Beginning with the second chapter of Daniel, the grand outline of the program of God for the period of Gentile supremacy and chastisement of Israel is presented for the first time. Tregelles, in his introduction to chapter 2 of Daniel, observes, “The book of Daniel is that part of Scripture which especially treats of the power of the world during the time of its committal into the hands of the Gentiles, whilst the ancient people of God, the children of Israel, are under chastisement on account of their sin.”
What is true of the book in general is especially true of chapter 2. Nowhere else in Scripture, except in Daniel 7, is a more comprehensive picture given of world history as it stretched from the time of Daniel, 600 years before Christ, to the consummation at the second advent of Christ. It is most remarkable that Daniel was not only given this broad revelation of the course of what Christ called “the times of the Gentiles” (Lk 21:24), but also the chronological prophecy of Israel’s history stretching from the rebuilding of Jerusalem to the second advent of Christ. These two major foci of the book of Daniel justify the general description of the book as world history in outline with special reference to the nation of Israel.
Interpretations of the book of Daniel, and especially chapter 2, divide into two broad categories. Higher critics who label the book of Daniel a second century forgery challenge the prophetic meaning of chapter 2 at every turn and assert that the writer is merely recording history. If they are right, an exposition of this chapter becomes a meaningless interpretation of a curious but unimportant document.
On the other hand, reverent scholars have consistently defended the authenticity of this book as a genuine portion of the Word of God written by Daniel in the sixth century B.C. Only if this second view is adopted, which assigns to Daniel the role of a genuine prophet and regards the book as inspired Scripture, can a sensible explanation be given of the broad prophecies which this chapter details.
Among those who regard this chapter as genuine Scripture, there is a further subdivision into two classes: (1) those who interpret the vision from the amillennial or postmillennial point of view; (2) those who interpret the vision from a premillennial perspective. The difference here resolves itself largely in differing views of how the image is destroyed, and how the revelation relates to the present age and the two advents of Christ. Few chapters of the Bible are more determinative in establishing both principle and content of prophecy than this chapter; and its study, accordingly, is crucial to any system of prophetic interpretation.
Nebuchadnezzar Dreams Dreams
2:1 And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, wherewith his spirit was troubled, and his sleep brake from him.
The important event of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation is introduced by the statement that the dream occurred “in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.” The question immediately arises how this relates to the three years of the training of Daniel and his companions described in chapter 1. This time indication, standing first in the sentence for emphasis, is connected to the previous chapter by and or “now” (the conjunction waw). This implies consecutive information but not necessarily chronological succession.
Although critics have assailed this reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s second year as an inaccuracy, the explanation is relatively simple. Nebuchadnezzar had carried off Daniel and his companions immediately after his victory over the Egyptians at Carchemish, which probably took place May-June, 605 B.C. Wiseman states, “The effects of the Babylonian victory were immediate and far-reaching. ‘At that time,’ recorded the chronicler, ‘Nebuchadrezzar conquered the whole area of Hatti,’ the geographical term Hatti including, at this period, the whole of Syria and Palestine.”
According to Wiseman, “The effect on Judah was that King Jehoiakim, a vassal of Necho, submitted voluntarily to Nebuchadrezzar, and some Jews, including the prophet Daniel, were taken as captives for hostages to Babylon.” This was June-August 605 B.C. Daniel and his companions, therefore, entered their training at Babylon soon thereafter, probably after Nebuchadnezzar had been made king, September 7, 605 b.c. at the death of his father, Nabopolassar. In view of this sequence of events, Leupold concludes that “the phrase ‘in the second year’ is both harmless and unassailable.” It was actually the third year in modern reckoning. Leupold continues, “The Babylonian manner of reckoning a king’s reign did not regard the unexpired portion of the last year of the deceased monarch as the first year of the new king, but reserved that designation for the first full year of the new monarch’s rule. Since the kings did not, as a rule, die at the close of the last year of their reign, there were usually months intervening between reigns, which would allow just enough latitude to make the initial phrase of our chapter entirely proper.” In other words, the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign was not counted, and this gives a plausible explanation of why the dream could occur in the second year and yet conceivably follow the three school years of Daniel’s training. Edward Young, after Driver, supports the idea that the three years of Daniel’s training were not necessarily three full years by illustrations from Hebrew usage.
The chronology of the period, following Wiseman, Thiele, and Finegan, seems to require the following order of events.
May-June, 605 B.C.: Babylonian victory over the Egyptians at Carchemish
June-August, 605 B.C.: Fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar, and Daniel and companions taken captive
September 7, 605 B.C.: Nebuchadnezzar, the general of the army, made king over Babylon after the death of his father, Nabopolassar
September 7, 605 b.c to Nisan (March-April) 604 B.C.: Year of accession of Nebuchadnezzar as king, and first year of Daniel’s training
Nisan (March-April) 604 b.c to Nisan (March-April) 603 b.c: First year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, second year of training of Daniel
Nisan (March-April) 603 b.c to Nisan (March-April) 602 b.c: Second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, third year of training of Daniel, also the year of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream
The arguments of Montgomery and others that the datum of Daniel 1:20-2:1 is hopelessly contradictory were based on an obvious prejudice against the historicity of Daniel. These objections are satisfactorily answered by scholars such as Robert Dick Wilson, who show there is no evidence of a positive nature which contradicts Daniel’s statement here or elsewhere.
The important event which took place is simply expressed in the statement that “Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams.” As dreams is plural, it implies that he had several dreams which were of such character that he was troubled by their significance and unable to sleep. The Hebrew for “dreamed dreams” can be understood to be the pluperfect, i.e., “had dreamed dreams.” This would imply that the dream took place somewhere in the sequence of events of chapter 1 but is only now being detailed. Hence, it allows for the conclusion that the dream was interpreted before Daniel’s graduation at the end of his three years of training. Commentators generally have been so occupied with the plural of dreams that the verb has been neglected.
The Hebrew for troubled indicates a deep disturbance inducing apprehension. Nebuchadnezzar seems to have sensed that this was more than an ordinary dream and was a response to his questioning concerning the future, mentioned later by Daniel in 2:29. The result was that “his sleep brake from him.” Literally, because of the passive form of the verb, Leupold translates it “was done for,” or as Montgomery translates it, “sleep broke from him.”
Geoffrey R. King, in an extended comment on this, observes, “As is so often the case, the cares of the day became also the cares of the night. Now Nebuchadnezzar did a thing which no believer in God should ever dream of doing: Nebuchadnezzar took his problems to bed with him.” However, Nebuchadnezzar was no Christian; and after all. the circumstances and the dream were providentially induced by God Himself. On other occasions in Scripture, dreams have been used by God to give revelation to a Gentile ruler as in the cases of Abimelech (Gen 20:3) and of Pharaoh (Gen 41:1-8), which is an interesting parallel to Nebuchadnezzar’s experience. Sleeplessness also has its purpose in divine providence as in the case of Ahasuerus in Esther 6 which started the chain of events leading to Haman’s execution and Israel’s deliverance. Nebuchadnezzar’s experience was obviously ordered by God.
All the Wise Men Summoned
2:2-3 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.
Because of the king’s agitation, he apparently immediately summoned all four classifications of wise men here described as “the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans.” The designation, wise men, which does not occur in verse 2, is found in verse 27. Numerous similar listings occur throughput Daniel (1:20; 2:10, 27; 4:7; 5:7, 11, 15). Wise men, apparently a general description of all of them, are referred to frequently alone (2:12, 13, 14, 18, 24, 48; 4:6, 18; 5:7, 8) and the Chaldeans are mentioned elsewhere also (1:4; 2:4; 3:8; 5:11). Magicians is the translation of a Hebrew word with a root meaning of stylus or a pen, according to Leupold, and hence could refer to a scholar rather than a magician in the ordinary sense. Astrologers is also translated “enchanters,” referring to the power of necromancy or communications with the dead according to Leupold but is understood as “astrologers,” by Young. This translation suggests the study of the stars to predict the future. Young, however, does not specifically define astrologer. Sorcerers are those who practice sorcery or incantations. The most significant term, however, is the Chaldeans. This is usually interpreted as a reference to a group of astrologers. But the name itself designates a people who lived in Southern Babylonia (cf. Gen 11:28) and who eventually conquered the Assyrians when Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar, was their king. It would be only natural for the conquerors to assert themselves at the level of wise men, and there is no justification for seizing on this reference to Chaldeans as an inaccuracy. The obvious purpose of the recital of all four classes of wise men is that the king hoped, through their various contributions, to be able to interpret his dream.
With the wise men before him, the king announces that he has dreamed a dream, using the singular of dream indicating that only one of his many dreams was really significant prophetically.
Revelation of the Dream and Its Interpretation Demanded by the King
2:4-6 Then spake the Chaldeans to the king in Syriack [Aramaic], O king, live for ever: tell thy servants the dream, and we will show 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 honour: therefore shew me the dream, and the interpretation thereof.
The Chaldeans, acting as spokesmen for the group, then address the king. The phrase “in Aramaic” introduces the extended section written in Aramaic instead of Hebrew, beginning with verse 4 and continuing through chapter 7. Much discussion has arisen concerning this simple statement. The obvious reason for this reference is that, from this point on, Daniel uses Aramaic, which although similar to the Hebrew also differs from it. Although some critics, such as Driver, question whether Aramaic was spoken at the time of the sixth century B.C. in Babylon, it seems reasonable to assume that it was a language familiar to Daniel and was the language commonly used by the Jews in Babylon instead of Hebrew. It is not necessary to deduce from this that it was the formal court language, but there is no real evidence that the Chaldeans did not use Aramaic in addressing the king. The Aramaic section of Daniel deals with prophecy of primary interest to the Gentiles and to Daniel’s day.
In the light of recent scholarship, the dogmatic dismissal of the Aramaic of Daniel is no longer tenable. As K. A. Kitchen has written, “This subject has been closely studied by two or three generations of modern scholars— S. R. Driver, R. D. Wilson, G. R. Driver, W. Baumgartner, H. H. Rowley, J. A. Montgomery, H. H. Schaeder, F. Rosenthal, and various others. Nevertheless, there is today ample scope for reassessment. The inscriptional material for Old and Imperial Aramaic and later phases of the language is constantly growing.”
Kitchen goes on to state, concerning the “entire word-stock of Biblical Aramaic” which is largely Daniel, that “nine-tenths of the vocabulary is attested in texts of the fifth century b.c. or earlier.” Most of the findings have been fifth century, as there is a scarcity of sixth century B.C. texts; but, if Daniel’s Aramaic was used in the fifth century, it in all probability was also used in the sixth century b.c. The conclusion is quite clear that Driver and company argued from a priori assumption that Daniel is a second century forgery and on the lack of available materials. Materials are now coming to light, however, and contradict his point of view. Driver’s position is no longer tenable if recent discoveries be admitted.
The Chaldeans, eager to please the king, address him with typical elaborate oriental courtesy, “O king, live for ever” (cf. 1 Ki 1:31; Neh 2:3; Dan 3:9; 5:10; 6:21). They declare with confidence that, if the king would tell them the dream, they would give the interpretation.
In reply to the Chaldeans, the king said, “The thing is gone from me.” This translation (KJV) has been challenged by many expositors. All agree that the translation is difficult because the word used, azda, occurs only here and in verse 8. Franz Rosenthal translates the word, “publicly known, known as decided.” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX), this word with slight alterations is considered to be a verb form meaning “is gone from me,” that is, the dream had been forgotten. The verb could, however, also mean “gone forth” in the sense of “I have decreed.” Such expositors as Keil, Leupold, and Young agree that the king actually had not forgotten the dream. Young translates the word as meaning “sure” or “certain,” a definition supported by the Syriac and based on the assumption that the word is of Persian origin. Hence the translation would be, “The thing is certain with me,” or “fully determined.”
The debate as to whether the king actually had forgotten his dream cannot, at the present state of investigation, be determined finally. In favor of the idea that the king had forgotten the dream would be the argument that he, anxious to know its interpretation, would certainly have divulged it to the wise men to see what they had to offer by way of interpretation. This would be in keeping with the translation “The thing is gone from me,” which is still a possibility.
There are, however, a number of reasons why the king might have been induced to make this extreme demand of his counselors in order to test their ability to have real contact with the gods and divulge secrets. The king was a young man who had been extraordinarily successful in his military conquests. He undoubtedly had developed a great deal of confidence in himself. It is entirely possible that the wise men were much older than the king, having served Nebuchadnezzar’s father. It would be understandable that the king might have previously been somewhat frustrated by these older counselors and may have had a real desire to be rid of them in favor of younger men whom he had chosen himself. Nebuchadnezzar might well have doubted their honesty, sincerity, and capability, and may even have wondered whether they were loyal to him. He may also have questioned some of their superstitious practices.
In his combined frustration with his counselors and his irritation stemming from the uncertainty of the meaning of the dream, it is entirely possible that Nebuchadnezzar should have suddenly hardened in his attitude toward his wise men and demanded that they should not only interpret the dream but also state the dream itself. Such a capricious action on the part of a monarch is in keeping with his character and position. It may have been a snap decision arising from the emotion of the moment, or it may have been the result of frustration with these men over a long period. It is significant that the younger wise men, such as Daniel and his companions, were not present.
To reinforce his demand for both the dream and its interpretation, Nebuchadnezzar declares that the wise men “shall be cut in pieces” and their houses “made a dunghill.” This was not an idle threat but was in keeping with the cruelty which could be expected from a despot such as Nebuchadnezzar. It was all too common for victims to be executed by being dismembered, and whether their houses were literally made a dunghill or simply a “ruin” as Young and Montgomery favor did not really matter. Driver states, “The violence and peremptoriness of the threatened punishment is in accordance with what might be expected at the hands of an Eastern despot; the Assyrians and Persians, especially, were notorious for the barbarity of their punishments.”
If, however, the wise men were able to respond to the king’s request, they were promised “gifts and rewards and great honour.” It was customary, when monarchs were pleased with their servants, to lavish upon them expensive gifts and great honor, a custom to which the Bible bears consistent testimony, as in the case of Joseph, Mordecai, and Daniel himself. “Rewards” is the translation of a Persian word, a singular rather than plural, and has the idea of a “present.” To receive these, they had only to tell the king the dream and its meaning. Obviously, the wise men were confronted with a supreme test of their superhuman claims. If they had genuine supernatural ability to interpret a dream, they should also have the power to reveal its content.
The Demand of the King Repeated
2:7-9 They answered again and said, Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation of it. The king answered and said, I know of certainty that ye would gain the time, because ye see the thing is gone from me. But if ye will not make known unto me the dream, there is but one decree for you: for ye have prepared lying and corrupt words to speak before me, till the time be changed: therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that ye can show me the interpretation thereof.
Confronted with the king’s ultimatum, the wise men repeated their request to be told the dream and again affirmed their ability to interpret it. It would seem that if the king had actually forgotten the dream, the wise men would have attempted some sort of an answer. The fact that they did not tends to support the idea that the king was willfully withholding information about the dream. Even if the king was hazy as to the details of the dream and could not recall it enough to provide a basis of interpretation, he probably would have been able to recognize complete fabrication on the part of the wise men. In any case, they did not attempt such a subterfuge.
The king, however, cuts them off abruptly, stating that he is sure that they are simply trying to gain time. The phrase “of certainty” stands first in the sentence for emphasis. He accuses the wise men of attempting to “gain the time,” literally, “to buy” time, “because ye see the thing is gone from me.” This last phrase is a duplicate of the statement in verse 5 with the same problem of interpretation and could be translated “because ye see the thing is certain with me,” or “determined by me.” Nebuchadnezzar’s accusation implies that he did remember the main facts of the dream sufficiently to detect any invented interpretation which the wise men might offer.
Keil commenting on this states,
That the king had not forgotten his dream, and that there remained only some oppressive recollection that he had dreamed, is made clear from ver. 9, where the king says to the Chaldeans, “if ye cannot declare to me the dream, ye have taken in hand to utter deceitful words before me; therefore tell me the dream, that I may know that ye will give to me also the interpretation.” According to this, Nebuchadnezzar wished to hear the dream from the wise men that he might thus have a guarantee for the correctness of the interpretation which they might give. He could not thus have spoken to them if he had wholly forgotten the dream, and had only a dark apprehension remaining in his mind that he had dreamed. In this case, he would neither have offered a great reward for the announcement of the dream, nor have threatened severe punishment, or even death, for failure in announcing it. For then he would have given the Chaldeans the opportunity, at the cost of truth, of declaring any dream with an interpretation. But as threatening and promise on the part of the king in that case would have been unwise, so also in the sight of the wise men, their helplessness in complying with the demand of the king would have been incomprehensible. If the king had truly forgotten the dream, they had no reason to be afraid of their lives if they had given some self-conceived dream with an interpretation of it; for in that case, he could not have accused them of falseness and deceit, and punished them on that account. If, on the contrary, he still knew the dream which so troubled him, and the contents of which he desired to hear from the Chaldeans, so that he might put them to the proof whether he might trust in their interpretation, then neither his demand nor the severity of his proceeding was irrational.
It seems clear from the entire context that Nebuchadnezzar was not willing to accept any easy interpretation of his dream but wanted proof that his wise men had divine sources of information beyond the ordinary. He also sensed that they were attempting to gain time, hoping that his ugly mood would change. He wanted them to know that he had made up his mind.
Final Plea of the Wise Men Denied
2:10-13 The Chaldeans answered before the king, and said, There is not a man upon the earth that can shew the king’s matter: therefore there is no king, lord, nor ruler, that asked such things at any magician, or astrologer, or Chaldean. And it is a rare thing that the king requireth, and there is none other that can show it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh. For this cause the king was angry and very furious, and commanded to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. And the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain; and they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain.
Although the Chaldeans had confidently claimed to be able to interpret the dream, they were baffled by the demand to tell the dream itself. With as much courtesy as they could summon, they attempted to communicate to Nebuchadnezzar that his demand was unreasonable and that “no king, lord, nor ruler” would expect such a revelation from his wise men. The phrase “before the king” delicately expresses their consciousness that they were standing in the presence of an absolute ruler. They confess that the king’s demand is beyond any human knowledge, even such as they might possess. With an attempt at subtle flattery, they refer to him as king, lord, and ruler, which could be translated by combining the three terms as “great and powerful ruler,” as Young suggests. The thought is that such a great and powerful ruler as Nebuchadnezzar would be too great a man to expect such knowledge of his servants. That which the king demands is “rare” or “difficult” and is a matter which only the gods could reveal. The expression “whose dwelling is not with flesh” may distinguish gods who are above human connection and those who might appear in human form, but the probable meaning is that only god and not men could reveal a secret like the dream. This very statement, reflecting the bankruptcy of human wisdom, sets the stage for Daniel’s divine revelation.
The humility of the wise men and their protestation were of no avail. It apparently only confirmed the king’s suspicion that they were incompetent and incapable of really helping him. It only made him more angry, the word “furious” coming from a root similar to that from which came the Hebrew word for the wrath of Pharaoh (Gen 40:2; 41:10).118 Accordingly, the decree is issued “to destroy all the wise men of Babylon.” By “wise men” he included not only the four classes that were before him but all others such as Daniel and his companions. Although Babylon could refer to the entire empire, it is probable that the decree was limited to the city of Babylon (2:49; 3:1).
It is not entirely clear from verse 13 whether the executioners killed the wise men right where they were when found or whether they were being collected for a public execution. The latter is probably the case as subsequent scripture reveals that Daniel has the time to ask questions. Montgomery writes, “It was not to be a Sicilian Vespers but a formal execution under the proper officials and in the appointed place, hence the first purpose of the officials was to assemble the condemned.”
The fact that Daniel and his companions were included among the wise men has given rise to the false accusation that he had become a part of the heathen religious system of Babylon. There is no support whatever for this in Scripture. His training in chapter 1 did not make him a priest but merely a counselor of the king. But as such, he was included in the broad category of wise men.
Daniel’s Request for Time to Seek Interpretation or the Dream
2:14-16 Then Daniel answered with counsel and wisdom to Arioch the captain of the king’s guard, which was gone forth to slay the wise men of Babylon: He answered and said to Arioch the king’s captain, Why is the decree so hasty from the king? Then Arioch made the thing known to Daniel. Then Daniel went in, and desired of the king that he would give him time, and that he would shew the king the interpretation.
When Daniel is informed of the decree of the king, it is stated “Then Daniel answered with counsel and wisdom to Arioch the captain of the king’s guard.” Although the wise men previously could hardly be accused of discourtesy, there seems to be an additional dignity and calmness in Daniel’s approach to the problem. As Keil expresses it, “Through Daniel’s judicious interview with Arioch, the further execution of the royal edict was interrupted.”
Arioch, as the captain of the king’s guard, had the duty also of serving as chief executioner, although he personally may not have had the responsibility of killing the wise men. Accustomed as he was to the cruelty of his day, Arioch apparently did not question the king’s decree. When Daniel, however, asked the question, “Why is the decree so hasty from the king?” a discussion followed in which Daniel is apprised of the total situation. That Arioch would take time to explain this to one already condemned to death speaks well both of Daniel’s approach and of Arioch’s regard for him. That Daniel refers to the decree as “hasty” or “severe” has been held by some to contradict his prudence. Obviously, however, a decree to execute wise men who have not had an opportunity to speak to the king was indeed harsh and severe, and occasioned Arioch’s explanation.
In verse 16, only the briefest summary is offered of what actually transpired. Undoubtedly, Daniel expressed to Arioch the possibility that he could interpret the dream and secured Arioch’s co-operation in going before the king. It would hardly have been suitable, especially with the king in the mood he was in, for Daniel to go in to the king unannounced without proper procedure. Possibly, the king by this time had cooled down a bit. In any event, Daniel was given his audience in which he asked for time and promised to show the king the interpretation. In contrast to the other wise men who were so filled with terror that they had no plans and had already been cut off from any additional time, Daniel, who had not been a part of the king’s frustration with his older counselors, was granted his request. It is possible that Daniel’s calm assurance that his God was able to help him somehow impressed the king that here was honesty and integrity quite in contrast to his fawning, older counselors.
Daniel and His Companions Pray for Wisdom
2:17-18 Then Daniel went to his house, and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions: That they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.
Daniel lost no time in going to his own house and informing his three companions. His purpose was an obvious one, that they might join him in prayer that God would reveal the secret. As they shared in the danger, so they could share also in the intercession. They were to seek “mercies of the God of heaven,” or “compassion” sometimes used of the mercy or compassion of men (Dan 1:9; Zee 7:9), or more commonly of the mercies of God (Neh 9:28; Is 63:7, 15; Dan 9:9, etc.).121 The mercies or compassions of God are in contrast to the decree of Nebuchadnezzar of death for the wise men without mercy.
The reference to “the God of heaven” or literally “of the heavens” is an obvious contrast to the religious superstitions of the Babylonians who worshiped the starry heaven. Daniel’s God was the God of the heavens, not heaven itself. Abraham first used this term in Genesis 24:7, and it is found frequently later in the Bible (Ezra 1:2; 6:10; 7:12, 21; Neh 1:5; 2:4; Ps 136:26). Although these four godly young men were in great extremity, one can almost visualize them on their knees before God, fully believing that their God was able to meet their need. Instead of being in a panic, they prayed. For this supreme hour of crisis they were well prepared, as their faith had been tested previously (see chap. 1). The result could be expected: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Ja 5:16). They obviously were motivated by the desire to save their lives. That they would be willing to die if necessary is revealed in chapter 3. Their petition was to the effect that they would not be included in the decree of death which extended to all the wise men of Babylon. Verse 18 does not necessarily imply that the other wise men had already perished, although this is a possibility. The probability is that Daniel’s ultimate deliverance also extended to the other wise men.
Daniel’s Prayer Answered
2:19-23 Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: and he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: he revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast now made known unto us the king’s matter.
Deliverance came to Daniel and his companions in the form of a night vision. This apparently was not a dream but a supernatural revelation given to Daniel in his waking hours. Possibly both he and his companions prayed on into the night, and the vision came when Daniel was awake. The nature of the revelation required both a vision and its interpretation as the image was a visual concept. Hence a vision was more proper than a dream, although frequently God revealed secrets to prophets in dreams as well as visions. There is no foundation for the critical claim that this was a low form of divine revelation. Modern criticism tends to regard a dream as a lower form of revelation than a vision and hence depreciates Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The reasoning is that a dream is a natural event, whereas a vision is a supernatural experience and therefore a better medium for revelation. Montgomery writes, for instance, in commenting on the vision of Daniel, “It comes by night, as again in c. 7, but in a ‘vision,’ not in a dream, the lower means of communication to the Pagan.” Attempting to classify the value of revelation on its medium is beside the point. The only question is whether the revelation is from God, and its importance stems from its author rather than the means of revelation.
Most significant is Daniel’s immediate response in a hymn of praise as he blessed the God of heaven who had answered his prayers. The hymn not only reveals the devout thankfulness of Daniel but also the depth and comprehension of his faith. The first phrase of his psalm, “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever,” reflects, as does the entire psalm, Daniel’s acquaintance with hymns of praise found in the Psalms and other Scriptures of the Old Testament. In praising “the name of God” Daniel is speaking of God in His revealed character. W. H. Griffith Thomas writes, “The name stands in Holy Scripture for the nature or revealed character of God, and not a mere label or title. It is found very frequently in the Old Testament as synonymous with God Himself in relation to man… In the New Testament the same usage is perfectly clear.”
Griffith Thomas cites as illustrations of usage Proverbs 18:10; Psalm 74:10; 118:10; Matthew 28:19; John 1:12; 2:23; 3:18; 5:43; 10:25; 17:6, 26; Philippians 2.10. Montgomery adds this comment, “The saint praises the Name of God, i.e., God in his self-revelation, for his omniscience and omnipotence, attributes revealed in human history, 5:21. His power is exhibited in his providence over ‘times and seasons,’ Moff. [Moffatt], ‘epochs and eras,’ and in his sovereign determination of all political changes. In this expression lies a challenge to the fatalism of the Bab. astral religion, a feature which in its influence long survived in the Graeco-Roman world.”
A parallel to this hymn can be found in Psalm 113:1-2, as well as in Psalm 103:1-2. To God, Daniel attributes wisdom and might, as in Job 12:12-13, 16-22, and God’s might is mentioned frequently as in 1 Chronicles 29:11-12. Daniel’s God also “changes the times and the seasons,” an evidence of sovereign power (cf. Dan 7:25). David the psalmist declared, “My times are in thy hand” (Ps 31:15). Here again Daniel is contrasting his God to the deities of Babylon who supposedly set the times and seasons by the movements of the sun, moon, and stars. Daniel’s God could change this.
Daniel’s faith also contemplated a God greater than the king’s, and who could, therefore, remove a king or set up a king. This was not Babylonian fatalism but a sovereign God who acts as a person with infinite power. Such a God is also able to give wisdom to those who are wise and knowledge to those able to receive it. The wise men of Babylon were not so wise, for they were not the recipients of divine wisdom. To those wise enough to trust in the God of Daniel, however, and who had sufficient insight to see through the superstitions of Babylonian religions, there was the possibility of divine understanding. God’s power over kings is hailed in Job 12:18 and Psalm 75:6-7, and His divine wisdom is a frequent theme of Scripture. From the same God, Solomon had sought an understanding heart (1 Ki 3:9-10); and the Scriptures record that “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore” (1 Ki 4:29). Such was also to be Daniel’s experience.
In Daniel’s ascription of greatness to God, he emphasizes that God not only has knowledge and wisdom but power to do what He wills. Daniel’s God is in control of history and hence can reveal the future as in the king’s dream. This description of God can be contrasted to Daniel 7:25 where the little horn, the future world ruler, shall “think to change times and laws,” that is, take the place of God who “changeth the times and the seasons” (Dan 2:21). Daniel later comments on man’s complete dependence upon God for wisdom in Daniel 2:30.
God’s capacity to reveal secrets is mentioned specifically in verse 22. This again is attested by other Scriptures such as Job 12:22 (cf. 1 Co 2:10). The darkness does not hide anything from God, as David wrote in Psalm 139:12. Although knowing what is in darkness, God characteristically dwells in light. In Psalm 36:9 it is declared, “In thy light shall we see light,” that is, God’s light is presented as the light by which men see. In the gospel of John, the Logos, Christ, is identified as the light of the world (Jn 1:9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46).
Having attributed to God these infinite qualities of wisdom, power, sovereignty, and knowledge, Daniel directly expresses his thanks to God for His revelation to him of the secret. Although no mention is made of his deliverance from death, obviously this is included. Although Daniel does not have the infinite wisdom and power of God, he has that which is derived by divine impartation, wisdom and might—wisdom and ability to interpret the dream.
The expression God of my fathers is a common one in the Old Testament, here Elohim being used for God, rather than Jehovah (Gen 31:42 also uses Elohim, the common name for God rather than Jehovah, the peculiar name of the God of Israel). As Leupold notes, the reference to “my Fathers” indicates that Daniel “is having an experience of God’s mercy which is analogous to that to which the fathers of old give testimony on the pages of the sacred story.” Significant also is the fact that thee stands first in verse 23 for emphasis, “Thee I thank,” and with a desire to place God first. Again, this is in contrast to the Babylonian deities whom Daniel knows to be frauds. Notice should be made of the pronouns, namely, that while the revelation was given to Daniel as an individual, it was what “we [plural] desired,” and through Daniel the king’s secret was “made known unto us,” that is, Daniel’s companions. Daniel does not attribute to his own prayers any special efficacy.
Daniel Reports Revelation of the Secret
2:24-28 Therefore Daniel went in unto Arioch, whom the king had ordained to destroy the wise men of Babylon: he went and said thus unto him; Destroy not the wise men of Babylon: bring me in before the king, and I will show unto the king the interpretation. Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste, and said thus unto him, I have found a man of the captives of Judah, that will make known unto the king the interpretation. The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof? Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, show unto the king; 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.
Daniel, now fully in command of the situation, reports to Arioch not to destroy the wise men of Babylon. This is another confirmation of the fact that the decree had not been executed and the wise men were only in process of being rounded up. In support of his request Daniel declares, “I will show unto the king the interpretation.” The poise of Daniel, in feeling free to tell Arioch not to carry out the command of the king, reveals that Daniel fully understood that God’s hand was upon him and that he would probably be richly rewarded by the king for the information he was able to give.
Arioch also at once saw the importance of what had happened and, using his office to introduce Daniel to the king, attempted to get as much credit as he could under the circumstances for discovering a man who could reveal the secret. His statement is obviously designed to help him participate in the reward, “I have found a man of the captives of Judah, that will make known unto the king the interpretation.” It is understandable that Arioch would not give God the credit for the interpretation but rather “a man of the captives of Judah.” The introduction of Daniel also served to disassociate him from the wise men who had previously incurred the king’s wrath. Although there is no mention of Daniel’s previous audience with the king which probably at the time had only the king’s briefest attention, now the eager king immediately addresses Daniel, “Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof?” The form of the sentence makes the knowledge of the dream the prominent part of the question. Daniel’s Babylonian name, Belteshazzar, is understandably inserted here as a means of proper identification.
Daniel’s answer is a masterpiece of setting the matter in its proper light and giving God the glory. Although the temptation to imagine supernatural powers as resident in him was possibly present, Daniel immediately declares that what has been revealed to him was a secret which no wise men of Babylonia could have discovered, “The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king” (cf. Gen 41:16). The repetition of all classes of the wise men is an indication that no branch of Babylonian religious superstition could possibly have met the king’s need. In describing the wise men, a new word is used to describe “the astrologers” with reference to the idea that astrologers consider various parts of the heavens as having particular significance or power. By using this particular word, Daniel is preparing the way to introduce his God as the God of the whole heavens. In stating that the wise men could not be expected to reveal the secret, Daniel is, in effect, defending them somewhat from the king’s wrath while at the same time affirming their impotence.
Having disposed of any possible solution of the problem on the part of the wise men, Daniel now seizes the opportunity to glorify his own God and, at the same time, disavows that the interpretation of the dream stems from any innate powers which he might have. Daniel declares, “but there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days.” This implies that the God of Daniel is far superior to the god of the Babylonians and that He is the God who is able to reveal secrets as well as know them.
Of particular interest to all expositors is the expression, “in the latter days.” Driver is quoted by Montgomery as limiting this expression to the perspective of the alleged spurious Daniel of the second century. Driver states, “[… in the latter days] lit. in the end (closing-part) of the days. An expression which occurs fourteen times in the O. T., and which always denotes the closing period of the future so far as it falls within the range of view of the writer using it. The sense expressed by it is thus relative, not absolute, varying with the context.”
This would, in effect, regard it as stopping short of the coming of the Messiah in the New Testament. Driver, however, goes on, “Elsewhere it is used of the ideal, or Messianic age, conceived as following at the close of the existing order of things: Hos. 3:5; Is. 2:2 (Mic. 4:1); Jer. 48:47, 49:39; comp. 23:20 (30:24). Here, as the sequel shews, it is similarly the period of the establishment of the Divine Kingdom which is principally denoted by it (w. 34, 35; 44, 45); but the closing years of the fourth kingdom (vv. 40-43) may also well be included in it.” Leupold objects to any implied limitation on the Messianic content and writes, “But to stop short at this point and to deny Messianic import to the passage as such is misleading. Though the content must determine how much of the future is involved, a careful evaluation of all the passages involved shows that from the first instance of the use of the phrase (Gen. 49:1) onward the Messianic future is regularly involved. In this passage the Messianic element will be seen to be prominent.” Conservative scholars usually regard this expression as including the Messianic age in general, with some considering it especially the end of the period.
The Aramaic phrase which is translated “in the latter days” or “in the latter part of the days” is almost a transliteration of a Hebrew expression which is common in the Old Testament. Daniel is unquestionably using this Aramaic expression in the same sense as its Hebrew counterpart; and, accordingly, its definition should be based on Hebrew usage. The expression is found as early as Genesis 49:1 where Jacob predicts the future of his sons. The term is employed by Balaam in Numbers 24:14 and Moses in Deuteronomy 4:30; 31:29 in connection with the future of Israel. An examination of these prophecies indicates that the latter days include much that is now history. But with reference to the consummation in Messianic times, Jeremiah uses the expression a number of times to refer to the climax of the age relating to the second coming of Jesus Christ (Jer 23:20; 30:24; 48:47; 49:39). Ezekiel identifies the times of the invasion of Gog and Magog as “in the latter days” (38:16). The expression is also found in the minor prophets (Ho 3:5; Mic 4:1) in reference to the Messianic age.
On the basis of scriptural usage, it is clear that “the latter days” is an extended period of time regarded as the consummation of the prophetic foreview involved in each instance. Accordingly, Robert Culver’s definition is accurate that the expression “refers to the future of God’s dealings with mankind as to be consummated and concluded historically in the times of the Messiah.” He goes on to point out that the expression always has in view the ultimate establishment of the Messianic kingdom on earth, even though “the latter days” include an event now history, such as the division of Israel in the promised land. On the basis of scriptural usage in the Old Testament, it can be concluded that the expression is larger than that of Messianic times specifically, but that it always includes this element in its consummation.
In the New Testament there is allusion to the Old Testament concept in Acts 2:17-21 (cf. Joel 2:28-32), but elsewhere reference to “the last days” (Jn 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 7:37; 11:24; 12:48; Acts 2:17; 2 Ti 3:1; Heb 1:2; Ja 5:3; 2 Pe 3:3) and “last time” (1 Pe 1:5, 20; 1 Jn 2:18; Jude 18) must be interpreted contextually and is not always the same concept as “the latter days” (cf. Jn 7:37). The latter days for Israel are not precisely the same as the last days for the church, as the Old Testament characteristically spans the present age without including it in consideration.
Taking both the Old and New Testament uses together, it is clear that the latter days for Israel begin as early as the division of the land to the twelve tribes (Gen 49:1) and include the first and the second advent of Christ. The last days for the church culminate at the rapture and resurrection of the church, and are not related to the time of the end for Israel. Culver is going beyond the New Testament revelation when he writes: “Interpretation of ‘the latter days’ must allow it to include not only the first advent and the second advent with the coming of Messiah’s future kingdom, but also the age intervening between the advents in which we now live. We are now, and have been since Jesus came, in the latter days. Daniel actually does not deal with the age between the two advents except for the time of the end, and the New Testament does not clearly use it of the present church age. Culver, however, properly concludes that “the time of the end” as found in Daniel 11:35 is not identical to “the latter days.”
In the context of Daniel 2, “the latter days” include all the visions which Nebuchadnezzar received and stretches from 600 B.C. to the second coming of Christ to the earth. It is used in a similar way in Daniel 10:14, including the extensive revelation concerning the remainder of the kingdom of Medo-Persia, many details concerning Alexander’s empire as in chapter 11, and the consummation called “the time of the end” in Daniel 11:36-45. These prophecies served to give added detail not included in the revelation to Nebuchadnezzar. Having stated the general purpose, Daniel now is able to unfold what will occur “in the latter days,” namely, the majestic procession of the four great world empires, and its destruction and replacement by the fifth empire, the kingdom from heaven. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and the visions he had in the dream can now be unfolded.
The Purpose of the Dream
2:29-30 As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter: and he that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass. But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart.
Nebuchadnezzar had had a meteoric rise to power as one of the great conquerors and monarchs of the ancient world. He had begun his brilliant career even while his father was still alive, but after his father’s death, he had quickly consolidated his gains and established himself as absolute ruler over the Babylonian empire. All of Southwest Asia was in his power, and there was no rival worthy of consideration at the time. Under these circumstances, it was only natural that Nebuchadnezzar should wonder what was going to come next. His meditation on this subject should not be confused with the dream which followed, but rather it was the preparation for it in the providence of God.
In this context Nebuchadnezzar had his dream; and God, referred to here by Daniel as “he that revealeth secrets” (in effect a new title for God), had used the dream as a vehicle to reveal the answer to Nebuchadnezzar’s question. As Nebuchadnezzar was a remarkable man, so was the dream a remarkable revelation. While Daniel still has the attention of the king eager to learn the secret of his dream, he presses home the fact that the dream was a means of divine revelation in which God had signally honored the Babylonian monarch.
Before proceeding to the dream, however, Daniel once more emphasizes the fact that the secret had not come to him from any natural or accrued wisdom, but because God in His providence had selected Nebuchadnezzar as the recipient of the dream and Daniel as its interpreter that Nebuchadnezzar and others should receive this revelation. The expression “for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king” is better translated as a passive, i.e., “that the interpretation may be made known to the king.” The construction is actually impersonal. Daniel now is able to proceed to the dream itself.
The Dream Revealed
2:31-35 Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.
Daniel first declares the king saw “a great image.” This must have been immediately most fascinating to the king as it was evident to him, if he remembered the dream at all, that Daniel was on the right track. By image is not meant an idol as Hitzig holds but a statue corresponding to human form. It was “great” in the sense of being immense or large in form, and by its very size the statue must have been overwhelming in its implication of power. Even Nebuchadnezzar, the absolute ruler, recognized this as something greater than himself.
In addition to the great size of the statue, it was remarkable for its brilliant appearance. It apparently reflected light, indicated by brightness which is described as “excellent,” or unusual in its brilliance. The image apparently was not seen at a distance but as standing very close to Nebuchadnezzar, “stood before thee.” The total effect of the image was “terrible” or “terrifying.” Nebuchadnezzar, fearless man that he was, cringed before this unusual spectacle.
Having revealed the impression that the image had made on Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel quickly proceeds to describe the metallic character of the image, namely, its head of gold, its breast and arms of silver, its abdomen and thighs of brass (i.e., bronze or copper), the legs of iron, and the feet part of iron and part of clay or pottery. There is an apparent symbolism in the major metals and the form of the image. As Keil observes, quoting Kliefoth, “Only the first part, the head, constitutes in itself a united whole.” The silver is divided into the arms and breast. The brass apparently extends from the abdomen into the upper legs or thighs. The legs, of course, also constitute a division which ends in the toes of the feet with further subdivision.
The preciousness of the metal deteriorates from the top or gold to the clay of the feet, and there is a corresponding lower specific gravity; that is, the gold is much heavier than the silver, the silver than the brass, the brass than the iron, and the clay in the feet is the lightest material of all. The approximate specific gravity of gold is 19, silver 11, brass 8.5, and iron 7.8. The gold head has twice the weight of similar amounts of the other metals. The weight of brass varies according to the amount of tin or zinc which is added to the copper. While the materials decrease in weight, they increase in hardness with the notable exception of the clay in the feet. The image is obviously top heavy and weak in its feet.
As Daniel reveals, the king in his dream saw the stone described as “cut out without hands” smite the image at its feet, the weakest place in the image, with the result that the feet are broken. Then in rapid succession the disintegration of the entire image follows, and it breaks into small pieces corresponding to the chaff of a summer threshingfloor. Then a wind blows away the chaff until the pieces of the image totally disappear. The stone which destroyed the image grows into a great mountain and fills the whole earth.
The stone which is cut out without hands is stated later in Daniel 2:45 to be cut out of a mountain. There is no evidence, however, that the stone rolls downhill as Leupold infers. In the absence of an express statement, it is possible that the stone flies through the air as a missile. In any event, it smites the image with terrific force.
Daniel’s description is a masterpiece of concise and yet complete narration. As Leupold says, “There is not a superfluous word in Daniel’s entire description and account.” Nebuchadnezzar is so fascinated by the obvious accuracy of the revelation to Daniel that he does not interpose a word. This permits Daniel to proceed immediately to the interpretation.
The Interpretation: Babylon the Head of Gold
2:36-38 This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. Thou, O 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 them all. Thou art this head of gold.
Daniel now makes a clear transition from the dream itself to its interpretation. Considerable attention has been focused by commentators on the “we.” Did Daniel mean by “we” God and himself, or his three companions who had joined with him in prayer as Leupold suggests, following Keil, or is it merely an editorial plural which Young states is “employed with a certain humility, for the message was not Dan.’s own.” Of the various interpretations, the editorial plural, which would denote more humility than “I” seems to be the best explanation.
Nebuchadnezzar is addressed as “king of kings,” which position of power Daniel assigns as a gift from “the God of heaven”; and therefore his kingdom is one of power, strength, and glory. Critics have seized upon this as not a suitable reference to the king of Babylon. Young points out that there is not sufficient evidence to support such a criticism, especially in view of the fact that the inscription of the Persian king Ariyaramna (610-580 B.C.) is called “king of kings.” Although there is no clear evidence how such a king as Nebuchadnezzar would be addressed by his subject, there is no contrary evidence that such a title would not be fitting. As a matter of fact, it was quite accurate, for Nebuchadnezzar was actually a supreme monarch who was above all the kings of his generation. Interestingly, Ezekiel gives exactly the same title to Nebuchadnezzar in Ezekiel 26:7.
More significant than Daniel’s description of supreme authority to Nebuchadnezzar is his fearless declaration that Nebuchadnezzar owes all his power to the God of heaven who has revealed this secret to Daniel. How different this is from the subservient respect given by the other wise men. Here is a voice of truth which even Nebuchadnezzar must receive with submission.
Daniel, however, does not deprecate the role of Nebuchadnezzar and goes on in verse 38 to describe his universal rule over “the children of men, the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the heaven.” He summarizes it: God “hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.” Some have regarded this as hyperbole in that Nebuchadnezzar actually did not control the entire earth’s surface and the men, beasts, and fowls of the entire earth. What is obviously meant, however, is that he is in supreme authority insofar as any man could be.
Heaton, following the suggestion of Bentzen, considers the reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s authority over both men and nature to be a reflection of the Babylonian New Year Festival. Heaton states, “The sweeping terms in which his sovereignty over men and all living creatures is described in vv. 37 f. may well reflect elements of the Babylonian New Year festival, when the reigning king was annually enthroned as the earthly representative of the god and the Epic of Creation was recited… Nebuchadnezzar’s dominion over the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven recalls the God-given status of man as it is depicted in Gen. 1:26, which is itself closely related to the Babylonian Epic of Creation.” At one fixed element in the ceremonies, they recited the Epic of Creation in honor of the creator god, Marduk, whose representative the king was supposed to be. This and other references in the book of Daniel suggest that Daniel is the author, for the writer had a good knowledge of Babylonian and related mythologies stemming from his three years of study and other intimate contact with Babylonian life.
The identification of the head of gold with Nebuchadnezzar is a reference to the empire as personified in its ruler. As Young points out, critics have had a field day in attempting to explain this expression, but there is no solid reason for not taking it in its simplest sense, that is, that the reference is to the king as the symbol of the empire.
The Interpretation: The Second and Third Kingdom to Follow
2:39 And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.
Daniel mentions only in the briefest way the second and the third kingdoms represented by the upper and lower parts of the body. Brief as is the reference, critics have lost no time in taking exception to the normal interpretation that Daniel has in view here of Medo-Persia and Greece, empires which he later identifies by name (5:28; 8:20-21; 11:2). The statement that the second kingdom is “inferior” means inferior in quality but not necessarily in every respect.
Persia actually had more territory than ancient Babylon, and the Greek Empire was greater than the Persian. The Roman Empire was greatest of all in extent. To infer, however, from the larger geographic area of succeeding kingdoms that they were not “inferior” is to misread both the meaning of the dream and Daniel’s comment upon it. Daniel did not say that the head was larger in size than the body; but the nature of the metal, gold, was more precious than that of silver or brass, which were obviously inferior metals. History certainly confirms that the Medo-Persian Empire, and the empire of Alexander which followed, lacked the central authority and fine organization which characterized the Babylonian Empire. The image and Daniel’s comment upon it is most accurate. Daniel himself seems to imply that the inferiority of the succeeding empires does not prevent them from wide geographic control, for he specifically states that the “third kingdom” will “bear rule over all the earth.”
The descending scale of value of the four metals suggests the degeneration of the human race through the ages, as implied in Genesis 4. Classical writers, such as Hesiod (Works and Days, 109-201), and Ovid (Metamorphoses I, 89-150), conceive of history in this way. This concept contradicts the evolutionist’s interpretation of human history. Instead of man beginning in the dust and consummating in fine gold, God reveals man in the times of the Gentiles to begin with fine gold and end in dust.
The descending value of the metals, however, permits their ascending strength, which suggests increased military might during the times of the Gentiles, leading to the final world conflict of Revelation 16 and 19 to which Daniel refers (11:36-45).
Daniel does not make any comment on the symbolic meaning of the breast which would contain the heart or of the lower part of the body containing the abdomen. It is probably reading too much into the Scriptures to infer from this that Cyrus, the Persian, was a noble man with some compassion for Israel and to conclude, according to oriental custom, that this is supported by the fact that the abdomen is considered the seat of affection. More important and significant is the fact that the third empire ends with the upper part of the legs, or the thighs, indicating that the third empire would territorially embrace both East and West. This will be quite significant in analysis of the next world empire, unnamed in Daniel, but obviously Rome.
Interpretation: The Fourth Empire, Rome
2:40-45 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. 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.
The fourth kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represented by the legs and feet of the image is obviously the most important. Daniel gives more attention to this fourth kingdom than to the preceding kingdoms put together. Because various schools of prophetic interpretation have differed more on the fourth kingdom than on the three preceding kingdoms, it is necessary to give particular attention to what Daniel actually says.
The first aspect of interpretation of the fourth kingdom stresses the strength of the iron legs and their power to break in pieces and subdue all that opposes. This, of course, was precisely what characterized ancient Rome. As Leupold states it, “The Roman legions were noted for their ability to crush all resistance with an iron heel. There is apparently little that is constructive in the program of this empire in spite of Roman law and Roman roads and civilization because the destructive work outweighed all else, for we have the double verb ‘crush and demolish [“break in pieces and bruise,” AV].’”
The description of Rome is so apt in verse 40 that most conservative commentaries agree that it represents the Roman Empire. Critics who accept the late date for Daniel and who proceed on the principle that prophecy of the future in detail is impossible offer a discordant note, as previously indicated, and identify the four kingdoms as Babylon, Media, Persia, and the Alexandrian kingdom. By this means they escape the admission that even a second century date for Daniel would involve considerable prophecy of the future. Those who acknowledge Daniel as a sixth century writing by the prophet Daniel, having already accepted the concept of the validity of predictive prophecy, have no real difficulty in accepting the fourth kingdom as that of Rome. Even with this agreement, however, there is serious disagreement on the identification of the feet of the image and the destruction of the whole by the stone cut out without hands.
Because of difference even among orthodox commentaries on the meaning of the feet of the image, it is all the more significant that Daniel gives special attention to this, and in fact, says as much about the feet of the image as he does about the whole image above the feet.
Daniel dwells at length upon the fact that the feet and the toes are part of potters’ clay and part of iron. On the basis of this, Daniel observes, “The kingdom shall be divided.” There has been much discussion on the meaning of the word divided. Young feels that this is simply a reference to composite material. Here it seems that too much is being made of too little. What Daniel implies is simply that the material which forms the feet portion of the image is not all one kind but is composed of iron and pottery, which do not adhere well one to the other. This is what Daniel himself brings out in subsequent explanation.
The presence of the iron in the feet, however, is an element of strength as Daniel states, “but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron.” The clay is obviously not still in its soft state but has been hardened into tile as Montgomery holds. Montgomery comments on clay, as follows: “The one stumbling-block in the description of this fine work of artifice is the word translated ‘clay.’ The word ( h¬asap) which appears with phonetic modifications in all Sem. stocks exc. Heb., invariably means a formed pottery object, whether a complete vessel or its fragments, i.e., potsherds. And so the ancient VSS universally render the word.”
Montgomery goes on to explain that an entirely different word is used for raw clay. On the use of the tile in Babylon, he continues, “There is no question about the use of tile work in ancient Babylonian architecture; we have the terracotta reliefs in Greek art, the tiling of Saracenic art, while the tile-covered towers of modern Persia are witness to this ancient mode of construction.” The intrusion of tile in an essentially metal construction, while perhaps decorative, has the symbolic meaning of weakness. Keil expresses it, “As the iron denotes the firmness of the kingdom, so the clay denotes its brittleness. The mixing of iron with clay represents the attempt to bind the two distinct and separate materials into one combined whole as fruitless, and altogether in vain.” This weakness extends to both feet of the image; and, accordingly, the division indicating that the kingdom was divided is not only reflected in the division of the two legs and feet but in the further subdivisions of the feet into toes, where the weakness of the iron and clay mixture becomes more evident.
This is brought out in verse 42 where the toes expressly are said to be part of iron and part of clay which Daniel interprets as indicating that the kingdom is partly strong, because of the presence of iron, and partly breakable, because of the brittleness of the pottery. Daniel’s description of the image and the dream has been quite sparing of words and is a masterpiece of condensation. In describing the feet, however, he goes over the same point several times to the extent that critics have called this redundant.
A clear interpretation of the meaning of iron and clay, apart from the inherent weakness, is not given except as indicated in verse 43. Here the statement is made that the mingling of the two materials means that “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.” Because this description is not entirely clear, it has given commentators a good deal of latitude in using their imagination. As Keil points out, “The mixing of themselves with the seed of men (ver. 43), most interpreters refer to the marriage politics of the princes.”
Another common interpretation of the meaning of the mixture of clay and iron is that it refers to diverse forms of government, such as democracy as opposed to dictatorship.
In view of the fact that the text actually does not tell us, probably the safest procedure is to follow the argument of Keil and gain the interpretation from the meaning of the metals in the three preceding kingdoms. Keil accordingly writes, “As, in the three preceding kingdoms, gold, silver, and brass represent the material of these kingdoms, i.e. their peoples and their culture, so also in the fourth kingdom iron and clay represent the material of the kingdoms arising out of the division of this kingdom, i.e. the national elements out of which they are constituted, and which will and must mingle together in them.” While intermarriage may form an element of it, it is not necessarily the main idea. Keil concludes, “The figure of mixing by seed is derived from the sowing of the field with mingled seed, and denotes all the means employed by the rulers to combine the different nationalities, among which the connubium [intermarriage] is only spoken of as the most important and successful means.” The final form of the kingdom will include diverse elements whether this refers to race, political idealism, or sectional interests; and this will prevent the final form of the kingdom from having a real unity. This is, of course, borne out by the fact that the world empire at the end of the age breaks up into a gigantic civil war in which forces from the south, east, and north contend with the ruler of the Mediterranean for supremacy, as Daniel himself portrays in Daniel 11:36-45.
An important aspect of the fourth kingdom which is portrayed in the two legs is often overlooked by expositors, partly because of difficulty of fitting it into history precisely and partly because some do not feel that this aspect has a particular meaning. Because of the problem some have questioned whether the fourth empire is really Rome after all. The dilemma of the interpreter is illustrated in the comment of Geoffrey R. King, who claims the first three kingdoms or empires “proved by history” but finds it difficult to trace this proof of the fourth empire. King writes,
This is where I find I have to join issue with the commonly accepted interpretation. I have heard it said more than once or twice that the two legs of the image represent the Roman Empire, because in A.D. 364 the Roman Empire split into two. There was the Eastern Empire, with its capital at Constantinople and the Western Empire, with its capital at Rome. Two legs, you see. All right. But wait a minute! To begin with, the division occurs before you get to the iron! The two legs begin under the copper, unless this image was a freak. Nebuchadnezzar knew nothing about our modern sculptury, futuristic and grotesque, where a man’s legs may begin and end anywhere! But this was a plain, straightforward, honest-to-goodness figure with his feet in the right place! So you see, you cannot do anything with these two legs. After all it is a man and a man cannot help having two legs anymore than he can help having two arms. Why don’t they make something of the two arms of silver? I don’t think there is any significance in the two legs at all. And, of course, if you want to make two parts of the Roman Empire to be represented by the two legs, you are in difficulty because the Western Empire only lasted for a few hundred years, but the Eastern Empire lasted until 1453. You have to make this image stand on one leg for most of the time!”
King goes on to question the interpretation that the feet portion of the image is the revived Roman Empire of the future and concludes, “But now, having come to study it carefully, I wash my hands of the whole of it.” King then identifies the foot stage of the image as being Muslim governments we know today and identifies the Antichrist as a Muslim.
Probably the best solution to the problem is the familiar teaching that Daniel’s prophecy actually passes over the present age, the period between the first and second coming of Christ or, more specifically, the period between Pentecost and the rapture of the church. There is nothing unusual about such a solution, as Old Testament prophecies often lump together predictions concerning the first and second coming of Christ without regard for the millennia that lay between (Lk 4:17-19; cf. Is 61:1-2).
This interpretation depends first of all upon the evidence leading to the conclusion that the ten-toe stage of the image has not been fulfilled in history and is still prophetic. The familiar attempts in many commentaries to find a ten-toe stage of the image in the fifth and sixth centuries a.d. do not correspond to the actual facts of history and do not fulfill the ten-toe stage. According to Daniel’s prophecy, the ten-toe stage is simultaneous, that is, the kingdoms existed side by side and were destroyed by one sudden catastrophic blow. Nothing like this has yet occurred in history.
If the leg stage of the image has been fulfilled in history, it obviously does not correspond to the period of more than a thousand years stretching from the time of Christ to when the Roman Empire finally gasped its last. As King has rightly pointed out, during most of this period it would have had to stand upon one leg.
The solution, therefore, is a simple and yet effective means of understanding this image. The upper part of the legs represented the twofold stage of the last period of the Alexandrian Empire, which especially concerned the Jews, namely, Syria and Egypt. This was two-legged because it embraced two continents, or two major geographic areas, the East and the West. The Roman Empire continued this twofold division and extended its sway over the entire Mediterranean area as well as western Asia.
In ordinary history Egypt was usually grouped with Syria as belonging to the East because of the long relationship politically and commercially which tied Egypt to western Asia. By contrast Macedonia in Europe was considered the West. From the divine viewpoint and especially the prophetic outlook which is symbolized in the image of Daniel, both Egypt on the continent of Africa as well as the European nations, including Macedonia, could well be considered the Western division, which eventually expanded to include the whole Mediterranean area west of Asia. The image portrays the divine viewpoint, which anticipated the rise of the Roman Empire and its geographic inclusion of the East and the West. This was recognized ultimately in the political division of the East and West by Emperor Valentinian I in a.d. 364. Although Daniel does not deal with the interadvent age as such, it still is true that at the time of the first advent of Christ Rome already was geographically spread over the East and the West. Prophetically it indicates that at the time of the end Rome again will involve both the East and the West.
The meaning of the two legs, therefore, is geographic rather than a matter of nationalities. A comparison of the extension of the various empires will reveal that the Babylonian Empire and the Medo-Persian Empire extended principally over western Asia, although Egypt was also conquered. In the Alexandrian Empire, the Western division began to take real form and power was divided between Syria and Egypt. The Roman Empire embraced a much wider territory in which the Western division became fully as strong as the Eastern, and this seems to be portrayed by the two legs.
This political and geographic situation continued to the time of Christ; and if Daniel’s vision ended here only to pick up the situation again at the end of the age, it would be understandable that the two legs would be seen as equal. The feet portion of the image representing the final stage will also include on an equal basis the Eastern and Western areas once possessed by ancient Rome. In view of the fact that there is nothing whatever in the image of Daniel to portray events from the time of Christ to the present time, if the feet stage be considered future, this interpretation makes sense out of a symbol which must at least in its major elements correspond to the facts of history.
The crux of the interpretation of the entire symbolic vision is found in the prediction of a kingdom which the God of heaven will set up. According to verse 44, this is a kingdom which will never be destroyed, will never be left to other people, shall destroy and break in pieces the preceding kingdom, and will stand forever. There is general agreement among all classes of expositors that the kingdom which shall not be destroyed is indeed the kingdom of God. Having agreed on this important point, however, expositors are widely divided concerning the nature of the kingdom, the nature of the destruction of the preceding empires, and the time element which is provided.
In general, expositors may be divided into premillennial and amillennial interpretation, with the postmillennial view being included as a variation of amillennialism. According to both amillenarians and some postmillenarians, the kingdom of God which is here mentioned is that which was introduced by Christ at His first coming. This, of course, presupposes the destruction of the image by the church in succeeding centuries. This view is confidently offered as if it were supported by history. Leupold, for instance, while conceding that there were many factors in the destruction of Rome, states, “All students of history are ready to grant that the Christian Church was able to salvage out of the wreckage of the Roman Empire all elements that were worth conserving. But it is just as true that the Christian Church broke the power of pagan Rome. The disintegrating and corrupt empire crumbled through decay from within as well as through the impact of the sound morals and the healthy life of Christianity that condemned lascivious Rome… Christianity was in a sense God’s judgment upon sinful Rome.”
The principal difficulty is that as a matter of fact Christianity was not the decisive force that broke the Roman Empire. The main reason was its internal decay and the political conditions which surrounded it. Further, the decay of the Roman Empire extended for more than a thousand years after the first coming of Christ. In other words, the time factor was greater than the period from Nebuchadnezzar to Christ. To have such a long period of time described in the symbolism of a stone striking the feet of the image and the chaff being swept away by wind simply does not correspond to the facts of history. In view of the very accurate portrayal of preceding history by the image, it is a reasonable and natural conclusion that the feet stage of the image including destruction by the stone is still future and unfulfilled. There is certainly no evidence, nineteen hundred years after Christ, that the kingdom of God has conquered the entire world.
Not only is there no scriptural evidence whatever that the first coming of Christ caused the downfall of Gentile world power which is still very much with us today, but express prophecies relating to the second advent of Christ picture just such a devastating defeat of Gentile power. Revelation 19:11-21, which all agree is a picture of the second coming of Christ, is expressly the time when Jesus Christ assumes command as King of kings and Lord of lords. It is declared that at that time “He should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron” (Rev 19:15). If it were not necessary to make Daniel’s image conform somehow to the amillennial and postmillennial concept of the gradual conquering of the world by the gospel, no one would ever have dreamed that the smiting by the stone of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream described a long process now more than nineteen hundred years underway and still far from completion.
Young states extensively some of his objections to considering the destruction of the image as being fulfilled at the second coming of Christ. He objects that this interpretation “makes too much of the symbolism.” He objects that Daniel 2 does not state that there are ten toes on the image although he admits that Daniel 7:24-27 speaks of ten kings as being the last stage of Gentile power. He further holds that the image is smitten on the feet, not on the toes. Such minor criticisms, of course, are irrelevant to the main question, because the feet and the toes are obviously all part of the same period. The fact is that his interpretation does not give any reasonable explanation of the catastrophic character of the stone smiting the image.
The only rule on which prophetic interpretation can be judged is whether the interpretation corresponds to the fulfillment. Nothing is more evident after nineteen hundred years of Christianity than that the stone, if it reflects the church or the spiritual kingdom which Christ formed at His first coming, is not in any sense of the term occupying the center of the stage in which Gentile power has been destroyed. As a matter of fact, in the twentieth century the church has been an ebbing tide in the affairs of the world; and there has been no progress whatever in the church’s gaining control of the world politically. If the image represents the political power of the Gentiles, it is very much still standing.
Accordingly, the interpretation is much preferred that the expression “in the days of these kings” refers to the kings who rule during the last generation of Gentile power. While it is true that this is not specifically related to the toes of the image, in the nature of the case the destruction will come for the last generation of rulers. Inasmuch as other passages speak specifically of ten kings in the end times (Dan 7:24; Rev 17:12), it is not unreasonable to hold that this is a reference to the final state of the kingdom and the final rulers.
The description of the stone as being cut out “of the mountain without hands” has sometimes been referred to Mount Zion specifically, but it is better to consider this as a symbolic picture of political sovereignty. The stone is part and parcel of the sovereignty of God of which it is an effective expression. The symbolism clearly makes this originate in God rather than in men. The effect is that the fifth kingdom, the kingdom of God, replaces completely all vestiges of the preceding kingdoms, which prophecy can only be fulfilled in any literal sense by a reign of Christ over the earth. The fact is that the amillennial interpretation, attempting to find fulfillment of the destruction of the image in history, does not provide a reasonable explanation of this passage. Only the premillennial position, which assigns this event as coinciding with the second advent of Christ, gives literal fulfillment to the symbolism involved in the destruction of the image.
In concluding his interpretation, Daniel reaffirms the absolute certainty of the fulfillment of the dream, stating again that its interpretation comes from God, that the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. Taken as a whole, it assures the ultimate rule of God over the earth to be fulfilled, not only in the millennial kingdom but in the continued display of the sovereignty of God in the new heaven and the new earth.
Nebuchadnezzar Worships and Promotes Daniel
2:46-49 Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours 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 Abed-nego, over the affairs of the province of Babylon: but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.
Nebuchadnezzar, overwhelmed by the tremendous significance of the image and the demonstration that Daniel’s God was greater than any god whom he worshiped, fell upon his face and worshiped Daniel, commanding an oblation and sweet odors be offered to him. Critics have lost no time criticizing Daniel for accepting this as equating him with deity. It is quite clear, however, from the resulting conversation of the king with Daniel, that Nebuchadnezzar merely regarded Daniel as a worthy priest or representative of his God and was honoring him in this category. This is brought out in the king’s statement to Daniel, “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.” In other words, even the king understood that Daniel was the ambassador and representative of God but not deity himself. It is probably for this reason that Daniel permitted the king to do what he did. In any case, it hardly would have been proper for Daniel under these circumstances to have interrupted the king with a protest.
An interesting parallel is found in Josephus, recording the instance where Alexander the Great bowed before the high priest of the Jews. When Parmenion, one of his generals, asked him why, when ordinarily all men would prostrate themselves before Alexander the Great, he had prostrated himself before the high priest of the Jews, Alexander replied, “It was not before him that I prostrated myself, but the God of whom he has the honour to be high priest.” In view of the previous statements of Daniel repeated several times and Nebuchadnezzar’s own statement of verse 47, the record leaves no doubt that Daniel was not claiming deity or any of the powers of deity. It is clear that Nebuchadnezzar did not worship Daniel again.
In the process of offering worship to Daniel’s God, Nebuchadnezzar actually pays a great tribute to the God of Daniel. It is most significant that he does not even mention his own gods which had failed to produce a suitable revelation, except in the statement that Daniel’s God is “a God of gods,” that is, Daniel’s God is supreme over any other gods commonly worshiped in a polytheistic system. Although Nebuchadnezzar was short of true faith in Daniel’s God at this point in his life, the evidence that Daniel’s God could reveal a secret and may indeed have been the author of his dream impressed Nebuchadnezzar with the fact that no other god could be greater.
In keeping with the king’s desire to honor Daniel and also according to his promise, Daniel is now exalted and immediately becomes a great man. Many valuable gifts are given to him, and he is installed in the exalted position of ruler over the whole province of Babylon as well as chief of the governors over the wise men. Although critics reprobate this position as objectionable for a Jew, no doubt Daniel found a way to avoid involvement in the usual practices of divination, heathen rites, and other things that might normally fall to this office. As Young points out, however, if Daniel had lived in the second century during a period of strict legalism among the Jews, it would be doubtful that Daniel would have been pictured as receiving such honors from a heathen king.
Having been thus signally honored by the king, Daniel, in fairness to his three companions who had joined him in prayer that the secret might be revealed, requested that they too might have a position of power and influence in the province of Babylon. Apparently, although Daniel had great authority, it did not include appointing such officials without the king’s permission. Granting Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to positions of trust in the government of the province of Babylon. Daniel himself apparently had a position of honor “in the gate of the king,” by which is meant that he served in the court itself. Thus Daniel, the obscure Jewish captive who could have been lost to history like many others if he had compromised in chapter 1, is now exalted to a place of great honor and power. Like Joseph in Egypt, he was destined to play an important part in the subsequent history of his generation.