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.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 3:16-23, For the person who wants to have it all

1 Corinthians 3:16-23

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

Verse 16 introduces a third metaphor, the church as God’s temple. Paul has been using the metaphor of constructing a building (1 Cor. 3:9b-15), but now he increases the stakes by saying the building is God’s temple and that the Corinthian Christians — even if scattered in house churches — are that temple! The Holy Spirit among them is proof enough of that.

The “don’t you know” style of question occurs ten times in the letter and works to puncture the arrogant claim from the Corinthians that “we all possess knowledge” (1 Cor. 8:1). However, the spiritual danger was greater than they imagined. In relation to verse 17, David Garland points out: “While some builders may do a lousy job of building on the foundation and their work will be consumed, some work moves beyond mere shoddiness and becomes destructive.”[1]

The clarity of 1 Cor. 3:17 presents a serious question. Garland Fee says: “The theological question as to whether a true believer could be destroyed by God lies beyond Paul’s present concern. . . . That these people were members of the Corinthian community seems beyond reasonable doubt; that Paul is also serving up a genuine threat of eternal punishment seems also the plain sense of the text.”[2] The ESV Study Bible concludes, “The one who destroys God’s temple (in this context, the church) is not part of God’s people and so faces eternal destruction on the last day.”

The updated NIV leaves the mistaken impression that verse 18 is speaking to the whole church, but it is addressed to individuals. “Guard against self-deception, each of you” (NET) is better. About what are they deceived? They regard themselves as wise, full of knowledge and spiritual. Fee shows how Paul uses humor to skewer this pompous attitude: “The opening salvo is irony once again: ‘If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age.’ Of course they do; that is quite the point.”[3]

It is astonishing that this critique fits so well in relation to America in 2017. Many ignore Christ crucified — or even scoff — and it is fashionable to leave God out of any serious thinking about the present or the future. Roman Corinth is not so far away!

In 1 Cor. 1:18-25, Paul spoke about how an unbelieving world and its rulers considered God’s wisdom to be foolishness. But 1 Cor. 3:18-20 says that God regards human wisdom as foolishness. Humanity does not know his thoughts — except for those who accept his revelation of them — but he knows all human thoughts and knows their wisdom is foolishness.

As he so often does, Paul quotes the Old Testament to prove his point (1 Cor. 3:19-20). God had warned against human wisdom long ago, but the Corinthians are self-absorbed and faction-absorbed and they do not know that fact, or possibly chose to ignore it.

The way Paul wraps up his argument (1 Cor. 3:21-23) is remarkable but a bit difficult to grasp at first. Suppose for a moment that you — like the Corinthian believers — wanted greater influence, access to power and a way to have a life of significance. With that assumption in mind, suppose you had your choice of three jobs: (1) chief of staff for the mayor of Dallas, (2) chief of staff for the governor of Texas, or (3) chief of staff for the president of the United States. Which one would you take? The obvious right answer is the last.

When the Corinthians say, “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos,” they are choosing a factional role that is even less significant than #1 above. That is really stupid when they all have the right to say I am of Christ, a role that is infinitely greater than #3 above. Because you are of Christ, and Christ is of God (1 Cor. 3:23), it follows that all things are yours (1 Cor. 3:21b).

Here again we arrive at the importance of our identity in Christ. By being in Christ, that is through our joining in his death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-14), all things become ours. In Christ we have it all!

Copyright 2017 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 120.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 148, footnote 19.

[3] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 151.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 2:10b-13, The Spirit enables us to know God

1 Corinthians 2:10b-13

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

If, as Paul has asserted, human wisdom cannot know God and his wisdom, how can the gap be bridged? Paul’s clear answer is the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10b). This is explained using a Greek philosophic principle of like is only known by like, meaning here that only God can know God (1 Cor. 2:11). Therefore, God must take his knowledge of himself and make it known to us.[1] He did this by sending the Holy Spirit to live within every Christian.

Of course, God also revealed himself through the incarnation, the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, as well as through what is revealed in the Bible. But the focus here is that God has given us his Spirit to aid our understanding of all these sources of spiritual knowledge.

Every Christian receives the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:12), not least so that we can understand what God has done for us in Christ crucified (what God has freely given us). The source of this Spirit is not the world because the Spirit is from God. God wants us to understand him and intends that we do so, so he has arranged to make it possible.

For God to do this for us is another act of grace or kindness that is hidden within the language “what God has freely given us” (1 Cor. 2:12). This is the Greek verb charizomai, which has the same root as the noun for grace. One Greek reference says: “The verb . . . is used primarily in connection with the decisive, gracious gift of God. Rom. 8:32 speaks of the all-embracing gift of God in giving his Son (cf. John 3:16).”[2] The verb can also mean “to forgive.”

In verse 13, Paul returns to his idea in 1 Cor. 2:4, that his preaching to the Corinthians had been a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. He was explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words (1 Cor. 2:13). So, his message came from God.

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 110.

[2] New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Verlyn Verbrugge, Ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 603.