February is supposed to be all about hearts and stuff – which, as a very single person, I take very little interest in (unless it translates into chocolate gifts on my desk). But in the spirit of the season, I can talk about hearts and stuff, but only on my terms: the heart (and stuff) of a biblical story.
If you were to read Daniel 2 (which I hope you have…or will…) and then answer the question, “What’s this chapter about?” (or, Happy Valentine’s month, “What’s at the heart of this chapter?) you’d probably say it’s about Nebuchadnezzar and his impenetrable dream. You’d be right, of course. The chapter runs on the fuel of Nebuchadnezzar’s nocturnal dilemma. The dream, when we finally hear it, takes up fifteen verses – a solid third of the chapter. So, certainly, the chapter is about the dream.
But I would argue that the heart of the chapter lies elsewhere. The dream is a subplot to this greater issue. Without making you guess what this greater issue is, let me tell you one of the things I do when I start analyzing a biblical story to help me sift through its complexity. I ask a series of questions: (1) Who is the protagonist, that is, the hero of the story? (2) What is the problem or challenge that s/he faces? (3) How did s/he get into it? And finally, (4) How does s/he get out of it?
If you run Daniel 2 through these questions, you’ll come to a very different answer for what the chapter is about. Who is the protagonist? As is true for most of the book, Daniel is the protagonist. What problem or challenge does he face? Most basically, he faces death, but if you tease this answer out a bit, you’ll say the problem he faces is Nebuchadnezzar’s impenetrable dream. How did he get into this mess? A whole series of events led to Daniel’s problem, beginning with the king’s bad night of sleep and climaxing in Daniel’s prayer to God that the “mystery” be revealed. How does he get out of the mess? God answers his prayer and the Judahite exile takes the message to the king.
When you come at the story this way, the climax comes in verses 20–23 where Daniel praises God for answering his prayer:
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. (ESV)
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is important – and we’ll eventually get to it, I promise. But the heart of this chapter is the true source of power and wisdom. Both belong to God, who, amazingly, grants them to people at times and for seasons.