What does Daniel 2:38 mean?
ESV: and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all—you are the head of gold.
NIV: in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.
NASB: and wherever the sons of mankind live, or the animals of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has handed them over to you and has made you ruler over them all. You are the head of gold.
CSB: Wherever people live--or wild animals, or birds of the sky--he has handed them over to you and made you ruler over them all. You are the head of gold.
NLT: He has made you the ruler over all the inhabited world and has put even the wild animals and birds under your control. You are the head of gold.
KJV: And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.
Verse Commentary:
Daniel is giving the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream (Daniel 2:1–3), crediting it to the One True God (Daniel 2:27–28). Here, he partly explains what he meant by the phrase "king of kings" in the prior verse (Daniel 2:37). The prophet Jeremiah had predicted Nebuchadnezzar's extensive rule. Jeremiah 27:6 quotes the Lord as saying, "I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him." Daniel showed respect for Nebuchadnezzar, but he had a much higher regard for the God of Israel, and he wanted Nebuchadnezzar to know that he owed his position and power to the true God.

In Nebuchadnezzar's dream, he had seen a massive statue made of various materials (Daniel 2:31–35). According to Daniel's explanation (Daniel 2:36), the statue's golden head represented king Nebuchadnezzar, himself. The head stands for the Babylonian Empire, over which Nebuchadnezzar reigned.

Daniel will continue the interpretation of the king's dream by predicting a succession of other kingdoms, also formed as parts of the statue. These are described by a series of metals that lessen in value. The kingdoms are also increasingly "divided," until the toes are depicted as a fragile mix of metal and pottery (Daniel 2:39–45).
Verse Context:
Daniel 2:31–45 provides both the content and the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's troubling dream (Daniel 2:1–3). The dream describes what is sometimes called "the latter days" or "the times of the Gentiles." This is part of a section of the book of Daniel recorded in Aramaic (Daniel 2:4—7:28), the common language of Babylon at the time. The image seen in the dream includes a progression of shapes and materials, representing a sequence of kingdoms, their characteristics, and their eventual fates.
Chapter Summary:
King Nebuchadnezzar tests his magicians, demanding they tell him what he has dreamed, rather than merely inventing an interpretation. When they fail, he prepares to execute the entire department of wise men. Daniel promises he can meet the king's request and is given a special vision from God. The king dreamed of a massive statue shattered into powder by a supernatural rock. Daniel accurately describes this and interprets it as a prophecy about kingdoms which would come after Babylon. The king appoints Daniel and his friends to positions of power and influence over Babylon.
Chapter Context:
Chapter 1 introduced King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Daniel—a captive youth from Jerusalem—and three other Jewish boys. After three years of education, the four Hebrew captives outperformed all the other trainees, even surpassing the wise men in Babylon. In chapter 2, Daniel describes and interprets Nebuchadnezzar's disturbing dream, though the court magicians could not. As a result, the king promotes Daniel and his three friends to high positions over the provinces of Babylon. This sets the stage for a severe test of faith in chapter 3.
Book Summary:
The book of Daniel contains famous Old Testament stories and prophecies. Daniel was taken from the Israelite people and made an advisor for a conquering empire. He demonstrates faithfulness and wisdom during many years serving in this role. Though Daniel does not deliver a public message, Jesus refers to him as a "prophet" (Matthew 24:15). The first portion of the book mostly describes Daniel's interpretations of dreams and other events. The second portion looks ahead to the end times. Daniel is classified in English Bibles as a "major" prophet, meaning the book is relatively long and the content has broad implications. The book of Revelation echoes and expands on many of the same themes.
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