So said Martin Luther King Jr on August 28th, 1963. He shared his dream with the crowd gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and inspired a generation.
King Nebuchanezzar had a dream but he chose not to share it. Instead he set his wise men the impossible task of telling him his dream and its interpretation. As they said to him, no man could do such a thing. Well, no man alone anyway. Daniel and his friends prayed to God and Daniel received the details of the dream and its interpretation.
In my reflection on Thursday at the 2pm service I shared what the interpretation is generally considered to mean in terms of the history of the world. Even if you disagree, there is still something to learn.
The readings were Daniel 2:31-45, Psalm 2 and Luke 21:5-11.
It must have been quite nice to be a king a long, long time ago. You could be as demanding as you liked, as unreasonable as you liked, and still people around you would try to please you and comply with your demands. In some ways it sounds like being the eternal toddler. When a small child wants something, they want it NOW, and there is absolutely no point trying to reason with him or her. Should instant action not occur, a full scale tantrum is the likely result.
Tantrums are not easy to deal with of course, but if a parent gives in to the tantrum it is likely to reinforce the behaviour and make it much more likely to happen again. After all, why wouldn’t a child repeat something that is effective?
I remember my mother telling me the tale of a small child who threw a tantrum in a supermarket. He had been told that he couldn’t have some of the tempting sweets on display and that didn’t please him one little bit. In order to show the whole world just how displeased he was, he lay on the floor, screamed at the top of his voice, and drummed his heels furiously, turning very red with his exertions.
His mother was amazingly calm considering the fact that every person in the shop had turned towards the noise in order to find out which child was being so badly treated. Children certainly know how to choose their audience! Instead of abandoning her shopping and beating a hasty retreat out of the store with the screaming child tucked firmly under one arm, the mother asked for a drink of water. One of the staff quickly brought a glass of water, thinking she was feeling faint due to embarrassment. On receiving the water, instead of drinking it, the mother calmly poured the water over the screaming child. Shocked, he immediately stopped his tantrum. Mum proceeded to pay for her shopping and lead a very damp, but silent, toddler out of the supermarket.
Kings in the past may have appeared to behave like overgrown toddlers but I sense that trying the response that mother used would not have been very good for whoever did it. King Nebuchadnezzar was a king with absolute power and the only response to him was obedience, however unreasonable the request. If you read the part of the book of Daniel before the reading for today, you will see that the king was making a very unreasonable request indeed. He had had a dream and wanted to know what it meant. He had wise men around for just that purpose. On this occasion things were a little trickier than usual. Nebuchadnezzar wanted to know what his dream was as well as what the interpretation was.
His wise men were justifiably perplexed and asked him to tell his dream in order that they might interpret it but the king was adamant that he would not reveal it to them. Maybe as a king it would not have been dignified to throw a tantrum but he did the grown up equivalent – the wise men had to do as he said or be torn limb from limb. Not a pleasant prospect. As the wise men rightly said, there was not a man on earth who could do as the king asked.
Our reading picks up the story when Daniel has prayed, and asked his companions to pray, that he might have wisdom and know the dream and interpretation. He knew that he couldn’t find that information alone but that God could supply it. God did not disappoint him and so we find Daniel in front of the king, telling him both dream and interpretation.
The king had seen a great statue made of many different metals, each one of less value than the one before: gold, silver, bronze, iron mixed with clay. The head of the statue represents Nebuchadnezzar. He was given great power, even over the birds and the beasts, rather like Adam in the Garden of Eden. Babylon was an empire that really was great. There were the amazing hanging gardens which were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. There were wonderful temples and a bridge across the Euphrates. Nebuchadnezzar ruled as a despot with absolute power.
Daniel doesn’t name the empires which followed Babylon, presumably because God had not revealed them at that time, but it is suggested that each part of the statue represents an empire, as the head was identified with Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom.
The silver chest and arms of the statue are associated with the Medo-Persian empire which conquered Babylon in 539BC under Cyrus. The bronze middle and thighs would be Greece and Macedonia under Alexander the Great which conquered the Persians in 334-340 BC. The Greek empire extended its rule over what seemed to be all the earth. The legs of iron represent Rome which conquered the Greeks in 63BC. The feet and toes of mixed clay and iron represent the mixture of strong and weak nations, a confederation of states, into which the Roman Empire broke up.
As the types of metal change they have greater strength and toughness but are less and less valuable, suggesting the power and grandeur of the empires decreased but the empires endured for longer. As the empires changed from Babylon to Rome, the way of ruling changed from despotism to a form of democracy in which the senates and assemblies gave a kind of check to what was done.
Finally there is a rock which destroys the statue, indicating that it destroys all the empires, not just the last one. This rock is cut by God and not by humans. Although it starts as just a rock, a small thing, it grows to become a mountain that fills the earth. The rock is thought of as Christ and the growth is that of the kingdom of God which will never be overthrown. It will be ruled forever by the Messiah and will bring a unity that the earthly kingdoms could not bring.
You may or may not agree with this interpretation of the dream of an ancient king. You may wonder why it has any relevance at all to us now, in the 21st century. If nothing else, it highlights for us that earthly power fades away over time. Even the most wonderful empires, such as Babylon, have a limited life and then they are gone. To the Jews, their Temple with its huge stones looked solid and permanent but it too was gone soon after the lifetime of Jesus.
It is easy for us to put our trust in tangible things, those that seem solid and dependable. However, even the earth isn’t solid and dependable, as anyone who has suffered an earthquake can tell you. In the upside down way of the Kingdom of God, it is better to trust in the God we can’t see than in the earthly powers which we can see.
The Lord is our Rock and our Redeemer.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor