Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

The Mystery

Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon, was both confused and angry.  His confusion arose from the numerous dreams he had been experiencing in the night, dreams that took away both his sleep and his peace.  He couldn’t recall much of the dreams, though some of the details remained, including a vision of a large statue.  

Consequently, he was angry.  His anger arose from frustration at his own inability to remember the dreams, but also because of the lying trickery of his mystical counselors.

Having called for the magicians, the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans before him, he challenged them not only to interpret his dreams, but also to tell him what his dreams were.  He knew from experience that included in their magic and strange conjurations that he was open to their deception.  They could simply agree with one another on a possible interpretation, then give it to him while pretending to have supernatural insights.

Nebuchadnezzar had decided to thwart this dark deception, for he somehow realized that his dreams were not merely a result of drinking too much wine and eating too much swine.

Therefore, the king determined to put the conjurers to the test:  If they could tell him his dream, then he could trust that they would also have the correct interpretation.  When they insisted that he must tell them the dream first before they can interpret it, the king’s anger grows:

The king replied, “I know for certain that you are bargaining for time, inasmuch as you have seen that the command from me is firm, that if you do not make the dream known to me, there is only one decree for you. For you have agreed together to speak lying and corrupt words before me until the situation is changed; therefore tell me the dream, that I may know that you can declare to me its interpretation.”  (Daniel 2:8-9)

The conjurers heared the threat, but continue to ask for the dream itself, knowing that they could not possibly repeat the scenes seen in the king’s dreams:

The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who could declare the matter for the king, inasmuch as no great king or ruler has ever asked anything like this of any magician, conjurer or Chaldean.  Moreover, the thing which the king demands is difficult, and there is no one else who could declare it to the king except gods, whose dwelling place is not with mortal flesh.”  (Daniel 2:10-11)

The king’s anger grew to fury, and Nebuchadnezzar gave orders that they all be taken away to be destroyed.  

 

Daniel

Daniel, however, was not present with the magicians and conjurers when they were confronted by Nebuchadnezzar, but he was included in the list of those to be killed for their failure to reveal the king’s dream and its interpretation.  

He asked Arioch, the king’s commander, why the order from Nebuchadnezzar was so urgent.  When Arioch informed Daniel of the recent confrontation the conjurers had had with the king, Daniel asked to speak to the Nebuchadnezzar himself.

He told Nebuchadnezzar that he had only just learned about the king’s dreams, and he needed time to seek the answers to the king’s mystery.  Receiving the time he requests, Daniel left to go pray with his friends:

Then Daniel went to his house and informed his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, about the matter, so that they might request compassion from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his friends would not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.  (Daniel 2:17-18)

Daniel and his friends had been taken captive by the Babylonians, and to enforce their servitude, their names had been changed to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meschack, and Abednego.  

After praying, the four young men received the compassion they were seeking, for Daniel soon saw the secret the king wished to know: “Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision” (Daniel 2:19). Then Daniel gave thanks to God for revealing the king’s dream, as well as the interpretation.

After being brought before Nebuchadnezzar, the king asked if Daniel could make known the dream he had, along with the interpretation.  

Daniel answered before the king and said, “As for the mystery about which the king has inquired, neither wise men, conjurers, magicians nor diviners are able to declare it to the king. However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed. (Daniel 2:27-28)

 

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The Mystery

Daniel related the dream about the magnificent statue with a head of made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.

At the end of the king’s dream a stone appeared that was made without hands.  This stone struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them.   When the stature fell, the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at once and were scattered like dust.

However, Daniel told the king, the stone that struck the statue became a “great mountain” that filled the whole earth.

Daniel proceeded then to relate the meaning of the dream.  The head of the statue, Daniel said, represented Nebuchadnezzar and his powerful kingdom, which will be followed by four other kingdoms, all seen in the breast and arms made of silver, the belly and thighs made of bronze, and the legs of made of iron, concluding with the feet made with a mixture of iron and clay.  

The climax of the story, Daniel told the king, concerned the “stone made without hands” that represented the Kingdom of God:

In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy. (Daniel 2:44-45)

When Daniel finished telling the dream and its interpretation, Nebuchadnezzar was so astounded that he fell on his face and did homage to Daniel, even commanding an offering to be given and incense to be burned.  

“Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries,” Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “since you have been able to reveal this mystery.”

The king’s astonishment was converted to rewards for Daniel.  Nebuchadnezzar appointed him to be ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.  And Daniel’s friends were given the administration of the province of Babylon.

 

The Application

How do we apply this story to our own lives today?  I want to focus on the “mystery” in this story since it’s the only place in the Old Testament where this word is used.

In this case the dream is given not to a prophet or servant of God but to a king in a country that has the reputation for being the most ungodly and paganistic of ancient empires.  Even so, Nebuchadnezzar is able to see the power of Daniel’s ability to receive the truth concerning what would ordinarily be impossible to know.  

Nebuchadnezzar relies on the Chaldeans, the magicians, the conjurers, and the sorcerers to give him supernatural wisdom, but clearly the king is skeptical of their powers.  He realizes that his dream is so powerfully insightful that he wants the true meaning to come forth, not an interpretation that derives from the collaboration of those who are used to deceit and trickery.  Therefore, he sets up a test to prove either that these advisors have received the truth or will be exposed in their lies.  He does so by making the task impossible without divine intervention.

When faced with the challenge, the king’s counselors admit that they cannot obtain the wisdom he desires, claiming that “no great king or ruler has ever asked anything like this of any magician, conjurer or Chaldean.”  Moreover, they claimed, the king demands what is “difficult,” which means “impossible,” though they don’t want to admit to any inability or weakness in the realms of divination or soothsaying.  Finally, they claim, no one else can do any better unless he himself is a god whose “dwelling place is not with mortal flesh.”

Thus, Nebuchadnezzar is perfectly aligned to see the power of the revelations given to Daniel about his dream, an understanding that leads the king to give authority and power over the realm of Babylon to a former slave, what must have been unheard of in the king’s realm.

Such an event was indeed nearly unbelievable in the days before Christ’s coming and the giving of the Holy Spirit’s gifts to the Church.  Under the Old Testament, only a few people were given the insights the Holy Spirit gives to all in the Church today through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The most significant examples in the Early Church period were the manifold revelations given to the Apostle Paul after his conversion to Christ.

Paul’s Vision

Before being sent out as an apostle to the Gentiles, Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul, also received mysteries that he was commissioned to reveal to the new Christians in the early Church.  This is what he wrote to the Church in Ephesus, for example:

If indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ.  (Ephesians 3:2-4)

To the Church in Corinth, Paul related how the mystery was made known to him  He does so in enigmatic, indeterminate terms in the following passage:

 Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows.  (II Corinthians 12:1-3)

But Paul’s use of the third person (I know “a man who was caught up,” rather than “I was caught up”) perhaps serves to deflect any accusation of pride on his part, as he says in the following verse: 

For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me. (II Corinthians 12:6)

In spite of the magnitude of the revelations he’s received, Paul refuses to boast in himself.  Instead, he wants to have the truth revealed in his life, not merely in his words.  In fact, the depth of the revelations he has received were so great that they couldn’t be understood even in terms of words. 

And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.  (II Corinthians 12:3)

Nevertheless, Paul was as fearless as Daniel when confronted with the lions, or Hananiah, Azariah, and Meshael when faced with the fiery furnace.  The truth when it is received is so powerful that no weapon raised against it will prosper, even if it means martyrdom.

“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper;
And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
And their vindication is from Me,” declares the Lord.  (Isaiah 54:17)

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