Growing up in Singapore, we used to live on top of a a row of shop houses. Our front yard was a huge parking lot. Singapore was (and still is) a very superstitious country. Every July, the owners of most of the shop owners would seal up the parking lot. They would set up chairs and a stage. Almost every night, there would have Chinese opera and people in the neighbourhood would crowd the parking lots to watch. July, you see, is the hungry ghost month. Many people believed that during this month, the gates of hell would be opened. This means that the spirits of the dead would be roving around. To prevent them from harming people, the opera was set up to distract these ghosts.
On top of that, people would burn paper money, paper Mercedes Benzes, paper Rolex watches, paper mistresses for your dead grandfather to enjoy. I remember as a boy looking admiring at all the miniature paper sport cars and wanting so much to play with them! Neighbours would prepare all kinds of food and they would leave them underneath trees for their dead relatives to eat. Elaborate meals (often vegetarian meals) would be served with empty seats for each of the deceased in the family treating the deceased as if they are still living.
Towards the end of the hungry ghost festival, people would go to the lake or river and they would release miniature paper boats and lanterns on the water to guide these dead spirits home.
Many of our neighbours were down right superstitious. Though we no longer live in such a culture anymore, many in our modern day society are still tyrannised by superstitions. In my previous church, there was an elderly lady who brings fresh flowers from her own garden to church every Sunday. I always thought that was such a lovely gesture of worship until I visited her at her home. She told me that in order for her week to run smoothly she has to offer flowers for God on the table.
Then there was another lady who felt that if she contributed certain amount of money to beautify the church, God would approve her immigration visa she and her family were applying for. Then there was yet another man who felt that as long as he had a scripture verse pasted on the back of his car, he would by spared from a car accident.
In 1972, Stevie Wonder released a #1 hit song called "Superstition." Wonder sings: "When you believe in things that you don't understand/Then you suffer/Superstition ain't the way." Stevie Wonder was right: superstition ain't the way. If we were to sum up the message of our text, Daniel 2:1-19, it would be that "superstition ain't the way."
By the time we come to Daniel 2, we are deep in the city and culture of Babylon. Babylon is a currently situated 94 km southwest of modern-day Bagdad Iraq. One of the decidedly change in Daniel 2 is there is a switch in languages. You see the Old Testament is mainly written in Hebrew. When we were studying Hebrew in Bible college, our professor used to say to us, "Greek may be the language of the gods. But Hebrew is the language of the only true God! So, guys study hard, you are studying the language of the true and living God."
However, by the time we to Daniel 2:4 right up till Daniel 7:28 the language changes abruptly to Aramaic or more precisely Imperial Aramaic. Daniel becomes one of only two books in the Bible to be written in two languages: Hebrew and Aramaic. The other being Ezra. Why? God loves the Babylonians that he is willing to speak in their language.
God shows us that he loves the king of Babylon that he brings us right into the king's private bedroom in Daniel 2. And we are told in verse 1, that King Nebuchadnezzar had insomnia because he had a dream. Verse 2 tells us that the king "summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed." you will find that the king is a very superstitious man. He wanted to know what the dream meant. And he is surrounded all kinds of people that help feed his superstition. In the Hebrew just like the English, there's a different word to describe these diviners. Why was the king given in to superstition? Why are we superstitious?
1. We Want to be in Control
King Nebuchadnezzar was superstitious because he wants to be in control. He wants to know and control his future. This is why he demands that the dream be told and interpreted. Look with me at verse 3: "he said to the,, 'I have a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means."
And when the diviners could not tell the king the dream. The king got upset quickly. Again, in verse 5. his language is desperate and controlling :The king replied to the astrologers, "This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. Then in verse 12, we are told that the king got angry and furious.
Why was the king so desperate to interpret the dream? Why did he get angry and so extreme that he wanted the diviners to be cut into pieces and have their houses turned to rubble? Because he wants to be in control.
You can't blame king who was forcing these diviners to tell him his dream and interpret the dream. You see archaeologists have unearthed a document written by a third century BC priest by the name of Borossus. He tells us the ancient Babylonians believed that Oannes, a mermaid demi god came to prehistoric Babylonia. He was one of seven demigods sent by the chief god Ea to teach the people the wills of the gods. But Oannes has not imparted everything to human beings. There is still mystery that Ea will reveal through the diviners, the astrologists, the dreamers magicians that the king has to train up.
The king wanted answers because he wants to be in control. We are not that different, are we? Some of us place flowers in the church because we want control of our future, we want it to go well. We do our quiet time because we want control over our day and we want it to go well. We put rosaries in our cars because we want control over our safety so we don't end up in a car collision. At the heart of superstition is control. We want to be in charge.
But we are not in control, God is. In the book of Daniel, God is known by two appellations, he is God of heaven (2:18). He is not just the God of the Hebrews or the Babylonians but the God of heaven. Many people have often asked me: what is spiritual maturity? A big sign of spiritual maturity is the ability to let God keep you steady and to be ruled less and less by your circumstances and emotions. Stevie Wonder was right: superstition ain't the way
2. We don't believe in the Bible
We are superstitious because we don't believe in the promises of God. So, we need extra promises: one time there was a rainbow outside the church. Two of our ladies were super excited about it. They spend weeks trying to decipher what the rainbow means. Later, they came to the conclusion, it's god promise that he will look after our church. But didn't God already promised us that he cares for his church in scripture? I am not saying God doesn't show us signs; but sometimes we are more excited about these signs than the word of God.
As you read the book of Daniel, there's a ring of familiarity to it. Just as Daniel was described as "without blemish, and of good appearance" in 1:4; Joseph was also described in Gen 39:6 as "handsome in form and appearance." Just as Daniel was a captive in a foreign land; Joseph in Genesis 39 was a captive in the foreign land of Egypt. Just as Daniel is said to have the spirit of the gods living in him in 4:8; Joseph is said to possess the spirit of God in Genesis 41:38.
Just as Daniel, according to 2:1, started interpreting dreams in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Joseph, in the book of Genesis 41:1. also started interpreting dreams for Pharaoh two years after Pharaoh's first dream. Just as the Nebuchadnezzar first called his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to interpret his dream; Pharaoh too first called his magicians and his wise men in Gen 41:8. Just as Nebuchadnezzar's wide men were not wise at all and were unable to interpret the king's dream; likewise the wise men of Pharaoh.
Why are there so many so similarities between Joseph and Daniel? It was God's way of reminding Daniel: "what happened in the story of Joseph is not just a cutesy story. It is truth and truth repeats itself. And this truth still applies to you Daniel too. The story of Joseph was not recorded to entertain us; it's Scripture, it applies to you, Daniel. "
God's word speaks to us today; these are not just stories that happened long ago; these stories still apply to us. As God spoke to Joseph and Daniel, he still does today! We don't need rainbows or red skies, we need the word.
Marty Sampson is an Australian songwriter and worship leader. He had written many gorgeous God-exalting worship songs for Hillsong Worship and UNITED. Recently, he shocked many by confessing over Instagram that he no longer a Christian. One of his complaints is that nobody talks about issues such as why there's suffering in this world. Why a loving God sends people to hell and punishes sin?
My response is God has. God has spoken about it in the Scriptures. It may be the answer you want; but God has spoken all of this. And for thousands of years, God has equipped the church to engage in these issues. It's just that we are not listening.
In the book of Daniel, God is not only known as the God of heaven, he is also the God of my ancestors (2:23). God has spoken through your ancestors in Scripture. God still speaks through our ancestors in the Scriptures. Stevie Wonder was right: superstition ain't the way.
3. We despise and seriously mock the power the prayer
The reason why we are superstitious is because we mock prayer. We want placing a bunch of flowers in church to determine our future; we want a bumper sticker to protect us; we want a rainbow to assure us, but we don't want to ask God to protect us. King Nebuchadnezzar was surrounded by magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologists but none of them prayed. They would rather be cut to pieces and their houses turned into rubble than pray. Why? Because they despise and mock the power of prayer.
When Daniel knew about that the king was angry and furious because the wise men could not tell the king his dream, what did Daniel do? Look with me at verse 17: "Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven."
Daniel is the only one amongst all the wise men who prayed. In fact, he prays at least twice in this chapter alone. Why? Because Daniel knew the power of pleading before God. He did not despise or mock the power of prayer. God is looking not for men and women who are weak enough to believe in the power of prayer.
One of my favorite books is that of James Hudson Taylor called "A Retrospect." Hudson Taylor was a missionary in China; one of the fathers of the modern missionary movement. Before he left for China, he was saving money for his missions trip by working as an assistant to a doctor in Drainside, England.
The doctor he worked said to a very young Hudson Taylor, "Taylor, please do remind me when it is time to pay your salary. I'm so busy, you know, I'm quite likely to forget." And forget he did. But Taylor remembered that in China he would have no one to ask anything of, only God, so he simply asked God to remind the doctor.
Three weeks later the doctor remembered - but only after he had banked his money. Taylor was broke. It was Saturday. Taylor had no money for food. And he had to pay his monthly rent too. His landlady was coming to the clinic to collect her rent. Hudson Taylor worked until ten o'clock, but the landlady didn't show up. So, Hudson Taylor was glad he would not have to face his landlady.
As he prepared to leave, the doctor surprised him, "What do you think? One of my patients has just come to pay his bill! He's one of my richest patients and he could have paid me by check anytime. Yet, there he is, bringing in the money at ten o'clock on Saturday night."
Then he added, "By the way, Taylor, you might as well take these notes. I have no change, but I can give you the balance of your salary next week ... Good night!"
Who comes on a Saturday night at 10 pm to pay his medical bill? Hudson Taylor knew God was working overtime to help him while he was praying. Daniel pleaded for mercy from the God of heaven. Let's plead for mercy before the God of heaven now. Stevie Wonder was right: superstition ain't the way.