The story of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2 is one of the best known from Daniel. The King dreams of a statue with various levels made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and then iron/clay. The statue is then smashed by a huge rock that fills the entire earth. Fortunately, Daniel is able to interpret the dream for the King.
How would a people in exile read this story? First of all, God has placed his people in a position where they must act as priests for other people. Daniel is responsible for making known God’s message to the king.
Secondly, the Lord quickly disarms the wise men of the king by the raising the stakes: the king must have the dream told to him and interpreted. That leads up to a chance for the Lord to reveal himself as the supreme God.
Lastly, this is a story about grace. The Lord is not only acting for the benefit of his own people. He is revealing himself and his plans to a people who do not know him. He is giving them a chance to know him and to worship him, even if they end up worshipping his messenger! (2:46) It’s funny that we either blame or worship the messenger.
In my eyes, the true hope though for an exile is 2:44-45. This is the promise of God’s coming kingdom:
2:44 In the days of those kings the God of heaven will raise up an everlasting kingdom that will not be destroyed and a kingdom that will not be left to another people. It will break in pieces and bring about the demise of all these kingdoms. But it will stand forever.
2:45 You saw that a stone was cut from a mountain, but not by human hands; it smashed the iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold into pieces. The great God has made known to the king what will occur in the future. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is reliable.” NET Bible
You can wiggle and squeeze the meaning of this chapter into any world scheme that you want, but it’s most likely that the metals/materials of the statue refer to the following kingdoms: Babylon, Mede, Persia, Greece, and then the divided kingdoms of Greece. The Jews living under the divided kingdoms were quite aware of this and must have been devastated to see the Romans enter town. This unstoppable empire seemed to be the final rock that would sweep all of these other kingdoms away and cover the earth.
Nevertheless, in the fullness of time, God sent his son to be another kind of rock, to bring another kind of kingdom that would quietly subvert and chip away at the kingdoms of man.
God’s kingdom has come: Hallelujah.