Chapter Two The Times Of The Gentiles

The second chapter of Daniel has well been called “the A-B-C of prophecy.” I suppose it contains the most complete, and yet the most simple, prophetic picture that we have in all the Word of God. It is in the form of a dream given to a heathen monarch. Nebuchadnezzar was at this time the ruler of the greater part of the known civilized world and of a great deal of that which was given over to barbarism. We speak of this as a world empire, though in one sense of the word, it was hardly that. There were tribes and nations beyond the outskirts of his dominions that were not subject to Nebuchadnezzar—those on the northern shores of the Mediterranean sea, for instance, and portions of southern Egypt and the regions beyond. But God had given him the title to rule over all nations. This authority was given to Nebuchadnezzar because of the rejection of Israel as God’s kingdom on earth. Had they been faithful to God, had they always been obedient to Him, royalty never would have departed from Judah. But because of their disobedience God gave their glory to the stranger, and dominion passed to the Gentiles in the person of Nebuchadnezzar. This was, in fact, the beginning of the distinctive period designated by the Lord Jesus in Luke 21:24 as “the times of the Gentiles.” This period will continue until all derived power is overthrown and

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run;
His kingdom spread from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

Isaac Watts

In the book of Jeremiah, as also in Kings and Chronicles, we read of Nebuchadnezzar coming up against the land of Palestine in the reign of King Jehoiakim. At the time of his first invasion Nebuchadnezzar was not the emperor; his father sat on the throne of the Babylonian dominion, and he was vice-king. But at the beginning of Daniel 2 we read that he had been reigning alone for two years. The glory of God had departed from Jerusalem, and the people of Judah became captives in the land of Shinar: “By the rivers of Babylon, [they] sat down, yea, [they] wept, when [they] remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1).

Now God was pleased to reveal an outline of His ways to this heathen monarch. We learn from Daniel’s address to him that this great king had been concerned about what was coming on the earth. Look at the 29th verse: “As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter.” Nothing could be more natural. Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful monarch the world had ever known. As he lay on his bed that night, he began to ponder what would come to pass in the future. He knew he could not stay here forever. He would have to pass away as other potentates had done before him. What would follow? It was not unwise for him to consider these things.

All men should be more concerned about what the future has in store. The great business of today seems to be securing wealth and pleasure for the present life; most people seem utterly indifferent about what is to come to pass afterward. God has not left us in ignorance as to the future. He has given us the prophetic word to shed light on what is to come. If people were willing to seriously read the Bible, in subjection to its holy author, they would find that in it the whole course of human events, right up to the great white throne, has been clearly revealed. Anyone who earnestly desires it, may know the truth of God’s ways right on to the end.

Nebuchadnezzar was wiser than many today, for he was concerned about the future. As he lay on his bed he had an impressive dream; but in the morning it had gone from him. He found it impossible to overcome the impression it made on him, yet when he tried to recall what it was he had dreamed, he could not do so. So, according to the custom of his times, he sent for his wise men—the soothsayers, astrologers, and magicians. To them he said, “I have dreamed a dream, but it has gone from my mind; and I want you to tell me my dream, and then tell me the interpretation of it.”

Miserable charlatans that they were, they pleaded the absurdity and impossibility of this request. They declared what was possibly true enough: no king or ruler had ever asked anything so difficult of his wise men. They assured the king that if he would but relate the dream, they would explain its meaning. But Nebuchadnezzar responded that if they had skill enough to interpret dreams, they ought to be able to tell him the dream also. He threatened that if after a limited time they did not accede to his demand, all the wise men in his kingdom would be put to death— which, of course, included Daniel.

When Daniel learned of the decree through Arioch the captain of the guard, he went in and asked Nebuchadnezzar for a brief respite. Communicating the seriousness of the situation to his three friends, he requested that they seek the face of God regarding the matter and together they made supplication to “the God of heaven.”

I want you to notice that title—“the God of heaven” (2:18). Nothing shows the divine source and verbal inspiration of the Scriptures more clearly than the way in which the names and titles of the deity are used throughout the Bible. Unspiritual and ignorant men have sometimes tried to use the diversity of divine names to show that the Bible speaks of different gods. But all these names and titles are used in a most exact and careful manner. For instance, in the entire Old Testament, Jehovah is always used in one particular sense and Elohim (God, plural form) in another. When it is the Creator that is brought before us, then we have the Hebrew word Elohim, indicating the triune God, now revealed in three persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When referring to God’s covenant with His people and His dealings with the men whom He has made and taken into relationship with Himself, the Scriptures use the name Jehovah. It is not only in Genesis, but throughout the Bible, that this holds true.

The expression, “the God of heaven” is used in three books in the Old Testament (Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel) and one in the New Testament (Revelation). All refer to almost the same period— when God had scattered His people among the nations because of their sins. He had forsaken His throne at Jerusalem. The glory had gone up to Heaven, and He was no longer called the Lord of the whole earth. He was now “the God of heaven,” and so far as the world is concerned that is still His title. He will never again be owned as the Lord of the whole earth until the millennium.

And so Daniel and his friends entreated the God of Heaven. You will notice that we have three things here: First, prayer—“They would desire mercies of the God of heaven” (18). Then there is divine ministry—“Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision.” And the result of that was worship—they “blessed the God of heaven” (19). Where God is speaking, it stirs the hearts of His people, and it leads them out in worship and praise back to Himself.

People have very low ideas about worship nowadays; they talk about worshiping God no matter what religious exercise they may be engaged in. But let us remember that even prayer is not worship, and ministry is not worship. Prayer is asking of God; ministry is when God gives something to man. But when man has asked and God has given until the heart overflows in adoration back to God, worship takes place.

My wife and I stood one day looking down on Niagara Falls. How our hearts were stirred as we watched that mighty cataract pouring its tremendous volume of water over the great cliff unceasingly. But soon we noticed that from below a mist or fine spray rose up that actually reached the point where we stood on the ledge above the Falls. I said to my wife, “This is like worship—God’s mighty love and grace pouring down on us, and then our love and praise rising up and ascending back to Him, the source of all our blessing.”

The Father is seeking worshipers, but people have to be born again before they can worship Him. How can a poor guilty sinner who has never been brought into the family of God be a worshiper in spirit and in truth? We hear often of “public worship”; but the fact of the matter is the public, as such, cannot worship in the Christian sense.

Turning back to Daniel, we see he comes in before the king and tells him that he is able to reveal the secret. He makes it plain that it is not through any superior wisdom of his own that he is able to do this: “there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days” (28). It was of God that this great king was brought to the end of all human resources. If he had been able to remember his dream, he never would have realized that he had to deal with God. He first had to be brought to the end of all human wisdom; he had to learn his own nothingness and ignorance and the nothingness and ignorance of all his wise men. Only then could the matchless wisdom of God be revealed to him. And the same lesson must be learned by us. If we are ever going to learn of God, we have to learn the poverty of our own resources first.

Have you ever noticed where the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified? It was at Golgotha—the place of a skull. If you are saved, you began at the place of a skull. That is not very nice for human pride, for it is the place of death and the end of all human wisdom. You cannot reason it out; all the wise men of the earth cannot teach it to you; you have to be brought to the place of an empty skull—the helplessness of death—where you realize that God is writing confusion on all the wisdom of this world. So this great king had to be brought to the place where he learned that “man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” It was then that the God of Heaven, through His prophet, revealed to him the dream and its interpretation.

Daniel said:

Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image’s 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. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth (31-35).

At once the king recognized the fact that it was indeed the dream he had forgotten. Daniel then proceeded with the interpretation. The image represented the whole period of the times of the Gentiles. But notice that on the chart the feet of the image have been separated from the legs of iron. The reason for this is that although during the present age the Gentile times are still running on, yet prophecy has to do not with this age. Rather prophecy is dealing with the period that closed at the cross and another brief season that will commence after the church has been caught up to be with the Lord. God’s special work in this day of grace is the taking out from among the Gentiles a people to the name of His Son. He is not now dealing with nations as such; He is saving individual souls and, by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, forming them into one body to be the bride of the Lamb in the ages to come.

Daniel showed that the times of the Gentiles began with Nebuchadnezzar. He is declared to be the head of gold of this “man of the earth” (Psalm 10:18). It is not that he alone is the fulfillment of this picture, but he represents the Babylonian empire, which began with him and was to close with the downfall of Belshazzar his grandson.

“After thee,” said Daniel, “shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth” (2:39). We do not need to go outside of Scripture to find out the names of these empires. In chapter 5:31 we read, “Darius the Median took the kingdom.” In the book of Esther we learn that the Persian rulers ruled over all the earth. Darius is generally supposed to be Cyaxares II, the last king of Media. Some think he was Gobryas, the general who led the assault on Babylon under instructions from Cyaxares and Cyrus the Persian; he united Media and Persia in one great empire. Daniel elsewhere showed us that this Medo-Persian dominion, after existing for several hundred years, would be overthrown by a mighty Grecian warrior. This was fulfilled by Alexander the Great.

A fourth kingdom was to follow. It would 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” (40). This must be that great world power which was in existence at the birth of the Lord Jesus, when “there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed” (Luke 2:1). Under this empire our Lord was crucified. After His death it continued to exist for about five hundred years, though eventually divided into two parts, the eastern and western empires. The two legs may be meant to represent this division; though one could hardly insist on this strongly because Rome is represented by the legs of iron from the beginning.

Therefore we do not need secular history to find out what these four great empires are; we find them all in Scripture in the order in which they were revealed to the king of Babylon. All this is confirmed by history and is a remarkable proof of the inspiration of the Bible. At the time that Nebuchadnezzar dreamed his dream the Persian kingdom did not exist. Persia was but a Babylonian province. A Grecian empire might have seemed an utter impossibility. The Hellenic states were a lot of warring tribes and kingdoms, giving little promise of their future greatness. The city of Rome was just being founded—an insignificant little village on the banks of the Tiber. How did Daniel portray with such accuracy the future history of all these powers if unaided by the Holy Spirit of God?

The metals of which the great image was composed deteriorated from the head to the feet, illustrating the continual decrease in the absolute power and magnificence of each kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar ruled as an unlimited despot. “Whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive” (5:19). The rulers of the succeeding empires had their power more and more circumscribed; until in the last state of the Roman empire we find iron mixed with miry clay, or brittle pottery—speaking of attempted union between imperialism and democracy. Notice also, that the specific gravity of the metals decreases each time. Gold is the heaviest and iron the lightest, while feet of mingled iron and pottery would be lighter than all. No wonder such an image breaks in pieces the moment the Stone falls from Heaven on such feet! Gentile power may seem to be firmly settled on an immovable base; it may appear to be powerful enough to resist every effort aimed at its overthrow; but the hour is coming when the Stone will fall from Heaven, and the whole thing will collapse in a moment.

This brings us to the last form of the fourth kingdom; for the Roman empire, though at the present in abeyance, has not yet come to its end. The ten toes on the feet of the image represent (as a comparison with the ten horns on the beast in chapter 7 will make plain) ten kings who are to reign at one time; they will form a confederacy on the ground of the ancient empire. This is something that the world has not seen yet.

Commentators generally tell us that the ten-toed condition of the empire was reached in the fifth and sixth centuries. At that time the barbarians from the north overran the Roman empire, and it was divided into something like ten different kingdoms. A number of different lists have been made often kingdoms each, but few writers agree as to the actual divisions. One thing they all seem to have overlooked is that the ten kingdoms are to exist at one time, not through a period of several centuries, and all are to form one confederation. There is nothing in the past history of the kingdoms of Europe that answers to this. They were generally warring enemies, each seeking the destruction of others. Therefore we reject this interpretation of the ten toes. What event in the centuries of Rome’s decline and fall could possibly answer to the Stone falling from Heaven and the institution of the kingdom of God? And how could it be said that all the dominions represented by the image have been ground to powder, when we see most of them still in existence in some form or other?

Some tell us that the Stone fell from Heaven when the Lord Jesus was born into this world, and that His kingdom has been in existence and spreading through the world ever since. But Daniel says, “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom” (2:44); that is, in the days of the ten kings, God’s kingdom is to be established. Now the ten-kingdom condition of the empire certainly had not been reached at the incarnation. Rome remained an undivided kingdom for three hundred years after the birth of Christ; for two hundred years more it existed as the Eastern and Western empires. Clearly then, the birth of the Son of God is not the event here prophesied. Gentile dominion was not overturned and destroyed at that time, nor since then; therefore we look to the future for it.

To attempt to locate the falling of the Stone in the fifth or sixth century is the height of absurdity. In what sense did the God of Heaven then set up a kingdom? That was the very time when the bishop of Rome was struggling for supremacy over the church and the nations. It was followed by a thousand years of darkness: the Word of God was lost to the masses, superstition took the place of faith, iniquity ruled in both civil and ecclesiastical high places, and peace seemed to be taken from the earth. Surely all this is very different from Christ’s predicted reign of righteousness and blessing. Evidently then the Stone has not yet fallen from Heaven, though no one knows how soon it will do so.

I desire to trace out a little of what Scripture has to tell us elsewhere about this Stone. It is undoubtedly a figure of the Lord Jesus Christ. Psalm 118:22 tells us that He would be the Stone rejected by the builders and become the head of the corner; in the New Testament this verse is declared to be prophetic of Christ (Luke 20:17-18; Acts 4:11-12). When He came to earth He was indeed the Stone rejected by the builders, the rulers of the Jews, but He did not come as the Stone falling from Heaven. That is the way He will come when He returns the second time. He came before to His own, but His own received Him not. He came here as the foundation Stone, the head Stone of the corner, but they who should have owned His claims cried in their unbelief and hatred, “Away with Him; crucify Him; crucify Him!” Now God has taken Him up to Heaven, and in the Father’s glory, the eye of faith beholds that exalted Stone. The day is coming when it is going to fall on His enemies; when it falls, it will grind to powder all Gentile dominion and all those who have rejected the precious grace of God.

In Isaiah 8:14 Christ is prophetically described as a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offense, and we are told that many will stumble and fall. Thus it was when He came in lowly grace: “They stumbled at that stumblingstone; as it is written” (Romans 9:32-33). The Jews were looking for a great world-monarch and when Christ came in humiliation, Israel nationally stumbled over Him; they were broken and they remain broken to this day. Whenever a Jew walks the streets of a Gentile city it proves the truth of what the Lord Jesus has said, “Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken” (Matthew 21:44). Broken and scattered they have wandered in all the lands of the earth, hardly welcome anywhere, until in these last days God has been turning the hearts of the nations toward them, preparatory to their being taken back to their own land. By and by a remnant will return to the Lord; so Isaiah 28:16 says, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” He then goes on depicting Israel’s deliverance at the second appearing of this Stone of salvation. He is described in Zechariah 3:9 as the Stone engraved with the engraving of a signet, on which will be seven eyes.

But what about the nations in that day? The message of grace has gone out to them and what has been the result? God has been taking out from among them a people for His name, but the mass have deliberately rejected the Christ of God. That rejected Lord Jesus is soon going to fall on them in judgment. Then the rest of His Word will be fulfilled, “On whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder” (Matthew 21:44). Israel stumbled over Him, and they were broken. He is going to fall on the Gentiles in His wrath and indignation. They will be ground to powder and driven away from before His face like the chaff of the summer threshing-floor.

Do you ask, “When is the Stone going to fall?” It will be when the countries once occupied by the Roman empire in Europe make a ten-kingdom coalition, electing one of their number to be their supreme arbiter. In Daniel 7 he is described as the little horn rising out of the Roman empire. This passage has often been applied to the pope, but we will see it has no application to him at all. In that day the iron of imperial power will be mixed with the brittle pottery of socialism and democracy, but they will not cling together.

Before the ten-kingdomed form of the Roman empire is brought about, the church will have been caught away to Heaven. No believer of the present dispensation will be on the earth when these things are in process of fulfillment. But there may be some who read this who will still be living on this earth in the days of the feet of the image—the last solemn period of the times of the Gentiles. It will be awful to dwell in this world then and to participate in the judgment when the Stone falls from Heaven.

If these words reach one who is still out of Christ, let me warn you faithfully that if you go on rejecting the Lord Jesus a little longer, if you continue to harden your heart, if you “turn away the shoulder,” if you close your ears and shut your eyes to the truth of God, you may be numbered among those left behind when the Lord calls for His redeemed ones to rise to meet Him in the air. Then there will be for you nothing but “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27). Think what it will mean to be thus left for the vengeance of God! If you have not yet heeded the voice of Him who pleads in grace, get down on your face before Him now, I beseech you, and cry as Job cried, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:6). Then remember that “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). Thus shall you be ready to hail His coming with joy, whose return would otherwise mean for you the end of mercy’s day, the sealing of your doom.

Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face and worshiped Daniel; he acknowledged that Daniel’s God was a “God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets” (Daniel 2:47). Yet there is no evidence that his conscience had been reached by the revelation made to him of God’s wisdom and power. He advanced Daniel to a position of trust and confidence, and at his request set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but he was not yet ready to acknowledge the God of Daniel as his God and the only Savior. He was still a god to him, albeit greater than other deities. Nebuchadnezzar was soon to know Him as the God who alone rules in the kingdoms of men.