11 April 2013

“Daniel said: ‘Blessed be the name of God from age to age, for wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons, deposes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with him.’” (vv. 20-22)


Daniel is a member of the nobility of the Court of Judah who has been carried off into exile into Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar and has trained to be a court official. Nebuchadnezzar has been troubled by a dream, and when all the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and Chaldeans (astrologers) fail not only to interpret the king's dream (which they claim is quite possible), but also to tell him what his dream was (which they claim is quite impossible), he condemns them to death. Daniel has bravely argued for time to tell him both things. But, importantly, Daniel asks the king not to put anyone else to death until he comes back with an answer to save them all. (Ironically, the Babylonian name the king has given him - Belteshazzar (v. 26) - means 'Guard his life!'.).

It's quite strange the king hasn't already asked Daniel what his opinion is - in Daniel 1:19-20 the wisdom he and his companions have has already been recognised to be "ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom", yet in Daniel 2:25-26 it appears that Nebuchadnezzar had not met Daniel before. This does point to a mix-and-match collecting together of different traditions of the story.

The source of understanding of the mystery for Daniel is quite simple - God alone understands the meaning of mysteries. Daniel even refuses to take any personal credit for the interpretation he will give to Nebuchadnezzar - it is simply a gift of God not to the interpreter (who wisely does not wish to appear wiser than his king) but to the dreamer himself.

Remarkably, Daniel's arguing that human beings cannot be expected to have the wisdom on their own to understand mysteries known only to God also implies that the king could not expect his own wise men to have the answer. Implicitly, Daniel argues for their execution to be cancelled. Just when he has the upper hand …

To Ponder

  • Daniel wisely took counsel with his friends before acting (verses 17-18) and asked for their prayers. How much do you follow this example before making important decisions? Do you think it makes any difference?
  • Be honest - if you think you're gifted, what's the balance you have between what you take the credit for yourself, and what you recognise is down to God alone?
  • What examples have you known in your life where someone could have rammed home a victory, but instead acted graciously to the loser? How did it make you feel?

Bible notes author: The Revd Neil Cockling

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