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Nebuchadnezzar's Dream in Daniel 2

Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, a baptist church in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership.

Holy Prophet Daniel

Russian Icon Painter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Russian Icon Painter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Summary of The Biblical Account

According to the second chapter of the book of Daniel in the Bible, Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, had several dreams that disturbed him and caused him to lose sleep.

At last, King Nebuchadnezzar summoned the wise men of Babylon (the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and the Chaldeans) to interpret one of his dreams.

However, Nebuchadnezzar wished to ensure their interpretation was true, so he demanded that they first divine what his dream had been.

The wise men told Nebuchadnezzar that what he had requested was impossible for humans, and only the gods could do it.

Therefore, Nebuchadnezzar ordered that all the wise men in Babylon be put to death, and this order included Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: four Jewish youth who had been capture in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon.

When Daniel and his friends were about to be taken to be put to death, Daniel replied that he would divine the king’s dream and its interpretation. He bought time by asking that a day be appointed for him to come before Nebuchadnezzar to reveal the dream and its interpretation. His request was granted, and he then asked his friends to pray for God to reveal the matter to him.

God then answered their prayers at night, revealing Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation to Daniel through a vision.

The Central Theme in Daniel

In this biblical account, we can discern several beliefs held by Nebuchadnezzar.

  • Some dreams can be messages from the gods.
  • These messages have to be deciphered by wise men.
  • The wise men are those chosen by the gods to decipher the messages.
  • Most wisemen, however, are probably liars.

The author of the book of Daniel does not contradict these beliefs (the author Genesis 41:38 held similar beliefs). The important caveat is that Yahweh is the Most High God (Daniel 3:26, 4:2, 5:21).

Moreover, from Daniel’s praise in verses 20-23, we are given the perspective that God is sovereign over the kings of Earth:

“He [God] removes kings and sets up kings.” (Daniel 2:21, ESV)

This is clearly the central theme of the book of Daniel.

Daniel Interprets the Dream

Daniel made the dream and its interpretation known to Nebuchadnezzar, but first he provided context.

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream concerned the latter days (the days of the future or the end). (v.28)

Nebuchadnezzar had been wondering what would happen after his kingdom, and God revealed to him what would take place.

Then, Daniel revealed the dream.

Nebuchadnezzar had seen a great image (statue). The image was mighty, bright, and frightening (v.31). It had a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, middle and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet and toes made of both iron and clay. Then, a stone was cut out (extracted from the earth) by hands that were not human, and the stone struck the image on its feet. The image crumbled, and the wind carried away the rubble. The stone then grew into a great mountain that filled all the earth (land).

After revealing the dream, Daniel went on to interpret the dream for Nebuchadnezzar.

In verses 37 to 38, Daniel clearly indicates that Nebuchadnezzar himself was the head of gold.

In verse 39, Daniel clearly states that, after Nebuchadnezzar, there would be a second kingdom, and that this second kingdom would be inferior to Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom.

In verse 39 also, Daniel identifies a third kingdom is represented by the bronze.

In verse 40, Daniel identifies a fourth kingdom that would be strong as iron and that would crush the previous kingdoms.

In verse 41, Daniel interprets the feet and toes of the image, which were made of iron and clay. This indicates that the kingdom would be divided, partly strong, partly brittle, and though the rulers of the kingdom would marry each other, the kingdom would not hold together.

Then, the stone that was not cut by human hands, would be a kingdom set by God, and this kingdom would be everlasting and destroy all the previous kingdoms.

Important Considerations

Having read the passage and now seeking to interpret it, then are two important questions we must consider:

  • Do the parts of the image represent kings or kingdoms?
  • How many kingdoms are represented?

It appears that the parts of the image represent kingdoms under specific kings. So, the head of gold represents Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar, but not Babylon under Belshazzar.

The importance, here, may be that each of the specific kings ruling the kingdoms have an impact on Israel. After all, the interaction of the foreign kingdoms with Israel is an important theme in the book of Daniel.

Second, Daniel clearly identifies five kingdoms: the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, and the stone cut out not by human hands.

It may be tempting to see the feet and toes made of clay and iron as a separate kingdom from the iron legs; however, their interpretation (verses 41 to 43) is more likely describing the kingdom mentioned in verse 40, the one represented by the iron legs. Daniel uses the ordinal numbers third and fourth (Daniel 39-40), and he clearly identifies the first and the second kingdoms by telling Nebuchadnezzar that he is the head of gold and that another kingdom would arise after him. However, when speaking of the feet and the toes, Daniel does not use words that indicate that these are a kingdom of their own.

Notice also that Daniel does not address the number of feet (logically, two) or the number of toes (logically, ten) as he interprets the feet and the toes. His focus is on the materials: the feet and the toes are made of clay and iron.

This matter is important because some would like to say that there is a gap of at least 2,000 years between the legs of iron and the feet and toes of clay and iron, but there is no room in the text for such an interpretation. According to the text, the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar represents only four kingdoms, not five.

The fifth kingdom present in the dream is that kingdom set by God, the one represented by a stone cut out not by human hands. This kingdom destroyed the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar, and the wind carried away the rubble so that nothing remained of the other kingdoms. Then, the stone grew into a mountain that filled the land.

Identifying the Four Kingdoms

As we set out to interpret the passage, we begin by noting that, according to the text, the head of gold is Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar.

We then look for clues in the book of Daniel as to the identities of the other kingdoms. At first, it would seem that he second kingdom is that of Media under Darius (Daniel 5:31), that the third kingdom is that of Persia under Cyrus (Daniel 6:28), and that the fourth kingdom is that of Greece (Daniel 10:1).

However, we must note that Darius the Mede is not very relevant to the history of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar was relevant because, under him, Babylon destroyed Solomon’s temple. Cyrus is also relevant to the history of Israel because, under him, the Jews in Babylon returned to Israel. Moreover, Greece is important to the history of Israel because one of its rulers, Antiochus Epiphanes, defiled the second temple in Jerusalem.

Moreover, the book of Daniel clearly foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the second temple in Daniel 9:26, and Rome was the kingdom that destroyed these under Emperor Vespasian and General Titus in 70 AD.

We should also note that the last king of Media, Astyages (584-550 BC) was overthrown by Cyrus, and Media then fell under the rule of Persia. By the time Bablyon fell, Media belonged to Perisa. In fact, Darius the Mede may have been a ruler under Cyrus.

Consequently, many interpreters agree that the second kingdom is not Media, but Media-Persia. Notice that God warned Belshazzar that his kingdom would be divided and given to the Medes and the Persians (Daniel 5:28). Also, Darius ruled according to the law of the Medes and the Persians (Daniel 6:8). Moreover, in Daniel 8:20, although the Medes and the Persians are represented by two different horns, both horns are part of the same beast (a goat), whereas Greece is represented by a different beast (a ram).

Media and Persia, then, are one kingdom.

The Fifth Kingdom: The Kingdom of God

The point of the dream, howeve, was not to name the four kingdoms, but to inform Nebuchadnezzar that God's kingdom would be greater than the rest, for it is an eternal kingdom.

According to the passage, God would set this kingdom "in the days of those kings" (Daniel 2:44, ESV). That is, God would set his kingdom during the rule of Rome.

According to the New Testament, this is the kingdom John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth (the Christ), who lived in the days of the Roman empire, were proclaiming.

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3:2, ESV)

From a New Testament perspecitve, the kingdom of God foretold in the book of Daniel came on time:

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20-21, ESV)

What then became of that kingdom? That is matter addressed in the New Testament.

Four Kingdoms - Nebuchadnezzar's Dream

© 2022 Marcelo Carcach

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