Daniel 1:17-21 by Robert Dean

RDean/Daniel Lesson 5

Doctrine of Dreams and Visions – Daniel 1:17-21


"How shall a young man cleanse his way?  By taking heed thereto according to Thy word."  "Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee."  Jesus prayed to the Father, "Sanctify them in truth, Thy Word is truth."  "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path."  "The Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and the spirit, and the joints and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." 


As I go through those verses which I frequently quote before we start our study, it has struck me as we've gone through this Daniel study that those verses really portray Daniel's focus.  He is a young man, he's 15-16 years of age, yet he is someone who has committed the Word so deeply into his thinking that he is used mightily of God, so that at the young age, as we're going to see by next week, young age of about 17 or maybe 18 he is placed in one of the highest positions in the empire.  It's easy to think that somehow Daniel must have been a little older but he's just right out of training and he gets appointed to the third or fourth highest position in the land because of the wisdom that he has from doctrine.  And the same wisdom that's available to Daniel is available to you and to me, and we have even more.  We not only have more doctrine, we have the completed canon of Scripture, unavailable to Daniel, but we also have the indwelling and filling of God the Holy Spirit who enables us to understand doctrine, again something that Daniel did not have.  So we have resources that go far beyond anything that Daniel had and so we can achieve at least the level of spiritual wisdom and maturity that he had.  Of course we do that under the teaching and filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit. 


Last time as we were concluding our study of the first chapter of Daniel we came upon the subject of the doctrine of dreams and visions as revealed in Scripture.  It seems to me that I never, as much as I've been around the ministry and around people for the last 25 years, I'm always still amazed at how credulous some Christians can be, they'll just believe anything; some guy comes along and says he can heal them, or that God spoke to him, God revealed something to him, they immediately follow that kind of a person, they believe that happened as if they've never been taught any doctrine whatsoever, and then on the other hand you have people who don't believe that there is any such thing as a God, they completely reject any notion of the supernatural, and that God has created or that there is a Creator but they want to interpret everything within the realm of pure naturalism. 


In our lesson this evening we are going to see both extremes; we're going to learn doctrine that addresses both those who are so credulous that every thought, every whim, every spasm that they have they want to attribute somehow to God and God speaking to them, God talking to them, God somehow directly guiding them.  And then at the other extreme we will address those who don't think there's a God at all, so between those two extremes we find the truth of God's Word, that God is a God who exists and a God who communicates to man, but there are clear stipulations and procedures that regulate that communication to man, and that that communication to man is designed to be understood, not something that is unclear, not something that is enshrouded in mystery.  It is for some, and intentionally for some, but the majority of divine revelation was designed to be understood and to be understandable. 

And the reason it is not understood and the reason that people reject it, it has nothing to do with its authenticity, it has nothing to do with its clarity but everything to do with their negative volition and we will see that this evening.  In the last couple of weeks we've looked at how Daniel and his three friends took a stand against human viewpoint systems of their day, specifically the greatest manifestation, maybe in all of human history, at least at that time in human history, of the kingdom of man and all of man's efforts to establish himself as the ruler of the planet.  And in the midst of that they were being indoctrinated by this great power, the Babylonian Empire, to think like the Babylonians wanted them to think.  They went through a three year indoctrination training period where they were taken through a graduate school in order to prepare them to function at the highest levels of government service.  And as part of that they were expected to perform certain things and for the most part they went along but they chose the point of their battle very carefully, and that had to do with the matter of their diet. 


They stood their ground, they would not disobey the Mosaic Law, and we saw the principle there, that if the believer is going to engage in civil disobedience it is not a matter of going out in terms of Christian activism, but that civil disobedience takes place only when the Word of God specifically tells the believer to either do something or to not do something and the government is telling that individual to specifically disobey or violate a principle of God's Word.  And the response of the believer is to simply privately and individually continue to be obedient to God's Word.  It is not authorized in Scripture for them to go out and pull together other like-minded people and then get involved in demonstrations or peace marches or sit-ins or any other kind of passive demonstration or activistic response. 


You never have that authorized in Scripture, you never have it modeled in Scripture, there is no example of that in Scripture, and yet again and again we find people like Daniel in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, we find people like Joseph in the court of Pharaoh, we find people like the Apostle Paul who was traveling throughout the Roman Empire and the Roman Empire had every social abuse known to us and multiplied to the 10th degree and yet you never see the Apostle Paul challenging those things or calling on people to get involved in any kind of Christian activism whatsoever because the issue is not social injustice, the issue is not political injustice, the issue always begins with the gospel and if any society is going to be transformed, if it doesn't start at the starting point of the gospel, then the starting point is part of the thinking of man, it's part of human viewpoint and so what happens with all this Christian activism is their very message of the gospel is tarnished and compromised at the very outset because they've adopted a human viewpoint means of handling the situation as opposed to Scripture. 


So rather than getting involved in some sort of overt expression of activism Daniel and his friends just went to the people in authority, they proposed a certain scenario, a test, let's go ten days and see how it goes, we'll be on our diet of vegetables and water, you give everybody else the regular diet and at the end of ten days we'll see that God blesses us and we'll be stronger, we'll be sharper, we'll be in better shape than everyone else.  And not only was that true for that ten day period but that was true for the entire three year period of their instruction.


At the end of that period we come to Daniel 1:17 where we read, "And as for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in very branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams."  So we see that for all four of these men God honored them and God blessed them with giving them an ability to understand, in a better way than any of the other students, any of the others in the class, all of the material that they were being taught, and then to apply it in a much better way to life's situations so that they were honored by their instructors and those in authority in Babylonian Empire.  Furthermore, Daniel, we're told in this passage, is given something extra.  He is given the ability to understand all kinds of visions and dreams. 


Now we must understand that Daniel 1:17-21 are a summary section; they summarize the blessing of God upon these men in terms of their overall career as bureaucrats in the Babylonian Empire.  But it also makes the point that Daniel even under understood all kinds of visions and dreams and that tells us at this point the author wants us to note that Daniel recognized that he had the gift of prophecy, the Old Testament gift of prophecy and that he was going to be used in that way by God.  When we get into Daniel 2 and we get to the scenario where all of the magicians and all of the astrologers and all of the counselors to the king are put under a death sentence because nobody is able to tell the king his dream or the interpretation of it, and Daniel says go tell the king that I'll be able to do it, Daniel is not guessing he will be able to do it, Daniel already knows that he has this ability.  And Daniel 1:17 is giving us a foreshadowing, the author is using an excellent literary technique of foreshadowing to prepare us for what's going to happen in the next chapter.  Also, in this, when it emphasizes his understanding of dreams, when we get to Daniel 2:1 we'll see that Nebuchadnezzar had many dreams.  And so the foreshadowing here the writer is preparing the reader for what's going to happen in the 2nd chapter. 


In Daniel 1:18, "Then at the end of the days which the king had specified for presenting them," that is at the end of their three year training period, "the commander of the officials presented them before Nebuchadnezzar.  [19] And the king talked with them," so he knew who they were, he interviewed them, this was probably not more than 50 or 60 young men who had been brought as captives from Jerusalem, and it might have even been a smaller group by the end of the three year period, so the king specifically knows who they are and talks with them, "and out them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, so they entered the king's personal service."  They are the top four in the class and Daniel is at the head of the class. 


Daniel 1:20, "And as for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all of his realm."  Now the term for "magicians and conjurers" relates to those who were skilled in all of the both occultic arts and scientific arts.  The Babylonians were the culture that had achieved; at this stage in human history the greatest advance in astronomy, which they did not distinguish from astronomy, so they're mixing mythology with science, but in the midst of all that they were advancing in their understanding of arithmetic, their understanding of numbers, their understanding of geometry and different principles like that so that even the Greeks and the Egyptians would try to send people to study under the Babylonians in order to get their wisdom and the term for the "magicians" refers to those who were over all of that, not just magicians in the sense that we think of, somebody who can pull a rabbit out of a hat, but we're talking about those who were skilled in these arts.  The term for magician, in fact, really refers to those who were scribes and it was so few people had the ability to understand cuneiform writing or to write in cuneiform so they thought it was almost magical, so their knowledge made them seem as if they had a special insight into reality.  And in many cases it was guarded knowledge. 

So that's who the magicians were and the conjurers and these were the top people in what we would call the state department of the Babylonian Empire.  These were the top advisors, the top counselors to the king.  In fact, these were the same men who trained Daniel and Azariah, Mishael and Hananiah were all in classes with these men, they trained them, they taught them everything they knew.  The had taught Nebuchadnezzar, they had been his personal tutors when he had grown up, and yet what Nebuchadnezzar discovers is what these men have from doctrine, what these men have from the blessing of God because of their commitment to make doctrine the number one priority in their life makes their advice ten times better than anyone else.  They have objectivity, number one; number two they understand reality because it's not based on a false mythological system and a pseudo system of astrology but it's based on reality, it's based on doctrine.  So because of their objectivity and their orientation to reality because of doctrine, their advice is accurate.


Then the last verse in the chapter, Daniel 1:21 states, "And Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus the king."  Now we know that Daniel continued beyond that, but he probably started writing this when he was an old man, 80+ years of age, in the first year of Cyrus the king, so he didn't know when he was going to die, he could only say how long he had lived up to that particular point.  Then in Daniel 2:1 he writes, "Now in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams," literally in the Hebrew he dreamed many dreams.  We'll see next time when we come to the dream analysis that he had dreamed the same dream night after night after night and it just shook him to the very core of his thinking because the dream, ultimately it challenged his understanding of the meaning and purpose of his life and everything that he had accomplished, and the result was that his spirit was troubled, which means that he was agitated, his sleep left him which means that he was suffering from insomnia, he was consumed by the fact that maybe his life was really meaningless and all that he had achieved by this time in his life would just basically turn to dust and blow away as time went by.


But what I want us to pay attention tonight is the connection between Daniel 1:17, that Daniel understood all kinds of visions and dreams and that is foreshadowing to the statement in Daniel 2:1 that Nebuchadnezzar had dreams, because in that we see that it will be Daniel who enables Nebuchadnezzar to understand his dreams. 


Now the question always comes up, every now and then someone says, well pastor, how do I know that God isn't speaking to me through some dream and every now and then someone will say that well, I think that God was leading me last night through a dream that I had or God spoke to me last night in a dream that I had.  So we need to take some time to understand the dynamics of divine revelation through dreams and visions.  If people would just go to the Scripture and do an analysis of all the times that dreams and visions are used in the Scripture, they would understand how God worked when He revealed Himself through dreams and visions and why that doesn't fit anything that goes on in people's experience whenever someone claims that God has spoken to them through a dream and a vision, it never fits the pattern and why it was that God found it necessary to reveal things through dreams and visions. 


First of all we need to recognize that dreams occur and are produced under three conditions.  Dreams are produced under three conditions; first of all there are physical factors, such as exhaustion, diet, perhaps someone has a chemical imbalance and they begin to hallucinate, perhaps they have induced visions or dreams through drugs that they are taking.  This was a typical procedure, especially among the various American Indian tribes during the 18th and 19th centuries, they would, especially like in Texas you had the Comanche tribes and it was standard procedure that they would get together on occasion and they would have these great celebrations and then they would pull out a peyote button, and peyote had an hallucinogenic drug in it and usually the highest chief there in rank would be the first one to get the fresh peyote button so he would get the greatest amount of the drug, and then he would start chewing the peyote until he went off into his hallucinogenic trance, then he would pass it on to the next person and it would go through all of the men and then they would sit around on this peyote high all day, having dreams and visions.  Other things that they would do is they would send young men out, when they reached a certain age they would go out into the wilderness for a rite of passage into adulthood, and they would go for a number of days without food or water and that would, of course, break down their psychological defenses and in a state of exhaustion finally they would have a dream or a vision, and that was to tell them something about the nature of their future and the role that they would play in the tribe and a number of other factors.  So that's a physically induced cause of a dream or a vision.


The second way that dreams are produced is through an emotional state, perhaps you're in a high state of anxiety or worry, or intensity.  Sometimes if you notice, this happens to me, you watch a movie that is intense, last night I watched Saving Private Ryan and that's an intense movie with a lot of combat scenes and I found that two or three times during the night I woke up sort of replaying those scenes in my mind while I was asleep.  So there are different emotional states that we can get in that affect the dreams that we have, but those dreams simply reflect some level of turmoil or emotional upset or disturbance that we've had or maybe it's a combination of a physical factor as well, but the dreams don't have any meaning, they don't have any significance, they're not there to tell us about the future, or to forecast anything, they don't give us great insight into our psychological character despite everything that Freud said in his manual on dream analysis. 


The third source of dreams is an outside source, a supernatural source where the information or the content of the dream is introduced from outside.  There are two sources possible, the first is Satan and the second is God.  We can infer that it is possible that Satan can, in some situations, introduce dreams through a comparison of Scripture in Jeremiah 22:32 with Deuteronomy 13:1, which is the prohibition against those who claim to have a vision or a dream and they're false prophets, with Colossians 2:18 where visions are connected to the worship of angels and in the context of Colossians 2 those angels are to be understood as demons, the demons that lie behind the idolatrous worship factors. 


So dreams are produced by three conditions: physical conditions, emotional conditions and an outside or supernatural influence.  Now God clearly introduces and uses dreams at times in history to communicate specific information to people.


The second point in the doctrine of dreams, there are 22 dreams catalogued in Scripture, 16 in the Old Testament and 6 in the New Testament.  That's not much, when you consider 3,000 of history covered in the Scripture, only 22 dreams; this is obvious that dreams are not a primary means of God's communication of revelation.  Of these 16 dreams in the Old Testament, 11 of those 16 dreams occurred before the Old Testament was written.  They occurred before the Old Testament was written down.  I'm not like a liberal, I don't believe the Old Testament was written down late, I think it was written down very early, but those dreams were designed to communicate God's will, God's plan, God's purposes to people who did not have a written canon of Scripture.  In the New Testament those 6 dreams that are revealed in the New Testament occurred before the New Testament was written.  I think the last dream in Acts occurs just about the time that Paul had written the first two or three epistles in the New Testament.  So dreams are given before there's a written canon of Scripture.  Therefore, dreams were designed to communicate specific information from God to individuals before there was a written canon of Scripture. 


Now that's dreams; there's a slight distinction between a dream and a vision in the Scriptures and these distinctions are important.  Don't slide over them; don't think that dreams and visions are synonymous.  There are certain similarities but there are some specific distinctions.  For example, the term "vision" derives from the Hebrew word, machazeh, which means vision, light or place of seeing; it's even used for a window.  And that idea of a window gives us an understanding of what the image is here; in a vision it is like looking in a window into another room.  In this case that room that you're looking into is in another place in space/time history.  So God is opening up a window in the space/time continuum to let this individual see something that's going on at another time and perhaps in another place. 


The mistake that is usually made here is to compare this to what is normally practiced in other religions and is called an ecstatic trance.  You find this with the whirling dervishes in Islam, you find this getting into an ecstatic trance situation as I referred to among American Indian tribes, you find it among Jewish mystics, you find it among American Pentecostals, you find it among all sorts of religious groups, there is always those who seem to have this propensity to go into some sort of altered state of consciousness, some sort of static emotional trance.  Now we have to understand what ecstasy means, and I don't mean the popular drug that's being abused today.  Ecstasy is defined by the dictionary as a state of emotion so intense that the person is taken beyond rational control.  Notice that, a state of emotion; it emphasizes emotion, not rationality in reason.  It indicates that the person is beyond rational control, he is not in a state of cognition, he is not in a state of intellection, he is not in a state of logical control of his rational faculties but it is an emotional state, a state that emphasizes feeling.  And it is often induced through the use of drugs, through the use of various techniques, through the chants, the use of dancing; all these different things can play a part in getting this person into the right frame of mind.  It was typical in the ancient world in the worship of Dionysius.  The priestesses would get up and they would have various orgies where they were drinking enormous amounts of wine and food and they would dance and dance and dance, faster and faster to the beat of drums, until they would fall down and collapse and they would go into a trance-like state where they would have visions about the gods. 


But that's not the dynamic that you see in Scripture when one of the prophets goes into a trance.  In fact, what happens in Scripture is categorically different from what happens in pagan religions.  God communicates rationally to man; He communicates content, He doesn't expect man to shut down his thinking.  That's the problem with the naturalistic world view that has dominated western society for the last couple hundred years, is that they think that somehow faith is antagonistic to reason, that in order to have faith you shut down your thinking.  Now once society buys into this concept, that faith is opposed to thinking, then the next step is mysticism.  It opens the door and prepares the groundwork for a mystical concept of understanding God. 

So the Biblical concept of a vision was radically different from the pagan concept of a vision and we must keep that in mind.  When you look at the Scripture and these men are having a vision, they are cognitively alert, they are thinking, they are asking intelligent questions of God, there's dialogue taking place, their reason is not shut down, their reason is fully operative, there's no indication that it's an emotional state but it's a purely rational and cognitive state.


Point number four: there are at least 15 visions in the Old Testament.  There are probably more because that seemed to be a normative way that God used to communicate information to the prophets, and Isaiah starts off, this is "The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz," and you have other prophets stating this is the vision, that word is used many times.  Sometimes it's not used but it seems to be that that's probably what was going on, even though it's not stated.  So there's at least 15 stated visions in the Old Testament; there are probably many more, even though the term is left out.  In the New Testament there are 7 visions recorded.  Now the one thing that all these visions have in common is they're given to believers.  Only believers are recipients of a vision.  Some unbelievers have dreams given to them, but the difference is that in a dream the recipient is purely passive, but in a vision the recipient is actively involved.  That's going to be the distinction we'll see.  Visions were given to believers only; never does an unbeliever have a vision. 


That leads to point 5, in contrast to dreams which transpire while the recipient was asleep or unconscious, visions included a conscious rational recipient who often engaged in conversation and seeks elucidation, he sought clarification, he wanted explanation, he engaged in a dialogue with God in the midst of that vision.  So in dreams the person is completely passive but in visions the person is always an active conscious participant, though he's not seeing something in his present space/time reality.  That again indicates that the person is rational, not emotional, it's not an emoted state. 


The sixth thing we observe when we analyze these various dreams and visions is that God communicated with dreams to unbelievers; dreams were for only unbelievers.  Though they might not have had any understanding of what they saw… now some had some understanding, but it was because the dream, the information of the dream was so clear to them and we'll see an example of that.  Dreams were given to unbelievers because they're passive, they're not engaged in a conversation with God because God is perfectly righteous and God can't have fellowship with someone who is not saved, someone who has not had the sin problem dealt with.  The sin problem is dealt with only by faith alone in Christ alone, so if a person, even in the Old Testament, has not put their faith alone in the Old Testament form of the gospel, which anticipated the coming of Jesus Christ in the future and believing that God would send a Savior to deliver man from the penalty of sin, then if that faith wasn't there then God could not engage in rapport conversation with that individual.  But with believers He could engage in that conversation so that's a two-way communication that would be involved in a vision.


The first dream that's mentioned in Scripture is listed in Genesis 20:3 and it occurred with the king of Gerar by the name of Abimelech.  Let's get an analysis of what's going on in this situation.  The background is that Abraham and Sarah have gone to him during a time of famine, but once again, Abraham had done this same thing earlier with the Pharaoh of Egypt, apparently Sarah was quite beautiful and Abraham was afraid that the king would exercise his power and take her away from him, so he said let's not tell him you're my wife, let's just tell him you're my sister.  It's true that Sarah was his half-sister so it was a half-lie, but God is going to protect Sarah.  Remember Sarah is the one through whom He has promised the chosen race to come through, the seed, and eventually she would become pregnant with Isaac.  And God needed to protect her womb so there wouldn't be any confusion about who the father of the child was, so God warns Abimelech in a dream. 


This occurs in verse 3, "But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night and said to him," so this is not a picture image but is a specific communication of information; He said, "Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married."  Now Abimelech did not miss the import of the message.  Then in Genesis 20:6 we read, "Then God said to him in the dream, Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me," God protected Sarah and He tells Abimelech that He understands that it's not Abimelech's fault, but it's Abraham's fault because of his deception.  So he was not going to hold Abimelech accountable for that. 


This is the first of many different dreams in the Scripture and we need to analyze them and we're going to do so under two categories.  That's point number eight, that there are two kinds of dreams in the Old Testament: the first—dreams of Jews; the second—dreams of Gentiles.  There are some dreams related to Jews and other dreams related to Gentiles.  We're not going to have time to go through every dream, although that would be informative and helpful but I just want to hit some of the high points so the next dream I want to look at is a dream of Jacob in Genesis 28:12 and following.  Jacob is on his way back to Israel, back into the land after he has been out of the land, having escaped from Esau, and he has a dream.  Genesis 18:11, "And he came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it at his head, and lay down in that place" to sleep."  So he had a hard pillow.  [12] "And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.  [13] And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants."


What's going on here?  We studied the Abrahamic Covenant, that God promised Abraham a land, He promised an eternal seed; eternal descendants that would be more numerous than the sand of the seashore and the stars in the sky, and He promised him that his descendants would be a blessing to all people.  God now reconfirms this covenant, this unconditional Abrahamic Covenant with his son, Isaac, the promised seed.  Isaac was the promised seed and so God says in verse 13, "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.  [14] Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed."  So you see the same three elements that are present in the Abrahamic Covenant are reiterated here in Genesis 28:12-14. 


The point I'm making is that this is not some sort of subjective personal God's plan for Isaac's life.  This is related to God's plan for the nation Israel.  The dreams that we'll see in the Old Testament are not the kind of dreams that people come up today.  Somebody says I had a dream last night and God told me I ought to marry this person; they're so subjective.  They have to do with their individual personal life and what's going to happen tomorrow, some important decision that has to be made in their immediate life.  But that is never the case in any dream or vision in the Scriptures.  They all have to do with God's overall plan and purpose, first for Israel and secondly for Gentile nations as they relate to God's plan for the nation Israel. 


In this dream God goes on to say in Genesis 28:15, "And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go," it's a promise of security for Isaac, "and I will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.  [16] Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.  [17] And he was afraid and said, How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."  So in this dream Isaac recognizes God's provision for his life, the reconfirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant and God's purpose and plan for his descendants in human history.  These are not self-centered dreams. 


Turn to another dream in Genesis 31:10 and following.  This has to do with Jacob now out of the land with his father-in-law, Laban, and he tells of another dream here.  "And it came about at the time when the flocks conceived that I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the rams which leaped upon the flocks are striped, speckled and mottled.  [11] Then the angel of God spoke to me in the dream, saying, Jacob, and I said, Here I am.  [12] And he said, Lift up, now, our eyes and see all the rams that leap on the flocks with striped, speckled and gray spotted, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you.  [13] I am the God of Bethel," identifying Himself with the place where he saw the vision earlier, "where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me, now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family." 


What does this have to do with?  The fulfillment of God's promise to him to fulfill the blessing of Abraham through his life.  Once again it's a national historic promise for God's purposes and plans for the nation Israel, it's not some personal subjective dream, what is God going to do with my life.  The same thing can be said about Joseph's dream in Genesis 37:5-10 where he has the dream about the moon and the stars which relate to his brother's eventual obedience to him, bowing down and worshiping him, and it is through that dream that God is demonstrating how He, God, will preserve the nation Israel through this famine and the leadership of Joseph over his brothers.  So this is not some personal life dream telling Joseph just how God is going to use him but it has to do, once again, with God's preservation of the nation Israel. 


Another example, 1 Kings 3:5, this has to do with Solomon's dream, here we see God's response to Solomon's prayer.  "In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, Ask what you wish Me to give you."  Now notice in this dream, earlier I said it's mostly in visions that there is a conversation but here you have a situation in a dream where there is a conversation and the individual so there's a certain overlap between dreams and visions but you never see the kind of dialogue with the unbeliever.  Verse 6, "Then Solomon said, Thou hast shown great loving-kindness to Thy servant, David, my father, according as he walked before Thee in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward Thee; and Thou has reserved for him this great loving-kindness, that Thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day."  That relates to what?  The Davidic Covenant, Solomon is reminding God of the covenant He made with his father David.  Verse 7, "And now, O LORD my God, Thou hast made Thy servant king in place of my father David; yet I am but a little child, I do not know how to go out or come in. [8] And Thy servant is in the midst of Thy people which Thou hast chosen, a great people who cannot be numbered or counted for multitude.  [9] So give Thy servant an under­standing heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil.  For who is able to judge this great people of Thine?"  In other words, he's asking for wisdom in his leadership role over the nation Israel in fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant.  So these are not personal subjective revelations about an individual's personal life but they all have to do with God's purpose and plans for the nation Israel.


In Daniel 7:1 we have one of many of Daniel's dreams and visions; there are several in this book and once again they have to do with the history of the nation Israel.  "In the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions in his mind," notice "mind," the emphasis is on his thinking, it's not emotion, "as he lay on his bed; then he wrote the dream down and related the following summary of it.  [2] Daniel said, I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea."  So what we can conclude from this is that the dreams the Jews had were about the outworking and application of God's promise to Abraham and the Abrahamic Covenant and how that would be worked out in human history.


What about Gentile dreams?  There are numerous Gentile dreams as well.  For example, in Genesis 31 the Pharaoh had the dream related to the drying up of the Nile and you had the seven skinny cows and seven fat cows, and then Joseph was brought in to tell him what that meant.  And that, once again, had to do with using a Gentile nation.  Once again a descendant of Abraham is blessing a Gentile power, the Abrahamic Covenant said through you all nations will be blessed, so through Joseph Egypt is being blessed, and then in turn Egypt will be a protectorate for the fledgling nation, the infant nation Israel, until they're ready to go back into the land as a nation.  So Pharaoh's dreams have to do with, once again, ultimately God's working out of His plan for Jewish history. 


In Judges 7:13, Gideon is about to engage the Midianites in battle, he and one of his men do a little reconnaissance, they sneak down to the lines of the Midianite army and there they hear two of the soldiers talking, and one relates a dream to the other.  "When Gideon came, behold, a man was relating a dream to his friend.  And he said, Behold, I had a dream; a loaf of barley bread was tumbling into the camp of Midian, and it came to the tent and struck it so that it fell, and turned it upside down so that the tent lay flat.  [14] And his friend answered and said, This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel, God has given Midian and all the camp into his hand."  [Tape turns]


…symbolic, God's not speaking, He's just giving a symbol and then He gave another unbeliever the ability to interpret that so that when Gideon overheard that his confidence in God would be confirmed.  The dream is symbolic; Gideon was a grain farmer so that he is represented by the loaf of barley bread, and once again the dream doesn't have to do with Gideon's personal desire to know God's will for his life.  It has to do with how God is going to give the nation victory in this war of deliverance and deliver them from the invading armies.  Always these dreams have to do with God's plan for the history of the nation Israel. 


We're going to see this with Nebuchadnezzar's dreams as well as Daniel's dreams in the book of Daniel.  These are going to be used to elucidate God's plan and purposes for the nation Israel. 


In Daniel 1:18 we read, "Then at the end of the days which the king had specified for presenting them; the commander of the officials presented them before Nebuchadnezzar.  [19] And the king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king's personal service."  And from there Daniel is going to be able to interpret Nebuchadnezzar's dreams, bring comfort to his soul, eventually, I think, lead him to salvation but it is from this position that God is going to bless both the Babylonians, blessing by association with the Jews, and He is going to give us the greatest prophecies in human history.


Now in conclusion to this study on dreams we need to realize that God no longer communicates through dreams and visions because His communication and revelation to man is now complete in the closed canon of Scripture.  Anyone who claims to have a dream or vision, or that God is speaking to them, or that God is communicating information to them apart from Scripture is a liar, a deceiver and is a false prophet on the basis of the Word of God.  They are just following their own imagination and it has nothing to do with truth.


Now what we've just seen is what happens to those… how God speaks to people to inform us of the future of human history and the plan for mankind.  The trouble is that just as on the one hand there are those people who are too credulous, they are too ready to believe that every thought they have, every whim that comes into their soul is from God, there are those on the other hand who want to reject the fact that God exists or that God can communicate to us.  This is a position known philosophically as naturalism; the idea that there is no God, the only thing that exists is the material universe, and it is out of that position that a book like Daniel is attacked.  I have said this again and again, that Daniel is one of the most attacked and assaulted books in the Bible.  And the reason is that for the unbeliever, for the skeptic, for the naturalist, the fact that you have a book that claims to have been written in roughly 537 BC and to foretell the events that would happen in the 5th century BC and the 4th century BC and the 3rd century BC, all the way up to the coming of Christ and then prophetic events that wouldn't occur for another two or three thousand years, for a book to claim that kind of authenticity and accuracy is completely unacceptable to the skeptic.  So they try to come in and find some reason to doubt everything about this book and its claims and to just show that it was really a fraud and written as history after the fact rather than before the fact. 


This is a problem, and Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel faced a similar problem in their time period.  In fact, what we're going to see in the next chapter is when Nebuchadnezzar has his dream, it shakes his thinking, his worldview to its very core because remember, he's been trained under the tutelage of the Chaldeans, the magicians, the astrologers, he has been taught their worldview, their mythological system, their view of evolution, that everything just kind of came out of this cosmic ooze called Tiamat, according to the Babylonian creation epic.  And it may have less scientific terminology but it's not any different from the modern evolutionary theory, it's still a chaos to order procedure. 


He's been taught this, and all of a sudden he has this dream and he doesn't know exactly what it means but he understands, he has this intuitive grasp that somehow it relates to him, this image that stands up has something to do with him and this rock made without hands that smashes this image at the end of his dream, that that has something to do with his life and his mortality and that all that he has done… remember at the time that this happens Nebuchadnezzar is probably a young man in his late 20s, and he's achieved as much as Alexander the Great has, he's the leader of the greatest empire of that time, he has defeated the two previously great empires, Assyria and Egypt, and he is a genius himself in architecture, in military matters, in administration.  He has achieved everything that any human being could possibly hope to achieve and yet all of a sudden he's faced with the fact it all may be for naught.  In the sands of time it will just blow away. 


So he is going to challenge the leaders to interpret the dream, but he wants to make sure they're not just blowing smoke at him and he's going to say not only tell me the interpretation of the dream, but if you really know this, you're going to be able to tell me the dream.  In other words, what he's saying is validate your worldview.  If we're going to believe that everything that we believe is true and right, then I want some sort of objective verifiable evidence to validate this position. 


That's the same problem that we run into today is that people ask us as believers to somehow validate what we believe; how do we know that what you say is true?  So there's a battle, this battle between truth claims, the truth claims of the unbeliever and the truth claims of the believer, and for the last two to three centuries, since its inception, its roots at the time of Descartes and the beginnings of the Enlightenment, modern man and what appears as modernism, not of course we're in post-modernism which is based on mysticism and irrationality and I'll show you where that plays its part in just a moment.  For 250-300 years we have been dominated by a thought form in western civilization saying that God really doesn't interfere with human history; God really isn't there, in fact, there is no God.  Everything is the way it is simply as a result of natural causes.  And it is this naturalism, this worldview of naturalism, that presupposes that God cannot speak to the events in human history and therefore everything is just a matter of chance and it's a result of chaos.


So we have to understand something about naturalism because it's very present with us today and it's a major influence, still, in many schools, many universities and whether it's a high school or junior high or college campus it's still very evident; it's evident in the media, it's evident by the questions that reporters ask and so we need to come to an understanding of this basic world view.


I have four points to summarize the worldview of naturalism.  First of all, naturalism espouses that matter exists eternally and is all that there is, there is no supernatural being or beings.  All that there is quantifiable, it's measurable, it's material, it's physical, there is no immaterial or supernatural.  This is the starting point of naturalism.


The second principle of naturalism is that the cosmos, the universe exists as a uniformity of cause and effect in a closed system.  What that means is everything is inside the box and if there's anything outside the box, we can't know what is out there, we don't know what is out there, and if there is anything outside the box it can't affect anything inside the box.  And the box represents the known universe.  If I were to chart it this way I would draw a box and everything that happens in the universe takes place within this box and anything outside this box is unknown and unknowable.  The problem with this is it leads to circular thinking.  If the only thing you can know is what's inside the box then that becomes your presupposition and if something comes from outside the box, then by definition you've excluded knowledge of it, so if something comes from outside the box by definition it can't come inside the box, so now it doesn't exist because I said it can't exist, so you're always looking for a sign but no sign is ever acceptable enough because it comes from outside the box.  This happened even among the religious leaders of Jesus' time; it's interesting, every time they asked for a sign Jesus had just performed a miracle.  He had just fed the 5,000 with five fish and two loaves and they say give us a sign.  He'd just raise Lazarus from the dead and they said give us a sign.  So it's not a matter of empirical data, it's a matter of the will.


The third point is that according to naturalism man is a complex of inner relationships of material particles, DNA, genetic makeup and environment.  There is no immaterial part of man, there's no soul.  Everything, therefore, is just material.  This is reflected in a quote from John Updike, The Pigeon Feathers.  He captures the real implications of this when he writes: "Without warning David was visited by an exact vision of death, a long hole in the ground no wider than your body, down which you were buried while the white faces recede.  You try to reach them but your arms are pinned.  Shovels pour dirt in your face.  There you will be forever in an upright position, blind and silent, and in time no one will remember you, and you will never be called.  As strata of rocks shift your fingers elongate and your teeth are distended sideways in a great underground grimace indistinguishable from a strip of chalk.  The earth tumbles on and the sun expires, an unfaltering darkness rings where once there were stars.  How depressing, how meaningless life becomes."


And that's the problem today, this is the worldview that dominates on many campuses, so many schools, and so many homes, is that people despair of the meaning of life.  And that's the fourth point that death extinguishes existence.  Ernest Nagel said that life was an episode between two oblivions.  The point is that naturalism falls apart because it basically assumes that you can't know what's out there so if God is out there and speaks to our existence, then we automatically discredit it because we presuppose that He can't do it.  So naturalism deteriorates and collapses into irrationalism and that always happens, is that human viewpoint systems always flux between rationalism and irrationalism; they move from the rationalism of the Enlightenment and now the mysticism of post-modernism.  And it bounces back and forth because the only third acceptable option is that God speaks and God communicates.  And that's unacceptable to man who is in rebellion against Him.


Next time we'll see how this played itself out in the conflict between Nebuchadnezzar and his advisors.