Daniel's Image: A Key to Things to Come

~By Gary Headrick~

(Daniel 1:18-2:49)

The year was 605 BC. Daniel and his young friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, found themselves in a strange country far from their homes in Jerusalem. Brought to Babylon as captives, they were drafted into royal service in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.

Royalty Recognizes Daniel (1:18-21)

God had blessed Daniel and his companions with keen intellects and unusual insight. In Babylon, known as a worldwide center of culture and learning, these young Jewish men read widely and learned eagerly. We are told that ". . . God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: . . ." (1:17).

They also grew in strength because they asked permission to follow the Jewish dietary laws, which forbade the use of (1) treif, or unkosher meats, and (2) food or wine offered to idols (vv. 8-16). When they were finally presented to Nebuchadnezzar, the king was impressed with what he saw: "And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king enquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm" (v. 20).

Daniel Requests A Reprieve (2:1-16)

A year or so later, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that troubled him greatly. He summoned the royal magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers, demanding that they tell him not only the meaning of the dream, but also the content of the dream. Twice the wise men protested, declaring that what the king required of them was an utter impossibility. Frustrated and enraged, Nebuchadnezzar ordered the immediate execution of his entire staff of royal wise men, including Daniel and his three friends. "And the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain; and they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain" (v. 13).

Daniel, whose own name was on the king's "hit list," boldly went directly to the king and asked for more time ". . . that he might tell the king the interpretation" (v. 16).

Daniel Recruits Reinforcements (2:17-18)

Daniel evidently knew something about the effectiveness of united prayer (Matt. 18:18-20; James 5: 13-16). So when he returned home, he told Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah what had happened. Daniel urged them to join him in a concert of prayer, pleading that God would spare their lives by revealing the meaning of the king's dream.

Daniel Receives A Revelation (2:19-23)

During the night, the Lord revealed "the secret" of the king's dream to Daniel in a vision. Daniel responded with a prayer of thanksgiving: "I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast now made known unto us the king's matter" (v. 23).

Daniel Rescues His Rivals (2:24-25)

Daniel went to Arioch, captain of the king's guard, and told him not to kill any more of the wise men of Babylon. He said, ". . . Destroy not the wise men of Babylon: bring me in before the king, and I will shew unto the king the interpretation" (v. 24).

Daniel Resolves The Riddle (2:26-45)

When he stood before the king, Daniel unveiled both the dream and its meaning. First, he explained that King Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed about a huge, towering statue (v. 31). Its head was made of gold; its breast and arms of silver, its abdomen and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, and its feet a mixture of iron and clay (vv. 32-33).

In his dream, Daniel explained, the king had watched as a stone cut out without hands ". . . 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" (vv. 34-35).

Daniel went on to explain to the king that God had used this vision to reveal the course of future events. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the king's vision foretold a succession of five world empires. From Daniel's perspective in the sixth century BC, one of these empires was in the present (Babylon) and the other four were yet future.

The Babylonians

Nebuchadnezzar himself was the head of gold (v. 38), representing the wealthy, powerful, and autocratic Babylonian Empire (626-539 BC). Yet, according to the prophecy, Babylon would eventually fall to another kingdom. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, "And after thee shall arise another kingdom . . ." (v. 39).

This was quite a bold pronouncement-saying that the mighty Babylonian Empire would fall. Its capital city of Babylon, situated on the Euphrates River in what is now Iraq, was one of the greatest fortified cities of ancient times. Babylon was regarded as impregnable from the outside because its walls were so massive.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus visited the city within a hundred years of its fall, or about 440 BC, when the walls were still largely intact. He reported that a four-horse chariot patrolled the top of the walls and could negotiate a 180-degree turn without being in danger of falling off the edge.

Babylon was also a center of world commerce and learning. According to Herodotus, visitors would enter Babylon through one of a hundred gates along the perimeter of its walls. The main entrance was at the ornate Gate of Ishtar. From there, you would follow Procession Street, which led to the Temple of Marduk, chief god of Babylon. This great Temple was 440 yards wide and 440 yards long, or roughly equivalent to the area of forty football fields, making it larger than many modern-day sports stadiums.

Near the Temple stood a great terraced tower (or, ziggurat), 300 feet high, built in seven receding stories with a sloping ramp spiraling around it to the top. (Some scholars believe this structure may have been what was left of the original Tower of Babel.) A little farther down Procession Street you would see the spectacular Hanging Gardens of Babylon (one of the legendary Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), built by Nebuchadnezzar for one of his homesick wives.

No wonder Babylon was regarded as unconquerable! Nonetheless, Daniel revealed to King Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom would come to an end.

Sure enough, Daniel lived to see his prophecy fulfilled. It happened about 65 years later, when Daniel would have been in his 80s. Belshazzar (the son of King Nabonidus, who had married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar) was ruler of Babylon. The Persians had conquered the Medes, and the two groups merged into quite a formidable force. When the Medo-Persians descended on Babylon, how- ever, the attack was successfully repelled. Belshazzar decided the victory was cause for celebration, so he threw a big bash for a thousand of his nobles (5:1-2).

Although the party began as an affair of state, it quickly degenerated into a drunken orgy. As King Belshazzar became intoxicated, a perverse thought occurred to him. Wouldn't it be great fun to use the gold and silver goblets that his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Jerusalem Temple half a century earlier? He gave the order and the sacred vessels from the Temple were brought out from the royal treasury. As if to add insult to injury, as these pagans drank wine from the sacred vessels, they praised the false gods of Babylon (5:4).

Suddenly, a human hand appeared out of nowhere, like a ghost, and began writing on the plaster of the wall. The revelry stopped. Every eye was on the hovering hand as it scratched out its mysterious message: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHAR- SIN. Then it disappeared. The king was so frightened, the Bible says his knees were knocking together (5:6).

Again they summoned Daniel and he explained the meaning of the cryptic writing (5:17-28). Belshazzar's kingdom had been "numbered" (Mene) for destruction, he said. The king had been "weighed" (Tekel) on God's scales and found wanting. Babylon would be "divided" (Upharsin, or Peres) and given to the Medo-Persians. So what was intended to be a victory celebration turned out to be a funeral service for the mighty Babylonian Empire.

That very night, Belshazzar was slain and Darius the Mede became ruler of Babylon (vv. 30-31). According to one legend, the Medo-Persians diverted the flow of the Euphrates so they could use the river bed to go under Babylon's wall. Most historians, however, believe the gates of Babylon were opened from the inside by traitors while the king and his nobles were engaged in their drunken orgy.

So the prophecy God gave King Nebuchadnezzar through Daniel came to pass. The Babylonian Empire was no more. It gave way to the Medo-Persian Empire in 539 BC.

The Medo-Persians

The Medo-Persian Empire was the second world kingdom in the king's dream. It was represented on Daniel's image by its chest and arms of silver (v. 32) and extended from 539 to 330 BC.

Interestingly, the Medes and the Persians were not Semitic. They were descendants of Japheth rather than of Shem. Demographers and linguists classify them as Indo-Europeans, which is the language family from which most present-day inhabitants of Western Europe are descended.

The Medes and the Persians were also distinguished by the fact that both were followers of the religion of Zoroaster. Even today, the Iranians are proud of the fact that they are not Arabs (Semites), like most of their Mideast neighbors, but Persians (Japhethites).

Historically, the Medes were the first ones to gain preeminence. They ruled the Persians to the east and the Assyrians to the west. Then, in 550 BC, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered the Medes. Rather than subjugating the Medes, however, Cyrus wisely decided to make them feel more like partners. Accordingly, he placed his former adversaries in important positions of responsibility throughout his empire. That is why, when Babylon fell, Cyrus sent Darius the Mede to be governor of Babylon.

Ancient inscriptions on clay tablets explain that Cyrus appointed a Mede named "Gubaru" (evidently Darius' Chaldean name) governor of the newly conquered Babylonian terri- tories. Giving foreigners local names was not unusual in those days (1:7).

Two arms adjoining one torso were fitting symbols for the unification of the Medes and the Persians in one empire. However, just as silver is less valuable than gold, the Medo-Persian Empire was inferior to Babylon in terms of grandeur and power. And just as silver is harder than gold, the Medo-Persian Empire would be stronger than Babylon in terms of endurance. That is, it would last longer than its predecessor.

Note that as we work our way down the image, each of the last four world empires endures longer than the one before. Medo-Persia ruled about a hundred years longer than Babylon; Greece ruled about a hundred years longer than Medo-Persia; and Rome ruled about a hundred years longer than Greece.

Finally, the Kingdom of God lasts for a thousand years and then transitions into the Eternal State, making it the most enduring kingdom of all.

So each successive kingdom lasts longer than the one before it, signified by the fact that the metals increase in hardness. But they also decrease in value, signifying a decline in power, majesty, and grand- eur as we move downward on the statue. The most powerful and majestic empire of all was Babylon, the head of gold, because Nebuchadnezzar was incredibly wealthy and ruled the world single-handedly. God gave Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty, greatness, glory, and splendor (5:18). Peoples, nations, and men of every language dreaded and feared him (v. 19).

The Greeks

The bronze abdomen and thighs of the statue represented the Greco-Macedonian Empire established by Alexander the Great, extending from 330 to 63 BC. Alexander was a remarkable man. He died before the age of 33, yet managed to conquer virtually all of the known world in his time. According to legend, after he defeated King Porus in India, Alexander sat down and cried because there were no other lands for him to conquer. His empire stretched from the Balkans in Eastern Europe to beyond the Indus Valley in India, an expanse of some 4,000 miles. This was the third world empire represented by Daniel's image.

The Romans

The fourth world empire was the Roman Empire, signified by the image's two iron legs. Again, notice the progression. We started out with gold (Babylon), then silver (Medo-Persia), then bronze (Greece), and finally iron (Rome). The metals are increasing in hardness, or durability. Gold is a relatively soft metal, silver a little harder, bronze even harder, and iron the hardest of all. Again, this is God's way of telling Daniel that each of these empires would last longer than the one before it. Daniel was prophesying about events that would happen centuries after he had passed from the scene, yet he did so with incredible accuracy:

The Babylonian Empire-626- 539 BC (87 years);

The Medo-Persian Empire-539- 330 BC (209 years);

The Greco-Macedonian Empire- 330-63 BC (267 years); and

The Roman Empire-63 BC-AD 330 (393 years).

The imagery of two legs and feet is appropriate because, in retrospect, we know the Roman Empire existed in two spheres-east and west. Daniel prophesied that the empire would eventually split in half: "And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided . . ." (Dan. 2:41).

In AD 330, almost a thousand years after Daniel penned this prophecy, it was fulfilled. The Emperor Constantine marked the demise of the Roman Empire by moving his capital to the Greek city of Byzantium on the Black Sea. He renamed the city Constantinople in his own honor. The eastern (Byzantine) empire was headquartered at Constantinople and the western empire was headquartered at Rome.

However, something else about this prophecy draws our attention. Daniel says the feet and toes of the image are made of iron with a mixture of clay (v. 41), meaning that as this empire draws to a close, it becomes partly strong and partly "broken" (literally, "brittle"). In Verse 43, he explains that the frailty occurs because the people of this fourth kingdom are not solidly united. He says, "They shall not cleave to one another." So the feet and toes describe a very loose federation of the Roman Empire. But when is this?

An important clue is in the next verse. Daniel says, "And in the days of these kings [that is, the kings of this loosely aligned Roman federation] 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 for ever."

This leaves us with only one possibility. The Millennial Kingdom is the only one of these five successive world empires that will not "be left to other people." When Babylon fell, the Medo-Persians took over. When Medo-Persia fell, the Greeks took over. When Greece fell, the Romans took over. And when Rome falls, according to this passage, the Kingdom of God takes over.

But how can this be? The Roman Empire fell almost 1,700 years ago-but where is the Kingdom? Does this mean the Kingdom of God is 1,700 years behind schedule? Or should we spiritualize the Kingdom promises and not take them literally, as the preterists, amillennialists, and others have done?

No, there is another solution. The promises of a coming earthly Kingdom are just as valid, and just as binding, as they ever were. Remember that in God's prophetic timetable, the Church Age (i.e., the period from Pentecost to the Rapture) is parenthetical. It is the time-space of indeterminate duration between the 69th and 70th "weeks" of Daniel 9:20-27. When the Messiah of Israel was rejected in Jerusalem by the Sanhedrin (Matt. 26:57- 68), the vast, sweeping pendulum of God's prophetic "clock" ground to a halt. No one knew how long the pause in God's program would last. During this interim period, Israel was temporarily set aside so the Gospel could be taken to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:25).

Then, in 1948, Israel became a sovereign nation again for the first time since the Babylonian Captivity more than 2,500 years ago. In 1967, the Jews took possession of the entire city of Jerusalem for the first time since AD 70. The prophetic "fig tree" (i.e., Israel) was showing signs of life (Matt. 24:32).

One day soon, after almost 2,000 years of silence, the "clock" will again begin ticking. A comprehensive Mideast peace accord, perhaps brokered by the European Union, will mark the beginning of Daniel's 70th "week" (Dan. 9:27). The feet and toes of Daniel's image, then, point to a latter-day resurrection of the ancient Roman Empire. In other words, Daniel is predicting that in the last days, the world will once again be ruled by Romans, or Europeans. In biblical terms, we would call them Japhethites, people of European ancestry. This 2,000-year interlude explains why all Daniel could see was the continuity of Roman (Japhetic) world-rule right up to the time of the Messiah's coming.

The ten "toes" of Daniel's image represent ten leaders of a latter-day federation that will rule the world. Daniel 7:24 confirms that the ten horns are "ten kings that shall arise" prior to the Messiah's coming (see also Rev. 17:12). That's how we know the ten toes of Daniel's image represent ten kings, or ten governments. In the 1970s, Hal Lindsey (author of The Late, Great Planet Earth), Jack Van Impe, and other prophetic teachers, popularized the notion that these ten kings were the leaders of ten European Common Market nations. This seemed logical, since there were ten member nations back in those days.

In 1986, however, the number grew to 12 with the addition of Portugal and Spain. More recently, on January 1, 1995, Austria, Finland, and Sweden were added to the European Union, bringing the current total to 15, and making this interpretation unlikely.

Today, many of us believe Daniel is describing more of a global arrangement-an end-time "New World Order," with the globe divided into ten regions. Arno Froese of the Midnight Call ministry suggests the following ten global economic power structures: (1) Europe, (2) the Far East, (3) the Middle East and Northern Africa, (4) North America, (5) South America, (6) South Asia, (7) Central Asia, (8) Australia and New Zealand, (9) Southern Africa, and (10) Central Africa.

Much like its ancient, two-legged predecessor, this revived Roman Empire exists in two spheres-east (Europe) and west (North America). This "New World Order" is presided over by a political ruler from Europe known as the Antichrist, or the anti-Messiah. In Daniel 7:7, he is called "the Beast."

Nonetheless, the Antichrist will ultimately fail. His kingdom will be shattered at the Second Coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God will fill "the whole earth." That was Daniel's interpretation of the king's dream-a panoramic vision of 2,500 years of world history beginning with ancient Babylon and extending to the Second Coming and beyond.

The King Rewards Daniel With Rulership (2:46-49)

Nebuchadnezzar was awe-struck. Daniel had succeeded in doing what none of his other wise men could do. The king acknowledged Daniel's God as ". . . a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, . . ." (v. 47). He made Daniel governor of the whole province of Babylon and placed all of the wise men, Daniel's former rivals, under his authority.

Because of their dynamic faith and unswerving loyalty, these young Jewish men were placed in positions where they would be used by God in even greater ways in the days to come.

The tune playing on this page is called "As The Deer" and is by Rich Mullins

"As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God."
Psalm 42:1

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