Daniel 2:1-28a – Know Your Audience!

Know your audience! This is an admonition that we should always keep in mind whether we’re writing or speaking. Understanding the perspective of those with whom we wish to communicate is crucial to being able to convey our message truthfully and with grace. If you carefully read the books of the New Testament, for example, you can easily see who the intended audience was and why the author uses the style and language that they do.

Even though we believe that the Holy Spirit has inspired the authors of the Bible to speak the Word of God, we also believe that He enabled/allowed them to use their own personality and circumstances to frame His words. Matthew was written specifically to share the gospel with the Jews, so he uses lots of Old Testament references. Luke wrote his gospel to a primarily Gentile audience, so he takes time to explain Jewish customs and beliefs and also to relate events to broader contemporary world history. Paul writes to specific churches about specific questions and problems that they are dealing with.

The Old Testament is no different. The books of Moses (first five of the Old Testament) are written to educate the nation of Israel about the God of their fathers of four hundred plus years prior. The prophetic books are written regarding specific times and events involving the Israelite nation. The book of Daniel has an intended targeted audience and purpose as well. The first chapter, discussed in the first two studies of this series, was written specifically as an encouragement to a newly captured audience – one who had been conquered by the Babylonians and sent into exile. Daniel used the example of his own capture and facilitated indoctrination to Babylonian beliefs to demonstrate how to maintain one’s faith and integrity during trials. That chapter was written in the Hebrew language to the Hebrews.

Now we come to the second chapter. Daniel sets the stage by providing a time – “in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar” – the second year since Nebuchadnezzar had captured Israel. This statement is also in Hebrew, written to establish the time frame for the Jewish readers. However, starting in verse 4 and continuing through Chapter 6, Daniel writes in Aramaic, which was a universal regional language at the time. This language change signals a change in intended audience on the part of Daniel. Whereas he wrote to encourage the Hebrews in their faith in the first chapter, he is writing this and the following stories to a primarily non-Hebrew audience. His purpose is to boldly declare, “Look at the God served by the Hebrews. See what He can do and how He protects and honors those who love and obey Him.” Then, in the final six chapters he switches back to Hebrew to declare to his people, “Look at what your God is going to do in your future.” But we’ll look at that a bit later.

In his message to the captors of Israel, Daniel conveys five stories to illustrate the power of Israel’s God. The first story shows how God listens to and helps his people and demonstrates his control of world events. The second story illustrates God’s power over and jealousy of any worship apart from Him. The third story God’s sovereignty over earthly kingdoms and rulers, and the fourth and fifth stories demonstrates God’s power over nature. This week we’ll look at the first part of the first story and then complete its telling in the next study. Take a look at Daniel 2:1-30.

In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him. Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. And the king said to them, ‘I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.’ Then the Chaldeans said to the king in Aramaic, ‘O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation.’ The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, ‘The word from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. But if you show the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. Therefore show me the dream and its interpretation.’ They answered a second time and said, ‘Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will show its interpretation.’ The king answered and said, ‘I know with certainty that you are trying to gain time, because you see that the word from me is firm— if you do not make the dream known to me, there is but one sentence for you. You have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the times change. Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can show me its interpretation.’ The Chaldeans answered the king and said, ‘There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.’

The setup for this story ends with an interesting statement. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and in order to assure himself that an interpreter actually understood the meaning, he was demanding that the interpreter also discern the content of the dream without being told. In reply, the potential interpreters all said, “no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” This is a critical setup for the story Daniel is relating. Describing the events in Aramaic, the native universal language, Daniel is allowing these characters to proclaim to the whole world that only [G]od has the power to fulfill the wishes of the king. Of course, their failure to comply makes the king angry.

Because of this the king was angry and very furious, and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. So the decree went out, and the wise men were about to be killed; and they sought Daniel and his companions, to kill them. Then Daniel replied with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who had gone out to kill the wise men of Babylon. He declared to Arioch, the king’s captain, ‘Why is the decree of the king so urgent?’ Then Arioch made the matter known to Daniel. And Daniel went in and requested the king to appoint him a time, that he might show the interpretation to the king.

I find it interesting that this story is taking place during the three years of “college” discussed in chapter 1 when Daniel and his friend were being trained in the ways of the Babylonians. They were young and still in “school”, but the king’s anger toward all the supposed “wise” men spilled over to include the new captives as well. Just as Daniel appealed to those in charge of him about his food exceptions, so he now appeals regarding his life! This brings to mind an important point. Daniel has presented himself throughout the ordeal of capture and indoctrination as a man of integrity and trust. There is an art to successfully making an appeal, and it usually does not involve being belligerent, obstinate, sarcastic, mean-spirited, etc. Daniel no doubt spoke calmly and wisely in making his appeal to the captain. However, we must not discount the role that the Holy Spirit was playing here as well in coming to Daniel’s aid in intercession to the captain.

I am reminded of a passage in Nehemiah, which chronologically takes place after Daniel’s time. Nehemiah (2:1-5) was standing before the king of Persia and needing to make a request that would also be deemed potentially dangerous to his well-being. “In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. And the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.’ Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, ‘Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’ Then the king said to me, ‘What are you requesting?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king,…” Without going into the details of that story, note that Nehemiah was worried in approaching the king with his request. In the midst of the conversation, he prayed. This was not a long prayer, nor do we know what he prayed. But he prayed. I’m sure Daniel did the same, and we should to, even in the midst of whatever situation we find ourselves. When making an appeal, don’t discount the necessity and power of prayer!

Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said: ‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes 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 the light dwells with him. To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of you, for you have made known to us the king’s matter.’

Daniel sought the prayers of his friends, as we should when we are faced with decisions. God answered Daniel’s prayer and Daniel’s immediate response was praise and thanksgiving. He then went back to the captain to follow-through with God’s provision.

Therefore Daniel went in to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He went and said thus to him: ‘Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; bring me in before the king, and I will show the king the interpretation.’ Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste and said thus to him: ‘I have found among the exiles from Judah a man who will make known to the king the interpretation.’ The king declared to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, ‘Are you able to make known to me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?’ Daniel answered the king and said, ‘No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.’

Note that when the king asked Daniel if he was able to provide the content of the dream and the interpretation, that Daniel first reminded the king that what he was asking was impossible by human standards. Daniel could have simply replied “yes”, but he chose to redirect the king’s attention to God rather than himself.

We’ll look at the specifics of the dream next time, but for now let me leave you with this. When you find yourself in a difficult situation, especially as it relates to other people in your life and you need to make an appeal – understand your audience! Figure out where they are coming from, keep your faith and integrity intact, and pray about how you need to make your appeal. Ask for God’s intervention and direct the attention away from yourself and toward Him!

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