Gen. 1:27–28). Times have changed, and mankind has grown more numerous, but God’s reign endures. And it is God who has declared that Nebuchadnezzar is the head of gold.

Wood describes what is said about the second and third kingdoms: “Very little is said of either the second kingdom or the third, perhaps for the reason that each is described at greater length in Daniel’s later visions [in chapters 7–8].”[1] On the other hand, the description may be terse because the identification of these kingdoms is not the primary concern of God in giving the vision. Of far greater import is the fact that God granted power to Nebuchadnezzar and will eventually establish a kingdom that will never be destroyed (verse 44).

The portrayal of God as the Lord of history is more vital to understanding the vision than the resolution of curiosity about which materials represent which kingdoms. That statement is meant as a warning to those who indulge in prophetic curiosity in place of living in obedience to the living God. We will reserve a more detailed discussion of the kingdoms following the Babylonian kingdom, until we have the more detailed visions of Daniel 7.

Image element Materials Empire Duration (approx.)
Head Gold Babylonian 605–539 B.C.
Chest + arms Silver Medo-Persian 539–331 B.C.
Belly + thighs Bronze Alexandrian (Greek) 331–146? B.C.
Legs + feet Iron/iron+clay mix Roman/ Roman II 146? B.C. – 1453 A.D. /Still future
Stone Stone/Mountain Millennial (Messiah) ?? – forever


Daniel draws attention to the fact that the second kingdom is inferior to Nebuchadnezzar’s (verse 39). When you consider the entire image, it plainly deteriorates in quality of material as you move from head to foot. Commentators differ over how the second kingdom is inferior to the first and also on what the reason is for the decreasing value of the materials as attention moves from top to bottom. We can be certain that size is not the answer since the Medo-Persian empire that replaced the Babylonian empire was even larger. While some suggest that the quality of government deteriorated from one to the next, we prefer Miller’s idea: “Daniel seems to have been suggesting that the sinfulness of the world would continue to increase until the culmination of history.”[2] But, this conclusion is uncertain.

While the identifications shown in the table are a consensus of traditional Christian scholars — also using the visions of Daniel 7 — those scholars who reject the existence or validity of predictive prophecy would say otherwise. Goldingay, for example, tries to say that the stone represents Cyrus the Great[3], but that makes little sense in light of the stone becoming a mountain, representing a kingdom that “will itself endure forever” (verse 44). His kingdom fell like all the others.

The fourth kingdom, symbolized by iron, receives a lot more attention than the second and third. Rome’s successful application of military technology and power enabled it to defeat some very tough opponents (e.g. Carthage) — “so it will crush and break all the others” (verse 40). Yet the Roman Empire frequently suffered from internal divisions, just as verses 41–43 predict.

Traditional Christian scholars differ on the exact nature of the fourth kingdom. Miller explains:

Some scholars … contend that verses 44–45 refer to Christ’s spiritual kingdom in the hearts of believers that commenced at his first coming. … Other commentators … maintain that the kingdom in view is Christ’s physical reign on earth inaugurated immediately following his second advent. It follows that if the dominion described in verse 44 refers to Christ’s personal, earthly kingdom set up at his second coming, then the last part of the statue must represent an earthly empire existing immediately prior to Christ’s return.[4]

To further understand this difference of interpretation among traditional interpreters, note carefully that the great image has “legs of iron” (verse 33a) as well as “feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay” (verse 33b). No other zone of the image has two sub-zones like this one. The existence of this distinction allows us to say (along with Miller[5] and Wood[6]) that the iron legs represent ancient Rome and the mixed-iron-and-clay feet and toes represent a ten-nation empire — some strong and some weak — arising from ancient Rome and existing just before Christ returns. In reaching this conclusion we are partially relying on information from Daniel’s visions in Daniel 7–8, and we will say more when those more detailed visions are explained.

Verse 44 introduces some mysteries that require information from Daniel 7 to resolve. First, the phrase “those kings” has no obvious referent. The previous verses have described kingdoms, not kings. However, parts of the visions in chapter 7 relate to ten kings, a fact that correlates well with the (ten) toes of the image in verse 42. If we assume that interpretation, then it is during the time of those ten future kings that “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed” (verse 44a).

What becomes clear in verse 44 is that the kingdoms of men (represented by the terrifying image) will suddenly be destroyed and replaced by a kingdom established by the God of heaven (represented by the stone that becomes a mountain filling the whole world). There was no great battle at Christ’s first coming, but his second coming will trigger the dramatic and sudden destruction of all those word powers arrayed against his return (Revelation 19:19–21). These facts fit well with the image of the stone shattering the image whose fragments are blown away.

In verse 45b, the segment saying, “A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this,” should be understood to mean after the events just described: the shattering of human kingdoms by the stone (verse 45a). That translation is much more exact than the indistinct timing expressed by “The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future” (verse 45b, NIV). What is it, then, that God has shown will happen “after this”? The full and final replacement of human kingdoms by the kingdom of God, right after those human kingdoms are suddenly shattered and swept away.

Following this dramatic revelation, Nebuchadnezzar’s reacts decisively and yet paradoxically: he humbles himself before Daniel (verse 46). However, the fact that Daniel does not object, along with Nebuchadnezzar’s immediate praise for God as “the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries” (verse 47), indicates that the praise is meant for God. This high praise for God from Nebuchadnezzar is the climax of the chapter.[7] That is an accurate conclusion about the story in its own time and place. We live much later and tend to be interested in the current implications of Daniel’s prophecies, and yet the same conclusion remains valid for us today. We too need to recognize the majesty of God who alone is the God of gods and King of all kings.

Miller summarizes, “Nebuchadnezzar still had not come to exclusive faith in Yahweh as his continued worship of other gods proves.”[8] Perhaps so, but he is on the track toward such faith, as future chapters will demonstrate.

True to his word, the king gives Daniel administrative control of the capital and the surrounding province as well as the supervision of the Babylonian sages (verse 48). Daniel wisely requested, and got, his three friends appointed as administrators under him in the province of Babylon.

In chapter 1, God’s power to change events came to the attention of Ashpenaz, the overseer of the palace officials. In chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar himself sees that God is the king of the ages. The knowledge of God’s supremacy spreads ever wider. When it pleases him to bring human history to an end, the kingdom of God will destroy forever the kingdoms of men and replace them. Those who belong to God will prosper in his kingdom; those who do not will blow away like dust in the wind.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Wood, Daniel, 68.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 94.

[3] Goldingay, Daniel, 51.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 97.

[5] Miller, Daniel, 96–99.

[6] Wood, Daniel, 69–71.

[7] Miller, Daniel, 103.

[8] Miller, Daniel, 103.

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Exposition of Daniel 2:17–36a Words to heaven and from heaven

Daniel 2:17–36a

17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.

22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.

23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

24 Then Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.”

25 Arioch took Daniel to the king at once and said, “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can tell the king what his dream means.”

26 The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”

27 Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:

29 “As Your Majesty was lying there, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. 30 As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.

31 “Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue — an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. 32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.

36 “This was the dream …”

Words to heaven and from heaven

In reading the story of Daniel, it is vital to remember that Daniel did not foresee how events would go. In particular, during this long night Daniel did not know whether Yahweh — here called “the God of heaven” (verse 17) — would answer his prayer or not. The biographer James Boswell once wrote: “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Confronted with this emergency, Daniel did not rush to the library for Babylonian wisdom; he briefed his friends and then led them before a higher throne than Babylon’s. Daniel urged his friends to seek God’s mercy (verse 18). Daniel understood what many people today do not — that Yahweh’s identity is grounded in his mercy and compassion. This is most obvious in Exodus 34:6, where Yahweh reveals himself to Moses by saying, “Yahweh — Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” (HCSB).

While we can certainly imagine that the prayers were earnest and heartfelt, there is no reason to think that it went on for hours or required the kind of bizarre behavior seen among the Babylonian astrologers and sorcerers. A case in point would be the many hours of loud prayer and bloodletting by the four hundred prophets of Baal in their confrontation with the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:2-–40), who spoke roughly 58 words (English translation) before fire fell from heaven.

The great acts of God always move his people to praise. Initially, Daniel praises God as eternal ruler of both time and kings; he changes both as it pleases him (verses 20–21a). Next, Daniel says that God is the source of all wisdom and knowledge, even the knowledge of hidden things (verses 21b–22). He concludes with more personal language, thanking God for revealing to them “the king’s matter” (verse 23, ESV, against the more narrow “the king’s dream”–NIV). God had revealed to Daniel both the dream and its interpretation.

There is no reason to believe that Daniel delayed in arranging to see Nebuchadnezzar, but imagine the mixed feelings for one condemned to death to approach the chief executioner to set up the audience (verse 24). Daniel first speaks to block further executions, giving the clear signal that no such killing will be required (verse 24). The words describing Arioch (verse 25) reflect both urgency and fear, both quite fitting for a man serving so volatile a ruler as Nebuchadnezzar and the pending order to execute all the wise men of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar gets straight to the point: “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?” (verse 26). Leon Wood describes both Nebuchadnezzar’s attitude and Daniel’s response: “The young man had said he would return with the information, but Nebuchadnezzar would have had serious doubts that he could. … Note, however, that [Daniel] did not begin with the information itself, but with making clear to the king to whom the credit for it was due.”[1]

First, Daniel gets the Babylonian wise men off the hook — possibly a literal hook — by saying they cannot reveal the mystery. This also means that the gods of Babylon were powerless to know or reveal Nebuchadnezzar’s thoughts. However, “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (verse 27). Consider that if God knows the thoughts of the king, he knows your thoughts as well!

Daniel’s summary of the vision is inadequately captured by the NIV: “He has shown Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come” (verse 28). The italicized phrase is better translated by ESV (“what will be in the latter days”) and HCSB (“what will happen in the last days”). Wood provides an excellent explanation for the phrase in question and supports ESV and HCSB:

This [Aramaic] phrase be´charit yomayya´  is used fourteen times in the Old Testament and regularly refers to the closing portion of a time period then in the mind of the speaker or writer (cf. Gen. 49:1). From the nature of the dream, the time period in view here is Gentile history, brought to a close by Christ’s millennial kingdom (cf. verses 44, 45).[2]

Both John Collins[3] and John Goldingay[4] translate the relevant Aramaic phrase with “at the end of the era” (verse 28b), thus placing the emphasis on the final kingdom in the vision soon to be described.

But, while the dream was ultimately used by God to show Nebuchadnezzar events extending to the end of the era (Christ’s return and millennial kingdom), Nebuchadnezzar’s thoughts begin much more modestly as he lies in bed thinking about “what would be after this” (verse 29b, ESV). The italicized phrase “refers only to days which Nebuchadnezzar could expect to occur within his own lifetime.”[5] This conclusion by Wood is supported by extensive research on the comparable Hebrew phrase found forty-three times in the Old Testament.[6] The king merely wonders what comes next, but God shows him so much more!

The terrifying colossus

Before Nebuchadnezzar has a chance to see details, he is overwhelmed with fear due to the huge, dazzling image that suddenly stands before him. ESV: “Its appearance was frightening” (verse 31b). HCSB: “Its appearance was terrifying” (verse 31b). NLT: “It was a frightening sight” (verse 31b).

Getting a grip on his fear, Nebuchadnezzar realizes that the statute has several zones: the head is fine gold; the chest and arms are made of silver; the belly and thighs consist of bronze; the legs are made of iron; and the feet are a mixture of iron and baked clay (verses 32–33).

Transfixed by the sight, the king continues to watch as a stone breaks of from a mountain (see verse 45 for this extra detail) and smashes against the feet of the statue (verse 34). The violent impact shatters the entire image into material carried away by the wind, like chaff during the threshing of wheat (verse 35a). After the wind carries away the fragments of the shattered image, the stone becomes a mountain that encompasses the whole earth (verse 35b). “This was the dream …” (verse 36a).

The ease with which the stone destroys the terrifying image sends a compelling message, but what is that message?

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Leon J. Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998) 63.

[2] Wood, Daniel, 64.

[3] John J. Collins, Daniel, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993) 150.

[4] John E. Goldingay, Daniel, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1989) 31.

[5] Wood, Daniel, 65.

[6] B. Applewhite, “Chronological Problems in Joel,” Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976, 48–9.

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Exposition of Daniel 2:1–16 No fool

Daniel 2:1–16

1 In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. 2 So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, 3 he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means. “

4 Then the astrologers answered the king, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”

5 The king replied to the astrologers, “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. 6 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.”

7 Once more they replied, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”

8 Then the king answered, “I am certain that you are trying to gain time, because you realize that this is what I have firmly decided: 9 If you do not tell me the dream, there is only one penalty for you. 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.”

10 The astrologers answered the king, “There is no one 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. 11 What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.”

12 This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. 13 So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death, and men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death.

14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact. 15 He asked the king’s officer, “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. 16 At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him.

Perhaps at some time in your life you had a dream which was so disturbing and real that you were not able to sleep again, possibly out of fear it would recur. This was the experience of Nebuchadnezzar in the second year of his reign (verse 1). It seems likely that the king summoned his dream team of experts without delay (verse 2).

Wood explains that ancient Akkadian texts have been found that were used in the interpretation of dreams.[1] Once the dream was known, each element could be found in the manual and an interpretation constructed. We might say that such methods of dream interpretation are like painting by the numbers. Nebuchadnezzar knew this well, and he was determined to get a better answer.

Contrary to NIV’s “I want to know what it means” (verse 3b), ESV has “my spirit is troubled to know the dream.” Collins points out that the king’s demand for both the dream and its interpretation makes it more likely that he is asking for the Chaldeans to tell the dream (as ESV suggests) and not what it means (as NIV suggests).[2] The king’s demand initiates a sequence of three statements from the king and three responses from the dream experts.

The Chaldean astrologers try to get things back on track by asking Nebuchadnezzar to tell his dream, which they promise to interpret (verse 4[3]). But the king’s reply must have sucked all the air out of the room. The king offers dismemberment and degradation — houses made into a dunghill or refuse pile — if they do not tell both the dream and its meaning (verse 5); alternatively, revealing both will result in abundant reward. Those charged with seeing into mysteries never saw this one coming!

The Chaldeans make their second request for the contents of the dream (verse 7), this time omitting the flowery wish that the king would live forever! But the king accuses them of trying to “buy time” in the face of his firm decision (verse 8). Wood describes how strange this scene is: “This was most unusual for a king of that time when most leaders acceded to the declarations of their diviners without question, for fear of supernatural reprisal if they did not. Nebuchadnezzar, however, was an unusual king.”[4]

Things move from bad to worse when Nebuchadnezzar accuses the Chaldeans of conspiring among themselves to tell him lies until the urgency was past (verse 9). Miller suggests that Nebuchadnezzar feared that the dream presaged something terrible, and he points out that two out of the next three Babylonian kings were assassinated.[5] To cut through the deception, the king insists on being told his dream in order to verify the alleged interpretation. He was determined not to be played for a fool.

At last the Chaldeans make their final appeal: the king’s request is impossible. This is essentially an admission that their supposed skills were a sham; they had no connection to the gods (verses 10–11). At this impertinent reply, Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered death for all the wise men of Babylon (verse 12). As Wood wryly notes, “Nebuchadnezzar had numerous virtues, but self-control was not one of them.”[6]

With executioners preparing to carry out their orders, it may well have been divine intervention that brought Daniel into contact with Arioch, the commander of the king’s bodyguard (verse 14). In due course, Daniel bravely approached the king and asked for time to meet the full demand the king had made. It is likely we must look to God to understand why Nebuchadnezzar would grant to Daniel the very thing he had denied to the Chaldeans: time.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973) 51.

[2] John J. Collins, Daniel, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993) 148, note 10.

[3] NIV has chosen to delete the words “in Aramaic” which mark a shift to that language in the middle of verse 4 and extending to Daniel 7:28. Aramaic was the international language of diplomacy in the ancient east for many centuries.

[4] Wood, Daniel, 53.

[5] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, vol. 18 of The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1994) 82.

[6] Wood, Daniel, 55.

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Exposition of Daniel 1:17–21 Yahweh causes Daniel’s rise

Daniel 1:17–21

17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. 18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. 21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus. While it was true that Nebuchadnezzar had sent Daniel and his friends into training, it was Yahweh who granted them mastery by giving them “knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning” (verse 17). Not least, they knew the true God and could disregard the false gods of Babylon. They also knew to steer clear of divination and sorcery, which were forbidden in the law (Deut. 18:10–12). For an example of how the Babylonians commonly used such practices to make decisions during military campaigns, see Ezekiel 21:18–24 with special attention to Ezek. 21:21. Not only did God enable the four young men to read cuneiform tablets written in Akkadian, but he also granted to Daniel the special skill of understanding “all visions and dreams” (ESV) — not “all kinds of visions and dreams” (NIV). Yahweh did not make Daniel the master of dream categories; he made Daniel the precise interpreter or any individual dream by giving him the exact interpretation when required. This will become plain in chapter 2. In effect, Daniel became the channel for God’s interpretation of any dream whose meaning was to be made known to others. Wood supports the above interpretation of verse 17 when he says:

This gift was entirely from God. Daniel could not learn the technique of true vision and dream interpretation. There is point to noting this here, for the Babylonians believed one could do so. In fact, much of the literature in which the young men would have had to become proficient concerned such techniques. … The four Judeans would have had to reject all such thinking, as they recognized that true revelation could come only from God, and as he pleased.[1]

In time, the day of reckoning came for Nebuchadnezzar to personally interview every candidate trained for service in his government (verses 18–20). This kind of attention to detail is plainly what made him one of the most formidable rulers of ancient times. By showing the king’s meticulous care, Daniel sets the stage for the unfolding of the king’s shrewd actions in chapter 2. Because several English versions (NIV, ESV, NET and NLT) use the word “magicians” to describe some of the king’s counselors in Dan. 1:20b, we should clarify this term. The English word “magician” leads us to think of  various illusions and tricks we have seen on television. But that is not anywhere close to the function Daniel mentions. The standard Hebrew lexicon offers “soothsayer-priest”[2] and HCSB skillfully translates using “diviner-priest.” Miller further describes the role of the diviner-priests:

Supposedly in touch with the world of the spirits and the gods, these individuals were advisers to the king on virtually every matter. They employed rites and spells intended to heal, exorcise demons, or counter an evil spell placed upon the sufferer. Omens were studied in order to understand the future, and astrology played an important part in this activity.[3]

Before you sneer at the idea of a powerful ruler being guided by such arcane advice, consider that one of our most popular presidents is known to have used the advice of an astrologer in making and executing many decisions. In Nebuchadnezzar’s time there was no reason to hide such advisors; they served in an official capacity. Chapter 1 records the steady rise of Daniel and his companions. They began as royal captives swept up in punitive conquest (verses 2–3). By maintaining their special diet as a symbol of loyalty to Yahweh, the four are seen by their overseer to be superior in appearance to all other trainees (verse 15). When Nebuchadnezzar examines their skill, they demonstrate superiority to all the diviner-priests and enchanters in Babylon (verse 20). At the beginning of the chapter no one is paying much attention to Daniel and his friends, but by the close of their training, the king values them above all his other advisors. The king has unwittingly recognized the skills Yahweh has given to these young men, and the chapter closes with the note that Daniel’s career extended throughout the neo-Babylonian empire and into the reign of Cyrus the Great of Persia (verse 21).

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Wood, Daniel, 43.

[2] HALOT, chartum, soothsayer-priest, q.v.

[3] Miller, Daniel, 72.

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Exposition of Daniel 1:8–16 First glimpse of the unseen hand

Daniel 1:8–16

8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”

11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

Daniel did not refuse his new name, but he “placed on his heart” (NET margin) that he would not defile himself with the royal food and wine (verse 8). It is not totally clear what the nature of the defilement might have been. Some think it was related to Jewish dietary laws, others that the food had previously been dedicated to Babylonian gods, and still others that accepting this provision might symbolize a covenant relationship with Nebuchadnezzar that conflicted with Daniel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh. Whatever the reason, it is clear that Daniel saw this matter as an issue of loyalty to Yahweh. So, Daniel proposed an alternative to the chief of staff, Ashpenaz (verse 3). This required great courage, a trait Daniel will often exhibit.

In verse 9, we find that God had covertly influenced Ashpenaz to have sympathy for Daniel and his request. Once again we see that outward appearances do not tell the whole story. Ashpenaz does not outright deny Daniel’s request, but he does describe a serious risk if he allows this deviation from the king’s plans (verse 10). Daniel executes a shrewd maneuver by next approaching a lower official, the overseer under Ashpenaz’s command, and proposing a brief test of a revised diet (verse 11). This approach allows deniability for Ashpenaz while also giving the overseer the opportunity to quickly abort the test if the proposed diet is producing adverse results.

A little reflection will tell you that ten days is a very short time for a diet to make a visible change in someone’s appearance. Commentator Leon Wood says, “God’s direct intervention would have been necessary to effect this manner of observable change in so short a period.”[1] For Daniel and his friends to visibly surpass those eating a royal diet while themselves eating only simple fare such as vegetables, fruit and bread was enough to convince the overseer (verse 15). He took away the food and drink provided from the royal table and replaced them with vegetables (verse 16). On this notable day the overseer glimpses something no one else in Babylon has seen — the powerful hand of Yahweh to protect his own.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973)  42.

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Exposition of Daniel 1:1–7 The unseen hand on history’s rudder

Daniel 1:1–7

1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility — 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.

6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.

While the Bible is designed to teach us about God, his kingdom and the salvation he offers, it always remains firmly grounded in history. God has no interest in some misty world of speculation; instead, he tells us what actually took place and reveals what he plans to do in days to come. For this reason, Daniel explains that in 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon besieged Jerusalem (Dan. 1:1). God had warned Judah over and over about their idolatry, but they lived in denial until the day of reckoning shattered their complacency.

Nebuchadnezzar had just demolished the combined forces of Egypt and Assyria at the Battle of Carchemish (May–June, 605 B.C.), where the Euphrates River crosses from modern Turkey into Syria (see map in the Introduction). At that time, Judah was a conquered nation, subject to Egypt, and Pharaoh Neco had put Jehoiakim on the throne of Judah (2 Kings 23:34–24:6). Fresh from his decisive victory, Nebuchadnezzar rushed south to crush Pharaoh’s client Judah.

The Bible is not merely a history book, because it reveals things we could never discover without the Lord telling us. Conquerors had approached Jerusalem before and had been repelled by God empty-handed (Isaiah 36–37). This time the Lord delivered Jehoiakim and the city into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand (verse 2). Old Testament scholar John Goldingay points out that we are not given any description of siege tactics or negotiations; instead, “There is no non-theological description of the fall of Jerusalem, only this theological one.”[1] Further, Miller explains: “The word translated ‘Lord’ [in verse 2] is not Yahweh (represented in NIV by ‘LORD’) but ‘adōnay, and this fact is significant. ‘Owner, ruler, or sovereign’ is the meaning of ‘adōnay … . By the use of this expression, Daniel was emphasizing the sovereignty of Yahweh, which is the dominant theme of the book.”[2]

According to the custom of the times, holy items were taken from the temple of God and carried off to the temple of Marduk in Babylon (verse 2). The reader might think little of a detail like the temple vessels being removed, but Daniel is a very careful writer. Those vessels will resurface in Daniel 5.

To the uninformed ancient observer, it seemed that both Judah and Yahweh had been defeated. Old Testament scholar Leon Wood explains, “Pagans evaluated any foreign deity in terms of the size of the country whose people worshipped him, the degree of prosperity of that country, and the size and success of the army.”[3] Their opinion of Yahweh and Judah would have been quite low; only time would prove them utterly wrong. To the reader God reveals that this victory over Judah came through his decision, not the military might of Nebuchadnezzar (verse 2). As the story progresses in this and future chapters, the knowledge of God’s participation in these events will gradually increase.

Another hidden subtlety within verse 2 is that the phrase “in Babylonia” (NIV) is actually “in the land of Shinar,” a reference to the ancient land where the tower of Babel was built. Miller approvingly quotes J.G. Baldwin, who says, “‘Shinar, site of the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1–9; cf. 10:10), was synonymous with opposition to God; it was the place where wickedness was at home (Zech. 5:11) and uprightness could expect opposition.’”[4] This underlying revelation of Babylon as the seat of wickedness contrasts with its outward appearance of power, wealth, and concern with education of its leaders.

Preparing to serve

The story of Daniel’s selection and training “to serve in the king’s palace” (verse 4) covers verses 3–7, and it is a formidable set of requirements. Verse 4 insists on candidates who possessed good health, pleasing appearance, and, above all, great intelligence. Scholars Tom Finley and Brandon Cash explain: “Scribes had to spend many years in training in order to read the complicated Babylonian cuneiform, which consisted of wedge-shaped marks made in a clay tablet while it was still moist with a stylus. The resulting signs represented either syllables or entire words, meaning that there were hundreds of signs that had to be learned.”[5] Since Daniel and his friends had to learn “the language and literature of Babylon” (verse 4), it is not surprising that this advanced training lasted three years.

Akkadian cueiform text

Akkadian cueiform text

Miller explains the importance of Babylon in relation to human knowledge: “Babylon was the learning center of the day and had acquired the remarkable library left by the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal (669–626 B.C.).”[6] Numerous cuneiform texts would have been used by the Babylonian wise men to study history, mathematics, medicine and myths, but a lot of the tablets recorded methods of divination and magic. Daniel had to be able to read this lore, but he clearly relied on God rather than the vast stock of Babylonian magic.

The induction of four young Judeans into the court of Nebuchadnezzar involved a change of identity. Miller summarizes, “In each case the Hebrew appellation [name] contains a reference to the true God, whereas its Babylon counterpart involves an allusion to a pagan deity.”[7] Wood explains how many names in the Hebrew Old Testament are constructed by saying, “‘Daniel’ and ‘Mishael’ both contain the element el, one of the [Hebrew] names for God; and ‘Hananiah’ and ‘Azariah’ contain the element iah (yah), an abbreviation found in so many Hebrew names for Yahweh.”[8]

“Daniel” as a Hebrew name means “God is my judge.” There may be a note of divine irony in Daniel’s name, because analyzing it as an Akkadian name — since the Babylonian language is nothing more than a dialect of Akkadian — yields “God is mighty.”[9] Daniel will be used to show God’s might over and over. The Babylonian names given to the young men by the court official are less well understood, but they clearly refer, in part, to Babylonian deities.

The Bible says a lot about people who are living in difficult physical circumstances, but Daniel and his friends had the best the ancient world had to offer. Imagine how it would be to have room and board in a palace while attending the greatest university at no expense for three years. After that education, you would get a position in the most powerful kingdom on earth. But every rose bush has thorns that wound the unwary.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] John E. Goldingay, Daniel, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1989) 9.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 58.

[3] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973) 17.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 59, quoting J.G. Baldwin, Daniel (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1978) 78.

[5] Tom Finley and Brandon Cash, Daniel (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, in press) 7.

[6] Miller, Daniel, 62.

[7] Miller, Daniel, 65–6.

[8] Wood, Daniel, 35.

[9] HALOT, dāniyyē’l, Daniel, q.v. (see etymology).

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