Sleepless in Babylon

Founders Journal 78 · Fall 2009 · pp. 26-28

Sleepless in Babylon
Daniel 2:1-23

Roger Ellsworth

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had a serious problem on his hands. He kept dreaming the same dream, and it was such a troubling dream that he couldn’t sleep (v. 2).

Nebuchadnezzar had magicians, astrologers and sorcerers to help him with such matters, and he called in them. But he had come to know the manner in which these men operated. He would tell them his dream, and they would craft an interpretation. And the interpretation would be such that they would be able to claim that it had come true no matter what happened.

Having had enough of this business and earnestly desiring the true interpretation of his dream, Nebuchadnezzar decided to do things differently. He would not tell his wise men what he had dreamed. They would tell him! And they would then give the interpretation (vv. 8-9). When these men protested, Nebuchadnezzar began putting them to death (vv. 10-13).

By this time, Daniel and his friends had risen to the level of being wise men in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. So his decree of death included them (v. 13). When Daniel learned of these developments, he appealed to the king to give him time to discern the dream and its interpretation (v. 16).

We know what Daniel did. He gathered his friends to pray, and God graciously gave Daniel both the dream and the interpretation.

A king having a dream! A king executing people! The dream being interpreted! What does it all have to do with us? No one had a cell phone or an iPod. There was no My Space. Surely this old story has no value for us!

Perhaps we need to think again! This ancient episode actually contains principles that are just as vital today as they were in old Babylon. The first principle is this:

God is at work in this world.

It did not appear to be so. The only people who believed in the God of the Bible were the Jews, and many of them were in Babylon, which was the place of many gods. It looked for as if God had been thoroughly discredited. What kind of God is it who cannot protect the city devoted to His honor and keep His people out of captivity?

Babylon, on the other hand, was an exciting place. It was powerful, successful and prosperous. The gods of Babylon seemed to have achieved for their adherents everything that the God of Israel had failed to achieve for His.

But the Bible constantly tells us that things are not always as they appear, and the world has often showed up for God’s funeral only to find that the corpse was not present!

Now here is Nebuchadnezzar in the midst of his Babylon, secure in his belief that his ideas and his ways are correct, and the God of the little, defeated kingdom of Judah is nothing at all. But here now is this dream, and it is deeply troubling–so much so that the man can’t sleep. If it were the dream of one night, it could easily have been dismissed. But it is the dream of every night, and Nebuchadnezzar earnestly desires to sleep because he is so tired, but he is afraid to sleep because of the dream that preys on him.

How are we to explain this recurring and terrifying dream? This account leaves no doubt. It is from the discredited God of little Judah! (vv. 18-23,28-30). Perhaps this God is not powerless after all! He can plant a dream in a king’s head, and it won’t go away.

Now take this home with you: God is always at work in His world! And oftentimes His work consists of doing something very little which will finally prove to be very big!

A second lesson that emerges from this account is this:

Left to themselves, men and women are completely helpless in regard to the things of God.

Nebuchadnezzar did not realize it at the beginning, but he had a message from the true God on his hands. God was speaking to him in that dream! And He was speaking a message of monumental significance.

But Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t figure it out. He had no idea what it was all about. He was both sleepless and clueless! He called in his helpers, and they were equally helpless!

So how did Nebuchadnezzar come to understand the dream? He did so through the mediator that God provided for him–Daniel! Ronald S. Wallace writes: “The main point in the story is that Daniel at this moment becomes a key man. He alone is able to act decisively and shrewdly where others are hopelessly incapable and benumbed. By an act of solitary leadership he is able to prevent the disaster threatening both Nebuchadnezzar and his counsellors.”[1]

The helplessness of Nebuchadnezzar and his advisors represents the helplessness of us all in spiritual things. How helpless are we? Totally! The Bible tells us that our minds are so darkened that we cannot understand the truth of God (1 Corinthians 2:14) and our wills are so deadened that we cannot come to God (Ephesians 2:1-3).

But the fact that we are helpless does not mean we are hopeless. As God sent Daniel to help Nebuchadnezzar, so He has sent His Son to provide salvation for sinners and the Holy Spirit to apply that salvation to sinners. All of this is due to grace. The God who did not have to do anything for us has done everything for us.

That brings us to a third and final lesson.

Daniel’s experience with Nebuchadnezzar teaches us where to turn in a troubled, threatening world.

There can be no doubt that Daniel and his friends were living in a very threatening world. Nebuchadnezzar was intending to take off their heads!

Our world is equally threatening and dangerous. At no time in recent memory has there been more hostility to the Christian faith than there is now. The hatred has reached such a point that one can easily imagine in the near future a law that makes it illegal to be a Christian!

What did Daniel and his friends do in their threatening world? They did something that seemed to be so very meager and unpromising. They prayed!

Centuries later, the people of God would find themselves in a situation much like that which Daniel and his friends were facing. King Herod is on the throne of Israel, and he decides to “harass” the church (Acts 12:1). He puts James to death, and he throws Simon Peter into prison (Acts 12:2-3).

It is a dark and ominous time. And what does the church do? Luke tells us: “constant prayer was offered to God” (Acts 12:5).

Here is Herod with all of his power and with all sorts of means to work his will. And here is the church resorting to prayer. Prayer seems to be such a pitiful resource in the face of such a monstrous challenge. But we know how the story ends. God owned and used the prayers of His people to completely reverse the situation. The chapter begins with James dying and Herod prevailing. It ends with Herod dying and the Word of God prevailing.

We do not know what we do when we pray! Prayer puts the people of God in touch with God, and with God nothing at all is impossible.

Many Christians look at our threatening world, and they conclude that we must seek political power. We must get organized. We must sign petitions. We must get the right people elected.

But the church’s great resource is always prayer, and the most important business before the church, other than the preaching of the gospel, is fervent prayer that seeks the face of God.

God’s word to his people has not changed: “… if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

With such a promise from God, why is it that we are not praying? It is harder to get the people of God to pray than anything else, and yet the situation in which we find ourselves demands prayer more than anything else.


1 Ronald S. Wallace, The Message of Dainel: The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 52.