For more study see commentary on Daniel 2.
Daniel 1 ended with Daniel and his friends who had been taken to Babylon from Jerusalem entering into the service of king Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel 2 picks up a short time later when Nebuchadnezzar is given a dream by the Lord.
1 In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. 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, 3 he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.”
If you paid close attention to Daniel 1 you may remember that Daniel and his friends were to be trained for 3 years before entering into the service of the king. However we find Daniel and his friends already working for Nebuchadnezzar in his second year.
There are two possible explanations for this. The first is that because Daniel and his friends were ten times more impressive than the others they trained with, they completed their training early. More likely is kind of a quirk in the way that things were dated in ancient times.
It was quite common for kingdoms to have what is known as a coregency. This meant that a father and son ruled the kingdom at the same time. The father was getting old and was unable to fight in battles or to carry on the normal activities of the king so the son took over. The father remains the king in title but the son is the king in power. Therefore there are times when the son acts as king before he is officially recorded as king. Nebuchadnezzar has been acting king for some time but has only officially been king since his father Nabopolassar died.
Regardless of the exact timing of this event, it would seem to occur early in Daniel’s life in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is very similar to the one Pharaoh had in that he was greatly troubled by it and no one could help him interpret it.
4 Then the astrologers answered the king, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”
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. 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.”
7 Once more they replied, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”
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: 9 If you do not tell me the dream, there is only 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.”
Even though Nebuchadnezzar calls upon his wise men for help in interpreting the dream, he is no fool. Some people fail to recognize that they are surrounded by yes men who only tell them what they want to hear, Nebuchadnezzar is not one of them. He knows that there is no way to verify if his men are telling him the truth unless they prove to him that they have special insight.
10 The astrologers answered the king, “There is no one 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. 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 humans.”
12 This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. 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.
The astrologers basically admit that they are frauds as they respond to the king. This doesn’t sit well with Nebuchadnezzar for a number of likely reasons. 1, he is angry that they are frauds and have no special insight. 2, the dream that he was greatly disturbed by is not getting interpreted. 3, the gods that he worships are not responding to him by giving his wise men insight into the dream.
Nebuchadnezzar is not known for gentleness and he has become even more enraged. The threat of cutting the wise men to pieces and burning their houses down was not an idle threat nor hyperbole. This was real and the king issues the order for it to be carried out.
It is worth noting the kind of power that Nebuchadnezzar has. It is cruel but it is absolute. There is no trial. There is not even an announcement of the crime committed. There is no right of appeal and no one dares try to calm Nebuchadnezzar down for fear of risking his own life. Nebuchadnezzar is cruel but his power is absolute and unquestioned.
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. 15 He asked the king’s officer, “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. 16 At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him.
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 20 and said:
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
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.”
For some reason Daniel and his friends are not among the group that was summoned to the king. This could be because they had separated themselves from the rest of the group, either for moral reasons or simply because of cultural ones that they didn’t fit in. Whatever the case, they didn’t get word of the king’s summons. Imagine their surprise when they king’s guard arrives and informs them that he has been ordered to kill them!
Despite the desperate situation, Daniel remains calm. It is a great contrast to Nebuchadnezzar’s rage. When Daniel goes to Nebuchadnezzar, something changes. Nebuchadnezzar had accused the wise men of stalling for time but this is exactly what Daniel asks for. Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar’s rage had subsided since he ordered the execution of his wise men. Maybe, upon seeing Daniel he realized that his wisest of wise men were not in the room at the time. Whatever the case, it seems likely that God softens Nebuchadnezzar’s heart in order that Daniel may have time.
Daniel’s response is to immediately go home and pray. And once Daniel has been given the answer, he offers up praise to God.
This sets the stage for, in my opinion, the greatest prophecy in the Bible outside of those that predict the coming of Christ.
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.”
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.”
26 The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”
27 Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 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 were lying in bed are these:
29 “As Your Majesty was lying there, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. 30 As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.
31 “Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. 32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 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. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces 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.
The explanation of the dream is forthcoming and we’ll discuss the details of the dream in a moment. Note that Daniel gives all of the glory to God for his ability to interpret the dream. He does not claim to be anyone special, only a servant of the God in heaven who reveals mysteries.
36 “This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. 37 Your Majesty, you are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; 38 in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.
39 “After you, another kingdom will arise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. 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. 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. 42 As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. 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.
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. 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 its interpretation is trustworthy.”
46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. 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.”
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. 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.
The dream that Nebuchadnezzar has is a view of history from God’s perspective. Each metal is representative of a different kingdom. The first kingdom, gold, is that of Nebuchadnezzar. It is the greatest and Nebuchadnezzar is the all powerful head of that kingdom.
After his kingdom would come an inferior kingdom, then another, and then a fourth. In the end, the kingdom of God will come and it will destroy all earthly kingdoms and spread over the entire world.
There are some very notable things about the statue. First of all is that the precious metals get less precious further down. This denotes that each successive kingdom would be inferior to the preceding ones in power.
Next is that this statue is top heavy. If it were an actual structure it would be destined to fall. Gold is heavier than silver, which is heavier than bronze, which is heavier than iron. These earthly kingdoms are destined to fall. It takes virtually no effort by God in order to topple these kingdoms even though they appear to be powerful and mighty. God has dominion over them as is displayed by the rock that topples the statue.
Each metal is harder than the last. Gold is a very soft metal, followed by silver, bronze, and iron. This is representative of military might. Although Nebuchadnezzar invaded and destroyed Israel, his kingdom wasn’t held together by military might. Each successive kingdom will be more and more militaristic.
These are things that Nebuchadnezzar could have known by virtue of the prophecy. We however know how history played out. God was telling Nebuchadnezzar more than just the fact that his was the greatest kingdom and that it would be followed by inferior kingdoms which were all vastly inferior to the kingdom of God.
The Babylonian empire was followed by the Medo-Persian empire. Nebuachadnezzar wouldn’t live to see this but Daniel would as he interpreted the writing on the wall and saw the fall of the Babylonian empire in a single night.
Two hundred years later, Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world and established the Greek empire. Three hundred years after that, the Roman empire came about and it lasted until the 15th century AD when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans.
Knowing what we do about these empires, the dream makes even more sense. Gold was the monetary standard of the Babylonian empire while silver was the standard of Medo-Persia. Greece was known for their bronze shields and Rome for its iron weapons of war.
The amount of each metal in the statue is also significant. As you go down the statue, there is more silver than gold, more bronze than silver, and more iron than bronze. This is representative of both the length these empires were in power as well as the amount of territory that they held.
There is one final thing that we have not witnessed historically. We have not seen the feet of the statue – iron mixed with clay. This is the Revived Roman Empire. It will be like the Roman Empire but it will be weaker still. The ten toes are thought to represent ten nations working together in a confederation of sorts. We’ll look at this more with a later prophecy in Daniel involving ten horns.
Since we have not seen the kingdom of God smash the kingdoms of the world to bits, this prophecy is not complete. We can’t be certain about what the Revived Roman Empire actually is aside from the fact that it will exist in the end times and that it will be weak and destroyed by the kingdom of God.
Some believe that the United States is the Revived Roman Empire. Our system of government is modeled after Rome as are our government buildings in their architecture. Others believe that the Revived Roman Empire will be literal and involve Rome as the head once again. Some believe that we are seeing the formation of this empire in the European Union. If this is the case, it is certainly telling that the European Union was started in 1960 with the signing of the Treaty of Rome.
The truth is that we don’t know and we don’t need to know. When Nebuchadnezzar had his dream, the Medes and Persians weren’t a threat to Babylon. Greece wasn’t anything and Rome was a village on a hill. God holds the keys to the future. Just as those empires came about as Daniel explained, so will the kingdom of God.
It is easy to look around the world at all of the turmoil and be afraid. We’ve seen that it only takes one crazy person to move gas prices 15% in two week’s time. It’s scary to think what may happen if things really get out of control. But none of this takes God by surprise. He is in control just as He was in bringing the Babylonians, the Medo-Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans to power. God has all of the authority and He is in control.