Daniel 2:20-23 – The King’s Dream and God’s Power


Daniel 2:20-23


The king has experienced a troubling dream, but, when he summons his interpreters, he ends up fighting with them and puts them under a death sentence (2:1-12). Daniel and his companions are caught under this threat of death (2:13). They ask God for mercy, and God reveals the dream and its interpretation to Daniel (2:19); Daniel responds with praise (2:20-23). After Daniel reveals the mystery of the dream, the king affirms Daniel’s God (2:47), kills no one, and promotes Daniel and his companions (2:48-49).


Daniel 2 carries a double message. First, it continues to stress the majesty and power of God over all other powers. Second, it notes that Daniel and his companions are not preserved because of their wisdom or skill; their prayer points to God. Their continued existence depends on the faithfulness of God.

The king’s dream disturbs him deeply. He apparently doesn’t remember what he has dreamed and twice demands to have the content of the dream disclosed to him (2:6, 9). The Chaldean interpreters cannot begin without knowing the content and twice request that he relate the dream to them (2:4, 7). A death sentence is the outcome of this uncourtly argument. Unfortunately, Daniel and his companions are trapped in this vain test of wills (2:13). The Chaldeans unwittingly confess one of the messages of the chapter: only a god could reveal what the king demands. But, contrary to their assumption, the God capable of such a feat is not separate from humans (2:11).

Daniel requests a delay while he and his companions pray that they might receive God’s aid (2:18). When the dream is revealed to him, Daniel’s thanksgiving prayer confesses God’s control over kings (such as Nebuchadnezzar) and God’s ability to disclose the mysteries of life to those who seek God’s wisdom. Daniel undoubtedly had great confidence in the care and faithfulness of God, but the prayer for mercy recognizes that the threat of death was not to be taken lightly. The text recognizes that God’s help was given to Daniel, not controlled by him. Daniel is also identified with the exiled people of Israel (2:25). Though successful, he was still displaced and remains so throughout the book. Daniel was sustained in exile by the knowledge that God was not absent from exile. In the dream, it was clear that God held the kingdoms of this world in check. The kingdom of God was for Daniel both contemporary and something to come.

The king’s response (2:47) overlaps only slightly with Daniel’s earlier praise (2:20-23). The king asserts that Daniel’s God is the “Lord of kings,” but he confuses honoring Daniel and worshiping the true God. His words are right: God did reveal the meaning of the dream, and God is stronger than the king’s gods. It is doubtful, however, that the king really knew what it meant to say that God is the “Lord of kings.” His homage to Daniel is inappropriate and raises questions about either his theological clarity or personal sincerity. In the end, his response contrasts sharply with that of Daniel in 2:20-23. Daniel’s doxology recognizes that beyond his “prudence and discretion” (2:14), he is still dependent on God’s action. The stone that destroys the succession of kingdoms is not made with human hands, and Daniel too must await the God’s establishment of the kingdom that will not be destroyed (2:44). God’s sovereignty is not a tool for Daniel to wield. Daniel trusts God; he does not deploy God.