While most of us know this chapter by the contents of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision (vss. 31-45), the dominant theme is “mystery”. The Aramaic term rāz (translated as “mystery” in the NASB, ESV and NIV, “secret” in the NKJV), is found only 9 times in the Bible, all occurring in the book of Daniel and 8 of those in chapter 2. The chapter not only centers around the mysterious dream of the Babylonian king, but on who can reveal such a mystery. Such considerations were not only important for the Babylonian king who had the dream, but for God’s people who were also perplexed by a mystery: what did the Babylonians’ domination of Jerusalem, the Temple and the Davidic throne mean for God’s people? What was becoming of God’s Kingdom? By revealing the mystery of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Jehovah answered those questions as well.
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and the failure of the Babylonian magicians to reveal the mystery (Daniel 2.1-13)
1Now in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him.
- Some are quick to see a contradiction between this verse and Daniel 1.5,18. However, there are valid options that would bring the two passages into harmony:
- At least one old Greek manuscript has this as the 12th year.
- Homer Hailey argues that Babylonians counted part of a year as a year of the king’s reign, whereas the Jews only counted whole years. Thus year 2 to the Jews would be year 3-4 to the Babylonians.
- Some argue that Daniel had not yet finished his training.
- Why did the dream trouble Nebuchadnezzar so much? Baldwin (in the Tyndale commentary) argues that political circumstances were already troubling the king: “Each year in the early part of his reign Nebuchadrezzar’s expeditionary force went to the extremities of the empire to ensure that subjugated 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. Such a show of prestige hid a fear of inadequacy: his spirit was troubled.”
2Then the king gave orders to call in the magicians, the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king.
- Sorcery was forbidden for the Jews (Deuteronomy 18.10). Significantly, Isaiah prophesied that Babylon would fall in spite of her sorceries (see Isaiah 47.9,12).
- The term “Chaldeans” is used in Daniel to describe both experts in magic and as a general ethnic designation for the Babylonian people (see 1.4). Here it clearly refers to a class of people expert in magic.
3The king said to them, “I had a dream and my spirit is anxious to understand the dream.”
4Then the Chaldeans spoke to the king in Aramaic: “O king, live forever! Tell the dream to your servants, and we will declare the interpretation.”
- Note that from Daniel 2.4 to Daniel 7.28 the language is Aramaic. Some propose that Daniel used the language of the empire (Aramaic) since this lengthy passage emphasizes God’s rule as it relates to world empires. That is an intriguing possibility. Note also the structure of this section:
- Baldwin: “These experts in dreams worked on the principle that dreams and their sequel followed an empirical law which, given sufficient data, could be established. The dream manuals, of which several examples have come to light, consist accordingly of historical dreams and the events that followed them, arranged systematically for easy reference. Since these books had to try to cover every possible eventuality they became inordinately long; only the expert could find his way through them, and even he had to know the dream to begin with before he could search for the nearest possible parallel. The unreasonable demands of the king and the protests of the interpreters in verses 3–11 are in keeping with his character and the known facts concerning dream books.”
5The king replied to the Chaldeans, “The command from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you will be torn limb from limb and your houses will be made a rubbish heap.
- This was not an idle threat by the king (see 2Kings 25.7; Jeremiah 29.21-23).
6“But if you declare the dream and its interpretation, you will receive from me gifts and a reward and great honor; therefore declare to me the dream and its interpretation.”
7They answered a second time and said, “Let the king tell the dream to his servants, and we will declare the interpretation.”
8The king replied, “I know for certain that you are bargaining for time, inasmuch as you have seen that the command from me is firm,
9that if you do not make the dream known to me, there is only one decree for you. For you have agreed together to speak lying and corrupt words before me until the situation is changed; therefore tell me the dream, that I may know that you can declare to me its interpretation.”
10The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who could declare the matter for the king, inasmuch as no great king or ruler has ever asked anything like this of any magician, conjurer or Chaldean.
11“Moreover, the thing which the king demands is difficult, and there is no one else who could declare it to the king except gods, whose dwelling place is not with mortal flesh.”
- Vss. 10-11 contains the key point of the chapter. No man could do this, no king had ever made such a request… only a god could possibly reveal such a mystery.
- The gods of the magicians failed them. However, as we will see, there is a God who could reveal such a mystery.
12Because of this the king became indignant and very furious and gave orders to destroy all the wise men of Babylon.
13So the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain; and they looked for Daniel and his friends to kill them.
Jehovah reveals the mystery to Daniel (Daniel 2.14-30)
14Then Daniel replied with discretion and discernment to Arioch, the captain of the king’s bodyguard, who had gone forth to slay the wise men of Babylon;
15he said to Arioch, the king’s commander, “For what reason is the decree from the king so urgent?” Then Arioch informed Daniel about the matter.
16So Daniel went in and requested of the king that he would give him time, in order that he might declare the interpretation to the king.
17Then Daniel went to his house and informed his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, about the matter,
18so that they might request compassion from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his friends would not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.
- First of 8 occurences of the word “mystery” in the chapter.
- Note Ezekiel 28.1-3 where the Lord mocks the ruler of Tyre as being wiser than Daniel, that there was no secret hidden from him.
- Significant that Jehovah is referred to as the “God of heaven” in this chapter (vss. 18,19,37,44). The Babylonians worshipped the heavenly bodies and their magicians depended on the heavens to reveal and interpret visions and dreams. But only Jehovah is the God of heaven!
19Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven;
20Daniel said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him.
- Both wisdom and power are significant in the chapter. Only Jehovah possesses the wisdom to reveal the king’s dream. Only Jehovah has the power to shatter the kingdoms of the world and establish an eternal Kingdom.
21“It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding.
22“It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.
23“To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, For You have given me wisdom and power; Even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, For You have made known to us the king’s matter.”
24Therefore, Daniel went in to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon; he went and spoke to him as follows: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon! Take me into the king’s presence, and I will declare the interpretation to the king.”
25Then Arioch hurriedly brought Daniel into the king’s presence and spoke to him as follows: “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can make the interpretation known to the king!”
26The king said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream which I have seen and its interpretation?”
27Daniel answered before the king and said, “As for the mystery about which the king has inquired, neither wise men, conjurers, magicians nor diviners are able to declare it to the king.
28“However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed.
- Note how Daniel makes no mention of himself, but puts the focus on his God.
- Recall the statement of the magicians in vss. 10-11; only God can do this!
- The use of “latter days” in this passage is parallel to “in the future” (see vss. 29,45). These days would include the period of the Messiah and the days leading up to that seminal event.
29“As for you, O king, while on your bed your thoughts turned to what would take place in the future; and He who reveals mysteries has made known to you what will take place.
30“But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me for any wisdom residing in me more than in any other living man, but for the purpose of making the interpretation known to the king, and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind.
Daniel reveals the mystery to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2.31-45)
This is the best known section of Daniel 2. Space will not permit a detailed discussion of all the various theories regarding how this passage should be interpreted. However, the best interpretation remains the one that merges history with Scripture:
- head of gold = Babylon
- breast and arms of silver = Medo-Persia
- belly and thighs of bronze = Greece
- legs of iron / feet of iron and clay = Rome
It’s also important to remember that this is a vision, not an allegory. We shouldn’t read too much into every little detail. For instance, I can’t think of any way in which Persia was “inferior” to Babylon. However, the point of the vision isn’t to contrast each kingdom with each other, rather to contrast the kingdoms of men with the Kingdom of God. Consider these points from Tremper Longman in the NIV Application Commentary:
- “While human beings operate on the idea that we get better and stronger with time, God’s vision undercuts our understanding, informing us that the opposite is true. Gold gives way to silver, which then becomes bronze, iron, and a weak mixture of clay and iron. A statue that starts out in grandeur and beauty ends in weakness. Indeed, the expression “feet of clay” has become an idiom in our language for a point of weakness in an otherwise strong person or institution.”
- “The other important principle in this dream-vision is seen when this statue is contrasted with the object of its demise, the rock. The statue is an object made with human hands and ingenuity. The rock, however, is explicitly said not to be the result of human intention or energy.”
31“You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary splendor, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome.
32“The head of that statue was made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze,
33its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.
34“You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them.
35“Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
36“This was the dream; now we will tell its interpretation before the king.
37“You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory;
- Note that Jehovah is described as “Lord of kings” in vs. 47. Ultimately, the title “King of kings” belongs to Jesus (1Timothy 6.15).
- It is God who made Nebuchadnezzar the king of kings (see Jeremiah 27.5-7).
38and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold.
39“After you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth.
40“Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces.
41“In that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay.
42“As the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery, so some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle.
43“And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery.
- Again, we don’t want to read too much into every detail, but the description of the 4th kingdom is an apt one for Rome.
- Jim McGuiggan: “It’s important to note that this “division” is equivalent to “weakness” and “strength” (verse 42)… The difficulties Rome experienced in trying to hold her kingdom together are well known. Italy was poor and Rome was very poor. The farther her troops travelled the more money she needed to support them. She had to come up with it some way and so she began the system known as “the client-king” system. These client kings were allowed to rule (under Rome) if they guaranteed to keep their kingdom from revolt and pay their taxes on time and without being pressed into it.”
44“In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.
- The key concept of “kingdom” is rule or reign. Note that in vs. 37 “kingdom” is used parallel to “power”, “strength”, and “glory”.
- God has always ruled, as even this chapter confirms. But the vision points to a specific time when that rule is manifest in a new and awesome way. Jesus, the King of kings, coming to this world and ascending again was how God “set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed”.
- The phrase “will not be left for another people” amplifies the fact that this Kingdom will endure forever. It would not be like Babylon which was supplanted by another kingdom.
45“Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.”
- The stone imagery is significant in both OT and NT. See Isaiah 8.13-14; 28.16; Psalm 118.22; Luke 20.18; etc.
- “without hands” emphasizes that this Kingdom does not have human origin, but is the act of God (see also Job 34.20; Daniel 8.25).
Nebuchadnezzar praises Jehovah for revealing the mystery (Daniel 2.46-49)
46Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face and did homage to Daniel, and gave orders to present to him an offering and fragrant incense.
- Note these prophecies of when the conquerors bow to their captives (Isaiah 45.14; 49.23; 60.14; Revelation 3.9).
47The king answered Daniel and said, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.”
- Marduk was referred to in this way in Babylonian literature. But the honors rightly belong to Jehovah (see Deuteronomy 10.17; Revelation 17.14).
- Note that Nebuchadnezzar refers to “your God”. He acknowledges the greatness of Jehovah, but likely sees Him as nothing more than a national god at this point.
48Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.
49And Daniel made request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego over the administration of the province of Babylon, while Daniel was at the king’s court.
- Jehovah, Who knows the future, controls the future. As we noted at the beginning of this lesson, Daniel 2 centers around the idea of “mystery”. Nebuchadnezzar’s magicians could not reveal the mystery of his dream, in fact they were confident that no man could… only a god could possibly do what the king demanded (vss. 10-11). And Jehovah God did just that, revealing the dream and its meaning to His servant Daniel (vs. 19). Recall again that Daniel praised God, “For wisdom and power belong to Him” (vs. 20). Jehovah had the ability to “reveal mysteries” (vss. 28, 29, 47) because it was by His power that all would take place. It was He who made Nebuchadnezzar king (vss. 37-38), and it was He who would set up a Kingdom that would endure forever, a Kingdom that would crush all others. Since God knows the future, He is in control of the future. This fact should give us hope, for He has revealed that we will be rewarded, even though now we suffer for a little while (1Peter 1.3-9). Since He has revealed this, He will bring it to pass!
- The greatness of Jehovah’s kingdom, contrasted with the kingdoms of the world. Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t the only one perplexed by a mystery; God’s people were also confused. How could Babylon have desecrated God’s Temple; how could the Babylonian king have taken the heir of David captive (1.1-2)? Many would wonder if this meant God had turned His back on them and on the promise He had made to David (see Psalm 89.38ff). But this vision would reassure His faithful ones, because God’s Kingdom is not like the kingdoms of men. Even though God places rulers in power, their kingdoms are devised and ruled by men (thus the image is in the shape of a man). These kingdoms seem glorious at first, but over time they show just how fragile they are. But the Kingdom of God is not like these kingdoms, it is built by Him and not by men. It is eternal, not temporary. It is for all, not for a select nationality. And as will be related in a future vision, it is ruled over by the Son of Man (7.13-14). How blessed we are to be part of His Kingdom, which is incomparable to any kingdom of men. We would do well to remember that.
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