The Fearsome Image

Chapter 2 of Daniel has been described as one of the pivotal chapters of the Bible; it is certainly the basis upon which the other visions of Daniel are built [1]. Better yet key parts of the prophecy are unambiguously explained by Daniel himself so anyone who wants to know the gist of the dream may do so. The commentators only really differ in the precise details of the fourth kingdom and then in the start and nature of the fifth. I aim to show that the fourth kingdom is the Roman Empire and is probably still going; the fifth empire is to start when our Lord returns in glory.

In Dan 2:38 Daniel says "Thou art this head of gold" to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. In verse 39 he proceeds to say, "And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth." The latter establishes that the body parts of the image represent kingdoms and that the kingdoms will rule sequentially.[2]

The latter verse also states that the second kingdom is inferior to the first. This draws attention to another feature of the metals: they degrade in value. Gold is the most precious, silver next, then brass, then pure iron, then impure iron. JFB also points out that they degrade in density too, which may imply a move towards instability.

There is an interesting counter argument however, whilst degrading in financial value the metals are actually increasing in applicable strength. Thus whilst each kingdom may be less precious than the former; from the human perspective of "getting the job done" the kingdoms actually become better. This is seen in the third kingdom that has rule over the earth and the fourth that can subdue all things.

Thus, returning to the head of Gold, we have a picture of the Babylonian empire. As discussed at length in a previous essay this empire really came to the fore between 610 & 605BC. It was the primary agent in the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Jews. The simplest way to see why is just to read scripture[3]. In Jer 27:5-7 God states that he has made everything and that he has given it to whom he pleased. He chose Nebuchadnezzar whom he named as his servant. In Jer 25:10-12 we even find out why, so that Nebuchadnezzar would lay waste the lands in the manner he did.

These same verses also show the real reason for the collapse of Babylon. God had given them a kingdom for seventy years, and three generations. We find Babylon sacked by the Persians in 538BC[4]

Adam Clarke states and most commentators agree that the second kingdom is the Medo-Persians. JFB goes as far as to say that the two arms stand one for Median and one for Persia. The rise of Persia, and more spectacularly the precise rise of Cyrus were predicted in Is 44:28-45:1. These verses also give the reason for the rise, Cyrus had been chosen of the Lord to move the Jews back to Jerusalem and to get the temple rebuilt. Cyrus was actually aware of this (Ezr 1:1-2) and deliberately acted upon his calling.

If we date the Persian Empire from 538BC (the defeat of Babylon) then we probably should end it 207 years later by Alexander the Great in the battle of Arbela.

In terms of wealth, length of existence and territory the Persian Empire was greater than the Babylonian one; our Bibles provide an interesting insight into why it was deemed inferior. In Dan 5:18,19 we see that Nebuchadnezzar had absolute right of life and death over everybody; he was a one-man leadership. In Dan 6:14,15 we see that Darius was unable to overthrow a law being upheld by his princes.[5]

The brass is fairly universally taken to be the Greek empire, Dan 10:20 making this fairly clear[6], starting from the defeat of Darius Codomanus in BC331. By this time Alexander had already taken Greece, Asia, Tyre and Egypt. It is when dating the end of this reign that the fun starts. Adam Clark terminates this empire 8 years later with the death of Alexander. Now it is true that upon Alexander"s death the kingdom was split between the four generals[7] and this did reduce it"s power but the individual pieces existed until the first century BC when they fell one by one to Roman might[8]. However Daniel 8 speaks of this phase of the generals and being part of the same kingdom, secular history also treats those kingdoms as part of the Greek empire.

All the other power Bible commentators take the fourth empire as being the Roman Empire. Rising to world dominance in the century before Christ it was the undisputed world power until the fifth century when the Huns sacked Rome. The Eastern part of the empire survived until the sacking of Constantinople in 1203AD[9].

It is really when discussing the Iron & Iron / Clay mixture that we see why Clarke needs to make the Greek empire so short. By making the Iron phase the Greek generals he is able to make the Iron & Clay into the Roman empire - citing the foreign soldiers in the legions as a mixing of iron with baser sorts of people. The reason for wanting to do that is so that the striking of the image on the feet can then become the first advent of our Lord.

First, it must be said, that Clarke is clearly correct that the Lord is the stone. There are many references for this[10] but the Lords own commentary in Mt 21:44 "And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder!." has to be sufficient.

The question really becomes, is the striking of the image upon the feet the first advent of the Lord? The answer is NO and here are some of the reasons: -

  1. The striking is to be in the "days of these kings", in other words at a time when the kingdom was co-ruled by ten people. No one has been able to identify these ten people at the time of the Lord"s birth (or death).
  2. There is one single strike in the dream and it is rapid. Clark provides 3, the disciples going out, the conversion of Constantine and the ongoing dissemination of biblical truth. Not only does Clark have the wrong number of strikes but also the "great blow" he describes (the conversion of Constantine) certainly did not stop idolatry. If anything it helped form the Roman Catholic church which has institutionalized idolatry ever since.
  3. The striking is to collapse to chaff the previous empires and blow them away. Clark views the preceding three as "compacted" into the Roman Empire. There is no biblical basis for that claim and to suggest that materialism and idolatry are in shreds and being "blown away" is incredible.
  4. The striking is to be followed by the stone growing to fill the whole earth. Clark believed he saw that happening and that the Christian gospel was slowly expanding to fill the whole earth. This is totally a-biblical[11] and also against human experience.
  5. The striking is a violent action. Clarke makes it the peaceful subduing of all evil.
  6. In the vision the old order is completely swept away before the stone starts to grow. We do not see the stone growing in a polluted environment[12].

I believe the correct interpretation is that the brass is the Greek empire until the end of the four sub-divisions (Dan 8:21-23). The legs of iron are then the Roman Empire as we have known it including the challenge to the Lord himself.[13]

I believe the next easy bit to tackle is the striking of the image upon the feet. We know that there will come a time when the world rebels against God in a military way[14]. We know that God is going to pour out his wrath in ways that are violent[15]. We also know then when he rules it will be with force[16]. Whilst I cannot necessarily prove they are the same we know that there are ten kings still to come at the end of the first century that will make war with the Lord[17]. Incidentally those ten kings are discussed in the same chapter as the fall of Babylon the great. So what we see here is that the empire that starts as Rome ends at a time still future and that at that time something similar to Babylon will be in existence. These events clearly relate to the coming of our Lord to claim the earth, and at that time the time of the Gentiles will be complete and terminated.

I think the one interesting subject is whether the "iron and clay" is still technically here in the dispensation of Grace or whether it restarts at the beginning of the tribulation.

The vision emphasizes that the clay mixes with the iron after the ankle, i.e. after a turning point. So what does the clay picture? Well each metal was a form of government; clay (or dust) speaks of humanity. Iron mingled with clay I suggest speaks of government by the people, which we increasingly see in democracy and communism. But we still see iron. Even in the most democratic democracy, especially in time of war, we see the voice of the people put to one side so that government is actually able to make decisions. We even find Roman law underpinning much of the European legal system.

Now we know that the dispensation of grace was a mystery to be revealed[18] but I believe it is probable that this is still counted as the time of the gentiles and that we are presently "going through the foot".

So, Nebuchadnezzar saw that there would be great kingdoms, as we see in the next chapter he chose to focus upon his own, and tried to make it eternal[19]. God sees human power, placed there by him, steadily getting weaker until his son comes in power to take control, which he will do swiftly and with total efficacy.

Even so come Lord Jesus. Amen.


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