A king’s decree foreshadows the gospel (Daniel 2)

In the Old Testament are hidden numerous foreshadows of the Lord Jesus Christ and also of the gospel of our salvation. Typically these appear as unusual stories in the midst of some narrative text where curious events take place that seem to be of no significance, but that later prove to reveal some aspect of Jesus Christ or of the gospel. As I have considered the events of Daniel 2, I believe this is such a passage, a passage that foreshadows the gospel and pictures how Christ has rescued us from the coming wrath.

As we take up the story of Daniel and his three companions in Babylon in Daniel 2, we discover that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, has had dreams that have troubled him (2:1). Now, it should be noted that Nebuchadnezzar was the absolute and undisputed ruler in Babylon. He was the supreme sovereign over his kingdom and his word was law and was to be obeyed without question. As a result of his dreams, the king calls the wise men and magicians into his presence and issues them a command. “Tell me my dream and its interpretation. ‘If you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation you will be torn limb from limb and your houses will be made a rubbish heap (2:5). But if you declare the dream and its interpretation, you will receive from me gifts and a reward and great honor (2:6).’”

Let’s pause here to see what is taking place. The sovereign king has issued a decree and this decree must be obeyed. If the decree is successfully obeyed, then the king will give great reward, but if the decree is not obeyed, there will be terrifying destruction. Under this decree there are only two possible outcomes: Great reward for obedience and terrifying destruction for failing to obey. But what else do we notice about the nature of this decree? We notice that it is humanly impossible to obey the decree, for it is humanly impossible for anyone to know the dreams and visions that take place inside someone else’s head. Even though the wise men and the magicians seem willing to obey the king’s decree, they do not have the ability to obey it. Thus the wise men and the magicians have a very serious problem and seem doomed to destruction.

Back to our story in the Bible, the Chaldeans again ask Nebuchadnezzar to tell them his dream and then they will be happy to declare the interpretation (2:7). They realize that the decree as stated by the king is hopelessly difficult to obey and that they are doomed to perish unless the severity can be reduced. Surely the decree will not stand as the king stated it!Surely the king will make the decree less absolute. But the king repeats to them (2:5, 8) that his command is firm and will not be changed at all. “Declare the dream and its interpretation or you will perish.”

Now panic begins to grip the wise men and the Chaldeans as they grasp the true terror of their situation. They must fulfill the demands of the king’s impossible decree or they will perish. With nothing left to lose, they complain to the king that his decree is unreasonable. Their complaint takes three forms: first, no ordinary human being could possibly “declare the matter to the king (2:10);” second, “the thing which the king demands is difficult (2:11a, literally ‘rare’ or ‘impossible’); and third, only the “gods” could declare this matter to the king (2:11b). Any and every excuse is offered to the king by the wise men to get him to let them off the hook, but in the end their peril remains. If they cannot fulfill the king’s decree, they will all perish. At this point in the narrative, unless someone can rise up from among the wise men and the magicians who can satisfy the king’s decree; unless there is some hidden hero who will rescue them, their doom is sealed and their destruction is sure. [Make a BIG DEAL out of their need for a savior, one who can rescue them and deliver them from their doom. They need a savior who is able to fulfill the king’s decree on their behalf. ETC.]

Before I return to Daniel 2 and to the narrative about the decree in Babylon, I want to address a question that may be in your mind: “What does all this have to do with the gospel?” We have spoken about a sovereign ruler and about his impossible decree and about the consequences of failure and the rewards for obedience, but what connection is there between these details and the gospel? Let me show you by presenting the gospel to you in a particular way. The gospel of our salvation begins with God, the Holy One, the creator and sovereign ruler of the universe. Like Nebuchadnezzar in this story, God in His holiness has also issued a decree and that decree says to all mankind, in essence, “I am the sovereign God of the universe. I am holy and I have declared My holy laws. You must perfectly obey My holy laws and My righteous commands and if you do not do that, you will be condemned and will perish. But to the one who does obey Me perfectly, there will be glory and honor and he will spend eternity with Me in heaven.” (See Ezekiel 18:4; Genesis 2:17; Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:16)

Thus like the wise men and the magicians had a serious problem, so you and I have a serious problem, and our problem is this, that since we are all fallen human beings and have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), none of us can obey God’s decree. The sovereign God has issued His decree, but there is not one single child of Adam who can satisfy the demands of that decree, and God will not compromise His holiness by lowering His demands. We must obey God’s decree or perish. Like the wisemen in Daniel 2, we are all in serious trouble and, unless someone can rise up among us; unless there is a hero who will rescue us by satisfying the demands of God’s Law on our behalf, our doom is sealed and our destruction is sure. We need a savior and we cry out for someone who can deliver us from our impending destruction.

Now do you see how this Old Testament story of an event that happened a long time ago in Babylon depicts with remarkable clarity what God accomplished for us by sending His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you see that in both the Old Testament narrative and in the gospel there is a sovereign king who issued a decree that is humanly impossible to obey? And do you seen that in both our narrative and in the gospel failure to fulfill the demands of the decree will result in terrifying destruction? And do you see that in our narrative and in the gospel there is a need for a savior, someone who can arise who is able to satisfy the demands of the decree of the sovereign king? The question thus becomes, “Where can we find such a savior?” How can we actually be rescued?

Back in Babylon, we rejoin the story of the doomed wise men and Chaldeans. The king’s command has gone forth that, because none of the wise men can fulfill the terms of the king’s decree, all must be slain as a consequence. But when Arioch explains the situation to Daniel, there is a different response. After requesting more time of the king (2:16), Daniel and his friends pray and ask the God of heaven to reveal this mystery to them. God graciously reveals both Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation to Daniel, who is then able to declare them to Nebuchadnezzar.

It is instructive to examine the actual words that are contained in this next section to see how Daniel is presented as the one who saves his fellows from destruction and thus clearly foreshadows the Lord Jesus.

Daniel says to Arioch, the one who would be the executioner, “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon! I will declare the interpretation to the king (2:24).” If Daniel can satisfy the king’s demands, then all the wise men will be spared and the executioner will not have to carry out his terrible task.

Arioch then declares to the king (2:25) that he has found a man “among the exiles from Judah who can make the interpretation known.” It is at least interesting that Arioch points out this particular fact to the king. In essence he says, “The savior is from the Jews.” And this is exactly what Jesus says to the Samaritan woman in John 4:22. In the process of revealing Himself as the Messiah (John 4:26), our Lord tells the woman that “salvation if of the Jews.” Since Daniel is from Judah and is going to rescue his fellows from destruction, he pictures the much more glorious salvation of the Lord Jesus and thus serves as a type of Christ.

Nebuchadnezzar asks Daniel, “Are you able to make known to me the dream and its interpretation?” The king is probably amazed that anyone would claim the ability to do what the king knows to be impossible for mortal man and he is, no doubt, also skeptical of that claim.

Daniel answers the king that the God of heaven has revealed the king’s mystery to him and that it is the God of heaven only who can reveal these mysteries and do these miracles. Then Daniel, speaking on behalf of all his fellows, as a representative of all the condemned “wise men, conjurers, magicians and diviners (2:27),” declares to the king both the dream and the interpretation (2:31-45). Because this one man is able to meet the demands of the king’s decree, many are delivered from death.

As fascinating as this story is, the most significant point of the story is not Daniel’s trust in the God of heaven or the way God answers the prayers of Daniel and his three friends or even the amazing prophecies about what will come about in the latter days. As intriguing as those features may be, they fade into the background when compared with the main point of the story, which is how it so clearly foreshadows the awesome purpose and work of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Daniel serves as a savior to rescue a few wise men from the destruction of an earthly king, but our Lord Jesus Christ, whom Daniel pictures, is the one and only Savior who delivers “a great multitude which no one could count from every nation and from all tribes and peoples and tongues (Revelation 7:9)” from the coming righteous wrath of God the Almighty, the heavenly king. Daniel fulfills the arbitrary demands of the decree of an earthly king, but our Lord Jesus, by His perfectly righteous life, fulfills the holy, just demands of the eternal decree of God, the Almighty. We who dwell under God’s holy decree need a Savior who is “holy, innocent, undefiled and separated from sinners (Hebrews 7:26)” who will do that which is humanly impossible and will fulfill God’s decree for us, and Jesus Christ is that Savior. It is to Jesus Christ that this story points and that is the main point and the most glorious point of the story, that while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6).”

SDG    rmb     1/28/2017