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Dreaming of the Future

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Daniel 2

God has a plan for history, and Daniel 2 gives a broad picture of what that plan looks like. This chapter also shows that His plan includes each of us serving where He has placed us and offering answers to the challenges and mysteries of life that only God’s Word can provide.


Dreaming of the Future

Daniel 2


As a teenager Daniel was taken from his hometown of Jerusalem to the capital city of the Babylonian Empire. Now, by God’s design, Daniel is about to take center stage in this drama—and it all begins with a dream.

The first verse of Daniel 2, here in the biography of Daniel, tells us King Nebuchadnezzar “had dreams.” We can understand this to mean that this dream kept recurring. It just would not go away, and it disturbed his sleep.

He senses something unique and important about this dream, so we read in verse 2, “The king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams.” “Chaldeans” often refers to the Babylonian people as a whole or an ethnic group within the empire. Here it refers to a special “class of astrologers.”[1] The four groups mentioned in verse 2 are various classes of wise men, or magi.  

Centuries later, several of them are going to show up after the birth of Jesus, having seen His star in the east. These magi have believed the prophecy of Daniel; they are spiritual descendants of the greatest of the magi to have lived in Babylon, Daniel himself.

Nebuchadnezzar demands here that these esteemed advisers “tell the king his dreams.” In other words, he has not forgotten his dream; he’s testing them. If they can tell him what the dream was, he will know they can tell him what the dream means.

Of course, they can’t do that. They beg him here in verse 4: “Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation.” They will just make something up to satisfy the king.

But the king knows better. They have to tell him what he dreamed, or, as he says in verse 5, they will be torn “limb from limb” and their houses “laid in ruins.” He will get rid of them and start over if they cannot discern the unseen world. But if they can, he promises that they will be given “gifts and rewards and great honor” (verse 6).

The dream has had a powerful impact on him, and he has to get an answer. Well, these counselors are stalling for time, but they actually tell the king the truth in verse 10: “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand.”

In a rage, Nebuchadnezzar commands that all the magi of Babylon be put to death. His captain, Arioch, is sent to round them up and take them away. When Arioch comes to Daniel and his friends, Daniel discovers what is going on. Evidently, they had not been invited into these sessions. Daniel’s reaction here demonstrates wisdom and faith.

Apparently with Arioch’s permission, Daniel asks for some time to reveal the dream and its meaning. The king agrees, probably because Daniel is confident he can do it, whereas the other men had said it was impossible.

Next, Daniel asks his three friends to pray for him, to “seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery” (verse 18). By the way, if you are facing a dilemma today, one of the wisest things you can do is have some fellow believers join you in prayer.

Well, God responds during this prayer meeting. The Bible records in verse 19, “Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night.” I want you to notice here that Daniel does not rush off to the king immediately. He takes time to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord.

And his prayer is a wonderful expression of praise. He refers to God as the sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God, describing Him in verse 21 as the one who “changes times and seasons” and “removes kings and sets up kings.” And in verse 23, Daniel thanks God specifically for making known “the king’s matter.”

When he is brought before the king in the morning, Daniel agrees with his pagan colleagues that no one can do what the king asked. However, he says, “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (verse 28).

I love that. “Nebuchadnezzar, it’s time you heard my personal testimony. I belong to the true and living God who knows all there is to know.”

Then Daniel adds this little phase here in verse 28: “And he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.” So, this dream relates to the “latter days.” It is giving a picture of the rise and fall of future world empires, reaching all the way to Christ’s second coming.

By the way, beginning here in verse 4 of this chapter and going all the way through chapter 7, the biblical text is in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. This is probably due to the content of these chapters being primarily about Gentile kingdoms in relation to Israel, while the other parts of the book of Daniel “deal . . . with Jewish affairs.”[2]

That is all background to this drama. Daniel now goes on to describe the king’s dream in detail. Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed of a great image. Its head was gold, its chest and arms were silver, its abdomen and thighs were bronze, its legs were iron, and its feet were of mixed iron and clay. The king dreamed of a large stone striking the feet of the image and ultimately destroying the whole image. The stone then grew until it filled the entire earth.

Now that alone would be confusing. But Daniel continues to give some details. And you can just imagine the court of King Nebuchadnezzar not even breathing and the king sitting on the edge of his throne listening.

Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar in verse 38, “You [and your empire] are the head of gold.” Then continues:

“Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron . . . And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these.” (verses 39-40)

The ten toes are an extension of this fourth kingdom and represent ten latter-day kings.

So, Nebuchadnezzar learns that the head of gold represented the height of his Babylonian Empire. We know from history that his empire was succeeded by the empire of the Medes and Persians, as we will see in chapter 5. The third empire is Greece, as revealed in chapter 8, and the fourth great empire is Rome.

The ten toes, or kings, represent a later form of global power in the end times. But it will eventually be destroyed when the Stone, the Lord Jesus, arrives to defeat the kingdoms of earth and establish His millennial kingdom at His second coming.

King Nebuchadnezzar does not grasp all this, and it is a lot to follow—he could have used some study notes and a study Bible. But he does understand that Daniel has spoken with supernatural insight. He says to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries” (verse 47).

He then promotes Daniel to “ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon,” according to verse 48. At Daniel’s request, his three friends are also promoted to Daniel’s assistants in the province, while Daniel remains as chief adviser in the king’s court. Daniel is now the leading wise man in the kingdom of Babylon.

It must have seemed like nothing but tragedy when Daniel and his friends were taken from their homeland to serve a foreign king. What good could come of this? But God had an assignment for them in Babylon. And they are just beginning to fulfill it by doing what you and I are to be doing to this day—telling the pagan empires of our world about the true and living God.

[1] Gleason L. Archer Jr., “Daniel,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Zondervan, 1985), 14.

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