Robert Duncan Culver


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Dr. Robert Duncan Culver

     II.            Chapter 2: Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

A.     Introduction

For all who take the Bible seriously as past and present as well as a dependable guide for the future, this is one of its most important chapters. In addition to chapters in Scripture, it is unique in giving the first schematic presentation of how God is ordering the course of the ages toward their final consummation in Christ.  He Who is working "all things after the counsel of his own will"[45] has not let history slip out of His all-embracing grasp. Rather Scripture refers to God’s providential control of His "dispensation [management] of the fullness of times",[46] that "he might gather together in one all things in Christ".[47]

Many twentieth century thinkers have come to have a new appreciation of the Bible as being the true original source of the idea that history does have a goal, that it is "going somewhere.” The pagan notion of antiquity reflected in the "under-the-sun” philosophy of Ecclesiastes,[48] was that all events of history run in cycles of repetition. Like the seasons, which repeat themselves, reasoned the philosophers of classical antiquity, what is happening now has happened repeatedly in the past, and will continue indefinitely to repeat itself in the future.

Current writers are apt to assign this “insight” of the "linear" and "teleological" character of the succession of human events to the genius of the Hebrew people. The Bible, however, does not present that people as possessing any unusual gifts of insight.[49] They were rather, in spite of stiff-necked resistance to divine truth, the chosen recipients of special revelations imparted through prophets like Daniel. The entire Old Testament is witness to God’s patient grace with their obdurate rebellion against Him.

While the chapter before us gives no specific information concerning particular nations now in existence, it does supply information concerning specific tendencies now in evidence and operation.  For this reason no one is really equipped to give a biblically informed Christian interpretation of current history apart from this chapter, for some of it appears nowhere else in Scripture.

At first glance it may seem a bit strange that the prophetical dream herein should first have been granted to a heathen monarch, for ordinarily God reveals his secrets to prophets.[50] A bit of reflection will recall at least three previous Scriptural instances wherein heathen potentates received prophetic revelations. There is the case of Pharaoh and his chief courtiers;[51] also the case of the Philistine king, Abimelech.[52] Another is the less well-known case of Pharaoh Necho who received from God regarding King Josiah.[53]

Joseph's experience in interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams is quite parallel to that of Daniel in interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s. Both interpreted royal dreams where the official “prognosticators” had failed and both were promoted to positions of civil prominence as a direct result of their success in interpreting the dreams.

Our procedure for study of this long, somewhat obscure chapter will be, first, to give careful attention to understanding the narrative and its divine interpretation; after that to seek to apply it to personal life and the current world scene.

B.      The Reception of the Dream (2:1)

And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams; and his spirit was troubled, and his sleep went from him. (Daniel 2:1)

The point in time of the events of this chapter, including those on the night the king had his dream, is somewhat of a problem, for it is said to have been in Nebuchadnezzar's second year. Yet it was apparently after three years of Daniel's education for his work of serving the king.[54] Since Nebuchadnezzar is called “king” from the beginning of the book it would appear that this would be after the king's third year at least. How in the king's second year could Daniel have finished his three years?[55] Several suggestions have been made: that the text should read "twelfth";[56] that the author simply made a mistake;[57] that the first year of Daniel's education was numbered in the reign of Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar's father, since he died during the calendar year of the beginning of Daniel's course of training, and that these events were near the end of the second of the Nebuchadnezzar.[58] Perhaps we are to understand merely that Daniel as a "wise man in preparation" was counted in the group who were to be slain (vv. 13, 14), and that the three years had not yet expired. This simplest solution will commend itself to many as most satisfactory.

Dreams, as noted earlier, were a method God had used before in speaking to kings as well as to prophets. The ancients were accustomed to regarding dreams as divine omens and in several cases God deigned to make them truly such. There is no support here for the supposition that all dreams are to be so regarded. Modern psychology proposes its own explanations for dreams and has every right to propose them and to seed to verify its theories.

The terrifying effect of the dream upon the king is hard to explain if, as is suggested by first impressions from the Authorized Version, the king had forgotten what was in his dream. He might have had a kind of emotional "hangover" from a forgotten nightmare but nothing, it seems, as terrifying as this to a hard-bitten character light the mighty Nebuchadnezzar, general of armies and master of men. As will be seen shortly, perhaps the king was frightened precisely because he had not forgotten his dream.

C.      The Test by Use of the Dream (2-6)

Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to shew the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king. And the king said unto them, I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit was troubled to know the dream. Then spake the Chaldeans to the king in Syriac, O king, live forever: tell thy servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation. The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me: if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill. But if ye shew the dream, and the interpretation thereof, ye shall receive of me gifts and rewards and great honor: therefore shew me the dream, and the interpretation thereof. (Daniel 2:2-6)

[59] As just observed, the Authorized Version gives the reader the impression that the king could not recall the dream and that he asked the wise men to recall the dream because he had forgotten it. The portion in question is the expression in verse 5: "The thing has gone from me” repeated in verse 8. The margin of the ASV gives the reading which I prefer as follows: "The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The word is gone from me: that if ye make not known the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces” etc. This sense is employed in the RSV also. The essential change is that “thing” is rendered "word" in the sense of decree or commandment. The king, if this be correct, had not forgotten the dream at all, but rather, since he did remember the dream, was using it as a test of the reliability of the wise men's alleged occult powers. They who could produce supernatural interpretations, unknown except to themselves and the gods, ought to be able to produce the dream, known to the king. The dream, common to mortal man, ought to be more easily produced; the king seems to have reasoned, than the interpretation, available only to the gods. The king, on this view of the matter, was simply reasoning from the greater to the less.

I am convinced that this offers the correct sense, and for the following reasons.

                     i.            The word millah (Aramaic) employed here is commonly given either translation—word or thing. The corresponding words in Hebrew and Greek, the other two Biblical languages, manifest this same feature. Thus there is a wide-open possibility that the translation should be "word." It is, indeed, the more common translation. This very term, millah, which appears also in modern Israeli Hebrew where it is used in the name for a dictionary, i.e., a book of words.

                   ii.            Right in the immediate context (v.9b) the word millah is translated "word", viz., "Ye have prepared lying and corrupt words.” It is clear, on this account, that Nebuchadnezzar was familiar with this use of the word and was thinking of it in that sense at the time.

                  iii.            If the king had not forgotten his dream we have a plausible explanation as to why the wise men did not at least try to invent a dream and interpretation by giving the king a whole-cloth fabrication of some comfort. Any kind of story would have been would have been worth a try since their lives were at stake, for if the dream were really forgotten, the king would not have been able to tell the difference. In such circumstances these wily and resourceful men would surely have attempted a farcical solution for they had no reason to hope for mercy.

                  iv.            It likewise gives a fuller meaning to verse 9. Nebuchadnezzar felt that the wise men were withholding information that they might give if they wanted to do it—or at least might be withholding information. To him it appeared that they might only be waiting “till the time be changed," i.e., till the position of the stars in the zodiac would change so it would be impossible to secure the astrological data necessary. He further intended to test their ability to predict the future (the interpretation) by their ability to reconstruct the past (the dream).

The classes of "wise men" composing the king’s college of occult advisors are of interest as showing upon whom the ancient world of men, without knowledge of the God of truth, relied for guidance into the unknown future. Verse four mentions four of them. Magicians. The Aramaic châr-tűm-mîm means scribes, or those learned in books, perhaps incantors. Religious formulas likely were in the Sumerian language of the predecessors of the Babylonians, unknown to ordinary citizens. Incantations were in this long-dead foreign tongue. So these men were they who spoke charms, pronounced curses, etc.—the “hocus-pocus" of the day. Astrologers (ashapîm). A better translation is practicers of hidden arts—like the present day “spiritualists.” They were not star-gazers as "astrologers" suggests. Sorcerers (mekash-shepîm). Derived from a word meaning to cut, the name refers to their work of cutting into small pieces the ingredients of various magical drugs and potions as in Chinese pharmacy. The Greek translation, pharikoi (pharmacist) indicates a very ancient interpretation which may indeed be correct. Chaldeans (kasdîm). In this case the name refers to a class of wise men, though Chaldeans may be a comprehensive name for all the wise men (vid. vv. 4 and 10). The name also has an ethnic sense, i.e., a name for Nebuchadnezzar's nation, though that is not the sense here.[60]

These men were the savants of the ancient world. They were for that age what the scientists of our great research laboratories and the university professors of the great centers of learning are to our age. The perspective of history labels them fools. Will the perspective of the future say the same of our modern wise men? Without indicting research or education as such of any inherent error it can safely be said that in the present era our "post-Christian" savants quite commonly share four essential defects with those of pagan antiquity.

                     i.            There is first a common essentially pantheistic view of nature. Such deity as is held to exist is locked up in the system of nature. He is not nature’s creator not its Lord; rather only some vital principle within nature.

                   ii.            In the second place there is common to both an essentially optimistic view of man. Man, himself, is not the root of human disorder but the problem is his environment or his "fate.”

                  iii.            Thirdly both operate in essentially ignorance of God's ordering of history by a wise and all-powerful providence. Neither knows of history's goal wherein God will sum up all in a consummation.

                  iv.            Fourth, both operate in the absence of any permanent system of values. Sometimes hedonistic, sometimes idealistic, always humanistic (“man the measure of all value") the glory of the God and Father of our Savior Jesus Christ, the only true measure of ultimate worth, is wholly unknown and unconsidered. It makes no difference whether God exists or not. He is irrelevant. Such are some of the common and essentially corrupting errors of research and education in this world, ancient and modern. Such are the reasons why, if men ever are to know truth or fact in right relation to the wholeness of reality, God must make the truth known by revelation.

D.      The Revelation of the Dream (2:7-23)

1.      The Failure of the Wise Men (2:7-12)

They answered again and said, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation of it. (Daniel 2:7)

No doubt the wise men were sincere enough that the king's refusal to comply with their request was unfair. They had their professional procedures. Their formulae were standardized and evidently all their formulae applied to the interpretation of dreams rather than to the recovering or discovering of them.

There is not a man upon the earth that can shew the king's matter: therefore there is no king, Lord, nor ruler, that asketh such things at any magician, or astrologer, or Chaldaean. And it is a rare thing that the king requireth, and there is none other that can shew it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh. (Daniel 2:10-11)

Observe that the wise men at least believed in the possibility of divine revelation of the future as well as divine revelations of the unknown past. The Bible claims, in the Genesis account of creation, to contain an account of things God revealed to Moses concerning the manner in which the universe originated. No man was there to observe it. It was to be forever unknown to man unless God chose to reveal it. The Bible likewise claims to have predicted details of the coming of the Savior long before his birth—as well as the seventy years of servitude of the Jews to Babylon and many other things. It claims also to give us important details concerning our own personal future in a heaven or hell, concerning future resurrections, judgments, and final rewards. The Holy Scriptures purport to outline certain future events in the course of the world's future history. So these ancient “quacks” were nearer to Biblical truth than are some preachers and theology professors of our own day. To reject predictive prophecy out of hand is to reject the authority of the Bible.

The wise men also appear to make a distinction between two classes of gods. The removal of the comma before “whose” (v. 11) changes that last clause to a restrictive clause, viz., in addition to the gods with whom the wise men professed to be in contact with there were supposed to be other gods "whose dwelling is not with flesh”—that is not in contact with Nebuchadnezzar's counselors or any other human beings. These higher gods were thought to know secrets unknown even to the patron god of Babylon, Marduk, the great revelator. This distinction proposed by the king's wise men paved the way for Daniel to demonstrate his connection with a "high God" who could reveal either the past or the future to his chosen servants, and for demonstration that He is indeed "God Most High", one whom Nebuchadnezzar was soon to acknowledge as “God of gods, and the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets”.[61]

That Nebuchadnezzar's rage was excessive and that his pronouncement was harsh is readily granted. But that his anger was unjustified and some pronouncement of punishment wholly unjust may not be granted. His excesses need not be defended, but that the king’s judgment was essentially in error cannot be granted. These men professed to know the divine mind. They claimed their positions and support from this alleged knowledge. The king's test was valid. If they were failures they were also frauds. Sincere as some of them may have been, their profession was a deception and an imposture. They deserved to be dismissed, and according to the standards of the time, to be destroyed. Yet, as is so well stated by Joseph Seiss,

"The thing has much deeper and farther-reaching implications. It furnishes demonstration of the incompetence of all mere human resources, learning, and power to ascertain the mind and will of God apart from His own revelations. Here was a full-grown heathenism of more than a thousand years. Here were the combined strength and wisdom of the most noted schools in the highest acme of their glory. Whatever ability existed in priest or savant, astrologer or necromancer, wise man or magician, apart from the anointed servants of the God of Israel, were here concentrated and embodied. If these men failed, it was the laying prostrate of all the wisdom, power, and art of man. The case was legitimate. It was propounded by proper authority. It presented a fair test…. I look upon these venerable colleges of sages...I trace how Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans copied their systems...I see in them the full-orbed sun, around which all the mythologies and theologies and philosophies…of the whole pagan world revolved and derived their light. And when I read these words, formally given out by their very chiefs in the name of them all, and sorrowfully pronounced in the audience of the imperial majesty of the earth as the utmost they could do to save themselves from summary destruction, I see a veil of darkness drawn over all the wisdom, strength, and science of man which makes me shudder as I gaze…it proves to me, in one brief utterance, that all the religions, arts, sciences, philosophies, attainments, and powers of man, apart from God’s inspired prophets and all-glorious Christ, are but emptiness and vanity as regards any true and adequate knowledge of the purposes and will of Jehovah or of the destinies of man. It demonstrates…that all the learned theorizing of the world's would-be wise, from Babylon's magicians down to the Hobbes’, Herbert’s, and Voltaire’s of the last centuries and the materialistic skeptics and pantheists of our own day are but rottenness, rubbish, and damning falsehood, insofar as they conflict with the revelations which theAlmighty has given by his own anointed prophets. It is to the modest Daniels and to the humble Nazarenes, after all, that the proud world must come to learn the true God and to find out His mind and purposes."[62]

2.      The Success of Daniel (2:13-23)

The same discretion that had won the master of the eunuchs and the steward, as reported in 1:2-16, now prevailed with the captain of the king's guard.[63] Just how Daniel conveyed to the king his request for time is not stated. Probably some messenger carried the message.

The Lord alone could save these Hebrews and Daniel new it. But just like the rest of us, even a Daniel could exercise a stronger brand of faith in the company of others likeminded, so he laid the matter before his three companions.[64] Faith usually prays best “in concert.”

It is significant that their prayer was frankly (even frantically) selfish—"that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon".[65] Even the Son of God prayed for himself.[66] We are encouraged to pray for ourselves—our needs, our ailments, even our desires, if they are not wrong desires. [67] Later in the book Daniel is presented as a great intercessor,[68] but this experience of petition for himself and its answer had to come first in his case not ours.

God's answer came in a night vision.[69] Nebuchadnezzar had first received the matter in a dream. The vision, an experience of seeing things brought before the mind's eye, might be a part of a dream but it was not invariably so.[70] The visions of the later parts of the book seem to have no connection with sleep or dreams.

Daniel's prayer of thanksgiving [71] is a truly beautiful poem or psalm in the spirit and fashion of the Biblical Psalter. His prayer recognizes God's-control over the history of nations, which is significant in connection with the interpretation of the vision. It praises God for his wisdom and thanks him for granting the same wisdom to Daniel.

E.       The Telling of the Dream (2:24-35)

The first report of success was to Arioch.[72] Though introduced simply as captain of the king's guard [73] the sinister nature of his work is emphasized in some of the translations—“captain of the cutthroats" Spanish; "chief butcher" Greek of the Septuagint and of Theodotion. Even so he was not untouched by Daniel’s appeal. It is not difficult to understand why Daniel let no grass grow under his feet in reporting his success at discovery of the king’s dream.

This Arioch is of some interest as likely a typical “bureaucrat” of the day. It had been at his recommendation that delay had been granted in the first place, and since he had thereby risked the king’s disfavor, he too reported to the king "in haste".[74] Up to this point Arioch evidently had not identified the "wise man” whom he and allowed extra time. Now, as the time-serving opportunist that he was, he claims credit for search and discovery of the new master of dreams, viz., "I have found a man...that will make known unto the king the interpretation".[75]

Against this background of the perversity of the “natural man” [76] the moral glory of Christ in the heart and action of Daniel the "spiritual" and "wise" man,[77] is in stark contrast. Daniel now gives God all the glory [78] —as indeed he should, for if there is any realm wherein God alone can enter without help it is knowledge of the future.

The most important part of this section is the statement in verses 28 and 29 of the scope of the prediction in the interpretation to follow. These two verses provide the key to chapter two, which, in turn, furnishes the framework of the rest of the book of Daniel. Daniel, in turn, is the key to the chronological framework of the predictions of the rest of biblical prophecy. Hence it is hard to exaggerate the importance of these two verses.

But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these; As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, are these; what should come to pass hereafter: and he that reveal secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass. (Daniel 2:28, 29)

The scope of the predictions of "what shall come to pass” is indicated by two expressions: "in the latter days” [79] and “hereafter”[80] . Concerning the former, "the latter days,” we must strongly emphasize that we must not focus the reference to events at Christ's second Advent. It is a phrase out the general prophetical literature of the Old Testament wherein it refers to the general future,[81] but especially to the future as it develops and is concluded in the Messianic period of the world’s duration. [82] All the church age is a part of these “last days.” [83] Thus while the prophecy does relate to times of consummation at the end of this age it also covers the interval intervening.

"Hereafter" has no direct reference to human existence after death as in popular parlance, but in context refers simply to the succession of kingdoms to follow Nebuchadnezzar’s, reaching down, as the context likewise shows, to the coming of Christ. The two advents of Messiah are not clearly distinguished in this or in any other Old Testament prophecy, both being blended in one great complex of events. The progress of history and of revelation since Old Testament times distinguishes the two advents.

The great metallic image needs no elaboration. One’s own body will furnish a sketch on small scale of what the king saw on a grand gigantic scale and in such magnificent splendor that even to a king like Nebuchadnezzar, accustomed to glitter and show, it appeared bright and excellent, for "the form thereof was terrible"[84] . Neither is there anything essentially obscure about the stone and the action of it. These all call for special attention in connection with the interpretation now to follow.

F.       The Interpretation of the Dream (2:36b-45)

1.      The head of gold (2:37, 38)

Thou, 0 king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. 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 all. Thou art this head of gold. (Daniel 2:37, 38)

It represents Nebuchadnezzar himself, and as seen later, also his kingdom and dynasty. Other Old Testament prophets had used gold as a symbol of Babylon.[85]   It is to be noted that this grant from God included the whole earth. Though Nebuchadnezzar never got around to possessing all of it his empire did probably reach much further than the area of the Fertile Crescent to which it is customarily assigned. Our information is not complete by any means, but it is now known that he defeated the Pharaoh of Egypt and conquered Syria, Palestine, and Phoenicia. Phoenician colonies ringed the Mediterranean. He may therefore have received revenues from the entire world.

2.      The belly and thighs of brass (2:39a)

And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee. (Daniel 2:39a)

This must be compared with the corresponding description of the image.[86] History and the Bible both agree that the kingdom which succeeded Babylon was that of Medo-Persia. The last chapter of II Chronicles is very clear on the point. Furthermore, Daniel himself, a bit later says: "Darius the Median took the kingdom.”[87] Yet when the law of that kingdom was promulgated it was “the law of the Medes and Persians".[88] The duality is suggested by the two arms and two breasts.[89]

3.      The Belly and Thighs (Aramaic, buttocks) of Brass (2:39b)

And another third kingdom of brass which shall bear rule over all the earth. (Daniel 2:39b)

Again historians and the Bible are in agreement. This is the Grecian nation led by the Macedonian kingdom of Philip and his son, Alexander the Great. Old Testament story ends before the coming of the Greeks as conquerors into the Near East. That it was the Greeks who were to succeed the Medes and Persians is made crystal clear by Daniel in his eighth chapter.[90] Joel 3:6 also mentions the Greeks. Alexander led his armies into Asia Minor from Macedonia in 334 B.C. Then in a series of engagements over the following three years he became master of the Medo-Persian Empire. Eight years afterward, at the time of his death, he could claim the largest realm the world had ever seen up to that time.

4.      The Legs of Iron and Feet of Iron and Clay (2:40-43)

And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all [things]: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And [as] the toes of the feet [were] part of iron, and part of clay, [so] the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, [but] it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. (Daniel 2:40-43)

Rome and the great civil, legal, and religious system which accompanied Rome are represented by this part of the image. This cannot be proved by citing references in the Bible which say that Rome succeeded to the empire of the Greeks, for there are no such texts. Rome probably did not yet exist in the sixth century B.C.[91] There is, however, sufficient evidence that the Rome which history knows as following the last stage of the Grecian period is at least included in the fourth empire seen in this prophecy. This, evidence is due to the fact that the fourth empire, which had no existence yet in Daniel's time, is given detailed treatment in the prophecy. This is a divine providence.

This is, we repeat, a prophecy of Rome, its empire, and the world system it introduced and which, it seems, at least, is to prevail until Jesus comes again. The details fit. Rome was "strong as iron” —of all common metals the strongest. “It breaketh in pieces” aptly describes the effect of Roman policy on all other nations and their institutions. It "subdueth all things" also fits Rome. Gibbon wrote: “The empire of the Romans filled the world, and when the empire fell into the hands of a single person the world became a dreary prison for his enemies. To resist was fatal, and it was impossible to fly.” [92] The two legs may symbolize the two-fold division which came between the eastern and western portions in the imperial period, with capitals at Constantinople and Rome.

There is a real and important sense in which all the “West” or European civilization, is a continuation of the old roman world. It is likewise true that thus applied it continues to “subdue” and “break in pieces" all (i.e. all other nations, cf. v.40). Constantinople, the eastern capital of the Empire, held out against all attackers until it fell to the Turks in 1453. The "Holy Roman Empire” continued in name in the western part of the Empire until abolished in 1806 by Napoleon. The “West,” however, continues to be Roman. Our literature (including grammar itself) as well as much of our law, and even our popular religion are borrowed from Rome. Christendom itself became Romanized whether Eastern (Greek-speaking) or Western (Latin-speaking). The Pope's title, for example, "Pontifex Maximus" was inherited from the emperors as head of the state religion. This Western form continues to subdue the world, to break apart social customs and institutions and then reform them according to Western patterns. Even the Chinese and Japanese are becoming Westernized. It is a Western form (whether we like it or not) of Christianity that has planted our faith around the world in the last two centuries, the greatest missionary era. The very language of the New Testament was the language of the Empire—not Latin as might be supposed, but Greek. Not only was Greek used in commerce everywhere but it prevailed even in the streets and homes of Rome in Paul's day, rather than Latin. Ekklesia (the Greek word for "church" in the New Testament) was the name for the assembly of citizens of a Greek or Roman city before it was transferred to the local body of Christian believers assembled for worship — to cite one important example.

In verses 42-44 the "toes of the feet" are picked out for special interpretation. In the opinion of many interpreters they represent a final form of Gentile dominion under ten allied kings in the times of the Antichrist. This ten-fold shape of final gentile dominion is to be elaborated later in connection with the "ten horns” of Daniel 7:7. They are probably the same as the final Gentile kings of earth as seen in Daniel 7:24 and Revelation 17:12.

A question frequently asked is: Does this mean that there will be a revival of the Roman Empire? In my opinion the answer depends somewhat on whether "revival" be understood as resurrection of a dead thing or not. If it does, then the answer is in the negative. The fourth kingdom of the prophecy endures until the establishment of the kingdom of Christ on earth (as symbolized by the stone). That the headquarters of the Empire shall be re-established at Rome is certainly possible.

Before presenting the final elements of the prophecy some general principles about the course of world dominion through the centuries as seen herein must be observed. Four principles are seen to prevail.

                                 i.            A continuous succession of world dominions down to the coming of Messiah's kingdom. As observed earlier, the prophecy covers the "latter days", inclusive of all time from Daniel’s own down to the consummation. There is not the slightest hint of a "gap" or "hiatus" somewhere. Jesus refers to this sweep of Gentile rule when Jewish political power is gone as "the times of the Gentiles”.[93] At the end of it Jerusalem will cease to be “trodden down" by Gentiles and will again be the seat of national sovereign government. We should not, therefore, expect some other shape of Gentile sovereignty before Jesus comes.

                               ii.            A progressive division of sovereignty, reaching a climax in the ten-toed stage of the image prophecy. An illustration will help. Monarchy is rule by one; oligarchy, rule by a few; democracy, rule by all citizens. Sovereignty, i.e., right of rule, is progressively divided in the illustration. So in the image that right of the absolute monarchy of Nebuchadnezzar is progressively divided till at the end it is divided between ten (toes) representing ten kings of Daniel 7:7.[94] This may refer to the present divided state of the Roman dominion, but it seems more likely to refer to some situation at the end.[95]

                              iii.            A progressive deterioration in the character of the authority of rulers. This decline is indicated by four elements in the dream. There is, first, a deterioration in the worth of the metals: gold, silver, copper, iron (and clay). The second is in position in the image from gold on top through silver and brass to iron at the bottom. The third is the prophetic interpretation of v. 39: “after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee." Finally, observe that the metals grow lighter in weight (i.e., in specific gravity, mass per unit of volume), from the heaviest in gold to the lightest in iron and clay.

Granting that some of these details may be incidental, the emphasis indicates clearly something very important. Several considerations lead to the conclusion that it is the character of the authority of the rulers. Just as the value of the metals declines in the image so the authority of rulers declines in history.[96]

See how this has worked out in history. Nebuchadnezzar (gold) had what James the Second of England only thought he had—divine right monarchial power. Jeremiah 27:5-8 and Daniel 5:18, 19 ASV make this plain. "Whom he would he slew and whom he would he kept alive.” The Medo-Persian kings who followed Babylon were not above the law as Nebuchadnezzar was, but were subject to the laws of the realm—bound by the legal entanglements of their own decrees.[97] The Greek kings had no dynastic claims in the East at all, but ruled solely by virtue of great personal gifts. The Roman emperors and even the early kings of the dynastic period, before republic and empire, ruled largely by popular choice. Republicanism, which followed the monarchial period, soon degenerated into mob rule especially after it merged with the Imperial period. Some of the greatest emperors were affected by the will of mobs in the capital city. Since those days, with a chequered history of changes and variety during the Middle Ages, democracy has emerged—i.e., sovereignty has been shared with everyone. To use Lincoln's famous words, it is "government of the people, for the people, and by the people." In the sweep of socialistic theory and soviet government this becomes a fierce and perverted form of rule by the masses.

                              iv.            A progressive improvement in hardness and strength. An exception is the clay, which, though hard enough in a vitrified form to cut iron, is very brittle. This indicates, perhaps that the kingdoms will grow stronger. At the end the brittleness of mass sovereignty is indicated by the clay. That the people in general are signified in a quite natural interpretation supported by general usage even today in aphoristic speech. The races were created of "the dust of the ground”;[98] the Hebrew word for mankind, adhamah, means ground; more than once in Scripture the "people" are spoken of metaphorically as "the clay".[99]

5.      The Stone Which Smites the Image and Becomes a Great Mountain (2:44, 45 cf. 34, 35)

And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to another people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. (Daniel 2:44, 45)

Here is unquestionably represented the coming of Messiah and his kingdom, just as the head of the image stood for Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom.

If the hungry heart has felt unfed with spiritual “bread for today" among the ponderous verses of this long chapter let him linger here and eat before pressing on to the close of the chapter. No symbol of Scripture speaks more uniformly and pointedly of the Savior than does the stone. Genesis 49:24 is the first appearance of the thought: “From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel"—combining the stone symbol with the figure of the shepherd.[100] At Psalm 118:22 the Savior as the rejected stone later to be exalted to chief corner stone is first introduced. This is followed by another form of the figure, oft cited by New Testament writers, at Isaiah 28:16 where our Lord is said to be Zion's foundation stone, tried and true, one on whom the believing soul may find a sure foundation.

To the nation of Israel Christ was and remains “the stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem" so that many of them should “stumble, and fall and be broken, and snared, and taken".[101] It is known from the New Testament, as indeed, the centuries since likewise show, that this has been fulfilled. As Paul says, He was "to the Jews a stumbling-block".[102] Peter declares that he is to the Jews “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient".[103] The tragic results were prophesied by Jesus.[104] Paul discerned the dispensational and providential effects for redemption [105] as well as the future repentance of Israel.[106] Paul states the tragic present result of Israel's national rejection of Jesus at I Thess. 2:14-16.

To Christian believers Christ, quite to the contrary, has always been a sure foundation stone, "to whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious…a chief corner stone".[107] Indeed he has been such a stone to believers of all ages, for, as Paul says of the children of Israel on their wilderness journey, they "did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ".[108] The great Christian hymn beginning, "Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee,” appears to be derived from this figure.

Unhappily, but necessarily, Christ the Rock has another relationship—to the unsaved nations of the world—that of a smiting, smashing, grinding stone. As Jesus once said,[109] the Kingdom of God was taken from the Jews and given to Gentile believers. Because of their unbelief the Jews were judged and of that judgment Jesus said, "Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder".[110] This is precisely what is going to happen one of these days when Jesus comes again—no more as suffering servant and tender shepherd but as judge.[111] It is precisely in this capacity and relationship that the coming of Christ "in his kingdom" is prophesied here.

But, someone wants to know, is it not the first coming of Christ which is predicted here? Those who expect a peaceful epoch on earth to be followed by the second coming of Christ (Postmillennialism) feel that the "smiting stone" predicts the first coming of Jesus and that the kingdom of the stone is the Church. Those who expect neither a future visible reign of Christ on earth, not a millennium of peace before Jesus' second coming (Amillennialism) agree. Those who interpret the twentieth chapter of Revelation mainly literally and expect the coming of the Lord to be followed by a millennium of peace during which Christ will reign on earth with his saints gloriously, as many passages of Scripture seem to declare, believe that whatever fulfillment the symbolism of the stone may have in the first advent, the main reference is to the Second advent. Some arguments in favor of this view, known as Premillennialism, are as follows:

                                 i.            By other views the church, which has no civil prerogatives at all (unless the traditional Roman Catholic theory is right), appears to be made into a political entity like Babylon, Medo-Persia, etc. On the contrary the church, both as a body and individually, is to be "subject to the powers that be" [112] and is to “render” obedience dutifully "unto Caesar".[113]

                               ii.            Contrary views substitute a quiet imperceptible growth of a church in a gradual conquest for what the passage represents as a violent, catastrophic, sudden blow upon the consummate form of Gentile dominion.

                              iii.            The violence with which Christ's kingdom is presented as replacing the kingdoms of this world fits expectation of a day when “he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked". [114] In this connection it is written of God's Son: “thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel”[115] and "out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron.[116] Another text states: "for the nations and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish: yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted".[117]

                              iv.            The church has not overcome the kingdoms of the world, and if we interpret the Scriptures correctly, it never will. It seems that those who, like Amillenarians, expect no future reign of Christ on earth, and who expect good and evil to grow together till the harvest at the end of this age [118] are inconsistent in identifying this victorious "stone" kingdom with the church. The Postmillenarians appear to be unbiblical in the expectations of a victory of the church over the world. [119]
Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream [is] certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. (Daniel 2:45)

The kingdom of Christ, symbolized by the stone that becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth, is of great importance for Christians. Perhaps we can explain it somewhat like this: Our Lord did establish a kingdom when he first came—a realm in which he now rules in believing Christian hearts. It is a kingdom of “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost[120] —a present kingdom of God's "dear Son" into which believers have already been translated,[121] and where we are now reigning with Him. But there is another aspect of this kingdom still wholly future, when the “kingdoms of this world...become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever".[122] For this kingdom we can only pray, as taught, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" for as the prophecy of Isaiah says so eloquently of it: "'The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

G.      The Rewards for Interpretation of the Dream (2:46-49)

Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odors unto him. The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth [it is], that your God [is] a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret. Then the king made Daniel a great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise [men] of Babylon. Then Daniel requested of the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, over the affairs of the province of Babylon: but Daniel [sat] in the gate of the king.[123]

"Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odors unto him".[124] Nothing is said to the effect that Daniel accepted these honors proper only to God Himself. Daniel had been ridiculed for making such a fuss over improper food (chapter one) while thinking nothing of accepting worship due only to God. But this is to ignore what Daniel had already said to the effect that his success was not due to any personal qualities,[125] but rather that a gracious God wanted the king to know and to spare the lives of him and his innocent friends. When pagan people would have given divine honor at Lystra those two missionaries frantically disclaimed such honors.[126] We may be certain that a man of Daniels’s piety and wisdom would have been scarcely less scrupulous.

It is a matter of encouragement to all sorely tried believers to note that the faithful prayers and testimony of Daniel brought about a change in the heart of the proud and arrogant king. It wasn’t conversion, and he had many lessons yet to learn.[127] But he did come to see that Daniel was indeed a true servant of God and that his God was "God of gods, and Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets”.[128] This was at least progress.

Another happy result was that honor was brought to God through this victory of obedient faith.[129] It all was “to praise of the glory of his grace."

Further, this act of Daniel brought him into a position of favor among unbelievers, a circumstance which made it possible for him to serve God better, and to help men more. As the man who “sat in the gate of the king” he had great influence over the affairs of the kingdom. He was thus in a position to assist his poorer Jewish brethren. That his Jewish brethren in exile knew about him and regarded him well is evidenced by the high praise given by his contemporary and companion in exile, Ezekiel. [130]

Some of the greatest of comforting truths in all the Bible are found in the chapter we have now surveyed. Foremost of these is the fact of divine providence—the overruling control which He has over all that is. He works everything after the counsel of his will.[131] This being true, we know that this world is not ultimately going to go to smash. Over all, from the fall of raindrops to the fall of empires, God rules and reigns. Because this true the saint of God can know that "all things work together for good to them that love God"[132] —not because of fate or some impersonal optimistic destiny, but because the God who rules is the belier’s Father.

A young Christian one cold December day walked across a Massachusetts field. As young men uncertain of their plans and futures often are, this young man was lonely, disconsolate, and sad. As he walked a wild duck flew whistling overhead heading, as the young poet knew, for his proper home, wherever that might be. God, he knew, was watching and in control. Ashamed of his needless fears William Cullen Bryant wrote “To a Waterfowl”, a superb bit of poetry, enthusiastically praised by Matthew Arnold as "the most perfect brief poem in the language." The last lines point out the meaning of it all.

Thou'rt gone, the abyss of heaven
   Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart
Deeply has sunk the lesson thou has given,
   And shall not soon depart.

He who, from zone to zone,
   Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight
In the long way that I must tread alone,
   Will lead my steps aright.

Another impression remains with the discerning and impressionable reader—that no matter how pretentious and impressive any government or capital may seem to be, it is not permanent and the judgment of God has been pronounced upon it. Our own nations of today, with whatever affection we hold them, are not exceptions. Hitler built his Reich to last, he thought, for a thousand years. It lasted less than ten. Every new alliance, each new precarious balance of power, is formed to ensure a "just and lasting peace." These efforts are praise-worthy. We should pray for the blessing of God on the worried men who try to work them out.[133] But we dare not trust them. Our ultimate hope is in the living God rather than in the men of this world, for the present age is destined for judgment. Isaiah, the great prophet of the glory of God proclaimed: "Behold the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are accounted as the small dust of the balance: behold he taketh up the isles as a very little thing...all the nations are as nothing before him; they are accounted by him as less than nothing, and vanity".[134]

Finally, we should be warned in our study not to rush off too quickly in search of "practical" lessons in preference to factual historical, doctrinal matters. Nothing is ultimately more practical than a correct understanding of the words of Jesus about His kingdom. The key, however, to those words lies right here in these chapters, for on them Jesus built his own teaching about the kingdom of God. The pearls of God's treasure will not be found by the callow, shallow, or slothful scholar. Nor will the impatient reader understand the "mysteries of the kingdom." They are reserved for the intellectually curious, the spiritually thirsty, and the man of prayerful industry.

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