Nebuchadnezzar’s first disturbing dream came to him when he was a new king (chapter 2). He saw the “large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance” (2:31, NIV ) and, although the dream troubled him, things ended well for him. The interpretation bode badly for empires that succeeded him, but Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold , the most magnificent part of the statue. The new king was on the yellow brick road to the top of the world.
But when he got there, he had another troubling dream. The great king of the ancient Near East was “at ease in my house and prospering in my palace,” (4:4 ESV). But his dream unnerved him (4:5), and he called in his wise men to interpret the dream.
If you have been reading this blog since way back in Daniel 2, you recognize this scenario. Nebuchadnezzar has had a bad dream, and he summons the experts. They can’t help, so Daniel has to interpret the dream.
But while these chapters are similar, they are also quite different. In chapter 2, the king was troubled by his dream, but in chapter 4 he’s terrified. This time the king tells the wise men his dream (instead of requiring them to tell him). And then when they can’t interpret it, he doesn’t send out his executioner to kill them all. Then “finally” (NIV) or “at last” (ESV), Daniel wanders into the scene (instead of rushing to the rescue).
Upon Daniel’s arrival in the text, Nebuchadnezzar tells his audience (“all peoples, nations, and men of every language, who live in all the world” 4:1) who he is – “He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him” (4:8 NIV). Nebuchadnezzar’s last statement takes us back to chapter 2, when the king’s experts were unable to tell the king his dream, much less its interpretation. When he threatened to kill them, they protested , “No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men” (2:11 NIV). But by the end of the chapter, someone had revealed the dream and the interpretation to the king – because God told it to him (2:27–28).
Nebuchadnezzar knew then that there was something special about Daniel. He had access to supernatural knowledge that none of his experts had. The king’s only explanation for such access was that “the spirit of the holy gods is in him.” Daniel (Belteshazzar) may be renamed after Nebuchadnezzar’s god, but it takes a different God to do what the Babylonian experts can’t. Nebuchadnezzar, the proud representative of Bel, will know Daniel’s God to be the true God by the end of the chapter.