Daniel Interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of a Dazzling Statue
Daniel Interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of a Dazzling Statue
Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a dazzling statue. The king’s magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers could not interpret his dream but Daniel does.
In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. 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, he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.” Daniel 2:1-3
Daniel and his companions were taken into captivity in 605 B.C. The second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign was in the spring of 603 B.C. The first three and a half verses of chapter two of the Book of Daniel were written in Hebrew. According to Hebrew understanding, any part of the year is reckoned as a full year. Although Daniel and the three other Hebrew captives had completed their three years of training and were in the service of the king, they weren’t present at this meeting.
Over 900 years earlier in 1532 B.C., God gave another pagan emperor troubling dreams as well.
In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him. Genesis 41:8
God is sovereign. It is his absolute right to do all things according to his own good pleasure. God is supreme in power and authority,
The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes. Proverbs 21:1
Although Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar ruled mighty empires, had vast wealth, and held supreme authority over many people, they were still subject to the sovereign will of the LORD. God gave both of these kings troubling dreams to fulfill His divine purposes.
Then the astrologers answered the king, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.” Daniel 2:4
With the reply of the Chaldeans, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it,” there is a language change in this verse from Hebrew to Aramaic that continues to the end of chapter 7.
Hebrew is used in Daniel 1:1-2:4a; 8:1-12:13, while Aramaic is found in 2:4b-7:28. I propose that the reason for this peculiarity would seem to stem from the fact that Daniel had two distinct, although related, messages to deliver.
One was a message of judgment concerning the defeat and final overthrow of the Gentile world powers of whom Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus at that time were the chief representatives. The other was a message of consolation and hope concerning the future deliverance for God's people, the nation of Israel. The first passage Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Near East, was appropriate for the prophet's message concerning the future history of the Gentile kingdoms.
The second message, which is exclusively directed to the Hebrew people, is appropriately in Hebrew. What concerned the Gentiles was written Aramaic, the commercial and diplomatic language of the time. That which concerned the people of Israel was written in Hebrew, although on the basis of chapter 1, which is an introduction to the book, the entire prophecy would, when written down by Daniel, be addressed to the Jewish people.
The Egyptians and Babylonians were two ancient cultures that analyzed dreams and recorded them in “Dream Books,” texts that we now are able to study in translation. Dreams were classified into several types. Those of rulers and leaders such as priests were seen as one type, and those of common people of another. There was also a division between good dreams and bad dreams. Babylonian dream beliefs were so prevalent in the ancient society that it was from Babylon that some of the first dream dictionaries sporting beliefs and observations of dreamers were compiled.
The astrologers wanted the king to tell them his dream so that they could consult their dream books and interpret his dreams according to the established rules and guidelines of dream interpretation.
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. 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.” Daniel 2:5-6
Nebuchadnezzar made it clear to the astrologers that interpreting his dream would bring great rewards but failure to interpret his dream would cost them their lives.
Once more they replied, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”
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: 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.” Daniel 2:7-9
It is obvious that the king doubts the sincerity and abilities of these wise men of Babylon. They had served Nebuchadnezzar’s father and were much older than the young king. He may have been frustrated by his father’s former counselors and had a desire to get rid of them in favor of the younger men that he had chosen for himself.
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. 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.” Daniel 2:10-11
The astrologers desperately appealed to the king hoping that he would demonstrate royal respect for their time-honored position in the court and sympathize with their impossible situation.
This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. 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. Daniel 2:12-13
The king is convinced that the wise men are being untruthful or that they are traitors and deceivers. They are either concealing from him the knowledge they have, and are, therefore, traitors to him; or the gods have withdrawn from them, and therefore they must have been untrue to the gods. On both these grounds Nebuchadnezzar thinks them worthy of death.
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. He asked the king’s officer, “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him. Daniel 2:14-16
It is unusual that someone would question a royal decree delivered by a court official. This decree would have condemned Daniel to death without his having an opportunity to defend himself. Since Daniel approached Arioch with discretion and wisdom, and Daniel was not part of the group that had infuriated the king, Arioch told Daniel of what had transpired. Understanding the situation, Daniel approached the king and was granted time to discover the dream and its interpretation.
Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 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. Daniel 2:17-18
Daniel, facing the possibility that he and his companions may be put to death, urges them to pray to God, plead for mercy, and have God reveal the king’s dream and its interpretation.
During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said:
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. 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.” Daniel 2:19-23
Visions occur frequently in the Bible as instruments of supernatural revelation. They are audiovisual means of communication between a heavenly being and an earthly recipient. Revelatory visions portray scenery or dramatic circumstances to the human recipient while the person is awake, while dreams occur when the person is asleep.
He said, “Listen to my words: When a prophet is among you I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams.” Numbers 12:6
The prophet Daniel was from the tribe of Judah. The God of his ancestors was Yehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God of heaven had answered the prayers of Daniel and his companions. Daniel’s response was to offer up thanksgiving and praise.
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.”
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.” Daniel 2:24-25
Arioch did not execute the wise men of Babylon, but immediately took Daniel before the king.
The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”
Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Daniel 2:26-28a
No nation in ancient times was so obsessed with the study of the stars of heaven and to the prediction of the future as were the Chaldeans. Daniel gives all the glory to God who has revealed the future to King Nebuchadnezzar in a dream.
Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:
“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. 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. Daniel 2:28b-30
Daniel’s righteous character is evidenced as he explains that, it is not because of his wisdom that he knows and can interpret the king’s dream, but because God the revealer of mysteries wants the king to know the interpretation.
“Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 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. 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. Daniel 2:31-35
The enormous and dazzling statue that the king saw in his dream was made of four metals from its gold head to its feet of mingled iron and clay. The head of gold was the most valuable of the metals followed by silver, bronze and iron which decreased in value. A rock that was cut out supernaturally (not by human hands) broke the statue into pieces that were swept away by the wind. The rock that struck the statue became a mountain that filled the entire earth.
“This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. Your Majesty, you are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; 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. “After you, another kingdom will arise, inferior to yours.Daniel 2:36-39a
The head of gold represented Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom the Babylonian Empire. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar the only reason he had been successful in conquering people and nations was that they were given to him by the God of heaven as prophesied by Jeremiah.
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I will put an iron yoke on the necks of all these nations to make them serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they will serve him. I will even give him control over the wild animals.’” Jeremiah 28:14
While King Nebuchadnezzar was a supreme unrestricted ruler, the Medo-Persian Empire which followed was inferior in the fact that it was a limited monarchy where the ruling kings were bound by the laws they enacted.
Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. Daniel 2:39b
The third kingdom, the Greek Empire, did begin an absolute monarchy with Alexander the Great, but upon his death his kingdom was divided. The Diadochi (Greek: Diadokhoi, meaning “Successors”) were the rival generals, families and friends of Alexander the Great who fought for control over his empire.
The Greek Empire split into four main kingdoms. In relation to Israel, Seleucus ruled in the north in Syria and Iran, while Ptolemy ruled to the south in Egypt. Lysimachus ruled in Thrace, which was the land that bridged Macedonia and Asia, while Cassander ruled in the west in Macedonia including Greece.
In time the Greek Empire developed into a democracy and there was no longer a monarchy. Therefore in terms of rulership, the third kingdom of Greece was inferior to that of the Medes and the Persians, whose empire was inferior to that of King Nebuchadnezzar.
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. 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. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. 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. Daniel 2:40-43
The fourth kingdom is symbolized by iron. History tells us that this is the Roman Empire which conquered Greece. The first three kingdoms existed in Daniel's day, but Rome did not. So Daniel did not identify it directly by name. Rome was known as the “Iron Monarchy.” The Latin word “Rome” means strength and iron is the strongest of the metals.
The two legs have a prophetic meaning. Rome was always a nation of two divisions. When Jerusalem was captured, Rome was ruled by the dominant two triumvirates. The two legs of iron represent the northern and southern divisions of Rome as it conquered each Greek division. Politically, Israel was ruled by two ruling dynasties, the Caesars and the Herodians who were appointed by Rome. Geographically, it later became the Western and Eastern (Byzantine) empire as it declined. The western leg ruled the Christians and the eastern leg ruled the Jews. Religiously, it had two phases: these are Pagan Rome and Papal Rome.
The dream specified that the fourth kingdom would be a divided kingdom. This took place in 395 A.D. after the death of the Emperor Theodosius 1 (379-395). The western division headquartered in Rome fell in 476 when Romulus Agustus was forced to abdicate to the Germanic warlord Odoacer. The eastern division (Byzantine Empire) headquartered in Constantinople, Turkey ended in 1453 with the death of Constantine XI and the capture of Constantinople by Mehmed II, the leader of the Ottoman Turks.
“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. 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.” Daniel 2:44-45
The clay/iron empire of the ten toes is yet to come. The kingdom of the Antichrist will be a “revived Roman Empire.” The Antichrist will lead a coalition of ten nations according to the Revelation 17:12-13. This prophecy corresponds to the statue’s ten toes. Remember that the statue had five toes on each foot and the Roman Empire had two capitals. There will be support for the Antichrist from both groups in Europe as well as in the Middle East and Western Asia.
And we know that Christ will defeat the forces of the Antichrist (Revelation 17:14). After that, Jesus will set up His kingdom—the rock smashes the image—and the kingdoms of this world will “become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. 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.”
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.
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. Daniel 2:46-49
The king fell before Daniel and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. Nebuchadnezzar was not worshipping Daniel but probably believed that there was a divine presence in him that enabled Daniel to both tell him his dream and interpret it.
Just as Joseph was raised to a royal position of governor over Egypt and given many gifts for interpreting Pharaoh’s two dreams, Daniel was made ruler over the province of Babylon and was placed in charge of all its wise men for interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The LORD exalted two Hebrew captives to positions of influence in world empires because of their devotion to Him. The LORD worked their terrible circumstances for their good and His glory.