Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar's First Encounter With God.

Key Notes: Reading the King's mind. The dream of empire. Nebuchadnezzar's uniqueness. Four successive world empires. What " stone without hands" will destroy it?

Daniel 2 contains the famous story of the Image of Empire. We will try to understand it from the viewpoint not only of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel, but of Israel then and the Christian Church today.

2:1–3. God gave Nebuchadnezzar a dream (2:28) which he apparently forgot at once. {"...as the dream dies at the opening day.") The memory lapse was part of God's plan.

2:4–13 The King demanded that his advisors recall the dream for him and make an interpretation on threat of horrible death. They protested that no one but the "gods whose dwelling is not with flesh "can read the mind of a man. (2:11). Nebuchadnezzar was proposing a test to validate his advisors. He could not evaluate their interpretations and magic, but he could tell if they could reconstruct something he would recall--his dream. However, if they could have read his mind, he would have been even more vulnerable than if they were just guessing. That would have been a real nightmare.

2:14–16 Daniel emerged from quarters to encounter Arioch, the captain of the guard. He was cool. He heard Arioch describe the crisis and went at once to the King to get a stay of execution.

2:17–23 The four young men prayed for mercy to God, perhaps most of the night. God told Daniel the secret in a dream. Daniel blessed God,

The Name of God, to whom belongs wisdom and might,
Who controls the course of history,
Who reveals the deep mysteries,
The God of my fathers,
Who gives strength and wisdom to know the King's concern.

In mentioning "God of my Fathers", Daniel aligns himself with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, nand may have been thinking of Joseph, Moses and Samuel, and the eight kings who honored the Lord--David, Solomon, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Uzziah, Hezekiah, and Josiah. It shows that there was real spiritual life among the elite even at the end of Judah's life.

2:24–30 Daniel laid the groundwork carefully. No human being could do what the King demanded and he had no special wisdom. But God in heaven had chosen to reveal the future to him.

2:31–45 Nebuchadnezzar is the golden head of a massive and bright top-heavy image. ( Fig. 1.). The chest of silver, the torso of bronze and the legs of iron are kingdoms increasingly inferior to his that would succeed each other. The last kingdom would be divided into two legs and feet and then into toes, presumably ten. The iron feet and toes would become mixed with clay which would not bond well. In the days of those (?ten) kings, God will have a stone cut out without human hands bowl over the image and pulverize it. The stone will become a mountain, a kingdom, filling the earth.

2:46–49 The King fell at Daniel's feet and did homage to him and commanded that offering and incense be offered. He acknowledged that Daniel's God was the high God, the revealer of mysteries.

Daniel was given rule over the province of Babylon and made the chief of Babylon's wise men/wizards. Daniel's three friends were given responsibilities over the affairs of the province.


The general interpretation of the Image of Empire is helped by God's word that Nebuchadnezzar (not Babylon) is the head of gold, to be followed by kingdoms of diminishing value. Nebuchadnezzar and his sons ruled Babylon 626–539BC, about 87 years.

The chest of silver is Medo-Persia under Cyrus and the Xerxes, ruling 539–330BC--about 200 years.

The torso of bronze is Greece under Alexander and the Seleucids, ruling 330–63BC--about 250 years.

Rome under the Caesars, the legs and feet of iron, ruled from 63BC with an indefinite terminus, and was divided into east and west 364AD under Valentinian.

As the Roman Empire succession goes on, it extends to the West, to China, Africa, and even India. But these non-European states do not appear to contribute to the world power. There has been much speculation about that.

Why should Nebuchadnezzar be the head of gold, more than Tiglath-pileser of Assyria (IIK.16:7) orAlexander the Great of the Greeks or Augustus Caesar of the Romans?

"You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of Heaven has given the kingdom, the power and the might and the glory, and into whose hand He has given, wherever they dwell, the sons of men, the beasts of the field and the birds of the air, making you rule over them all--you are the head of gold." (Dan.2:37–38)

These words sound like the extravagant praise of a courtier, but Jeremiah in Jerusalem, no friend of the Nebuchadnezzar, says the same :

"Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel... It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him...."

Ezekiel calls him "King of Kings". (Ezek.26:7)
In Isa.14:12 the King of Babylon is addressed in superlatives: "How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn".
The prophets also say Babylon was "...the glory of kingdoms" (Isa.13:19), "...the praise of the whole earth". (Jer.51:41), "...the mistress of kingdoms...." (Isa.47:5)

Nebuchadnezzar was undoubtedly a genius, having, among other things, designed Babylon with its fabulous hanging gardens, one of the wonders of the ancient world. On the other hand, Babylon was polytheistic, with temple prostitution, wizards and sorcerers.

Israelites in exile was protected by the Babylonians. Jeremiah advised them to "seek the welfare of the city where I have send you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jer.29:7). She survived in Medo-Persia (Esther 9:3) and returned to rebuild Jerusalem. She fought the Greeks and survived the Romans until 70AD. Then she was dispersed world-wide.

How do we interpret the feet and toes of mixed iron and clay? A study of Rome in the ages after Constantine describes the infiltration of the Mediterranean South by Huns, Goths and Visigoths, Franks and Celts. They did not so much conquer Rome (as in "The Fall of the Roman Empire") as to infiltrate it. They wanted to be Romans. Roman law tended to remain but the Pax Romana was destroyed by these warlike clans fighting each other, aided by the invasion of Moslems. So we could interpret the clay as the barbarian invasions: the contamination of the sunny and peaceful Mediterranean civilized culture by rude, violent Mongol and Germanic ruffians. They were pseudo-Christians--Arians--for the most part.

In the Dark Ages in Europe, commerce was reduced to a trickle and people lived from hand-to-mouth. It is hard to reconstruct Europe's history because written records were not kept but we know that the Christian missionaries from Britain re-established monasteries across Europe during the Dark Ages. The Greco-Roman world re-emerged in Venice as a center of commerce some seven centuries later. Western influence has since grown to encircle the globe. At no time can we find a federation of ten states (the ten toes) in the West. The concept of nation-states in Europe is a relatively recent development.

"Not until the Glorious Revolution of 1688...was the English monarchy a solid institution." (From Dawn to Decadence in Five-hundred Years. J.Barzun; Harper Collins, 2000; p.240).

We must conclude that the destruction of the Image of Empire remains to the future. The European Union almost feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy, but there are presently 15 members and others are applying.

Our overall lesson taken from the Image of Empire is that God set it up and God will demolish it in His time. We may say that it does not make sense that God should set up a pagan empire, but that would be to deny the good that civilization in general performs. Jesus was born at what was then the cross-roads of the nations. The Apostles made great progress at a time when there was relative peace in the world on good Roman roads, using the universal Greek language and its clear modes of thought. The Gospel reached the frontiers of the then-known world in about 50 years.

How will it all end? There are two models of the Kingdom. Matthew 13 portrays the Kingdom as seed in the fields or yeast in dough, starting small, infiltrating, and coexisting with evil until the time of harvest. Daniel 2, Psalm 2 and Revelation’ portray the Kingdom as destroying the world-system violently. To harmonize, we may live in the "time of the yeast." when the Kingdom is still expanding and growing. The King has commanded us to "occupy till I come" (Lk.19:13). T hen He will smash the world empire and finish the job of transforming the world into the Kingdom of God, a rule of righteousness and peace. But since God almost always uses human agency to accomplish His purposes, we may ask what power or coalition of powers could perform this awesome task.

What message for Israel then ?

What message for Nebuchadnezzar?

What message for us now?

The Head of the Image of Empire struck at the City of God (Jerusalem) and displaced it. God will strike at the foot of the Image of Empire and pulverize it.


P. S. The image (Fig.1) is that of Ashurnasirpal II, a god-king of the Assyrians, an image that Daniel could probably relate to. It is copied from "The Ancient Near East". Vol.1. .JB. Pritchard, Edit.; #118 in the appendix, with color added.