Daniel for the Rest of Us (2.1-49, Part 1)

“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” (Dan 2.30).

With chapter 1 behind us (see Parts 4 and 5), chapter 2 presumably gives our first glimpse of the juicy end-time drama for which Daniel is known.  Four metallic kingdoms that look like a Transformer crushed by a flying rock that becomes a mountain.  That makes for great drama.  Dreamworks would have a field day with this!

But was Nebuchanezzar’s dream really about the end-times as we’ve come to describe them?  The dream is quite tame compared to Daniel’s vision in chapter 7, which is about the very same events and period of time..  While Nebuchadnezzar dreamed about a four-part statue in chapter 2, in chapter 7 Daniel envisioned four gnarly beasts that could’ve come right out of a science-fiction movie.  He was one Japanese city short of a blockbuster Godzilla film!

These are not two different events, but the same events see from two different perspectives.  The way Nebuchadnezzar viewed upcoming events would be different than the way Daniel did.  Nebuchadnezzar saw them only on their surface (like Daniel 1.1).  But God pulled back the curtain to show Daniel how those events will play out in the unseen realm (like Daniel 1.2).

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that scared him to death.  Everything in Babylon had something to do with some dream-weaving god manipulating its subjects.  Therefore, Nebuchadnezzar employed a whole staff of palm-readers, star-gazers, astrologers, sorcerers, Magic 8-ball shakers and horoscope writers (“wise men”) to navigate the pleasure of the gods. 

And since a paranoid Nebuchadnezzar wouldn’t fall for some gutless conspiracy, he demanded his “wise men” first tell him the dream and then its interpretation.  They were flabbergasted to say the least.  What the king wanted was not only impossible for anyone to do, but unprecedented in the history of psychics (vv10-11).  Despite their protest, Nebuchadnezzar ordered the death of all the “wise men” of Bablyon, including Daniel and his friends.

As Nebuchadnezzar’s henchman Arioch got to Daniel, Daniel persuaded him to give he and his friends some time to learn and interpret the dream (vv14-16).  Daniel was proving to be a winsome negotiator with the king’s help!

Daniel got together with Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (a.k.a. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) in prayer for God’s compassion (vv17-18).  They prayed that God reveal this mystery to them so that Nebuchadnezzar would spare the wise men of Babylon.

This is remarkable.  Daniel sought God’s compassion on his pagan, polytheistic cohorts!  He didn’t conclude, “Good riddance to these idolaters.  I know where I’m going when I die and killing me will doing me a favor, but they deserve what they’re getting!” Daniel did not martyr himself but advocated for God’s mercy on sinners.  We find in Daniel that if it’s just him on the line, he’ll suffer the consequences.  But if others, then he’ll go to bat for him.  That sounds much like One who will come about 600 years later to do the same.

God did reveal the dream to Daniel and his first instinct was to praise and bless God (vv20-23).  Babylonians may think there are a variety of gods pulling the strings but Daniel knew better.  There was one God behind all wisdom and power.  There was one God behind everything that happens in time and history, including who was king at any given time and in any given nation.  There was one God who revealed mysteries.  And it is this God, Daniel’s God, who is to be praised.

When Daniel approached Nebuchadnezzar about the dream, he made sure the king knew this wasn’t a matter of his “wise men” vs. Daniel.  It was his gods vs. Daniel’s God.  And it was Daniel’s God to whom Nebuchadnezzar owed his thanks and praise.  Daniel wasn’t able to divine Nebuchadnezzar’s dream by some spooky magic but by the revelation of the One True God.

With that foundation firmly established, Daniel proceeded to tell Nebuchadnezzar his dream and what it meant.

The Dream (vv31-35)

Daniel said the dream was about future events (vv28, 29, 45).  They don’t necessarily mean end-time events, but simply events to happen in the near future from their perspective.

Nebuchadnezzar dreamed about a huge, terrifying statue.  It had a gold head, silver chest/arms, bronze torso and iron legs that had clay mixed in the feet.  While the statue stood before Nebuchadnezzar a stone flew out of nowhere to crush the statue’s feet.  Of course, the whole statue collapsed into one pile of dust (lit. “like one”).  And the wind blew the dust away so that you would never know the statue ever existed.

That stone then becomes a great mountain that filled the earth.

The Interpretation (vv36-45)

Daniel explained the statue was a composite picture of four successive kingdoms to rise in the near future from Nebuchadnezzar’s vantage point.

The Babylonian empire was the head of gold (vv37-38).  At the time, God had granted Nebuchadnezzar unusual strength and power to rule the region as far as they eye could see.

Another kingdom (silver chest/arms) would succeed Babylon, albeit inferior (as silver is inferior to gold) (39a).

The next kingdom (bronze torso) will rule over all the earth (v39b).  Like Babylon, it will govern virtually all the region.

The fourth kingdom (iron legs with iron/clay feet) will crush everything in sight (vv40-43).  This kingdom will try to unite elements (cultures) that will not mix.  Therefore, it will contain weak elements (clay) that will ultimately be its downfall.

Then the God of heaven will come with his own king and kingdom (vv44-45).  The metallic statue will stand no chance against God’s “stone.”  Yahweh’s king and kingdom will be set up and never be destroyed.

Nebuchadnezzar was elated to finally get his answer (vv46-49), which is ironic because it predicted the destruction of his own kingdom!  Nevertheless, he praised Daniel and rewarded him with a hefty promotion.  True to form, Daniel made sure his friends benefited as well.

Let’s be careful to assume Nebuchadnezzar “got saved” here or made a profession of faith.  His story will soon bear out he didn’t.  Like a good polytheist, he simply acknowledged Daniel’s God deserved a seat, even a prominent seat, at the table with Babylon’s gods when it came to revealing mysteries.

We’ll unpack the details of this passage in the next installment.

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