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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Daniel 2

 

 

Verse 1

Chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream And Its Consequences.

Nebuchadnezzar Dreams and Requires His Wise Men To Tell Him The Content of His Dream (Daniel 2:1-18).

‘And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, and his spirit was troubled and his sleep broke from him.’

The reader thoughts immediately turn back to Daniel 1:17. This could only be connected in some way with the expert in dreams.

The dreams were clearly vivid ones. Nebuchadnezzar was greatly disturbed and could no longer sleep. And the sense of unease continued on in the morning. He knew that the dreams had something very important to say to him, and he was desperate to know what it was. But as we shall see, he was not going to be satisfied with suave answers. He had had too much experience of interpreters of dreams to trust them. He wanted the truth, and these dreams were very important to him. The importance of dreams in the eyes of the ancient world cannot be over-exaggerated.

The plural ‘dreams’ probably means that he saw what followed as a succession of dreams, into which he slipped in and out, rather than as just one dream. Alternately it may mean that he dreamed the same dream two or three times over (the singular is used later).

This was ‘in the second year of his reign’. Taking in the accession year that meant that it was actually in the third year by Babylonian reckoning, by which time Daniel and his friends had graduated. As we saw earlier ‘three years’ simply meant part of a year (the end of the year of accession), then a year, (the first year of his reign), then part of a year, thus ending in the second year of his reign. Compare 2 Kings 18:9-10, which cover the fourth to sixth years of Hezekiah; and the constant reference to ‘three days’ in Joshua 1-3 which clearly refer to differing time periods. (This also explains, something which is also confirmed by external usage among the Jews, why Jesus could be said to rise ‘on the third day’, and yet ‘after three days’. The same usage had continued).


Verse 2

‘Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the enchanters, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans so that they could tell Nebuchadnezzar his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king.’

The scene is impressive. The king called in his regular experts, ‘the magicians, and the enchanters, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans’, all the men who claimed, and made their living by, mysterious arts and powers, and who had by it obtained a place at court. He wanted a united opinion from the experts. That this did not include Daniel and his friends was because they were new graduates and possibly not yet ‘accepted’. They were still on probation and were probably not yet seen as included in the powerful body of ‘wise men’ sufficiently qualified to come before the king, which would usually be seen as a great privilege not open to all.

What he wanted from them was that they would combine together to ‘tell him his dreams’. They came unsuspectingly. They had no doubt that they would be able to interpret the king’s dreams from their books of dreams. They had done it often enough before.

Some have differentiated the wise men as ‘magicians’ (Hebrew - hartummim) meaning those who could divine the future by using various ritual means, ‘enchanters’ (assapim) as those who could communicate with the dead, ‘sorcerers’ (mekassepim) as those who practised sorcery and cast spells and used incantations, and ‘the Chaldeans’ as astrologers (kasdim), the priestly caste who studied the heavens to determine the future. This is fine if we do not make the distinctions too rigid.

Some have objected to the use of the term ‘Chaldeans’ in this way so early, but Herodotus certainly speaks of the Chaldeans as a well established priestly sect connected with long established festivals in about 440 BC, in a way that suggests a fairly long history.

But Nebuchadnezzar was no fool, and the previous comment in Daniel 1:20 had suggested that his confidence in them was not very high.


Verse 3-4

‘And the king said to them, “I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.” Then spoke the Chaldeans to the king in Aramaic, “O king live for ever, tell your servants the dream and we will show the interpretation.”

At first all seemed to be going smoothly. They had been here before. The king had had a dream. It was greatly upsetting him and preying on his mind. And he wanted to know what it meant. They informed him that all he had to do was tell them the dream and they would then interpret it for him. ‘The Chaldeans’ probably here represents the whole body, for it was a name applied to the wise men of Babylon (or else they were acting as spokesmen).

It has been argued that the term ‘Chaldeans’ was at this time an ethnic term and would not have been applied in this way. As mentioned above the first external mention of ‘Chaldeans’ in a similar way to this is in Herodotus a hundred years later. But he did then give the inference that they had been around for a very long time. Indeed we can see how easily the name could have arisen. Wise men, magicians, soothsayers and enchanters probably came to the court of Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar from far and wide, once their power was established. It is easy therefore to see how the native born wise men could have banded together and have been called ‘the Chaldeans’, claiming further superiority on the grounds that they were priests of Marduk. They were the native born wise men.

But the king had also been here before. He had seen these men interpret dreams for his father. And he had not been impressed. He wanted to ensure that what he was told would be genuine.

We are obviously not told the full details of the conversations that went on. Possibly there was a bit of to and froing, but in the end the king laid down his position. If he was to believe them they must tell him what his dream was, as well as interpreting it. If they truly had mysterious knowledge, surely they would be able to discover his dream by their enchantments and sorcery.

‘O king live for ever.’ A typically polite and advisable way of addressing a Babylonian king, and other kings (1 Kings 1:31; Nehemiah 2:3), compare ‘may Nebo and Merodach give long days and everlasting years to the king of the lands, my lord’.

NOTE.

(Note. It is almost an anti-climax to point out that here the text in Daniel changes from Hebrew to Aramaic, and that from here until the end of chapter 7 the text is in Aramaic. It may be that having moved into Aramaic to simulate the words of the Chaldeans, who would in fact use a different form of Aramaic, and wishing to reveal that the king replied in that same Aramaic, the writer simply continued on in Aramaic, in which he was equally fluent, until the end of the vision in chapter 7, when he was able to declare the final triumph of the people of God over the four empires and the crowning of the Davidic king, the final outcome of the dream in chapter 2.

The six chapters do in fact follow an identifiable pattern something like this.

1) A vision of four kingdoms and their final end (chapter 2).

2) Faithfulness in conflict with false religion and subsequent miraculous deliverance - the three friends (chapter 3).

3) Judgment declared on the king of Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar) and its consequence (chapter 4).

4) Judgment declared on the king of Babylon (Belshazzar) and its consequence (chapter 5).

5) Faithfulness in conflict with false religion and subsequent miraculous deliverance - Daniel (chapter 6).

6) A vision of four kingdoms and their final end (chapter 7).

This section might well have been put together by Daniel prior to the whole.

Perhaps he then felt that Hebrew was a better language to use for the remainder of the prophecies as they more directly related to Israel. From chapter 8 the persecutions of Anitochus Epiphanes are stressed, and the prophetic dealings are with Israel in Palestine, whereas chapter 1-7 refer to life in Babylon, and the prophetic sections are more universal. Perhaps he also saw chapters 2-7 as dealing with the history as unfolded in chapter 2, God’s dealings with the wild beasts, resulting in the triumph over them of the people of God, and chapter 8 onwards as beginning another way of looking at things, looking at history mainly from the point of view of the final future of Israel following on the triumph over the beasts in chapter 7.

End of note).


Verse 5-6

“The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, “The word has gone forth from me (or ‘the thing is certain’). If you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you will be cut in pieces and your houses will be made a dunghill (or ‘into ruins’). But if you show the dream and its interpretation, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honour. Therefore show me the dream and its interpretation.”

The king was not saying that he could not remember his dreams (as AV suggests). His point was rather that he had spoken and what he had spoken was therefore certain to follow. He was extremely upset, even terrified, and he had already begun to feel that his wise men were unreliable. Now things had reached a crisis. If they could not prove to him that they had not been fooling him, by making known to him the dream (surely no difficulty for those who claimed special powers with the gods, if they were genuine), then he would destroy both them and their houses. Their families would be left in poverty. On the other hand if they could prove themselves, then untold riches and honour would be theirs. The words were typical of a despot who had in his hands the power of life and death. Why should he keep on supporting those who were deceiving him? But in the light of subsequent events they might also indicate someone who was mentally not quite stable. Someone who was extreme.


Verse 7

‘They answered the second time and said, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation.” ’

They were in a quandary and boldly held up their end. What else could they say? They could not believe that he quite meant what he said. So they repeated what they had previously said, no doubt with their hearts in their mouths. They recognised his fury and intensity, and probably wished that his father was still alive. He had never been so unreasonable. They said that if the king would but tell them the dream then they would give its interpretation.


Verse 8

‘The king answered and said, “I know of a certainty that you want to gain time, because you see that the word has gone forth from me (or ‘that the thing is certain’). But if you do not make known to me the dream, there is but one law for you. For you have prepared lying and corrupt words to speak before me, until the time be changed (i.e. until something comes along to change things). Therefore tell me the dream and I will know that you can show me its interpretation.” ’

The king was adamant. He told them that he recognised that they were merely trying to buy time because they recognised that he meant what he had decreed. And in fact if they failed there was only one law that could be applied to them. His law. The truth was that they were using clever, deceitful methods to evade answering, hoping that something would turn up, and that time would bring them a solution. So let them now tell him what he wanted to know, or else he would fulfil his promise. If they could tell him his dream, then he would be able to have confidence in their interpretation of it. The same god who told them the dream would also be able to give its interpretation. But if they could not, then they were doomed.


Verse 10-11

The Wise Men Admit That What He Asks Is Impossible To Them And Come Under His Fury.

“The Chaldeans answered before the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who can show what the king requires, forasmuch as no king, lord or ruler ( or ‘no great and powerful king’ i.e. a king-lord-ruler) has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. And it is a difficult thing that the king requires, and there is no other who can show it before the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with men.”

The wise men’s reply was simple. They could not do it. No one could do it. Indeed no ruler, however great, had ever asked such a thing of anyone. It was impossible. It was something that only the gods could do, who did not dwell among men.

By this admission they were admitting that they were fakes. They had always claimed to be able to find the will of the gods. Now they admitted that the gods were silent towards them. When faced with such a problem they were powerless, and the gods were silent. All the wisdom of Babylon was unable to provide an answer to the king.


Verse 12

‘For this reason the king was furious and very angry, and commanded to destroy all the wise men of Babylon.’

The king’s response was immediate. They had failed him and proved themselves fakes. So filled with anger and great fury he commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. This behaviour could hardly be called normal in view of the unreasonableness of his request, even in a despotic king, and we may here have an instance of the seeds of that manic-depressive disease which would later tear his life apart for a while (Daniel 4:33). It indicated an intensity that was not quite normal.


Verse 13

Because of His Position Daniel Is Involved In What Is Happening. He Seeks God’s Help.

‘So the decree went out, and all the wise men were to be slain. And they sought Daniel and his companions that they might be slain.’

A decree was issued to his officers that all the wise men throughout Babylon were to be slain. Whether many had been able to escape the king’s presence we do not know. They would no doubt flee for their lives while the decree was being promulgated, and the soldiers called. But certainly some wise men must have died. And Daniel and his companions would not escape, for while they had not been seen as qualified to go before the king as ‘wise men’, they were closely enough connected to them to be counted as within the ambit of the king’s decree.


Verse 14

‘Then Daniel returned answer, with wisdom (counsel) and prudence, to Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who had gone out to slay the wise men of Babylon.’

Fortunately for the wise men it seems that only limited forces had been sent out to carry out the sentence, made up of Arioch, captain of the king’s own guard, and a few chosen men. Thus the matter was proceeding slowly. And when Arioch came with his men to where Daniel and his companions were, and read out the decree, Daniel approached him with wisdom and prudence, seeking to delay him.


Verse 15-16

‘He answered and said to Arioch, the king’s captain, “Why is the decree so pressing from the king?” Then Arioch made the thing known to Daniel. And Daniel went in and desired of the king that he would give him time, and he would show the king the interpretation.’

It was presumably because the captain had had to read out the decree before carrying out the sentence, that Daniel was given time to question him on the matter. So Daniel, who would not have known the full reason for what was happening, asked what pressing matter was causing these summary executions. When informed of the reasons he no doubt asked Arioch to take him to the king, which explains why he was able to obtain access to him. And once there he asked for time so that he could find the answer for him. Nebuchadnezzar clearly accepted the genuineness of his promise for the time was allowed.

‘The king’s captain.’ Literally ‘the king’s captain of slaughterers’ (of animals). This may be derogatory suggesting that the captain was acting like a cattle slaughterer, or perhaps the title had attached itself to the captain of the king’s guard in some way, just as through history men have been called ‘the Butcher’.


Verse 17-18

‘Then Daniel went to his house and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, his companions, asking them that they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret, that Daniel and his companions should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.’

Daniel’s next step was to consult with his friends and urge them to join him in prayer that the secret might be revealed to him. Note the title used of God, He is ‘the God of heaven’. The Babylonian believed that their gods in the sun, moon and stars, were in the heavens, but God was the one who ruled over heaven. Who else could reveal such secrets?

It would appear that they lived together in one place, probably a fairly large, official dwelling, which was why Arioch had known where to find them. There was no presumption on their part as they approached God. They desired His mercies. They recognised that it was only the goodness and mercy of God that could help them in this situation. They sought a revealing of His graciousness and deliverance that they might continue to serve Him.


Verses 19-22

God Reveals To Daniel What He Asked. Daniel Is Filled With Gratitude and Praise (Daniel 2:19-23).

‘Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said, “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever, for wisdom and might are his. And he changes the times and the seasons. He removes kings and he sets up kings. He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to those who know understanding. He reveals the deep and secret things. He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.” ’

Their prayer was answered and Daniel experienced one of his visions in which the dream was made known to him. What he envisioned moved him profoundly as he recognised its significance and he broke out in a prayer of praise and wonder.

‘“Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever.’ Compare Psalms 41:13 and Nehemiah 9:5. He had been given a glimpse into the distant future and recognised that he was dealing with the everlasting One. ‘The name’ was what revealed the nature and being of God. He was the One Who ruled over all.

The vision made him recognise even more than ever the wisdom and might of God. He recognised as never before that here was One who controlled and changed the times and seasons, the events of history. That in His wisdom He did what was right. That here was One who disposed of kings and who set them up, not arbitrarily, but by design. Who, while being the God of heaven, also ruled over the earth, Who controlled all things and especially the great empires of the world and their gods. That here was One Who knew and could reveal the deepest secrets. That here was One Who could see into the mists and darkness of the future, and that to Him all was light.

‘He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to those who know understanding.’ Daniel was under no illusions. He did not pride himself on his knowledge. He recognised its true source. If a man has true wisdom it was from God. Those who truly understand do so because God has revealed it to them. So no such man has any cause to have a high opinion of himself.

‘He reveals the deep and secret things. He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.’ The penetrating eye of God sees all things. He sees into the depths and all secrets are known to Him. No darkness can hide anything from Him. He is the source and possessor of light, and light is His essential companion.


Verse 23

“I thank you and praise you, O you who are the God of my fathers, who has given me wisdom and might, and has now made known to me what we desired of you. For you have made known to us the king’s matter.”

Having been lost in wonder and awe at the greatness of God, he now acknowledged His goodness, and was filled with gratitude and praise. While he knew the urgency of the matter before him he knew that he must first express his gratitude for what God had done. God had revealed to him what he and his companions had requested. He could only praise Him. But note his sense of dependence on his companions. He knew that he had not done it alone. We do well to remember that whatever we achieve we owe equally to the prayers and actions of others.

‘O God of my fathers.’ True, He was the God of heaven. But He was also the God of Israel. He was the God Whom Daniel had constantly looked to and worshipped, the God of his fathers. He recognised gratefully that God had looked down on one who was one of His own covenant people, and that what He had revealed had particular reference to His promises to the fathers, and to their fulfilment. Here was the God of Israel in action fulfilling His covenant, even in this foreign country.


Verse 24

Daniel Approaches Nebuchadnezzar And Reveals To Him His Dream (Daniel 2:24-30).

‘Therefore Daniel went in to Arioch whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He went and said thus to him. “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon. Bring me in before the king, and I will show to the king the interpretation.” ’

So the young teenage Daniel approached the mighty Arioch, captain of Nebuchadnezzar’s own guard, to whom the responsibility for execution of the wise men had been committed, and pleaded with him on behalf of the wise men. Quietly but firmly he promised that he would fulfil the king’s request so that there was no further need for them to be slain. Let Arioch take him into the presence of the king and all would be revealed.


Verse 25

‘Then Arioch quickly brought Daniel in before the king and said thus to him, “I have found a man of the children of the captivity of Judah, who will make known to the king the interpretation.” ’

Arioch appears to have been a good man who had no heart for the task that he had been set, and he also recognised that the king was getting impatient. So he personally went directly to the king to let him know the situation. He did, however, want to bring a little credit on himself, and spoke as though it was all his doing, ‘I have found a man’. He knew that the king had already spoken to Daniel but he did not want it forgotten who had brought him to him. He knew that if Daniel succeeded, gratitude would be shown all round, and that the king would not forget who had been responsible for discovering him.

‘Of the children of the captivity of Judah.’ He identified to the king who the man was. He wanted credit for having carried out his duties and enquiries properly. The man was one of the noble hostages from Judah. Such an identification was necessary. The king would want to know with whom he was dealing.


Verse 26

‘The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream which I have seen, and its interpretation?” ’

The king came straight to the point. He wanted no more excuses. The question was, could the man do what all had said was impossible, or was he too a charlatan?

‘Whose name was Belteshazzar.’ That is the name under which he would have been introduced. But Daniel was his preferred name, for it was the name which demonstrated that he belonged to God.


Verse 27-28

‘Daniel answered before the king and said, “The secret the king has demanded is one that neither wise men, enchanters, magicians nor soothsayers can show to the king. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and he has made known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head are these.” ’

Daniel loses no opportunity to exalt his God. He contrasts what He can do with what the wise men of Babylon can do. With all their boasted arts, and with all the help of their gods, they were unable to reveal to the king what he had dreamed. But the God of heaven can reveal such secrets, for all is known to Him. And not only so, but He does reveal those secrets. He does not hide from man, but reveals his ways to man. And indeed it is He Who has revealed to the king what is to happen at the end of the days. Thus was Nebuchadnezzar made to recognise that the God of heaven was supreme over all so-called gods.

‘In the latter days’ or ‘at the end of the days’. He wished immediately to make Nebuchadnezzar realise that what he was talking about was not some near event. What had been revealed to him took him on to the end of time, to the destiny of the world. It was that on which focus must be made, the days when the great purposes of the God of heaven would come to fruition. But we must distinguish this from ‘the time of the end’ which is rather the final end of the latter days.

The New Testament plainly reveals that this ‘end of the days’ was brought in by the days of the Messiah at the first coming of Jesus. The fact that ‘the end times’ began at the resurrection is clearly stated in Scripture. ‘He was revealedat the end of the timesfor your sake’, says Peter (1 Peter 1:20), so that he can then warn his readers ‘the end of all thingsis at hand’ (1 Peter 4:7). So to Peter the first coming of Christ has begun the end times. John also could declare, ‘Little children, it is the last hour’ and ‘thereby do we know that it is the last hour’ (1 John 2:18).

Likewise Paul says to his contemporaries ‘for our admonition, on whomthe end of the ageshas come’ (1 Corinthians 10:11. Compare also 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1). What could be clearer? Thus the first coming of Christ was the end of the ages, not the beginning of a new age. The writer to the Hebrews also tells us ‘He hasin these last daysspoken to us by His Son’ (Hebrews 1:1-2), and adds ‘once inthe end of the ageshas He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself’ (Hebrews 9:26-28). So all those early writers saw their days as ‘the last days’. The first coming of Christ had issued in the last days which lead up to the end.

‘Your dream and the visions of your head are these.’ That is, his dreams and visions are God’s way of revealing the secrets of the latter days that have been made known to Nebuchadnezzar.


Verse 29-30

“As for you, O king, your thoughts came into your mind on your bed, what should come about hereafter, and he who reveals secrets has made known to you what will come about. But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for the intent that the interpretation may be made known to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your heart.”

The idea here is that while the king was lying in bed he had been thinking about the future, and what more great things lay before him. Had he also got in mind the erecting of the great image in chapter 3? The result was that God had given him the dream so that he would know exactly what was coming after.

Daniel is very concerned that Nebuchadnezzar should recognise that the God of heaven had deliberately made known to him what he was about to learn because of who he was, and how he had been thinking. The ‘revealer of secrets’ has chosen to reveal them to him. It should come as a warning.

But at the same time he speaks humbly of himself. He is only a channel used by God in bringing about Nebuchadnezzar’s understanding. He is really no different from others. The understanding was not given so as to magnify him. This was politically wise, but also evidence of the quality of the man. The focus must be on the message, and what it means for Nebuchadnezzar, rather than on the channel through which it comes.


Verses 31-35

The Vision of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:31-35).

“You, O king, saw, and behold a great image. This image which was mighty and whose brightness was spectacular, stood before you. And its aspect was dreadful. As for this image his head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. You saw until a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image on his feet which were of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken in pieces together, and became chaff like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors, and the wind carried them away so that no place was found for them. And the stone that smote the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”

The account really needs no amplification. As he lay sleeping suddenly he envisioned a great image. Chapter 3 suggests that he would see it as an idol, one such as kings made to glorify themselves. In his waking life he had seen such images before, for multi-metalled images were no new thing. But in his dream this image was huge, dwarfing mankind. It was an impressive god indeed. Its splendour was in order to make him fear, but it was also to flatter Nebuchadnezzar, especially its head of gold. But its significant factor as he gazed at it was that what began at the top as gold slowly deteriorated section by section, to baser and baser metals, until it became metal and clay, and clearly unstable. Metal could make a sound foundation. Building clay could make a sound foundation. But the two together were incompatible. And then came the shattering end when a mighty boulder, cut out without hands, smashed the feet of the image, with the result that the whole image disintegrated, crashing down and turning to powder. Whereat not only its site, but also the whole earth, became filled by the boulder which became a great mountain.

The picture is vividly described. And the result of the crashing stone was that the whole of the image from top to bottom was ‘broken in pieces together, and became chaff like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors, and the wind carried them away so that no place was found for them.’ It was as though all the materials from the gold downwards, were turned into chaff on the threshingfloor, what remained once the good seed had been taken away, waiting to be blown away by the regular winds which cleared the threshing floor of its chaff. And there would be nothing left of them. They had nowhere to go.

Notice carefully that no numbers are mentioned. If we start to introduce numbers we are not properly interpreting the vision. We are reading into it what is not there.


Verses 36-38

The Interpretation of the Vision (Daniel 2:36-45).

“This is the dream, and we will tell its interpretation before the king. You, O king, king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory. And wherever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the birds of heaven has he given into your hand, and has made you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold.”

This was not just flattery. Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah had made clear that they saw Nebuchadnezzar as God’s chosen instrument for judgment in the world. And certainly at that moment in time no kingdom compared with that of Nebuchadnezzar. The ‘we’ refers to Daniel and his God. It was Daniel who was speaking, but it was God Who was standing there before this mighty king with his exaggerated ideas of his own importance, and telling him what the future held.

The title ‘king of kings’, used here, was also used of Nebuchadnezzar by Ezekiel 26:7. There is thus no reason to doubt that it was a description used about Nebuchadnezzar, and ties in with his subsequent erection of a great image, which quite possibly represented himself. But if so he not only saw himself as a king of kings, but as something more. And that was unusual for Mesopotamian monarchs. But Daniel, greatly daring, reminds him that it is the God of heaven who has made him great. His greatness is not of himself, nor is it of Marduk, it is of God.

‘The kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory.’ Words tumble over themselves to bring out how great he is. For this description compare Daniel 5:18; and especially Daniel 7:14, which is a reminder that although he is great, one day there will arise a king greater than he.

The reference to the beast of the field and the birds of the air is again to stress his grandeur. By the authority of the God of heaven he not only rules man, but the whole world of nature. Indeed, as far as the world of that time was concerned he ruled over the known world.

‘You are the head of gold.’ We need not argue whether this applies to Nebuchadnezzar or to his empire. At this point in time his empire was him. It included all that subsequently flowed from him, and his sons were but a continuation of himself. The gold represented the ultimate in splendour, but if we just split the image up into four metals we miss the point. And in the image we can see idolatry. All the kingdoms from top to bottom are based on idolatry.


Verse 39

“And another third kingdom of brass which will rule over all the earth.”

As his gaze moved downwards the silver tailed off and became brass, but there was still evidence of plurality as he gazed at the belly and thighs. Once again we are not left to speculate as to who it represented, for the third kingdom is the kingdom of Greece (Daniel 8:5-8; Daniel 8:21-22). It would be inferior in outward splendour, represented by its being brass, but again what made it even more inferior was its substantial lack of unity. The quality of the kingdoms was deteriorating. We learn from chapter 8, that this lowering of quality also lay in its brittleness, for there it splits into four kingdoms. In the end brittleness and deterioration is what this image is all about. But it too was weakened by idolatry, for idolatry was part of the significance of the image.

‘Will rule over all the earth.’ As ever in Scripture this must be seen discerningly. Greece ruled as far as the thoughts of men went, over what men as a whole meant when they spoke of ‘the world’, that is, their own world. Compare 1 Kings 4:34; 2 Chronicles 9:23


Verses 40-43

“And the fourth kingdom will be as strong as iron, forasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and subdues all things. And as iron that crushes all these, will it break in pieces and crush. And whereas you saw the feet and toes, part of potter’s clay and part of iron, it will be a diverse kingdom, but there will be in it the strength of iron, forasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay, so the kingdom will be partly strong and partly broken. And whereas you saw the iron mixed with miry clay, they will mingle themselves with the seed of men. But they will not cleave one to another, even as iron does not mingle with clay.”

But then Nebuchadnezzar’s gaze moved downward and he first saw iron as he gazed at its legs. He would immediately recognise both its strength and its inferiority to what had gone before. Armaments were made of iron. It was a picture of stark strength. But then he came to the feet, and the iron became a mixture of iron and clay, brittle and unstable. And the toes also were equally strange, part of clay and part of iron, a strange mixture of weakness and strength. Daniel’s interpretation makes clear that this all represents the fourth kingdom, otherwise we might have seen in the iron and clay a fifth kingdom. But it had all to be the final fourth kingdom because in his visions history was depicted in terms of four kingdoms (Daniel 7:3 and inferred in 8). And he also makes clear that the fourth kingdom is the kingdom that is there at the end of time. (The number four sums up the world).

Four is the number of universalism, of the world as against Israel. Four rivers fed the world from Eden. The wind comes from the four quarters. The world is north, south, east and west. Thus the kingdoms are building up to the universal kingdom, which contains within itself the essence of the other three kingdoms. It represents the whole. All are in the end part of that whole. The image still stands as one image, the image of empire, one being incorporated in the other.

So this fourth kingdom specifically carries within it, and supports, the other three. At first it seems the strongest of all, but then it deteriorates until it is totally unstable. It has no strength. And when it crashes, all the kingdoms crash with it (Daniel 2:35). It is made up of them all. It represents world empires, weakened and diverse because by their nature such empires, based on false gods and false religion, carry within them the seeds of their own disintegration.

We can make all kinds of speculation about it but Daniel nowhere tells us who the fourth kingdom represents (although see Daniel 11:30 which may be a hint and represent Rome). It is tempting, because of history, for us to see it as Rome, but many empires have arisen since Rome, as the legs became the feet, and the feet became the toes. Thus in a sense the fourth kingdom represents the idea of continuing world empire, of a world kingdom, it represents the spirit of kingdomship, seen in the first three kingdoms and now continuing on in the fourth. After Greece will come ‘the fourth kingdom’, the kingdom of the distant future, the apocalyptic kingdom, whatever that includes. His patterns of four required that this should be so.

It will commence strongly. We may see in this the power of Rome. But then it will divide up into kingdoms of various strengths. This explains the brittle nature of the kingdom, it is made up of kingdomship, of many diverse kingdoms, and moves from being strong as iron to being totally brittle, and all part of that which represented false religion.

We notice elsewhere the gradual growth, one kingdom, a twofold kingdom, a fourfold kingdom and then a manyfold kingdom (chapter 8). This idea is also included here, although not so precisely; a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron and feet of iron and clay, with the toes also very much in mind although not directly stressed (Daniel 2:42).

‘The fourth kingdom will be as strong as iron, forasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and subdues all things. And as iron that crushes all these, will it break in pieces and crush.’ This fourth kingdom will be more terrible than them all. Certainly the contemporaries of Rome, with its iron clad legions, would have seen it like this. And for centuries it ruled the known world, and crushed all opposition with its mighty legions. And certainly it proved to be brittle (like all empires in the end). But all empires of man crush others, and all are brittle. Thus the fourth empire represents more than Rome. It represents man at his worst, determined to crush his fellowman. It represents onflowing empire. The ghosts of Babylon and of Rome continued through the ages. It is the apocalyptic empire, the empire of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38-39), and of the prophets (Isaiah 5:25-30; Isaiah 24; Isaiah 66:15-16; Joel 1:6-7; Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1-11; Joel 3:2-3; Zechariah 14:1-2). It is man against God and His people.

‘And whereas you saw the feet and toes, part of potter’s clay and part of iron, it will be a diverse (composite) kingdom, but there will be in it the strength of iron, forasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay, so the kingdom will be partly strong and partly broken. And whereas you saw the iron mixed with miry clay, they will mingle themselves with the seed of men. But they will not cleave one to another, even as iron does not mingle with clay.’ Here is clearly represented the ‘diverse kingdom’. It is part iron and part clay. Iron is strong and clay is good for building with, but the two will not mix. Thus it is powerful and yet weak. It is strong and yet broken. It seeks alliances and yet it is divided. It is a world at war with itself. We might almost see in it the United Nations, and yet that would be to be too specific. It is many united nations and alliances through the ages, all part of what represents false religion and worship (compare chapter 3), at war against God and His people.

‘They will mingle themselves with the seed of men.’ This probably refers to intermarriages between peoples, a desperate attempt to seek to cement some unity. But the point is that it will not work. All man’s attempts at unity will fail in the end.


Verse 44-45

“And in the days of those kings will the God of heaven set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, nor will its sovereignty be left to another people. But it will break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it will stand for ever. Forasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will come about hereafter. And the dream is certain and its interpretation sure.”

‘In the days of those kings.’ This naturally refers back to the previous verse. The final empire is ruled by a number of kings, including kings of the empires described. But in their day a kingdom will be set up, a kingdom, which replaces theirs, which will never be destroyed. Nor will it make alliances with the other kingdoms, yielding its sovereignty to them. It will have total liberty and freedom. It will ‘strike’ all these empires, and by hitting their weakest point will bring them crashing down. Notice that all collapse, from the gold downwards. The whole basis of these empires, their might, their arrogance, their disunity, their representing false religion, all collapse at together. Truth will triumph. Faith in the God of heaven.

Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar saw the stone as referring to his descendants (possibly hinted at in chapter 3). Daniel does not disillusion him. But there is no doubt what Daniel means, as he makes clear later on. This is the kingdom of the people of God, the kingdom of the Messiah, the everlasting kingdom set up in heaven before the throne of God, and yet making its decisive impact on earth as world empire is destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14; Daniel 7:18; Daniel 7:27). It will not be vulnerable. Its triumph is guaranteed. And it will finally shatter all the other kingdoms, and fill the whole earth (compare Matthew 13:31-33).

‘Forasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands.’ ‘Cut out without hands’ refers to the activity of God (compare Mark 14:58. See also Isaiah 51:1). ‘The stone’ was a regular symbol of the Messianic idea, both as a foundation stone or cornerstone (Isaiah 28:16; Psalms 118:22), or as a stone that tripped men up and by which they were broken (Isaiah 8:14 compare Zechariah 12:3). It was not a far cry from that for the Messianic prince to become a destroying stone, demolishing the power of empire by striking at its foundations and making it topple (Daniel 7:26), once He had received the kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14). Isaiah 17:10; Isaiah 32:2 associate the Rock with God’s protection of His people, which was the second stage for ‘the stone’.

Alternately we may see the stone as the Kingly Rule of God. But really the two go together. The King represents His Kingdom.

This working away at its weakest point, its roots of disunity and idolatry, until it toppled, was what the Kingly Rule of God and the Messiah accomplished for the Roman Empire. They smote its uncertainty, its dependence on idolatry, and it toppled and yielded, at least outwardly, to the Messiah. And this was what the stone accomplished in many kingdoms. They too were toppled and became outwardly God’s people. And in the end the world will topple, and Christ’s kingdom will become all in all. For its final fulfilment awaits His final triumph, when He comes in power and the kingdoms of the world finally collapse before Him, and what is outward is done away, and what is true shines through. Then will the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:43), and all evil will be done away. The empires will have vanished like the chaff from the threshingfloor, and His people will be with him in the everlasting kingdom in the new heaven and the new earth.

In the dream the smiting of the stone came almost instantaneously, for it was an apocalyptic vision. It was depicting the intervention in world history of God. But in the purposes of God it could happen over time. The collapse of empire would not necessarily come overnight. The arrival of the Kingly Rule of God was in one sense sudden. But the day of God, and the growth of the stone into a mountain, could take a thousand years or more (Psalms 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8). That would be instantaneous to God.

We can finally compare the idea here with the great millstone, picked up by the strong angel and cast into the sea, preparing for the destruction of Babylon, the great city, which itself represented empire (Revelation 18:21). There too such a stone was a symbol, but there it was of the judgment of God upon what was ungodly, for it was a millstone that ground things to powder, while this was a mighty rock hewn from the mountain of God (Isaiah 2:2-4).

‘The great God has made known to the king what will come about hereafter. And the dream is certain and its interpretation sure.’ So Nebuchadnezzar was privileged by God to see the hopelessness of trusting to world empire. He could have found out what the stone represented. But his eyes were closed and instead he built a great image for men to worship. He had totally missed the point. And even though he was informed that the dream was certain, and that what it signified was true, he did not sufficiently seek its truth. The opportunity passed him by.


Verse 46-47

Nebuchadnezzar Duly Honours Daniel (Daniel 2:46-48).

‘Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours to him. The king responded to Daniel, and he said, “Of a truth your God is the God of gods, and the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing that you have been able to reveal this secret.’

In what we have been looking at we have to some extent lost the powerful picture. Nebuchadnezzar, seated on a throne seat, gazing in awe at Daniel as he listened to his words, as slowly he described the content of his dream and what its significance was. And when Daniel came to an end of what he was saying it was all too much. Here before him was someone who was more than a man, he was revealed as a direct messenger of God. And overawed he fell on his face before Daniel and worshipped him. What was going through his mind we cannot know, but we can fully understand his response. Here before him was one who undoubtedly knew the secrets of the gods.

And then he commanded that oblations, gifts that gave honour, should be given to Daniel and probably that incense should be burned before him, or some other sweet savour. This was no doubt a signal honour and was counted as right and proper before one who was in such close contact with the gods.

But behind Daniel he saw Daniel’s God, which was why Daniel did not demur. The messenger was being honoured in honour of the One Who had sent him. And he recognised indeed the greatness of the God of Daniel. He recognised at this point in time that this God was indeed supreme among gods, and greater than all kings. He was the ‘revealer of secrets’, in a way that no other god was. But we must not see this as a conversion. Nebuchadnezzar recognised many gods, and the greatness of this God would soon slip from his mind in the house of Marduk, until he needed further secrets revealed. And then he would simply call upon Daniel.


Verse 48

‘Then the king made Daniel great, and gave him many great gifts, and made him to rule over the whole province of Babylon, and to be chief governor over all the wise men of Babylon. And Daniel made request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel was in the gate of the king.’

The king honoured his promises of rewards, and gave him many great gifts and a position of great authority. We do not know exactly what it was, and fortunately for him, for he was young, he would have advisers, but it possibly made him supreme governor of the province of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar would want him always within reach. He was also made ‘Rab signin’ (chief overseer) over the wise men of Babylon. This did not necessarily involve him in their activities. He did not need to involve himself with them, and what follows is testimony enough to the fact that he remained totally faithful to the God of heaven. But it was a position of great honour and prestige, and meant that when the king needed guidance in the future he was always there to call on without incurring jealousy. And for a time at least the wise men were probably grateful to him. He had saved their lives.

Daniel did not forget his friends, indeed he knew that he would need them, and he requested that they be appointed to positions were they could assist him, a favour which was immediately granted. So they too had positions of authority. But Daniel himself had his place in the royal entourage and the palace offices (‘the gate of the king’). He was close to the king, with ready access to him.

However, the overall importance of the incident as far as the readers were concerned was that it revealed that Yahweh was supreme over all. He alone had been able to do what the servants of the gods of Babylon had said was impossible.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Daniel 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/daniel-2.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 5th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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