When one builds a building, the first thing he does is prepare some sort of foundation. Even if it’s just a shed out in the garden, there must be some sort of anchor for the building. If he’s building a skyscraper, the foundation must go down to bedrock, perhaps dozens of feet, to provide a secure basis for the building.
This vision of Nebuchadnezzar’s is the foundation upon which the rest are built. And except for his vision of the tree, all the prophecies in the book come together to form a fairly comprehensive picture of the future of God’s people, that is, the nation of Israel, cf. Daniel 9:24.
The occasion of the dream, 2:1, 28, 29.
In 2:29, Daniel told the king, As for you, O King, thoughts came to your mind while on your bed about what will come to pass after this. Evidently, Nebuchadnezzar had gone to bed one night and began to think about all he had done, the magnificence of his capitol, and the success he had had politically and militarily. But he knew he wouldn’t live forever, and so perhaps he began to muse and wonder what would happen after he had died. What would become of all his accomplishments? In that frame of mind, he drifted off to sleep, and a dream so disturbing that he awoke with a start, and couldn’t go back to sleep.
The purpose of the dream, 2:28, 29, 45.
God wasn’t using this dream merely to satisfy Nebuchadnezzar’s curiosity. It is true that Daniel told him that “the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this,” but then he said, “The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure.” This wasn’t simply to assure the king that the dream as given was correct, but rather to assure him, and us, that what is revealed will happen.
Furthermore, Daniel started his interpretation in v. 28 by saying, “There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days, emphasis added. This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered this phrase, about which there is much discussion, and it won’t be the last.
The parts of the dream, 2:31-35.
In this dream, we see the development, deterioration, disintegration, displacement and final destruction of certain world powers, in a description of what our Lord would later call, “The times of the Gentiles,” Luke 21:24.
1. The description of a great image, or statue, vs. 31-33.
This is a straightforward description of a man’s form from head to toe. It was a statue composed of several materials, from a gold head through silver, brass and iron down to a mixture of iron and clay in its feet.
2. The destruction of the great image, vs. 34, 35a.
There are three elements to this destruction. A stone cut without hands, that is, of no human origin or effort, struck the image on its feet, with the result that the image collapsed into pieces. Then the stone crushed the broken image into dust, which the wind carried away till there was no trace of them.
3. The displacement of the great image, v. 35b.
After the destruction and disappearance of the image, the stone…became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
The interpretation of the dream, 2:36-45.
Except for a couple of things, we’re going to leave out the perplexity of Nebuchadnezzar over his dream, and the resultant furor he caused among the court magicians. There is some discussion over whether or not Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten the dream, but it doesn’t matter. If he had forgotten it, he would recognize it when described by the magicians, and if he remembered it, he would know whether or not they were indeed able to describe it, and, therefore, as he thought, to interpret it. We tend to believe that he remembered it, and this was simply a test.
Another thing of note is Daniel’s response to the decree to kill all the wise men. He and his three friends prayed. This is another example of his habitual prayer.
Finally, something the wise men said is interesting: “There is [no one] who can tell the king’s matter,…except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh,” vs. 10, 11.
It was this very point Daniel emphasized in his response to Nebuchadnezzar: “but there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets,…and He who reveals secrets has made known to you what will be…. The great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this,” vs. 28, 29, 45.
God is never afraid to meet sinful men on their own ground. In referring to God’s defeat of Egypt before Israel’s deliverance, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, said, “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them, Exodus 18:11, emphasis added. In 1 Corinthians 3:19, 20, quoting Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11, Paul wrote, The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness,” and again, “The LORD knows the thoughts of men, that they are futile,” emphasis added.
Here, then, is Daniel’s interpretation of the dream.
1. you are the head of gold, vs. 37, 38.
This dream was Nebuchadnezzar’s. It had likely come while he was wondering what would become of his kingdom after he died. It was fitting that the interpretation begin with him: he is the head of gold, v. 38.
Daniel, however, emphasizes something generally ignored or overlooked by men. He says, “the God of heaven has given you a kingdom…. He has given them [‘the children of men, birds and beasts’] into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all,” vs. 37, 38. Certainly and truly, Nebuchadnezzar had conquered most of his world, but it was through that conquest, and not independently of it, that God had put him where he was.
Nebuchadnezzar was on the throne because God wanted him there, Daniel 2:21! The present occupant of the White House, or the Kremlin, or 10 Downing Street, or leaders in the Middle East or Africa or South America – all are there because God has put them there, not independently of what they have done, but by means of what they have done. It may seem chaotic to us, but everything moves in perfect accord with God’s purpose, Daniel 4:34; Ephesians 1:11. It’s hard to understand sometimes, but Scripture says it is so.
2. after you shall arise another kingdom, inferior to yours, v. 39.
As silver is inferior to gold, this second kingdom would be inferior to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar could do anything he wanted, but Darius, for example, was bound by the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter, 6:8, 12, 15. The phrase, “does not alter” is, literally, “does not pass away,” which shows how foolish sinful men are. There is only one King whose Word is settled forever, Psalm 119:89; Isaiah 40:8. At this time, nothing more is said of this kingdom.
3. a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth, vs. 39.
Again, nothing more is said of this kingdom. Note, however, that the various kingdoms decrease in “value” even as they increase in strength: gold, silver, bronze, iron.
4. the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, (yet flimsy), vs. 40-43.
It will break in pieces all the other kingdoms. The first three kingdoms are plainly identified in later visions of Daniel. Though the identity of this fourth kingdom may be known from history as Rome, it is never mentioned by name, either here or in subsequent visions. In the wisdom and providence of God, there is a reason for this omission, which perhaps we’ll see shortly.
God does say more about this fourth kingdom than He does the other three together. Not mentioning the legs of the image, though their presence is implicit, Daniel calls attention to the toes, toes and feet which are a strange mixture of iron and clay. He gives a two-fold interpretation of this conglomeration:
a. It will have great strength, v. 41, the strength of iron will be in it. That kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others, v. 40.
b. It will have great weakness, v. 42, the kingdom will be partly strong and partly fragile [brittle]. They will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay, v. 43.
5. In the face of human effort and failing, God Himself will set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever, v. 44. This is the stone that struck the image [and] became a great mountain and filled the whole earth that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, v. 35.
But when will He do this? Or has it already been done? What does Daniel say?
a. When will God do this? In the days of these kings, v. 44.
The question then becomes, “Which kings?” The Reformation Study Bible (RSB) has this note on v. 44: “The most natural interpretation is that the kings are the rulers of the four powers making up the image just described. The other possibility is that they are a sequence of several rulers of the fourth kingdom,” (p. 1216). Just in passing, I consider this version representative of current Reformed thought. As such, I refer to it several times.
Let’s look at this note more closely. Is there any evidence that God “set up a kingdom” during the Babylonian Empire? The Persian Empire? In Greece? In Rome? Especially a kingdom that destroys all the rest? There is one possibility – in Rome, or, more accurately, during the preeminence of Rome. It was during this time that the Lord Jesus came into the world and was crucified – by a representative of Rome. In addition, on the same page, the RSB says, “This kingdom was inaugurated and preached at the First Coming of Christ (Mark 1:15; Matt. 12:28; 24:14).” According to this view, then, the kingdom was actually set up some time during the time represented by the middle of the image. Since there is more said about Christ and His kingdom in Daniel, we’ll leave further remarks about this viewpoint until then.
Actually, we believe there is another possibility, from the text itself. Here is where we have difficulty with Reformed interpretation of prophecy. Because, according to them, prophecy doesn’t mean what it seems to say (that is, it’s not to be taken “literally”), close attention apparently doesn’t need to be paid to what it actually says. The vision clearly shows that the image will be struck on its feet, v. 34. It seems to me, then, that these kings refers to kings symbolized by the ten toes. Then, what about them being “a sequence of several rulers of the fourth kingdom”? I believe John has a reference to these kings in his Revelation: “the ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast,” Revelation 17:12, 16. See also Revelation 12:3. These kings are not sequential; they rule simultaneously. We grant that John isn’t commenting on Daniel, but he and Daniel saw much of the same future. Granted, some of what Daniel saw as future was history for John. Further, these kings are later referred to as “horns” by Daniel himself, Daniel 7:24.
“Feet” would be foundational to any statue; destroy them and you destroy the statue. However, this isn’t Daniel’s thought. These kings aren’t “foundational” to the statue or to the governments it represents. They are the final form of those governments, and it’s during their tenure that the God of heaven will set up a kingdom.
b. Who will do this? The God of heaven, v. 44.
We do agree with the Reformed view that this kingdom will not come through political maneuvering or military power, as have other kingdoms. There will be no vote to “approve” it. We are not going to “bring in the kingdom.” In fact, if I understand Scripture correctly, this kingdom will be the last thing humanity wants.
The question becomes, what kind of kingdom will God set up? Ad we’ve already seen, He’s already in absolute charge of all that goes on, as Nebuchadnezzar found out the hard way in chapter 4. So what kind of a kingdom can God set up that He doesn’t already have? Perhaps we can find the answer as we go along. Furthermore, since there is no place where God isn’t already in control, another question might be, where will He set it up? And when will He set it up? There’s a great deal of discussion about these questions.
c. What will it be like? It shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms.
Let’s think about this for a minute. According to Daniel, God’s kingdom will destroy all these kingdoms. Yet, as we look at history, Babylon wasn’t destroyed by God, at least not directly, but by the Medes and Persians. The Persians were conquered by Greece, who in turn was defeated by Rome. Rome as a political entity was finally destroyed by Germanic tribes invading from the North in 476 AD. Pagan Rome was succeeded, if we can put it like that, by Papal Rome, “The Holy Roman Empire,” a political entity over which the Pope had control. (It’s interesting that Papal Rome still uses the language – Latin – of Pagan Rome.) Eventually, it split into east and west (hence, perhaps, the two legs of the image). In 1870, the Pope’s power was limited to the Vatican, though the Roman church is still very powerful. If we understand correctly, Papal Rome will continue until a confederation of ten kings under the rule of “the beast” destroys her, Revelation 17:16.
d. it’s endurance, v. 44.
1. It shall never be destroyed, as were all the kingdoms of the image.
2. It shall not be left to other people, that is, it won’t be given to or taken away by someone else, as kingdoms often are today.
e. It’s extent, It (as represented by the stone) became a great mountain and filled the whole earth, v. 35.
Not just some local kingdom, nor even an extensive empire, but a world-wide sovereignty over every part of this planet. There is much discussion about this, which we’ll enter into shortly. Not just a statue, but an awe-inspiring mountain, or perhaps a mountain range, which will make the Rockies or the Apennines look like foothills! Everest will hang its head in shame at the splendor of this mountain! Perhaps that seems a little too much, but God’s kingdom will certainly be far beyond anything this world has ever experienced.
It’s common for expositors to go ahead and tell us that the second kingdom is Medo-Persia, the third is Greece and so forth. We’ve identified them like that ourselves. However, the Holy Spirit didn’t see fit to have Daniel tell us, or rather, for Daniel himself to learn the names of these kingdoms until chapter 10. Perhaps the Spirit wants us to focus on this vision and what it says. We’ve already noted that the rise and fall of kingdoms, though perhaps accompanied by much confusion at the time, are all in tune with what God has told us beforehand. Nothing catches Him by surprise. He never has to say, “Oops!” He has no “Plan B”. He doesn’t need one. ( As I’ve written elsewhere, I don’t know about you, but if God had to revise His plan every time I mess something up, He’d be way beyond Plan B!) We grant this is contrary to much preaching today. Nevertheless, “there is a God in heaven,” and there are a couple of things to emphasize from this vision. First, God’s kingdom will supersede and destroy all human kingdoms. Second, it will fill the whole earth. These thoughts will be expanded in later visions.
Though we’ve mentioned it before and will have more to say as we go along, it’s again noteworthy that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was not interpreted as “principles” or “ongoing processes,” but as events, that is, things which would actually happen and which could be and, in many cases have been, individually and historically verifiable. In fact, as we’ve already noted, there is so much detail given with such accuracy that unbelieving scholars deny that it is prophecy at all, but was written well after the fact by someone using Daniel’s name