Our Word of Life study got bumped back another week, so in the meantime, I thought I’d put in another post on Daniel. We looked a little bit last time at the circumstances and setup of the dream, and in the rest of the chapter, we find out more about the dream itself.
Firstly, I love the confidence with which Daniel approaches this. He shows no hesitation in his language: “…take me before the king, and I will tell the king the interpretation” (2:24). Apparently, even in his short time in Babylon, Daniel’s reputation preceded him; Arioch, an officer in the king’s guard, seems eager to cash in on his success. This part is so funny to me. “Then Aroich quickly brought Daniel before the king, and said thus to him, ‘I have found a man of the captives of Judah who will make known to the king the interpretation'” (2:25, emphasis added). The king then asks Daniel if he’s sure he can recount the dream. This was not so much of a tentative precaution as it was a stern warning. This was not a game. If Daniel was wrong, he was a dead man.
Again, I can’t help but love Daniel’s boldness. To kick things off, he answers the statement of inability of the wisemen in verses 10-11. He acknowledges that nobody can perform the act that the king had demanded; it was simply beyond human ability. However, Daniel solidly contradicts the idea that such a task was only for the distant, removed, unapproachable gods to solve. “There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known…” (2:28, emphasis mine). God had given Nebuchadnezzar this dream as a prophetic sign of things to come. What kind of mercy is this, that God would speak to a pagan king in an effort to reach him and speak to him? This will come up several more times through the book, but I am always amazed by what great lengths God goes to in order to get the message through Nebuchadnezzar’s hardened heart.
Before diving into the dream itself, Daniel also qualifies where the power comes from, and why this secret was revealed to him. He wasn’t inherently smarter or more cunning than any of the king’s advisors. He wasn’t able to conjure up what had come to him. The revelation of the dream was solely and purely an act of God’s kindness, to spare the lives of him and his companions, as well as to tell Nebuchadnezzar plainly what the dream meant.
Daniel then tells the king his dream, point by point, without hesitation, and without error. He is so confident of the answer that he doesn’t have to qualify it by saying, “I’m getting the sense that…” or, “Does this mean anything to you?” By the point he has recounted the dream, and no doubt has the king’s rapt attention, he directly states, “This is the dream. Now we will tell the interpretation of it before the king” (2:36). Talk about no-nonsense.
The dream itself seems relatively simple. When I was first studying this book, I wondered to myself why it would be so troubling to Nebuchadnezzar. I’ve had my share of frightening dreams, especially when I was little, but it seems to me like watching an inanimate statue get smushed by a rock wouldn’t be something that would wake me up in a cold sweat. Although it’s true that Nebuchadnezzar would have taken the dream as an omen, I think something else was at work. I think he felt, at some level, the presence and influence of Someone who was much larger, wiser, and more powerful than himself. I think the weight and authority of heaven was on that dream, and that alone would be enough to shake any king out of his bed. Nothing is more terrifying to a power-hungry person than an uninvited visit from a higher Sovereign.
In the dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw a progression of four great earthly empires. He saw this as a giant statue, splendrous and majestic, made in the image of man. It is interesting to note that when Daniel sees these same four empires in Daniel 7, it’s not at all the same picture. Daniel 2 and 7 are incredible parallels, but I’ll save that for the post(s) on Daniel 7.
The first kingdom is represented by a head of gold. There is no mystery as to what kingdom this is, because Daniel tells us straight out in the text. This represents Babylon. The next kingdom was depicted as a chest and arms of silver; history has shown this to be Medo-Persia. The third kingdom, Greece, is pictured as a belly and thighs of bronze, with Rome the logical fourth as the legs of iron. All four of these kingdoms are incredibly significant in Israel’s history, oppressive empires that lorded over the Promised Land for some stretch of time. These kingdoms are pictured as decreasing in value from the head down, most likely indicating the decreasing moral standard in each kingdom as time progressed, and possibly indicating the increasing persecution the Jews would suffer under their hands.
The vast majority of conservative commentators agree on the identity first three kingdoms. (There are some people who will debate that fact, in order to try and remove the prophetic element from the book of Daniel, but for reasons I won’t go into here, I strongly disagree. I’m going to assume you guys are on board with me on that point, and move on.) However, the place where debate enters is the identity of the fourth kingdom. Most people agree that ancient Rome is included in this kingdom of iron, but from my understanding of this passage, this also includes a coming empire. This empire is like Rome in its scope and ruthlessness, but is much larger, more severe, and ruled by a much more evil king. I’m talking about the Antichrist’s regime at the end of the age.
The description that Daniel gives of this fourth kingdom fits ancient Rome to a point. Rome’s army was fearful and unstoppable in the ancient world. When they conquered, they conquered thoroughly and ruthlessly. Rome was the mightiest kingdom to have crossed the face of the earth to that time. Anyone living under its influence would have confirmed it to match the description of 2:40.
But then Daniel goes on to describe the feet and toes of the statue. They are still iron, but they are iron mingled with ceramic clay. It seems to be part of the fourth kingdom, yet Daniel gives so much attention and detail to it that it takes on a bit of a life of its own. Some people consider this to be ancient Rome, as it became divided into East and West, and slowly disintegrated, losing power and influence. Others take this as a natural breaking point where the vision is primarily (if not entirely) about the future Antichrist empire.
So how is the debate to be settled? Though it’s easy to quibble about interpretation of the feet themselves, the ultimate answer is determined by something else: the Rock cut out without human hands. While this is pretty obviously a picture of Christ, there is some disagreement as to whether this speaks primarily of the First or Second Coming of Christ. If the Rock represents the First Coming, then there is no need to look any further than Ancient Rome. However, if it is the Second Coming, then suddenly Nebuchadnezzar’s dream takes on a much bigger scope.
Without going into a whole lot of arguments, I want to briefly state a few reasons why I believe this Rock must be Christ at His Second Coming:
Daniel says that the dream refers to the “latter days” (2:28).
Chapter 2 and 7 are very clear parallels, and the overwhelming majority of scholars understand Daniel 7 to be an eschatological vision. With that in mind, it only makes sense that Daniel 2 speaks of the End Times, as well.
The rock is said to strike the statue “in the days of these kings” (2:44). The question is, which kings? These four empires are clearly said to come in succession to one another (2:37-40), not overlapping. So “these kings” cannot be the kings from Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome all at once. The more likely explanation is that there are several kings ruling in the final kingdom — ten kings, to be exact. These ten kings are clearly explained in Daniel 7, and are hinted at here in Daniel 2 as “ten toes”. This scenario has never been seen in historic Rome.
The entire dream, though full of symbolism, speaks of literal, physical, earthly kingdoms. It only makes sense that the kingdom established by the Rock also be literal, physical, and on the earth, literally overthrowing all other kingdoms and taking over the planet (i.e. Revelation 11:15).
The everlasting kingdom is said to grow to fill the entire planet. Although it’s true that Christianity is much wider-spread than it was in the first century, it is nowhere near universal. Nor has its growth been constant. Nor will its growth be constant on this side of the Second Coming (i.e. the Great Falling Away, 2Thes 2:3). The earth will not be universally saturated with the kingdom until Christ has come back.
So this Rock strikes the feet of iron and clay. The feet represent the kingdom at the end of the age, a “revived Roman Empire”, as it has sometimes been called. This is not to say that it will be in Rome, but rather, it will share much the same characteristics (only much more so). As Daniel explains, this kingdom will have problems with disunity, being an only moderately successful mixing of the peoples of the earth. Ever since the Tower of Babel, folks have had an awfully hard time pulling together for any cause. Even a demonized man, the pinnacle of human strength cooperating with darkness, will not be able to make a rock-solid kingdom out of the earth. Also worth noting again is that the toes, given special emphasis in verse 42, are likely a reference to the ten kings later revealed in chatper 7.
But then comes the ultimate, final Kingdom. A Rock, supernaturally hewn out of a mountain, crushes the image that represents all the power and grandeur that wicked humanity has ever been able to muster. “In the days of these kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed… it shall break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms…” (2:44). When Jesus takes the throne on the earth, it’s for keeps. I love the repeatedly emphasized finality of this kingdom. No one will overthrow this righteous King. He will never die, never passing on His Kingdom to a successor. The Kingdom will never weaken and decay, as any earthly empire eventually does. This is a holy Kingdom which will endure for the rest of eternity. (PRAISE THE LORD. This is such good news.)
Daniel closes off his interpretation by reminding Nebuchadnezzar what is going on. This isn’t just a dream. This isn’t just an omen. This is the holy God of Heaven, speaking directly to him, telling him what will surely come to pass. Again, Daniel’s boldness absolutely delights me: “The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure” (2:45).
Apparently Nebuchadnezzar agreed with Daniel’s assessment of the interpretation. Despite his best efforts to give credit where credit was due, the king still tried to offer incense to him. I believe Daniel put up a bit of a fuss here, judging by his overall character and boldness, and by the fact that the king “answered Daniel” in the next verse (2:47), finally including God in the glory.
Nebuchadnezzar recieved a significant revelation of God in this encounter. I love the statement that our God is “the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets…” Seriously, Nebuchadnezzar’s little mini-hymns in these first few chapters are all amazing. However, the Babylonian king only had a little bit of the picture. It would take a number of years, two more significant encounters, and two more chapters in the book of Daniel for him to finally come around to a real understanding of Who it was he was dealing with. But for now, he recognized the Hebrew God to be a real, very powerful Deity, promoting Daniel and his friends to even greater honor and authority.
So that about wraps it up for chapter 2. There’s still so much that could be said, but I will refrain for now. 🙂 If you have any questions or ideas, things I didn’t describe thoroughly enough or simply topics you want to pursue further, please comment below. I love discussing this book and would love to hear your thoughts on it.