Like poor Frodo Baggins, Daniel first sees the destiny of humanity approach through other people’s dreams, then he has a dream of his own, and then he sees it coming “with his waking eyes“. At the height of these visions all thought of food and drink will leave him, as his visions terrify him.
So what did Daniel see? Allegory, in one word. A momentous public declaration in veiled language.
There is no doubt that allegory is a Hebrew invention. We see it in David’s poetry, but Daniel was the first to put it into a large scale and detailed apocalypse; and Daniel was the first one to do this prophetically.
Through all the myths and legends of the polytheists there is nothing as self-descriptive nor as mesmerizingly accurate as Daniel’s allegories.
Daniel chapter one is a hurried description of what must have been a harrowing experience. We see Daniel moved from palace life in Jerusalem, neutered, and relocated to Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. He could not have been much older than 17. He spent the rest of his life in Babylon serving as a wizard. Trained in the Babylonian divination arts, yet secure in his relationship with the God of the Jews.
He may have lost his manhood, but he never lost his circumcision.
His initial experience in Babylon was good, his moral compass remained very much intact, so did his vast intellect; and his Hebrew roots proved superior to those of peers. But he arrived in Babylon at a very providential time, providence is so often mistaken for misfortune.
Nebuchadnezzar just happened to be in a power struggle with his chief wizards. These wise men had, like Daniel, been plucked from their plundered kingdoms (many of them South and East of Babylon), made into eunuchs, and made to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. They formed a significant power by this time, and they were beginning to assert themselves. And Nebuchadnezzar needed their help…
Democracy was kicking in the womb.
Nebuchadnezzar had had a very vivid dream. He was convinced that the gods were sending him a message and hence his dream had some meaning.
So he summoned the most respected of his wise men. But when he addressed them in his language, they answered him in their own.
But Nebuchadnezzar, it seems, was expecting some kind of passive aggression; so he decided, very reasonably, to be belligerently unreasonable.
He demanded that the wise men tell him both the dream and it’s meaning.
“Be reasonable,” said the wise men (in their own language) “no one can do that; just tell us the dream.”
So much for their magic arts.
“Here’s what I’ll do,” said Nebuchadnezzar, “if you can’t tell me the dream and it’s meaning I’ll have you, and every wizard in Babylon killed.”
So much for their wisdom.
If Nebuchadnezzar could not get a decent interpretation out of them he certainly was not going to give them leave to use his dream against him; he had much to loose.
In all the politics no one had expected that there was a real God who wanted to send a message to Nebuchadnezzar and to promote Daniel at the same time.
The sentence of execution extended to all the wise men eunuchs in the court, including Daniel and his Jewish friends.
When he heard of the sentence Daniel, this young, inexperienced Hebrew, did what the top wise men should have done. He asked Nebuchadnezzar for some time.
Then when he had the time granted, he prayed, and fasted; for his life! And God answered him.
Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed of a statue, its head of gold, chest and arms of silver, waist and thighs of bronze, legs of iron and feet of a clay and iron mix.
Then, in his dream, a rock came rolling down a hill and struck the statue on the feet, and the whole statue smashed and withered and blew away. Then the rock grew mightier than the statue had ever been.
This whole event would have been seen, by the Babylonian wizard fraternity, as bad luck, poor fate. Fortune and Destiny are the gods of mythology, the pagan gods that the wizards of Babylon pretended to know. Every organized animism has eventually become a political system.
Daniel, like Neo, did not believe in fate. Not because he didn’t like the idea of not being in control of his own destiny (who is?). But because he believed in providence.
And in his providence God told Nebuchadnezzar, through this dream, that all the rules were about to change.
Initially Nebuchadnezzar fell face down before Daniel as if he had conjured up this trick by some skill. He then made Daniel second in command of the empire. Of course it didn’t take Nebuchadnezzar very long before he built a statue of himself, all of it in solid gold, and commanded all his subjects to bow down and worship him, but that is a part of his story that I’m not going to get into here.
So what did the dream mean? Next…