When you think of Daniel chapter 2 you probably think of "Nebuchadnezzar's image". But have you ever noticed that it's not the only thing, nor even the majority, of what the chapter actually tells us about?
Although the chapter is recognised primarily for its prophetic content there is also an extensive narrative element which serves to frame the prophecy. Whilst this is not particularly unusual in Scripture (see also Joseph), it's easy to overlook the events of the passage in our excitement to discuss a prophetic vision that reaches even into our own future.
So what does the rest of the chapter tell us?
It is essentially a story about a problem. The King of Babylon issues an edict requiring the wise men of Babylon to tell him not only the meaning of his recent dream, but to demonstrate the veracity of their insights by additionally recounting the content of the dream. Unsurprisingly, the wise men of Babylon find they are unable to obey the command, and as a result the King's judgement falls upon them and their descendants: they and their households became worthy of death.
In an interesting twist, the wise men themselves identify the root cause of the problem: "only the gods can tell the king the matter, and they do not dwell with men". There is a level of irony in this statement because Babylon was, of all the places on earth, the one place that you'd have thought gods did indeed dwell with man. King Nebuchadnezzar's policy was to "import" the foreign idols of conquered nations, a practise that was later reversed by the Medes. The fundamental assessment was accurate though: the wise men identified a lack of communication with god as the reason that the King's edict could not be followed.
Things look pretty bleak for the wise men until Daniel steps in to save his companions. He and his fellows join together in prayer, and through the hours of darkness (that, at least, is my reading of the account) salvation is accomplished. Once he awakens, the curse of death is lifted ("do not destroy...")
After revealing the vision and its meaning, Daniel is exalted by the King. Subsequently, those who were Daniel's companions were also exalted as a result of their association with him.
If you haven't joined the dots yet, here's a more succinct recap of the story.
- A King gives a command that his subjects fail to obey (c.f. Genesis 2).
- The subjects cannot obey because of a lack of contact with Deity (c.f. Genesis 3).
- As a result, the subjects fall under the condemntation of death (c.f Genesis 3).
- One man intercedes to bring about salvation (c.f. Isaiah 59v16).
- God's will is revealed through Daniel.
- As a result, the curse of death is lifted.
- Daniel, and those who continued with him, are exalted.
Upon reflection on the details of the text, it further becomes apparent that Daniel's role was to reveal the mind of God to man. This is ultimately what the dream was really about. The kingdoms of men were degrading, embodied by a fearsome spectacle of a man comprised of increasingly base metals. Yet into this depressing picture God would intervene, establishing a new kingdom that would never be destroyed.
This message of hope was delivered through the story of saviour who intervenes to save servants who have fallen short of the expectations of their King. It is a picture of the work of Jesus.
In conclusion, we could say the passage is about the good news of the Kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ.
Bonus: here's a proto-infographic I did about 10 years ago on the dream itself (click to open in a new window):