And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, with which his spirit was troubled…
As every drop of water on the surface of the hills has a tendency to flow towards the ocean, as every step of the racer moves towards the goal, so every event in every kingdom points toward the establishment of Messiah's empire. The exile of the Jews, though apparently a retrograde movement in the spiritual machinery; the special education of Daniel and his companions; the heathen monarch's dream; the discomfiture of the magicians; - all these, and like events in Babylon, were so many lines of influence leading on to the advent of Messiah. God is no respecter of persons, no respecter of places, and if there be a more pliant disposition in the King of Babylon than in the King of Israel, the God of heaven will reveal his will to Nebuchadnezzar, and use him in moulding public events. Consciously or unconsciously, all conquerors and all captives are working out the purposes of the universal Lord.
I. THE GREAT MONARCH'S DISTRESS.
1. For even kings are not exempt from trouble, Yea, their very elevation exposes them to winds of adversity, from which those escape who dwell in the sequestered vales of private station. As in nature, so in human life, there is a marvellous system of compensation. We look at the external palaces of princes, and are too ready to envy their privileged estate; but could we look within their breasts, we should be prone chiefly to pity them. "The sleep of a labouring man is sweet," but the pillow of royalty is thickly sown with prickly cares.
2. Most probably, outward circumstance combined with inward fear to produce this ominous dream. By admitting a natural element in human events, we do not exclude the supernatural. Both elements are under Divine direction. Everywhere God engrafts the spiritual upon the natural. The laws and processes of nature and of human life God uses so far as they serve his particular purpose, and when they fall short of fitness he introduces the higher element of miracle. If Nebuchadnezzar already saw the development of military strength in other royal courts, it was impossible but this knowledge would make a corresponding impression upon his mind, and it would be wanton blindness on our part to exclude this from our investigation of the truth. It is equally certain that an influence from God moved upon the monarch's mind - arranging (it may be) the materials of the imagery, impressing his imagination with the portentous meaning of the vision, and partly effacing the recollection from his memory.
3. With stupendous condescension, God accommodates himself to the infancy of the race. He who tempers the wind for the shorn lamb, simplifies his lessons to the weakness of our understanding. To the inquiry, "Why should God make known his will to men through dreams?" it is a sufficient reply that he found this method the most suitable to the capacity of man in the childhood of his intelligence. During the hours of sleep, the soul is more free from the disturbance of outward events; the will does not play so dominant a part over the movements of thought; the predilections and propensities of the inner man are unveiled. Men have an intense longing to know the future. We cannot doubt that the same God who has given us a faculty for acquiring all the past could have given us a faculty for foreseeing the future. Some potent reason has prevailed with him to hang an impenetrable veil over our untraversed life. Yet some of the grand outlines of the future have gradually been revealed. Our character forecasts our future fortunes. Practical obedience to the will of God is the best telescope through which we may discern our distant weal. Our real destiny is not wrapt in night. But Nebuchadnezzar was mainly concerned about his dominion and his dynasty; hence his inward distress produced by the midnight vision.
II. THE IMPOTENCE OF HUMAN QUACKS.
1. It must be granted that these Babylonian magicians had attained to knowledge and craft beyond the ordinary attainments of men; but (as is frequently the case) their knowledge fed their vanity; they imposed on themselves the belief that this knowledge gave them access to the secrets of the unseen world, and they sought to impose on others the conviction that they could foretell coming events. Knowledge does not always ripen into wisdom - does not always bear the fruits of humility and truthfulness. These men were deceivers and self-deceived. They made a market out of the ambition and fear of kings.
2. Inflated conceit. They imagined that their skill was the measure of universal attainment. Failing themselves to decipher the problem, they plead, "There's not a man upon the earth that can show the king's matter." The usual plea of weakness: "What I cannot do, no one else can do: let us yield to the inevitable." This is the sophistry of modern sceptics, who prefer to style themselves agnostics. Because they fail to unravel difficulties in nature and in the universe, they rush to the conclusion that the matter itself is inexplicable. "A little child shall lead them."
3. A crucial test. The monarch, unreasonable and unscrupulous as he may seem, brings their boasted knowledge to a real test. Whether these magicians did or did not accurately interpret dreams or forecast the future, the king had never known. He had been compelled to take their pretensions wholly upon trust. The oracular deliverances had been delightfully ambiguous - were capable of wide significance. No guarantee had ever been furnished by these magicians of their honesty. Now a favourable opportunity occurred for testing the skill of these boasted diviners. If their scientific calculations allowed them to descry the future, much more should it enable them to read a page of the recent past, If their popular deities gave them skill to interpret the meaning of a dream, much easier was it for these deities to give their servants power to revive in a man's memory the loss of a dream. If they could not accomplish the lesser task, it was vain to pretend they could perform the greater. It was therefore only just that the king should sharply rebuke them in the words, "Ye have prepared lying and corrupt words to speak before me."
III. THE HASTY VERDICT OF THE KING.
1. See the violence of carnal passion. Haste and impatience are always conspicuous signs of weakness. His expectation of escape from mental disquietude had been awakened by the pretentious arts of these magicians, and, this expectation having collapsed, disappointment added another ingredient to his cup of trouble. If he had only given himself time to recover from this mental disturbance, time to reflect upon his responsibility as arbiter of human life, time to perceive his own folly in pandering aforetime to the pretensions of these men, he would have gained a reputation for wisdom, and have rendered the world a service by exposing the hypocrisy of sorcerers.
2. His verdict was excessively severe. The penalty of death was the severest he could inflict upon his subjects, and if this penalty was enforced on every occasion, even when no public injury was done to the state, he confounded all degrees of crime, and encouraged men, who had transgressed in lesser matters, to become desperate inflictors of mischief. When men know that their offence is trivial compared with other forms of guilt, and yet have to endure the heaviest sentence of doom, they will often lend themselves to some desperate project of vengeance.
3. His verdict was indiscriminate, and involved both the righteous and the wicked. Not content with inflicting capital punishment on the offenders, he decrees that their "houses shall be made a dunghill." By such a vindictive deed, innocent women and young children would have been plunged into suffering and disgrace for no fault, and without any advantage to the state. Moreover, the arbitrary decree required "that all the wise men should be slain." This included Daniel and his comrades - yea, all men of intelligence and wisdom, though they had made no pretence to magical art. By a blind act of ungovernable passion, the king would have stripped his court of every ornament, and his government of its best supports. A passionate man usually maims his own face. Nebuchadnezzar would have defeated his own purpose - cut off his only chance of having his dream interpreted - if his vindictive and unscrupulous command had been executed. What vile deeds have royal hands frequently performed l How does the cry of innocent blood from a myriad battle-field rise to heaven against them! - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, wherewith his spirit was troubled, and his sleep brake from him.