Then the Chaldeans said to the king in Aramaic, “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation.” The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, “The word from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. But if you show the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. Therefore show me the dream and its interpretation.” Dan. 2:4-6
It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. Prov. 25:2
The Challenge of Curiosity
“So, you are a king?” asked the fearful Pontius Pilate. Twenty centuries have come and gone since his inquiry, yet the panic of the Roman prefect still leaps off the pages of Scripture. The ruler of Roman Judea was terrified, overwhelmed by a situation that brought him face to face with the Truth. The religious elite, major powerbrokers of the Jerusalem establishment demanded that he condemn an innocent man to death and, to make matters worse, had brought an angry mob to ensure that he would fold to their will. It was clear from the beginning that it was a set-up, but as Pilate dug deeper he found even more than he ever could have imagined:
Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
His questions had brought him into territory far beyond Roman jurisdiction, or even human knowledge itself. No longer was this a matter of accusations and evidence. Truth Himself was before Pilate, inviting him to courageously follow his curiosity into realms of uncreated light (Prov. 8:1–4, 15–17), yet the invitation was met with contempt. The man divinely positioned to interview God in the flesh, practically spat in His face and walked out of the room:
Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
The Glorious Enterprise
The dramatic exchange between Pilate and the Light of the World is as famous as it is powerful. Few stories give such insight into the nature of truth and why we choose to despise it. Terrified by questions that challenged his beliefs and threatened his control, this grown man closed his eyes, clapped his hands over his ears, and insisted that there were no answers when the answer stood before him.
Pilate’s resolute unbelief contrasts remarkably with a ruler who chose bravery over unbelief: Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Though ignorant of God and inculcated with the beliefs and customs of Babylonia, he was presented with a divine opportunity through a vision that he could not recall (Dan. 2:1). He wasted no time but pursued the unsettling dream, ignoring his own apprehensions, upending centuries of tradition, and taking little thought of the unpopularity and resentment that his choices might produce among his subjects (Dan. 2:5–6). God had hidden wisdom in a forgotten dream and the king, animated by the faith that God can be known, committed to finding the answer (Prov. 25:2).
The king’s reckless abandon for the sake of wisdom shows us what the Scripture means when it urges us to seek insight like silver and search for understanding as for hidden treasures (Prov. 2:1-5). The God of all knowledge, wisdom, and understanding is ours and is committed to teaching us (Prov. 2:6-7, 3:19-20). Can we content ourselves with ignorance?
Truth At What Cost?
All this aside, Nebuchadnezzar’s drastic measures may not endear him to the average reader today. For most of us, beheading people for incompetence in dream interpretation smacks of arrogance and autocracy, especially given the fact that the king himself could not recall the details of the dream! However, the dangers of deceit and misinformation are no less significant now than in the sixth century B.C.
Falsehoods, whether supplied intentionally or unintentionally, are hazardous to their recipients. The empty claims of the so-called wise men and soothsayers constituted a liability to the kingdom, while willful deception could be nothing less than treasonous. Therefore, as hard as it may be for us to swallow, Nebuchadnezzar’s demand was fair, logical, and even scientific. If truth exists and can be known, then there is no claim that is excepted from its scrutiny. It is definitive, condemning falsehood by its very presence.
Nebuchadnezzar understood this fact and was prepared to do what it took to hold the diviners to their claim. The entire episode was uncomfortable, but can we say that it was unnecessary? If we take a step back and consider the matter objectively, could the king have examined their claims any other way? Perhaps our reaction to his zeal says more about our own willingness to live with untruth than the pride and impatience of a young monarch. Wasn’t it the child who dared to proclaim that the emperor had no clothes? A juvenile zeal for truth is far better than the deceit and hypocrisy that is so often construed as maturity.
Quick question – you have taken the position that Nebuchadnezzar was unable to remember the dream. Some commentators suggest that Dan.2 doesn’t necessarily say so. Perhaps the king did remember it, either vividly or at least generally, but was testing his wise men for evidence of their supernatural insight: before they could give an acceptable interpretation, they had to prove they knew the unknowable.
Either way, it is clear the devil was working on one hand to destroy Daniel and his friends, while God was really allowing and directing all this to bring Daniel into the king’s awareness and reveal a new prophecy. So, no obvious conflict for either position. But maybe there is something deeper I am overlooking.
Thoughts on which view is a better fit to the source text?
That is a great question! I will do some research and provide a response by 12:00 PM Pacific time today.
Yes, the passage indicates that the king had sufficient recollection of the dream both to test his wise men as well as evaluate Daniel’s explanation.
What then was the king’s need? I suggest that we’re given a hint in the word “dreams” (vs. Dan. 2:1). A series of dreams provided the king with an abundance of information that needed to be synthesized and explained. This is not to say that the king had the kind of garbled dreams we experience. Parallel examples of prophetic dreams demonstrate that the dreamers could recall their dreams but lacked sense as to how the parts related to one another. The process of revelation was only completed through the work of God’s prophet (Gen. 40:8; 41:15-16, 25) who provided the dreamer the means to assimilate the revealed information into their own store of knowledge.
Thank you for your valuable question, Aaron! Other thoughts or questions?