The king dreamed and later was reminded that he had dreamed about a great image set up on the earth. God often spoke in dreams when as yet there were no written Scriptures. And He spoke to this king, although there were a number of Bible books then in existence, because Nebuchadnezzar knew nothing of God’s Word. It is not safe to depend on dreams now for divine guidance or instruction, because God now speaks through His complete, written Word. The king could not recall his dream, which served at least a double purpose: first, to prove the devil is a cheat and does not know the future; and second, to bring the king in touch with the living God, His mighty power, and His grace.
What made him dream? It has been suggested that the monarch might have heard of Jeremiah’s prophecy as recorded in chapter 27 of his book, saying that all lands would be put into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that all nations were to serve him, his son, and his son’s son (Jer. 27:6, 7). It may have given him those ideas of grandeur he saw in his dream. Daniel told him that God had showed the king things that were to come “hereafter” (v. 29).
The king is irked because his wise men prove to be not so wise and, being a despot, he sends forth the word that the whole group of them is to be slain. From Nebuchadnezzar’s point of view Daniel and his companions are included among the magicians and soothsayers, so they too must die. Daniel, after speaking to the executioner, goes in to the king and bids for time, assuring him that he will tell the king his dream and give him the interpretation thereof. Again we are impressed by his absolute faith in God; there is no note of uncertainty in his assurance to the king. Truly, faith in God is the only sure thing in this unsure world. Now Daniel gets in touch with his three fellow believers and shares his burden with them, as later on he would share his honors with them (vv. 17, 18, 49). It is ever so; those who share in the trials and burdens of the Cross shall share in the glory by and by. Now these four young men are on their knees before God; what a beautiful sight this is! Then the secret is revealed to Daniel (v. 19), and he praises the God of heaven. He does not rush pell-mell into the presence of the tyrant on his throne; he does not forget that answered prayer calls for unfeigned thanksgiving to God. Verses 20-23 record his sevenfold outburst of praise to God. Read these stirring verses!
And now the prophet goes in to the king, and in reply to the king’s query whether he is able to make known the dream and to interpret it, he humbly says, “There is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days” (v. 28). He humbly effaces himself, and when man hides himself God will reveal Himself. Daniel says there is a God in heaven who knows and reveals secrets; he and his three companions have been praying to the God of heaven and praising Him (vv. 18, 19). Later on Nebuchadnezzar, king over much of the earth, learns that the King of heaven is mightier than he (chap. 4:47), and that all men should praise, honor, and extol Him.
The dream is told by Daniel, and one can imagine the utter astonishment of this monarch as the whole dream is vividly brought back to his memory by this stripling. Yes, that’s it; it’s all there; but now, what does it all mean? And he continues to listen, ever deeper impressed by the account of his own empire and the prophecy of three others to follow. God knows, as Daniel concludes his tremendous interpretation with these words, “… the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure” (v. 45).
And now here is Daniel’s (or, rather, God’s) divine interpretation of these tremendous facts of history and prophecy of the now past, and also the future still ahead of us.
This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king.
Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowl of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.
And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.
And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.
And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms and it shall stand forever.
Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter; and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure (Dan. 2:36-45).
We might note first that the image represents four great consecutive empires, the first of which, as Daniel told the open-mouthed king, is the Babylonian empire with Nebuchadnezzar then at its head. “Thou,” Daniel tells him, “art this head of gold.” The other three are left unmentioned here, but in the eighth chapter we are told that the Medo-Persian and Grecian empires were to follow the Babylonian. Both here and also in the eighth chapter the fourth empire, which we, of course, now know to have been the Roman empire, is left unidentified by name. Later on we shall see the reason for this.
Secondly, we must not fail to notice that the image deteriorates from head to toe—from the head of gold to the feet of mixed iron and clay. Here is a simple yet vital lesson and one so greatly ignored by this proud world. The lesson is that everything in this world of sin and corruption goes to pieces; nations rise and fall; bodies grow old and die; everything that man ever has anything to do with fails. Evolution the infidel talks about is just a vain dream. In contrast, how precious it is to look at another “image,” a divine One; you can read about it in the Song of Solomon (5:10-16). It is the portrait of our blessed Lord, who is said to be the “express image” of God (Heb. 1:3). There is no deterioration here; His head is of fine gold, and His feet are of fine gold (vv. 11, 15). From His Godhead glory on the throne of the universe to His lowly, humble walk on earth where those feet once trod—those beautiful feet—all is pure gold. Praise God, He shall stand forever; He shall destroy all other images, including the one of our study, and at those feet every knee shall bow.
Nebuchadnezzar’s dominion was to be succeeded by the Medo-Persian one which Daniel interprets as being “inferior” (v. 39), represented in the image by the breast and arms of silver. Silver is of less value than gold, and it is in this way that the kingdom was inferior. It was not less important in extent, for, as a matter of fact, it reached wider than the Babylonian power had done. Nebuchadnezzar’s was a mighty dictatorship—“whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down” (5:19). But the second empire—the Persian—was a limited monarchy; chapter six shows that even its mighty rulers were bound by their own laws, something which would have been incomprehensible to a man like Nebuchadnezzar. In that way the Medo-Persian empire was an inferior one.
The third kingdom was the Grecian empire, and that in turn was followed by the Roman. Note that while the value of the metals in the image decreases, their strength increases. Silver is worth less than gold and makes less show, as is true with brass over against silver, but each metal is stronger than the one before. Silver is stronger than gold, brass than silver, and iron than any of the others. The fourth kingdom was to prove itself stronger than any of the others. It is needless to say how perfectly this was borne out in the subsequent history of those four powers. Rome, by all odds, became the most powerful, well-organized nation that ever ruled, considering its limited size.
Since the third kingdom—the Grecian empire—is foreshadowed by the body and the thighs of brass, the fourth empire is seen in the legs of iron and the feet part of iron and part of clay.
Here is a dream God-given. Even today men dream of a world that is getting better, but God shows that it is getting worse. Man talks of, and boasts of, his accomplishments; God foretells the destruction of all society, as the Stone smashes the whole thing to bits.
The two legs represent the two divisions of the old Roman empire—one part with its headquarters in Rome, the other with its capital in Constantinople. History tells us that Constantinople became the capital of the eastern half of the Roman empire. Since this happened hundreds of years after Daniel prophesied this, it shows that this revelation is truly from God, for only He could have known this. The legs are the longest part of a body, and they were made of iron, suggesting that the Roman empire was both the longest and the strongest of them all; how perfectly history has established these two facts.
But now, what of the two feet with their ten toes (v. 41)? Nothing in Rome’s past history answers to this. We have not far to seek to get the solution to this problem. In chapter seven we learn of this same fourth kingdom, under the figure of a wild beast with ten horns. The ten toes and the ten horns must be identical in meaning. And when we turn to the New Testament we come across those same ten horns again in Revelation twelve and seventeen. Notice that this beast (and it is without question the same beast seen in Daniel 7:7) is seen in both places with seven heads and ten horns (Rev. 12:3; 13:1; 17:3).
Note, however, this vital difference: in Revelation 12:3 the crowns are upon the seven heads; in 13:1 the crowns are upon the ten horns. Chapter 12 refers to the Rome of the past; it speaks of the birth of Christ and Satan standing ready to devour Him as soon as He was born, which destruction Herod sought to carry out after our Savior’s birth. Here the heads are seen crowned. Revelation 17 tells us that the seven-headed Rome was the Rome of John’s day, for even then five of those heads (or kings) had already fallen, while the sixth was already in power (Rev. 17:9, 10). But chapter 13 of Revelation refers to the to-be-revived Roman empire of the future, for the crowns are here upon the ten horns, answering to the ten toes of our chapter in Daniel. We know this is future, for Revelation 17 shows that there is yet to rise a ten-kingdom confederacy of nations with the capital and its head in Rome.
It is Rome, for that is the city where the woman— the Roman Catholic church—sits (Rev. 17:9). Ten powers will unite under the mighty leadership of a coming superman called the “beast” of Revelation 13 and 17. It is future, for John tells us that those kings have received no kingdom as yet. No such Roman confederacy has ever existed in the world; hence the ten horns of Revelation and the ten toes of Daniel are still ahead. Revelation 17 shows that they will be destroyed at the coming of Christ (Rev. 19). This is shown also in our chapter of Daniel by the stone smiting the image of its feet. Of course, the Stone is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, and the destruction will take place at His coming; hence the ten toes of this image point on to the future. How it lifts our hearts in praise to our God as we hear Him telling us all this many centuries before it was to come to pass; He is the God of infinite wisdom and all His purposes shall be fulfilled.
Daniel describes the future empire as being part of iron and part of clay. Iron and clay don’t mix, so there is an inherent weakness in this future confederacy. It is not a monarchy nor a dictatorship in the fullest sense of the word, but a coalition of nations, and thus it partakes of the weakness that always must result from the people taking the government into their hands. God’s ideal kingdom is a monarchy; the Lord Jesus shall reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Look once more at this great statue which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream. From head to toe it covers a period of more than 2500 years, for its history is not yet complete. It began about 600 years B.C. and the end is not yet, though possibly very close. Look at it again and you will see a long gap between the two legs and the ten toes. The legs came to an end about A.D. 400, and the toes have not come into existence as yet, so there is a space of at least 1500 years between the legs of iron and the toes of iron and clay.
However, after the church of God goes home to glory, Rome will be revived; we probably see fore-shadowings of this in NATO and in other features. The coming empire eventually will become the bitter persecutor of God’s people Israel; it will annihilate the false church, as foretold in the seventeenth chapter of Revelation. And then Christ shall come in mighty power, as the “stone . . . cut out without hands” of our chapter (v. 34), and He will utterly destroy all rebellion and will reign supreme. He smites the image on its toes (not on its head, or breast, or even its legs—notice the perfection of Scripture—for those governments do not exist when Christ comes back). The Stone that men have fallen over and stumbled over for centuries shall then fall on them. All sorts of foolish interpretations have been made concerning this stone, some even teach that the stone represents Christ as preached in the gospel, ever expanding till finally the whole world is saved, as the stone became a mountain and filled the whole earth. Others say the stone refers to Christ’s coming at His birth, but certainly then, rather than destroying Rome, He suffered shame and reproach under its rule, and was scourged and crucified at its orders. The ten toes can only picture the Rome of the future; when Christ, the mighty Stone, comes, He does not come to save but to take vengeance on His enemies. As He Himself so graphically declared, speaking of Himself as the “Stone” the builders had rejected, “Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder” (Matt. 21:44). The king made Daniel a great man (v. 48), though he already was that in a deeper sense. I’m sure Daniel valued God’s approval of him much more than that of the king, yet it is well when men recognize one’s worth. He gave Daniel a high position and bestowed honors and wealth upon him. But Daniel did not forget his three friends and desired to see them recognized also. How much this is like our Lord; surely here again the spirit of Christ in Daniel shines forth. Daniel did not want to enjoy his honors alone, so our Lord shares His glory with His own, as He said, “The glory which thou gavest me I have given them” (John 17:22).