A work in progress, Matthew 14:28-33

Before these events, if someone told you that one of the twelve disciples got out of the boat in the midst of a storm and tried to walk on the water, you might not have been able to guess a name. After these events, one name will always spring onto your tongue: Peter. He was a work in progress, and that’s why we love him.

Matthew 14:28-33

28 Lord, if its you, Peter replied, tell me to come to you on the water.

29 Come, he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, Lord, save me!

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. You of little faith, he said, why did you doubt?

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, Truly you are the Son of God.


Verse 28 contains one of those if-statements signaling that the starting assumption is assumed true; Peter knows that Jesus is speaking, so he solicits a direct order. A shrewd move.

At first, Peter enjoyed complete success in walking to Jesus (verse 29). When the wind became more fierce and came to Peter’s awareness, fear overmatched faith and a gradual sinking process began. Whatever we may say about Peter’s loss of confidence, he knew who to call on to save him: Jesus (verse 30). Jesus solved the immediate problem, including Peter’s lapse (verse 31). Perhaps we see in this that helping disciples of Jesus become mature is not a sink or swim process. It involves both fast assistance and coaching.

Verse 32 has not received much attention. Most commentators indirectly credit Jesus with the fact that the wind stopped after he and Peter got into the boat. Under my theory that demonic action caused these problems, it seems more likely that, absent agitation by these spirits, the wind and water returned to their normal calm state in the pre-dawn hours. The biblical text does not say why the wind stopped, but most of us will realize that going from high wind speed to still is not normal. And Jesus is not the only person capable of acting in the context, even though his decision will be final.

Basking in their rescue by Jesus, the disciples affirm him as the Son of God (verse 33), and they are not wrong, but it is apparent that their grasp of who Jesus is needs to deepen even further.

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Material originally developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

Exposition of Daniel 6:19–28, Ranking Guests for Breakfast

Daniel 6:19–28

19 At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20 When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

21 Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! 22 My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

24 At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.

25 Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth:
“May you prosper greatly!

26 “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.
“For he is the living God and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.
27 He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”

28 So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

After spending a sleepless night, at the breaking of dawn Darius goes quickly to the lion-pit holding Daniel (verse 19). Darius at the cistern’s entrance is a picture of both anxiety and hope. Without court protocol he loudly shouts Daniel’s name, calling him “servant of the living God” (verse 20) and reminding us that God’s ability to rescue Daniel is still a question. That issue is quickly resolved when Daniel implicitly prays, “May the king live forever!” (verse 21). This dramatic and moving greeting mirrors the king’s implicit prayer  “May your God … rescue you!” (verse 16) when Daniel was condemned to face the lions.

Daniel is always looking for ways to speak about God, which should serve to remind us not only of our own mission for Christ but also that this book is not primarily about Daniel. He swiftly explains that “My God” — to distinguish Yahweh from the pantheon of Babylonian deities — “sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions” (verse 22). It is ironic that Darius, Daniel and the lions were all without food during the long night. The statement that the angel “shut the mouths of the lions” is figurative of total protection since lions can kill a man in other ways as well.

Verse 22 looks on Daniel as being on trial in two venues, before God and before the king. The angel’s protection proves Daniel’s innocence before God, and he further claims to have done no wrong before the king. Darius had never believed any such thing in the first place and orders that Daniel be lifted out of the cistern (verses 22–23). Daniel is closely inspected and found to be without injury; this state is attributed to his faith in Yahweh, and it shows how completely God has overpowered both wild lions and Medo-Persian capital punishment.

However, the vindication of Daniel is the condemnation of his accusers. When verse 24 mentions “the men who had falsely accused Daniel,” we learn from Miller that “‘falsely accused’ is literally ‘who had eaten his pieces.’”[1] The NET Bible Notes for verse 24 point out that “The Aramaic expression is ironic, in that the accusers who had figuratively ‘eaten the pieces of Daniel’ are themselves literally devoured by the lions.” This is a concrete, if ironic, example of a common biblical principle related to judgment: measure for measure.  Jesus said, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).

That whole families were executed for the guilt of one person was the Persian custom during those times[2], and the practice serves to remind us that our sin affects all we know and love. Proving that they are both vicious and hungry, the lions “crush their bones” before they even reach the floor of the cistern. Dinner had been quite a disappointment, but breakfast proved memorable for all involved.

An empire-spanning decree

Once again one of the greatest rulers in ancient times feels moved to tell his people about the mighty acts of Yahweh (verses 25–27). Aside from being personally awed by the events, the king finds it necessary to explain how unbreakable Medo-Persian law could be overruled in the case of Daniel, which explains why the decree ends with “He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions” (verse 27b).

The wildly fluctuating status of Daniel may provide the occasion for the decree, but the heart of the king’s message is designed to make sure that the people of the empire do nothing to offend “the God of Daniel” (verse 26a). HCSB gets the right sense by saying “people must tremble in fear before the God of Daniel” (verse 6:26a). Trembling before God and being afraid before God are Aramaic participles that imply continuous action. Darius offers five reasons that make this ongoing attitude an absolute necessity:

“he is the living God and he endures forever” (verse 26)

“his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end” (verse 26)

“he rescues and he saves” (verse 27)

“he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth” (verse 27)

“he has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions” (verse 27).

If there is one thing our contemporary world has forgotten, it is the absolute need to fear and tremble before the living God, the enduring ruler who holds the power of life and death. We who have been rescued by trusting in Jesus must remember that, even in his own family, our God disciplines those he loves.

We have said before that we consider Darius the Mede to be the same person as Cyrus the Persian, also known as Cyrus the Great. This issue arises again in verse 28, where Miller explains: “If one holds that Cyrus and Darius were the same person … the phrase may be translated ‘during the reign of Darius, even (namely) the reign of Cyrus the Persian.’ If [this] view is correct, Daniel was thereby specifying for the reader the identification of Darius the Mede — he was the same person as Cyrus the Persian.”[3]

While the identification of Darius is interesting, it is not vital. What we must never forget is that God rules in heaven and on earth. He is the only one who can rescue and save, and he has done so through Jesus Christ!

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

[1] Miller, Daniel, 187.

[2] Wood, Daniel, 174.

[3] Miller, Daniel, 189.

Exposition of Daniel 6:10-18 An unbreakable web of lies

Daniel 6:10-18

10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. 12 So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human being except to you, Your Majesty, would be thrown into the lions den? The king answered, The decree stands in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.

13 Then they said to the king, Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day. 14 When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.

15 Then the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.

16 So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions den. The king said to Daniel, May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!

17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniels situation might not be changed. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.

The publication of the decree affecting his prayers to Yahweh was not the first restrictive edict Daniel had faced. During his first days in Babylon he had been confronted with eating food and drink from the kings allotment (Dan. 1:8). Daniel had quietly resisted that seductive diet, and God had enabled him to prevail during his earliest days in Babylonian captivity. Now, under the reign of Darius the Mede, a much more powerful Daniel faces a situation where his normal prayer life will lead to his death. Daniels enemies were counting on his integrity and faithfulness to Yahweh.

As was his open custom, Daniel continues his daily prayers and praise without using Darius as a mediator (verse 10). Predictably, the same conspirators who had approached Darius with their deceptive proposal burst in on Daniel while he is praying for Gods help (verse 11). Armed with this direct evidence, the conspirators promptly approach the king and first get his confirmation of the irrevocable decree. The king naturally declares that the decree stands and cannot be repealed (verse 12).

The conspirators have very carefully teed up their accusation, but they cannot resist the temptation to enhance it with another provocative lie. While NIV says that Daniel pays no attention to you (verse 13), the verb means has no regard for you,[1] as if the king and his decree are the object of Daniels personal contempt. This is an attempt to inflame the kings emotions against Daniel.

When the king grasps the situation, he is exceptionally distressed (verse 14). Wood observes, This was not the kind of reaction by the king for which the accusers had hoped.[2] The conspirators had previously lied by saying that Daniel had no regard for the king, and that very same Aramaic verb is used in verse 14 to say that the king has regard for Daniel to the point that he wants to rescue him from death! The kings high opinion of Daniel has not changed. He makes every effort to save Daniel until the setting sun marks the time for execution. Wood observes, This is a remarkable example of an absolute monarch being bound by a law still more absolute.[3]

The conspirators had passed the point of no return long ago, and together they approach the king again to demand enforcement of the royal decree (verse 15). Having no choice, the king orders Daniel to be taken to the cistern — a rock enclosure below ground — where the lions were kept. Daniel is cast into the cistern. With sharp irony, the king, who had appointed himself the sole mediator to the gods for others, now utters what amounts to a prayer on Daniels behalf: May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you! The king is calling on Yahweh to do what he could not do — rescue Daniel!

A stone is placed over the mouth of the cistern and sealed with the rings of both the king and his nobles (verse 17). Daniels fate is apparently sealed. The cistern is silent and nothing more is said about it. But the king, in the confines of his palace, shows every evidence of great anxiety: no appetite, no interest in diversions, and no sleep (verse 18). The question we must ask ourselves is: Why is the king so anxious?

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

[1] HALOT, sam, have regard for, q.v.

[2] Leon J. Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998)165.

[3] Wood, Daniel, 166.

Exposition of Daniel 3:24-30 A showdown to reveal who rules

Daniel 3:24-30

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, Werent there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?

They replied, Certainly, Your Majesty.

25 He said, Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.

26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the kings command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.

30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

Verse 24 contains sharp, but concealed, humor. Recall that in verses 22-23 the powerful soldiers were afraid because of the kings haste and rushed to their deaths at the mouth of the blazing furnace while carrying the bound but still-clothed captives. Now, moments later, Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement (NIV), but HCSB better says he jumped up in alarm. The noun in question conveys a haste driven by fear.[1] The great king had used his power to dish out fear to his subjects, but now the mighty acts of a greater King impel him into a state of alarm.

Trying to make his alarming observations match his memory, Nebuchadnezzar checks to make certain that only three men and been cast into the furnace. The gathered officials did not initially realize that the king was watching four men inside the blazing furnace. As if that were not enough, the four are walking about unbound and unharmed (verse 25). The binding ropes had burned away.

But the greatest revelation is the fourth man who looks like a son of the gods (verse 25). Before we jump to conclusions, Miller says: Nebuchadnezzar was polytheistic and had no conception of the Christian Trinity. Thus the pagan king only meant that the fourth figure in the fire was divine.[2] Chisholm takes matters deeper by saying: In verse 28, Nebuchadnezzar explains what he means as he identifies the figure as Gods angel (literally, messenger). The identification of this angel as a son of the gods is consistent with the use of the comparable Hebrew expressions sons of God/gods, which consistently refer in the Hebrew Bible to members of Gods heavenly assembly.[3] Might this fourth person have been Jesus in an appearance prior to his incarnation? Yes, that is possible, but we cannot be certain.

For a second time on this momentous day, Nebuchadnezzar summons the three Judeans to appear before him (verse 26), but he does so in a way that recognizes their allegiance to the Most High God (verse 26). By delivering his loyal servants, God makes compelling evidence of his supremacy. Wood describes the change in Nebuchadnezzar: This fine reference to God shows a marked change on the kings part from what he had manifested earlier.[4]

You have to wonder what the three Judeans are thinking when they emerge from the furnace to face the king, who had tried to execute them. Immediately they are swarmed by the dignitaries from all over the empire (verse 27). Through this hands-on inspection the officials confirm four things: (1) no harm to their bodies from the power of the fire, (2) no hair on their heads is singed, (3) no scorch marks appeared on their robes, and (4) no smell of smoke lingers on them. But they all know that the ropes are gone and the executioners were consumed in the fire.

After this spontaneous inspection, Nebuchadnezzar praises God, commends the faith of the three Judeans and issues one of his trademark decrees: violent death for any people who speak against this God, who alone can save his own (verses 28-29). To the probable dismay of the Chaldeans, he also promotes the Judeans even higher in the province of Babylon (verse 30).

So, the official demonstration of loyalty and worship to Marduk has, through the faith of the three Judeans, been transformed into a demonstration of unbreakable loyalty to the Most High God. Even the king is beginning to grasp the sweep of Gods power. In chapter 1, only the chief official in the palace knew about Gods power. In chapter 2, Gods ability to reveal mysteries awed the king. In chapter 3, all the high officials are eyewitnesses to Gods power in rescuing his own. In chapter 4, Gods fame will spread even wider.

All praise belongs to the one who lives forever and rules over the kingdoms of men.

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


[1] Goldingay, Daniel, 66, concurs in a note.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 123.

[3] Chisholm, Handbook on the Prophets, 300.

[4] Wood, Daniel, 94.

Exposition of Daniel 3:13-23 Special retest

Daniel 3:13-23

13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majestys hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The kings command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.

In the grip of his rage, it is surprising that Nebuchadnezzar conducts a hearing for the three accused Judeans before ordering their immediate death (verse 13). Perhaps the king does so out of a concern over treachery, something common in many royal courts. The king asks if the accusation is true (verse 14), but apparently does not wait for an answer before again offering the three a chance to demonstrate obedience and loyalty by falling down when the music plays (verse 15a).

The NIV suggests an even-handed presentation of the choice: if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I have made, very good (verse 15). But the italicized words do not occur in the Aramaic text of Daniel, as made clear by NET and HCSB. Instead, all the kings stress lies on the consequences if they do not worship: you will immediately be thrown into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire (verse 15b, NET).

Showing his lack of control, Nebuchadnezzar adds to his threats, And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands? (verse 15c, ESV). There is great irony here: The three Judeans stand in danger for defying the king, and now Nebuchadnezzar puts his own life in danger by defying the God of Gods and Lord of all kings (Dan. 2:47) to deliver the Judeans from his hand. Gods mercy was never more on display than at this moment.

The answer from the Judeans is revealing. First, they declare that no defense to the charges is needed (verse 16). The three Judeans know that Nebuchadnezzar will carry out his threat, so verses 17-18 set out two possibilities: God is able to deliver, and (1) he will deliver them from the kings hand, or (2) he will not choose to deliver them. Either way, the three will not worship the golden image. Miller aptly says, Thus, the Hebrews believed that their God could, but not necessarily that he would, spare their lives.[1]

After the Judeans spurn Nebuchadnezzars generously offered — from his viewpoint — second chance to worship, his rage returns and his face changes into an implacable image (verse 19). The noun used here for the image of the kings face is the same noun that is used for the image of the statue. His attitude toward the three is now just as dead as that of Marduk. Accordingly, he orders maximum heat in the furnace. Captives were often stripped to dishonor them, but here the haste to bind the Judeans for death is so great that they do not even bother. Mighty soldiers hurl the clothed Judeans into the furnace but are consumed themselves in obeying the kings urgency for death (verses 20-22). The most powerful soldiers, loyal to Nebuchadnezzar, die in the raging flames, but what of the three Judeans, loyal to God?

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

[1] Miller, Daniel, 120.

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 Nebuchadnezzars dream of a terrifying image without being affected by it. This seems the most obvious explanation for the kings 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 Nebuchadnezzars 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 kings 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 812). 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 Daniels 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] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973)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] John J. Collins, Daniel, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993)182.

[5] Wood, Daniel, 81.

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

[7] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1994)116.

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.