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Of Miles & Malls: Why We Misread Scripture

But as for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because of any wisdom that I have more than all the living, but in order that the interpretation may be made known to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your mind. Daniel 2:30

So far, we’ve considered two of three remarkable features of Daniel 2. Both the unprecedented nature of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s prophetic calling are meant to catch our attention. Why is it then that these developments are missed entirely by avid readers of Scripture? This question is worth considering, but to do so I’ll need you to buckle up and join me for a trip to the mall.

What Matters Gets Remembered

How do you remember your highways? Many people rely on maps and interstate numbers (“take I-90 East”), while others are landmark people (“turn left at the bright purple Mexican cantina”). Landmarks are more interesting than roadmaps, but they have one serious drawback: they may be the only part of the directions we actually remember! When I rely on landmarks alone, I quickly discover several (uninteresting) miles I hadn’t counted on traveling. The uninteresting felt unimportant so it went unconsidered and unremembered.

Too Uninteresting To Remember

Bible study is another place where lack of interest can lead to a lack of insight, especially when we are hearing instead of heeding. It is so easy to treat the Book like any other book—a reference for my use and a resource for my benefit.

But isn’t that exactly what the Bible is to be, “a lamp to my feet” and “the truth” that makes me free? Absolutely, but not in the sense that we’d prefer or expect it to be; haven’t you noticed the way it rubs against our natural inclinations? Why is it that it is easier to read almost any other book than the Bible? Isn’t it because in all those other cases I’m the one in charge and the one who really matters, as if I am the customer who, according to the old cliche, “is always right”?

The truth is that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path only because He’s the one who is leading us along that path. This is made evident when we take a closer look at the often (mis)quoted verse, from the Gospel of John:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (8:31–32).

Freedom comes as a result of knowing the truth, and truth comes as a result of learning under the Master. Where Christ is unheard and unheeded, the truth will go unknown and bondage will continue. This is a universal fact applicable to any life—Christian or otherwise. Just read the rest of the passage and watch for yourself as educated, religious men side with their bondage against the Lord who would set them free. So freedom is not free; it comes through step-by-step submission to the Son who sets free (Jn. 8:36).

Back to Daniel 2

Consumer-driven thinking may explain why so many Christians yawn at biblical prophecy, including the complex material of Daniel 2. We can skim over the details of the king’s dream much like a teenager scanning over a mall map, seeking the fastest route between them and their desire. But Scripture has a lot more to offer us than a great deal on what we think will make us happy.

One Intense Chapter

On the other hand, it is not like Daniel 2 is easy reading. The king’s dream features six different materials that are oddly arranged and acting outside of our everyday experience. Chances are, you’ve never encountered a statue like the one described in the dream, not to mention the events that bring the dream to a close!

Like all of Scripture, the dream consists of just enough of the familiar to be understandable but not enough to be dismissible; a perfect expression of divine thoughts in human language. We encounter materials we know and rely on—gold, iron, a naturally cut stone—but find these materials behaving in ways unlike anything we would see in our everyday lives. Add to all this the fact that the dream presents one enormous timeline, and it is no wonder that people get bogged down in the details.

More than a Dream

So where to start? Well instead of diving into the details, let’s talk about why the dream matters—and let’s begin at the beginning: with the guy who had the dream. We’ve remarked on God’s glory in speaking to the gentile king, but this choice is only half of the wonder. What remains to be seen is why this dream was such a significant development in the history of revelation—but that will have to wait until next week. For now, where do you struggle to find enthusiasm in God’s Word? Do you feel comfortable admitting that Scripture can be hard to read, hard to understand, and hard to appreciate?

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