Dan 2:1 In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep.
This chapter is set in the 2nd year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign – around 603BC.
I once heard the following summary outline of the chapter – ‘the king gets agitated, Daniel gets involved, the dream gets interpreted, the king gets religion, Daniel gets promoted’ (source unknown).
‘In this chapter Nebuchadnezzar is no longer the one bestowing favours. Instead he appears as a frustrated human being, tantalized by his own forgetfulness, because he is convinced that the dream he can no longer remember is a significant one.’ (Baldwin)
‘Since dreams were considered to be messages from the gods, they often caused concern, if not alarm. The very nature of the king’s dream would have suggested that the news was not good news. He feels the type of apprehension that an employee feels being called in to the boss’s office when reorganization is taking place in the company.’ (IVP Background Cmt’y)
His mind was troubled – Baldwin reports the military situation, which may well have contributed to a sense of anxiety: ‘Each year in the early part of his reign Nebuchadnezzar’s expeditionary force went to the extremities of his empire to ensure that subjgated lands paid their taxes. In 604 Ashkelon had put up stiff resistance and had had to be reduced to rubble; in 603 an extra large army, siege towers and heavy equipment are mentioned, and Babylonian troops were in the field for several months.’
These half-remembered dreams played on his mind. ‘Nothing on earth could present any real threat to his security. He had enormous power and wealth. Popular, respected, feared, his word was never questioned nor his will disputed.’ (Wallace)
Nebuchadnezzar is a type of many powerful, rich and famous people today. Politicians fear they will lose control. Sportspeople fret that they will lose that number one place. Celebrities fear that they will fall out of the public eye.
How often it is that a person who enjoys the ultimate in outward success falls victim to his own thoughts and fears.
Dan 2:2 So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king,
Sorcerers were found from time to time in Israel, cf Ex 7:11 22:18, were found from time to time in Israel, 2 Chron 33:6 Mal 3:5, though the practice was condemned, Ex 22:18 Deut 18:10.
Dream manuals from the time demonstrate the method used: historical dreams were recorded, together with the events that followed, and so a system of interpretation was developed.
Dan 2:3 he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.”
Various ancient dream manuals have been found.
Dan 2:4 Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic, “Oh king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”
And from this point onwards the book of Daniel continues in Aramaic, right to the end of chapter 7.
Dan 2:5 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.”
We assume that the king could not recall the details of his dream. It is, of course, a common phenomenon that the details of dreams, however vivid the seem soon after waking, rapidly ‘evaporate’. There was a eastern superstition that it was ominous not to be able to remember a dream.
The bad news first:-
“I will have you cut into pieces” – Historical records show that the king’s words contained no idle threat.
The king resorted both to extreme threats and extreme promises (v6) in his efforts to extract a satisfactory explanation out of his advisers.
‘If the king had forgotten the dream, he would not want to admit it, because forgetting a dream was a bad omen indicating that his god was angry with him. Furthermore, such forgetfulness would logically result in the request that the gods send the dream again. Important dreams were often repeated two or three times (notice that Dan 2:1 suggests more than one dream by the use of the plural). An alternative is that Nebuchadnezzar felt that the dream was so ominous that it could too easily be used as a mechanism for subversion against the throne.’ (IVP Background Cmt’y)
Dan 2:6 “But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.”
So it’s promises as well as threats. The king is desperate. His usual means of persuasion just would not work. Some people imagine that they can buy, or charm, or force their way through any problem.
Dan 2:7 Once more they replied, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”
Dan 2:8 Then the king answered, “I am certain that you are trying to gain time, because you realize that this is what I have firmly decided:”
“I am certain that you are trying to gain time” – In his fear and frustration, the king begins to suspect his advisers of conspiracy. We can imagine the tense and fearful atmosphere in his court.
Dan 2:9 “If you do not tell me the dream, there is just one penalty for you. You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.”
Wallace cites Reinhold Neibuhr as suggesting that we may recognise in Nebuchadnezzar a prototype of many who find themselves in positions of power. Much political tyranny is marked by a sense of insecurity, of vulnerability. There is a basic insecurity at the root of our human existence, and we seek position, fame, wealth and power so as to feel more secure. But the more we attain and the higher we climb, the more insecure our position, for the terrible a fall would be. ‘Therefore the more he attains, the more desperately and anxiously he is driven to strive to attain. And so we have the vicious circle which produces the modern dictator, and which forces the dictator in his rule to become more irrational and oppressive in the use of power while it is in their hands, because of a fearful sense of sheer weakness in face of the inevitably crushing course events must take some time in the future.’
The problem does not only lie with political leaders. Nebuchadnezzar ‘is an example of the deep-hidden sense of insecurity that can drive a man to drink, to ever-unsatisfied acquisitiveness, to the inordinate pursuit of pleasure, to irrational anger, to behaviour towards friends and family that is stange and ominous.’ (Wallace)
And, more generally, those of us who are not occupied with the affairs of state and empire are so often, even while feeling loved, experiencing a sense of achievement, admiring the beautiful, plagued by a sense of finitude, insecurity, futility.
‘Even Solomon, after proving his heart with mirth and pleasure, wine and wisdom, after building all his great works and planting his pleasure gardens, after marshalling and reviewing his servants, maidens and cattle, and admiring his treasures to the acompaniments of his singers and music, could look from the height of his greatness at all the work tha this hands had wrought, only to find that “behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”’ (Wallace)
Dan 2:10 The astrologers answered the king, “There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer.”
The astrologers plead with the king that he is being completely unreasonable.
It is characteristic of powerful men and women that they imagine that they can have their own way, if only ther threats are fierce enough and their promises lavish enough.
Nebuchanezzar is powerful, but not all-powerful.
Dan 2:11 “What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men.”
They were half right: some things can only be know by divine revelation. But, if only they knew it, they were half wrong: the one true God has come and lived among men.
Dan 2:12 This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon.
Dan 2:13 So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death, and men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death.
Dan 2:14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact.
Matthew Henry speaks of Daniel’s prudence, by which he knew how to deal with mean, and his prayer, by which he knew how to deal with God.
Dan 2:15 he asked the king’s officer, “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel.
“Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?” – Baldwin says that Daniel is more concerned about the hastiness, rather than the harshness, of the decree. This is supported by v16, where Daniel asks for more time.
Dan 2:16 At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him.
Daniel…asked for time – The ability to keep calm under pressure was just one of Daniel’s strengths.
Daniel stepped into the breach before he know the solution to the problem. In fact, the answer came only just in time. We do not discern God’s help and guidance and then go. No: we go, and it is in going that we discover that God is with us. See Mt 28:20.
Daniel involved himself in the situation because he knew that the God of Israel is sovereign over all. The same reasoning applies to our involvement in the world.
Note Daniel’s demeanour throughoutt: ‘He acts with extreme circumspection and prudence. He is cautious. He is careful not to give offence.’ (Wallace). But, at the same time, he has a calmness that comes from his trust that God would have a solution. ‘He has been certain that in the crisis he and his friends would be able to pray as none of the others involved knew how, to a God who would never fail…Though he is weak and knows nothing, this man is nevertheless strong and knows everything because he is trusting the living God.’ (Wallace)
Dan 2:17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
Their Hebrew names are used – ‘fitting…in this context of faith and prayer.’ (Baldwin)
Dan 2:18 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.
Plead for mercy – “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” (Jas 1:5) “Ask, and it shall be given you” (Mt 7:7)
The God of heaven – This expression occurs frequently in post-exilic texts, Ezr 1:2 6:10 7:12,21 Ne 1:5 2:4.
‘The difficulty of knowing how to refer to the true God in a culture which has not hitherto acknowledged him is still experienced by missionaries and Bible translators.’ (Baldwin)
‘The effectual fervent prayer of righteous men avails much. There are mysteries and secrets which by prayer we are let into; with that key the cabinets of heaven are unlocked, for Christ has said, Thus knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’ (M. Henry)
Dan 2:19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven
Revealed to Daniel in a vision – This makes it clear that the dream and its interpretation came to Daniel not by the kinds of methods used by the Babylonian astrologers, but by direct divine intervention.
That God reveals himself to those in the pagan world is also attested in Gen 12:17 ff and Num 22 ff.
Dan 2:20 and said: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.”
Prayer preceded the divine intervention, and praise followed it.
Dan 2:21 he changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
God’s over-arching providence: “He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.”
God is a revealing God: “He gives wisdom…and knowledge…he reveals…he knows…”
Dan 2:22 he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.
Oscar Hammerstein had seen a picture, a photograph of the top of the Statue of Liberty from a helicopter. And he said, “This picture reveals the intricate detail that has been sculpted on Lady Liberty’s head, her hair and her crown and all of those things at that angle which no one could ever see,” and he said, “I got to thinking that sculptor must have realized that never will anyone see the top of the Statue of Liberty’s head, since there were no airplanes or helicopters when the statue was set in place. But he spent the same kind of detail and care and painstaking craftsmanship on the top of Lady Liberty’s head as he did down at the feet and everywhere else that would be seen by everyone.” Little did he know that someone could see it from above, someday!
That’s the way it is with our lives. Someone is looking down from above carefully noting the progress and quality of our existence.
Dan 2:23 “I thank and praise you, oh God of my fathers: you have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.”
‘This little psalm is a model of thanksgiving. No word is merely repetitive; each of the first nine lines extolling God’s greatness makes its contribution to the paean of praise, yet none is unrelated to Daniel’s experience.’ (Baldwin)
Dan 2:24 Then Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.”
Dan 2:25 Arioch took Daniel to the king at once and said, “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can tell the king what his dream means.”
Arioch plays down Daniel’s credentials and plays up his own (“I have found a man…”)
Dan 2:26 The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”
Dan 2:27 Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about,”
‘Nor can any amount of human research, group consultation, or acuteness in understanding the ordinary forces that make for change within secular society.’ (Wallace) Daniel, and we ourselves, are entirely dependent upon divine revelation.
Dan 2:28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you lay on your bed are these:
In contrast to Arioch, Daniel makes no mention of himself.
Dan 2:29 “As you were lying there, O king, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen.
Dan 2:30 As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men, but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.
Dan 2:31 “You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance.
Dan 2:32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze,
Dan 2:33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.
Dan 2:34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them.
‘Stones of great density and weight are a powerfully destructive force when set in motion. A stone cut out “not by human hands” strikes the feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream statue, shattering the gold, silver and other layers that represent world empires. This supernatural stone grows to fill the earth and is depicted as God’s invincible kingdom. (Dan 2:34-44) The stone endures, whereas successive world kingdoms fall, never to rise again. That unchanging, enduring quality lies behind Jacob’s name for God, the Rock (KJV: “stone of Israel,” Gen 49:24).’ (DBI)
Dan 2:35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.
‘There can be little doubt that this dream reflected the fears of the Babylonian king, who had so recently come to the throne…In his dream the statue stood for the king, with his huge empire that he could scarcely hold, and symbolised his inadequacy in the face of threats from breakaway factions. He feared he had over-reached himself and would fall. The stone which grew to fill the earth would have been a rival kingdom which supplanted his.’ (Baldwin)
The rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth – This recalls the story of David and Goliath, 1 Sam 17:31 ff, and the vision of Isaiah and Micah of the mountain of the house of the Lord being established above all other hills, and all nations flocking to it, Isa 2:1 ff Mic 4:1 ff.
There is a rock cut from a mountain by no human hand. This is an other-worldly kingdom, that will break into history, and change the course of history, overcome the kingdoms of this world in all their pomp and power, and ultimately fill the earth.
The kingdoms of this world tumble not simply because they have feet of clay, but because there is a lasting kingdom, and an all-powerful king.
‘What Nebuchadnezzar had seen in his dream, and what Daniel was pointing to in his interpretation, was indeed the kingdom of God breaking into the midst of this world’s affairs with irresistable and ever-growing power, smashing to nothingness everything what seeks to hinder its progress, and finally establishing itself, without rival and without opposing threat, as that which must stand and grow till “every creature owns its sway”.’ (Wallace)
‘Ths is the Christ we have to proclaim today to this world of uneasy dreams, to its shaking and falling dynasties, to its crumbling empires, to its petty tyrants with feet of clay,. In the New Testament Christ is himself described as “a stone that will make men stumble,” and “a rock that will make them fall,” that brings doom to those who take no account of it and that shatters all Goliaths who defy the armies of the living God. He is the precious cornerstone which must define the shape of, and fill the supreme place within, all earthly empire-building; and woe to the foolish builders if they alow themselves to be tempted to reject him in order to fulfil other plans…Here the significance of his incarnation, death, and resurrection and of his coming again are surely being pointed to.’ (Wallace)
‘What, then, does this colossal statue represent in our times? It can represent what is worst in the best of almost everything in the political and cultural world. It may, of course speak of something in the past. It can represent the Greek Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, Napoleon’s empire, British imperialism, Hitler’s empire. But it can also represent things in our more contemporary world. It can be a warning to American capitalism or Russian communism. It can stand for any system that tends to close itself to the living influence of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It can tell us all plainly what lies in our future too, if we dare to stand in the way of the progress of the Word of God by which he rules. His kingdom is bound to gather momentum and grow in hidden force and power. All that cannot be taken up and incorporated into it will ultimately be shown up as vanity – as chaff that the wind blows away. It can stand for our little empires, domestic, social, business, financial or ecclesiastical in the midst of which some of us sit enthroned, trying in vain to find security and satisfaction. It can stand merely for the image of our own future.’ (Wallace)
‘Through the dream of the image of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and feet mingled with iron and clay, the Lord reveals how one empire will succeed another empire: Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The resulting instability of the image is represented by the mixing of iron and clay. The image will be completely shattered by the rock, depicting the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom. This kingdom had been given to Israel as a theocratic nation. It was inaugurated more fully after the exile, in the coming of Christ and in the presence of the Spirit. But it will be gloriously established at the second coming of our Lord.’ (Evangelical Commentary on the Bible)
Dan 2:36 “This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king.
Dan 2:37 you, oh king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory;
Daniel is careful to address the king with the utmost respect, and yet at the same time making it perfectly clear that his authority is derived from the one true and living God.
Dan 2:38 in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.
‘The kingdoms are not identified in the text except for the equation that Nebuchadnezzar is the head of gold. Some have suggested a sequence of Babylon, Media, (Medo-)Persian, Greek, while others prefer Babylon, (Medo-)Persian, Greek, Roman.’ (IVP Background Cmt’y)
‘The four monarchies were not represented by four distinct statues, but by one image, because they were all of one and the same spirit and genius, and all more or less against the church.’ (MHC)
Dan 2:39 “After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth.
Dan 2:40 Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron—for iron breaks and smashes everything—and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others.
Iron is the strongest of the metals mentioned, but here it is mixed with clay, and so has an inherent weakness.
Dan 2:41 Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay.
‘In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream the relative value of metals plays an important role in Daniel’s description of the four world empires. (Dan 2:41) While iron is the least-valued metal in this ranking, it is superior in strength, hinting at a government lacking in religious values or cultural achievement, but ruling with an unbending will.’ (DBI)
Dan 2:42 As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle.
Dan 2:43 And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.
Dan 2:44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.”
Those kings – presumably, the kings of the aforementioned kingdoms.
‘Though the kingdoms have appeared to be consecutive, there is a suggestion here that they could be contemporary, but this is part of the symbolism of the statue, which in the nature of the case represents all the kingdoms as falling at the same time.’ (Baldwin)
The eternal kingdom is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ (Isa 9:7 Lk 1:33 Heb 1:8 Rev 11:15)
‘The eternal kingdom is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Isa 9:7 Lk 1:33 Heb 1:8 Rev 11:15) This kingdom was inaugurated and preached at the First Coming of Christ, (Mk 1:15 Mt 12:28 24:14) but does not come in its fullness until his Second Advent.’ (New Geneva)
The vision suggests to us many interesting things concerning the Kingdom of Christ.
1. Its superhuman origin. The stone was “cut out” of the mountains without hands. There was no natural cause for its severance. So the foundation of Christ’s kingdom was the result of no development of human character, but rather of the bringing of a new spiritual and heavenly power into the world.
2. The comparative feebleness of its beginning. The language of the vision indicates that the stone grew from a small size until it became a huge mountain. Frequently earthly kingdoms have had very insignificant beginnings. So with this Kingdom of Christ, which began with the meeting of a few Galilean peasants in an upper room.
3. The gradualness of its progress. Not all at once was this development made. It was a work of time. And so in the kingdom which it symbolises advancement was by degrees. Beginning at Jerusalem, its first preachers sought their earliest converts among their fellow-countrymen; but, as the seed sloughs off its outer shell when it begins to grows the Christian Church very soon put off its Jewish restrictiveness and found a root in Gentile cities.
4. Its universal extent. The mountains “filled the whole earth.” “The knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth.”
5. The perpetual duration of this kingdom. “ It shall never be destroyed,” and “it shall not be left to other people.” This perpetuity is intimately associated with its character, and that again with its origin. (W. M. Taylor,)
Dan 2:45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. “The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.”
‘The stone cut out without hands represented the kingdom of Jesus Christ, which should be set up in the world in the time of the Roman empire, and upon the ruins of Satan’s kingdom in the kingdoms of the world. This is the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, for it should be neither raised nor supported by human power or policy; no visible hand should act in the setting of it up, but it should be done invisibly the Spirit of the Lord of hosts. This was the stone which the builders refused, because it was not cut out by their hands, but it has now become the head-stone of the corner.’ (MHC)
Dan 2:46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him.
‘His response to the truth was not deep enough to change him radically, and we cannot call this an act of true repentance or a religious conversion, for in the next chapter we see him soon reverting to his paganism and his pride.’ (Wallace)
‘It is possible for those to express a great honour for the ministers of God’s word who yet have no true love for the word. Herod feared John, and heard him gladly, and yet went on in his sins, Mk 6:20.’ (MHC)
Dan 2:47 The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”
The king’s reaction is fulsome, and yet short-sighted. It reminds us of those in Jesus’ day, who were amazed at his miracles, yet would not accept the implications of his teaching (John 6).
‘Despite the claim of Nebuchadnezzar that Daniel’s God was superior to all other because he revealed the dream, the king is not committing himself to the notion of one true God, as Daniel no doubt realised. As a polytheist he can always add another to the deities he worships.’ (Baldwin)
Dan 2:48 Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.
Dan 2:49 Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.