Empires and His Kingdom

Only Daniel could reveal the troubling dream of the Babylonian King, unveiling the future of empires and the final kingdom. The second and third chapters of the Book of Daniel present a single story told in two parts. First, the Babylonian ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, dreams of an enormous image composed of several materials, which Daniel then interprets, thereby demonstrating the sovereignty of God over History. Second, Nebuchadnezzar attempts to implement his dream in his own way by erecting a great golden image in the “Plain of Dura.”

But in the Book, the God of Israel reigns over the affairs of men and kingdoms in an ironic fashion as He employs the words of powerless exiles to direct the course of History.

Earth globe - Photo by Gaël Gaborel - OrbisTerrae on Unsplash
[Photo by Gaël Gaborel - OrbisTerrae on Unsplash]

Both Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 end with the Babylonian king acknowledging the supremacy of the God of Israel, and Daniel’s interpretation of his dream provides the fourfold structure behind his later vision of the “
Four Beasts ascending from a chaotic Sea.”


Nebuchadnezzar dreamed a dream in the second year of his reign, which was the second year of Daniel’s education in Babylon. Thus, the events of Chapter 2 occurred before the completion of his three-year education in the “wisdom of Babylon,” and therefore, his ability to interpret the king’s dream was not due to anything acquired from Babylonian culture, literature, or science - (Daniel 1:5, 1:17, 2:1).

And in Chapter 2, the king summoned all the “astrologers, enchanters, sorcerers, and the Chaldeans to tell him his dream.” Daniel was not part of this group. His ability to interpret dreams was the gift of God, and it was not through any of the Mesopotamian arts of divination.

Unable to remember his dream, the king commanded the “Chaldeans” to make both his dream’s contents and its interpretation known. Three times he ordered them to do so, each time threatening death for failure, but also promising rewards for success.

The “wise men” acknowledged that only the “gods” could do what the king demanded, but the gods of Mesopotamia did “not dwell with flesh.” Unlike Babylonian deities, Yahweh dwelt among men and was well able to reveal both the dream and the interpretation.

Furious, Nebuchadnezzar determined to destroy “all the wise men of Babylon,” which would have included Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - (“The decree went forth that the wise men should be slain, and they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain”).

Next, Daniel approached the king and requested time to reveal the dream and its interpretation. To do that without any summons was to risk death. He then prayed with his companions for God to reveal the matter - (Daniel 2:17-19).

  • (Daniel 2:20-23) – “Daniel responded and said, Let the name of God be blessed from age to age, in that wisdom and might to him belong; And he changes times and seasons, removes kings and sets up kings, giving wisdom to the wise and knowledge to them who are skilled in understanding. He reveals the deep things and the hidden, knows what is in the darkness, and light with him does dwell. Unto you, O God of my fathers, do I render thanks and praise in that wisdom, and might you have given to me; yea, already you have made known to me that which we desired of thee, for the matter of the king have you made known unto us.”

Daniel’s thanksgiving gives expression to the theological center of the book - God gives the nations to whomever He pleases. True wisdom belongs to the One who grants it to His lowliest servant, and He is sovereign over the Cosmos and History.

Another class of Babylonian “experts” is then introduced, the “astrologers.” This translates the Aramaic term gezar (Strong’s - #H1505), which means “cut, to divide” - the astrologers were known as the “dividers of the heavens,” reflecting their practice of dividing the heavens into spheres of influence - (Daniel 2:27-28).


To Daniel, God revealed what “must come to pass IN LATER DAYS.” The chronological reference is ambiguous. It means no more than a point in the future. The same ambiguity is found in verse 45 - “God made known to the king what shall come to pass after this.”

Next, Daniel described the contents of the dream to the king. Nebuchadnezzar saw a colossal image with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and with both feet of mixed iron and clay. The entire image represented a single entity, despite its several components.

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

The image of the “stone cut without hands” reflects the Hebrew practice of building altars with uncut stones. The common connection of God’s dwelling place to a great mountain also lies in the background - (Exodus 15:17-18, 20:22-25, Psalm 78:54, Micah 4:1, Isaiah 11:9, 66:20).

Daniel declared that 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”).

That the Babylonian king was the head suggests that Babylon was the first great World Empire. And that makes good sense since Babylon was linked previously to the “Land of Shinar” where the original Sumerian civilization was founded in the city of “Babel” - (Genesis 10:10, 11:1-9).

The Book of Daniel provides limited information about the second and third kingdoms.  The second was made of silver, and therefore, it is “inferior” to the first. The third was represented by bronze, and it would “bear rule over all the earth.” The text does not explain how the second kingdom was “inferior,” though its “breast and arms of silver” suggest internal division.

Whether the third and fourth kingdoms were also “inferior” to Babylon is not stated, though the decreasing value of each metal/material makes that a strong possibility. Silver is less valuable than gold, bronze than silver, and so on. The third kingdom would “rule over all the earth,” signifying its political and military prowess.

The fourth kingdom would be strong as iron because it “shatters and crushes all things.” Precisely who or what would be crushed is not stated. The comparison indicates no more than its ability to destroy.

The feet and toes were “part of clay and part of iron.” The two lower legs were of unmixed iron. The mixture represents division. It would be strong like iron, but also brittle like clay that is used for pottery.

The mixed materials in the feet and toes suggest brittleness in the latter part of the kingdom. While the toes and feet were composed of clay and iron, in the interpretation, the two materials are treated together. No significance is assigned to the distinction between toes and feet or to their number, presumably ten.

The mixture is explained in verse 43 - “They shall mingle themselves with the seed of men, but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron does not mingle with clay.” No information is provided about the identities of the two groups; the stress is on the attempt to “comingle with the seed of men.”

The interpretation concludes with the establishment of God’s everlasting kingdom.  “In the days of those kings,” God would establish His domain.

The clause, “those kings,” must refer to the four kingdoms symbolized by the entire image. The stone “cut without hands” struck the single image on its feet and shattered “all these kingdoms.”

Thus, sovereignty passed from one kingdom to the next, but the earlier regimes did not disappear entirely. Something from each survived in the three successive realms until the final destruction of the entire image at the end of the age.

The image was destroyed by the stone “cut from the mountain,” which symbolized the “kingdom which shall never be destroyed.” To be “cut out without hands” points to divine intervention, not 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.”

Nebuchadnezzar then prostrated himself before Daniel, an act that anticipated the replacement of the World Empire by the kingdom of God. Thus, the sovereign “head of fine gold” paid homage to the powerless representative of the kingdom that would be “cut out without hands,” namely, Daniel.

In verse 35, the stone “became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.” So, likewise, the pagan king made Daniel great, gave him authority to govern the “whole province of Babylon,” and appointed him the “great one over all the wise men of Babylon.” The dream found its proleptic fulfillment in the elevation of Daniel to the governorship of the province.

The chapter concludes by reaffirming through the words of Nebuchadnezzar the central theme of the book - Yahweh is the “God of gods, Lord of kings.” Wittingly or not, he acknowledged that his authority was derived from the God of Israel.

Daniel’s reward was his elevation to govern the “whole province.” His three Jewish friends participated in this authority “over the affairs of the province.” Already, the everlasting kingdom was establishing itself as God empowered Daniel in the pagan “Land of Shinar.”

In the Book of Revelation, the declaration of Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar is echoed four times - the “revelation (apokalupsis) of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants, what things must come to pass (ha dei genesthai) soon.” But the chronological reference to “later days” is changed to “soon” - (Revelation 1:1-3, 1:19, 4:1, 22:6).

What for Daniel were predictions awaiting fulfillment in a remote future find their fulfillment following the death and resurrection of Jesus. In him, the era of fulfillment arrived, and the kingdom of God “cut out of stone without hands” was and is progressing throughout the Earth, for with his exaltation to rule from God’s throne, the “season is now at hand.”