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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Daniel 2

Verse 1

TROUBLED KING—CALM SEER

‘Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams … Daniel sat in the gate of the king.’

Daniel 2:1; Daniel 2:49

The lessons of the chapter are—

I. God in human life.—Nebuchadnezzar was an idolater, and although he was ready to ascribe great distinction to Daniel’s God, yet he never became a believer. For all that He that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass. We may not acknowledge God, but He still works in us. He controls our sleeping and our waking hours. He is, as Daniel afterwards told Belshazzar, the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways.

II. God in human history.—Not we, but God is governing us. The distinction between sacred and secular in history is mischievous. It is very important that we should recognise fully that God is ruling among the nations of the earth. He has never relinquished the sceptre. These proud kings, whose boasted glory can be seen yet in the carvings in Babylon, are only His subjects. Daniel was nearer far to Nebuchadnezzar than Nebuchadnezzar was to Jehovah.

III. As to dreams.—Here, as in the history of Joseph, our attention is drawn to the part which is played in ancient history by dreams. In a general way we can say that the thought is often father to the dream. Something which, perhaps unconsciously, has been passing through our minds before we sleep suggests the rapid visions which follow. Nor ought it to surprise us that the God Who controls our thought should sometimes speak to us in this way. Formerly, when there was no Bible, it was still more likely to happen than now. But we are not warranted by the facts of history or experience in relying very much on what dreams may reveal to us.

IV. How much we forget! The thing is gone from me, says Nebuchadnezzar. But not finally and for ever. Daniel can recall it. Here is a light upon the judgment which will, we may presume, be a sudden lighting up of those caves of memory which now lie in shadow. Son, remember.

V. We cannot leave off without a final glance at Daniel’s character.—Some of its noblest traits can be found here. We notice his prayerfulness, his modesty, his godliness, his love of his friends, and his sterling worth. “In the gate of the king.” To have the King’s ear in prayer, to be a worshipper on the threshold of the King’s house, to be sent on the King’s business, all this should be our ambition as King’s sons.

Verse 3

‘AN INTERPRETER, ONE AMONG A THOUSAND’

‘I have dreamed a dream.’

Daniel 2:3

I. For most dreams, whether dark or pleasant, there is a basis in the waking world.—And I think that the date of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream may afford us a clue as to that point of contact. It came to him in the second year of his reign—perhaps in our reckoning we should say the third. It was a time when all his hopes were crowned, as a massive image might be crowned with gold. Yet marvellous as his prosperity has been, consolidated as his empire looked, there was many an anxious thought in the king’s heart, for ‘uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.’ On the east of his empire there lay Persia, and Persia was defiant and aggressive. Among his mercenaries were there not Grecian soldiers, who would sing the praise and prowess of their land? And so the king, in the midst of all his splendour, and strong in the might of his victorious army, would have many a dark thought about the future, when he had gone to his rest and his reward. In such a mood he laid him down to sleep, and was visited by a dream. Not all the reading of pleasant tales to him, nor the playing of restful music in his chamber, could banish the distracting cares of kingship, or win for him the slumber of sweet peace. For as he slept there broke on him a vision, so clear, so terrible, so full of portent that he was ready to slaughter all his soothsayers, if they could not resolve for him what he had seen. What was it, then, that he had seen? It was the colossal image of a man. The head was of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the body and the thighs of brass, and the legs were of iron, and they rested upon feet that were partly made of iron, and partly of clay. Was this a comfortable or cheering dream? It was the very opposite of that. The whole impression was that of instability. It was big with the thought of insecure foundation. And then, as across the slumbers of the king there passed this terrible sense of insecurity, he saw a stone, cut by no human hand, crashing upon the feet of the colossus. The image fell, like chaff on the threshing-floor, shattered and shivered into a thousand fragments. The stone grew till it became a mountain, and at last seemed to cover the whole earth. And the king awoke in the horror of it all, with the cry of another dreamer, ‘I will sleep no more’; and the reader was still reading by his bed, and the gentle music breathing through the palace.

II. Now what was the meaning that Daniel found in that?—God showed him in that the history of the ages. It was a picture, upon the screen of night, of that which was, and what was yet to be. The head of gold was Nebuchadnezzar himself. Had not Isaiah called Babylon the golden city? And when John saw Babylon the Great in his Apocalypse, had she not in her hand a golden cup? The breast and the arms were the Medo-Persian empire, larger and broader than the head of gold, yet in its division, and its want of unity, inferior to it as silver is to gold. The lower parts were the empire of the Greeks, with Alexander as the subduer of the nations ( Daniel 2:39). And the legs and feet, of iron and of clay, were the empire of Rome in its mingled strength and weakness. So in the vision was there revealed to Daniel the outline of the history of ages. And does any one need to be told what the stone was? It was, and is, the Kingdom of Christ Jesus. For it began not in the might of men, but in the wisdom and the love of God. And it has proved itself far mightier than the empires that seemed to tower above it in the past. And amid their ruins it has continued growing, by the very power that called it into being, and so it shall grow till the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour. May that Kingdom be to none of us a rock, against which, if we fall, we shall be crushed! May it be what God intended it to be, the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. ‘Rock of ages, cleft for me! Let me hide myself in thee.’

Illustration

‘The Bible nowhere encourages us to attach much importance to our dreams, or to think that there must be something of significance in the fantastic medley of our sleep. Probably the ancient Hebrew looked on dreams very much as sensible people do to-day. Unless dreams were extraordinarily impressive, he was not inclined to regard them very seriously. Indeed, as we read the prophets and the psalmists, we find that the dream is a type of what is transient; a figure not of what is profoundly true, but of what is most provokingly unreal ( Isaiah 29:8). It was in pagan religions, and not in that of Israel, that dreams were exalted to a proud pre-eminence. It was in them, and them alone, that every dream was looked upon as ominous. We have no trace in Israel of a ‘house of dreams,’ or of a cult of ‘examiners of dreams,’ such as we meet with in other ancient empires, and in the loveless worship of their gods. But while that is true, it must also be remembered that God does not disdain the use of dreams. Unquestionably He may employ them still, as unquestionably He employed them long ago.’

Verse 35

THE STONE THAT GREW

‘The stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.’

Daniel 2:35

This revelation to Daniel was not merely a single gleam of heavenly consolation, but the whole plan of God’s purposes in the world’s history for centuries upon centuries. Empire after empire must rise and set:—Babylon, Persia, Greece—and after Greece, an empire quite unlike any of the three; it is God’s purpose for the powers of this world to have their day, and they are intended by God the Ruler to be allowed to try what they can do towards setting up an abiding kingdom. Scope and verge enough shall they be allowed, that they may prove their inability to stand. Unlike the Babel of the elder time, which God confounded before it grew to its intended height, these shall be allowed their trial, and shall fail. The first three shall grow up to what height they can, and then shall fail of themselves; and, failing, shall demonstrate their weakness. For, all that shall happen shall be that one shall devour the other; until when the fourth empire shall have risen, then—upon it shall fall a Stone; a stone cut from a mountain, cut without hands; and that Stone shall grow, and grow, shattering the last of the world’s Empires, until at last it shall fill the whole earth, and there shall be no room left in the whole world for any more earthly kingdom at all. Then shall come the end. And the Ancient of Days shall sit upon His Throne, and all—all who had ever lived—shall be gathered to His Judgment.

Well, the Jews returned to Jerusalem. The Temple was rebuilt. The worship of God was renewed. Yet, observe, that the kingdom in its old shape was never restored. But Babylon fell; Persia rose and fell; Greece rose and fell. Then Rome, imperial Rome, grew slowly; and in the reign of the Emperor Augustus, just when the great Roman Empire was at its height of grandeur, its growth completed, peace established, the ‘Image’ fully formed, then—what? Oh! the Stone fell. The Stone cut without hands, according to the word spoken by Daniel, did fall upon that ‘Image.’ Christ was born. And from that hour that great Roman power began, slowly but surely, to wane and to decline.

I. A Stone from a mountain: so runs the word.—As the mountains stand while the works of man perish and decay, so the Godhead is changeless and eternal, while time passes, and with time’s changes all things else change and decay. So the Stone cut from the mountain sets forth the fact that the Christ Who came on Christmas Day was no new Personality, but that He had existed from all eternity, the Rock as He is ever called in psalm and prophecy. ‘Cut without hands’—describes His entrance into this world: supernatural, miraculous. ‘Who shall declare His generation?’ So in the fullness of time, in all points according to Daniel’s prophecy, the Stone, i.e. Christ, did fall upon the fourth empire; Christ the Rock, whereon His Church should be built. Nay, rather, as I may say, Christ Who is Himself His Own Kingdom—for what is the Church and Kingdom of God but the Body mystical of Christ—so that when we speak of the growth of the Church we do but speak of Him Who filleth all in all. Thus much is passed. Thus much had passed when St. John wrote the Apocalypse. And from that forward the Stone has gone on growing. Shattered is that Roman Empire. Shattered have been one after another of the governments, and nations, and systems which have grown out of it. But the Church has stood, and spread, and grown. No weapon formed against it has prospered. We see the prophecy of Daniel to be still working its mysterious way onward and upward, ever towards the Divine completion.

II. I ask you to look at one very practical bearing of this prophecy upon our Christian life, and upon the temper in which we ourselves should regard the growth and work of Christ’s Church among ourselves.—The Stone should grow and spread and fill the whole earth. The growth of the Church is here symbolised by the growth of a Stone. It is a remarkable symbol to choose. Surely of all things that we know of which by nature do not grow, a Stone is the one which has in it no principle of growth. Seeds grow, but stones do not. Stones remain the same. Or, if they change, it is by breaking; they may vanish and disappear in fragments. But this Stone grows. And not this only, but even individual Christians are called living stones as well—as if to point out to us that whether as regards ourselves as individuals, or the Church in her aggregate, the life and growth is all from a higher source. For naturally, stones do not live any more than grow. The mark of the supernatural is over all. As it is a miracle for a stone to grow, so it is a miracle for the Church to spread, or for the Christian life to grow. As it is a miracle for a stone to live, so the life of the Christian is a supernatural life. The prophecy of Daniel stands as a perpetual warning to all those who calculate the prospects of the Truth by probabilities drawn from mere natural considerations, from views of expediency, or human policy. The right must win because it is right. The Stone must grow because it is from the Eternal Rock. Our own spiritual life must grow, if we are faithful, not because of our pains, or care, or toil, but because we are parts and members of Him Who is the source of all life in all Creation. Faith knows no doubt, no hesitation, no despair. Social forces may be arrayed against us, human politics may be marshalled on the side of the world-empires, but we are part of that Stone which Daniel saw in his days of exile, and which we too see—already grown—grown far beyond the most daring expectation of merely human hope, or even of human imagination.

Illustration

‘As with the Apocalypse of St. John, so with the prophecy of Daniel; it, too, was an exile’s work. It came not from any priest discharging his peaceful office in the calm precincts of the Temple of God. It came from no member of the prophetic schools, meditating devoutly in the quiet of his college. It came from one who had to say his daily prayer with window opened towards a Jerusalem in ruins far away beyond the Syrian deserts; a Jerusalem which he himself could never hope to see. There, in the midst of idolatrous Babylon, of Babylon rightly called Babylon the Great, but whose glory and greatness were each of them clean contrary to the right, an affront to the Majesty of Heaven, there it was that the mightiest of all the prophecies was revealed to the man greatly beloved of Heaven.’

Verse 49

TROUBLED KING—CALM SEER

‘Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams … Daniel sat in the gate of the king.’

Daniel 2:1; Daniel 2:49

The lessons of the chapter are—

I. God in human life.—Nebuchadnezzar was an idolater, and although he was ready to ascribe great distinction to Daniel’s God, yet he never became a believer. For all that He that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass. We may not acknowledge God, but He still works in us. He controls our sleeping and our waking hours. He is, as Daniel afterwards told Belshazzar, the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways.

II. God in human history.—Not we, but God is governing us. The distinction between sacred and secular in history is mischievous. It is very important that we should recognise fully that God is ruling among the nations of the earth. He has never relinquished the sceptre. These proud kings, whose boasted glory can be seen yet in the carvings in Babylon, are only His subjects. Daniel was nearer far to Nebuchadnezzar than Nebuchadnezzar was to Jehovah.

III. As to dreams.—Here, as in the history of Joseph, our attention is drawn to the part which is played in ancient history by dreams. In a general way we can say that the thought is often father to the dream. Something which, perhaps unconsciously, has been passing through our minds before we sleep suggests the rapid visions which follow. Nor ought it to surprise us that the God Who controls our thought should sometimes speak to us in this way. Formerly, when there was no Bible, it was still more likely to happen than now. But we are not warranted by the facts of history or experience in relying very much on what dreams may reveal to us.

IV. How much we forget! The thing is gone from me, says Nebuchadnezzar. But not finally and for ever. Daniel can recall it. Here is a light upon the judgment which will, we may presume, be a sudden lighting up of those caves of memory which now lie in shadow. Son, remember.

V. We cannot leave off without a final glance at Daniel’s character.—Some of its noblest traits can be found here. We notice his prayerfulness, his modesty, his godliness, his love of his friends, and his sterling worth. “In the gate of the king.” To have the King’s ear in prayer, to be a worshipper on the threshold of the King’s house, to be sent on the King’s business, all this should be our ambition as King’s sons.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Daniel 2". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/daniel-2.html. 1876.