Daniel 2 – The Dream of Nebuchadnezzar
In the second year of the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, almost immediately after what is described in chapter 1, the death penalty was decreed for all the wise men of Babylon. This included Daniel and his friends. Though they were still very young, they were also counted among the wise men. The death penalty! All because King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and wanted to test the wise men, the magicians, of his empire. He demanded from them what no human being could ever do. We see how God would use this situation to show the weakness of human beings, and display his own glory, wisdom and almighty power.
The king asked the wise men and the magicians to tell and interpret a dream that the king had seen. The wise men had to admit that it was impossible for them to do what the king asked.
And then we read how Daniel reacted. Picture a young man of 16 or 17 years old, standing before the mightiest king or governor of the earth and telling him that he can do what none of those wise men could!
Daniel knew God very well. He read the Word of God, the books of Moses and the other books which were written at that time. He knew a lot about God’s past works for the people of Israel. And he was aware of the political situation of his time as well. He saw God's hand at work, not only in the past, but also in the present. For Daniel, God was not just a historical figure. His prayers three times per day were not a formality to a God that merely existed. Rather, the Word of God was an essential part of Daniel’s life and he walked with God. That is how he also realized that the king’s dream and the unfolding events did not happen by chance.
Daniel went to the king, and the king listened to him. Then Daniel went home and prayed. Notice how he prayed (verse 18). Daniel did not try to force God, through his prayer, to do what he wanted him to do. Instead, his prayer was a plea for mercy. He humbled himself, and in complete humility, he prayed. It was only by God’s grace that Daniel could pray. And it would only be God’s grace if this prayer was heard.
That was the big difference between Daniel and his friends on the one hand, and the king and his wise men on the other hand. The king thought he was mighty, even almighty. He believed that whatever he said would be done. The wise men trusted in their own wisdom and thought that they could find wisdom in their books, their knowledge, in the stars, or whatever. They were put to shame. But Daniel knew his dependence on God. God is the only One who can give wisdom and knowledge. That type of wisdom does not come through a lot of studying (as the wise men of this earth gain their wisdom) but comes from God, out of mere grace.
In chapter 1:5-8 of his letter, James writes this about prayer:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Daniel saw God’s hand at work in the way King Nebuchadnezzar received his dream and in the way he demanded an explanation of this dream from the wise men of his empire. Daniel knew that God would use this situation to show all the wise men, and the mightiest king of the entire world, that he, God, has all authority, all power and all wisdom in heaven and on earth, and that the entire human race is nothing compared to him.
Did Daniel pray that God would make the king change his mind so that Daniel and his friends would be saved? No, he prayed that God would give him the words that he should speak. And God did this by revealing to him Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its explanation. So Daniel revealed the Word of God to King Nebuchadnezzar, the mightiest king on earth in those days.
Six centuries later, the Lord Jesus Christ said that he had received all authority in heaven and on earth. He encouraged his disciples and the church in Mark 13:11with the words, “And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”
This is what we must pray for: that God will fulfill this promise to us. He will give us strength so that we may dare to speak to the governments when they persecute us. We receive the courage to do so because we know that the Spirit of God speaks through us. Then we won't lament about the evil situation in which we live and about all those people around us who do not think about God's commandments. Instead we will speak up without fear, just as Daniel did, because we know that God will give us the words to speak. This prayer will always be fulfilled when we pray it in complete trust in God, and God indeed will give us what we ask.
The power of prayer
James mentions another example of a powerful prayer. In James 5:17- 18 he says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” Just before that James said, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16b) That does not mean that we can pray for the same things as Elijah and Daniel did, and expect God to answer this prayer in the same way. They lived in their own time, in their own situation, and they prayed what the Word of God taught them to pray in their circumstances. In the same way we must pray what God tells us to pray in our situation. But what James explains in his letter is that we must never doubt and never underestimate the power of our prayers. Look at Elijah. Look at Daniel.
We must realize that by her prayer the church has the power to change the course of world history. This is a very powerful weapon the church has and we must use that weapon. We are encouraged to do so with the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 28:20 “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
God heard the prayer of Daniel and his friends and revealed to Daniel the dream. Before rushing off to the king, the first thing Daniel did was kneel before God in prayer and thanksgiving. Thanking God for hearing and answering prayers is more important than dealing with looming death threats, particularly since God is in control of those, too.
God created Daniel’s situation. He gave the king the dream and it was God’s will that the king demanded that his wise men tell him the dream. It was all God's will, designed to show his power and majesty. That was also the first thing Daniel said when he appeared before the king: it was God who gave the dream to the king, and who also gave the explanation through Daniel (verse 29). Again in verse 37, when Daniel explained the dream, he told the king that it was God, the God of heaven, who had given the king dominion and power and might and glory. Daniel needed to make that clear to the king, before he could tell and explain the dream.
At the end of chapter 2, we see that even the king had to give glory and honour to God. He had to acknowledge that only God could do what no one else could.
Daniel told what the king had seen in his dream. He also explained the meaning of the huge, dazzling, frightening statue.
The head, which was made of pure gold, symbolized the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar, a great and excellent king and a mighty kingdom. Although Nebuchadnezzar was the greatest ruler of the Neo-Babylonian Empire and one of the most competent monarchs of ancient times, he was not immortal. His kingdom could not remain forever. After his death, the glory of Babylon immediately began to fade and within twenty-three years the empire collapsed.
Then another kingdom, a second, would come – the chest and arms of silver. That is the Medo-Persian kingdom, which existed for about two hundred years. That empire was not as strong and was more divided than the empire of Nebuchadnezzar, although it lasted longer.
After that, the third kingdom came. The bronze torso was the Greek Empire, under the famous Alexander the Great. That kingdom ruled over the whole earth, as far as the world was known in those days. But the Greek Empire also did not remain. After about two hundred years it was replaced by the Roman Empire.
This fourth kingdom had a tremendous power, a power to destroy. It broke and shattered everything; it would crush and break all the others. This kingdom ruled about five hundred years. It was very strong because of its military power, but within the empire there was no unity. It was, in the end, divided into many kingdoms. That is what the iron and clay of the feet symbolizes.
Those four kingdoms were all superpowers in their time. They ruled the entire known world, and did it almost unchallenged by other powers. There were some kingdoms on the fringes of these empires, but they were not really a danger to the superpowers, until the empires began to deteriorate and decay, from the inside out. The Babylonian kingdom was defeated by the Medo-Persians because of the corruption and bad government of the kings after Nebuchadnezzar. It was the same with the other empires. They all remained for a while, even several centuries, but finally they went down and were destroyed, to be replaced by another kingdom.
The fourth kingdom, the Roman Empire, was the last empire. After the Roman Empire there was, and will be, no other empire, no other kingdom that will rule the world unchallenged by other kingdoms or empires. Just as the Roman Empire was at the end internally divided, the world after the collapse of the Roman Empire was and is a world of continual divisions. Nation rises against nation and kingdom against kingdom, as Christ says in Matthew 24:7. That again is the work of God, who divides the world and sets up nation against nation.
In the time of the Roman Empire, God built a totally new kingdom; a completely different Kingdom. That was the Kingdom of Christ, the rock of the dream. The changing situation of the Roman Empire allows the Kingdom of God and of Christ to be built. It was God's time to change the times. In Revelation 20:3 we read about an angel coming down from heaven, who seized the dragon, the ancient serpent that is the devil, “and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.”
The rock that was cut out, not by human hands, hit the statue at its feet, and consequently smashed the whole statue and destroyed it. The fourth kingdom is destroyed, and with that the whole situation has changed. The time of great empires that rule the world is over, as symbolized by the destruction of the entire statue. From that time on the world was divided, and in every kingdom and nation, the Kingdom of Christ is being built. It is built, not according to human customs or rules, the way earthly kingdoms and empires are built, but built according to the heavenly plan of God, the Creator, the Almighty governor of heaven and earth, with Christ as king, eternal king.
A stone cut out by no human hand
The kingdom of God is totally different than those other kingdoms. The citizens of God’s kingdom do not come from one nation (Daniel 2:44: “nor shall the kingdom be left to another people”). So it was not a fifth kingdom that would destroy the fourth kingdom and establish a new one. The fourth kingdom would be destroyed by one not of this world; a kingdom not set up according to worldly standards. This would be a heavenly kingdom. God builds his kingdom on this earth, through his Word and his Spirit. See Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”
The coming of Christ did change the history of this world. There is no ‘Christian Empire’ in this world, like the Roman Empire or the Greek Empire. Rather, the citizens of this kingdom, Christians, live everywhere in the world and come from all nationalities. They are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, and that citizenship determines what they do on this earth.
We have a place in this world, and we participate in the life of this world, but we have a different attitude than those who do not belong to the kingdom of God. We work in this world to win this world for Christ.
An eternal kingdom
King Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream that his empire would not last forever. When he became king, his empire was at the beginning of a period of wealth and prosperity. In Daniel 4 we can read that some years later King Nebuchadnezzar had become arrogant about what he accomplished. Babylon indeed was a mighty kingdom, but it would be destroyed soon after his death. Another empire would come, and thereafter again another, and another. It was a cycle of rising to the top leading into a time of prosperity, wealth, and great power, after which came corruption. In that time of corruption, those empires were defeated by other powers that rose and became strong.
That is the weakness of those empires and all human ‘kingdoms’; they are governed by sinful men. Those sinful men, when they are at the height of their power, cannot resist the temptation to use their great might for their own gain. This is what we see happening so often with governments.
It is by his own sins that man destroys what he has built up first. But the kingdom of heaven will not be affected by sin. It will be a perfect kingdom. It is not from this earth but from heaven. Therefore it is not subject to the decay which is caused by sin.
Among the many religions of this world, the Christian faith is the only one that is not invented by men, and so it is the only true religion. The Christian church is not an invention of men, made by men. God builds his Kingdom, the Kingdom of Christ, and he does it through his Word and Spirit. The spreading of the Word of God throughout the entire world started 20 centuries ago, after Christ's ascension and Pentecost. Christianity survived many mighty empires throughout history and the church will remain until Christ returns. This will not happen due to the work of human beings, but because it is the work of God.
- In the “chess match” between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, what attacks and counter-attacks do we see in this chapter? How does God’s action trump that of Satan?
- About Daniel’s prayer (2:18): Daniel prayed a powerful prayer because he knew and trusted God’s will for him. He knew God and he knew what to ask from God. About our own prayer: Do we often expect too little from our prayer (see also James 5:17)? What is important for us to know before we pray?
- Often we pray and ask God for many things. When we receive what we asked for, do we then also thank God and praise him for what we have been given? Should we do that more often?
- What is the main difference between the four kingdoms and the fifth kingdom: the stone not cut out by human hands? And what does that tell us about our place in this world?
- How is our purpose on earth different from those who are not of the kingdom of God?
- The four kingdoms and their destruction is all part of God’s plan. Through it God works towards the fulfilment of his promises and he must be praised for that. Why is it important for us to know history, and the position of the church in history?
- How do we see in our world, at this time, that God is using the political, military and economic situation to establish his Kingdom?