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In Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue reveals the history of the world’s empires. Daniel 7 gives that history too, but there it is revealed in a dream to Daniel and presented in beasts. Beasts are creatures without insight and without conscious connection with God. The statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is in accordance with his imagination of power and rule, how man sees those realms. The beasts in Daniel’s dream show how God thinks about these realms, how He sees them.
Daniel 2 is fundamental to the understanding of prophecy. It contains a key to many other prophecies. The dream of Nebuchadnezzar is very telling, because here in brief the whole history of the world is presented, with the final piece – and this is what it is all about – the creation of the realm of the Lord Jesus.
In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, God shows him the history of the world. The way in which it is made known makes it clear that the most powerful man on earth depends on the prophet of God for its interpretation. This chapter shows three characteristics related to Nebuchadnezzar:
1. He has received his authority from above.
2. He has been given his authority for a specified period.
3. For insight he depends on faithful people.
Nebuchadnezzar and His Advisers
In these verses a scene unfolds that shows the tragedy of searching for explanations about future things without asking God. We see the human wisdom of the advisors of Nebuchadnezzar and his own power expressed in a disillusioned way. That’s how it always goes. When the wisdom and power of the world are put to the test, wisdom turns out to be moderate, and power turns out to be completely inadequate to obtain the answers. First, man will try to solve the riddles of life and the future by all means at his disposal. Only when it has become apparent that there is no satisfactory answer in this way, is one inclined to listen to God. Man’s failure paves the way for the revelation of the wisdom and power of God.
Nebuchadnezzar wants to know the meaning of his dream. He orders his entire staff of advisers to come before him, all specialists in the field of dream explanations, everyone from his own perspective. Let the king tell his dream and they will give him the explanation. It is not clear from the text whether the king has indeed forgotten the dream or whether he simply does not want to tell it. This is not important either. It is about Nebuchadnezzar, that if he would only tell them the dream they will have a meaning ready for it.
It is not inconceivable that he knows their twists and turns of explanations and that he knows how they will manipulate the explanation of his dream. As long as this has been favorable to himself, he has endured their twists and turns. But because God is at work, this time he is not content with a plausible explanation. He wants to know the right meaning. Those who can tell the dream can also be trusted with the explanation.
God uses the king’s demand to expose the foolishness and inability of his counselors. They answer that they are not able to tell the king his dream. In Dan 2:10-11 they unconsciously give the right answer: no creature can meet the king’s demand. In so doing, they acknowledge their failure. Only the gods can tell the dream, but they fail. This time the scholars cannot live up to their pretensions that they are in contact with the higher world. Only the true God can make known this dream because the dream comes from Him. By unmasking these people, He clears the way for this Himself.
Not only the scholars of Nebuchadnezzar are disillusioned, but also Nebuchadnezzar himself is disillusioned in his power. His worst threats are powerless as a means of exerting pressure to find out what he absolutely wants to know. In powerless anger, he lets his threats be carried out. He orders the killing of all the wise men in Babylon.
Reaction of Daniel
When Daniel hears about the threat to be killed, he does not shy away from the problem. He first asks what is going on, why there is such a hurry. Daniel does not allow himself to be tempted to act hastily. He goes to the king and asks for time. That is courageous, because the king has already given the order that the wise men should be killed.
The way Daniel addresses the king is a testimony of faith. He promises the king that he will give him the explanation. In Dan 2:28, he testifies that the explanation does not come from himself, but that God has revealed the explanation. Here, however, Daniel does not yet know anything about the dream, but he is aware that there is a God who reveals “profound and hidden things” (Dan 2:22). Because Daniel has a living faith in God and trusts Him unconditionally, he can speak to the king in this way.
In his speech, no pretention can be heard. He is not self-assured, but asks for time. He asks no delay to explore all kinds of clever possibilities and to plan to escape the imminent danger. He uses the postponement to share his needs with his friends and pray together for the situation (cf. Acts 4:23-31). Faith leads to dependence on God. In this prayer, a common prayer, they pray to “the God of heaven”. They approach God in the right attitude, without the pretention of being His people. They ask mercy from Him, that they may not be put to death.
Heard and Praise
The prayer of Daniel and his friends is heard in an impressive way. Daniel sees in a night vision exactly the same thing Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream. He is also given the explanation. Here the word is experienced: “The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, And He will make them know His covenant” (Psa 25:14). What Daniel experiences here, agrees in a number of ways with what Joseph has experienced, who also explains a dream several times (Gen 40:4-8; 12; 18; Gen 41:15-16; 25). Only Daniel also gets the dream itself revealed and not just the explanation. Daniel and his friends have no doubt about this answer from God.
Daniel’s first reaction is not that he goes to the king to tell him the dream, but a thanksgiving to God. He praises God for Who He is and what He does and of what He is capable. All change comes from Him. It is important to see and realize that. All authority comes from Him. He removes kings and establishes them. He also gives people what they need in wisdom and knowledge.
Daniel is not proud that the dream has been revealed to him and not to his friends. He speaks of a response from God to him and his friends (“us”) to a prayer from him and his friends (“we”). There is no truth that we can call our private property. What we have received belongs to all who believe. This will save us from boasting about what the Lord has given us as insight (cf. 1Cor 4:7).
Daniel Before the King
The circumstances, which are all in God’s hand, ensure that Daniel asks for and receives delay. He went to Arioch fearlessly and told him not to kill the wise men. This time it looks more like an order than a request. If God has revealed anything, any reluctance to accept or do so is a stain on His credibility. When Daniel acts in the certainty of faith in what God has revealed, God confirms His presence by paving the way for Daniel to the king. Arioch hurries to bring Daniel to the king.
Arioch introduces Daniel to the king as one of the “exiles from Judah”. This emphasizes that only that people have knowledge of the true God and that God only reveals His thoughts to the members of that people. It also emphasizes that the heads of the peoples depend on them for knowing the revelation of God. The king must know that wisdom can be found among the faithful of that people, who are a remnant, no matter how much the people as a whole have failed.
We see this as a general principle that also applies today. The truth concerning God revealed in Christ can only be found in Christendom. To know the truth of Who God is, one must be with “the church of the living God”, for that is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1Tim 3:15), no matter how much the church has failed. In practice, one must be with those who acknowledge that failure and who want to be faithful to God’s Word as a remnant. Outside the church of the living God a person cannot be entrusted with the knowledge of the truth. This denounces every other world religion as a lie.
There is always a great danger that a person will boast about his knowledge of what God has made known. That is why Daniel’s attitude is so valuable and exemplary. We see in him that the real, deep knowledge of the ways of God does not puff up, but humbles. He did not attribute any honor to himself. He declares that he is no smarter than any other person. Everything he knows comes from God, and he therefore gives Him all honor.
The true purpose of what God has shown is to make known to Nebuchadnezzar “what will take place in the later days” and “what will take place in the future” (Dan 2:28; 29). It is not so much about events in the days nearby, but about what will happen in the end times. Certainly, the dream also says something about the near future for Nebuchadnezzar. But it is particularly about the end time. Nebuchadnezzar does not see a statue that grows, but a ready-made statue. And then he sees the destruction of the statue by a stone. He sees this stone grow and become a great mountain (Dan 2:34; 35; 44; 45). The emphasis is on what the stone does and becomes. When we come to discuss the relevant verses, we will see their great significance.
It seems that Nebuchadnezzar has been very busy in his mind with the coming of his kingdom and that God answers the thoughts of his heart through the dream (Dan 2:30; cf. Ecc 5:2a). God addressed Nebuchadnezzar personally in the dream: “He has made known to you” (Dan 2:29). Contrary to what Elihu observes about ignoring God’s speaking through dreams (Job 33:14-15), Nebuchadnezzar does heed the dream and wants to know its meaning. He may be a gentile ruler but he is not like so many people today who do not care about the future and their own future.
The Dream of Nebuchadnezzar
In his dream Nebuchadnezzar saw a statue. According to the description given, it is not just a statue, but a “great” statue. Furthermore, it is a “large” statue and “of extraordinary splendor”. It has an exceptional appearance. The whole is both impressive by its beauty and terrifying by its largeness. Those who see it are deeply impressed. From the statue a major threat is going out.
This is how Nebuchadnezzar sees the statue. It responds to his view of a world empire. As mentioned in the introduction, this is different from Daniel 7. There the world empires are shown to Daniel. And how does he see them? Like tearing beasts. Daniel sees the character of the empires as God sees it, while Nebuchadnezzar only sees their appearance.
Nebuchadnezzar sees the statue in the form of a statue of man. To this man belongs the earth, it is the earthly man. The statue expresses the self-righteousness of man. Nebuchadnezzar gets to see the realms of the world the way people like to see them. It focuses on the person who boasts of the results of his own efforts.
The Components of the Statue
The statue consists of four parts of different material. It presents the history of four successive empires. Yet it is only one statue. The empires can alternate, but the main idea is that authority rests with the nations, regardless of which nation is in power.
The description of the statue begins with the head and ends with the feet. The materials that make up the body parts are decreasing in value. They range from the most expensive to the cheapest material: from gold to silver and copper to iron, finally mixing this iron with clay. That they decrease in value does not mean that they decrease in size, but in power. We will see that in the explanation.
It is remarkable that the latter empire is not only represented in the legs of iron, but that it is seen even lower, in the feet, which are composed of iron and clay. This means that the fourth realm at the end of its existence (“its feet”) will have a different character than at the beginning (“its legs”). In the beginning it is only iron, which means that there is a coherent whole that is hard like iron. The end, however, will be incoherent, as we see in the feet.
When the statue is explained, we suddenly hear about “the toes of the feet” (Dan 2:41-42). Then it becomes clear that the last manifestation of this realm will consist of ten realms that are tied up to one realm, just as the toes are connected to the feet.
The End of the Statue
The whole statue rests on a construction of iron and clay. That shows how unstable it is. Proof of this is provided when, under the watchful eye of Nebuchadnezzar, a stone is cut out that hits the statue at the feet. The special feature of the cut out stone is that it is “cut out without hands”. This means that no human or human effort is involved here, but that God Himself cuts out this stone and works this result (cf. Job 34:20; Col 2:11).
As a result of the collision of the stone with the statue, the statue does not just fall down, no, the whole statue is crushed by the stone, nothing remains of it. All materials are blown away by the wind as if they were chaff on a summer threshing floor. The statue is so thoroughly crushed that there is no trace of it to be found.
As the last part of his dream, Nebuchadnezzar sees the enormous contrast between the vanishing of the statue without a trace and what happens to the stone. The stone grows so much that it finally fills the entire earth. What happens to the statue finds its fulfilment just before the establishment of the kingdom of peace where Christ will reign for thousand years. Just before the dawn of eternity something similar is happening. For then heaven and earth flee away from the face of Christ, Who sits on the great white throne, “and no place was found for them” (Rev 20:11).
The destruction of the statue also contains a lesson. When at the end of time, in the last days, the statue is destroyed, this destruction concerns the whole statue, so all the empires, and not just the last empire. Each empire that has conquered the previous empire has taken in elements of the conquered empire. Therefore, after the destruction, still something remained. Therefore, all the empires are destroyed at the same time in what is left of them.
Whatever has been said about the stone, whatever explanation was given, it is clear that this stone has never filled the whole earth and that this stone still does not fill the earth. The extermination of the world empires has yet to take place. This means – and this is the lesson – that we still live in the history of the four world empires.
We are now ready for the explanation. It is worth remembering that we do not need history to explain what we read in God’s Word, but that it is the other way around. We need God’s Word to explain history. In retrospect, history always seems to confirm what God has said in His Word beforehand about how it will be.
The First Empire
Daniel has accurately described the dream. The first condition of Nebuchadnezzar is thus met. Now he can rest assured about the explanation. Daniel begins with the golden head. With due respect he addresses Nebuchadnezzar. Then he says that the ruler has seen in the dream Who has given him his power. He owes everything he is and owns only to God.
Daniel leaves no doubt as to who represents the golden head. He says to Nebuchadnezzar: “You are the head of gold”. God announces, through the explanation given by Daniel, that He has transferred the rule to Nebuchadnezzar as the head of the nations.
With the appointment of Nebuchadnezzar as head of the nations, “the times of the Gentiles” (Lk 21:24) have begun. Israel is no longer in the land, God no longer lives there, the temple is empty. Israel is no longer the center of the earth and history from the moment that the glory of the LORD has left the temple and the land. A whole new period has begun in which the people have become “Lo-ammi”, which means “not My people” (Hos 1:9).
God then gave His authority to the head of the nations. God will count history according to the heads of the peoples. The realm of Nebuchadnezzar is the first great world empire after Israel has been set aside. The big difference from the time that Assyria and Egypt were world empires, is that Israel in that time is still recognized by God as His people.
But although God can no longer recognize Israel as His people, He is still in touch with a remnant. The first characteristic of this remnant is faithfulness. And whoever is faithful gets insight into the thoughts of God, in His mystery. Only with those who want to live by the Word of God can knowledge of God’s thoughts be found.
The light they possess is not their own, but is given to them by God. The world can only find God’s thoughts in those who hold faithfully to His Word. Through the dream God makes clear through Daniel’s explanation how the history of the world will play out after Israel is set aside.
The Second and Third Empires
Nebuchadnezzar is also told that his power is only valid for a certain period of time. Jeremiah determines the duration of his kingdom: three generations will reign (Jer 27:7). Then his kingdom will be succeeded by other kingdoms. Those other empires will also come to an end. Only the last empire, the fifth one, will be an eternal empire. That is a very special empire.
So, the first empire is Babylon, represented in Nebuchadnezzar. But there will follow still three empires. If Nebuchadnezzar has already flattered himself with the thought that his kingdom will last forever, something that every ruler has within him, then his dream will burst his bubble. His kingdom will be succeeded by a kingdom “inferior to” his, like silver has a lower value than gold. The silver refers to the Medo-Persian empire (Dan 5:28). It is a double realm, which is reflected in the two arms.
But the Medo-Persian empire will also come to an end. There will rise a third world power that will overpower the second world power. The battle between these two empires is described in Daniel 8. There we also read that this third empire is the kingdom of Greece (Dan 8:21). In just a few years Alexander the Great conquered the huge previous empire and more. From this third empire it is additionally mentioned that it is an empire “which will rule over all the earth”. Alexander must have complained that there is no other world to conquer. When he is thirty-three years old, he dies. After that his four generals divided the kingdom among themselves.
The decrease in the value of the metals symbolizes the decrease in power of the successive kings. This state of affairs is not in line with what man claims. According to man, things are getting better and better. But Scripture says that there is decline. This decline, as has been said, is not in the size of the empires, but in the power that will be exercised by the rulers of those empires:
1. Nebuchadnezzar is an absolute dictator. He is ruler over everything (Dan 2:38; Jer 28:14; Jer 27:5-6).
2. In the case of the Medes and Persians, the authority of the king is not absolute. The rulers themselves are bound by the laws of that empire (Dan 6:9; 15).
3. In the third empire, the ruler’s authority is even less. Alexander is dependent on the support of his generals.
4. The fourth empire, the Roman empire, is the least absolute in its rule. The emperors rule by the grace of the people. How important the voice of the people is, we see in Pilate’s fear that the people are threatening to charge him before the emperor (Jn 19:12-13).
The Fourth Empire
The fourth empire is the Roman empire
The proof that the fourth empire is the Roman empire is found especially in Revelation 17. We will discuss this in more detail in a moment. First, we must draw attention to another proof. That proof lies in the relationship between the world empires and Israel. Remarkably enough, each of the three world empires mentioned so far has ruled over Israel. That is actually why they are mentioned. A people only have a place in the Bible if it is somehow related to the history of God’s people.
Scripture confirms that the fourth empire, the Roman empire, also ruled over Israel. We read about the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus about Judea (Lk 2:1) and about the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius (Lk 3:1). Other places in the Gospels also prove Rome’s rule over the land of Israel (Lk 20:22-24; Jn 11:48; Jn 19:10; 11; 15). It should not surprise us that we find this back in history. In the year 63 BC Pompey conquered Judea which then became a Roman province.
The three preceding empires are described relatively briefly. In comparison, the description of the Roman empire is comprehensive.. This description with the explanation gives some details that show that this very empire is extraordinarily interesting. And when we see that the history of Europe is given to us in this empire, the data interests us all the more.
In the development of the Roman empire, two phases can be distinguished that are related to the division of the empire into an eastern and a western part. The Western Roman empire ceases to exist when Rome is destroyed in the year 476. It was not until 1453 that the Eastern Roman empire comes to an end, when the Turks conquer it. Of these two empires, the Western Roman empire falls within the framework of prophecy.
This leads us to the discussion of a problem that we first have to deal with, before we continue: How can the stone hit the statue at the feet, i.e. the Roman empire, when it no longer exists? As a solution to this problem, it has been thought that the stone represents Christendom, which originated through Christ. Then, with the advent of Christendom, the dream of Nebuchadnezzar must have been fulfilled.
But the coming of Christ, and with Him Christendom, did not destroy the empire. As for Christ, the opposite is true. That empire has killed Christ. So Christendom cannot be the fulfilment either. The dream shows the crushing of the statue as a sudden thing, after which the stone fills all the earth. Who would dare to state that Christendom suddenly attacked the Roman empire and then gained general rule over the world?
The fourth empire is still to come
This means that this fourth empire still is to come. But how is that possible? It existed before and now it no longer exists, doesn’t it? The solution to this problem is found in Revelation 17, already mentioned. There we read of the beast representing the Roman empire (Dan 7:7-8; Rev 13:1-11): “It was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss” (Rev 17:8). Not only is the empire itself divided into two parts, east and west, but the history of the empire also consists of two parts, that is, two phases. The first phase of the empire is past, it “was”. And at present the empire does not exist, “and is not”. The second phase is still in the future, “and is about to come up out of the abyss”.
It is clear that for the prophecy to be fulfilled, the once disappeared Western Roman empire must be restored. This restoration is still future, but this future is very close! During the course of history several people have tried to restore this empire to its former glory. Powerful rulers such as Napoleon and Hitler all tried to revive this empire by force. It did not work. The empire will therefore not be established by force and conquest, but by ten kings who will voluntarily give their power to an autocrat (Rev 17:12-13).
The legs, the feet and the toes
These ten kings are already symbolically indicated in the statue. If we look for a moment at the part of the statue representing the Roman empire, the legs and the feet, we can see in the two legs and the two feet with the ten toes the two phases of the Roman empire. The two legs are a picture of the two parts of the former Roman empire, that is the Western Roman empire and the Eastern Roman empire. The ten toes represent the division of the empire in the future.
It points out that in its final phase this kingdom will be composed of ten kingdoms, according to the ten toes (cf. Dan 7:24). The future empire will consist of ten parts, each with a king, a situation that the empire never knew in its former existence. If these ten parts of Europe voluntarily join together, that empire will be destroyed by the coming of Christ, for He, and no one else, is represented in the stone that rolls off the mountain.
The toes are not only made of iron, but of iron and clay. This indicates a binding of something hard like iron with something brittle like clay. Iron and clay are two elements that by their nature cannot be mixed. They both maintain their own characteristics. It is a hard and at the same time a brittle kingdom. The constitution is hard, but it is not a compact unit. We can think of the democratic principle that is incompatible with authoritarian state power that wants to act with military force. These things are reflected in the current drive towards one Europe.
Clay also represents man, where we can think of individualism, self-interest, personal freedom and participation. We see those also clearly present in Europe. We see the power of the great whole on the one hand, and the maintenance of national interests on the other.
Incidentally, the decline and finally the fall of the once mighty Roman empire has been a subject of study for many historians. Their amazement is at a different level than that of John. We have already talked about one of the suggested causes of the fall of the Roman empire, Christendom. Some other causes are mentioned in a booklet edited by Donald Kagan, ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Why Did it Collapse?’. In it a number of historians have their say. Everyone comes to their own conclusion after research. And these conclusions are very diverse.
The one blames the downfall to a class struggle, a struggle of the slaves against the ruling class. Another believes that climatic conditions were the cause. As a result, there would have been no rain for a certain period of time, resulting in crop failures and population displacement. That would have had an effect on the strength of the army, because the growth of recruits would have been halted by the withdrawal of the population. Yet another considers it possible that racial mixing caused the decay. (Hitler may have wanted to defend himself against this last aspect when considering his measures for the maintenance and promotion of a purely Germanic or Aryan race. The idea of growing a super breed came from Heinrich Himmler, a close employee of Hitler.)
All these historians are wrong with their assumptions. Scripture is the only reliable source for history. Scripture also describes history when everything has yet to happen. That is because Scripture is the speaking of God (Rom 9:17) and God declares the end from the beginning (Isa 46:10).
The Fifth Empire
Although Daniel does not mention the number ten – John does (Rev 17:12) – he speaks of “kings” (Dan 2:44). The empires of all those kings come to an end, because “the God of heaven” establishes a kingdom that is eternal. This fifth empire is a total replacement of the fourth and will not be succeeded. The previous kingdoms have always ended. This kingdom has no end. It puts an end to all previous empires and itself endures forever. Nothing, and nobody is able to overcome this empire. It does not belong to the statue and does not absorb anything of it, as the previous empires did with the empires they conquered.
The stone, the last empire, completely destroys the statue and then grows into a mountain. This kingdom is not established by a man, “not by hands”, but by God (cf. Heb 9:24a; 2Cor 5:1). This kingdom originates with God in heaven. When Jesus Christ establishes His kingdom, He will first judge all the power of man. The stone is a picture of Christ (Lk 20:17-18). In Daniel 7 we will see that the cutting of the stone corresponds to the return of Jesus Christ.
Time and again Daniel uses the words “you saw” in his explanation. In this way he reminds the king of what he saw with his own eyes. It is an extra emphasis of the truth of the dream and the explanation. Daniel concludes his explanation by pointing to “the great God” as the Origin of the dream and declaring that the “dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy”. Everything that comes from God provides a handhold, you can rely on that.
Homage From Nebuchadnezzar
Nebuchadnezzar is deeply impressed by the explanation by Daniel. He has let him finish without interrupting him. There is no doubt whatsoever with him about its accuracy. He feels that he is dealing with a power that completely shadows his power. The great, mighty king falls down before Daniel and worships him. The golden head bestows divine honor upon a poor exile!
It is impossible to suppose that Daniel would have accepted that divine tribute, nor the sacrifices. That is contrary to his character and his piety. Peter refuses this honor also when Cornelius honors him, as do Paul and Barnabas when the crowds want to sacrifice to them as if they were gods (Acts 10:25-26; Acts 14:14-15).
Through what Nebuchadnezzar says about God, we see that he has not truly come to repentance and conversion. He praises the God of Daniel. That Daniel’s God has also become his God, is unfortunately not apparent.
He does Daniel great honor and loads him with gifts. Daniel lets his friends share in the honor. He had asked them to pray for and with him for an outcome regarding the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. Now that Nebuchadnezzar has made him head over all the wise men, he uses his position to give his friends certain privileges. Faith shares in distress and in prosperity (cf. 1Cor 12:26).
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Daniel 2". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20