Chapter two is surprising, in that it takes place in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, while Daniel was still in training (Daniel 2:1). When Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem in chapter one, he was on his way back to Babylon to assume the crown from his father. Thus, Daniel’s captivity and Nebuchadnezzar’s reign began at the same time, so his second year as king was Daniel’s second year of training. During this time, Nebuchadnezzar could not sleep and had a dream that troubled him so much that he needed to know its meaning.
Verse four (Daniel 2:4) contains an interesting and important note. When the king’s magi replied to him, Daniel recorded it in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. From verse four to Daniel 7:28, Daniel recorded everything in Aramaic; the rest of the book is in Hebrew. This is the longest Old Testament passages in Aramaic rather than Hebrew; the others are Ezra 4:8–6:18; 7:12–26 and Jeremiah 10:11.
Rather than telling the magi his dream, Nebuchadnezzar demanded that they tell him both the dream itself and its meaning (Daniel 2:5-9). This, of course, they could not do; only the gods, they insisted, could tell a man his own dreams (Daniel 2:10-11). Because they could not do this, Nebuchadnezzar demanded the death of all of them and their students, including the Jewish captives in training (Daniel 2:12-13). When Daniel heard of it, he requested the opportunity to pray to his God for the answer, which he was granted (Daniel 2:14-18). He brought together the other three and prayed. (It seems the other captives probably did not continue in the Jewish faith as these four did.) Daniel 2:20-23 contains Daniel’s praise to God for granting their request and revealing Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to him.
Although he was courteous in addressing the king, Daniel made sure to give full credit to the true God. He acknowledged the magi’s inability (Daniel 2:27), pointed the king to God (Daniel 2:28), calling him “the revealer of mysteries” (Daniel 2:29), and noted that the purpose of this revelation was not because Daniel was special but because God wanted Nebuchadnezzar to know it (Daniel 2:30).
The rest of the chapter details the dream (Daniel 2:31-36), its interpretation (Daniel 2:37-45), and the king’s response (Daniel 2:46-49). Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a large statue of a man made of four different metals in its four major sections.
- The head was gold; this represented Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire.
- The chest and arms were silver, representing Medo-Persia, which came after Babylon but would be inferior to it.
- The torso and thighs were made of bronze, yet another empire (Greece), which overthrew Persia.
- The legs were iron; the feet, a mixture of iron and clay (a later, weaker version of the iron empire). This empire (Rome) would shatter all the previous empires, yet it would itself be shattered in the future by another kingdom, represented by a boulder (the Messianic Kingdom). This boulder grew to be a large mountain that filled the whole earth and was never superseded.
In response to Daniel’s interpretation, Nebuchadnezzar automatically graduated the four captives out of the remainder of their training and promoted them to high positions in his empire. Daniel was placed as the head over all of the magi. Although Nebuchadnezzar did not convert to worshiping the true God, he could not help but acknowledge God as “a God of gods and Lord of kings and the revealer of mysteries” (Daniel 2:47). He had never come across a god this powerful before. It would not be the last time.