Commentary on Daniel 2

Last updated: January 14, 2010

English Translation (ESV)

1 In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him. 2 Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned 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 troubled to know the dream.” 4 Then the Chaldeans said to the king in Aramaic, “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation.” 5 The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, “The word from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. 6 But if you show the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. Therefore show me the dream and its interpretation.” 7 They answered a second time and said, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will show its interpretation.” 8 The king answered and said, “I know with certainty that you are trying to gain time, because you see that the word from me is firm— 9 if you do not make the dream known to me, there is but one sentence for you. You have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the times change. Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can show me its interpretation.” 10 The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. 11 The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.”

12 Because of this the king was angry and very furious, and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. 13 So the decree went out, and the wise men were about to be killed; and they sought Daniel and his companions, to kill them. 14 Then Daniel replied with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who had gone out to kill the wise men of Babylon. 15 He declared to Arioch, the king’s captain, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Then Arioch made the matter known to Daniel. 16 And Daniel went in and requested the king to appoint him a time, that he might show the interpretation to the king.

17 Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, 18 and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. 20 Daniel answered and said:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,

to whom belong wisdom and might.

21 He changes times and seasons;

he removes kings and sets up kings;

he gives wisdom to the wise

and knowledge to those who have understanding;

22 he reveals deep and hidden things;

he knows what is in the darkness,

and the light dwells with him.

23 To you, O God of my fathers,

I give thanks and praise,

for you have given me wisdom and might,

and have now made known to me what we asked of you,

for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”

24 Therefore Daniel went in to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He went and said thus to him: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; bring me in before the king, and I will show the king the interpretation.”

25 Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste and said thus to him: “I have found among the exiles from Judah a man who will make known to the king the interpretation.” 26 The king declared to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?” 27 Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these: 29 To you, O king, as you lay in bed came thoughts of what would be after this, and he who reveals mysteries made known to you what is to be. 30 But as for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because of any wisdom that I have more than all the living, but in order that the interpretation may be made known to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your mind.

31 “You saw, O king, and behold, a great image. This image, mighty and of exceeding brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening. 32 The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34 As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

36 “This was the dream. Now we will tell the king its interpretation. 37 You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, 38 and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all—you are the head of gold. 39 Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. 40 And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these. 41 And as you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom, but some of the firmness of iron shall be in it, just as you saw iron mixed with the soft clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. 43 As you saw the iron mixed with soft clay, so they will mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay. 44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, 45 just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.”

46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. 47 The king answered and said to Daniel, “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.” 48 Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.

Notes

1 In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him.

Chapter 1 depicts Daniel being given a three year education (1:5). John J. Collins finds the chronology of chapters 1 and 2 to be irreconcilable. He assumes that the events of chapter 2 follow all of the events of chapter 1. Therefore, he finds it strange that, in chapter 2, the king did not seek out Daniel, the best of the wise men (1:20), and that Daniel appears unknown to the king (2:25). However, if the events of chapter 2 occurred during the three years summarized in chapter 1, it makes sense that the king did not know about Daniel and therefore would not seek him out.

Stephen R. Miller believes it is possible that Daniel had completed his education and that the first two chapters are compatible with each other. In 2:48 Daniel is made chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon, indicating that he had finished his training and was classified as part of that group. He is also under the death sentence (2:18). The dates can be reconciled if 2:1 is using the accession year reckoning employed in Babylon. The first year of education and the king’s accession year would correspond to September 605 BC (when Nebuchadnezzar assumed the throne) to Nisan (March-April) 604 BC. The second year of education and the first year of the king’s reign would span from Nisan 604 to Nisan 603 BC. The third year of education and the second year of the king’s reign would span from Nisan 603 to Nisan 602 BC. The reader should also keep in the mind that 1:5 may not refer to three complete years. Though the end of chapter 1 describes Daniel as wise he is not said to have interpreted any dreams for Nebuchadnezzar and thus the king would not know of his abilities (verse 17 states that Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams but this ability is known only by the narrator).1

2 Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king.

The magicians were skilled in cuneiform and used for interpreting dreams.2 The enchanters were “magical practitioners skilled at interpreting signs in people who are ill and (presumably) at conjurations and rituals designed to influence how matters turn out for them.”3 The sorcerers were brought in to remove, by means of magic, any evil consequences of the dream.4 In this passage, the Chaldeans are a class of priests, astrologers, magicians, soothsayers, or wise men.5 The technical distinctions between all these men is not of particular concern in this passage. The point is that the Babylonian wise men and their gods could not interpret the king’s dream.

4 Then the Chaldeans said to the king in Aramaic, “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation.”

Beginning in this verse, and continuing through chapter 7, the text of Daniel is in Aramaic instead of Hebrew (the language of the rest of the book). The transition from Hebrew to Aramaic and back to Hebrew is attested in manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, strongly suggesting that the original text of Daniel was bilingual. The author may have written in Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Near East at the time, when the events were likely to be of interest to both Jews and Gentiles and written in Hebrew when the events were likely to be of interest only to Jews.

The words “in Aramaic” should be seen as a parenthetical notation to mark the change in the written text. Though Aramaic was the diplomatic language of the empire, Akkadian was the normal language in the city of Babylon.6

5 The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, “The word from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins.

Some translations have the king say, “The word is gone from me.”7 The ESV is probably more accurate because the context implies the king did not forget his dream. The fact that he was troubled by the dream (vv 1, 3) implies that he remembered its contents. The response of the Chaldeans (v 7) shows that they thought the king still knew the dream. The king’s reasoning in verse 9, “if you tell me the dream I will know you can show me its interpretation,” assumes that he knows the dream.

9 if you do not make the dream known to me, there is but one sentence for you. You have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the times change. Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can show me its interpretation.”

The phrase “till the times change” means that the Chaldeans were hoping to buy time so that the king’s anger would subside.8

10 The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean.

The Chaldeans kept records of dreams and what occurred after the dreams in order to determine what different dreams meant. Normally they would be told a dream and then consult these records in order to determine the dream’s meaning. Since Nebuchadnezzar would not tell them his dream, they were unable to provide an interpretation.9

15 He declared to Arioch, the king’s captain, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Then Arioch made the matter known to Daniel.

The Aramaic word translated “urgent” may mean “harsh” in this context.10

28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these:

The phrase “latter days” need not refer to the end of the world. It can be taken to refer to some indefinite time in the future.11

31 “You saw, O king, and behold, a great image. This image, mighty and of exceeding brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening.

The “image” is a statue, not an idol.

34 As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces.

According to verse 45, the stone is cut out of a mountain.

36 “This was the dream. Now we will tell the king its interpretation.

“We” may refer to God and Daniel or to Daniel and his companions. It is also possible that it is used by Daniel to denote humility, for the message was not actually Daniel’s own message.12

37 You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory,

Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful king of his day but it was God who gave him his kingdom.

38 and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all—you are the head of gold.

Nebuchadnezzar and the Neo-Babylonian Empire (605-539 BC) are the head of gold.

39 Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth.

The second kingdom is the Medo-Persian Empire (539-331 BC). Those scholars who identify the fourth kingdom with the Greek Empire think the author of Daniel believed that a separate Median Empire followed the Neo-Babylonian Empire and was succeeded by the Persian Empire. This suggestion must be rejected for two reasons. First, the author of Daniel depicts the Medes and Persians as a united empire (5:28; 6:8, 15; 8:20; 11:2). Second, it is highly unlikely that the Jewish author was unaware that Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4).

In what sense was the Medo-Persian Empire “inferior” to the Neo-Babylonian Empire? The Persians controlled more territory than the Babylonians so it was not inferior in that sense. Later in the book, the fourth kingdom is associated with blasphemy, cruelty, and evil. It is possible that moral and religious decline are in view.

The third kingdom is the Greek Empire (331-146 BC).

40 And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these.

The fourth kingdom is the Roman Empire. “Rome ruled the nations with an iron hand and like a huge iron club shattered all who resisted its will.”13 Rome dominated the world from 146 BC to the division of the East and West empires in AD 395. The last Roman emperor ruled in the West until AD 476 and the Eastern division of the empire continued until AD 1453.

41 And as you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom, but some of the firmness of iron shall be in it, just as you saw iron mixed with the soft clay.

Among commentators identifying the fourth kingdom as the Roman Empire, there is disagreement about whether the feet and toes also allude to the Roman Empire or if they allude to an empire that will arise in the last days. From a Christian perspective, the issue is whether verses 41-43 are referring to Christ’s first coming or second coming.

I am of the opinion that verses 41-43 refer to the Roman Empire for a couple of reasons. First, the phrases “it shall be a divided kingdom” (v 41) and “the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle” (v 42) seem to refer to the fourth kingdom (v 40). Second, there is no indication in the text that a new kingdom is in mind or that the fourth kingdom will live again, after a period of non-existence, at the end of human history.

42 And as the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle.

The ten toes on the feet of the statue probably refer to ten kings, for in 7:24 the ten horns on the fourth beast are explicitly said to represent kings. Yet the number ten may symbolize the completeness (in power and sovereignty) of the fourth empire and not to a literal ten kings. The brittle clay in mind here is hardened clay like that in a piece of pottery. There were many rulers under the Roman emperor.

43 As you saw the iron mixed with soft clay, so they will mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay.

The phrase translated “in marriage” literally means “by the seed of men.”14 We have the image of marriages between members of different factions in the fourth kingdom failing to truly unite the kingdom.

44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,

The phrase “those kings” may refer to the kings represented by the toes of the statue or to all the kings of the kingdoms represented by the entire statue. Normally when a kingdom is destroyed it is absorbed into another kingdom. Since the kingdom of God will never be destroyed it will never be “left to another people” to absorb. The main point is that all human kingdoms shall end when the kingdom of God is finally established.

45 just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.”

The stone symbolizes the fact that the fifth kingdom comes ultimately from God and not from men. In my humble opinion, the fifth kingdom was “set up” (v 44) at the first coming of Jesus Christ and will become the only kingdom at Christ’s second coming. Other Christians (and non-Christians) will disagree with me on this point.

46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him.

Based on verse 47, Nebuchadnezzar is probably viewing Daniel as God’s representative, and not worshiping and sacrificing to Daniel directly.15

47 The king answered and said to Daniel, “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.”

Nebuchadnezzar is not converting to Judaism. He recognizes Yahweh as the god of gods but not as the one true God.

49 Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.

The promotion of Daniel’s companions sets the stage for chapter 3.

Bibliography

Baldwin, Joyce G. Daniel. InterVarsity Press, 1978.

Collins, John Joseph, Frank Moore Cross, and Adela Yarbro Collins. Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel. Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1994.

Goldingay, John. Daniel. Dallas Tex.: Word Books, 1989.

Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Holman Reference, 1994.

Walvoord, John F. Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation: A Commentary. Moody Publishers, 1971.

1Miller, Daniel, 76-77.

2Goldingay, Daniel, 45.

3Ibid.

4Collins, Cross, and Collins, Daniel, 156.

5Miller, Daniel, 79.

6Ibid., 80.

7Walvoord, Daniel, 49.

8Miller, Daniel, 82.

9Baldwin, Daniel, 87.

10Miller, Daniel, 84-85.

11Baldwin, Daniel, 91.

12Walvoord, Daniel, 64.

13Miller, Daniel, 95.

14Baldwin, Daniel, 93.

15Walvoord, Daniel, 77.

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2 thoughts on “Commentary on Daniel 2

  1. Thanks for your post, and noting the split between which parts of Daniel are written in Aramaic and which are in Hebrew. But do you have any thoughts on why Aramaic is used for this middle section? Possibly the words of prophecy are given in Aramaic, when Jews were no longer in their land, and the prophetic message was no longer for Jews, but for a wider (gentile) audience. In the same way the Aramaic verse in Jeremiah was intended for the non-Jewish nations.

  2. The best suggestion I’ve heard is that the author wrote in Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Near East at the time, when the events were likely to be of interest to both Jews and Gentiles and wrote in Hebrew when the events were likely to be of interest only to Jews.

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