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THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES
In the first chapter we have seen the moral characteristics that are necessary to be found in the one to whom God can give wisdom and understanding as to His mind. This prepares the way for the revelations of the whole book.
In the second division of the book, commencing with chapter 2 and continuing to the end of chapter 6, there is brought before us the main purport of the prophecy of Daniel - the presentation of a prophetic outline of the times of the Gentiles.
In chapter 2 there pass before us four great successive Empires that will wield the power of government during this time. This government commences with the Babylonish Empire, continues through the Medo-Persian and Grecian Empires, and terminates with the Roman Empire. We learn, further, that these Empires, exercising their power without reference to God, will come under a judgment that prepares the way for the setting up of the everlasting kingdom of Christ.
Daniel 3 to 6 bring before us certain historical incidents which set forth the outstanding moral features of these successive world Empires.
Further, these chapters are rich with moral instruction for God's people at all times.
The main subjects that pass before us in Daniel 2 are: -
First, the exposure of the weakness and futility of the power and wisdom of this world (1-13):
Secondly, the man of God with whom is the mind of the Lord (14-23):
Thirdly, the witness to God before the world (24-30):
Fourthly, the revelation of the king's dream (31-35):
Fifthly, the interpretation of the king's dream (36-45):
Sixthly, the honour put upon the Lord's servant (46-49).
(a) The wisdom of this world comes to nought (1-13).
In the early part of the chapter we are permitted to see how God works behind the changing scenes of this world, controlling even the dreams of a heathen king, and pouring contempt upon the pride of man.
(Vv. 1-6). Nebuchadnezzar is troubled by a dream, his sleep forsakes him, and his memory fails him. All is permitted by God to force the king into an acknowledgement of Himself through the instrumentality of His servant Daniel. Already the king had found Daniel to be ten times wiser than all the wise men of Babylon. Nevertheless, forgetting or rejecting Daniel, he turns to the magicians, astrologers, sorcerers and Chaldeans, demanding that they should not only give the interpretation of the dream, but should first recall the forgotten dream. Satisfying the king's demands, they would be highly rewarded; failing to do so they would be cut in pieces and their houses made a dunghill.
(Vv. 7-11). This request appears at first sight wholly unreasonable, and the Chaldeans tell the king, "There is not a man upon the earth that can show the king's matter.... And it is a rare thing that the king requireth, and there is none other that can show it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh." When, however, we remember the vast pretensions of these wise men of Babylon, the request does not appear so outrageous.
(Vv. 12, 13). Evidently, the king has no great opinion of the integrity of his wise men. He probably had good ground for considering them quite capable of preparing lying and corrupt words. They, on their part, are placed in such a dilemma that they are compelled to own their utter incompetency. However, the confession of their helplessness avails nothing before the furious king, who forthwith sends out a decree for the destruction of all the wise men of Babylon.
What a picture of the world! Authority makes unreasonable demands upon counsellors in whom there is no real confidence, and resorts to rage and violence if the demands are not immediately complied with. The wisdom of this world is found to be mere pretension when put to the test. There is might without wisdom on the one hand; and profession of wisdom without might on the other.
(b) The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him (14-23). The exposure of the weakness of the man that wields the greatest power on earth and the folly of those who pretend to the greatest wisdom prepare the way for introducing the power and wisdom of God. This brings to the front the remnant of God's people with whom is found wisdom and understanding, and who bear witness to the wisdom, power and sovereign rights of God in heaven, and in relation to the affairs of men on earth.
(Vv. 14, 15). Apparently, Daniel had not been summoned with the wise men who appeared before the king; but, being reckoned among the wise men of Babylon, he comes under the decree that all such should be slain. Thus Daniel and his companions are brought into touch with the great events of the day.
What follows brings out very strikingly the godly character of these men, constituting them a bright witness for God before the world. First, we see the calm serenity of faith in the midst of a scene of terror and confusion. Daniel, maintaining a quiet demeanour, enquires, "Why is the decree so hasty from the king?" The arbitrary will of man, driven by fear, brooks no delay; but, "he that believeth shall not make haste" ( Isa_28:16 ). Happy, indeed, when the faith of God's people maintains them in calm composure in the presence of the excitement of some national crisis.
(V. 16). Secondly, we see the bold confidence of faith that marks Daniel in the presence of the king. Asking the king for time he informs the enraged monarch with the utmost confidence that "he would show the king the interpretation." The subsequent course of Daniel shows that this is not the self-confidence of the flesh, but rather the outward expression of secret confidence in God. Apparently, Daniel has so entered into the mind of God that he realises that God has withheld the dream from the king in order to bring to nought the power and wisdom of this world, and to bear witness to His own sovereign power and wisdom. Thus Daniel can say, not only that God could show the interpretation, but that He "would" do so, and that without any suggestion that the king should first tell the dream.
(Vv. 17, 18). Thirdly, we see the value that Daniel sets upon fellowship and prayer. Having left the presence of the king, he goes to his own company, and makes the thing known to his companions. He values the fellowship of his brethren and has confidence in their prayers, for he requires that "they would desire mercies of the God of heaven." Further, he values definite prayer, for their prayers are to be for mercies "concerning this secret." Herein we discover that fellowship with his brethren and dependence upon God is the secret of Daniel's calm assurance and confidence before men.
(V. 19). Fourthly, we see that Daniel is marked by the peace of God - the peace that is the promised result of making known our requests to God. So we read the secret was "revealed unto Daniel in a night vision." This surely indicates that Daniel, having spread the matter before God, had calmly retired to sleep. In like spirit David, in an earlier day, in that terrible moment when he was driven from Jerusalem by his son Absalom, could say, "I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and He heard me out of His holy hill. I laid me down and slept" ( Psa_3:4 ; Psa_3:5 ). So the Lord, in a later day, in the absolute perfection of His way, could sleep in the storm with His head on a pillow. Good for us if, committing all to the Father's care, we are kept in perfect peace amidst the storms of life.
Fifthly, Daniel not only prays, but he gives thanks. He does not proceed to use the answer to his prayer without first giving thanks for this mercy.
(V. 20). So greatly does God appreciate the gratitude of His people that, though He has not revealed the words of the prayer, He has left on record the exact words of the praise. As in the prayer given by the Lord to His disciples at a later day, so in the praise of Daniel, the foremost place is given to the Name of God. "Blessed be the Name of God for ever and ever," says Daniel: "Hallowed be Thy Name" are the words of the Lord.
Then Daniel ascribes to God "wisdom and might." Nebuchadnezzar had a measure of might but lacked wisdom; the Chaldeans had a measure of wisdom but no might. With the God of heaven there is absolute wisdom with absolute might.
(Vv. 21, 22). Moreover, God is sovereign. He can change the times and seasons. He removeth kings and setteth up kings. Furthermore, He can, if He so wills, impart wisdom and knowledge to others, and reveal "the deep and secret things." To His omniscience nothing is hidden; "He knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with Him."
(V. 23). Finally, while thanking God for the revelation made known to him, Daniel owns it is in answer to united prayer. He can say "Thou hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for Thou hast now made known unto us the king's matter."
(c) The witness for God before the world (24-30).
Following the prayer and praise of Daniel and his companions in private, we have the faithful witness of Daniel in public.
(Vv. 24, 25). Arioch, the captain of the king's guard, having brought in Daniel before the king, seeks with worldly wisdom to use the occasion for his own advantage. He says to the king, "I have found a man . . . that will make known unto the king the interpretation." He is careful not to commit himself by suggesting that Daniel will show the king his dream.
(V. 26). This, however, is the important thing in the eyes of the king. It is not enough to give an interpretation of the dream - this the wise men were prepared to do. The real question is, Can anyone recall the dream? So at once the king asks Daniel, "Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen and the interpretation thereof?"
(V. 27). Daniel can indeed do so; but in his answer he first sets aside the wisdom of this world by reminding the king that his wise men, astrologers, magicians and soothsayers cannot show the secret which the king has demanded.
(V. 28). Then, having blown upon the wisdom of Babylon, Daniel bears a faithful witness to God. What man cannot do, God can do. "There is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets."
(V. 29). Moreover, as to the king, Daniel makes it very clear that he has to do with God. "He that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass" in the latter days. As to Daniel himself, he is not elated by the great revelations he has received, nor does he, like Arioch, use the occasion for his own glory. He hides himself behind the glory of God and inasmuch as he does so God is glorified.
(V. 30). He owns that any knowledge he possesses has come to him by revelation; and, even so, this revelation has not been given to him because of any wisdom that he has more than any living; nor does it come primarily for the king's sake, still less to save the lives of the wise men of Babylon. It is for "their sakes that shall make known the interpretation." He links his companions with himself and reminds the king that God is caring for His people, captives though they be, and is acting for "their sakes." In the government of this world, God ever has His people in view and oftentimes intervenes in the affairs of men for "their sakes." Speaking of this scene, one has said, "It is when we understand how to humble ourselves thoroughly that we are truly exalted. If Daniel disappears, God Himself is manifested in him. Oh that we might have wisdom and spiritual power to hide ourselves thus behind Jesus, in order that He might be put into the foreground! Every such act is a great and precious triumph."
(d) The revealer or secrets (31-35) .
(V. 31). Having set man in his true place, and witnessed to the sufficiency of God, Daniel proceeds to show the king his dream. He tells the king that he saw "a great image." In the interpretation that follows, we learn that this image sets forth the government of the world during the times of the Gentiles by means of four great Gentile monarchies. Here, in the vision, they are presented as forming one image, and that the image of a man - a man that appears excellent and yet terrible.
The times of the Gentiles are marked by the rule of man, in which there is much that calls forth the admiration of men by outward magnificence, and yet strikes terror by oppression. It is a vision of the man of earth in contrast to the God of heaven.
(Vv. 32, 33). Another characteristic of the image is the progressive deterioration of its composition from head to feet. The head is of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of brass, the legs of iron, and the feet part of iron and part of clay. This deterioration is not in the strength of the metals, but in their value. The material strength of the metals sets forth the extent of the dominions of each empire. The value of the metals signifies rather the sovereign power of each empire. The extent of the dominions of the three last world empires would greatly exceed that of the first empire; but in none was the imperial power, representing the power of God, so manifest as in the first empire - the head of gold.
(Vv. 34, 35). Lastly, in the vision, Nebuchadnezzar saw a stone cut out without hands. He saw the introduction of a Kingdom which was not established as the result of man's agency; it was "without hands." This we know is the Kingdom of Christ. The stone falls upon the feet of the image; but, in result, the whole image is involved in ruin. The Kingdom of Christ will deal in judgment with the final form of the last empire, but, in so doing, it will set aside the whole system of government by the man of the earth, and set up a stable and world-wide government, likened to a great mountain that "filled the whole earth."
(e) Things that shall come to pass hereafter (Vv. 36-45). Having recalled the dream, Daniel proceeds to give the interpretation, revealing "what should come to pass hereafter."
(Vv. 36-38). Nebuchadnezzar is told that, as the representative of the Babylonish empire, he is the head of gold. Hitherto there had existed on the earth distinct nations, each under its own king. Now, for the first time there is established a new form of government - government by imperial unity. Under this form of government, nations, with their kings, are united under an empire with an imperial head who is a king of kings.
Nebuchadnezzar, the first head of the first empire, is told that his kingdom, and power, and strength, and glory were God-given. "Wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath He given into thine hand." In the successive empires we shall see the extent of the empires increasing, but this sovereign power of the head declining.
(V. 39). The second and third empires, represented by the breast and arms of silver, and the belly and thighs of brass, are here alluded to in the briefest way. From later visions we shall learn that the second empire is the Medo-Persian (See Dan_5:28 and Dan_8:20 ) and the third empire the Grecian (See Dan_8:21 ). Here we are simply told that the kingdoms that will arise will be inferior to the empire of Babylon.
(V. 40). Coming to the fourth kingdom, we have its character presented in much greater detail, not only because it is the final kingdom of the times of the Gentiles, but it is the one kingdom with which Christ will deal directly in judgment. This plainly defines the fourth kingdom as the Roman Empire. The world was under the dominion of the Roman Empire when Christ came to earth. It came into conflict with Christ when He left the world. It is the revived Roman Empire that will be dealt with in judgment by Christ at His coming again ( Luk_2:1 ; Luk_2:2 ; Joh_19:10 ; Joh_19:11 ; Rev_17:7-14 ).
It is important to notice that of the last three kingdoms none is directly set up by God. Only the first kingdom and the kingdom of Christ are said to be established by the God of heaven (37, 44). The other three kingdoms arise by providential means, sovereign power declining with each kingdom until it is re-established in absolute perfection in the kingdom of Christ.
The outstanding characteristic of the fourth kingdom is that it "shall be strong as iron." Iron is stronger than gold or silver or brass, but not so precious. As Scriptural figures, gold ever speaks of what is divine, iron of what is human. In the fourth Empire there is a vast increase of all that is human, and a great loss of all that is divine. In the government of the fourth Empire, there will be an increasing development of human wisdom, human ingenuity and human resources, and less and less recognition of God, involving an increasing loss of the sovereign and absolute power of God in government. As the times of the Gentiles draw to their close, man will increasingly seek to govern the world without reference to God, until the world is ripe for judgment.
A second mark of the fourth kingdom is its ruthlessness. With ruthless power it breaks in pieces and crushes all its opposers.
(Vv. 41. 42). A third feature is that the fourth empire in the course of its history, will become divided and weakened. We are told by Daniel that "the feet and toes" were "part of potters' clay, and part of iron," setting forth the fact that "the kingdom shall be divided," and weakened, or, as Daniel says, "partly strong and partly fragile" (N. Tn.).
(V. 43). The loss of what is of God and the introduction of the human element lead as ever to division and weakness. The weakened governing power can no longer hold the empire together. The iron mixed with the miry clay indicates the mingling of democracy with sovereignty. The clay, or democratic element, brings about the break up of the empire.
Two facts, however, become clear. First, though the fourth empire will be divided and weakened by the admixture of clay, yet it will always be true "there shall be in it of the strength of the iron." There will never come a time when it will be likened wholly to clay. The government of the fourth empire will never be wholly democratic. Secondly, we are told that the iron and the clay may mingle, yet they will never cleave together. Democracy and sovereignty will ever be antagonistic.
(Vv. 44, 45). Then we are told that, altogether apart from the kingdoms represented by the image, another kingdom will be set up by the God of heaven. This Kingdom stands in direct contrast to the four great kingdoms of the times of the Gentiles. The four kingdoms are destroyed or left to others, but this Kingdom will never be destroyed, nor will it be passed on to others. It will not only break up the kingdom that immediately preceded it, but it will break in pieces all these kingdoms, and as long as the world lasts it will remain - "it shall stand for ever."
Beyond all question this Kingdom is the millennial Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. The prophecy does not refer to the first coming of Christ into the world in grace, and the establishment of the kingdom of grace by the triumph of the gospel over heathen systems, as some have thought. It is the Kingdom established in power by the second coming of Christ, a kingdom that is introduced not by grace but by judgment.
We have, then, in the dream and its interpretation, a complete forecast of the government of this world during the times of the Gentiles, leading to the setting up of the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Christ. It is an immense mercy that the Christian has a God-given outline of the course and end of the great world Empires during the times of the Gentiles. He can thus keep apart from the political movements of the day, content to go on in obscurity, awaiting the coming of the King of kings. He knows that all the political movements will end in a great confederation of the nations under the revived Roman Empire, in opposition to God and the Lamb, and he knows that all these efforts of man will be dealt with in judgment when Christ comes forth as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He sees that the leagues, treaties and pacts amongst the nations are preparing the way for the final confederation against God and Christ, and he keeps apart from that which will end in open apostacy to God and overwhelming judgment at the appearing of Christ.
(f) "Them that honour Me I will honour" (Vv. 46-49)
(Vv. 46, 47). The chapter closes with an account of the effect produced upon Nebuchadnezzar by these revelations, and the honour put upon the Lord's servants. The fact that the king fell upon his face and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that an oblation be offered to him, sufficiently indicates that neither his heart nor his conscience had been reached. Heart and conscience working would have enlightened the monarch as to what was suitable to God. But if the conscience is not reached, the mind of the king is at least convinced that God is supreme and omniscient.
(Vv. 48, 49). Finally, Daniel is promoted to great honour. This faithful man has borne a witness for God before the king, and becomes a means of blessing both to the world and to his own companions. Though he had neither sought nor asked anything for himself, he is free to use the advantage of his exalted position to make request for his companions.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Daniel 2". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26