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Each chapter in the book of Daniel is a distinct section or story by itself. The second chapter is the story of the king’s dream and how God showed Daniel the dream and its interpretation. This revelation very likely saved the lives of the wise men of Babylon, including Daniel and his three friends. Dan. 2:1 begins,
1 Now in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him.
The date of this dream is considered a problem to Bible commentators, because it appears that Daniel had already gone through three years of training in the early years of the king’s reign. But such treatment of the text is unnecessarily restrictive, because in no way are we required to consider the second chapter to take place after the full three years described in chapter one.
In other words, chapter two took place during those three years. Nabopolassar, who had led the revolt against Assyria, had died in 605 B.C. His son, Nebuchadnezzar then returned from the battlefield to Babylon, where he secured his throne before returning to take Jerusalem the next year in 604 B.C.
Nebuchadnezzar came to the throne in 605, but the usual practice was to reckon the remaining months of that regnal year to the previous king. Therefore, the year 605 was considered to be the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, but his first year would have begun in the spring of 604. He took Jerusalem later that same year and brought the four Judahite boys to Babylon for training.
At the start of their training, their “pulse experiment” lasted just ten days (Dan. 1:15).
The following spring (603 B.C.), Nebuchadnezzar’s second year began, and some time before the spring of 602 B.C. he had his troubling dream. We can infer from Dan. 2:14 and 48 that Daniel was still of low rank, but that his success in interpreting the dream motivated the king to promote him as “ruler over the province of Babylon,” and he was also made the “chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.”
Yet Daniel was still in need of learning the language and literature of Babylon, so there is no reason to believe that his schooling suddenly ended with his promotion. Further, we read in Dan. 1:17 that during their training, “God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams.” Is this possibly a reference to the event in chapter two? In other words, chapter two explains how Daniel got his reputation for wisdom and understanding of “all kinds of visions and dreams.”
We may also take this one step further. Commentators assume that the king called for the wise men on the morning shortly after his dream. This may be implied, but it is not stated in the text. He may have had the dream months earlier, and the fact that it troubled him may have been because he actually remembered the dream. He may have pondered it for a long time without telling anyone. Finally, he may have carefully devised a plan to use the dream to test the prophetic abilities of his wise men. We do not know, but it is a possibility.
Dan. 2:1, quoted earlier, tells us that the king dreamed “dreams” (plural) which troubled him. The plural word is repeated in verse 2. Were all of these dreams given in the same night? Perhaps, but this also may imply that he had a recurring dream over a period of time, beginning in his second year. In the end, Daniel interpreted just one dream—not “dreams”—so this strongly suggests that the king had a single recurring dream that troubled him over a period of time.
Normally, a recurring dream was more likely to be remembered. The king may have been troubled for a long time. Because “his sleep left him,” we know that he lost sleep over this recurring dream.
The fact is, we are not given these details, nor is it likely that Daniel himself would have known. And even if the king confided in the prophet years later, it is not likely that he would have revealed the king’s secret by writing of it. So the bottom line is that even though the dream itself is dated in the king’s second year, we do not know how long it took for the king to arrange this prophetic test.
Daniel 2:2-4 says,
2 Then 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. 3 And the king said to them, “I had a dream, and my spirit is anxious to understand the dream. 4 Then the Chaldeans spoke to the king in Aramaic, “O king, live forever! Tell the dream to your servants, and we will declare the interpretation.”
The text moves from “his dreams” in verse 2 to “a dream” and “the dream” in verses 3 and 4, once again suggesting a recurring dream over a period of time. The rest of the chapter is recorded in Aramaic.
In Daniel 2:5, 6 we read,
5 The king answered and said 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. 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.”
Did the king claim to have forgotten the dream? Translations differ.
“The command from me is firm” (NASB)
“The thing is gone from me” (KJV)
“The matter is departing from me” (Concordant Version)
The king’s terminology appears to be vague and perhaps having more than one meaning. Did he truly forget the dream, or was he lying? The NASB translation has the king telling the wise men that he had made up his mind about his demand, but says nothing about forgetting the dream. He had made up his mind “to understand the dream” (Dan. 2:3), but he was refusing to tell them the dream.
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, as we will see, showed that Babylon was a temporary kingdom that would not endure. This may have been what most troubled the king, for dreams often come laden with emotions which tell the dreamer if the dream is happy or dreadful. In this case “his spirit was troubled,” which implied that he knew the dream foretold some bad conclusion. The stone grinding the image to powder at the end is probably what troubled him most.
Yet he had no idea if it meant that he himself would be overthrown, or if it spoke of something else in the future. The wise men of Babylon knew better than to foretell the king’s downfall. They were expected to prophesy happy outcomes, as we see with the 300 prophets of King Ahab in 1 Kings 22:12. To do otherwise would have jeopardized their jobs and, very likely, their lives.
Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar was wise enough to discern this. He knew that if he told them the dream, they would be motivated to spin the interpretation to have a happy ending. In the end, the king was astounded that a young Judahite would dare to foretell the end of Babylon, but he knew the interpretation was true.
Meanwhile, however, the king called in various classes of educated men. Dr. Bullinger’s notes on these verses give us these meanings:
Magicians. Hebrew chartummim. Connected with the kharutu (the scepter) or rod office of those who repelled demons and evil spirits by incantations, etc.
(The Concordant Version calls them “sacred scribes.”)
Astrologers. Heb. ‘ashshaphim = in Babylonian, asipi, prophets who assumed to announce the will of heaven and predict the future. These were a class apart from the others.
(The NASB calls them “conjurers.” The CV calls them “magi.”)
Sorcerers. Heb. mekashshephim = wizard.
(The NASB calls them “sorcerers.” The CV calls them “enchanters.”)
Chaldeans. Heb. Kasdim. See notes on 1:4.
When we consult Bullinger’s notes on Daniel 1:4, he tells us,
Chaldeans. A name not peculiar to Daniel. From Genesis onward it is met with, especially in Jeremiah. They were distinct from the Babylonians (Jer. 22:25; Ezek. 23:23) and belonged to South Babylonia. Used here as a special class, well known as such at that time (cp. 2:2, 4, 6, 10) and distinct also from other learned classes (2:4). The word (Heb. Kasdim) is used also in the wider sense of a nationality (5:30).
Uriah Smith says of the Chaldeans,
The Chaldeans here mentioned were a sect of philosophers similar to the magicians and astrologers, who made natural science and divinations their study (The Prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation, p. 30).
The Chaldeans, then, were not only a distinct nationality, but were also an educated class of people, known for their wisdom and knowledge of the stars and planetary movements. Nebuchadnezzar himself was a philosophical Chaldean, well schooled in the science and literature of his day. For this reason he himself was able to test his students after their three years of training. Further, as we will see shortly, he was not intimidated by his counselors, the magicians, astrologers, and sorcerers, for he already knew a great deal about their limitations, tactics, and methods.
Nebuchadnezzar’s army too is called “Chaldean” in Jer. 37:8. Here the word is used in the nationalistic sense. But the Chaldeans as a nationality were already being absorbed by the larger Babylonian population. As time passed, the Chaldeans as a people became synonymous with the Babylonians.
With the variety of educational skills represented by these four groups, the king of Babylon hoped to find someone with a genuine prophetic gift. In order to provide maximum motivation, he threatened to tear them from limb to limb and destroy their houses if they failed to tell him the dream.
It would be interesting to know how Nebuchadnezzar came to doubt his wise men’s prophetic gifts. Perhaps he had witnessed bad advice to his father, Nabopolassar, or that they had failed to foretell his untimely demise before taking Jerusalem. Whatever the case, Nebuchadnezzar had the discernment and perhaps an inner yearning to find the true God. Was this yearning, perhaps, awakened by his knowledge of Jeremiah before and after taking Jerusalem?
The king was yet to encounter the God of heaven on a personal level some years later, as recorded in the fourth chapter of Daniel. On that occasion, the king again threatened his wise men with death and the destruction of their houses if they could not tell him the contents of his recurring dream and its interpretation. Meanwhile, Dan. 2:7 says,
7 They answered a second time and said, “Let the king tell the dream to his servants, and we will declare the interpretation.”
This was a reasonable request, but the king still would not tell them. Dan. 2:8, 9 continues,
8 The king answered and said, “I know for certain that you are bargaining for time, inasmuch as you have seen that the command from me is firm, 9 that 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.”
The king had made up his mind, telling them, in effect, that he would not believe their interpretation unless they received divine revelation of the dream’s contents. This appeared to be an impossible and unreasonable demand, for it is not likely that any king had ever required such a thing of his wise men. The wise men were schooled only in interpreting signs and dreams. Dan. 2:10, 11 continues,
10 The 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 More-over the thing which the king demands is difficult, and there is no one else [“king, grandee, or authority,” CV] who could declare it to the king except gods [or God], whose dwelling place is not with mortal flesh.
Nebuchadnezzar took this answer as their final answer. The wise men had admitted failure. What else could they do? Dan. 2:12 says,
12 Because of this the king became indignant and very furious, and gave orders to destroy all the wise men of Babylon.
Daniel and his three friends were also in danger of being executed, for it was assumed that they too had no revelation about the dream. They were not present when the Chaldeans confessed their ignorance of the king’s dream, for they were yet students at the king’s college. But the alarming news spread quickly.
Daniel 2:14-16 says,
14 Then Daniel replied with discretion and discernment to Arioch, the captain of the king’s bodyguard [“the grandee of the king’s executioners,” CV], who had gone forth to slay the wise men of Babylon; 15 he answered and 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. 16 So Daniel went in and requested of the king that he would give him time [“a stated time,” CV] in order that he might declare the interpretation to the king.
This may have been Daniel’s first personal audience with the king himself. More likely, however, this petition was made through Arioch himself, because a mere student would hardly be given a personal audience. Later, after Daniel learned the secret of the king’s dream, Arioch tells the king that he has found a man who could tell the dream and its interpretation. The fact that Arioch takes credit for finding Daniel implies that the king had not yet met Daniel personally.
So Daniel’s request for time to pray seems to have been made on behalf of all the wise men. We are not told of the king’s actual response, but we know that he succeeded in obtaining for himself—and for all of the wise men—a time of prayer. Perhaps the request went something like this: “Since only God can reveal such secrets, and we are but mortal men, we need some time to pray and appeal to Him for the revelation of your dream.”
The king had already accused the wise men of trying to buy time. Yet somehow Daniel convinced the king to grant a specified amount of time for them to learn the secret. We are not told how much time was granted, but it seems certain that Daniel appealed for a time of prayer.
The king apparently saw this as a reasonable request, one which the wise men had not even considered, since they had no faith that their gods would reveal such secrets. So Daniel’s request was granted. We then read in Dan. 2:17-19,
17 Then Daniel went to his house and informed his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, about the matter, 18 in order that they might request compassion from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his friends might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men [“the remaining wise men,” CV] of Babylon. 19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.
The Concordant Version gives us the impression that many of the wise men of Babylon had already been executed before Daniel’s request was granted. If that is the case, then it is likely that those who had appeared before the king had been the first to be executed. When the king’s executioner came to kill Daniel (and perhaps the other students), they escaped the immediate execution by requesting an audience with the king to ask for time to pray.
Later, when Daniel successfully revealed the dream and its interpretation, Daniel was promoted as the “grandee of the prefects who are over all the wise men of Babylon” (Dan. 2:48, CV). In other words, he replaced the former president of the magi, who very likely had been executed.
The time allotted for prayer is uncertain, but we know that the king had granted at least one more day for the remaining wise men to learn the contents of his recurring dream. But only Daniel himself was blessed with the revelation. Dan. 2:20-23 says,
20 Daniel answered and said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever [“from the eon to the eon,” CV], for wisdom and power belong to Him. 21 And 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 light dwells with Him. 23 To Thee, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for Thou hast given me wisdom and power; even now Thou hast made known to me what we requested of Thee, for Thou hast made known to us the king’s matter.”
Verse 21 says “It is He who changes the times and the epochs.” The CV renders this, “He is altering the eras and the stated times.” This shows not only that God controls time but also that He has divided time into ages and has the authority to change or alter those ages according to His will. For this reason God had the right to make all the changes described in the book of Hebrews. Just because God decreed to Moses that religious practices were to be done in a prescribed manner did not mean that God was bound to continue such things forever.
Daniel then gives thanks and praise to God for revealing the king’s dream during the night. We do not know if this revelation was given that first night or later, but it was revealed during the time allotted by the king.
Dan. 2:24, 25 continues, saying,
24 Therefore, 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.” 25 Then 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.”
Arioch was confident that Daniel had learned the secret of the dream. Did Daniel tell him the dream? We are not told, but Arioch would hardly have jeopardized his own life or reputation without knowing that Daniel had indeed received divine revelation. If there had been any doubt in his mind, he would have said, “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who claims to have the interpretation.” Instead, Arioch spoke with confidence about Daniel.
Dan. 2:26-28 says,
26 The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream which I have seen and its interpretation?” 27 Daniel 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 Nebuchad-nezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed.”
Daniel was careful not to take credit for the revelation, but to bear witness to the “God in heaven who reveals mysteries,” or secrets. Yet implied in this situation is the fact that Daniel knew this God personally, and he was exactly the type of wise man that the king was striving to find. Dan. 2:29, 30 continues,
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 interpreta-tion known to the king, and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind.
Again, Daniel knew that he had no special ability beyond “any other living man.” His only advantage was in knowing the God of heaven, who had determined to convey to Nebuchadnezzar the kingdoms that would arise in the epochs yet to come.
This revelation to the king was then recorded in the official records of Babylon (though expunged or lost in later years when Babylon was destroyed). Fortunately, Daniel put the account in his own book of prophecies, so that we too may learn from it and know the times that God has determined for the rule of the kingdoms of men until the Kingdom of the God of heaven should be established on earth.