From Mystery to Revelation
In the waters around Greenland are icebergs of many sizes. Sometimes the small ice floes move in one direction while their massive counterparts flow in another. What happens is that surface winds drive the little ones, whereas the huge masses of ice are carried along by deep ocean currents. When we consider the rise and fall of nations throughout history, it is similar to accounting for the surface winds and ocean currents. The winds represent everything changeable and unpredictable, just like human will. But operating simultaneously with these gusts and gales is another force, even more powerful and very similar to the ocean currents. It is the sure movement of God’s wise and sovereign purposes. As Ellen G. White said, “Like the stars in the vast circuit of their appointed path, God’s purposes know no haste and no delay.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 32. Although the rise and fall of nations, ideologies, and political parties seem to happen at the discretion of human whim alone, Daniel 2 shows that it is the God of heaven who actually moves human history to its grand finale.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, January 18.
Dreams were taken very seriously in the ancient world. When a dream seemed foreboding, it often indicated an impending disaster. Thus, it is understandable why Nebuchadnezzar becomes so anxious about a dream that, to make things even more ominous, he can no longer remember.
Babylonian experts believed that the gods could reveal the interpretation of dreams, but in the case of this dream in Daniel, there is nothing that the experts can do because the king has forgotten the dream. If the content of the dream were conveyed to them, they would come up with an interpretation to please the king. But in this unprecedented situation, when the dream experts are unable to tell the king what his dream is about, they are forced to admit that “there is no other who can tell it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh” (Dan. 2:11, NKJV).
Overwhelmed with frustration, the king commands that all the wise men of Babylon be killed. Such an atrocity was not unknown in the ancient world. Historical sources attest that, because of a conspiracy, Darius I had all the magi executed, and Xerxes put to death the engineers who had built a bridge that collapsed. When Nebuchadnezzar issues his decree, Daniel and his companions have just finished their training and been admitted into the circle of the king’s experts. For this reason, the death decree issued by the king applies to them, as well.
In fact, the original language suggests that the killing starts immediately, and Daniel and his friends will be executed next. But Daniel, with “counsel and wisdom” (Dan. 2:14), approaches Arioch, the man in charge of carrying out the executions. Eventually Daniel requests time from the king himself in order to solve the mystery of the dream. Interestingly, although the king has accused the magicians of trying to buy “time,” he promptly grants the “time” Daniel requests. Daniel certainly agrees with the magicians that no human being can solve such a mystery, but the prophet also knows of a God who can reveal both the content and the interpretation of the dream.
Daniel immediately grabs his three friends for a prayer session, explaining that they will be executed if God does not reveal the dream. Whenever we face a big problem, we also should recognize that our God is great enough to resolve even the most unsolvable challenges.
Two types of prayer are mentioned in this chapter. The first is a petition prayer in which Daniel asks God to reveal the content of the dream and its interpretation (Dan. 2:17–19). The words of this prayer are not given, but we are told that Daniel and his friends “seek mercies from the God of heaven concerning this secret, so that Daniel and his companions might not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon” (Dan. 2:18, NKJV). As they pray, God answers their petition and reveals the content and interpretation of the king’s dream. We can rest assured that whenever we seek “mercies from the God of heaven” our prayers will be heard, as well, even if not in such a dramatic manner as we see here, because the God of Daniel is our God too.
In response to God’s answering their petition, Daniel and his friends burst into a prayer of thanksgiving and praise. They praise God for being the source of wisdom and for being in control of nature and political history. There is an important lesson we can learn here. As we pray and plead with God for so many things, how often do we praise and thank Him for answering our prayers? The experience of Jesus with the 10 lepers provides an apt illustration of human ingratitude. Out of 10 who are healed, only one comes back “to give glory to God” (Luke 17:18). Daniel’s response not only reminds us of the importance of thanksgiving and praise but also reveals the character of the God we pray to. When we pray to Him, we can trust Him to do what is in our best interest, and thus we should always praise and thank Him.
In response to prayer, God reveals the content of the dream and its interpretation. And Daniel does not hesitate to tell the king that the solution for the mystery comes from the “ God in heaven.” Also, prior to reporting the content of the dream and its interpretation, Daniel mentions the unexpressed thoughts and concerns of the king as the latter lay sleepless in bed. This circumstantial information further emphasizes the credibility of the message, because such information known only to the king must have come to Daniel through a supernatural power. But as Daniel proceeds to report the content of the dream, he risks triggering another crisis, because the dream is not necessarily good news for Nebuchadnezzar.
The dream consists of a majestic image with its head “of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay” (Dan. 2:32, 33, NKJV). Eventually a stone “struck the image on its feet” (Dan. 2:34, NKJV), and the whole structure was destroyed and scattered like chaff on the wind. Daniel explains that the different metals represent successive kingdoms that will replace one another throughout the course of history. For Nebuchadnezzar, the message is clear: Babylonia, with all its might and glory, will pass away and be replaced by another kingdom, which will be followed by others until a kingdom of a completely different nature will replace them all: God’s eternal kingdom, which will last forever.
The prophecy conveyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s dream provides a general prophetic outline and functions as the yardstick with which to approach the more detailed prophecies of Daniel 7, 8, and 11. Also, Daniel 2 is not a conditional prophecy. It is an apocalyptic prophecy: a definitive prediction of what God foresaw and actually would bring to pass in the future.
The focus of the dream is on what will happen in the “latter days” (Dan. 2:28). As powerful and rich as they may have been, the metal (and clay) kingdoms are nothing but a prelude to the establishment of the stone kingdom. Whereas to some extent metals and clay can be products of human manufacture, the stone in the dream comes untouched by human hands. In other words, although each of the previous kingdoms eventually comes to an end, the kingdom represented by the stone will last forever. The metaphor of the rock, then, often symbolizes God (for example, Deut. 32:4, 1 Sam. 2:2, Ps. 18:31), and the stone likewise may be a representation of the Messiah (Ps. 118:22; 1 Pet. 2:4, 7). Thus, nothing is more appropriate than the figure of a stone to symbolize the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom.
Some argue that the stone kingdom was established during Jesus’ earthly ministry, and that the propagation of the gospel stands as an indication that the kingdom of God has taken over the entire world. Yet, the stone kingdom comes into existence only after the four main kingdoms have fallen and human history has reached the time of the divided kingdoms, represented by the feet and toes of the image. This fact rules out the fulfillment during the first century, because Jesus’ earthly ministry took place during the dominion of Rome, the fourth kingdom. But the stone gives way to a mountain. That is, “the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Dan. 2:35, NKJV). A mountain such as this evokes Mount Zion, the place where the temple stood, the concrete representation of God’s earthly kingdom in the Old Testament times. Interestingly, the stone cut from the mountain becomes a mountain itself. This mountain, which according to the text is already in existence, most likely points to the heavenly Zion, the heavenly sanctuary, whence Christ will come to establish His eternal kingdom. And in the Jerusalem that will come down from heaven (Rev. 21:1–22:5), this kingdom will find its ultimate fulfillment.
Further Thought: It is instructive to note that the image of Daniel 2 is made of gold and silver, which are metals related to economic power. The image also is made of bronze and iron, which were used for tools and weapons, and of pottery, which was used in the ancient world for literary and domestic purposes. Thus, the image provides a vivid portrayal of humanity and its accomplishments. Most appropriately, the distinct anatomical parts of the image convey the succession of world kingdoms and the final disunity that will prevail in the last days of human history. The stone, however, is distinctly depicted as something not made with “human hands” (Dan. 2:45, NIV), a powerful reminder of the supernatural end that will come to this temporary world and all its human accomplishments.
Although “to the unaided human eye, human history may appear to be a chaotic interplay of forces and counterforces . . . Daniel assures us that behind all of this stands God, looking down upon it and moving within it to achieve what He sees best.”—William H. Shea, Daniel: A Reader’s Guide (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2005), p. 98.