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It strikes me as strange that this story takes place in only the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (2:1). Daniel and his friends were to be trained for three years in order to become competent to stand in the king’s palace (1:5). So perhaps the author is hinting to the reader that the order of his story elements is not strictly chronological; for example, this particular story of the dream in Chapter 2 may have taken place in the midst of the story related in Chapter 1, such that the conclusions of both stories actually refer to the same event: Daniel is promoted in the king’s court. But back to the beginning of the story, before we reach its end prematurely …
King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that disturbed him, and he could not find anyone among his wise men or magicians who was able to interpret the dream. We cannot help but be reminded of the story of Joseph in Genesis 41, and wait for the introduction of our hero, Daniel. Before we get there, however, note how difficult the magicians’ task is: the king asks not only for an interpretation, but for them to know what the dream was without him telling them – much more testing than what Pharoah commanded his magicians back in Genesis 41. The magicians respond truthfully to the king that what he is asking is impossible: no one on earth could perform such a feat, and even the Babylonian gods cannot help because they are too remote from humanity to be involved in listening to or interpreting men’s dreams. The king’s enraged response is not to find someone else who can get him a better answer, but to kill all the wise men. This is the point at which Daniel enters the story, as a potential victim of the king’s wrath.
When Arioch, the captain, shows up to kill him and all his colleagues, Daniel asks why this is happening, and Arioch explains. Then Daniel takes it upon himself to save the wise men. Of course, he also has no idea about the dream or its interpretation at this point, but he is confident that God can reveal it to him. He asks his Judean friends to pray for the mercy of revelation, and God answers their prayers in a vision at night – perhaps another dream, but the narrator doesn’t specify it in that way.
Daniel’s initial response is to praise God for his revelation. In his blessing, he states two vital theological themes: (1) God is sovereign, he rules over the times and seasons, and he is the one who brought defeat to Judah and victory to Babylon; (2) God grants wisdom, knowledge, and revelation. What Daniel says here is a stinging criticism of the gods of Babylon, ‘whose dwelling is not with flesh’, according to the wisdom of the Chaldeans (2:11). We will see in tomorrow’s reading (especially 2:47), and throughout the book, that this in fact is the author’s main point that he wants to get across. As we already saw yesterday, God is the victor.
The author is certainly lifting up our hero, Daniel, as a man to emulate, asking us readers to try to be like him in prayer, trustful dependence on God, and courage. But more than that, he intends us as readers to know that God has this. When risking death serving in a foreign country, when rulers are evil and demand the impossible, when we know that we can’t do what is being asked of us – God is still on the throne. He will provide what is necessary for the next step.
Prayer: God, help me to trust you when it seems like everything is stacked against me and your people. Give me courage and reveal your wisdom and understanding so that I can serve you faithfully.