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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Daniel 2



Daniel wrote Daniel 2:4 to Daniel 7:28 in the Aramaic language. This literary change gives the reader a clue that this part is a distinct section of the book. The content of this section also identifies it as special. It concerns the future history of the Gentiles during "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24). Aramaic was the common language of the world in which Daniel lived when he wrote. It is natural that he would have recorded what concerns the world as a whole in the language of the Gentiles.

The writer constructed this section of the book in chiastic form.

A A prophecy of an image concerning four Gentile nations and their end ch. 2

B The supernatural persecution and deliverance of Daniel’s friends ch. 3

C God’s revelation to the Gentile king Nebuchadnezzar ch. 4

C’ God’s revelation to the Gentile king Belshazzar ch. 5

B’ The supernatural persecution and deliverance of Daniel ch. 6

A’ A prophecy of animals concerning four Gentile nations and their end ch. 7 [Note: See also A. Lenglet, "La structure littéraire de Daniel 2-7," Biblica 53 (1972):169-90.]

"Chapters 2 and 7 explain the succession of four gentile empires that would exert control over Jerusalem and the Jews until God’s kingdom is established. Chapters 3 and 6 warned the Jews of the persecution they would face during this period and exhorted them to remain faithful to God. Chapters 4 and 5 encouraged the Jewish remnant by reminding them that a time would come when even the gentile rulers would acknowledge that the God of Israel rules over the nations." [Note: Dyer, p. 704.]

A. Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream: the big picture ch. 2

This chapter is important because it records the broadest sweep of world history that God gave any prophet. It is the big picture, an overview of history yet future from Daniel’s perspective.

"The second chapter of Daniel has been justly called ’the alphabet of prophecy.’ Whoever wishes to understand the prophetic Scriptures must come to this chapter for the broad outline of God’s future program for the nations, for Israel, and for the glorious kingdom of Messiah. This outline is the simple but comprehensive framework of a multitude of future events. No political document can compare with it, and its importance cannot be overstated." [Note: Feinberg, p. 29.]

"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’ (Luke 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." [Note: Walvoord, p. 44. Cf. Culver, p. 777.]

"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." [Note: Walvoord, p. 45.]

"The God of Daniel is the central figure and not the courtier." [Note: W. L. Humphreys, "A Life-style for Diaspora," Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973):221.]

"As you turn from chapter 1 to chapter 2, the atmosphere in the king’s palace changes radically. Chapter 1 closes with recognition and security, but chapter 2 introduces rejection and danger." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 257.]

Verse 1

Daniel opened this new section of his book with another chronological reference (cf. Daniel 1:1; Daniel 1:21). This indicates that his interest in this book was in the progress of events and their relationship to one another. As the book unfolds, chronology plays an important part in what God revealed, though the chronology is not always without interruption.

The events related in this chapter happened in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. According to several reliable scholars, Nebuchadnezzar officially became king on September 7, 605 B.C. On the first of Nisan, 604 B.C., the following spring, the first official year of his reign began. The intervening months constituted his accession year and were credited to his father’s reign. The first year of his reign then ended on the first of Nisan the following year, 603 B.C. The second year of his reign (Daniel 2:1) began in 603 and ended in 602 B.C. [Note: Wiseman, pp. 25-26; Thiele, pp. 159-60; Finegan, p. 38.]

Daniel probably arrived in Babylon during the summer of 605 B.C. and began his three-year education (Daniel 1:4-5) shortly after that, perhaps in the fall. His curriculum may not have taken three full years; it could have ended in the spring of 602 B.C. Thus Daniel probably had finished his education and entered into government service when the events of chapter 2 unfolded, as the text implies.

The Hebrew of Daniel 2:1 says that Nebuchadnezzar had "dreamed dreams" that disturbed him. Evidently he had a recurring dream or similar dreams that he later described as one dream (Daniel 2:3). These dreams robbed him of rest, as Pharaoh’s dreams did him (Genesis 41), and Ahasuerus’ dream did him (Esther 6). All of these Gentile rulers suffered insomnia as part of God’s dealings with them and the people who lived under their authority. Another earlier Gentile ruler who received revelations from God was Abimelech (Genesis 20:3). The ancients regarded dreams as having significance and as portents of events to come. [Note: Young, p. 56.]

Verses 1-3

1. The king’s dream 2:1-3

Verses 2-3

Nebuchadnezzar assembled his wise men (Daniel 2:12) to interpret the meaning of what he had dreamed. Daniel identified four distinct groups of them here. The king wanted to make sure someone could help him. The magicians (Heb. hartummim) were evidently scholars who could divine the future by using various means. [Note: Leupold, p. 75.] The conjurers or enchanters (assapim) could evidently communicate with the dead. [Note: Ibid., p. 76.] The sorcerers (mekassepim) practiced sorcery and cast spells. The Chaldeans, or astrologers (kasdim), refer here to the priestly caste that studied the heavens to determine the future. The Chaldean astronomers were remarkably accurate. [Note: See Whitcomb, pp. 36-37.] Daniel prepared the reader for the failure of all the king’s counselors, that follows, by pointing out that there were many different groups of them.

Verse 4

The Chaldeans took the lead in replying to the king. They responded in the Aramaic language that was widely used in business and government throughout the empire.

"Aramaic was called Chaldean until the latter half of the nineteenth century." [Note: Young, p. 59.]

This reference to Aramaic introduces the section of the book that Daniel wrote in Aramaic (Daniel 2:4 to Daniel 7:28), apparently because it concerns matters of worldwide concern. Critics of the Book of Daniel have alleged that Aramaic was not in use when Daniel is supposed to have lived, but there is evidence of its use in the sixth century B.C. [Note: See ibid, pp. 38-39.] The Chaldeans addressed the king with appropriate respect: "O king, live forever!" (cf. 1 Kings 1:31; Nehemiah 2:3; Daniel 3:9; Daniel 5:10; Daniel 6:6; Daniel 6:21).

"This represented a wish or hope that the king would live on from one age to another, with no foreseeable termination by death." [Note: Archer, "Daniel," p. 40.]

Evidently it was customary for the Babylonian kings to tell their dreams to their advisers, who would then provide a politically correct interpretation that would satisfy the monarch. However, Nebuchadnezzar wanted his wise men not only to give him an interpretation but also to tell him what he had dreamed.

"The [Chaldean] dream manuals, of which several examples have come to light, consist . . . of historical dreams and the events that followed them, arranged systematically for easy reference. Since these books had to try to cover every possible eventuality they became inordinately long; only the expert could find his way through them, and even he had to know the dream to begin with before he could search for the nearest possible parallel. The unreasonable demands of the king and the protests of the interpreters in Daniel 2:3-11 are in keeping with his character and the known facts concerning dream books." [Note: Baldwin, p. 87. See also A. L. Oppenheim, "The Interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East," Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 46 (1956):179-373.]

Verses 4-13

2. The failure of the king’s wise men 2:4-13

Verses 5-6

It is unclear in the text whether the king had really forgotten his dream or was just withholding it to test his counselors. The Authorized Version implies that he had forgotten it, by translating Daniel 2:5; Daniel 2:8: "The thing is gone from me." However, the NASB’s, "The command from me is firm," suggests that Nebuchadnezzar was referring to his command rather than his dream. The NIV and TNIV rendering is similar.

"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." [Note: Walvoord, p. 50. Cf. Culver, p. 778.]

Regardless of what Nebuchadnezzar may or may not have remembered, his desire to validate the interpretation that his advisers would propose is beyond doubt. They claimed to offer infallible supernatural guidance. If they failed, they would suffer excruciating dismemberment and humiliation. If they succeeded, gifts, a special reward, and great honor would be theirs (cf. Joseph, Mordecai, and Daniel).

"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." [Note: S. R. Driver, The Book of Daniel, p. 20.]

Verse 7

The repetition of the wise men’s request reinforced it. This is frequently the intent of the biblical writers in repeating something. Repetition assures the reader that something is very important or absolutely certain. This is especially true in prophetic revelations such as the ones that follow in this book (cf. Genesis 41:32).

Verses 8-9

The king saw through his seers’ delay to an attempt to put distance between the dream and its interpretation. They hoped that as time passed, he would forget what he had dreamed, if he had not done so already. Perhaps his expectations of them would diminish as well. However, he wanted to guarantee that the interpretation they offered was correct.

Verses 10-11

The Chaldeans proceeded to explain with profuse courtesy and flattery that what the king requested was humanly impossible. No one could tell what the king had dreamed. Furthermore, no king had ever asked his counselors to do such a thing before. Only the immortal gods could provide this information, and the implication was that even these men could not get information from the gods. Yet that is precisely what they claimed to be able to provide: supernatural information. Their confession sets the stage for Daniel’s ability to do precisely what they said no person could do.

Verses 12-13

Their confession of inability, and their complaint that the king was being unfair with them, made Nebuchadnezzar very angry (cf. Genesis 40:2; Genesis 41:10; Daniel 3:13; Daniel 3:19). He gave orders to execute all the wise men in Babylon, specifically, those who were his counselors. Probably the city of Babylon is in view here, rather than the province or the whole empire (cf. Daniel 2:49; Daniel 3:1), since the king’s counselors were the targets of his wrath. Daniel and his three friends fell under the edict because they were advisers to the king (Daniel 1:20), not because they practiced divination, which, it is safe to say, they did not.

Verses 14-15

When Daniel learned of his sentence, he responded with customary discretion and discernment (cf. Daniel 1:8; Daniel 1:12), not with objections (cf. Daniel 2:10-11) or anger (cf. Daniel 2:12). Perhaps the king’s decision in itself did not surprise Daniel since he surely realized that many of the wise men were charlatans. However, the harshness of the verdict puzzled him. Clearly the court officials, including the king himself, had come to respect Daniel highly, since they listened to him and granted his requests.

Verses 14-16

3. Daniel’s request for time 2:14-16

Verse 16

There is no other record of God having given anyone knowledge of a dream that another person had-without the dreamer telling him about it. Joseph had interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh and his servants after they told him what they were. However, Daniel believed that God could do anything, even reveal the dream itself to him, as well as its interpretation.

"The stage was now set to show the reality, wisdom, and power of the one true God-Yahweh-as over against the inarticulate and impotent imaginary gods the magicians worshiped. It is the same general theme that dominates the remainder of the book and serves to remind the Hebrew nation that despite their own failure, collapse, and banishment into exile, the God of Israel remains as omnipotent as he ever was in the days of Moses and that his covenantal love remains as steadfast toward the seed of Abraham as it ever had been." [Note: Archer, "Daniel," p. 42.]

Verses 17-18

Daniel informed his three friends of the situation so they could pray together about it (cf. Philippians 4:6-7).

"It is the first instance of united prayer recorded in Scripture; and the fact that these children of the captivity resorted to it, discovers to us the secret of their holy and separate walk." [Note: Edward Dennett, Daniel the Prophet: And The Times of the Gentiles, p. 22.]

Since the decree affected them all, they joined in interceding corporately to "the God of heavens" (lit.). This title for God appears five times in this chapter (Daniel 2:18-19; Daniel 2:28; Daniel 2:37; Daniel 2:44) plus elsewhere, particularly in books that have pagan Babylon as their setting. It appears in Daniel 5:23; nine times in Ezra; four times in Nehemiah; and in Genesis 24:3; Genesis 24:7; Psalms 136:26; and Jonah 1:9. The Babylonians worshipped the heavens, but Yahweh is the God over all "the heavens," not just the God of heaven. He is sovereign over all.

The four young men prayed for compassion (mercy) from God, since the king’s edict was very harsh (Daniel 2:15). They asked that God’s compassion (mercy) would manifest itself by a revelation of the king’s dream, and its interpretation (Daniel 2:16), so they would not die with the other wise men who were worthy of death (Daniel 2:18; cf. Genesis 18:22-33). The "mystery" in view was something unknown that they prayed God would reveal. In Scripture this is the consistent meaning of a mystery. It is not something spooky but something previously hidden by God but now revealed by Him.

Verses 17-23

4. Daniel’s reception of a revelation and his thanksgiving 2:17-23

Verse 19

The writer narrated these events to help us understand that God revealed the mystery as a response to the prayers of the four men (cf. James 4:2). The answer came at night, but in a vision, rather than in a dream. In a vision, the person receiving the revelation was awake, whereas in a dream, he or she was asleep. Both methods were common vehicles of divine revelation at this time (Numbers 12:6). The writer waited until later to reveal to the reader what God had revealed. Here he wanted to focus our attention on the response to receiving this revelation.

Verses 20-22

Daniel wished that people would bless (praise) God’s name forever because of two of His traits particularly.

"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." [Note: W. H. Griffith Thomas, "The Purpose of the Fourth Gospel," Bibliotheca Sacra 125:499 (July-September 1968):262.]

Daniel mentioned God’s wisdom and power at the beginning and the end of his praise (Daniel 2:20; Daniel 2:23), and he illustrated both characteristics in between. This entire book clearly reveals God’s wisdom and power. Evidence of His power is His control of events; He changes times and seasons. In other words, He determines when in history events will happen and how long each process or phase of history will last. The second evidence of God’s power is that He controls the destiny of nations; He sets up kings and deposes them.

"Perhaps the greatest evidence of Yahweh’s lordship in Daniel’s own experience lay . . . in his unswerving conviction that his God was the one who appointed and deposed the monarchs of human kingdoms. Because these kings and their subjects thought they were called to their office and given its privileges and responsibilities by their own gods, [Note: Footnote 42: For many examples, see Bertil Albrektson, History and the Gods, pp. 42-52.] Daniel’s assertion that the God of Israel was in fact the originator and grantor of human authority was a tacit denial of any perceived role for the gods of the nations." [Note: Merrill, p. 389.]

Daniel identified two evidences of God’s wisdom. First, He gives wisdom to the wise; He is the source of all wisdom. Second, He reveals things that would be unknown to humans otherwise. He can do this because He knows what is unknown to people, and the light of knowledge dwells with Him.

Verse 23

Perhaps Daniel referred to Yahweh as the "God of his [my] fathers" because he was experiencing God’s compassion in a similar way that his spiritual forefathers had experienced it. He gave the credit for the wisdom, and its resultant power that he had received, to its proper Source. Daniel did not originate these revelations but received them from God and communicated them to others (cf. 2 Peter 1:21). He viewed the vision as an answer to the prayers of himself and his three friends (Daniel 2:23). He was confident that the information God had given him would save their lives. This confidence is testimony to the clarity and obvious supernatural source of this revelation. Daniel did not need to contrive an answer that he hoped would satisfy the king, as the Babylonian seers did. He simply needed to declare the revelation that the only living and true God had given him.

We should bear this testimony of Daniel in mind when we read the later revelations God gave him in this book. They are as reliable as this one was, because they too came from the God of wisdom and power.

Verse 24

Daniel had to go through Arioch to get to the king, since the king had authorized Arioch to execute all the wise men. Daniel could have requested his life and the lives of his friends alone. Perhaps Daniel asked for the lives of the other counselors, as well as his own, so they would have time to become believers in Yahweh.

"He was not so occupied with his own importance (even though he had just received knowledge concerning the dream) that he did not think of others." [Note: Leon J. Wood, A Commentary on Daniel, p. 62.]

Verses 24-30

5. Daniel’s appearance before Nebuchadnezzar 2:24-30

Verse 25

Daniel convinced Arioch that he could identify the king’s dream and interpret it. The king’s commander therefore ushered Daniel into Nebuchadnezzar’s presence and presented him as someone Arioch had discovered, among the exiles of Judah of all people! Obviously the commander hoped to put himself in the king’s favor and to enjoy some of the reward that Daniel would receive. Arioch had great confidence in Daniel. If Daniel failed, Arioch would suffer the king’s wrath. Actually, Daniel had sought Arioch out, not the other way around.

Verses 26-27

Arioch had focused on Daniel as the solution to the king’s problem. Nebuchadnezzar viewed him the same way. Daniel, however, quickly redirected the king’s attention from himself and placed it where it belonged, on God who revealed the future. No human being, neither the Babylonian wise men nor himself, could provide what the king required. Daniel used a new name for one of these groups of seers here: "diviners," meaning astrologers. [Note: See Leupold, p. 105.] They tried to draw information about the future from the heavens, but "the God of heavens" had revealed the mystery.

Specifically it was information about "the end of the days" that God had given Daniel for the king (Daniel 2:28). This phrase occurs first in Genesis 49:1 and always refers to the future. The context determines how much of the future is in view, but it usually focuses on Messiah’s appearance. This phrase "refers to the future of God’s dealings with mankind as to be consummated and concluded historically in the times of the Messiah." [Note: Robert D. Culver, Daniel and the Latter Days, p. 107.]

"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." [Note: Walvoord, p. 61. See his extensive study of this phrase on pp. 60-61.]

Young, an amillennialist, took this phrase as equivalent with "the last days," to which the New Testament writers referred, which we are now in (cf. Acts 2:16-17; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 1:1; 1 John 2:18). [Note: Young, p. 70.] This seems wrong in view of what the dream revealed.

Verses 29-30

Daniel then related the king’s dream and its interpretation. He proceeded to remind Nebuchadnezzar that before he had fallen asleep, he had been thinking about the future. The dream that God had given him was a divine revelation of what that future would hold.

"No dream [recorded or referred to in the Bible], before this or since, has ever revealed so much of world history." [Note: Feinberg, pp. 34-35.]

Daniel then assured the king again, that it was the true God who was responsible for this revelation, rather than Daniel himself, who was no greater than any other man. Thus Daniel gave all the glory to God (cf. Joseph in Genesis 41:16). It was important for Nebuchadnezzar to receive this revelation, since he was to be the first Gentile king in a significant period of history, namely: the times of the Gentiles. As mentioned earlier, "the times of the Gentiles" refers to the period during which Gentile nations would dominate Israel, lasting until Messiah subjugates Gentile power under His reign.

Verse 31

Daniel next pictured clearly and concisely what Nebuchadnezzar had seen in his dream. The king had been viewing a large statue that was standing before him. There is no basis in the text for concluding that this was an idol. The statue was extremely splendid and awe-inspiring because of its appearance. Daniel did not say if it was a statue of a man or a woman, though it was presumably a man, or if it represented the king or someone whom the king knew. The important things about this statue were the materials that composed it and what happened to it.

"The figure of a man was employed here because God wished to make known what would transpire during man’s day, the ages in which mortal man ruled the earth. Here, in one panoramic sweep, the whole history of human civilization is spread before us, from the days of Nebuchadnezzar to the end of time." [Note: Feinberg, p. 35.]

Verses 31-35

6. What Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream 2:31-35

Verses 32-33

The head was of fine gold. Its chest and arms were silver. Its abdomen and thighs were bronze. Its lower legs were iron, and its feet were a combination of iron and clay. Archaeologists have discovered similar images made of several types of precious metals in Babylonia. [Note: See Baldwin, pp. 96-98.]

Several features are noteworthy. First, the head is the only member of the body made of only one metal. All the other parts had more than one substance with the exception of the arms. For example, the upper torso was silver but bronze lower down. The same was true of the legs and feet. Second, there is a consistently decreasing value to the substances beginning at the top and proceeding to the bottom of the image. Third, the image was top-heavy. The specific gravity of gold is about 19, silver about 11, brass about 8.5, and iron 7.8. [Note: Walvoord, p. 63.] Fourth, the substances progress from the softest to the hardest, top to bottom. The feet are a non-adhering combination of very hard and hard but fragile materials. The clay in view may have been baked clay that the Babylonians used as tiles in construction projects.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream Statue
HeadGoldValuableSoftSelf-contained unitHeavySmallest
Chest & armsSilverLess valuableHarder1 unit & 2 partsLighterLarger
Abdomen& thighsBronzeEven less valuableEven harder1 unit & 2 different partsEven lighterEven larger
Lower legsIronStill less valuableStill harder2 partsStill lighterStill larger
Feet & toesIron & clayLeast valuableVery hard and very soft2 parts & 10 segmentsLightestLargest

Verses 34-35

As Nebuchadnezzar beheld this image, he saw an uncut stone come flying out of the air and smashing its feet, which crumbled into little pieces. While he watched, the whole statue fell apart and disintegrated into powder. A wind whipped up the powder and blew it all away. Then the rock that had struck the image began to grow larger until it filled the whole scene.

Verse 36

Daniel carefully distinguished the dream (Daniel 2:31-35) from its interpretation (Daniel 2:36-45) for the sake of clarity. His reference to "we" telling the interpretation is probably an editorial plural. This form of speech allowed Daniel to present himself humbly to the king and at the same time remind him that God had given the dream and its interpretation (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6).

Verses 36-45

7. The interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream 2:36-45

Verses 37-38

Nebuchadnezzar was the supreme authority in the world of his day. Earlier, Jeremiah had warned the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon: that God had given Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty over the entire earth, including the animals (Jeremiah 27:6-7; Jeremiah 27:14). While the extent of his empire was not as great as those that followed him, he exercised absolute control as no one after him did.

"For a despot like Nebuchadnezzar, his government was the ideal type and was therefore esteemed as highly as gold. He exercised unrestricted authority over life and death throughout all Babylon. His word was law; no prior written law could challenge his will (Daniel 2:38)." [Note: Archer, "Daniel," p. 46.]

The Lord referred to Nebuchadnezzar as "king of kings" in Ezekiel 26:7. Nonetheless "the God of heavens" (cf. Daniel 2:18; Daniel 2:28) had given this mighty monarch his position. The king ruled under the authority of a higher, infinitely more powerful ruler.

"At the time of Creation the right to rule over the earth was given man who was to have dominion over it and all the creatures in it (Genesis 1:26). Here Nebuchadnezzar by divine appointment was helping fulfill what God had planned for man." [Note: Pentecost, p. 1335. Cf. Merrill, p. 389.]

It took considerable courage for Daniel to tell the most powerful ruler of his time that he was responsible to God (Elohim). God had given Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty (symbolized by the head of the statue), power (the head’s weight), strength (the connotation of the head on a body), and glory (its value as gold). The head of gold aptly described Nebuchadnezzar. It also symbolized the kingdom over which he ruled. [Note: Young, pp. 73-74.] Nebuchadnezzar ruled about 45 years (605-560 B.C.), and his empire only lasted another 21 years. Nebuchadnezzar’s father, Nabopolassar, founded the Neo-Babylon Empire in 627 B.C., and it fell to the Persians in 539 B.C. So it existed for only 88 years.

Verse 39

The world kingdom that succeeded Medo-Persia was Greece-under Alexander the Great (cf. Daniel 8:20-21). Its territory was even larger than that of Medo-Persia. Greece dominated the ancient cradle of civilization from 331 to 31 B.C., so it lasted longer than either Babylonia or Medo-Persia (i.e., 300 years). However, after Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C., the empire split into four parts, and each of Alexander’s generals took one piece. Antipater ruled Macedon-Greece, Lysimachus governed Thrace-Asia Minor, Seleucus headed Asia, and Ptolemy reigned over Egypt, Cyrenaica, and Palestine. Thus, Greece lacked the unified strength of Medo-Persia and Babylonia. Its democratic form of government gave more power to the people and less to the rulers. The two legs of the statue evidently represented the two major divisions of the Greek Empire: its eastern and western sectors.

Verse 39

The world kingdom that succeeded Medo-Persia was Greece-under Alexander the Great (cf. Daniel 8:20-21). Its territory was even larger than that of Medo-Persia. Greece dominated the ancient cradle of civilization from 331 to 31 B.C., so it lasted longer than either Babylonia or Medo-Persia (i.e., 300 years). However, after Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C., the empire split into four parts, and each of Alexander’s generals took one piece. Antipater ruled Macedon-Greece, Lysimachus governed Thrace-Asia Minor, Seleucus headed Asia, and Ptolemy reigned over Egypt, Cyrenaica, and Palestine. Thus, Greece lacked the unified strength of Medo-Persia and Babylonia. Its democratic form of government gave more power to the people and less to the rulers. The two legs of the statue evidently represented the two major divisions of the Greek Empire: its eastern and western sectors.

Verse 40

Rome defeated the last vestige of the Greek Empire in 31 B.C. and ruled for hundreds of years-until A.D. 476 in the Western Roman Empire, and until A.D. 1453 in the Eastern Roman Empire. The eastern and western divisions of this empire crushed all opposition with a brutal strength that surpassed any of its predecessors. Certainly iron legs fitly symbolized the Roman Empire. Rome also dominated the map more extensively than any previous kingdom, encompassing almost all of Europe, including Spain and the British Isles, as well as India. Those legs stood astride most of the ancient world.

"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." [Note: Walvoord, p. 73.]

However, in terms of absolute authority, Rome was indeed an inferior power. The people and the senate played major roles in setting its policies, and they controlled the emperors more than had been true in the preceding empires in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Nebuchadnezzar was an absolute monarch, and those rulers who followed him (the Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman sovereigns) were increasingly less powerful personally.

Verses 41-43

In contrast to the preceding empire descriptions, which were quite brief, Daniel gave an extended explanation of the fourth one. The chief feature of the feet is that there were two materials that composed them, and these two materials do not adhere well to one another. Whereas Daniel used metals to describe the kingdoms previously, now he referred to clay, perhaps kiln-fired clay, mixed with iron. The final form of the fourth kingdom-Daniel did not identify it as a fifth kingdom-would not have the cohesiveness that the earlier kingdoms possessed.

What elements are in view in the figures of iron and clay? Obviously one substance is very strong and the other is quite weak. The other metals apparently represent forms of government that were more desirable or less desirable from Nebuchadnezzar’s viewpoint, and stronger or weaker in controlling populations in terms of their sovereigns’ personal authority. That is probably what is in view here too. The iron is quite clearly the well-organized imperial rule that allowed Rome to dominate her world. The clay may refer to some form of government that gives more rule to the people, perhaps democracy and or socialism. Perhaps the clay represents the democratic Roman Republic and the iron the imperial Roman Empire. While democratic government has many obvious advantages over other forms of government, particularly the freedoms that its citizens enjoy, it is essentially weak. Its rulers must operate under many checks and balances imposed by the people whom they serve.

The political weakness of democracy is becoming increasingly obvious in America, which has led the world in exemplifying and promoting this form of government. Self-interest gets in the way of political efficiency. People can block political action with demonstrations and lawsuits. In one sense, this is good because it checks the government’s powers. However, in another sense, it makes the job of political leaders much more difficult than if they could simply do what they want. Imperial power caters to the leaders, whereas democracy caters to those led. It is impossible to have both at the same time. Therefore, this may be what is in view with the unmixable iron and clay combination-not that America is in view in this prophecy.

Another indication that democracy, or socialism, may be what is in view in the clay figure, is that people are essentially clay physically (Genesis 2:7). Rule by the people (i.e., democracy) is rule by clay. Thus it should be no surprise that many students of this passage have seen some combination of imperial rule and democracy in the final stage of the fourth (Roman) empire.

"The rulers of the succeeding empires had their powers more and more circumscribed; until in the last state of the Roman empire we find iron mixed with miry clay, or brittle pottery-speaking of an attempted union between imperialism and democracy." [Note: Ironside, pp. 36-37. Cf. A. C. Gaebelein, The Prophet Daniel, p. 31.]

The reference to the seed of men (Daniel 2:43) seems to stress the amalgamation of people where everyone is equal, at least in theory.

"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." [Note: Keil, p. 109.]

"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." [Note: Walvoord, p. 71.]

If this interpretation is correct, we have another problem. The Roman Empire never consisted of a combination of imperial rule and democracy at the same time, even though the people had an increasing voice in government as time went by. It remained imperialistic to its very end. The way that many scholars have dealt with this problem is to view the last stage of the Roman Empire in this vision (Daniel 2:41-43) as still future.

Amillennialists such as Young believe there will be no future revival of the Roman Empire. [Note: Young, p. 75.] They believe Christ defeated the Roman Empire by His death and resurrection at His first advent.

"This vs. [Daniel 2:42] merely indicates how thoroughly composite is the nature of the kingdom, a diversity extending even to its toes." [Note: Ibid., p. 77.]

"Probably the best solution to the problem [of identifying the feet and toes] 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 (Luke 4:17-19; cf. Isaiah 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." [Note: Walvoord, pp. 72-73.]

"Verse 41 deals with a later phase or outgrowth of this fourth empire, symbolized by the feet and 10 toes-made up of iron and earthenware, a fragile base for the huge monument. The text clearly implies that this final phase will be marked by some sort of federation rather than by a powerful single realm. The iron may possibly represent the influence of the old Roman culture and tradition, and the pottery may represent the inherent weakness in a socialist society based on relativism in morality and philosophy. Out of this mixture of iron and clay come weakness and confusion, pointing to the approaching day of doom. Within the scope of Daniel 2:43 are disunity, class struggle, and even civil war, resulting from the failure of a hopelessly divided society to achieve an integrated world-order. The iron and pottery may coexist, but they cannot combine into a strong and durable world-order." [Note: Archer, "Daniel," pp. 47-48.]

Daniel 2 emphasizes Rome in its past two stages (legs), but chapter 7 reveals more about Rome in its future tenfold form (toes).

Verses 44-45

These verses explain what the "rock" signifies, that crushed the feet and toes of the image and destroyed it completely. It is a fifth kingdom that God Himself will establish, following the final phase of the fourth kingdom (Rome; cf. Psalms 2:7-9; Revelation 11:15). The "Rock," a frequent symbol of God and Jesus Christ in Scripture (cf. Psalms 18:2; Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 28:16; Zechariah 3:9; 1 Peter 2:6-8), evidently represents the King as well as His kingdom (cf. Daniel 2:38: "You are the head of gold"). The mountain out of which the rock comes is evidently God (cf. Deuteronomy 32:18; Psalms 18:2; Psalms 31:2-3), though a mountain is also a common figure for a kingdom or government in the Bible (cf. Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 27:13; Jeremiah 51:25; Micah 4:1; et al.). "Those kings" evidently refers to the 10 kings represented by the 10 toes. They are quite clearly contemporaneous with one another, not sequential rulers. God’s kingdom, the mountain of Daniel 2:35, will fill the earth and will last forever (cf. 2 Samuel 7:16). It will never suffer destruction or be succeeded by another kingdom, as all the preceding kingdoms had. It will begin with the Millennium and continue forever in the eternal state.

"The major burden of the book of Daniel is the tension and conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world." [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, "Daniel as a Contribution to Kingdom Theology," in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, p. 217. See also Lourdino A. Yuzon, "The Kingdom of God in Daniel," South East Asia Journal of Theology 19 (1978):23-27.]

"Though the differing metals within the image represent four chronologically successive kingdoms, the single statue suggests that these kingdoms, though diverse in their identity, actually comprise one entity, a world empire opposed to God. This explains why the entire statue is depicted as destroyed by the rock with a single blow delivered to the feet (Daniel 2:34-35; Daniel 2:44 b) and why this event is said to occur ’in the times of those kings,’ that is, the kings of the four kingdoms symbolized in the vision (Daniel 2:44 a)." [Note: Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Handbook on the Prophets, p. 297.]

Whereas almost all expositors agree that the kingdom of God is in view, they disagree on the nature of that kingdom. They also disagree on how it will destroy the preceding kingdoms, and when this destruction will happen. Amillenarians, and some postmillenarians and some premillenarians, believe that Jesus inaugurated this kingdom when He came to earth. They view the church as this kingdom that defeated 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." [Note: Leupold, p. 121. Cf. Young, p. 78.]

The term "premillennial," of course, refers to the view that Jesus Christ will return to the earth before He inaugurates His millennial (thousand-year) rule on the earth. The term "amillennial" refers to the view that there will be no literal millennial rule of Christ on earth. His present rule over His church, or His future eternal rule in heaven, is all the rule we should anticipate, according to its supporters. The "postmillennial" view sees the present church age as the millennium. Advocates of this view believe that Jesus will return at the end of the present age in which the church is presently and increasingly overcoming all ungodliness. Amillenarians and postmillenarians believe in a spiritual kingdom, but to be consistent with the imagery of this vision, it seems that the fifth kingdom must be an earthly kingdom-just as the preceding four kingdoms were. Daniel saw that it "filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:35).

Many students of this passage, including myself, find the amillennial and postmillennial interpretations unsatisfying. First, Rome did not fall because of Christianity primarily, but because of its own internal decay. Eventually Visigoth invaders from the North defeated it. Second, the effects of the Roman Empire, the fragments of the legs and toes if you will, remained for hundreds of years after Jesus Christ’s first coming. Yet the vision pictures all vestiges of this kingdom and its predecessors disappearing, apparently fairly soon. "The wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found" (Daniel 2:35). Third, few people today would say that the kingdom of God has in any sense, certainly not politically, conquered the world. The popular title for our age as the "post-Christian era" testifies to this truth. Fourth, God gave prophecies after Jesus Christ’s ascension that He would return to the earth as King of Kings, smite the nations, and rule them with a rod of iron (Revelation 19:11-21).

"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." [Note: Walvoord, p. 76.]

Seeing the destruction of the final stage of the fourth kingdom as future seems more in harmony with the facts of history and with other Scriptures (cf. Daniel 7:24; Revelation 17:12). This premillennial view sees the kingdom that Jesus Christ will set up on earth, following His second advent, as the first stage of His endless rule. The stone in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision represents that Ruler and His kingdom.

Daniel concluded by explaining to Nebuchadnezzar that the sovereign God had revealed to him what would happen in the future. He further affirmed that the dream represented reality, and that the interpretation that Daniel had given was reliable.

If the stone from heaven represents the kingdom of God thoroughly destroying all earthly kingdoms when Messiah comes, as seems true, then it appears inconsistent to view that kingdom as beginning with Christ’s first coming. Rather, it fits better Christ’s second coming. If so, the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth must begin with Christ’s second coming, not His first coming. This is the view of normative dispensationalists, in contrast to progressive dispensationalists and historic premillennialists. These latter two groups see the church as the first stage in the kingdom of God, the second stage being the millennial reign of Christ.

"Daniel 2:31-45 indicates that the Aramaic word for ’kingdom’ may include the concept of a kingdom with both earthly/temporal and heavenly/eternal aspects. The context in Daniel 2 allows for one kingdom beginning on earth and continuing into the eternal state. This kingdom is established by God, fills the whole earth after destroying all other earthly kingdoms, and will never be destroyed." [Note: Kenneth L. Barker, "Evidence from Daniel," in A Case for Premillennialism: A New Consensus, p. 134.]

Wiersbe noted four implications of this vision: God is in control of history; human enterprises decline as time goes by; it will be difficult for things to hold together at the end of the age; and Jesus Christ will return, destroy His enemies, and establish His kingdom. [Note: Wiersbe, pp. 260-61.]

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of the Statue
The materialsTheir interpretation
GoldNebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire
SilverThe Medo-Persian Empire
BronzeThe Greek Empire
IronThe Roman Empire of the past
Iron and ClayThe Roman Empire immediately before Christ’s second coming
RockThe messianic kingdom of Christ

Verses 46-47

Clearly, Daniel had done what everyone considered humanly impossible. He had told the king the dream that Nebuchadnezzar alone knew, and had perhaps even forgotten, and he had given an interpretation of the dream that made sense to the king. Consequently, Nebuchadnezzar concluded that Daniel must be some sort of god, and proceeded to treat him as one by bowing before him, presenting an offering to him, and burning incense to him. Daniel’s lack of protestation does not indicate that he viewed himself as a god. He was in no position to contradict the misguided adoration of an absolute monarch such as Nebuchadnezzar. Furthermore, Nebuchadnezzar was not saying that Daniel was the true God. Verbally, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the sovereignty of Daniel’s God.

". . . Daniel, the slave of men and servant of God, received the homage of a prostrate king just as the Lord Jesus Christ, who was submissive to men and the servant of God, will receive the homage of all men [cf. Philippians 2:10-11]." [Note: Feinberg, p. 40.]

Verses 46-49

8. The consequences of Daniel’s interpretation 2:46-49

Verse 48

The king also promoted Daniel to be head man over the province of Babylon, and chief of the wise men. He evidently became the ruler in charge of this most important province (cf. Daniel 3:2). Normally this position would have gone to a Chaldean, a member of the "master race" of Babylonian society. The fact that Nebuchadnezzar gave it to a Jewish captive shows the tremendous respect that Daniel had earned with this revelation.

Verse 49

At Daniel’s request, the king also promoted Daniel’s three friends to positions of authority within the provincial administration (cf. Daniel 2:17-18). Daniel himself remained in the palace and was available to Nebuchadnezzar as an adviser when the king needed him. God prepared for the arrival of thousands of exiled Judahites (in 597 and 586 B.C.) by placing men in authority who were sympathetic to their needs (cf. Joseph).

"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." [Note: Walvoord, p. 78.]

"This chapter, so basic to an understanding of all God’s dealing in history and prophecy, reveals three important truths: 1. God, not man is sovereign in world affairs. . . . 2. Our sovereign God has a plan for the world. . . . 3. God is ordering history according to His plan." [Note: Campbell, p. 27.]

B. Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image ch. 3

There is a logical connection between the image that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream (ch. 2) and the image that he had built on the plain of Dura (ch. 3). Perhaps he got the idea for the statue he built from the statue he saw in his dream. He forgot, however, the lesson that he had learned about Yahweh’s sovereignty (Daniel 2:47). Evidently thoughts of his position as the head of gold made him proud.

We know that this chapter describes events that followed those in chapter 2 because Daniel’s three friends had assumed their positions of administrative leadership in Babylon (Daniel 2:12). How much later is unclear, though it seems that several years had elapsed. Dyer believed the likely background for these events was a coup attempt against Nebuchadnezzar that occurred in December 595 and January 594 B.C., which the Babylonian Chronicles record. [Note: Dyer, p. 706.] The Septuagint translation of Daniel 2:1 dates these events in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar (about 587 B.C.), though that is not necessarily true. Whitcomb speculated that this event may have occurred shortly after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem (about 585 B.C.). [Note: Whitcomb, p. 53.] Such an empire-wide demonstration of the superiority of Babylon’s gods and king would have been understandable then. What follows is the account of a ceremony designed to unify the empire under Nebuchadnezzar’s leadership, which normally would have happened fairly early in his reign (closer to 605 B.C.).

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Daniel 2". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.