Harry Whittaker
Visions in Daniel

1. Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Daniel 2)

Because of its very familiarity, the main outline of this remarkable revelation will be treated in relatively brief fashion. Indeed, the only valid reason for spending time on it here is the often-unrecognised fact that certain features of the king's dream seem traditionally to have been misconstrued.

"Thou art this head of gold" explains why king Nebuchadnezzar should have been so very insistent in his demands for an elucidation of the vision. Of course, before this, he had had many another dreams, which had been dismissed from serious attention (if not already gone from memory). But this one was stamped in his mind and was a worry to him because the image, which he had seen, had his own features: "Thou art this head of gold."

The AV reading of the king’s words has misled many readers: "The thing is gone from me." This is not equivalent to: 'I have forgotten what the dream was about.' Had it been so, there would have been none of this royal excitement.

More exactly, the king's dictum was: "The word is gone forth from me"— with reference to the peremptory edict: 'Either you tell me the dream and its interpretation, or I chop your heads off!'

The sheer unreasonableness of this demand (as the hot-round-the-collar magicians and Chaldeans saw it) was prompted by the shrewd monarch's suspicion that "Ye have prepared lying and corrupt words to speak before me— until the time be changed." This last phrase takes on a sinister meaning when it is noted that in that historical period "times" were measured from the accession year of each king (see ch. 2:1, and so throughout the book). Thus, "till the time be changed" implied a new king on the throne. These wily priests, faced with a demand contrary to all their trade union rules, were quite capable of resolving their dilemma with a spoonful of strychnine in their master's morning cup of tea!

This Nebuchadnezzar was no fool!

As junior members of the professional guild, Daniel and his three friends were also under threat. It called for a very high degree of faith to believe that their God would respond to their need in this emergency.

Nebuchadnezzar must have been both amazed and amused by the cool assurance of this teen-ager before him that his outrageous demand would be fully met.

When Daniel appeared in the royal presence again next day, the cynical look on the king's countenance may well be imagined. But it needed only one sentence from this young Hebrew, and the king was on the edge of his throne, staring in wide-eyed astonishment: "Thou, O king, sawest, and beheld a great image." Here for sure, was no charlatan like the rest.

Within minutes confidence in the young prophet was consolidated by full details of the dream. And Nebuchadnezzar knew that he could also depend on the accuracy of the interpretation now to be unfolded.

Alas, the same can hardly be said about the interpretations so often unfolded in this twentieth century!

That the segments of that impressive image represent a chronological sequence of empires can hardly be doubted. And if there were nothing more in the vision than this main idea the interpretation would be impressive:

Babylon—Persia—Greece—Rome. The sequence and character of these empires has often been commented on. The aptness and accuracy of the successive parts are something to marvel at.

But all too easily a twofold difficulty has been constantly glossed over:

This last point needs to be underlined. The truth is that since the days of the fourth (Roman) empire, the world has seen plenty of other empires as extensive and as long-lasting as the four, which preceded them:
Genghis Khan had an empire, which stretched right across Asia. Philip II of Spain ruled an empire covering a large part of Europe and the whole of Central and South America. Here was grandeur to make golden Babylon look ordinary. Napoleon's genius defeated every army he came against. Even Alexander's achievements look small at the side of his. And for two centuries the British Empire sprawled great splashes of red right round the globe. That empire was, in all respects, easily the greatest of them all.

Then if this revelation to Nebuchadnezzar was intended to be a conspectus of world history, why these amazing omissions? What the vision included was magnificently accurate. Put why so incomplete?

Careful attention to certain of the image details supplies a fully convincing explanation:

In these details there is supplied a highly important clue concerning Nebuchadnezzar's dream. It was not a revelation of world history. It was a revelation of the sequence of Gentile powers that would completely dominate the People of God in their own Land. It was made known to the king of Babylon because he was the first to incorporate the Holy Land in his empire (Sennacherib the Assyrian had tried and failed—hence the omission of Assyria from the sequence).

It is now possible to put a finger on another error in the traditional interpretation of Daniel 2. For generations it has been asserted that the ten toes, part iron, part clay, strong and weak, represent the subdivisions of the Roman Empire covering the period from (roughly) the 7th century to the 20th. Which ten? Here a. good deal of guesswork comes into play. In "Elpis Israel", page 326f., two separate lists are submitted for approval. Today neither of these carries conviction. In the last thing he wrote, Dr. Thomas ("Exposition of Daniel" p.13) suggested that no accurate identification need be looked for until the Last Days. This was a wise assessment.
Let it be remembered that, according to the clue now brought to light, the vision is about the oppressors of Israel in the Holy Land. When at last they were scattered far and wide, this history — God's history — was drastically interrupted; and this state of affairs continued until the Zionist movement in this century. Then, and only then, does the vision—God's history regarding His Chosen People—resume its relevance. In other words, the ten toes, weak and strong, do not represent a long period of European history (that idea beloved of so many politically-biased expositors); it represents ten enemies of Israel who are to dominate the State of Israel in the Last Days immediately before the impact of the Stone, the Messiah.

That the Stone does symbolise the Messiah, coming in power and glory, can hardly be doubted. Daniel's own explanation is clear enough: "In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed" (v.44). And Jesus identified the Stone with himself when he declared: "And upon whomsoever that Stone shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (v.35; Mt. 21:44).

A number of other details call for explanation.

For instance, why should the Stone be "cut out of the mountain without hands" (v.45)? The last phrase suggests divine, not human, origin. But 'cut out of the mountain of humanity' is a common expositor's guess for which there seems to be little Biblical support.

More likely, this is intended to reinforce the idea of divine origin, for it is known that one of the chief gods in the Babylonian pantheon had the Great Mountain as a title. Nebuchadnezzar would readily understand it thus.

To some the idea of a discontinuity between legs and feet in the development of the historical fulfilment is a serious difficulty. But the reason for this has already been educed from the prophecy itself. Nor should it be forgotten that not a few outstanding Messianic prophecies exhibit exactly the same discontinuity: Luke 21:24,25; Micah 7:10,11; 5:2-5; Zechariah 9:9-11; Isaiah 61:2 (?)(See "Bible Studies", HAW, p.98). What needs specially to be noted is that in other prophecies in Daniel (ch.8, 9 & 11—most commentators) the same kind of discontinuity is readily traceable.

Is it possible to identify the ten kings represented by the ten toes? First, since the Stone initially smashes the feet, these ten must be enemies of God's Purpose in the Last Days. Revelation 17 reinforces this conclusion with its prophecy of ten kings who "make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them" (17:14). This was Dr. Thomas's chief ground for insisting on identification with ten anti-Israel powers in the Last Days. What are probably the same ten can be traced in Daniel 7:7,8; Psalm 83; Isaiah 13-23 and, quite possibly, in Ezekiel 38.

Two hints are provided as to the identification of the ten: "as iron is not mixed with clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men, but they shall not cleave one to another" (v.43). The verb twice used here is the word Arab. Accident? or design? The Arabs get their name from the fact that they are of such mixed descent —from Ishmael, Lot, and Esau. For copious evidence about Arab hostility to Israel in the Last Days, see "Lift up your heads" (Geo. Booker) and "Jews, Arabs, and Bible Prophecy" (HAW). "They shall mingle themselves with the seed of men, but they shall not cleave one to another" suggests a further possibility: Arabs mixed with Jews in their restored state of Israel, but showing no sign at all of blending with them. This detail of interpretation is possible but not certain.

But, it may be objected; does not the association "iron and clay" imply a continuing Roman element (cp. legs of iron)? Indeed, no! Daniel's own explanation, surely not to be over-ridden, points in a different direction: "part of potter's clay and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron..." (v.41). In other words, the dominant idea about the iron is not that of Rome but of strength.

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