“Help Under Pressure” (John MacDiarmid)

Notes on Sermon Preached at PCF on 12 December 2011

Reference: Daniel 2

We continue our look at the thrilling and inspiring account of the prophet Daniel in Babylon

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1. Daniel’s Background

Let’s remind ourselves of where Daniel is at the start of chapter two. He has been deported to the land of Babylon during the fall of Judea and Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, but primarily caught up in the judgement of God on His people who had rejected Him. However even in judgement God’s mercy shines through: Daniel is the tool through which God will care for his people in exile. He is selected for special service in the court of Babylon, during which he and his friends take the courageous decision to retain their commitment to their God by refusing the diet of the Babylonians. Because of their courage God rewards them with His protection and the provision of special skills and abilities that commend them to the King, who gives them positions of service in his court. When chapter two opens, Daniel and his friends are young men serving the king in the courts of Babylon. What a position for exiles from Jerusalem to have reached!

2. Daniel’s King

Nebuchadnezzar displays many of the attributes of dictators down the ages: brilliance, combined with ruthless and paranoid use of power. On a world where dreams were seen to be highly significant, and where the occult was honoured, he had surround himself with magicians and enchanters, who kept his fascination with the occult satisfied, and no doubt, fed him with what he wanted to hear.
That seems to work fine until the day when the King has a dream that is so terrifying and astounding that he is greatly disturbed and can not sleep. Having presumably been fobbed off by phoney soothsayers in the past he is not having any of it this time. He demands that the wise men, on pain of death, tell him the dream before providing the interpretation. To say that this is unreasonable is putting it mildly, but probably the wise men had been enjoying the fruits of their phoney arts for some time, and they might have been able to see this coming! When they refuse, and prevaricate, the King becomes so angry that he orders not only their deaths, but the deaths of all the wise men in Babylon.
For those who feel that their boss is unreasonable – you have probably never experienced anything like this! However it is a sad commentary on human nature that whatever power is given to people, unless kept in check by God, it is likely to be misused.

3. Daniel’s Crisis

So Daniel is faced with a crisis. Despite the fact that he and his colleagues have conducetd themselves in an exemplary manner in Babylon, they are about the lose their lives as a result of a combination of a power-crazed and irrational king and a bunch of occult charlatans. How should he respond?
It is worth pausing at this point and reflecting that the great crises of our lives are also the great opportunities of our lives. There is nothing that comes into Daniel’s life, or indeed or own life, that has not been allowed by God. But the question is – how do we respond when the crisis comes? This is another turning point in the life of Daniel that will determine his destiny.

4. Daniel’s response

When faced with a crisis there are things that you can do and there are things that you can not do. Daniel too has things that he is able to do. He can not provide the King with the answer he wants – but he can use his diplomacy and his tact to try and buy time. And that is exactly what he does. Apparently there was enough in the reservoir of good will towards Daniel to allow him to find out from the commander what was wrong, and to be able to gain access to the king to ask for time to resolve the matter. Once again, David shows the qualities that will make him an outstanding Prime Minister once his time comes. And clearly he had a long track record of integrity that allowed him access to the king to at least allow him to buy time.
But after that , there was nothing that Daniel could do. So he flung himself and his friends in the mercy of God. In a crisis, we have to do what we can do, but ultimately our only hope is to plead the mercy of God. And God does not show himself to be lacking when His faithful servants plead with Him for mercy. By morning Daniel has the answer. Do we cast ourselves on God’s mercy in times of trouble?
There is one more thing to be done. Now that Daniel has received mercy from God, it is appropriate for Daniel to give thanks, which he does in a beautiful psalm. He thanks God for who is he is and for what he has done. We must always remember to be thankful for the many times that God delivers us.

5. Daniel’s Presentation

It now remains for Daniel to placate the King. Arioch takes him into see the King (whist trying to claim credit for the matter!) but there is not sign of Daniel taking the credit. He only gives credit to God, leaving Nebuchadnezzar no doubt at all as to where this knowledge comes from and where the King’s authority comes from. Do we make sure that it is God who gets credit when things go well? And do we take every opportunity to point people to God – even when we are in danger? What a great example Daniel is to us!

6. Daniel’s Vision

At last, we now hear the dream of the King and Daniel’s interpretation. Much ink as been spilled on interpreting the exact events to which this prophetic dream refers. Like the rest of the prophecies in Daniel they are so accurate as to make liberal scholars think that they must have been written after the event!
This is not the place to go into great detail – but broadly the picture refers to The Babylonian empire, to be succeeded by the Persian empire, then the Greek Empire and the Roman empire. The rock then depicts the coming of the kingdom of God, which will destroy and displace all other empires and fill the whole earth.
It is also helpful to point out that the picture shows us that all dictatorships, all rulers and powers, will come to an end (history shows this again and again) and will be brought to their knees by the kingdom of God. What comfort there is for God’s people in time of pressure. God’s kingdom triumphs: we are on the winning side! For Nebuchadnezzar the message is clear: he has been given his power by God and he must use it wisely, for it will come to an end and will be judged by God.

7. Daniel’s Reward

The effect upon the King is remarkable. True miraculous power is undeniable. Nebuchadnezzar knew that this revelation could have come from nowhere but God himself. As he prostrates himself before Daniel it is as well to note that extravagant religious gestures do not impress God or His servants. He kings heart remains untouched, as is shown by subsequent chapters. But he has at least started to acknowledge the Jewish God as being the true God.
The consequences for Daniel are extraordinary. He is showered with recognition and gifts and promoted to the position of Prime Minister, with his three friends in the Cabinet. What a turnaround for someone who a few hours previously was on death row! When we live a life of integrity, and when we handle a crisis with godly fear – who knows where we may end up!
From now on, God’s people in exile are provided for, are protected, and have their man at the very centre of power in Babylon. What an amazing God!
John MacDiarmid
December 2011

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