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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Daniel 2


Nebuchadnezzar, forgetting his dream, requireth it of the Chaldeans by promises and threatenings. They, acknowledging their inability, are adjudged to die. Daniel, obtaining some respite, findeth the dream: he blesseth God; stayeth the decree, and is brought to the king. The dream. The interpretation. Daniel's advancement.

Before Christ 603.

IN this chapter Nebuchadnezzar having dreamed, and been much affected thereby, is solicitous to know his dreams, and the meaning of them. He applies in vain to the wise men of his own country for information, and, being disgusted at their inability, orders them all to be slain. Daniel is sought after among the number, but on application to God he learns the dream and the interpretation, and arrests the execution of the sentence. He explains the dream to the king, as relating to the four great kingdoms of the earth, and the establishment of the kingdom of the Messiah under the fourth: whereupon the king admires his skill, acknowledges the power of his God, and advances Daniel and his friends to great honours and preferments.

Verse 1

Daniel 2:1. And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar As the affairs of Babylon have so considerable a share in the historical parts of the book of Daniel, as well as in other parts of Scripture, it may not be amiss to give here a short sketch of the kingdom of Babylon, previous to the reign of this monarch.

Whether the Assyrian empire was of very early date according to some of the Greek writers and chronicles, or whether its commencement was not till a much later period according to modern chronologists, it is agreed on all sides, that the origin of this and of the Babylonian monarchy must be traced from nearly the same source. And accordingly we read in the 10th chapter of Genesis, Dan 2:10-11 that Nimrod the son of Cush and grandson of Ham, who seems to have been the first founder of extensive or regal authority, had the beginning of his kingdom in Babel or Babylon in the land of Shinar, as this country was still called in the time of Daniel. Chap. Daniel 1:2. Out of this land he went forth into Assyria, or it may be, as most of the versions read, Ashur or an Assyrian went forth, (that is, not one of the sons of Shem, but a person either of that name, or who took his name from the country,) and built Nineveh and other cities. The descendants of these people seem for a considerable time to have followed the way of life of their founder, to have lived upon plunder and rapine in a rude uncivilized state, and not to have been much esteemed among the nations; till some potent king of Assyria collected them together, and settled them in Babylon and the country round about it. Bishop Lowth supposes this king to have been Ninus, and to have lived in the time of the Judges, following the testimony of Herodotus, who is understood to say, that the Assyrian monarchy lasted but 520 years.

The history of Assyria and Babylon from Ninus* to this last-named period, is involved in much uncertainty, as we have scarcely any authentic evidence to have recourse to, the testimony of the Greek writers wearing for the most part the appearance of fable, and the Scriptures throwing very little light on the matter.

* Mr. Bruce, in his Travels, book 2: chap. 1: speaks of Semiramis, and the immense riches of the Assyrian empire, which Montesquieu thinks proceeded chiefly from rapine and plunder of other nations in war; but which Mr. Bruce more justly imputes to her connexions with India; and that as the commerce with that peninsula was unknown by sea, the whole must have been carried on by land only, and all nations of the continent must have received from her markets a supply of Indian stores. See Prelim. Dis. Upon this principle he accounts also for a passage in Solomon's Proverbs chap. Dan 7:16 where he says, that he decked his bed with coverings of tapestry of Egypt. Now Egypt had neither silk nor cotton manufactory, nor even wool. Solomon's coverings, therefore, though he had them from Egypt, were an article of barter with India.

The next Assyrian king of the Scriptures is Tiglath-pileser, supposed to have been the son of Pul; and after him follow Shalmanezer and Senacherib: during the reign of one of which monarchs, perhaps the former, the kingdom of Babylon and Chaldea seems to have revolted, and it is probable from Herodotus, not long after the time that the Medes did, from the Assyrian empire. The first prince, after this revolt, at least the first whom we have any certain knowledge of, seems to have been Nabonassar, the founder of the famous aera, which commenced with his reign, and was called by his name. Several other princes or kings succeeded him in this kingdom, of whom little more is known than their names, which are recorded by the celebrated astronomer Ptolemy. But in the twenty-seventh year after the commencement of his father's kingdom his son Mardoc Empadus, or Merodach Baladan, began to reign over Babylon, which was the prince that sent to congratulate Hezekiah king of Judah on his miraculous recovery, 2 Kings 20:0 and Isaiah 39:0 and probably to enter into an alliance with him against Senacherib, the king of the other part of the Assyrian empire. After this monarch had reigned over Babylon twelve years, he was succeeded by several princes, who, in their turns, governed Babylon for a short period of about twenty years; when it became in a state of anarchy for eight years more, and was at length united by Assaradinus or Esar-haddon, the son of Senacherib, to the Assyrian empire. This happened about the nineteenth year of Manasseh, that wretched prince, who succeeded his father the good Hezekiah in the kingdom of Judah.

I must not stop to mention the completion of several remarkable events in the history of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, which took place during the reign of Esar-haddon over Assyria, but must refer the reader to the narratives recorded in the 2nd book of Kings, the prophesy of Isaiah, ch. Dan 7:8 and the book of Ezra, or to Dr. Prideaux and others, who have written the Scripture history. It is sufficient to observe, that the remainder of the tribes of Israel were entirely carried away by this prince, and irrecoverably sunk among other nations, and that the king of Judah was also carried by him to Babylon, though soon after he released him, and restored him to his liberty and his kingdom.

In the thirty-first of Manasseh, Esar-haddon died, after he had reigned thirteen years over the Babylonians united to the kingdom of Assyria: he was succeeded by Saosduchius his son, the Nabuchodonosor of the book of Judith, whose successor was Chyniladan, and whose reign commenced in the fifty-first year of Manasseh, or the hundred-and-first of the aera of Nabonassar. From this effeminate and profligate king, Nabopolassar his general seized the Babylonian part of the empire, and reigned over his native country twenty-one years. This revolt took place in the eighteenth year of Josiah king of Judah, about twenty-five years after the then Assyrian monarch began his reign; and at length by an union of this king of Babylon with the princes of Media, that great city Niniveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, was taken and destroyed, the empire was extinguished, and the people reduced under the yoke of Babylon and Media. This union was effected by the marriage of his son Nebuchadnezzar or Nabocolassar, as he is called by Ptolemy, with Amyite, the daughter of Astyages, of the kingdom of the Medes; and this is the prince of whose history so much is recorded by Daniel, and who, after the death of the good king Josiah, in the reign of his sons, carried away so many captives from Judaea unto Babylon, at that time the capital of the whole united empire.

Verse 2

Daniel 2:2. His dreams: so they came His dream: wherefore they came. Daniel 2:3. Was troubled] Is distressed.

Verse 5

Daniel 2:5. If ye will not If ye do not. Instead of, made a dunghill, Houbigant reads, shall be confiscated, or sold by public sale.

Verse 8

Daniel 2:8. I know, &c.— "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.

Verse 13

Daniel 2:13. Daniel and his fellows Companions: Houbigant; and so Daniel 2:18.

Verse 14

Daniel 2:14. The captain of the king's guard Literally, chief of the king's executioners. Gr. αρχιμαγευρω : the chief butcher. The term טבחיא רב rab tabbachaiaa, 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 at Dan 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, 2Ki 25:8 and from the character of the commander, it seems to mean a person of the first authority over the soldiery. Mr. Bruce speaks of an officer called the executioner of the camp, whose business it was to attend at capital punishments; and this officer belonged only to a detachment of the royal Abyssinian army.

Verse 15

Daniel 2:15. Why is the decree so hasty Why is this dreadful decree gone forth from the king? Houbigant.

Verse 18

Daniel 2:18. That they would That they might.

This secret Many useful observations might be drawn from this passage, on the nature, the efficacy, and the rewards of devotion; on the power and prevalency of united addresses to Heaven; and the important benefits which the piety of a few holy men may sometimes bring down upon a multitude.

Verse 19

Daniel 2:19. Then was the secret revealed It is generally thought that this secret was revealed to Daniel only, and that in sleep, by a dream. Full of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, which denoted the succession and change of the great monarchies, Daniel humbly acknowledges before God, Dan 2:21 that time and its duration, as well as the elevation and abasement of states and empires, are entirely in his hand.

Verse 23

Daniel 2:23. Who hast given Because thou hast given.

Verse 28

Daniel 2:28. And maketh known, &c.— The impious king 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 consolation. We read the same thing of Pharaoh: not that Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar deserved to see such things, but that Joseph and Daniel, by interpreting them, might be preferred to all others: and that Nebuchadnezzar might admire the grace of divine inspiration, Daniel not only told him what he saw in his dream, but also what he thought within himself before his dream. See Bishop Newton on the Prophesies, vol. 1: p. 406.

Verse 30

Daniel 2:30. But as for me; &c. But for their sakes, &c.— And as for me, &c. But that the interpretation may be made known to the king. Houbigant.

Verse 31

Daniel 2:31. Behold a great image It appears from ancient coins and medals, that cities and people were often represented by the figures of men and women. A great and terrible human figure was therefore no improper emblem of human power and dominion; and the various metals of which it was composed, not unfitly typify the various kingdoms which should arise. It consisted of four different metals, gold, silver, and brass, mixed with iron and clay; and these four metals, according to Daniel's own interpretation, mean so many kingdoms; and the order of the succession is clearly denoted by the order of the parts; the head and higher parts signify the earlier times, and the lower parts the later times. Hesiod, who lived two hundred years before Daniel, mentioned the four ages of the world under the symbols of these metals; so that this vision, according to the good pleasure of God, was formed according to the commonly received notion, and the commonly received notion was not first propagated from this vision. See Bishop Newton, and Chandler's Defence, p. 96.

Verse 32

Daniel 2:32. This image's head was of fine gold This Daniel interprets thus, Daniel 2:38. 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 Babylon, for the same reason, was called the golden city by Isaiah, chap. Isaiah 14:4. 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. The next clause, His breasts and arms of silver, Daniel interprets, 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 on its ruin erected the Medo-Persian, or the Persian, as it is more usually called, the Persians having soon gained the ascendant 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 very truly asserted, that the kings of Persia in general were the worst race of men that ever governed an empire. This empire, from its first establishment by Cyrus, to the death of Darius Codomannus, lasted not much above two hundred years. Of the third kingdom, specified by the belly and thighs of brass, we are told, Daniel 2:39. That it should bear rule over all the earth. It is universally known, that Alexander the Great subverted the Persian empire. 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 "The brazen-coated Greeks." The third kingdom is said to bear rule over all the earth, by a figure usual almost in all authors. Alexander himself commands, 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; and then especially, as Arrian remarks, did Alexander himself appear to himself, and to those about him, to be master of both all the earth and all the sea: so that the third kingdom must comprehend 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 as above, and Dr. Chandler's Vindication of Daniel, p. 98.

Verse 33

Daniel 2:33. His legs of iron, &c.— This the prophet has interpreted, Daniel 2:40-43. The fourth kingdom is there described as stronger than the preceding: as iron breaketh and bruiseth all other metals, so this breaketh and subdueth all the former kingdoms. This kingdom too is represented as divided into ten toes: the metal is here different, and consequently likewise the nation must be different from the preceding. 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 a nation upon earth to which this description is applicable, but the Roman. The Romans succeeded to the Macedonians, and therefore in course were next to be mentioned. The Roman empire was stronger and larger than any of the preceding. The Romans brake in pieces and subdued all the former kingdoms. 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 Seleucidae a Roman province in the year 65 before Christ: it subdued Egypt, and made the kingdom of the Lagidae a Roman province in the year 30 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 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. 736.; and Bishop Newton.

Verses 34-35

Daniel 2:34-35. A stone was cut out without hands Stone, in Scripture, stands for king or kingdom, as mountain doth for a metropolis; the seat of a kingdom governed by a royal race: and being here a different mineral from those in the image, implied that this kingdom should not only be different in number, or be a distinct empire, but likewise of another nature from that of the image, which was worldly and temporal. It was cut without hands; that is to say, was rough in its original, formed to what it was without polishing or art; signifying that the success of this new kingdom shall not be owing to human policy or assistance. This stone smote the image on the feet, &c. that is to say, it became an universal empire, in the room of the whole image, or the empires comprehended under it. This description can with propriety be understood only of the kingdom of Christ. The stone was totally a different thing from the image, and the kingdom of Christ is totally different from the kingdoms of the 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 to say, spiritual—as the phrase is used in other places. Its first beginning was to be but small, as a stone in comparison of a mountain: It was to be cut out of the mountain. The great mountain, evidently signifies a large empire or kingdom, and the stone cut out of the mountain, means, that the fifth kingdom should rise out of the fourth, or in the very Roman empire itself. It was not only to commence during the fourth kingdom, but actually to arise out of it; which description is so particular, that it can agree with nothing else but the kingdom of the Lord, which arose out of the Roman empire, and gradually spread itself all over it. Again, it was to be cut out without hands, begun with no human power, but, as it were, invisibly by God himself, yet at last, to grow so extensive, as to comprehend within itself the four empires before mentioned. The passage then should be 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 to fill the whole earth, to become universal, and to stand for ever. As to the fourth kingdom, or the Roman empire, it was represented in a two-fold state; 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 the kingdom of the stone, and the kingdom of the mountain; the first when the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, the second when it became itself a mountain, and filled the whole earth. The stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, the kingdom of Christ was first set up, while the empire was in its full strength, with legs of iron. The Roman empire was afterwards divided into ten lesser kingdoms, the remains of which are still subsisting. The image is still standing upon his feet and toes of iron and clay; 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 utterly destroy it, and will itself become a great mountain, and fill the whole earth: or in the words of the apostle, Revelation 11:15. The kingdoms of this world shall 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 prophesy 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, Bishop Chandler's Defence, p. 96 and Dr. Chandler's Vindication of Daniel, p. 135.

Verses 37-38

Daniel 2:37-38. Thou, O king, art a king of kings, &c.— Daniel addresses Nebuchadnezzar, as if he was a very powerful king, and his empire very large and extensive. The monarch might, perhaps, think, like some of his predecessors, that his conquests were owing to his own fortitude and prudence. See Isaiah 10:13. But the prophet assures him, that his success must be primarily imputed to the God of heaven; for the God of heaven hath given thee, &c. 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, Phoenicia, 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's pillars, subdued Spain, and led his army thence 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 prophesy, nor above twenty-three years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar; which may be the reason why Daniel speaks of him as the only king, "Thou art this head of gold, and after thee shall arise, &c." the rest being to be considered as nothing; nor do we read of any thing good or great performed by them. Bishop Newton, p. 408.

Verses 40-42

Daniel 2:40-42. The fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, &c.— This description agrees well with the Roman empire, and the event answered this prediction; for the Roman was vastly more strong and extensive than any of the preceding three. Daniel seems to divide it into three periods. The first is this kingdom, in its strongest and flourishing state, which seems to be denoted by the iron legs: the second is the same kingdom, weakened by 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 should 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 farther state of declension, 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 to say, 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 seems to intimate that the remaining part, which was not broken, should be divided into ten distinct kingdoms or governments. Florus, the Roman historian, points out to us this threefold period of the Roman empire, telling us, that it was in its highest strength and glory to the conclusion of the Numantine war, and might be named golden; thence to Marius and Sylla it became like iron; and was at last torn and devoured by the factions of Marius, Sylla, Caesar, and Pompey. Dr. Chandler's Vind. of Dan. p. 119.

Verse 43

Daniel 2:43. They shall mingle themselves, &c.— They made marriages and alliances one with another, but no hearty union ensued. Reasons of state are stronger than ties of blood; and interest will always avail with governments more than affinity. The Roman empire, therefore, is represented in a double state; first, with the strength of iron, conquering all before it; his legs of iron;—and then weakened and divided by the mixture of barbarous nations: his feet part iron and part of clay. See on Dan 2:33 and Bishop Newton.

Verse 44

Daniel 2:44. In the days of these kings That is, in the days of some of them. As in the days when the judges ruled, Rth 1:1 signifies, "In the days when some of the judges ruled;" so in the days of these kings, signifies, "In the days of some of these kingdoms:" and it must be during the days of the last of them, because they are reckoned four in succession, and consequently this must be the fifth kingdom. Accordingly, the kingdom of Christ was set up during the days of the last of these kingdoms; that is, the Roman. This kingdom was set up by the God of heaven; and 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 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 John 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 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, ch. 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 created and governed. This kingdom was to break in pieces, and consume all the kingdoms; to spread and enlarge itself, so that it should comprehend within itself all the former kingdoms. See Bishop Newton, and Dr. Chandler's Defence of Daniel, p. 127.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Daniel 2". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.