1 In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. 2 So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, 3 he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means. “
4 Then the astrologers answered the king, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”
5 The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. 6 But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.”
7 Once more they replied, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”
8 Then the king answered, “I am certain that you are trying to gain time, because you realize that this is what I have firmly decided: 9 If you do not tell me the dream, there is only one penalty for you. You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.”
10 The astrologers answered the king, “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. 11 What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.”
12 This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. 13 So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death, and men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death.
14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact. 15 He asked the king’s officer, “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. 16 At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him.
Perhaps at some time in your life you had a dream which was so disturbing and real that you were not able to sleep again, possibly out of fear it would recur. This was the experience of Nebuchadnezzar in the second year of his reign (verse 1). It seems likely that the king summoned his dream team of experts without delay (verse 2).
Wood explains that ancient Akkadian texts have been found that were used in the interpretation of dreams. Once the dream was known, each element could be found in the manual and an interpretation constructed. We might say that such methods of dream interpretation are like painting by the numbers. Nebuchadnezzar knew this well, and he was determined to get a better answer.
Contrary to NIV’s “I want to know what it means” (verse 3b), ESV has “my spirit is troubled to know the dream.” Collins points out that the king’s demand for both the dream and its interpretation makes it more likely that he is asking for the Chaldeans to tell the dream (as ESV suggests) and not what it means (as NIV suggests). The king’s demand initiates a sequence of three statements from the king and three responses from the dream experts.
The Chaldean astrologers try to get things back on track by asking Nebuchadnezzar to tell his dream, which they promise to interpret (verse 4). But the king’s reply must have sucked all the air out of the room. The king offers dismemberment and degradation — houses made into a dunghill or refuse pile — if they do not tell both the dream and its meaning (verse 5); alternatively, revealing both will result in abundant reward. Those charged with seeing into mysteries never saw this one coming!
The Chaldeans make their second request for the contents of the dream (verse 7), this time omitting the flowery wish that the king would live forever! But the king accuses them of trying to “buy time” in the face of his firm decision (verse 8). Wood describes how strange this scene is: “This was most unusual for a king of that time when most leaders acceded to the declarations of their diviners without question, for fear of supernatural reprisal if they did not. Nebuchadnezzar, however, was an unusual king.”
Things move from bad to worse when Nebuchadnezzar accuses the Chaldeans of conspiring among themselves to tell him lies until the urgency was past (verse 9). Miller suggests that Nebuchadnezzar feared that the dream presaged something terrible, and he points out that two out of the next three Babylonian kings were assassinated. To cut through the deception, the king insists on being told his dream in order to verify the alleged interpretation. He was determined not to be played for a fool.
At last the Chaldeans make their final appeal: the king’s request is impossible. This is essentially an admission that their supposed skills were a sham; they had no connection to the gods (verses 10–11). At this impertinent reply, Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered death for all the wise men of Babylon (verse 12). As Wood wryly notes, “Nebuchadnezzar had numerous virtues, but self-control was not one of them.”
With executioners preparing to carry out their orders, it may well have been divine intervention that brought Daniel into contact with Arioch, the commander of the king’s bodyguard (verse 14). In due course, Daniel bravely approached the king and asked for time to meet the full demand the king had made. It is likely we must look to God to understand why Nebuchadnezzar would grant to Daniel the very thing he had denied to the Chaldeans: time.
Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973) 51.
 John J. Collins, Daniel, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993) 148, note 10.
 NIV has chosen to delete the words “in Aramaic” which mark a shift to that language in the middle of verse 4 and extending to Daniel 7:28. Aramaic was the international language of diplomacy in the ancient east for many centuries.
 Wood, Daniel, 53.
 Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, vol. 18 of The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1994) 82.
 Wood, Daniel, 55.