Theme A: God will Overthrow Pagan Kingdoms and Replace Them with His Own Kingdom (Daniel 2)
For an explanation of the themes in and structure of Daniel, see the section "The Big Picture of the Book of Daniel".
Having set up in detail the life-situation faced by Daniel and his friends, the Book of Daniel now (in Daniel 2) begins the first of the three themes that form the chiastic structure described in the section above ("The Big Picture of the Book of Daniel"). This theme is that God will overthrow pagan kingdoms and replace them with his own kingdom.
Although Daniel was prospering and serving God in the midst of hostile territory, Nebuchadnezzar was becoming uneasy ruling his own land, even though his power was unchallenged. His dreams became troubled by his worries about the security of his empire. In one dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw a towering statue consisting of several elements made of different metals. The statue, enormous as it was, was smashed by a rock, and “became like chaff of the summer threshing floors” that “the wind carried…away, so that not a trace…could be found,” but the rock “that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Dan. 2:35). Nebuchadnezzar’s magicians, enchanters and astrologers were of no use to him in interpreting this dream (Dan. 2:10-11), but by God’s grace Daniel knew both the dream — without being told by the king what it was — and the interpretation (Dan. 2:27-28).
The episode contrasts Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogance with Daniel’s humility and dependence on God. Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylon were the paragon of pride. According to Daniel’s interpretation, the statue’s enormous metal components represented the kingdoms of Babylon and its successors (Dan. 2:31-45). The astrologers’ greeting to the king — “O king, live forever!” (Dan. 2:4) — emphasizes the king’s pretense that he himself is the source of his power and majesty. But Daniel gives the king two shocking messages:
Your kingdom is not the result of your own doing. Rather, “God of heaven has given [you] the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory” (Dan. 2:37). So all your pride is foolish and vain.
Your kingdom is doomed. “Just as you saw that a stone was cut from the mountain not by hands, and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. The great God has informed the king what shall be hereafter. The dream is certain, and its interpretation trustworthy” (Dan. 2:44-45). Although this is not to happen in your time, it will bring all your supposedly mighty accomplishments to nothing.
In contrast, personal humility — and its conjoined twin, dependence on God’s power — was Daniel’s secret weapon for thriving. Humility allowed him to thrive, even in the exceptionally unpromising situation where he must forecast the kingdom’s demise to the king himself. Daniel disclaimed any personal ability of his own. God alone has power and wisdom: “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery which the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (Dan. 2:27).
Amazingly, this humble attitude led the king to pardon — and even accept — Daniel’s brazen message. He was ready to execute his astrologers en masse, but he “fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel” (Dan. 2:46) then “made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon” (Dan. 2:48). Nebuchadnezzar even came to some kind of belief in Yahweh. “The king said to Daniel, ‘Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery’” (Dan. 2:47).
For today’s workplace Christians this offers an important point. God will bring the arrogance, corruption, injustice and violence of all workplaces to an end, although not necessarily during the time we work there. This is a source both of comfort and challenge. Comfort, because we are not responsible for correcting every evil in our workplaces, but only for acting faithfully in our spheres of influence, and also because the unfairness we may suffer at work is not the ultimate reality of our work. Challenge, because we are called to oppose the evil within our spheres of influence, costly to our careers as it may prove. Daniel was terrified by the severity of the message he had to deliver to Nebuchadnezzar: “Therefore, O king, may my counsel be acceptable to you: atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed” (Dan. 4:27).
This illustrates both the possibilities and the dangers of applying the Book of Daniel to our work lives. At times we recognize that to be faithful to God, we must challenge people in power. But unlike Daniel, we lack the perfect reception of God’s word. Just because we feel something strongly, doesn’t mean it is truly from God. Therefore, if even Daniel was humble in God’s service, imagine how much humbler we should be. “God told me in a dream that I will be promoted above all of you,” is a word we should probably keep to ourselves, no matter how strongly we believe it. Maybe it’s best to assume that God will tell the people around us what he wants them to know, rather than directing us to tell it to them on his behalf.
The metals of the image in chapter 2 and the bestial kingdoms in chapter 7 are parallel references to the succession of these four earthly kingdoms: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome; the alternative view that presupposes the work is second century contends for Babylon, Median, Persia, and Greece.