The Word Made Fresh
1In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams that troubled his spirit and interrupted his sleep. 2He ordered the court magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and Chaldean astrologers to tell him his dreams. They came and stood before the king. 3He said to them, “I have had a dream that has troubled my spirit and I wish to know how to understand it.”
4The Chaldeans replied, “Live forever, O King! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it for you.”
5But the king answered, “I make this a public decree: if you cannot tell me the dream and its interpretation you will be torn apart, limb by limb, and your homes will be leveled. 6But if you can tell me the dream and what it means I will give you gifts and rewards and you will be greatly honored.”
7They answered again, “If the king first tells his servants the dream, then we can interpret it for you.”
8The king replied, “You’re just trying to stall for time. I have decreed that 9if you don’t tell me the dream there is but one explanation: you have agreed to lie to me until I am convinced. So, tell me the dream, and that is how I will know that you can interpret it for me.”
10The Chaldeans replied, “No one on earth can meet your demands! The greatest and most powerful kings have never asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. 11What the king demands is impossible. No one but the gods can respond to the king’s demands, and their home is not among us mortals.”
12Then the king flew into a violent rage and ordered the destruction of all the wise men in Babylon. 13They were about to be put to death. The order to kill them was given to Daniel and his companions. 14But Daniel responded with wisdom and discretion to the king’s chief executioner, Arioch, who was preparing to execute the Babylonian wise men. 15He asked Arioch, “Why has the king decreed such a thing?” Arioch explained the situation to Daniel. 16So, Daniel went in, and asked that if the king would give him time, he would tell the king what the dream meant.
17Daniel then went home and told his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah 18to implore God for mercy concerning this mystery so that they, along with all the wise men of Babylon, might not have to die. 19Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision during the night, and Daniel praised the God of heaven. 20He said,
“The name of God be praised through the ages,
for wisdom and power belong to God.
21God makes the seasons pass,
ends and begins the reign of kings,
giving wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who understand.
22God makes known things that are deeply hidden,
things that are clothed in darkness,
for light surrounds God’s dwelling place.
23I give thanks and praise to you.
You are the God of my ancestors,
and you have given me wisdom and understanding,
and now you have revealed to me what we have asked,
and you have revealed what the king has ordered.”
24Then Daniel went to Arioch, the king’s servant who had been ordered to kill the wise men of Babylon. He said, “Don’t kill the wise men; take me to the king, and I will interpret the king’s dream.”
25So, Arioch immediately took Daniel to the king. He said to the king, “I have found among the exiles from Judah a man who can tell the king what the dream means.”
26The king said to Daniel, now known as Belteshazzar, “Can you tell me my dream, and give its interpretation?”
27Daniel replied, “No one, not wise men, nor enchanters nor magicians nor diviners can tell the king the mystery the king has asked, 28but there is a God in heaven who makes mysteries known, and has revealed to King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the days to come. As you lay in bed, your dream and your visions were these: 29You began to wonder about what would happen in the future, and the One who reveals mysteries let you know what is to be. 30This mystery has not been disclosed to me because I am wiser that anyone else. It was disclosed to me so that the king would know and understand what came to your mind.
31“As you were looking, O king, a giant statue appeared. It was huge, and extraordinarily brilliant. It was standing there in front of you, and it was frightening. 32Its head was made of fine gold; its chest and arms were of silver; its waist and thighs were made of bronze, 33its legs were of iron and its feet were part iron and part clay. 34As you watched, a stone was chiseled out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces. 35Then all of it – clay, bronze, silver, and gold – was broken into pieces until they were like the waste on the threshing floors in the summer. The wind carried them away, and no trace of them could be found. Then the stone that had shattered the statue grew into a great mountain until it filled the whole world.
36“That was the dream; now we will give the king its interpretation. 37You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you the kingdom, the power and might and glory. 38God has placed in your hands people everywhere, along with the wild animals and birds. You have been established over all of them. You, O king, are the head of gold. 39After you another kingdom will arise. It will be inferior to yours. And then a third kingdom of bronze will come and rule over the whole world. 40Then there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron. Like iron, it will crush and shatter everything. 41It will be a divided kingdom, like the feet and toes you saw, partly of iron and partly of clay. But it will have some of iron’s strength as you saw the iron mixed with the clay. 42And just as the toes and the feet were part iron and part clay, so will that kingdom be partly strong and partly brittle. 43Just as you saw the iron mixed with clay, so will they mix together. They will be joined, but they won’t hold together just as iron and clay cannot hold together. 44While all those kings are ruling, the God of heaven will be establishing a kingdom that will never be destroyed or left to other peoples. Instead, it will crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it will stand forever. 45It will be just as you saw the stone cut from the mountain, but not by hands, and it crushed the iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold. The great God has now informed the king of the things to come. The dream is true, and its meaning can be trusted.”
46Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell face down and worshiped Daniel. He gave an order that grain and incense be offered to him. 47He said to Daniel, “Your God is certainly the God of gods and the LORD of kings, who reveals mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery!” 48Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many gifts and put him in charge of the whole province of Babylon, and made him the head ruler over all the wise men of Babylon. 49At Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the whole province of Babylon, but Daniel remained at the king’s court.
1: The second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign would have been around 604 B.C., which makes the story here difficult to correlate with chapter 1. If Daniel and his friends endured 3 years of training they would still have been in training at this point.
2-16: Nebuchadnezzar, who just doesn’t come off very well at all in this book, has a disturbing dream that he wishes to have analyzed, but in a quirky mood he also demands that it be interpreted without him having to tell the dream! His Jungian psychiatrists demur, saying no one in the world could possibly succeed at such an impossible task. Of course, they haven’t met Daniel, yet. The king sends executioners to round them all up, including, we are horrified to learn, Daniel and his companions (verse 13). Daniel suggests that he can interpret the dream if the king will give him a little time, and because Daniel is such an extraordinary man among men the king says, “Okay.”
17-24: Daniel goes home to pray, asking his three friends to join him in petitioning the Almighty and, voila! The dream and its interpretation comes to him. He immediately informs the chief executioner that he has the answer.
25-31: The executioner brings him posthaste to Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel denies that he has any power to ascertain the dream or what it means (at which point Nebuchadnezzar might easily have lopped off his head, but doesn’t because the story would come to an abrupt end at that point), but quickly adds that “there is a God” who reveals mysteries and has shown the king what will happen in the future.
31-35: First, the dream: Daniel tells him that in his dream he saw a giant statue with a golden head, arms and chest of silver, torso of bronze, legs of iron and feet of iron and clay. The feet were struck by a stone and the whole thing collapsed like, well, like a heavy metal statue balanced on clay feet. By the way, the stone that struck the feet was cut “not by human hands.” Whose hands, then? Surely you’ve figured that out. All the elements of the statue were then dispersed to the four winds, but the stone grew until it filled the earth.
36-45: Now for the interpretation: from top to bottom the statue represents successive kingdoms that rule the world. Currently in that position is Babylon, so Nebuchadnezzar is himself the statue’s golden head. He will be succeeded by other emperors, each weaker than the ones before, until finally there will be an empire divided that will not hold together. In its place “the God of heaven,” the one who gave Nebuchadnezzar his power (verse 37), will establish a permanent kingdom. There have been many attempts to identify each of the 5 kingdoms, but no scheme will fit neatly into the historical records of the period in question, and such attempts are probably misguided. The point is simply that God will put up with these human attempts at empire only so long before stepping in to claim his place as the sovereign ruler of the world.
46-49: Nebuchadnezzar is so overcome with Daniel’s wisdom that he falls on his face and worships Daniel. Daniel makes no move to prevent him. The king sets him over the whole province, and Daniel intercedes on behalf of his three friends to have them appointed to powerful administrative positions.
If in this you recognize the story of Joseph in Egypt you have joined millions of others who have noticed the same similarities.
Daniel is presented as the hero, but God is the primary actor. Whatever successes we have in life should be accredited to God. We can do only so much without God’s guidance and support, so whatever course we choose should always be preceded by time in prayer.