Sovereign over all

The Tower of Babel incident is echoed in the Book of Daniel. The new ruler of “Shinar,” Nebuchadnezzar, gathered all nations to pay homage to the great golden image he set up in the “Plain of Dura.” His empire was not a new political entity, but the latest incarnation of the ancient effort to unite humanity under one overlord.

In the Book of Genesis, God stopped the rulers of Babel from completing the “high tower” in the “plain of Shinar” by diversifying the single language spoken at the time and dispersing mankind across the Earth. That story presents the origins of the later Neo-Babylonian Empire ruled by Nebuchadnezzar - (Genesis 11:1-9).

Sovereign - Photo by Will Turner on Unsplash
[Sovereign - Photo by Will Turner on Unsplash]

The “
whole Earth was of one language.” The descendants of Noah migrated to Mesopotamia and dwelt “in the land of Shinar,” the Hebrew equivalent of ‘Sumer.’ There, they began to build a city with a high tower that would “reach the heavens and, thus, make us a name, lest we be scattered across the Earth.”

God commanded Adam to “multiply, replenish and subdue the Earth,” the very command reiterated to Noah after the Flood. Nevertheless, instead of heeding the Divine directive, humanity moved to Mesopotamia and built a new civilization to “make a name” for itself. ‘Babylon’ is characterized in the Bible by its arrogance - (Genesis 1:28, 9:1, Isaiah 14:13-14, Jeremiah 32:20).

If humanity united under one language, its wickedness would know no limits. God caused the nations to spread by confounding human languages, and thereby  He thwarted the first attempt at forming a centralized imperial regime.

The Bible calls this Mesopotamian city ‘Babel’, where God “confounded the language of all the Earth.” The name may be related to the Hebrew word balal, meaning, “confusion.” The “whole Earth was of one speech.” When men began to dwell in “Shinar,” they built a city with a tower of “great height” in the “plain” to mark their achievements and prevent the dispersal of humanity.

Likewise, King Nebuchadnezzar attempted to reverse God’s earlier judgment by gathering representatives from every nation to be educated in the culture and language of Babylon, the contemporary “tongue” of the presumptive World Empire. He commanded all nations to pay homage to the “great image” he had “set up in the plain of Dura,” and he decreed that “all peoples, races, and tongues” should bow before it.

The whole Earth would be united under his sovereignty by the universal use of the Babylonian “tongue” and the worship of Nebuchadnezzar’s great image - (Genesis 11:2, Daniel 3:1-7).

Despite appearances, the Book of Daniel insists from its first paragraph that God reigns over kingdoms and empires. He alone grants rulership to whomever He pleases - (Daniel 1:1-2, 2:20-21, 4:17).

The Book begins by recounting how Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and removed the golden vessels from the Temple to the “treasure-house of his god in the land of Shinar.” While he attributed this to the gods of Babylon, it occurred because “the Lord gave it into the king’s hand.”

The subjugation of Judah created a theological dilemma for patriotic Jews since the Babylonians had conquered what remained of the Kingdom of Judah. Did not the name of their new overlord, ‘Nebuchadnezzar’, include the name of the Mesopotamian god Nebo’? Had not pagan gods triumphed over the God of Israel?

The latest “King of Babel” was attempting to reverse the ancient decree of God by seizing His “house,” gathering scattered nations back to “Shinar,” and imposing his pagan tongue on one and all.  Judah’s tribute included high-ranking exiles sent to Babylon to be educated in the “wisdom” and the language of Mesopotamia.

This was a national catastrophe for the Jewish nation. Nevertheless, the Book of Daniel declares that God gave Judah to Babylonian overlordship - (Daniel 1:4).

The Hebrew verb translated as “gave” is applied several times in the Book’s first chapter. God gave the kingdom into the “hand of Nebuchadnezzar.” Daniel was “given favor and sympathy with the prince of the eunuchs.” Yahweh gave Daniel and his companions “knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom,” moreover, Daniel was “given” understanding in all visions and dreams.

The Babylonian king put Daniel and his friends to the test. He “found them ten times better than all the scribes and enchanters of his realm.” Therefore, they were promoted to serve in his court. Despite the disaster that had befallen Judah, subsequent events demonstrated that God used the lowly Jewish exiles to achieve His purposes and direct the course of human history - (Daniel 1:17-20).


Events occurred in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar, well before Daniel’s Babylonian education was completed. His interpretation of the king’s dream was not attributable to his newly acquired knowledge, but to the “discernment in all visions and dreams” given to him by God.

Nebuchadnezzar was troubled by his dream. Therefore, he commanded the wise men of Babylon to reveal its contents and meaning. Enraged at their inability to do so, he ordered the destruction of all the wise men of Babylon.

Daniel prayed for the revelation of “this mystery.” God responded by revealing the king’s dream and its interpretation.  In response, Daniel praised the God who - “removes kings and sets up kings… He was the One Who reveals the deep and hidden things…for the matter of the king have you made known to us.”

Daniel revealed the dream and its interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar. Through the prophet, God showed the Babylonian ruler “what things must come to pass in latter days” - (Daniel 2:19-45).

The dream was of a large image with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron, and feet, partly iron and partly clay. A stone “cut out without hands" struck the image on its feet, shattering it into pieces. The stone became a “great mountain and filled the whole Earth.”

The “golden head” represented Nebuchadnezzar. The silver breast symbolized an inferior kingdom that would succeed him, likewise, the brass belly and thighs. The stone carved “without hands” represented the final kingdom of God, one that would “break in pieces and consume all” four preceding regimes. “God had shown the king what things must come to pass after these things” - (Daniel 2:37).

Nebuchadnezzar prostrated himself before Daniel and exalted him to rule over the province of Babylon. He declared that Daniel served “the God of gods, Lord of kings, and the Revealer of mysteries.”

Hence, the mighty pagan ruler acknowledged God’s sovereignty over nations and history. Nebuchadnezzar’s sovereignty was derived from the “Most-High God.” In this way, the God of Israel revealed the future of the World Empire. The rise of empires and kingdoms was under His control.


In Chapter 3, the king attempted to implement his dream by “making an image of gold.” The entire image was covered in gold, not just its head. He would magnify his achievements and declare to mankind that his kingdom would rule the Earth and stand forever. Had he not dreamed it?

All the “satraps, nobles, pashas, chief judges, treasurers, judges, lawyers, and all provincial governors were assembled to the dedication of the image… and they stood before it.” They were commanded to “render homage to the image that the king had set up.” Anyone who refused would be cast into a fiery furnace - (Daniel 3:1-6).

The “great image” represented his sovereignty over all the “peoples, races and tongues.” The Aramaic verb translated as “set up” is the same as the one used in Daniel’s declaration that the God of Heaven “sets up” and removes kings. Nine times in Chapter 3 the text states that Nebuchadnezzar “set up” his image, a Babylonian challenge to the sovereignty of the God of Israel.

The Chaldean “wise men” used the situation to settle scores for their earlier loss of face. Though loyal to the king, the Jewish exiles would not worship the idolatrous image. When Nebuchadnezzar heard this, he gave the three Jewish exiles a stark choice - Give allegiance to the image or suffer a fiery death. After all, “Who is the god that shall deliver you out of my hand?

The three condemned men were cast into the furnace but miraculously survived. Nebuchadnezzar saw them “walking in the fire” with a fourth figure, one he described as “like a son of the gods. He summoned the three men to leave the furnace and addressed them as the “Servants of the Most-High God.”

The king then “blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego” since He had “changed the king’s word” by delivering His “servants.” Nebuchadnezzar issued a decree to “all peoples, nations and tongues” that anyone who spoke ill of Israel’s God would be slain - (Daniel 3:13-25).

Once more praise and acknowledgment of God were heard on the lips of the powerful pagan ruler. The ruler of the latest incarnation of the World Empire acknowledged the sovereignty of the God of Israel over the affairs of men and kingdoms. The presumptions and machinations of the world’s most powerful political machine could not thwart His purposes.

History remembers Nebuchadnezzar as a great builder and conqueror who established an empire from the Persian Gulf to the gates of Egypt, a realm mightier than any that preceded it. In contrast, Scripture remembers him as an instrument employed by God to achieve His ends, despite the arrogance and plans of the Babylonian ruler.

The Book of Daniel demonstrates that the God of Daniel steers the course of History according to His purposes, including the rise and fall of empires, emperors, and despots. The plans, intentions, and dictates of even the most powerful human ruler do not thwart His purposes, and the defeat of His people by a pagan power does not impede His redemptive plans for humanity and the nations.

  • God Grants Rulership - (God gave the kingdom of Judah into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, but He also equipped Daniel and his companions for service in the court of Babylon)
  • Imperial Idolatry - (Daniel and his three companions refused to participate in the religious rituals of the Babylonian Empire – Daniel 1:14)
  • The Great Golden Image - (Nebuchadnezzar implemented his dream by “setting up” the great golden image as he imagined it to glorify his majesty and realm)