The king declared to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?” Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these: To you, O king, as you lay in bed came thoughts of what would be after this, and he who reveals mysteries made known to you what is to be. 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 2:26–30
Three Exceptional Unknowns
Familiarity breeds contempt—especially in Bible study! The story of Daniel’s miraculous interpretation of the king’s dream is standard issue material for Sunday Schools and required reading for almost any study on prophecy. But for all its familiarity, this passage presents three key unknowns, which we would do well to consider. Let’s look at the first of these today.
An Unknown King
Nebuchadnezzar was far from unknown in his day and his fame endures to our own time; yet, for all his accomplishments, there was no apparent reason for God to speak to him at all. From heaven’s perspective, he was just another gentile king chasing fame and glory, a stranger to Israel, and a seemingly complete nobody in the purposes of Israel’s God. But then God did the unthinkable: He made Himself known to a Gentile, and not just any Gentile but the Gentile, Babylon’s greatest king: the very CEO of Paganism!
Nowadays, God speaking to a heathen king doesn’t seem like a big deal, but Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represents a radical shift in God’s dealings with humanity. Today, the gospel goes out to all people, gathering saints from every nation, tribe, and tongue into one Assembly under the Lord Jesus. God’s grace daily ushers all kinds of people into a relationship with God that is characterized by an intimacy, acceptance, and enjoyment that would have astounded Daniel and his peers. In his day, the knowledge and enjoyment of God were largely confined to one nation—Israel.
Israel: The Disobedient Son
For well over a millennium, God limited His communication to a select people: Abraham, his family, and his progeny—the nation of Israel. Israel was to be His treasured possession (Ex. 19:5) as well as His testimony and blessing to all nations (Ex. 19:6). The Old Testament catalogues Israel’s repeated refusal to honor their privileged calling, repeatedly forsaking God, slaying His prophets, and pursuing idolatry to their own destruction. Finally, God raised up the writing prophets to prepare Israel for a major change: its removal. The Major and Minor Prophets admonished Israel that God was preparing to dismiss them from their role and enact every covenant consequence necessary to return their hearts to Him (Isa. 1:2–4; 6:9–13). Hosea, a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah, announced that God had forsaken them, renaming Israel “Lo Ami” or “Not my people” (Hos. 1:9). Over the next two centuries, God fulfilled his decree by removing Israel from the land and scattering them among the nations. Daniel and his friends were among the millions of Israelites forcibly exiled by Syrian, Assyrian, and Babylonian kings. King Nebuchadnezzar had no idea that he was fulfilling prophecies as ancient as Moses (Dt. 32:1; 26), but all that was about to change.
Sovereign Grace to Sinful Men
God’s decision to make His mind known to Nebuchadnezzar is one of the hairpin turns of Bible prophecy, a sudden plot twist that is meant to get our attention. For the first time since Joseph, Israel would be learning God’s plans from a gentile intermediary; a clear rebuke that they’d become no different than those they were called to enlighten (Gen. 41:38; Num. 23:9–10). The intimacy they had repeatedly despised could no longer be taken for granted, and the charge they had failed to discharge would still be accomplished. God would bring about untold blessing to all people despite Israel’s faithlessness, a salvation “to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” a righteousness that overcomes our ungodliness (Rom. 1:16–17; 4:4–5).
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