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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Daniel 2


A.M. 3401. B.C. 603.

In this chapter we have,

(1,) The perplexity of Nebuchadnezzar through a dream, which he had forgotten, Daniel 2:1 .

(2,) His application to the wise men of Babylon to tell him the dream and the interpretation thereof, and their inability to do it, Daniel 2:2-11 .

(3,) Orders given to destroy them all, as impostors, and Daniel with his fellows among the rest, Daniel 2:12 , Daniel 2:13 .

(4,) By promising to declare the dream and its interpretation, Daniel prevents the execution of these orders, at least in part; and by joint prayer with his three companions, he obtains from God the discovery of the dream and its interpretation, Daniel 2:14-19 .

(5,) The thanksgiving he offered to God for this great favour, Daniel 2:20-23 .

(6,) His admission to the king, and the discovery he made to him, both of the dream and of the interpretation of it, Daniel 2:25-45 .

(7,) The great honour which Nebuchadnezzar conferred on Daniel, in recompense for his service, and the preferment of his companions with him, Daniel 2:46-49 .

Verse 1

Daniel 2:1. In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar That is, according to the Babylonian account, or the fourth according to the Jewish; that is, in the second year of his reigning alone, or the fourth from his first reigning jointly with his father. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams Having subdued all his enemies, and firmly established his throne, it is probable he was thinking upon his bed (see Dan 2:29 ) what should come to pass hereafter: what should be the future success of his family and kingdom, and whether any, or what, families and kingdoms might arise after his own: and as our waking thoughts usually give some tincture to our dreams, he dreamed of something to the same purpose, which astonished him, but which he could not rightly understand. The dream affected him strongly at the time; but awaking in confusion, he had but an imperfect remembrance of it; he could not recollect the particulars. It is said he dreamed dreams, because though it was but one continued dream, it contained divers scenes of affairs, being a description of the succession of the four monarchies which were to continue, under different forms, unto the end of the world. Wherewith his spirit was troubled The Hebrew expression, ותתפעם רוחו , denotes that his spirit was violently agitated, or in such consternation as to affect his body, and disturb his rest. And his sleep brake from him Or, went from him, as a like phrase is rendered Daniel 6:18.

Verse 2

Daniel 2:2. Then the king commanded to call the magicians and the astrologers Concerning the meaning of these two words, see note on Daniel 1:20. Daniel and his companions were not called among them; perhaps because the Chaldeans despised them as youths and strangers, and would not have them thought equal in knowledge to themselves. And the sorcerers This word is always taken in an ill sense by the sacred writers, signifying a sort of necromancers, that through diabolical arts pretended to an acquaintance with departed spirits, from כשׂ Š, præstigiis uti, to use deceitful tricks, or enchantments. They were, perhaps, not very unlike the sortilegi, or fortune-tellers of the ancient Romans; and exercised themselves in various sorts of juggling tricks, or enchantments, which were supposed to be performed by the assistance of demons: see note on Isaiah 29:4. And the Chaldeans The Chaldeans were so much addicted to the study of the motions of the heavenly bodies, and to make prognostications from thence, that the word Chaldean is used, both in Greek and Latin writers, for an astrologer. Diodorus, lib. 2., speaking of the Chaldeans, says, They employ their whole time in philosophy and divination, and are trained up to them from their childhood: and Strabo, lib. xvi, makes a distinction, and observes, that the word is sometimes applied to the nation, sometimes to the sect. Curtius, lib. 5. cap. 1, describes them thus: “Chaldæi siderum motus et statas temporum vices ostendere soliti:” “The Chaldeans are accustomed to show the motions of the stars, and the appointed changes of times:” and Cicero, De Divin., p. 4, “Chaldæi diuturna observatione siderum scientiam putantur effecisse, ut prædici posset quid cuique eventurum et quo quisque fato natus esset:” “The Chaldeans, by the long observation of the stars, are thought to have formed a science, whereby may be foretold what is about to happen to every one, and to what fate every one is born.” These passages may serve to show the opinion that was commonly entertained of these Chaldeans; and therefore we shall be less surprised to find, at Daniel 2:4, this name, according to the general sense of it, used for the magicians of every sort. To show the king his dreams Dreams were often considered by the heathen as giving particular intimations of the will of Heaven; and hence the expression of Homer, in his first Iliad, Και γαρ τ ’ οναρ εκ Διος εστι , For dreams descend from Jove. And in the beginning of his second Iliad, he has, by a bold and beautiful prosopopœia, conveyed the will of Jupiter to Agamemnon in a dream, investing Ονειρος (a dream) with all the qualities of a divine messenger. Diog. Laert. makes mention of a dream of Socrates, whereby he foretold his death within three days; and most of the schools among pagan philosophers gave credit to dreams, and considered them as revealing the will of the gods: see Wintle.

Verse 4

Daniel 2:4. Then spake the Chaldeans to the king in Syriac The ancient Chaldee and the Syrian language were the same: see Gen 31:47 ; 2 Kings 18:26; Ezra 4:7. This language is found in its greatest purity in the books of Daniel and Ezra. The following part of the chapter, from this verse, is written in Chaldee, and so on to the end of the seventh chapter: the reason of which seems to be, that what is said from hence to the end of that chapter, relates chiefly to the Chaldeans, or the inhabitants of Babylonia; whereas what follows, from the beginning of the eighth chapter, refers mostly to the Jewish people, and therefore is written in Hebrew.

Verses 5-6

Daniel 2:5-6. The king said, The thing is gone from me That is, he could not recollect the substance, much less all the particulars of it; some traces of it, however, must have remained in his mind, by which he thought the whole might be brought back to his remembrance, if his wise men could give him any clew to his dream, or hit, any way, upon the subject of it. This, without doubt, was the state of his mind; for unless some traces of his dream, however imperfect, had remained in it, his wise men would have endeavoured to impose upon him, and have told him any dream they could devise. If ye will not make known the dream, ye shall be cut in pieces Literally, be made into pieces. So Syriac; that is, utterly destroyed, as the LXX. and the Vulgate render it. A kind of punishment, of which other places in Scripture make mention: see the margin. And your houses shall be made a dunghill That is, shall be entirely pulled down, and never rebuilt. The ground of this threatening of the king is, that the eastern nations esteemed it a very grievous punishment inflicted upon any one to efface his memory, which in a great measure would be done by pulling down his house, and preventing its being ever rebuilt. The LXX. read, οι οικοι υμων διαρπαγησονται , your houses shall be plundered, and the Vulgate: your houses shall be confiscated, or taken for the king’s use. This proud king seemed determined to exercise the bitterest acts of cruelty against his magicians, and to blot out the very traces of their memory, if they did not gratify his unreasonable but anxious wishes. We meet with a like denunciation from this haughty monarch, Daniel 3:9. But if ye show the dream, &c., ye shall receive gifts As I have threatened you with death, and the destruction of all you have, if you do not perform what I require: so I promise you honour and great rewards if you do perform it.

Verses 7-8

Daniel 2:7-8. They answered, Let the king tell his servants the dream But this the king could not do; and yet, unless he could do it, they could not proceed one step toward the gratifying of his desires. The king said, I know of a certainty that ye would gain time “You only want to protract the time, either that the dream may return, or that my uneasiness may be dissipated, and that, occupied in other affairs, I may think no more of the dream. But I will have from you immediately a positive answer, and a precise explication.” However tyrannical this may appear in the king, his reasoning must be allowed to be very just and right: for if the astrologers could obtain from their gods the knowledge of future events by the explication of a dream, certainly the same gods could have made known to them what the dream was. The original expression means, to buy, or redeem, time, and may be properly applied to men’s using their utmost endeavours to free themselves out of some imminent danger, or difficulty, gaining time being of considerable advantage to that purpose.

Verse 9

Daniel 2:9. If ye will not make known the dream, &c., there is but one decree for you No alteration will be made as to my declaration; and you have nothing to expect but the execution of the sentence which I have passed upon you. For ye have prepared lying and corrupt words The king’s meaning seems to be, that he found by their behaviour, they were ready, in case he told his dream, to invent and give some kind of plausible interpretation of it; or such a one as might, in some way or other, be applicable to whatever events should follow it: in short, that he found their pretended knowledge to be all imposture, since, if they were able to foretel things not yet come to pass, they might certainly tell things already past, and so inform him what was the subject of his dream. Till the time be changed Till there be such an alteration of things, that neither my dream, nor your interpretation, may be thought of any more. Or, as some think, this may be spoken of the wise men framing excuses, in order to delay their punishment, in hopes there might be some change in things, or in the king’s mind, whereby they might escape it. From what he says, however, in the conclusion of the verse, it seems to be rather an insinuation, that they intended to forge or invent an interpretation of his dream, not being able to show the true interpretation of it.

Verses 10-11

Daniel 2:10-11. The Chaldeans answered, There is not a man upon the earth that can show the king’s matter Here the wise men are driven to acknowledge their inability, and their excuse is, that they could indeed tell what dreams signified, if the dreams were told them; but as to telling what a person had dreamed, it was above the power of any art or knowledge but that of the gods, who knew all things. But this reasoning was weak, and showed the king’s accusation to be just, namely, that they had prepared lying and corrupt words to speak before him; or, that their business and skill were only to invent or affix such interpretations of dreams as they thought suitable, without having any real knowledge at all of future things.

Verses 12-13

Daniel 2:12-13. For this cause the king was angry and very furious, &c. The king, in his rage and fury, probably did not think of sending for Daniel, which made Daniel try to get admission to the king, Daniel 2:14, to prevent his own destruction, as well as that of the other wise men. And they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain Though, as it appears, they had not been summoned with the wise men of Chaldea. This was extremely unjust to Daniel and his companions; for it is highly probable they would have received no share of the gifts, and rewards, and great honour, which the other wise men would have received could they have told the king’s dream, therefore they ought not to have been involved in their punishment. But those concerned in the execution of the decree, being armed with power, did not attend to the voice of justice: absolute power, indeed, too seldom does.

Verse 14

Daniel 2:14. Then Daniel answered with counsel and wisdom This seems to be better rendered in the Vulgate, namely, Tunc Daniel requisivit de lege atque sententia ab Arioch Then Daniel inquired of Arioch concerning the law and decree, namely, which the king had made for destroying the wise men: that is, he inquired the reason of the decree and judgment issued against them; for as he had not been called in unto the king with the other wise men, he probably was ignorant of all that had passed with regard to the king’s dream. The word שׂעם , here rendered wisdom, usually signifies an edict, or public decree, set forth by authority. Captain of the king’s guard “Literally, chief of the king’s executioners. Greek, αρχιμαγειρω , the chief butcher [or chief cook.] The term רב שׂבחיא , may probably mean, the leader of the guard appointed for capital punishments. Nor does this office seem to have been at all infamous; for Arioch had free access to the king, as we find, Daniel 2:25: see also 1 Samuel 15:33. And perhaps his office might be to execute any of the king’s commands on his subjects, whether they related to honour or dishonour, to life or to death. The same title is given to Nebuzar-adan, 2 Kings 25:8; and from the character of the commander, it seems to mean a person of the first authority over the soldiery. Mr. Bruce ( Trav., p. 455) speaks of an officer, called the executioner of the camp, whose business it was to attend at capital punishments; and this belonged only to a detachment of the royal Abyssinian army.” Wintle.

Verses 15-16

Daniel 2:15-16. Why is the decree so hasty from the king? So precipitate, or, as Wintle renders it, so urgent, to slay the innocent, who were never called, and knew nothing of the matter? The word מהחצפה , here used, signifies both hasty and pressing. So the Syriac. The LXX. render it, η αναιδης , shameful; the Vulgate translates the verse thus: He (namely, Daniel) asked him who had received authority from the king, for what reason so cruel a sentence had gone forth from the presence of the king? Then Arioch made the thing known to Daniel Acquainted him with the whole affair, of which, it is evident, he knew nothing before. Then Daniel went in Or, went up, as על properly signifies; that is, either to the palace or throne of the king; and desired of the king that he would give him time, &c. The king’s anger was now abated; and withal the providence of God was visible, in inclining the king’s heart to allow Daniel that favour which he had before denied to the magicians; and that he would show the king the interpretation Daniel promised this, in confidence that God, to whom he intended to make application by prayer, would discover to him both the dream and its interpretation. Doubtless God inspired him with a persuasion to this purpose.

Verses 17-18

Daniel 2:17-18. Then Daniel went to his house Which, it seems, was near the palace, that he might there be alone with his God; for from him alone, who is the Father of lights, he expected this important discovery. Nor did he only pray for it himself, but engaged his companions also to unite their supplications to his. That they would desire mercies Chaldee, למבעא ורחמין , et misericordiam petendam esse, that mercy must be asked, of the God of heaven In applying to God for any blessing, all our dependance must be on his mercy and compassion, for we can expect nothing by way of recompense for our merits. Concerning this secret Namely, that it might be discovered unto them. Observe, reader, whatever is the matter of our care, or occasions us trouble or fear, we must spread before God in prayer; for God gives us leave to be humbly free with him, and in prayer to enter into the detail of our wants and burdens. The danger here equally threatened Daniel and his friends, and therefore it was fit they should all join in prayer for the averting of it. And here we see the power and efficacy of united addresses to Heaven, and the important benefits which the fervent prayers of a few holy men may sometimes bring down upon a multitude. Daniel’s prudence, and his piety, with that of his friends, were the means of saving the lives of all the wise men of Babylon!

Verses 19-23

Daniel 2:19-23. Then was the secret revealed It is generally thought that this secret was revealed to Daniel only, and that in sleep, by a dream, or, as it is here termed, a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven He does not stay till he had told what had been revealed to him to the king, and seen whether he would own it to be his dream or not; but, being confident it was so, and that he had gained his point, he immediately turns his prayers into praises. As he had prayed in full assurance that God would do for him what he asked, so he gives thanks in full assurance that he had done it, and in both he has an eye to God as the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said “In the latter part of this and the next three verses, Daniel celebrates the praises of the Almighty in a simple, but truly sublime and animated strain of warm and unaffected piety, makes especial mention of his wisdom and power, and illustrates the display of those attributes in several instances, apposite to the subject and occasion.” Wintle. For wisdom and might are his His wisdom appears in ordering the great affairs of the world, and his might, or power, in bringing them to pass. To the same purpose Jeremiah styles him, great in counsel, and mighty in work, Jeremiah 32:19. And he changeth the times, &c. The great changes of the world are brought to pass by removing kings and translating their dominions to others; by raising some empires, and pulling down others. Of this, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which was then revealed to Daniel, contains several signal instances, as it comprehends the succession of the four great monarchies of the world. He knoweth what is in the darkness, &c. The most secret things are manifest to him; he discerns them while they yet lie hid in their causes, and discovers and brings them to light at the proper time. I praise thee, &c., who hast given, or, because thou hast given, me wisdom and might Namely, the means and power of saving myself and others from the greatest danger.

Verses 24-25

Daniel 2:24-25 . Therefore Daniel went in unto Arioch Daniel, having been thus divinely instructed, was desirous to save the lives of the wise men of Babylon, who were unjustly condemned, as well as his own; and, being now prepared, he goes immediately to Arioch, and bespeaks the reversing of the sentence against them. Though there might be some among them, perhaps, who deserved to die, as magicians, by the law of God; yet that which they here stood condemned for was not a crime worthy of death or of bonds: and others of them probably employed themselves in laudable studies, and searches after useful knowledge. Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste Or, very speedily, as the Syriac reads it; and said, I have found a man that will make known unto the king, the interpretation Jerome remarks here the manner of courtiers, Qui cum bona nunciant, sua videri volunt, who, when they relate good things, are willing to have them thought their own, and to have merit ascribed to themselves. But Daniel was far from assuming any merit to himself, and therefore ascribes entirely to God the ability which he had to make known to the king the dream and the interpretation of it.

Verses 26-29

Daniel 2:26-29. The king said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar

See note on Daniel 1:7; Art thou able to make known to me the dream? &c. The king seems to have questioned whether he could make his promise good. The less likely, however, it appeared to the king that Daniel should do this, the more God was glorified in enabling him to do it. Daniel answered, Cannot the wise men, &c. Daniel’s words, as here translated, bear the interrogative form; but not in the original. They seem to be more accurately translated by the LXX., Το μυστηριον ο βασικευς επερωτα ουκ εστι σοφων αναγγειλαι τω βασιλει , The mystery concerning which the king inquires, it does not belong to the wise men, &c., to declare to the king. Or, as the Vulgate has it, “the wise men cannot declare.” But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets Daniel assumes nothing to himself, but gives the glory to God alone, whose knowledge, as he tells the king, infinitely exceeds that of all the wise men of Chaldea, and of the gods, or demons, which they consulted, or worshipped. And at the same time he also, with great generosity, pleads the cause of the wise men, who could not tell the dream; alleging in their excuse, that such knowledge was not attainable by any mere human ability; and that he should have been as much at a loss as they, had not God been pleased to reveal it unto him: see Daniel 2:30. The modesty and humility of Daniel, in this whole address to the king, are highly deserving of our notice and imitation. The soothsayers, here mentioned, were not noticed among the several sorts of pretenders to wisdom, named in Daniel 2:2. The word so rendered, derived from גזר , to cut, is thought by some to signify either the aruspices, who examined the liver and entrails of beasts by cutting them open; or those diviners who, by the disposition and combination of numbers, made amulets, or charms, by which they pretended to foretel future events. Rabbi Jacchiades favours the latter opinion, supposing that the aruspices were scarcely known in the East. And maketh known what shall be in the latter days Or, w hat shall come to pass hereafter, as it is expressed Daniel 2:29; Daniel 2:45. O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed Daniel, by way of introduction to his telling the king what had been the subject of his dream, informs him of what he meditated, or thought, before he fell asleep, namely, that he revolved in his mind what should be the future condition of the vast empire which he had erected by his various conquests. This surely must have excited in Nebuchadnezzar a great admiration of the God whom Daniel worshipped.

Verse 30

Daniel 2:30. This secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living Namely, to merit such a discovery, or qualify me for receiving it. No praise is due to me on this occasion. Observe, reader, it well becomes those whom God has highly favoured and honoured, to be humble and low in their own eyes; and to lay aside all opinion of their own wisdom and worthiness, that God alone may have all the praise of what they are, and have, and do. But for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king For the sake of Daniel’s brethren and companions in tribulation, who had by their prayers helped him to obtain this discovery, and so might be said to make known the interpretation; that their lives might be spared, that they might come into favour and be preferred, and that all the people of the Jews might fare the better in their captivity for their sakes. This is the sense of the words, according to the common translation; but the marginal reading is thought by many to be more agreeable to the context, which if we follow, the meaning of the clause is, “Not for any wisdom of mine, but that the king may know the interpretation,” &c. “The impious king,” says Jerome, “had a prophetic dream, that, the saint interpreting it, God might be glorified, and the captives, and those who served God in captivity, might receive great consolation. We read the same thing of Pharaoh; not that Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar deserved to see such things, but that Joseph and Daniel, interpreting them, might be preferred to all others.” And, as Jerome observes afterward, “That Nebuchadnezzar might admire the grace of divine inspiration, he (Daniel) not only told him the dream which he was favoured with, but even the secret thoughts of his heart previous to the dream.”

Verse 31

Daniel 2:31. Thou, O king, sawest, and behold, a great image “It appears, from ancient coins and medals, that cities and people were often represented by figures of men and women. A great, terrible human figure was therefore a proper emblem of human power and dominion; and the various metals of which it was composed not unfitly typified the various kingdoms which should arise. It consisted of four different metals, gold, and silver, and brass, and iron, mixed with clay; and these four metals, according to Daniel’s own interpretation, mean so many kingdoms; and the order of their succession is clearly denoted by the order of the parts; the head and higher parts signify the earlier times, and the lower parts the latter times. Hesiod, who lived two hundred years before Daniel, spoke of the four ages of the world under the symbols of these metals; so that this image was formed according to the commonly received notion, and the commonly received notion was not first propagated from hence.” Bishop Newton. This image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee This image, says Grotius, appeared with a glorious lustre in the imagination of Nebuchadnezzar, whose mind was wholly taken up with admiration of worldly pomp and splendour; but the same monarchies were represented to Daniel under the shape of fierce and wild beasts, chap. 7., as being the great supporters of idolatry and tyranny in the world. And the form thereof was terrible The success which accompanied their arms made them feared and dreaded by all the world.

Verses 32-33

Daniel 2:32-33. This image’s head was of fine gold The Babylonian monarchy had arrived to the height of glory under Nebuchadnezzar, (see Daniel 2:37-38,) who likewise improved and adorned the city of Babylon to such a degree as to make it one of the wonders of the world; so that this empire might justly be compared to a head of gold. His breast and his arms of silver The second monarchy, of Medes and Persians, would be inferior to the first: see note on Daniel 2:39. His belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron These emblems denoted the strength of the third and fourth monarchies, and the irresistible force with which they should subdue their adversaries. Iron and brass are the emblems of strength in the prophetical writings; and they were in other respects emblematical of these empires, as we shall see by and by. His feet part of iron and part of clay By this was signified the Roman empire in its declining state, as will be shown presently.

Verses 34-35

Daniel 2:34-35. Thou sawest till a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image, &c. Here the whole image is represented as destroyed by a great stone falling upon its feet and breaking them to pieces, whereby the whole image was overset and broken. In like manner the kingdom of Christ, a kingdom of God’s own erecting, was to break to pieces and destroy the fourth and last empire, in which the remainder of the others was comprehended, and at length to put an end to all earthly rule, authority, and power, 1 Corinthians 15:24. The Jews, as well as Christians, agree that by the stone here is meant the Messiah, or his kingdom, and indeed it is a very apt description of it; for without any visible means, or adequate assistance of human power, it arose, prevailed mightily, and increased to a high degree of strength and greatness, and will still increase, until it become superior to, and swallow up, all the kingdoms of the earth. Then was the iron, the brass, &c., broken to pieces, and became like the chaff, &c. There was no sign or remainder left of their former greatness. The same expression is used by Isaiah 41:15, where see the note. The expressions in both places allude to the thrashing-floors in the eastern countries, which were usually placed on the tops of hills. And the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, &c. This denotes the advancement and increase of Christ’s kingdom, that it should from small beginnings proceed to fill the whole earth; as if a stone by degrees should grow to a mountain. Thus Christ is described as going forth conquering and to conquer, Revelation 6:2. Christ, the foundation of the church, is often described as a stone: see Isaiah 28:16; Zechariah 3:9, and the church in its flourishing state is represented as a mountain, Isaiah 2:2; Ezekiel 20:40; Revelation 21:10.

Verses 36-38

Daniel 2:36-38. This is the dream, and we will tell the interpretation Here again Daniel shows his modesty, allowing his friends a share in the honour of interpreting the dream, because the interpretation was obtained by their joint prayers to God. Thou, O king, art a king of kings So Nebuchadnezzar is styled Ezekiel 26:7, because he had divers kings for his vassals and tributaries. And Daniel here addresses him as if he were a very powerful king, and his empire very large and extensive. For the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, &c. The monarch might perhaps think, like some of his predecessors, that his conquests were owing to his fortitude and prudence: see Isaiah 10:13. But the prophet assures him, that his success must be primarily imputed to the God of heaven. Though most of the ancient eastern histories are lost, yet some fragments remain which speak of this mighty conqueror, and his extended empire. Berosus informs us, that he held in subjection Egypt, Syria, Phenicia, Arabia, and surpassed all the Chaldeans and Babylonians who reigned before him. Josephus, Philostratus, Megasthenes, and Strabo, assert, that he surpassed even Hercules, proceeded as far as Hercules’ pillars, subdued Spain, and led his army into Thrace and Pontus. But his empire was of no long duration, for it ended in his grandson Belshazzar, not seventy years after the delivery of this prophecy, nor above twenty-three years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar; which may be the reason why Daniel speaks of him as the only king, the rest being to be considered as nothing; nor do we read of any thing good or great performed by them. Bishop Newton: see notes on Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 25:11; Jeremiah 25:15-26; Jeremiah 27:6-8. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, hath he made thee ruler over them all The great monarchies assumed to themselves the title of being lords of the world; see Daniel 6:25; Daniel 8:5; so the word οικουμενη , the world, commonly signifies the Roman empire, in the New Testament. Thou art this head of gold Thou and thy family and thy representatives. The Babylonian therefore was the first of these kingdoms, and it was fitly represented by the head of fine gold, on account of its great riches, and the splendour and glory of its capital city, Babylon, which for the same reason was called the golden city, Isaiah 14:4, a golden cup, Jeremiah 51:7, and the lady of kingdoms, Isaiah 47:5; Isaiah 47:7, where see the notes. The Assyrian is usually said to be the first of the four great empires, and the name may be allowed to pass, if it be not taken too strictly: for the Assyrian empire, properly so called, was dissolved before this time, and the Babylonian was erected in its stead; but the Babylonians are sometimes called Assyrians in the best classic authors, as well as in the Holy Scriptures. Bishop Newton.

Verse 39

Daniel 2:39. After thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee “It is very well known, that the kingdom which arose after the Babylonian was the Medo-Persian. The two hands and the shoulders signify that the empire of the Babylonians should be destroyed by two kings. The two kings were the kings of the Medes and Persians, whose powers were united under Cyrus, who was son of one of the kings, and son-in-law of the other, and who besieged and took Babylon, put an end to that empire, and erected on its ruin the Medo-Persian, or the Persian, as it is more usually called, the Persians having soon gained ascendency over the Medes. The empire is said to be inferior, as being less than the former, according to the Vulgate translation, because neither Cyrus, nor any of his successors, ever carried their arms into Africa or Spain, so far as Nebuchadnezzar is reported to have done; or rather, as being worse, according to Castalio; for indeed it may be truly asserted, that the kings of Persia were the worst race of men that ever governed an empire. This empire, from its first establishment by Cyrus to the death of Darius Codomanus, lasted not much above two hundred years.” Bishop Newton.

And another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth “The prophet,” says Jackson, in his Chronicles, vol. 1. p. 393, “having just mentioned this second kingdom, with great delicacy hastens to the third, because he would not tell the king that the second kingdom was to destroy his.” It is universally known that Alexander the Great subdued the Medes and Persians, and subverted their empire. This prince is said, by the author of the first book of Maccabees, “to be the first that reigned over Greece, after having smitten Darius the king of the Persians and Medes; to have made many wars, won many strong holds, and slain the kings of the earth; also to have gone through to the ends of the earth, and taken the spoils of many nations.” It is reported of this mighty conqueror, that “he built more than seventy cities, twelve of which, or, as Curtius intimates, eighteen, he named Alexandria; that his soldiers, though unarmed, were never afraid, while he was with them, of any armed forces. He engaged no enemy which he did not conquer, besieged no city which he did not take, and made attempts on no nation which he did not entirely subdue.” But all would not satisfy the vast cravings of his ambition, so that the Roman satirist with great justice observed of him,

“Unus Pellæo juveni non sufficit orbis; Æstuat infelix augusto limite mundi.” Juv. Sat. 10.

One world does not satisfy the Macedonian youth: he chafes unhappy, cooped in the narrow compass of the globe: see Wintle. The kingdom, therefore, which succeeded to the Persian was the Macedonian, or Grecian; and this kingdom was fitly represented by brass, for the Greeks were famous for their brazen armour, their usual epithet being, Χαλκοχιτωνες Αχαιοι , The brazen-coated Greeks. This third kingdom is said to bear rule over all the earth, by a figure usual in almost all authors. Alexander himself commanded that he should be called, The king of all the world; not that he really conquered the whole world, but that he had considerable dominions in Europe, Asia, and Africa, that is, in all the three parts of the world then known. Diodorus Siculus, and other writers, give an account of ambassadors coming from almost all the world, to congratulate him upon his success, or to submit to his empire: and then especially, as Arrian remarks, did Alexander appear to himself, and to those about him, to be master both of all the earth and all the sea. But this third kingdom must be considered as comprehending not only Alexander, but likewise the Macedonian princes who succeeded him. This will appear the more probable, because the former kingdoms comprehended all the succeeding princes of the same house and nation, even till the ruin of their empire, and its translation to the different prince and nation which succeeded to the sovereign power and dominion: see Bishop Newton, and Dr. Chandler’s Vindication of Daniel.

Verses 40-43

Daniel 2:40-43. The fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, &c. This description agrees well with the Roman empire, and the event answered the prediction; for the Roman was vastly more strong and extensive than any of the preceding three. As iron breaketh and bruiseth all other metals, so this brake and subdued all the former kingdoms. The metal is here different, and consequently likewise the nation must be different from the preceding. For the four metals must signify four different nations; and as the gold signified the Babylonians, the silver the Persians, and the brass the Macedonians, so the iron must necessarily denote some other nation: and it may safely be said, that there is not, and has not been, a nation upon earth, to which this description is applicable, but the Romans. The Romans succeeded to the Macedonians, and therefore, in course, were next to be mentioned. And as the two arms of silver denoted the two kings of the Medes and Persians, so the two legs of iron seem equally to have signified the two Roman consuls. The iron was mixed with clay; and the Romans were defiled with a mixture of barbarous nations. The Roman empire was at length divided into ten lesser kingdoms, answering to the ten toes of the image. These kingdoms retained much of the old Roman strength; so that the kingdom was partly strong and partly broken It subdued Syria, and made the kingdom of the Seleucidæ a Roman province, in the year sixty- five before Christ; it subdued Egypt, and made the kingdom of the Lagidæ a Roman province, in the year thirty before Christ; and, in the fourth century after Christ, it began to be torn in pieces by the incursions of the barbarous nations. Mr. Mede, who was as able and consummate a judge as any in these matters, observes, “That the Roman empire was the fourth kingdom of Daniel, was believed by the church of Israel, both before and in our Saviour’s time; received by the disciples of the apostles, and the whole Christian Church, for the first three hundred years, without any known contradiction. And, I confess, having so good a ground in Scripture, it is with me tantum non articulus fidei, little less than an article of faith:” see his Works, book 4. Ephesians 6:0, p. 735, and Bishop Newton.

Daniel seems to divide this kingdom into three periods. The first is its strongest and flourishing state, which seems to be denoted by the iron legs: the second is the same kingdom, weakened by civil wars and the divided state of the empire, denoted by the feet, which were part of potter’s clay, and part of iron; for which reason the prophet tells us the kingdom shall be divided, though there shall be in it something of the strength of iron, because the iron was mixed with the clay: the third is the same empire in a yet further state of declension, during which one part of it was to be absolutely destroyed, denoted by the toes, the extremity of the image, and of consequence the last period of this fourth empire. As the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly broken That is, one part of this divided empire shall remain, and the other part be entirely destroyed. And as the last period of this kingdom is denoted by the toes, this evidently intimates that the remaining part, which was not broken, should be divided into ten distinct kingdoms or governments. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men, &c. The conjunction of the Romans with the conquered nations, and afterward with the Goths, Vandals, and other barbarians, who subverted the empire, seems to be here intended: in consequence of which these ten kingdoms became a medley of people, of different nations, laws, and customs. But they shall not cleave one to another Although the kings of the several nations shall try to strengthen themselves by marriage alliances, yet reasons of state, the desire of empire, and the different interests which they pursue, will prove stronger than ties of blood, and often engage them in contentions and wars with each other, and thereby weaken the common strength. As Tacitus observes, “Dominandi cupido cunctis affectibus flagrantior erit:” The lust of ruling will be more powerful than all the affections. “It is especially observable,” says Wintle, “that in the declining state of the Roman empire, intermarriages with the barbarians were frequent and distinguished, as may be learned from the histories of the times; but yet the cement would not hold so as to form any great kingdom, or even to prevent the impending fate of the empire.” But some explain the verse of the commotions and clashings that took place between the secular and ecclesiastical powers, after the kingdom was divided into ten parts, answerable to the ten toes of the image.

Verses 44-45

Daniel 2:44-45. And in the days of these kings That is, kingdoms, or during the succession of these four monarchies; and it must be during the time of the last of them, because they are reckoned four in succession, and consequently this must be the fifth kingdom. Shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom This can only be understood with propriety, as the ancients understood it, of the kingdom of Christ. Accordingly, his kingdom was set up during the days of the last of these kingdoms, that is, the Roman. The stone was totally a different thing from the image; and the kingdom of Christ is totally different from the kingdoms of this world. The stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, as our heavenly body is said ( 2Co 5:1 ) to be a building of God, a house not made with hands, that is, spiritual, as the phrase is used in other places. This the fathers generally apply to Christ himself, who was miraculously born of a virgin, without the concurrence of man: but it should be rather understood of the kingdom of Christ, which was formed out of the Roman empire, not by number of hands, or strength of armies, but without human means, and the virtue of second causes. This kingdom was set up by the God of heaven, and from hence the phrase of the kingdom of heaven came to signify the kingdom of the Messiah; and so it was used and understood by the Jews, and so it is applied by our Saviour in the New Testament. Other kingdoms were raised by human ambition and worldly power; but this was the work not of man, but of God: this was truly, as it is called, the kingdom of heaven, and ( Joh 18:36 ) a kingdom not of this world; its laws, its powers were all divine. This kingdom was never to be destroyed, as the Babylonian, the Persian, and the Macedonian empires have been, and in a great measure also the Roman. This kingdom was not to be left to any other people; it was to be erected by God in a peculiar manner, to extend itself over all the nations, and still to consist of the same people, without any alteration or change of their name. What this people were to be, and by what name to be called, the prophet expressly declares Daniel 7:17-18; they were to be the saints of the Most High. Of such was this kingdom to consist, and never to depart from them; a character which expressly determines the nature of the kingdom, and by whom it was to be erected and governed. This kingdom was to break in pieces and consume all kingdoms To spread and enlarge itself, so that it should comprehend within itself all the former kingdoms. This kingdom was to fill the whole earth, to become universal, and to stand for ever. As the fourth kingdom, or the Roman empire, was represented in different states, first strong and flourishing, with legs of iron, and then weakened and divided, with feet and toes part of iron and part of clay; so this fifth kingdom, or the kingdom of Christ, is described likewise in two states, which Mr. Mede rightly distinguishes by the names of regnum lapidis, the kingdom of the stone, and regnum montis, the kingdom of the mountain. The first commenced when the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, while the statue continued on its feet, and the Roman empire was in its full strength, with legs of iron: the second, when the stone began to increase into a mountain, and to fill the earth, the Roman empire being in its last and weakest state. The image is still standing upon its feet and toes of iron and clay; and the kingdom of Christ is yet a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. But the stone will one day smite the image upon the feet and toes, and destroy it utterly, and will itself become a great mountain, and fill the whole earth: or, in other words, The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever. We have, therefore, seen the kingdom of the stone; but we have not yet seen the kingdom of the mountain. Some parts of this prophecy still remain to be fulfilled; but the exact completion of the other parts will not suffer us to doubt of the accomplishment of the rest also in due season: see Bishop Newton.

Verse 46

Daniel 2:46. Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and worshipped Daniel He was so astonished at hearing his whole dream declared and interpreted by Daniel with such exactness, and at finding such wonderful events foretold by it, that he was ready to think him more than man, (just as the Lycaonians and barbarians thought of St. Paul, Acts 14:13, &c., and Acts 28:6,) and therefore prostrated himself before him, intending, as it should seem, to pay him some kind of adoration. It must be observed, however, that “doing reverence by prostration was not only an act of worship paid to God, but often given to kings and great men, in the times of the Old Testament: see 2 Samuel 9:6; 2 Samuel 14:33. It was likewise an expression of reverence paid to prophets on account of the sanctity of their office, and not refused by them, 1 Kings 18:7. Of this kind, probably, was the worship paid by the leper to Christ, (Matthew 8:2,) whom he took for a prophet. But when other circumstances were added to it, which made it look like divine worship, then it was refused to be accepted, as in the case of Peter, (Acts 10:25,) and of the angel, Revelation 19:10. The adoration here described seems to have been of this latter kind, being joined with offering incense, an act of worship peculiar to God alone: see Ezra 6:10. For this reason it is highly probable that Daniel refused the honours offered to him, and put the king in mind that he should give God the glory; as we find he does in the following verse.” Lowth.

Verses 47-48

Daniel 2:47-48. Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods Such a God as there is no other; above all gods in dignity, over all gods in dominion. And a Lord of kings From whom they derive their power, and to whom they are accountable: the supreme Governor of the world, and Ruler of all the kings and kingdoms in it. And a revealer of secrets One who sees and can bring to light what is most secret; seeing thou couldest reveal this secret Couldest discover a matter, which it would have been impossible for thee to discover, if God had not revealed it to thee. Then the king made Daniel a great man Or magnified him, as the original expression means. God made Daniel a great man indeed, when he took him into such intimate communion with himself, a much greater man than Nebuchadnezzar could make him; but because God had honoured him, therefore the king honoured him too. And gave him many great gifts Which Daniel had no reason to refuse, since they put him into the greater capacity of doing good to his brethren in captivity. These gifts were no more than grateful returns from the king for the good services Daniel had done him, and were not desired or aimed at by Daniel, as the rewards of divination were by Balaam. And made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon Which, no doubt, had a mighty influence upon the other provinces; and chief of the governors over all the wise men Constituted him the chief ruler and inspector of them who were students and professors of learning and wisdom. We are not to suppose that this holy prophet, in the exercise of the office now assigned him, would give any countenance or encouragement to any who practised unlawful arts and divinations: rather he would do all in his power to abolish all such practices, and would instruct those of whom he had the oversight in the knowledge of the one living and true God, and in that wisdom which has him for its author and its end.

Verse 49

Daniel 2:49 . Then Daniel requested of the king, and he set Shadrach, &c. He used his interest for his friends, as became a good man, and procured places in the government for them, that they might be assisting to him in his office, and sharers in his honour, by whose intercessions, united with his own, so important a secret had been revealed to him: such a grateful sense had he even of that service! This preferring of them would not only be a great help to Daniel in his place and business, but would afford them many and great opportunities of being useful to their brethren in captivity. But Daniel sat in the gate of the king Was a constant attendant at the king’s court: and as the expression may probably signify, was a kind of chief justice, hearing and determining such causes as were brought before him, and administering justice to the people.

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Daniel 2". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.