Daniel was among the first exiles taken by Nebuchadnezzar’s army to Babylon. He was perhaps a youth of 18 or so years and he lived through the complete 70 years of exile prophesied by Jeremiah. His prophecies ranged from warnings against Nebuchadnezzar personally (chapter 4) to the conflicts between the Medo-Persian and Grecian Empires; the crowning of the Messiah at God’s right hand (7); the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (9); and, the four world empires and the beginning of the kingdom of God (2). It would be hard to overestimate the value of Daniel’s prophecies to God’s people.
The earliest prophecy is found in Daniel 2. Many of Daniel’s prophecies came through interpretation of either dreams he dreamed himself or what another had dreamed. In the instance of Daniel 2, the prophecy came as the result of Daniel interpreting a dream of king Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel, with at least three other Hebrews who were about his age, were carried captive to Babylon and because he (they) showed promise in intelligence and appearance, the four young men were taken and trained in the wisdom of the Chaldeans, a training which extended over three years. When the three years were concluded, those who went through that training were tested by the king. He was impressed with Daniel and his companions more than all the others who studied along with them.
Daniel’s first prophecy was to interpret a dream of Nebuchadnezzar. The king had dreamed a dream which troubled him greatly. In that age (and beyond as well as earlier) God sometimes revealed His will in dreams or visions. The king was troubled by his dream and he called his wise men to tell him the dream and its meaning, promising rich gifts to him who declared the dream. “So they came in and stood before the king. And the king said unto them, I have dreamed a dream and my spirit is troubled to know the dream. Then spoke the Chaldeans to the king in the Syrian language. O king, live forever; tell thy servants the dream and we will show the interpretation. The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, the thing is gone from me: if ye make not known to me the dream and the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut to pieces and your houses shall be made dung hills. But if ye show me the dream and the interpretation thereof, ye shall receive many gifts and rewards and great honor: therefore show me the dream and the interpretation thereof” (Dan. 2:2-7).
The king’s wise men stalled for time, asking the king to show them the dream and the king responded saying, “I know of a certainty that ye would gain time because ye see the things is gone from me” (Dan. 2:8). The king said, in essence, “If you can tell me what the dream means then you can tell me what the dream was.” The wise men responded that the king’s request was unrealistic. They assured him none ever asked what he asked of them. Then they added, “It is a rare thing that the king requires, and there is no one that can show it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh” (Dan. 2:11).
The king’s wise men and the king were both right. The Chaldeans were right: There was no one who could reveal a dream and then its interpretation without divine aid. The king also was right: If the Chaldeans could tell what the dream meant, they could tell what the dream was. They had reached a stalemate.
Had Nebuchadnezzar really forgotten his dream as he claimed? There is no way to know the answer to that. His answer indicated he had some doubt as to their ability and perhaps he was testing them because of those doubts. Their failure to interpret the dream showed that their claims to supernatural knowledge was false. The king was furious and decreed that all the Chaldeans (the so called “wise men”) be killed as well as those associated with them. The life of Daniel and his companions were in danger, and the urgency of the matter moved Daniel to ask the king to appoint a time, and he would show him both the dream and its interpretation (Daniel 2:16). If there was ever a time to pray, it was then. And that is what both Daniel and his companions did.