The statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is “mighty and of exceeding brightness” (2:31, ESV), and generally gets the most attention when people consider Daniel 2. Its commentary on world history and its prophetic value for understanding future events have been charted and recharted by end-times enthusiasts.
Without discounting the importance of the dream, let me suggest that the real focus of the chapter comes long before the dream and its interpretation ever reach the light of day. It is the drama of Daniel 2:1–12 (namely, the king’s dream and his wise men’s inability to meet his demands) that leads up to the real focus of the chapter: the question of where true wisdom is found. For twelve verses, the Babylonian best have been shown to be useless when it comes to accessing knowledge from God. They may be good at their jobs (they are, after all, Babylon’s best), but at the end of the day, they do not have a clue about what the true God has to say.
With the stage set by the blundering Babylonians, the tension rises to a fever pitch when the king orders the execution of all his wise men – a roster that included Daniel and his friends (called here [v. 17], interestingly, by their Hebrew names: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah). When Captain Arioch, charged to carry out the dastardly deed, approaches Daniel, our hero shows himself to be wise indeed. In fact, to be sure we don’t miss this fact, the narrator explicitly tells us that Daniel “replied with prudence and discretion” (2:14) before he tells us what Daniel said. By means of his prudence and discretion Daniel successfully negotiates for the one thing the king accused the other wise men of trying to buy: time (cf. 2:8 and 2:16).
Granted his request for time, Daniel recruits his three friends “to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery” (v. 18), and with little ado in the narrative, Daniel learns “the mystery” in an overnight vision because God reveals it to him (v. 19). It brings to mind the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel (1 Kgs 18), when after a daylong display of ineptitude by the prophets of a false god, Elijah prays and God answers, immediately. True power, the narrative makes clear, comes from God and God alone. Daniel 2 makes clear that true wisdom also comes from God and God alone. It’s just that simple.