24 May 2021

Five Kingdoms

The Babylonian King dreamed of a fourfold world kingdom that will be replaced by the kingdom of God

Globe Africa - Photo by Maksim Shutov on Unsplash
In interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel described the fourfold structure of the World-Power, the basis of his later vision of four “
beasts ascending from the sea.” Beginning with Babylon, four kingdoms would arise in succession. But a fifth appeared at the end of the dream, one destined to replace its four predecessors - [Photo by Maksim Shutov on Unsplash].

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream he could not remember. Troubled, he summoned all the “astrologers, enchanters, sorcerers and the Chaldeans to tell him his dream,” and commanded them to reveal its contents.

The “Chaldeans” declared that only the gods could do what the king demanded. Furious at their response, he determined to destroy “all the wise men of Babylon,” an action that would have included Daniel and his Jewish companions - (“The decree went forth that the wise men should be slain, and they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain”).

However, Daniel approached the king and requested time to reveal the dream and its interpretation. Then, he and his companions prayed for God to reveal the matter. When Yahweh answered his prayer, Daniel declared:
  • (Daniel 2:20-23) – “Let the name of God be blessed from age to age, for wisdom and might belong to him. And he changes times and seasons, removes kings, and sets up kings, giving wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who are skilled in understanding. He reveals the deep things and the hidden, knows what is in the darkness and light with him dwells. Unto you, O God of my fathers, do I render thanks and praise, for wisdom and might you have given to me; yea, already you have made known to me that which we desired of you, for the matter of the king have you made known to us.”
His words anticipated the interpretation of the dream and expressed the theological core of his book - God gives the nations to whomever He wills. And by the king’s dream, God had revealed what “must come to pass in later days.”

He next described the contents of the dream. Nebuchadnezzar saw a colossal image consisting of a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, and legs of iron with both feet of mixed iron and clay. The image represented a single entity despite its four divisions.

Next, the king saw a “stone cut out without hands” that struck the feet of the great image, pulverizing the “iron, clay, brass, silver and gold.” The stone then “became a great mountain that filled the whole earth.”

In the interpretation, Daniel declared Nebuchadnezzar was “the king of kings.” Nevertheless, his kingship was derived from “the God of the heavens.” The head of gold represented him (“You are the head of gold”), and, so, Babylon was the first of the four empires that would comprise the World-Power.

Daniel provided little information about the second and the third kingdoms.  The second was made of silver and was “inferior” to the head of gold. The third was represented by bronze. It would “bear rule over all the earth,” signifying its political and military prowess.

The fourth kingdom was strong as iron - it “shattered and crushed all things.” Just like iron crushes, this empire would “shatter and crush.” The feet and toes of the final realm were “partly clay and partly iron,” a mixture that suggests division. It would be strong like iron but brittle like clay.

The interpretation concluded with the establishment of the everlasting kingdom of God, the “fifth” and final kingdom. Yahweh would establish his kingdom “in the days of those kings,” referring to the four preceding realms. Thus, the stone that was carved “without hands” struck the single “great image” on its feet, shattering “all these kingdoms.” Sovereignty passed from one kingdom to the next, but the earlier regimes did not disappear completely. Something from each survived in its successors until the final destruction of the entire structure.

The image was destroyed by the stone “cut from the mountain,” and this symbolized a “kingdom that will never be destroyed.” Its sovereignty “shall never be left to another people.” To be “cut out without hands” points to divine intervention, not to human effort. Daniel concluded his interpretation:
  • The great God has made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain and the interpretation thereof sure.”
In response, Nebuchadnezzar prostrated himself before Daniel, foreshadowing the future replacement of the World-Power by the kingdom of God. Thus, the sovereign “head of fine gold” lay prostrate before the powerless representative of the kingdom that was “cut out without hands.”

This stone “became a great mountain that filled the whole earth.” Likewise, the pagan king of Babylon made Daniel great, gave him authority to govern the “whole province of Babylon,” and appointed him a “great one over all the wise men of Babylon.” In this way, the dream found a proleptic fulfillment in the elevation of Daniel to the governorship of the province.

The chapter concludes by reaffirming the central theme of the book - Yahweh is the “God of gods, Lord of kings” - He is sovereign over the kingdoms of the world. Wittingly or not, the Babylonian king acknowledged that his authority was derived from the God of Israel.

At this point, the words of Daniel create as many questions as they answer.  Do the four kingdoms follow each other consecutively, or are they concurrent realities? Does each realm occupy the same territory? Who and what are the other three kingdoms (only the head of gold is identified - Nebuchadnezzar)?

What the story does is establish the fourfold structure of the World-Power that will be revealed in greater detail in the prophet’s later visions, especially the vision of the four “beasts ascending from the sea” and the “little horn” of the “fourth beast.” The latter is the figure that became the model for the single “beast from the sea” in Revelation, and the Apostle Paul’s “man of lawlessness” - (2 Thessalonians 2:1-9, Revelation 13:1-10).



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