Daniel 2:1-13 – Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

If a man cannot remember the dream he saw (it means): his (personal) god is angry with him. Old Babylonian Omen Text (VAT 7525)

In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. The implication here is that this is a repeated dream, one that is obvious to Nebuchadnezzar to be a ‘vision’, and one that deprives him of his rest. He cannot rest until he has the answer for this dream. The word “troubled” comes from the root פעם (pa’am), the same word used in Genesis 41:8 for the troubled sleep of Pharaoh.

Babylonian king Nabu-apla-iddina (888-855 BC)

Babylonian king Nabu-apla-iddina (888-855 BC). Tablet of Shamash, British Library room 55

Dreams in Babylon were considered significant, especially in the Neo-Babylonian empire. For example, during Ashurbanipal’s reign, a “professional dreamer” saw a warning written on the moon that those that fight against Ashurbanipal are doomed. S. R. Driver gives a number of examples of gods appearing to kings in dreams (Daniel, 17-18).

Nebuchadnezzar decides that he will call together his wisest advisors to obtain an interpretation of the vision. As with the qualifications of the young men in chapter 1, these four “categories” are virtually synonymous, they are all advisors to the king who are charged with giving him advice on what the gods would have him do.

  • Magicians (חַרְטֹם). HALOT suggests this is an Egyptian loan word for an interpreter of dreams. It is used for the dream-interpreters who failed to interpret Pharaoh’s as well as the magicians in Exodus 7:11.
  • Enchanters (אַשָּׁף). The word is only used in Daniel 1:20 and this verse. It refers to a conjuror, or an “incantation priest” (probably an Akkadian loanword according to HALOT). These people would use incantations and curses to bring about some change.
  • Sorcerers (a piel participle of the verb כשׁף ). This refers to people who practice magic and witchcraft. It is the word used in the Hebrew Bible for a witch (Deut 18:10; Isa 47:9; 12; Jer 27:9; Mal. 3:5).
  • Astrologers (כַּשְׂדִּים). This is an ethnic term, the Chaldeans. By the time Daniel was written, the word referred to astrologers, fortune-tellers, magicians (HALOT). These were advisors to the king who sued the stars or other means to predict the future.

Nebuchadnezzar tells these advisors he has had a significant dream and he demands they interpret it. But he is not going to tell them the contents of the dream. Does he not remember the dream? Or is he withholding the information on purpose? The noun in 2:5 is the Aramaic אזד. The NIV and other translations have taken this as a Persian loan word, meaning “be firm.” HALOT suggests “the word (matter) is irrevocable,” suggesting a parallel to the law of the Medes and Persian in 6:8. Hartman and Di Lella suggest the word should be translated as “public knowledge” implying a public announcement of the king’s decision (cf. NRSV, “this is a public decree,” Daniel, 138).

Nebuchadnezzar knows that if he tells the dream to the wise men will consult their dream texts and be able to come up with some kind of interpretation, whether it is true or not. He wants the real interpretation, so he forces reveal the dream as well as the interpretation.

The king makes a matter of public record the penalty that they are going to face if they fail: “I will have you cut into pieces”, literally torn limb from limb. One of the particularly terrifying aspects of the Assyrian empire was the “parting up” of captured peoples (Montgomery, Daniel, 146). “Your houses turned into piles of rubble.” Literally this is a dung hill or a dump. There is evidence of houses and temples being turned into public toilets. In Ezra 6:11 Darius makes the same command for those that defy his decree. The reward, however, is great, but only hinted at it the text with a single word, “rewards.” Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar does not have to specify, since a gift from the king would be of fantastic worth whatever it was.

The wise men rightly complain this situation is unfair and plead to know the dream. They say there is “no one on earth” who can possibly know the dream, only a god could interpret the dream. This foreshadows Daniel’s response to the king in 2:28, “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” It is God who has given Nebuchadnezzar this dream and only God will reveal the contents of the mystery of the dream and its interpretation.

9 thoughts on “Daniel 2:1-13 – Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

  1. From the verbiage that Nebuchadnezzar uses, it would appear that he wants great confirmation that what he dreamt is true and is rightly interpreted. I don’t believe that he simply “forgot” the dream. He is looking for definite confirmation and wisdom. Just as we do, in our modern day, we tend to look for further confirmation in the places where it will never be provided. Obviously, we aren’t as strict as Nebuchadnezzar was; as stated in Daniel 2:4, the interpreters would be “torn limb from limb” if they could not provide the accurate interpretation of his dream. Although we are not that desperate, we often do as God for serious confirmation, and we even may try to “make deals” with God or make some kind of threat or promise in the process of seeking confirmation.

    Nebuchadnezzar was so deeply seeking this interpretation, and God provided the answers in Daniel, even though the Chaldeans, in verse ten, said that no one would be able to provide the information of both the dream and its interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar began looking for the confirmation in all the wrong places: the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers. He tried every avenue that he thought would be able to bring him the answers that he so desired. We often do this, too. We look for the answers in people, situations, substances, media, and every other avenue that will never bring true answers. Fortunately, Nebuchadnezzar was still provided his answers through a vessel—Daniel—just as God can bring confirmation in our lives through the trusted, godly ones around us.

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  2. I find it very interesting that Nebuchadnezzar was having the same dream over and over and he knew that his dream was a vision that he could not interpret. Since he noticed that he had the same dream, he thought that his most wise men would be able to interpret his dream. He was wrong. When he called all his wise men, none of them was able to interpret his dream He told them to interpret the dream and if one of them fails to interpret the dream, that person would be brutally killed. As soon his wise men heard this, they were afraid that they would not be able to interpret the dream and they even said that only a god would be able to interpret the dream.

    This passage is very interesting because I can clearly see that the only reason why his wise men were not able to interpret the dream was because God did not allow them to do so. God already had a plan, and He already knew that He would give the opportunity to Daniel to interpret the kings dreams and this was a way for the king to know that the God that Daniel had was the most powerful God. I completely believe that God did not allow the king’s wise men to interpret the dream because this would be the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar to start noticing that even though he has many wise men, they could not compare to God’s power and His goodness.

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  3. In the book of Daniel Chapter 2 in regards to Nebuchadnezzar dream, it was a form of communication Daniel God was going to use to show the rest of the Kingdom/s that there is no other gods who is able to give dreams and bring revelation of interpretations into reality. Meaning, God is all-knowing, ever-present, all powerful who is able to control time, space, and matter and the history itself. Though, Nebuchadnezzar expected his own interpreters or staff of specialists in dream interpretations to revealed without any leverage of information given and for them to have some sort of supernatural connection with their own gods to bring forth of his demand for clarity and answers, which none were able. Only Daniel, God’s instrument, faithful and a servant, had the qualifications to explain the vision/dream in depth of details. I’m trying to remember if this dream/vision came during the time of Daniel and his friends training for service? If so, would it be possible the fasting and praying increase the vibration of insight? seer? Such as having the spirit, soul, and body align with God’s divine purpose plan?

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  4. King Nebuchadnezzar wants no messing around when it comes to the interpretation of his dream. Understanding that dreams were really important to Babylonian culture helps explain the urgency that the king was displaying. If it was believed that dreams were a way of having the future revealed to them, then a disturbing dream would indeed be in want of a true interpretation, especially for a ruler. While the punishment may seem extreme for failure to interpret a dream, it makes it clear that Nebuchadnezzar takes the meaning behind his dream very seriously. With this being what the people in that culture believed, it would make sense that God would give Nebuchadnezzar a dream to communicate to him as this is something that he would pay attention too. However, in the process, God uses it as a means to show Nebuchadnezzar and everyone at the court the power that He has and that He is the only one who can truly translate the meaning behind dreams. Daniel recognizes this and also gives the glory to God, taking none of the credit for himself as seen in Daniel 2:27-28. God was using Daniel to show his power and Daniel was blessed in the process as well. However, we learn later that it takes several miraculous encounters with God before King Nebuchadnezzar fully understood who God really is and gives him a true act of worship. The dream was only the beginning of God’s work in him.

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  5. The fact that king Nebuchadnezzer withheld the contents and description of his dreams from his favored fortune tellers and magicians would indicate that he did not trust them, or at the very least, he was suspicious of their so called “gift” or “ability” to interpret and reveal dreams. In Daniel 2:4, it says that the Chaldeans solicit Nebuchadnezzer to “tell your servants the dream”. The magicians no doubt simply expected the king to immediately tell them his vision, accompanied by numerous details and explanations. Instead, he replies that if they do not tell him what he wants to know about his vision, he will “tear their limbs” and “bring their houses to ruin”. Another hypothetical question to ask oneself is: was Nebuchadnezzer, by intentionally withholding the details of dream to his magicians, searching for evidence of the true God, Yahweh, and not the false gods that the Babylonians worshiped, such as bel (Jeremiah 51:44), merodach (Jeremiah 50:2), kiyyun (Amos 5:26), etc. If this is true, it can be an important lesson and reminder to us today. How many men and women today sin in their day to day lives, carelessly disregarding God and His will for them to be saved and live in fellowship with Him? The magicians, at risk of further aggravating the king, admit this is impossible. This series of events allows God to showcase his power and omnipotence through his servant Daniel. Daniel not only interprets kings dream, but he saves the lives of Nebuchadnezzer’s magicans by appealing to the king’s official Arioch to spare their lives (Daniel 2:24).

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  6. Dreams seem to be very important to human beings. There are still people today that are extremely spiritual but not religious that take dreams very seriously. Paganism does not seem to change much within the progression of humanity. I can truly understand why dreams may seem very significant. Sometimes they feel real and are extremely vivid. For Nebuchadnezzar, it was extremely important that he find the correct interpretation. Why? These dreams must have clearly been more important than any other dream he had. Was this his first reoccurring dream? Maybe that is why this dream had much importance? He knew in his gut that he needed the correct interpretation and would not settle for less. Thus, queue the degenerates from the isle of misfit spirituals. None of these bad Jacksons, from your descriptions, had anything to do with dreams aside from the loose description of the Magicians. These kids knew that there was no way for them to read Nebuchadnezzar’s mind. If he would not tell them his dream then they would not even know where to begin (Daniel 2:10-11). Such a request from the king warranted great destress for the spirituals. They knew the punishment of a wrong interpretation. Now there was an added bonus to the table. They had to explain the dream that they had with no hints of clues. No reward was worth the risk (death). Clearly these people were out of luck. To make matters even more exciting, because they could not provide what the king wanted, the king was going to kill all the spiritual people in all the land. Whoa. Thankfully Daniel saves the day through the power of the Most High God (Daniel 2:31-45).
    These types of spiritual things like dreams can be extremely hard to explain or reason with. The Lord is the only person who can give this knowledge. When asked in faith the Lord provides (James 1:5-6).

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  7. I find it interesting that Nebuchadnezzar took a while to try to interpret the dream. It seemed like he kept ignoring that he was having the same dream and was not sleeping well. I would start to worry after the second night of having the same dream, because it is unlikely that you would have the same dream twice in a row. It is so cool though that dreams(visions) were a way God communicated back then and it has always got me thinking what if he is still doing that today? It would be amazing if he talked to us through dreams whenever we are asking him for help. I think it was a smart idea to see if the magicians and wise men can tell him his dream to see if what they really said is the correct interpretation. The thing that always amazes me is how God can do anything. He was able to tell Daniel what the dream was and how to interpret it so that he can tell Nebuchadnezzar what it means. What I love is that Daniel always says that it is because of his God that he is able to be there to tell Nebuchadnezzar. “Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven” (Daniel 2:19). He always praises and honors God and puts Him before himself. Nebuchadnezzar realizes how important Daniel’s God is and so he wants everyone to follow Daniel’s God.

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  8. I think this story is a good example of a way that Daniel was able to use the high status that he gained in the king’s court to tell about the greatness of the God of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar already found Daniel “10 times better than than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom” (Daniel 1:20), so when the other magicians and Chaldeans were not able to interpret his dream, the king knew who he needed. The king took this dream very seriously and announced strict consequences for those that might try to give him a false answer, making the stakes incredibly high for the magicians in the kingdom. This was Daniel’s chance to show the king that only the Most High God had the power to give him the dream and reveal its meaning. When Daniel receives the vision from God, the very first thing he does is praise Him (2:20-23). This is another example of Daniel’s strong faith. After glorifying God, Daniel continues on to interpret the king’s dream. When Nebuchadnezzar hears this, he does acknowledge that Daniel’s God is the “God of the gods” (2:47). While this is a step in the right direction, I would by no means consider this a “conversion” or consider Nebuchadnezzar to be following the God of Israel. After this, Nebuchadnezzar promotes Daniel by making him a ruler over the entire province of Babylon, and at Daniel’s request promotes the three other young Jewish men as well. It is these positions that later allow these four men to have more interactions with the king and demonstrate the strength of God and their faith in Him.

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  9. Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream
    From what we can see through the chapter of Nebuchadnezzar’s determination to get his dream interpreted, I highly doubt that he forgot what his dream was. This was a repeated dream that Nebuchadnezzar continued to have and also lost sleep over. With this severity that the chapter describes this with, it is hard for me to believe that he forgot the dream. If anything, it points more to the fact that he really wanted the legit interpretation and meaning of this dream, not just the made-up answer from dream text that his advisors could consult. By withholding the contents of his dream, it makes the interpreter more credible and legit for being able to interpret it on their own, with the power from their god, or in Daniel’s case, God.

    After Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream he once again gives the credit to God who gave him the ability and interpretation of the dream. Nebuchadnezzar gives credit to Daniel’s God as the “God of gods” but he does not deny his own gods and start to follow Daniel’s God. This is not a conversion, but it is a positive moment in Nebuchadnezzar’s life. He was able to notice and admit that Daniel’s God is superior, but he does not give up beliefs in his own gods.

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