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Babylon's False Religion Exposed

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Daniel 2:1-23 "Babylon's False Religion Exposed"

Babylon was the largest city in the world, covering 2,500 acres.  She was encircled by a double layer of defenses: each layer consisting of an outer wall, an inner wall, and a canal or river.  Between the inner and outer defenses was irrigated land with a network of canals.  Dominating the city were temples, palaces, and 300 foot high towers.  In her midst was a garden so beautiful it was considered to be one of the wonders of the world.  Running lengthwise through the city was a road 40-50 feet wide and paved with stone.  Running width-wise was a river.

A number of years ago archaeologists in Iraq excavated large parts of Babylon.  They unearthed walls 21 feet thick and reinforced with towers every 60 feet.  They found a throne room in the palace measuring 165 X 143 feet.

She was a mighty city, a capital city.  Her king ruled much more than her 2,500 acres; her king ruled the mightiest empire of that time.

It is hard to believe, but there came a day when a dream – a simple dream - caused an uproar in this city, mighty Babylon.  I sometimes have dreams and even nightmares.  But neither the city of Edina nor the State of MN take notice.  Yet, this one dream was enough to cause an uproar in Babylon and call the existing order into question.  Everything and everyone was upset.

Scripture tells us that "Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep" (v. 1).  Because of his anxiety, he made wildly unreasonable demands of his wise men - demands which they could not possibly meet.  These demands filled the wise men with terror - with good reason.  For unless the demands were met Arioch, Babylon's chief executioner, was going to cut off their heads.

All this was the result of a dream!  Mighty Babylon, capital of an empire, was in turmoil because of a dream.

So the great king looks to human wisdom for a fix.  Now there is one big difference between my dreams and Nebuchadnezzar's dream.  It’s clear from Scripture that Nebuchadnezzar's dream was a revelation from God.  It was God Who spoke to the king through the dark mysteries of sleep; it was His Spirit that gave the king the vivid and intense dream which troubled him so much.

In v 29 we’re told the circumstances leading up to Nebuchadnezzar's dream.  The king was lying in his bed and as he was lying there, his mind turned to things to come ….”  The king, in other words, was thinking about the future.  He was concerned and anxious about what it would bring.  He wondered if he would be able to maintain his position and authority in the face of internal unrest and foreign enemies.  He worried about the state and power of his beloved city, Babylon.  That's what he was musing over.

Nebuchadnezzar's worries were the troubled thoughts of a man who had no peace of mind, spirit, or soul - especially when his mind "turned to things to come."  King Nebuchadnezzar was a man filled with fear and anxiety about the future.

His worries are quite typical of a man who doesn't have a living relationship with the Lord.  For you see, those who know the Lord have no need and no reason to fear the future; they know that all things lie in the Lord's hands, that nothing happens without His will, and that all things work out for the good of those who love the Lord.

What happened as the king was lying in his bed thinking about the future?  Well, God gave to Nebuchadnezzar a glimpse into the future.  Through a dream God showed this monarch how shaky his throne and how transitory his kingdom really was.  What he saw in his dream made Nebuchadnezzar very uneasy and very anxious.  In his great distress King Nebuchadnezzar threw his palace, his city, and his empire into a state of turmoil.  No one could rest until Nebuchadnezzar received the answers he wanted.

What does the king do after the Lord gave him his frightening vision of the future?  Where does he look for answers?  Where does he go for a fix?  He does exactly what the world always does in times of upheaval.  Each time this remedy is tried it is found to be useless, yet the world keeps right on trying the same prescription.  Like all secular humanists, Nebuchadnezzar sought help not from God but from man.  He looked to human wisdom to supply the answers he wanted so desperately.  Nebuchadnezzar did not know, in the words of the Apostle Paul, that (1 Cor 1:25) ... the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

The king summoned his advisors: magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers.  When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, "I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means."

King Nebuchadnezzar made this sort of demand of his advisors because great stress was placed back then upon dreams and visions.  It was believed that through them the gods passed on messages about the future of men and nations.

There they stood before the king - magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers.

·       Magicians: they try to influence people and events through black and white magic; often they make use of poisons, medicines, herbs, and secret potions.

·       Enchanters: they try to influence people and events through charms, enchantments, and spells.

·       Sorcerers: they attempt to gain knowledge of the future by interpreting dreams, consulting with the spirits of the dead, studying livers or entrails of livestock, analyzing the movements of wild animals.

·       Astrologers: they observe the courses of the sun, moon, stars, and planets for the purpose of determining the character of individuals and the direction of events.

There they stood before the king - magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers.  These scholars represented the four branches of ancient science.  These scholars represented the sum total of all that was then known by the secular world about the heavens and the earth.  Surely, from among them Nebuchadnezzar would find an answer to his questions.

Oh, the bankruptcy of human wisdom: There they stood before the king - magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers.  "Tell me what my dream was and interpret it," demands Nebuchadnezzar (v. 5).

The wise men of Babylon could give the king no answer to such a demand.  But if the king told them the dream they would tell him the interpretation (v. 4).

Nebuchadnezzar was no fool.  He wanted a firm guarantee that his counselors were not simply making up an interpretation - one that would sound pleasing to the king.  If they would first tell him exactly what he had dreamed, he could then be absolutely sure that their interpretation was reliable.

We see here that Nebuchadnezzar did not completely trust his servants.  This is not all that surprising.  In his heart of hearts the king must have known, as must the magicians themselves, that the religion of Babylon was mere superstition and not truth, that her gods were not gods but merely figments of man's imagination, that the words of the advisors were not from the gods but only the deceit of human minds.

There they stood before the king – magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers.  Nebuchadnezzar says to them, (quote, v. 5).

Babylon's wise men were dumbfounded, and scared.  Once more they replied, "Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it" (v 7).  Then the king answered, "I am certain that you are trying to gain time" (v 8).  The king knew what his advisors were trying to do: they were hoping for time during which they either learned details about the king's dream or during which the king forgot his unreasonable demands.

Again the king repeated his demand: "Tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me" (v. 9).

Can't you hear the indignation as the astrologers answered the king?  They said, (quote, vv. 10-11).

Do you realize what the Chaldean wise men admit to here?  They admit they have no contact with the gods.  None of them have stood in the council of the Lord to see or hear His word so of course they don't know the dream or its interpretation.  Those who do not know the one only true God can never rightly interpret any revelation which He has given.  This is also an admission that their heathen religion is nothing but fluff and show - there is nothing real about it or the gods they claim to worship.  They also admit that all their magic arts - their black and white magic; their charms, enchantments and spells; their divination; their observation of the sun, moon, stars, and planets - are but worthless human devices.  They admit to the bankruptcy, the emptiness, of human wisdom.

There they stood before the king - magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers.  These wise men could give King Nebuchadnezzar no answer to his questions.

This turn of events should not surprise us.  The bankruptcy of human wisdom is to be expected.  For one thing, it has no place for the reality of human sin.  For another, it does not acknowledge the Creator God or His revelation.

Opportunity for Church: As we will find out by reading further into chapter 2, the bankruptcy of human wisdom provides the perfect opportunity for Daniel to step onto the stage.  As long as Nebuchadnezzar is not afraid and the magicians are held in high esteem, Daniel will not be able to get a hearing.  But now the day of opportunity has arrived for Daniel.  The time has come for him to demonstrate that "the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength" (1 Cor 1.25).  The time has come for him to demonstrate that he serves "the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries" (v. 47).  So Daniel steps on the stage, in the name of the Lord he reveals the dream and its interpretation, and is elevated to the king's right hand.

The world is impoverished, human wisdom is bankrupt, the secular humanistic religions have been shown to be false.  What an opportunity this provides for the church.  You see, the church alone knows the root of the world's problems - sin - and the church alone knows the solution - Jesus.  The bankruptcy of human wisdom provides the church with the perfect opportunity to proclaim to all the wise men, kings, and people of this earth the message of the psalmist: (Ps 111.10) “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.”

The question is, does the church dare to step in?  Does she have the faith and the courage to be a Daniel?  Do we look for opportunities to make the name of Jesus known?  Do we dare to tell the wise men, the leaders, and the people that they must know and serve God?

Last Monday President-elect Obama met with Sen. John McCain.  According to Beth Fouhy of the Associated Press, before the meeting Obama said he was looking forward to, “a good conversation about how we can do some work together to fix up the country” - interesting choice of words.

We live in an era where even in the Church we are tempted to applaud government action intending to “fix up the country.”  All Christian reflections on politics and power must begin with “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  Jesus is the ultimate authority!  Jesus Christ reveals, not only the love of God and the glory of God, but also the full meaning of humanness and the ultimate destiny of human beings.

Jesus, in perfect submission to his Father, was most perfectly human and most perfectly free.  This is the paradox summed up in the cross.  From Christ crucified springs the Church, for the Christian, “the first community of commitment, the privileged community of identity and allegiance.” This first allegiance, Weigel goes on to argue, “gives ‘Christian citizenship’ a distinctive character.  The Christian is always a ‘resident alien’ in the world.”  When the culture is compatible with a Christian worldview, the emphasis is on “resident.”  When the culture is less compatible, the emphasis is on “alien.”

In either case, Christians live with the end of all things in mind.  The Nebbuchadnezzar’s of this world are temporal; the sovereignty of Christ is eternal.

Because Christians know how the story is going to turn out, and because they know that the worst that could happen in history has already happened - on Good Friday - Christians can live within the unfolding of the world and its story at a critical distance.  That critical distance allows Christians both to affirm the world as the arena of God’s saving acts and to challenge the temptation of the world’s sovereignties to assume an ultimacy that is not theirs.

But the temptation to “assume an ultimacy that is not theirs” is common to all human societies including the Church.  As St. Augustine pointed out in City of God, libido dominandi, the lust to dominate, marks all our earthly life.  Weigel writes:

The typical way in which the Church has succumbed to the temptation… is by forging inappropriate alliances between altar and throne, so that the coercive poser of the state is put behind the truth claims of the Church.

This alliance between altar and throne happens today when, to use the World Council of Church’s old motto, “The World Sets the Agenda for the Church.”  Weigel comments that this:

…is to subordinate the sovereignty of Christ to a worldly sovereignty, to subordinate the mission of the Church to a political agenda, and to subordinate the unity of the Church to a partisan definition of communio.

The Church is not and should not become a political organization.  It is beyond our competence.  God has not revealed to the Church policy details for the social and political issues we face.  Nonetheless, Weigel writes, “Because [the Church’s] competence engages the most urgent questions of human life... it can help to orient the public discussion of less urgent issues toward ends worthy of human beings.”

Above all, Weigel argues, “The 21st-century world badly needs a vital Christianity that proclaims the sovereignty of God and bears witness to human freedom.”  In this, the Church must stand against totalitarianism of every sort.  We are called to be the defenders of human freedom and human dignity under the sovereign rule of God.  Weigel concludes:

“The implications of all this?  No partisan Church, but rather a public Church.  No sacred state, but a limited state at the service of human dignity and the common good.  In short: a public Church in a civil society served by a limited state.  Or, in the American shorthand, a free people under a limited government.”

Democracy is not perfect and America is not perfect.  Nonetheless, we will need to govern ourselves.  It is in accord with these biblical and historic Christian teachings that we seek to renew the social witness of the churches.  This helps renew democracy, serving the cause of the Gospel and human flourishing until the return of Jesus Christ who even now is Lord.

Now is the time for the church of the Lord to step forward.  There is so much unrest, so much confusion, so much uncertainty in our world.  We alone have the answers, our wisdom alone is right, because we alone have the insight into the mind of the one only true God.

The world is impoverished, human wisdom is bankrupt, the secular humanistic religions have been shown to be false.  The wisdom of this world teaches facts; but it doesn't teach truth.  It teaches figures; but it doesn't teach wisdom.  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.

My prayer is that the church, her members, will dare to proclaim to a fallen, confused, and uncertain world that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

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