God’s Wisdom vs. Human Wisdom

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
August 22, 2021
Daniel 2 

Sermon recorded outdoors at Mayberry Church on Friday, August 21, 2021

At the beginning of worship

Today we’re continuing our look at Daniel. Daniel, as we will see, is like Joseph. If you go back to Genesis, you may remember Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams allowed him to gain favor in Pharoah’s household.[1] Daniel’s ability, through prayer and God’s guidance, allows him to grow in statue within the Babylonian court. Daniel makes it clear. He’s not the one making things possible. It’s God working through him. We should always give God the credit. 

Before reading the Scripture 

I want to provide an overview of the entire chapter. We must handle this chapter as an entire piece, but I won’t read it all. It’s too long. You might go to sleep. And there is some repetition. I encourage you to go home and read it for yourself this afternoon. 

The chapter opens with the Babylonian king having a bad dream. It’s unsettling and he wants to know what it means. He doesn’t tell anyone the dream. Maybe he forgot. I’ve had those kinds of dreams, where I’m troubled, but can’t remember just why. Or maybe he assumes that if his magicians, astrologers, and wise guys can tell him the dream, their interpretation will be spot on. However, not knowing what the dream is about, their hands are tied. The king is ready to have their heads. But Daniel steps forward. After praying with his three friends whom we met in the first chapter, he asks to see the king. 

The king dreamed about a giant statue. The head was gold, and as you worked down the statue, each part was created from a less valuable material. A chest and arms of silver, a belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet and toes of iron and clay. In the dream, a rock struck the feet and the statue crumbled and was blown away. 

Daniel interprets the dream in this manner. The head represented the king. He probably set up a little on his throne hearing that. But kingdoms don’t last forever. Inferior materials make up each kingdom following Nebuchadnezzar’s. They became less glamours. Then, the rock that no hand has cut destroys it all. Humans built the first four kingdoms. After these human kingdoms vanishes, God establishes an everlasting kingdom.  

The king is pleased, despite the fact his dream indicates that his kingdom won’t last long after his death. He promotes Daniel and the heads of all Babylon’s wise guys remain safely attached… He also, through Daniel, acknowledges and honor’s Daniel’s God. However, there is nothing to indicate that the king is converted. Instead, it appears he adds the Hebrews God to his list of Babylonian gods. 

We must remember, that’s not good. Our God is a jealous God!

Read Daniel 2 (1-6, 24-28a, 31-35)

After reading scripture

Concern for everyone

On Monday morning, while scanning through my Twitter feed, I came upon one a tweet that hit home. I had just read through Daniel 2. A woman complained that her church, last Sunday, made a big deal out of praying for the Christians in Afghanistan. She commented that only a fraction of the population there is Christian and suggested we should be praying everyone in that troubled nation. 

She’s right. If we are followers of Jesus, who teaches us to pray even for the wellbeing of our enemies,[2] we should lift the entire region in prayer. I hope you’re doing this. I think our friend Daniel, as we will see in this text, would agree. 

Human and God wisdom

Chapter two of Daniel illustrates that human wisdom is limited and will always fall short. Human wisdom calls for us to pray for Christians in Afghanistan, but that should only be a part of our prayer. Instead, we’re shown through the story that unfolds in this chapter to depend on God’s wisdom. The wisdom of God demands that we love the world God created, and all who are in it. 

Our story

Our story begins with an unhappy king. When the king is unhappy, everyone is unhappy. One commentator describes the situation as what happens when you combine insecurity, anger, and power.[3]

The king wants an interpretation of his dream, but he also has another demand. He expects his interpreter to also tell him the dream. His regular advisors, which include all kind of astrologers and fortune tellers, find themselves stunned at this request. They get something right. The knowledge to know what the king dreamed can only be revealed by someone divine. They’re in a pickle for the king is ready to do away with them, if they are not able to do what he demands. Of course, if they can accomplish this task, they’ll be richly rewarded. 

Then Daniel, whom it appears would also be executed, steps forward. He offers to take this problem to his God. He buys some time and gathers his friends. The four commence to pray. We used this prayer in our call to worship this morning.[4] Daniel is given the answer and goes straight to the king, pausing long enough to have the king’s executioner stop sharpening his ax. 

This is the point I made at the beginning, of our need to be concerned and for praying for everyone. For you see, Daniel doesn’t just save himself, he even saves his enemies. These guys not only worship other gods, they will also later attempt to trap Daniel and his friends.[5]

Daniel’s interpretation of the dream

Daniel both describes and interprets the dream. The giant statue has to do with a succession of kingdoms starting with Nebuchadnezzar’s. There appear to be four distinct kingdoms which historically have been interpreted two ways. One interpretation of Daniel’s interpretation has the four as Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Another has the four as Babylon, Media, Persia, Greece.[6]

The everlasting kingdom

But the interpretation of this dream isn’t what’s important for the story. Instead, we see the inability of human efforts to create a lasting kingdom. What’s important is God’s work in the present and into the future. At some point, beyond these for realms, we have an eschatological vision of the everlasting kingdom. This kingdom is not made of human hands, but by God. In other words, humanly established kingdoms will all end, sooner or later. Only that which God establishes lasts forever. It’s a message we see throughout scripture.[7]

The king’s response

Our chapter ends with the king of Babylonian, bowing as in worship before Daniel, as he offers incense and grain. We may wonder why Daniel didn’t reject such adoration. When Paul and Barnabas were in Lystra, after healing a man, the crowd thought the missionaries were Zeus and Hermes, Greek gods.[8] But unlike those in Lystra, the king recognizes that it’s not Daniel, but it is his God who has the wisdom necessary to interpret the dream.[9]

Need for a close relationship to God

Having successfully identified and interpreted the dream, Daniel and his three friends are rewarded by the king. This part of the story, like what we saw from chapter 1, is part folk tale showing Daniel besting the wise men of Babylon. Such stories would, no doubt, delight the ears of the persecuted Hebrews. However, we must remember that the folk tale part of the story is just the surface meaning. The deeper meaning is that Daniel’s God, the God of creation, is far more powerful than the pantheon of Babylonian gods. 

We should learn from Daniel the need to have a close relationship to God. When in trouble, he prays. Not only did he pray, but his friends join him. He knows if there was an answer to be had, it can only come from Almighty God. Daniel, while well educated in Babylon, was wise enough understand such knowledge wasn’t going to help the king’s court interpret the dream. So, he goes deeper. He seeks God for help. We should do likewise. 

Knowledge is good, but a close walk with God is always better.

Thankfully, for those of us who live on this side of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, we can have an even closer relationship with God. Having come to us in the flesh, we know that God knows what our lives are like and what we need. Our task, as followers of Jesus, is to nurture such a relationship in prayer and in study, so that when the need arises, we will have the wisdom of Daniel.  Amen.


[1] See Genesis 41.

[2] Matthew 5:44.

[3] Alistair Begg, Brace by Faith (The Good Book Company, 2021), 33.

[4] Call to Worship and Opening Prayer. (From Daniel 2:20-23a)

Pastor “Blessed be the name of God from age to age,
    for wisdom and power are his.
People: God changes times and seasons,
    deposes kings and sets up kings;
Pastor: God gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to those who have understanding.

People: God reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what is in the darkness,
    and light dwells with him.
All: To you, O God of our ancestors, we give thanks and praise, for you have given us wisdom and power. Amen. 

[5] See Daniel, chapters 3 and 6. 

[6] For a detailed account of each of these theories, see Robert A. Anderson, Daniel: Signs and Wonders (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 20-25.

[7] As an example, see Isaiah 40:8, Revelation 1:8.

[8] See Acts 14:8-20.

[9] See Daniel 2:47.

Photo of a puffin taken by the author in Scotland in 2017

Daniel’s God provides growth and strength

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
August 15, 2021
Daniel 1:8-21

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, August 13, 2021

Introduction at the beginning of worship

Last week we learned how Daniel and friends, the cream of the crop of the young men of Jerusalem, were taken to Babylon roughly 600 years before Christ. This was before the great exile that occurred in 587 BCE. These young men were put into a three-year training program so that they might serve Babylon. While a great opportunity for them to study under top-notch scholars and to learn the Chaldean language and literature, it also created tension. How can they worship and be faithful to their God in such a pagan setting?

Today, we’re continuing with the first chapter, as we learn of their resistance to the Babylonian way of life. Daniel and his friends decide to forgo the king’s table for a vegetarian diet. And we learn that God blesses Daniel. Despite their “lightweight diet,” they prosper in both knowledge and strength. While this is the book named for Daniel, like all scripture, it’s not just about Daniel. It’s really about God. Today, we see God at work behind the scenes. 

 Read Daniel 1:8-21

After the reading of Scripture

Stories of resistance

Some of you may remember North Korea capturing the American spy ship, the USS Pueblo, off its shores in 1968. The crew remained POWs for a year and during that time they were constantly tortured. When North Korea also wanted to use them in propaganda, they would clean up the crew for photos. The sailors resisted by giving the middle finger to the camera. When the North Koreans asked for an explanation, they informed them the middle finger was a Hawaiian “good luck” sign.[1]Of course, later, when the Koreans learned otherwise, the men were again tortured. But the symbol allowed them to defy their oppressors. 

There are many stories told by slaves in the days before the Civil War who sought to maintain their dignity while living as property. One such story was told by a man owned by a stingy master who gave no meat to his slaves. If they wanted meat, they had to trap opossums and other wild game. This policy encouraged thievery. This man wanted pork and became skilled at stealing from his master’s pig pen. When the master came to his cabin to question about the loss of pigs, he was in the middle of cooking one. 

He told the master he was cooking “possum stew.” The master wanted to try some. Knowing the master would know the difference between possum and pork, he told the master he’d serve him some when it was done cooking. It wasn’t quite ready. Stirred the pot, the slave mumbled under his breath about how good the stew smelled. He suggested it must be all the spitting into the pot. Hearing this, the master asked, “Spitting?” “Yes sir,” he said, “us black folks always spit into the pot. It makes the meat good and tender.”[2] The master lost his appetite.   

Daniel’s resistance

Daniel and friends are in a situation like the men of the Pueblo or the slave. They don’t want to be in the situation they find themselves. Babylon isn’t their home. They certainly would prefer not to be a flunky in the court of a foreign king. They are proud of their faith. Jerusalem is their home. They love the temple. 

But now they are in a faraway land and will probably never saw their homeland again. How can they resist? After all, the king is a powerful man. As we see in the story, his servants, who are Babylonians, fear the king. They understand that if they don’t do what the king wants, their head are destined for the chopping block. Yet Daniel, trying to find a way to resist, decides to turn down the rich food the king gracious provides them. 

More than being kosher

Now, we might immediately think that Daniel and his friends are just being kosher. After all, as good Hebrews young men, they don’t want anything to do with pork or with shellfish or another of the other prohibited foods of the Old Testament. But that might be too simple of an explanation. After all, the Hebrew people in exile accepted their diet would be “defiled. The prophets Ezekiel and Hosea acknowledge this.[3] Jeremiah goes as far as to encourages those sent into exile to accept and work for the well-being of their new city.[4] Furthermore, the food laws of the Old Testament did not demand a vegetarian diet, nor did it require abstinence from wine. They could drink and eat beef, lamb, or chicken and still be kosher.  So, what’s up?

Maybe they are picking their battles. If they directly defy the Babylonians, their life span could be greatly reduced. The defiance of the king’s edict around food isn’t something done in the open. Look at the care taken by Daniel to do this behind the scenes. They are doing this for themselves. Their actions remind them that life doesn’t come from the king of Babylon, but from God.  

The purity required of the Hebrew people went beyond food. There were all kinds of things they should avoid, including Gentiles. And who do you think populated Babylon? Gentiles. They can’t exactly avoid Gentiles, but they can stay away from the king’s table. Eating there, implies you’re in the king’s good graces. By avoiding the table, they maintain a certain amount of purity without flaunting it.[5]

Private piety, not showy

Sometimes we feel we should wear our faith on our sleeves and show the world that we’re Christians. But Daniel takes a different tack. His food discipline is done privately. This is kind of like what Jesus said about prayer. Don’t make a big deal about it.[6] Do it privately, for its between you and God. Likewise, Daniel and friends exercise their piety privately. And they open themselves up to where God can work through them so they can become the top of their class. 

Not a story for those in Babylon

We must remember that this is not a story for the Babylonians. It’s a story for God’s people. It’s not even a story about Daniel as much as it is a story about God. This story encouraged those who lived years after Daniel, who heard about this and were reminded about the strength of their God even at a time when it appears God is absent. From the second verse from last week’s reading, we heard that God, who is behind the scenes, like a director of a movie, controls everything. God lets Jehoiakim fall into Nebuchadnezzar, God allows Daniel to receive favor from the palace master, God gives Daniel the knowledge and skills to exceed.[7]

Underground stories exist anytime you have oppression. When you can’t resist outright, we find other ways to resist. On one level, stories such as this, create Daniel and friends into folk heroes who best the king of Babylon. In this way, their story is like the men of the Pueblo or the slave stealing pigs. But, as I just suggested, if we look closer, we realize that this isn’t just about Daniel, it’s mostly about God. God has authority, even over the greatest empire of the age. While it may appear that Babylon and her gods are successful, the Hebrews listening to this story know otherwise.[8]

Another kernel of truth: Babylon won’t last forever

I should say one more thing about the first chapter of Daniel. It begins with the date of 605 BCE, with Jerusalem’s first defeat at the hand of Babylon. It ends with an acknowledgment that Daniel continued working in Babylon until the first year of King Cyrus. He had a long career. Cyrus was a Persian. His army defeated Babylon. This means Daniel served the entire period of the exile. Those hearing this story long after Babylonian ceases to be a threat are also reminded that foreign oppressors do not have the final word.[9]

A message of hope

What can we learn from this passage? Like Daniel, we too live in a culture that can be toxic for our faith. Like Daniel, our ultimate loyalty is to our God, not to some pagan king or human politician. However, we must live in this world. Until we are called to our true home, this is the only home we have. Jesus said we’re like sheep in the middle of wolves.[10] It takes courage to be a sheep. At times, like Daniel, we must go along with the flow, doing what is required of us. But at other times, we can show independence and remind ourselves that this is not our true home. In that way, Daniel serves as an example for us living as a disciple of Jesus in a world that seems at best, disinterested, and at worst, hostile.  Amen.  


[1] http://usspueblo.org/Prisoners/The_Digit_Affair.html

[2] Roger Abraham, editor, Afro-American Folktales (New York: Random House, 1985), 265. 

[3] Ezekiel 4:13 and Hosea 9:3.

[4] Jeremiah 29:7.

[5] Most commentators admit there is no clear reason why Daniel decided to draw the line here. But he did and this isn’t a story about drawing the line as much as its one about God providing. See . Sibley Towner, Daniel Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), 28 and  Temper Longman III, Daniel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 51-54. 

[6] Matthew 6:5-8.

[7] Daniel 1:2, 9, & 17.  See Alistair Begg, Brave by Faith: God-Size Confidence in a Post-Christian World  (The Good Book Company, 2021), 25. 

[8] Robert A. Anderson, Daniel: Signs and Wonders (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 8.

[9] Ibid. 

[10] Matthew 10:16.  See also Longman III, 68-69.

Sunrise this morning, August 15, 2021

Introduction to Daniel

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
August 8, 2021
Daniel 1:1-7

Recorded under the picnic shelter at Bluemont Presbyterian Church on Friday, August 6, 2021

Introduction at the beginning of worship

This Sunday I’m going to begin another series of sermons, this time through the Book of Daniel. This is an interesting and somewhat controversial book within what we call the “Old Testament.” While the Jewish Bible contains the same books as our Old Testament, they are arranged differently. While we think of Daniel as a prophet, the Jewish Bible has him as part of the writings, that include books like the Psalms, history, and wisdom literature.[1]  

There are other controversies. Daniel is not the most accurate historian. His dating of events is, at times, in conflict with other books in the Old Testament.[2] He also gets some details confused. In today’s readings, we’re told of King Nebuchadnezzar siege and defeat of Jerusalem. At the time, Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t king. He was the crown prince, but shortly thereafter became king. But this is a minor fact. 

There is also a debate among scholars on the dating of the book.[3] Was it written in Babylonian or later, probably in the second Century before Christ? Or, as I tend to lean, was the book written at a later day collecting stories that came from Babylon. 

While the dating of Daniel is uncertain, what’s certain is that the book involves how one might live faithfully when society challenges one’s faith. When we consider the book in this light, there is much that we can learn and apply to our lives today. Daniel offers hope, for we learn that despite what happens, God is still in control and working to fulfill his plans.

Read Daniel 1:1-7

After the reading of Scripture

As you know, I spent two weeks away, one of which was study leave. I settled into a house overlooking the St. Mary’s River in northern Michigan. This is where the freighters make their way to and from the mills along the shores of Lake Michigan, Huron and Erie, to the mines along Lake Superior’s shores. I was armed with a stack of books for the times when no ship was in sight. In addition to the Bible, my books included a couple of commentaries on the Book of Daniel, Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, and a brand-new biography of Karl Barth that has just been released in English. 

On the surface, it may seem that these books have nothing to do with one another. Thurman, who was a classmate of Martin Luther King, Jr’s, father, wrote for to the African American community in the 1940s. Barth, a Swiss theologian who had taught in Germany, found himself exiled back to Switzerland in 1935 for his criticism of the Nazis. And then there was Daniel.  

I found a thread that ran through all these books. I sum it up with this question, “How do we live faithfully when we have lost almost everything?” Growing up in South Florida in the first half of the 20thCentury, Thurman addresses this topic for his readers who were oppressed. In a way, they never had much to lose, except for their dignity.[4] As for Barth, he was forced from a prestigious chair of theology and even lost the distinction to be called, “Doctor” when the German university revoked his title.[5] But both found there was something more important than even than life itself. What’s important is to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ. God must come first in all our lives.

The Book of Daniel begins at the low point in Israel’s history. Israel has been defeated. Part of the temple treasury now sits in the temples of Babylonian gods. 

The first to be exiled to Babylon

Some of her brightest and most promising young men are hauled away into exile. This was the first invasion by Babylon, in 605 BC. Jerusalem would be attacked and defeated two more times by the Babylonians, the last resulting in the destruction of Solomon’s temple in 587 BC. That attack resulted in a large majority of the people being led into exile. But that would come later. 

What happened to Jerusalem when first defeated is that Babylon, to force compliance in its conquered territories, took some of the leading young men for training in Babylon. On one level, they were hostages. But these dudes were also lucky. They were sent to an elite school, provided with good food and living quarters, and taught by the best teachers. 

This is an old strategy still in use. The Chinese Communist party pulls some of the most promising students from their ethnic minorities, often from western China, and relocates them into the eastern part of the country to educated them into the ways of the Han Chinese. Our nation did this with Native American youth, who were relocated to the “Indian School” in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. 

The hope of such a strategy is that these “educated” students will become leaders within their communities and encourage everyone to adopt the dominate culture. In Babylonian’s case, it was also to have trained interpreters who could speak and write in both languages, which were quite different.

But the problem with such a system is that something is always lost. Those who are taken lose their connections to their families and heritage and, in many cases, their religion. 

In the case of the Hebrews taken during the first and second exiles, which included not just Daniel and his three friends, but also Ezekiel,[6]they lost their connection to their homeland. In a way, it seems, they’ve lost their God. For you see, in the ancient world, a nation’s deity was seen as having power only where the people lived. When you were defeated in battle, it was easy to assume your enemy’s god was stronger than your god. 

God’s in control and practices “Tough Love”

However, Daniel makes it clear that the God of Israel, who is the God, with a capital “G”, is the God over all gods. In the second verse, we’re told that God allowed his own people to be defeated, giving them to the Babylonians. 

Obviously, God practices “tough love.” We should remember this! 

This was a secret for the Hebrews in exile and for those in later generations. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of all creation. Nebuchadnezzar could think he was in control. He seemed to have the freedom to steal from the temple in Jerusalem and to give those objects to his own gods in Babylon. But he didn’t know that this didn’t reflect badly on the God of the Hebrews. Even though he didn’t know, Nebuchadnezzar was used by God for a purpose larger than even his kingdom. 

Jerusalem finest youth

So, the Babylonians haul off some of Jerusalem’s finest young men. We’re not told their age, but they’re at the point in life that they are considered wise and capable of serving in the king’s palace. My guess is that they were in their late teens or early 20s.[7] They are young enough they can still grasp another language, but old enough to have mastered being in the king’s service. Now they’re entering a three-year program to serve a new king. 

The significance of new names

One of the first things that happens when they get to Babylon is a name change. No longer will they go by their Hebrew names. They now have Babylonian names. In a way their identity is stolen. When someone assigns you a name, outside your parents, they are attempting to show their control over you. These Hebrew young men no longer have control over their own lives, as we’re going to see over the next month or so.[8]

Roger Kahn, the great baseball writer, wrote about having lunch with Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in the major leagues. This was a few years after Robinson had retired from baseball. Robinson invited Kahn to lunch to discuss his autobiography. 

While eating and chatting, a man came up to their table and said, “Could you be a good boy, and give me your autograph.” Robinson blew up, “What did you call me?”  

Shaken, the man backed away, and asked again, more politely. “That wasn’t what you said,” Robinson yell. Then he asked who the autograph was for. When the man said it was for his grandson, Robinson agreed to sign an autograph. 

Afterwards, Kahn asked Robinson if he wasn’t being too hard on the man. Robinson laughed it off and said, “That’ll be the last time he calls a black man a boy.”[9]

When you have the power to name, you have power over what you name. This is a Biblical concept that we see in the beginning of Genesis, where God gave Adam the right to name the animals.[10]


Over the next few months, we’re going to see more of our four Hebrew friends that we meet in the opening verses of Daniel. They serve as examples of how to live when society attempts to change us in ways that will deny our faith. Daniel is a good book for the church to explore at a time when we have lost influence in the world. From this book, we learn that even though we may have lost influence, God is still God. In the end, what matters is our faithfulness to God. 

And the question we’re left with, the one we all must answer, when we like Daniel have lost all that is important, is this: is God enough?  Amen. 

[1] A case can be debated as to where Daniel belongs. If one sees apocalyptic chapters (2, 7-12) aligned with Israel’s prophetic tradition, it makes sense for Daniel to be a prophet. However, the first six chapters are more “historic” than prophetic and there is also those who like Israel’s apocalyptic writings with wisdom literature. With Daniel, you also have prayers. Taking these ideas into account, a case can be made for it to fit within Israel’s writings (history and wisdom). For a detail discussion, see the Introduction to Robert A. Anderson’s Daniel: Signs and Wonders (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), xiii-xvii.

[2] W, Sibley Towner, Daniel, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), 22. 

[3] Anderson, 2-4

[4] Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited (1949, Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).

[5] Christiane Tiez, Carl Barth: A Life in Conflict (Oxford, 2021), 

[6] The opening of Ezekiel places him in Babylonian before Jerusalem’s final fall. See Ezekiel 1:1-3. Also chapters 4-10. 

[7] At this point, I disagree with Bill Creasy and his Bible study on Daniel (that Mayberry’s Sunday School class is using). Creasy thinks Daniel to be much earlier, around 12, but I am not sure a 12-year-old would have been at the level in their training to be considered wise and capable of serving in the king’s court. 

[8] Another book that I read while gone was Gregory Orr, A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry (New York: Norton, 2018). He devotes an entire chapter on how some poetry, to bring order to chaos, uses naming. The one who names claims a certain about of power. See chapter 8 (pages 160-182).  

[9] This recalled from memory from Roger Kahn, The Boys of Summer (1973). 

[10] In Genesis 1, God gives the man and woman dominion over creation. In the creation story in Genesis 2, this dominion is shown by giving the man the right to name. See Genesis 2:7.

The lighthouse and foghorn at Whitefish Point, MI