1. Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Daniel 2)
Because of its very familiarity, the main outline
of this remarkable revelation will be treated in relatively brief fashion.
Indeed, the only valid reason for spending time on it here is the
often-unrecognised fact that certain features of the king's dream seem
traditionally to have been misconstrued.
"Thou art this head of gold" explains why
king Nebuchadnezzar should have been so very insistent in his demands for an
elucidation of the vision. Of course, before this, he had had many another
dreams, which had been dismissed from serious attention (if not already gone
from memory). But this one was stamped in his mind and was a worry to him
because the image, which he had seen, had his own features: "Thou art
this head of gold."
The AV reading of the king’s words has
misled many readers: "The thing is gone from me." This is not equivalent to: 'I
have forgotten what the dream was about.' Had it been so, there would have been
none of this royal excitement.
More exactly, the king's dictum was: "The word is
gone forth from me"— with reference to the peremptory edict: 'Either you
tell me the dream and its interpretation, or I chop your heads
The sheer unreasonableness of this demand (as the
hot-round-the-collar magicians and Chaldeans saw it) was prompted by the shrewd
monarch's suspicion that "Ye have prepared lying and corrupt words to speak
before me— until the time be changed." This last phrase takes on a
sinister meaning when it is noted that in that historical period "times" were
measured from the accession year of each king (see ch. 2:1, and so throughout
the book). Thus, "till the time be changed" implied a new king on the throne.
These wily priests, faced with a demand contrary to all their trade union rules,
were quite capable of resolving their dilemma with a spoonful of strychnine in
their master's morning cup of tea!
This Nebuchadnezzar was no fool!
As junior members of the professional guild,
Daniel and his three friends were also under threat. It called for a very high
degree of faith to believe that their God would respond to their need in this
Nebuchadnezzar must have been both amazed and
amused by the cool assurance of this teen-ager before him that his outrageous
demand would be fully met.
When Daniel appeared in the royal presence again
next day, the cynical look on the king's countenance may well be imagined. But
it needed only one sentence from this young Hebrew, and the king was on the edge
of his throne, staring in wide-eyed astonishment: "Thou, O king, sawest, and
beheld a great image." Here for sure, was no charlatan
like the rest.
Within minutes confidence in the young prophet
was consolidated by full details of the dream. And Nebuchadnezzar knew
that he could also depend on the accuracy of the interpretation now to be
Alas, the same can hardly be said about the
interpretations so often unfolded in this twentieth century!
That the segments of that impressive image
represent a chronological sequence of empires can hardly be doubted. And if
there were nothing more in the vision than this main idea the interpretation
would be impressive:
sequence and character of these empires has often been commented on. The aptness
and accuracy of the successive parts are something to marvel
But all too easily a twofold difficulty has been
constantly glossed over:
- Why should world history suddenly become the quite new feature
of Old Testament prophecy?
This last point needs to be underlined. The truth
is that since the days of the fourth (Roman) empire, the world has seen plenty
of other empires as extensive and as long-lasting as the four, which preceded
- Why should this sequence of world empires be so blatantly
Genghis Khan had an empire, which stretched right
across Asia. Philip II of Spain ruled an empire covering a large part of Europe
and the whole of Central and South America. Here was grandeur to make golden
Babylon look ordinary. Napoleon's genius defeated every army he came against.
Even Alexander's achievements look small at the side of his. And for two
centuries the British Empire sprawled great splashes of red right round the
globe. That empire was, in all respects, easily the greatest of them
Then if this revelation to Nebuchadnezzar was
intended to be a conspectus of world history, why these amazing omissions? What
the vision included was magnificently accurate. Put why so
Careful attention to certain of the image details
supplies a fully convincing explanation:
- "After thee (Nebuchadnezzar) shall arise another kingdom
inferior to thee" (v.39). And this is all that is revealed here about the
Persian Empire. The reason is simple: Already, in the early days of
Nebuchadnezzar, Medes and Persians were becoming troublesome. Within a lifetime
their aggressive spirit was to prove overmastering. So it was hardly tactful to
dwell at length on this silver part of the image. Also it needs to be recognised
that "inferior to thee" is an altogether inaccurate description of the Persian
Empire. It was stronger, better organized, and more long-lasting than Babylon.
The words simply mean "lower down" (in the image). They indicate that Daniel was
working his way systematically through the details of the
- "And another kingdom of brass which shall bear rule over
all the earth." But, for certain, the Greek empire did not bear rule over
all the earth, not even over all the civilised world of that time. Here, once
again, students have been at the mercy of King James's translators with their
failure to recognize that right through the Bible—Old Testament and New
Testament—the words for "earth" and "land (of Israel)" are
interchangeable. Only context can decide which reading is called for. Here the
phrase clearly alludes to the instantaneous appropriation of the state of Judea
by the advancing Alexander.
In these details there is supplied a highly
important clue concerning Nebuchadnezzar's dream. It was not a revelation
of world history. It was a revelation of the sequence of Gentile
powers that would completely dominate the People of God in their own Land.
It was made known to the king of Babylon because he was the first to
incorporate the Holy Land in his empire (Sennacherib the Assyrian had tried and
failed—hence the omission of Assyria from the sequence).
- Most decisive of all are the details about the Iron kingdom of
Rome. "as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things...shall it break in
pieces and bruise (crush)" (v.40). Yet in point of fact the Roman regime did not
have this character. Wherever the legions went, there followed the blessings of
law and order. The pax Romana provided the civilised world with its most
wonderful era of peace and settled government. To that general rule there was
one quite striking exception. The Jews in Palestine proved to be the most
turbulent province of the empire, until at last in the war of A.D.67-70 (and
again in 135) Roman patience gave out, and all the towns and cities were
ruthlessly devastated. "Break in pieces and crush" became the most exact part of
the prophecy regarding Israel!
It is now possible to put a finger on another
error in the traditional interpretation of Daniel 2. For generations it has been
asserted that the ten toes, part iron, part clay, strong and weak, represent the
subdivisions of the Roman Empire covering the period from (roughly) the 7th
century to the 20th. Which ten? Here a. good deal of guesswork comes into play.
In "Elpis Israel", page 326f., two separate lists are submitted for approval.
Today neither of these carries conviction. In the last thing he wrote, Dr.
Thomas ("Exposition of Daniel" p.13) suggested that no accurate identification
need be looked for until the Last Days. This was a wise
Let it be remembered that, according to the clue
now brought to light, the vision is about the oppressors of Israel in the
Holy Land. When at last they were scattered far and wide, this history
— God's history — was drastically interrupted; and this state of
affairs continued until the Zionist movement in this century. Then, and only
then, does the vision—God's history regarding His Chosen
People—resume its relevance. In other words, the ten toes, weak and
strong, do not represent a long period of European history (that idea beloved of
so many politically-biased expositors); it represents ten enemies of Israel who
are to dominate the State of Israel in the Last Days immediately before the
impact of the Stone, the Messiah.
That the Stone does symbolise the Messiah, coming
in power and glory, can hardly be doubted. Daniel's own explanation is clear
enough: "In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom
which shall never be destroyed" (v.44). And Jesus identified the Stone with
himself when he declared: "And upon whomsoever that Stone shall fall, it will
grind him to powder" (v.35; Mt. 21:44).
A number of other details call for
For instance, why should the Stone be "cut out of
the mountain without hands" (v.45)? The last phrase suggests divine, not
human, origin. But 'cut out of the mountain of humanity' is a common expositor's
guess for which there seems to be little Biblical support.
More likely, this is intended to reinforce the
idea of divine origin, for it is known that one of the chief gods in the
Babylonian pantheon had the Great Mountain as a title. Nebuchadnezzar would
readily understand it thus.
To some the idea of a discontinuity between legs
and feet in the development of the historical fulfilment is a serious
difficulty. But the reason for this has already been educed from the prophecy
itself. Nor should it be forgotten that not a few outstanding Messianic
prophecies exhibit exactly the same discontinuity: Luke 21:24,25; Micah 7:10,11;
5:2-5; Zechariah 9:9-11; Isaiah 61:2 (?)(See "Bible Studies", HAW, p.98). What
needs specially to be noted is that in other prophecies in Daniel (ch.8, 9 &
11—most commentators) the same kind of discontinuity is readily
Is it possible to identify the ten kings
represented by the ten toes? First, since the Stone initially smashes the feet,
these ten must be enemies of God's Purpose in the Last Days. Revelation
17 reinforces this conclusion with its prophecy of ten kings who "make war with
the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them" (17:14). This was Dr. Thomas's chief
ground for insisting on identification with ten anti-Israel powers in the Last
Days. What are probably the same ten can be traced in Daniel 7:7,8; Psalm 83;
Isaiah 13-23 and, quite possibly, in Ezekiel 38.
Two hints are provided as to the identification
of the ten: "as iron is not mixed with clay, they shall mingle
themselves with the seed of men, but they shall not cleave one to another"
(v.43). The verb twice used here is the word Arab. Accident? or design?
The Arabs get their name from the fact that they are of such mixed descent
—from Ishmael, Lot, and Esau. For copious evidence about Arab hostility to
Israel in the Last Days, see "Lift up your heads" (Geo. Booker) and "Jews,
Arabs, and Bible Prophecy" (HAW). "They shall mingle themselves with the seed of
men, but they shall not cleave one to another" suggests a further possibility:
Arabs mixed with Jews in their restored state of Israel, but showing no sign at
all of blending with them. This detail of interpretation is possible but not
But, it may be objected; does not the association
"iron and clay" imply a continuing Roman element (cp. legs of iron)?
Indeed, no! Daniel's own explanation, surely not to be over-ridden, points in a
different direction: "part of potter's clay and part of iron, the kingdom shall
be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron..."
(v.41). In other words, the dominant idea about the iron is not that of Rome but