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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 2

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-11

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream (2:1-49)

The Dream of a King (2:1-11)

It is within the first verses of this chapter that the language shifts from Hebrew to Aramaic. The break comes with the beginning of verse 4 where the Hebrew text reads, "Then the Chaldeans said to the king in Aramaic" (see margin). The words "in Aramaic" are probably a note added later than the original writing to call the attention of the reader to the unexpected linguistic shift. Many explanations for this shift have been offered, but no completely satisfactory one has yet been made.

In ancient times it was not uncommon for kings to attach great importance to dreams and their mysterious content. This amounted to a kind of pre-Freudian dream analysis. Most courts had among the countless court officials and servants a large number of religious functionaries and magicians, whose primary task was to interpret dreams. Nebuchadnezar had such a professional contingent available.

The introduction to chapter 2 indicates that the king was troubled in spirit because of his dreams and so summoned "the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans," whose functions at least on this occasion were identical. (Note that "Chaldean" in this reference and elsewhere is a word meaning "magicians" and not an ethnic term.) The dream interpreters immediately asked the king to recount the dream, but the king had forgotten it. In a fit of frustration the monarch accused his befuddled magicians of stalling for time. He demanded with royal finality that they recover the dream he had forgotten and then interpret it or pay for failure with their lives. In utter despair these wise men replied that no man living could do the thing which the king required; only the gods were able to reveal the secrets of men’s minds and hearts.

Verses 12-45

Daniel the Interpreter (2:12-45)

The similarity between this whole chapter and the Joseph story has already been mentioned (see Introduction) . In both stories the king’s dream is interpreted by a king’s prisoner, but in the Joseph saga Pharaoh remembers what he dreamed. Moreover, the dreams of Pharaoh concerned seven years of plenty and seven years of famine in Egypt, whereas Nebuchadnezzar’s dream encompassed the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God. In each case, however, the effect was to save God’s people from extinction (see Genesis 41).

Only after a decree had gone forth that all the wise men were to be killed did the situation come to the attention of Daniel, who by training was now classed among the wise men (see ch. 1). He had taken the three years’ course and now was a professional wise man in the eyes of the king. Ari-och, the king’s officer, was ready to carry out the execution which had been ordered by the king when Daniel inquired, "Why is the decree of the king so severe?" Ari-och told Daniel the whole story, and at his own request Daniel was taken before the king so that he might be given an appointment to attempt the interpretation of the mysterious dream. The appointment was made.

Daniel returned to his quarters and asked his three compatriots, whose Jewish names are listed, to pray with him for the mercy of the God of heaven concerning this mystery. The wise men earlier had said such knowledge was only from the gods; now Daniel sought to receive wisdom from the Source of all wisdom. A beautiful prayer of thanksgiving is recorded which ends with Daniel’s awareness that God had made known to him the secret. Daniel, as the embodiment of the true Israel, is thus seen to share the true wisdom of God which was not known to the wisest of the wise. This incident of prayer understood in the context of the Maccabean situation is a clear call for trust in God’s guiding hand. Furthermore, it is a continuing reminder of the need for prayer to the Source of all wisdom.

With confidence in the Lord, Daniel went to Ari-och and asked that the wise men not be destroyed, promising that he would explain to the king the whole forgotten dream.

Ari-och presented Daniel to the royal court and breathlessly announced that he had discovered among the exiles from Judah one who could interpret the king’s dream. In his words to the king, Daniel made the point that no wise man could fulfill the king’s demand. Not even Daniel could accomplish such a feat. "But," said Daniel, "there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days." Daniel leaves no doubt that the source of all wisdom was with God but that God had shared that wisdom, and especially the vision of the future, with his people the Jews.

Daniel then recovered from the limbo of forgetfulness the repressed dream image and repeated it to the king. Some commentators have suggested that this image, with its four parts, is not to be compared with the four empires of chapter 7, since it is assumed that the whole image-all four empires — remained until the fall of the last. It takes a literalist of the first order to make this argument. A visionary, poetic soul was looking at the whole sweep of history, first in the form of a single colossus, and then in the form of four beasts; and in each case the point is that the kingdoms of this world were replaced by an everlasting Kingdom, a mountain that shall fill the earth.

Daniel, after customary obeisance and veneration, including expected royal honorifics (vss. 37-38), proceeded to interpret the strange dream which had been so disturbing. It is interesting to note that the author did not miss the opportunity to proclaim that God alone establishes rulers over men. God had given to Nebuchadnezzar a very great kingdom both in power and in extent. Following his empire there would arise in succession two inferior (silver and bronze) kingdoms. Finally, a fourth kingdom, powerful and cruel, would arise, but this would be a mixed realm made partly of iron and partly of clay. The iron gave firmness to the clay, but the kingdom would be a mixture of brittleness and resilience. In the end this impossible coalescence of iron with clay would fall apart.

When this happens, then God will establish his eternal Kingdom, which will fill the earth and replace all other rule and authority. It will break in pieces all other kingdoms, even as the rock which became a great mountain had done. The fact that this Kingdom will never be destroyed and that its sovereignty will never be transferred to another people is the central theme of the passage.

It is necessary to come to grips immediately with the identification of the four kingdoms, a subject of much speculation in the course of biblical study. The two most popular interpretations are:

First: Gold — Chaldean Empire

Silver — Media

Brass — Persia

Iron and Clay — Greece

Second: Gold — Chaldean Empire

Silver — Medo-Persian Empire

Brass — Greece

Iron and Clay — Rome

The first set of these identifications certainly fits the facts of the case much better than does the latter list. With few exceptions scholars are agreed that the head of gold is the empire of Nebuchadnezzar, as the text plainly states. The crux of the matter centers around the question of whether the identity of the fourth great empire is Greece or Rome. The facts of the case are these: Alexander the Great established a powerful empire which was torn asunder after his death. The Seleucids and the Ptolemies were a mixture, since at least two marriage alliances between their houses were consummated, though with tragic results. It is very clear in chapters 7 and 8, as well as in chapter 11, that the key figure against whom vengeance was sworn was Epiphanes, who was a Greek. When Rome replaced Greece as the great power in the world, it is understandable that early Christian interpreters or even pre-Christian Essenes substituted "Rome" for "Greece" in their interpretation. In a theological perspective they were correct, since Rome represented the same man-madness which possessed and destroyed Greece. However, historically Greece was the original target of the author in the Maccabean period.

After the destruction of the mixed kingdom, partly brittle and partly strong, God will establish his Kingdom without human aid. This Kingdom is to be everlasting and its permanent rulers are to be the saints. Daniel proclaimed that God would enter the arena of history to determine the outcome of the struggle. Although Daniel’s time schedule was inexact, the Kingdom for which he looked has come and is coming in Jesus Christ.

Verses 46-49

Epilogue (2:46-49)

The conclusion of this passage is anticlimactic compared with the visionary grandeur and theological profundity of the previous material. Nebuchadnezzar bowed before Daniel and confessed his faith in God with these words: "Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery." High honors were given Daniel, who became chief of the wise men in a country known for its men of wisdom. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were given good positions in the land, while Daniel remained at court. To those in dire peril whose lives were in jeopardy the story taught that God, who holds in his hands the destinies of nations and who will set up an everlasting Kingdom, had not forsaken them. The two-edged message, so typical of Daniel, is clearly given: strength for today and hope for the future.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Daniel 2". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/daniel-2.html.
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