Studies in Daniel and Revelation

Daniel, Part Two

Daniel chapter 2 is, perhaps, in terms of Bible prophecy, the “crown jewel” because it contains the most complete and simple picture of God’s plan for the nations of the world in the whole Bible.

1.  Preliminary Observations

My first observation about chapter 2 concerns the first three verses and is not readily apparent in our English translations.  The first three verses of the chapter are written in Hebrew, but the language switches to Aramaic in verse 4, then switches back to Hebrew with chapter 8.  As to why the change in language, we may only speculate.  The Aramaic chapters, 2:4 to the close of chapter 7, deal with things of major concern to Nebuchadnezzar’s empire, while the Hebrew chapters, 8-12, the future destiny of the Jews is given the emphasis.

My second observation is about Nebuchadnezzar.  At this time in his life, he was in his prime.  He had ascended to the throne as a young man, and his power had been accumulating at an astonishing rate.  Nebuchadnezzar was young and intelligent and thanks to an unusual and imaginative “urban expansion” program in his cities, he had won the favor and the enthusiastic support of religious leaders and the masses.

But Nebuchadnezzar was much more than his accomplishments would suggest.  At this moment in his career, the king of Babylon showed his true greatness by doing something never done before.  Instead of continuing to expand his boarders, Nebuchadnezzar stopped all his military campaigns to consider the meaning of his life and the why he was having so much success.  He was considering his destiny and the future of the empire he had built.

My final observation is that even though this heathen king was in no way a believer in Yahweh, he was God’s chosen instrument to discipline His people, and so God made Nebuchadnezzar the repository of the history of the Gentiles and of God’s entire plan, yet God did it in such a way as to make Daniel, not Nebuchadnezzar, the whom the Lord acknowledged and who enjoyed His divine favor.

2.  Nebchadnezzar’s strange offer

In ancient times it was not unusual or uncommon for kings to attach great importance to dreams.  In fact, ancient man in general was fascinated by the mysterious meanings of their dreams.  Common man had to figure out what they meant on his own, but kings and wealthy men had magicians and diviners who claimed they could interpret dreams.  These were actually professional offices in the courts of pagan nations, and Nebuchadnezzar had many such men at his disposal who could offer some “pre-Freudian” dream analysis.

Naturally, Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men could not interpret his dream, nor could they recount his dream to him.  We cannot be sure if he forgot the dream or if he was testing his wise men, although my feeling is that he genuinely forgot it, but the fact remains that because he could not find the answers he was seeking, the king fell into utter despair.

The first part of chapter 2 is amazingly similar to the story of Joseph.  In both stories, the  king’s dream is interpreted by a king’s prisoner, but in Joseph’s case, the king remembered the dream.  The dream of the Pharaoh concerned the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine in Egypt, whereas Nebuchadnezzar’s dream concerned the nations of this world and the Kingdom of God.  But in each case, the dreams involved the salvation of God’s people from extinction.

Initially, the king did not invite Daniel or his friends to interpret his dream; it was only after he issued a decree that all the wise men in the land were to be killed that the situation came to Daniel’s attention, who by his training was now part of the “wise men” class.  The wise men claimed that only “the gods” could tell Nebuchadnezzar what he wanted to hear.  Daniel volunteered to interpret the dream to the king but first went into prayer to the great Source of all wisdom.   God answered the prayers of Daniel and his three friends and revealed His secret to them   Three things happened to these Hebrews that night:

  • They sought the Lord in prayer, but not before Daniel in faith claimed that he already had the answer or that the answer would be forthcoming.
  • God responded to their earnest prayers and answered them by revealing all in a vision.
  • They responded to God’s response in worship.  This should always be the the result of God’s ministry to the hearts of His people.  In our modern church, we talk a lot about worship and we claim that everything we do is worship to God.  But here we see that prayer is not worship and God’s ministry to us is not worship.  Prayer is asking of God, and ministry is when God gives something to us.  Worship comes after we have asked, and after God has given and our hearts are overflowing with praise and adoration.

With seemingly unlimited confidence in his God, Daniel went to Arioch and promised that he could deliver what the king needed.

3.  Observations about the dream, 2:31-35

“You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance.  The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.”

In looking at this dream, I make the following general observations.  First, the Gentile nations from Babylon onward are seen by God as a whole unit, that is, they form one statue, they are not seen as individual nations.  All the successive Gentile nations form but one “person” before God.

Second, four imperial powers were to succeed each other, but Nebuchadnezzar, the head of gold, received his authority immediately from God Himself.  All the other nations that followed Babylon were allowed to do so by God’s sovereignty.  The fact that Nebuchadnezzar is seen as the head of gold, the fact that he was given his authority on earth by God Himself is highly symbolic, for in the Babylonian king we see God replacing His authority on earth.  Babylon was the authority on earth established by God.

My third observation is related to the phrase “The God of Heaven,” in verse 37.  God is not seen as the God of Earth, but of Heaven.  In Israel God was the God of the Earth because He dwelt among His people, and He will again be the God of the Earth at the restitution of all things.

That phrase, “the God of Heaven,” is used in only three books of the Old Testament and one in the New Testament:  Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Revelation.  Each of the OT references refer to the exact same period of history when God had scattered His people among the nations.  God had forsaken His throne in Jerusalem, the Shekinah glory had gone, never to return again.

But for now, during the time of the Gentiles, God acts sovereignly as the God of Heaven, setting up man in His place on the Earth:

The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all.  (verses 37b-38)

Finally, an observation about man’s dominion of the earth.  The Gentiles, embodied in Nebuchadnezzar, have been given dominion over the earth, similar to the dominion Adam had.  It is, however more limited, since man is not given dominion over the sea.

4.  Daniel’s interpretation, verses 39-45

“After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth.  Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron—for iron breaks and smashes everything—and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others.  Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay.  As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle.  And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.

“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.  This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.

“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.”

The very first thing I notice in Daniel’s interpretation is this exchange:

The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”  Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.”  (verses 26-28)

This speaks volumes about Daniel’s character; he is giving his God the credit.

The second thing I notice is that while God gave this awesome and far reaching dream to Nebuchadnezzar, He promptly made the king forget it; in fact, God drove the king to the very end of his resources because, after all, had Nebuchadnezzar been able to recall the dream, he would never have realized God’s role in it.  This is always the way God deals with human beings.  We have to be brought to the very end of our resources; we are made to realized our awful sinfulness before God saves us.

Ironside remarks that each one of us meets Jesus at the place He was crucified:  Golgotha, the place of the skull.  We all find salvation at the place of death.

As soon as Daniel related the dream to the king, the king realized it was indeed the dream he had forgotten.

Daniel then proceeded with the interpretation, which is covered in verses 39-45.  The image of the statue represents the whole period of the Times of the Gentiles from Daniel’s time to our future.  To Nebuchadnezzar this interpretation must have been somewhat startling as he learned he was merely the first in a long succession of empires that would rise and fall.  The end goal of each Gentile empire was dissolution or destruction under the dominance of the Kingdom of God, which itself can never be dissolved, destroyed or dominated.

In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.  (verse 44)

There are a total of 5 kingdoms in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and there is some difference of opinion on the identity of some of them.  The traditional conservative, evangelical view is as follows:

  • The first empire, verse 38, is stated in the text as being the Babylonian empire;
  • The fifth, verse 44, is just as clear; it is the kingdom of God;
  • The second, verse 39a is almost probably the Medo-Persian empire;
  • The third, verse 39b is likely Greece under Alexander the Great;
  • The fourth, verse 40, is generally regarded to be Rome.

5.  Ten toes, verses 40-43

Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron—for iron breaks and smashes everything—and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others. Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay.  As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle.  And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.

Verse 43 has been interpreted as either the weakness of mixed marriages or the rapid decline of society in the collapse of the fourth kingdom (Roy Swim and Birk).  It should also be noted that the statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s vision of chapter 7 are parallel, so that the interpretation of this dream must be determined by the content of that vision.

Up to the toes is past history.  The fourth empire will be another version of the old Roman Empire, which is in abeyance at the present time.  The ten toes of the feet of the statue represent ten kings who will rule at the same time, but who will form a confederacy that will occupy roughly the same territory as the old Roman empire.

Though some commentators see this part of the interpretation in history, a ten-nation confederacy such as Daniel saw has never existed before, especially in view of Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 concerning the ten horns.

The fate of this final Gentile empire is striking:

In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.  This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.  (verses 44-45)

The “rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands” is, of course, Jesus Christ (Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 8:14; 28:16; Zechariah 3:9).  Some scholars see this fulfilled when Jesus came the first time, however, the phrase “In the time of those kings” points to a future fulfillment; in the time of ten-kingdom confederacy.  This rock, Daniel said, will fall from heaven, this cannot refer to the baby Jesus being born, but to the glorious Second Coming of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

God has been calling out from these nations a people for Himself–the Church–in advance of the coming of the Rock since the beginning of the “lasts days,” when Jesus returned to be with the Father.  The wrath of God during the Tribulation will be nothing compared to the awful events that will befall those who reject Christ when He literally and physically returns.  No believer will be present on the earth when this event  occurs because Jesus, on the Cross, suffered all the wrath of God in our stead.

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