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Daniel 2 image

It really was an astonishing dream which Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had. No wonder he came out of it with a scream. And it must have a terribly important meaning, something to do with himself, for hadn't he seen his own face in it?

Well, he had an entire trade union of sorcerers, soothsayers and magicians to be his interpreters in all mysterious matters. They'd tell him what it meant!

But could they? He was pretty sure that more than once they had "conspired to tell (him) misleading and wicked things" (Dan 2:9). So to test them he demanded that they tell him first the details of the dream. Then he'd be prepared to listen to their interpretation of it.

Of course, that stumped them completely. So, "Off with their heads!"

But in the nick of time, there stepped forward a young Hebrew prophet claiming that with the help of his God both the dream and its meaning would be made known.

An image of metal

Sure enough, next day Daniel began to spell out the dream, detail by detail, while Nebuchadnezzar sat there on his throne wide-eyed with astonishment.

What the king had seen was a great metallic image with:

  1. A head of gold.
  2. Chest and arms of silver.
  3. Belly and thighs of bronze.
  4. Legs of iron.
  5. Feet of mixed iron and clay.
What did it stand for? Daniel explained that here was a succession of empires, beginning with the empire of Babylon -- of course, for that face had Nebuchadnezzar's own features.

Its meaning

The identification of these empires is easy to anyone who knows a bit of ancient history. Indeed, other places in the Bible provide simple clues to confirm that the sequence goes like this:

  1. Gold / Babylon
  2. Silver / Persia
  3. Bronze / Greece
  4. Iron / Rome
But why stop there? Since the time of Rome there have been quite a few other empires, most of them every bit as important as these. What about the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan? the T'ang and Ching dynasties? the Aztec and Mayan empires? Philip II's Spain? Napoleon's Imperial France? the British Empire? The British Empire of Queen Victoria encompassed fully 25% of the land mass and population of the whole world, considerably more than did any of the four "empires" of Daniel!

An important qualification

There is a simple explanation why these other empires are not part of the prophecy. The vision was not intended to be a prophetic history lesson about all future world empires. These four empires were the powers that would oppress the Jews, Daniel's people, in their own Land of Israel. This qualification explains what would otherwise be two difficulties:

  1. The third kingdom of bronze is described (Dan 2:39) as "(ruling) over the whole earth". But the Greek empire of Alexander the Great, big as it was, did not cover all the earth, not even all known civilization. However, the Old Testament word eretz, translated "earth", also very commonly means "land" -- and quite especially the Land of Israel. Alexander incorporated Israel into his growing empire.
  2. Secondly, the empire of Rome is described as "strong as iron -- for iron breaks and smashes everything -- and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others" (Dan 2:40). Yet this "crush-and-break" description seems inappropriate to Rome. For wherever the Romans went, they took the blessings of law and order and settled government, the famous "Pax Romana". But -- once again -- these words were grimly true concerning Rome's relations with that little province of Judea. Unable to tame these turbulent Jews, the frustrated Romans eventually trampled down Jerusalem and leveled the land from end to end. Jews were deported everywhere, and a decree was issued that they must not return to their own land. So Daniel's prophecy -- when taken as relating to Israel -- turned out to be marvelously exact in this detail also.
Bible students will readily recognize the importance of Israel, and especially Jerusalem, to God's purpose. The Old Testament was written by Hebrews, for Hebrews, about Hebrews, in the land of the Hebrews, and in the language of the Hebrews. And the New Testament, though spread across the Roman world in Greek, was also written -- predominantly -- by Hebrews and about Hebrews, and in language rich with allusions to the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures.

So the image which Daniel saw and interpreted began with Babylon, not because Babylon was the first "world empire", but because Babylon was the first Gentile power to rule over God's people in Jerusalem. The Persians were the second, but they did not "conquer" Jerusalem -- they inherited it from a distance, simply by defeating the Babylonians. And similarly with the Greeks: their rule of Jerusalem came with the defeat of the Persians at a place quite remote from Jerusalem, in what is now Turkey.

And then there was Rome. Jerusalem passed into the possession of the Romans in their annexation of the Seleucid portion (called 'the king of the north' in Dan. 11) of the Grecian empire, in what is now Syria.

In proportion?

If we assume that the components of the image refer to the Gentile kingdoms during the times when they ruled over a Jewish Jerusalem, then a remarkable proportion becomes apparent:

  1. Babylon conquered and trampled down Jerusalem in the days of Nebuchadnezzar (c 609 BC.). The time during which Babylon was destined to rule over Jerusalem was scripturally designated, as 70 years (Jer 25:12; 29:10). The prophet Daniel, while in captivity in Babylon, understood by reading Jeremiah's writings that the period of "70 years" was coming to an end (Dan 9:2).
  2. True to Jeremiah's prophecy, Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon in 539 BC, ending the Jewish captivity in Babylon. Ezr 1:1 refers to this event as the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy. Some Jews returned to their land, and Persian rule over Jerusalem continued until Alexander crushed the Persian army at Issus, and moved southward through Jerusalem in 332.
  3. After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, control of Jerusalem alternated between the Seleucids of Syria (the "king of the north") and the Ptolemies of Egypt (the "king of the south") for another 160 years. Eventually, a revolt broke out among the Jews because the Grecian "king of the north", Antiochus Epiphanes, deliberately desecrated the Jewish temple in 167 AD. In 161 AD the Jewish leaders, the Maccabees, sought a Roman alliance for protection.
Thus, the first three portions of the image endured, respectively, 70 (the head), 206 (chest and arms), and 170 years (belly and thighs) -- give or take a couple of years! This is just about perfectly proportional to the human form.

Now comes the hard part! We can assign the Roman portion of the image a starting point of 161 BC, but where does it end? Some historians consider that the Roman Empire endured until 565 AD -- a total period of 726 years. But such a period for the fourth portion of the image (the legs, from knees to feet) would yield, in proportion, legs almost twice as long as all the rest of the body: something like a circus clown on ridiculously long stilts!.

But consider the alternative, as suggested earlier: that the Roman empire should be of consequence only when it was ruling over God's people in Jerusalem. This would yield a period of 230 years (161 BC through 70 AD -- when Jerusalem was trodden down by the Romans, and the Jews were scattered); such a shorter period would restore the whole image to proper perspective .

The "gap" in the image

Finally, what about the toes of iron and clay? If we remain true to our assumption (ie, that the "kingdoms" enumerated in Daniel 2 are those that bore or will bear rule over Jews in Jerusalem), then -- after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD -- there can/could be no fifth and final part of the image until there are/were Jews back in the Land again. And so we are compelled, by this assumption, to allow for a sizable "gap" between the first four parts of the image and the last and most crucial part, the feet and toes.

Such a gap certainly appears to work against the congruity of the image in its time perspective, and might be construed as a point against this view. However, it must be admitted that a similar "gap", of almost 2,000 years, is by far the most reasonable interpretation of the Olivet prophecy (Mat 24; Mar 13; Luk 21), which clearly contains elements already fulfilled in 70 AD and elements yet to be fulfilled in the Last Days. And, likewise, the Book of Revelation (with its oft-repeated 'I come quickly... shortly... or soon', but also with prophecies plainly about the Last Days) is most easily reconciled by a "gap", or "deferment", hypothesis.

[The "deferment" theory -- put simply -- differs from the "gap" theory in this: The "deferment" theory is of an initial but partial fulfillment of the whole of a prophecy, to be followed by a final and complete fulfillment of the whole -- thus involving some repetition. (For more information, see WRev 259-273.)]

And, in each case, the gap (or deferment) in prophetic fulfillment is for the same reason: During that period, the Jews were not in their Land or in possession of Jerusalem. It is not stretching the point too far to say that the Divine "clock" seems to stop when the conditions in the Middle East are not immediately favorable to the fulfillment of God's purpose.

Who are the toes?

These "toes" must refer to ten powers, some strong, some weak, who oppress the Jews when they are finally back in the Land of Israel, and who subdue Jerusalem once again. Daniel provides the clue for their identification: "Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed [ereb] with clay. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw the iron mixed [ereb] with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture [ereb] and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes [ereb] with clay" (Dan 2:41-43).

The "mixed", or "ereb", peoples are of course the Arabs of the Middle East (cp also the same Hebrew word in 1Ki 10:15; Jer 25:20,24; 50:37; Eze 30:5; Neh 13:1,3). These are peoples of mixed ancestry, descended variously from Ishmael, Esau, Lot, the Philistines, and others. They have never "remained united", always quarrelling and falling out among themselves... except in one particular: they are almost always solidly united in their hatred of Israel!

Thus, Nebuchadnezzar's vision, fully authenticated so far, suggests an Arab conquest of Israel in the not too distant future. This is exactly in line with what is evident in many other Bible prophecies.

However, just as the toes take up only a small amount of space in the human figure, so also it may be expected that the Arab domination will last for only a very short while. And the Bible gives us that time period also: 3 1/2 years... 42 months... 1,260 days (Dan 7:25; 9:27; 12:7,11,12; Rev 11:2,3; 12:6; 13:5). Such a period -- if taken literally -- would preserve the perfect proportion of Nebuchadnezzar's image.

Roman, or European, "toes"?

There is, of course, another and very different view of things held by some prophecy students, as follows: The feet and toes of Daniel's image, being extensions of the legs, have often been equated with the "divided Roman empire" that followed the decline and fall of Rome herself in the sixth century AD. It is suggested that this "divided" state of Europe corresponds to the feet and toes of the image, the last part of the image.

Beginning in the late 1950s, it was for some time popular to interpret the "ten toes" as the European Economic Community. The nations of the EEC were, according to this view, the last vestige of the old Roman Empire, and would be the final part of the Kingdom of Men. (It is generally forgotten that there are about 50 nations in existence today, many of them not even in Europe -- including most of the Arab nations -- that occupy territory formerly held by the old Roman Empire. So any of these other nations could also be considered "successor nations" to Rome.)

But, as the member nations in the EEC climbed to 12 and then 14, and with more almost certain to be admitted as of this date, this interpretation has fallen on hard times.

There is another problem with the "European toe" interpretation. If all the divided states of Europe, from approximately 565 AD to the present and beyond, are represented by the feet and toes of the image, then our image is grossly out of proportion. Not only does the image look like a man on ridiculously tall stilts, but he is standing on "feet" with seven or eight toes each, which are now more than half again as long as the rest of the body, including the greatly elongated legs!. The absurdity of this figure is a good reason for rejecting the interpretation which suggested it.

Sudden destruction

In the vision a stone cut out of a mountain without human hands (ie, a divinely-appointed "stone"!) comes flying through the air and crashes into the feet of the image, completely pulverizing them; the image crashes to the ground, and every bit of it is similarly ground to powder; then a mighty wind blows the whole out of sight, while the stone grows and grows until it becomes a mighty mountain filling all the earth (Dan 2:34,35,44,45).

The "stone" is clearly Jesus: the Son of God is the precious stone, the stone which the builders rejected, the stone of stumbling, but also the stone which God will make the chief cornerstone in His eternal temple (Psa 118:22; Isa 8:14,15; 28:16; Mat 21:44; Mar 12:10,11; Luk 20:17; 1Pe 2:4-8).

A different kingdom

This "great mountain" which grows from a little stone will be a Kingdom set up by God Himself, which will last forever (Dan 2:44). When the Arab "toes" overrun Israel and trample down Jerusalem once again (as did the Babylonians and the Romans before them), then they will themselves be smashed swiftly by the coming of Christ in power and glory.

Where will this kingdom begin?

Hoping not to belabor an obvious point, we must nevertheless ask the question: Where will this eternal Kingdom begin? All Scriptures point to Jerusalem (Psa 2:6; Isa 2:2-4; 24:23; Jer 3:17; Mic 4:1,2; Joel 2:32; Oba 1:17; Zec 14:1-4; etc, etc).

So, working backward, if Jerusalem is where the Kingdom of God will begin (ie, where the "little stone" will begin to grow into a "great mountain"), then Jerusalem must also be the place upon which that stone falls in the first place.

And if this is so, then where will the feet of the image be standing when they are struck by that little stone? Jerusalem again. Jerusalem, the center of Bible prophecy -- not Rome or Europe!

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