Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
EXCURSUS E: THE FOUR KINGDOMS (Daniel 2, 7).
In the notes upon the parallel, though supplementary, vision contained in Daniel 2, 7 attention has been directed to each of the four empires which has hitherto governed the world. It has been explained in the notes that these four empires are the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Græco-Macedonian, and the Roman. The fourth empire in each case is succeeded by the kingdom of the Messiah, which in Daniel 2 is symbolised by a stone, but in Daniel 7:27 is described more clearly as the “kingdom of the people of the saints of the Most High.” This view of the four kingdoms is found in the early part of the second century A.D. maintained by the author of the epistle of Barnabas, who speaks of the ten kingdoms (Barn., Ep. iv. 4, 5) foretold by Daniel as then existing, and of the fourth beast as then reigning. The fragments of St. Hippolytus show that the same opinion prevailed in the Church a century later. The longer ecclesiastical commentaries of St. Jerome and Theodoret maintain the same opinion, which has been followed in modern times, with some modifications, by a large number of commentators.
A second view, of great antiquity, is mentioned by Porphyry, who flourished in the third century. His opinion coincided with the interpretation just mentioned up to a certain point. He made the panther, or third beast, represent Alexander the Great; but the fourth beast, according to him, meant the four successors of Alexander. He then enumerated up to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes those kings whom he conceived to have been most remarkable for persecuting God’s people in the times of the Ptolemies and Seleucidæ, and ultimately identified the little horn with Antiochus Epiphanes, in whose time he believed the Book of Daniel to have been written. This view has not been without support in recent times.
A third view, which has antiquity to support it, is due in the first instance to St. Ephraim Syrus, according to whose teaching the four kingdoms are the Babylonian, the Median, the Persian, and the Greek. He is careful, however, to point out that the fulfilment which the prophecy received in the times of the Maccabees is only typical of a further fulfilment to be expected in the last days. It exceeds the limit of a note to trace the origin of this opinion in the Syrian Church, and the development of it in modern times. It is sufficient to observe that, like Porphyry’s interpretation, it limits the horizon of the prophet chiefly to the Greek period.
This view, which, more or less modified, finds many adherents in the present day, rests upon the identification of the little horn in Daniel 7:8, with the little horn in Daniel 8:9. If Antiochus is the horn of Daniel 8, why should he not be hinted at in Daniel 7? and if so, why should not the goat (Daniel 8:5), which is known (Daniel 8:21) to be the kingdom of Greece, be identical with the fourth beast of Daniel 7? It is then argued that the period of persecution hinted at in Daniel 7:25 coincides with that which is mentioned in Daniel 9:27, being half a week, or three days and a half, and that the same measure of time occurs in Daniel 12:7. Is it possible, it is asked, that these similar measures of time represent different events? Again, it is observed that there is no interval mentioned as occurring between the last times and the times of the persecutions mentioned in Daniel 7, 8, 10-12, and also that the words in which Antiochus is predicted (Daniel 8:19) are spoken of as the “last end of indignation” and “the end.” This is stated to support the view that the predictions of Daniel are limited by the times of Antiochus.
On these grounds the persecution mentioned in Daniel 7:25 is supposed to be that of Antiochus. The Greek Empire is represented by the fourth beast, while the second and third beasts represent the Median and the Persian Empires respectively. But here the question arises, Are there any grounds for believing that Daniel intended to speak of a distinct Median Empire? The passages alleged in support are Daniel 5:28; Daniel 5:31; Daniel 6:8; Daniel 6:12; Daniel 6:15. Daniel states of Darius expressly that he was a Mede and of Median descent (Daniel 5:31; Daniel 9:1; Daniel 11:1), and, on the contrary, that Cyrus was a Persian (Daniel 6:28; Daniel 10:1). Also in Daniel 6:28 the writer appears to be contrasting Darius the Mede with Cyrus the Persian, as if each belonged to a different empire. And though the kings of Media and Persia are distinctly mentioned in Daniel 8:20, it is maintained that the unity of the Medo-Persian Empire is not established thereby, because the two horns, and not the body, of the goat are assumed to be the key of the vision. If the brief duration and slight importance of the so-called Median Empire is objected, it is replied that the importance of it to Israel was very great, for in the first year of it the exile terminated, and at that very time Darius was under the special protection of the Angel of the Lord (Daniel 11:1).
Upon this hypothesis the visions in Daniel 2, 7 are explained in the following manner:—The materials of which the feet of the image were formed corresponds to the two divisions of the Greek Empire noticed in Daniel 11, the iron representing the Ptolemies, the clay the Seleucidæ. The mixture of the iron and clay points to such attempts as are mentioned in Daniel 11:8; Daniel 11:17 to unite certain heterogeneous elements in the political world. The silver breasts and arms are the Median Empire, which was inferior to the Babylonian (Daniel 2:39). which, it is asserted, does not hold true of the Persian Empire. Then comes the Persian Empire, which, as Daniel interpreted the vision (Daniel 2:39), “bare rule over all.” Similarly, in Daniel 7, those who maintain the interpretation find no difficulty about the first beast; but the second beast is Darius the Mede; the three ribs are the three satrapies mentioned in Daniel 6:2 (St. Ephraim explains them of the Medes, the Babylonians, and the Persians). The command, “Arise, and devour much flesh,” means that the empire of Darius had a great future prospect, which he would not realise. Then the panther is Cyrus; the four wings are the Persians, Medes, Babylonians, and Egyptians; the four heads are four Persian kings, Cambyses, Smerdis, Darius Hystaspes, and the last, who is either Xerxes or Darius Codemannus. It remains that the fourth beast is the Greek Empire, the first which was of a totally distinct character from the Asiatic empires which had preceded it. The little horn is Antiochus Epiphanes, and the other ten horns are ten kings, who are not supposed to be reigning simultaneously; three of them, however, were contemporaneous with the little horn. The ten kings are assumed to be—(1) Seleucus Nicator, (2) Antiochus Soter, (3) Antiochus Theos, (4) Seleucus Callinicus, (5) Seleucus Ceraunus, (6) Antiochus the Great, (7) Seleucus Philopator, (8) Heliodorus, (9) Demetrius, (10) Ptolemy Philometor. The last three were deposed by Antiochus Epiphanes, the allusion being to Demetrius (Daniel 11:21) and to Ptolemy Philometor (Daniel 11:22-28). It is then alleged that all the events which are explicitly mentioned in Daniel 11 are figuratively expressed by the ten toes of the image and by the ten horns of the fourth beast.
In this interpretation there is much that appears plausible at first sight. It seems to make the whole plan of the book more distinct, and to introduce a symmetry and coherence among the several parts which is wanting to the interpretation given above. But though the truth is simple, everything simple is not true. Grave difficulties will be found, upon closer inspection, to underlie this hypothesis respecting the four kingdoms.
(1) What reason is there for identifying the little horn in Daniel 7:8 with the little horn in Daniel 8:9? In one case it grows up amongst ten, in the other out of four. In one case it destroys three of the other horns, in the other none. Or, to take Daniel’s own interpretation, the “kink of a fierce countenance” (Daniel 8:23) arises while the four horns are still in existence, though “in the latter time of their kingdom.” Bearing in mind that the ten toes of the image correspond to the ten horns of the fourth beast, there appears to be strong primâ facie evidence for supposing that the horizon of Daniel 8 is different from that of Daniel 2, 7, 11.
(2) Further consideration shows that Antiochus Epiphanes does not correspond with the little horn (Daniel 7), or with the king mentioned (Daniel 11:21, &c.). Antiochus is foretold (Daniel 8:9-12; Daniel 8:23-25) as “becoming great toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land, and waxing great even to the host of heaven,” &c.; but the person foretold in Daniel 7:8; Daniel 7:20; Daniel 7:25, “has a mouth speaking proud things,” &c. In no point do these two awful personages agree, except in blaspheming God and in making war against His people. They differ in many important respects.
(3) The measures of time, again, are different in each vision. Antiochus Epiphanes carries on his destructive work for 2,300 (or 1,150) days, but the Antichrist mentioned in Daniel 7:25 has the saints in his power for a “time, times, and the dividing of time.” By no possible calculation can these two measures of time be made identical. Nor can the same measure of time which occurs in Daniel 12:7 be identified either with the 1,290 days, or with the 1,335 days mentioned in Daniel 12:11-12.
(4) Further, in Daniel 8:9 “the last end of indignation” does not mean the end of all things, any more than it means the end of the captivity. It points to the persecution of Antiochus, when, for the last time in Jewish history, the innocent suffered for the guilt of the apostates. This was a persecution of which the adherence of the Jews to their religion was the cause. Politics provoked later persecutions, but in this they were involved in only a secondary manner. The plain question was, would the Jews suffer their religion to be Hellenised, or would they not? This, again, is alien to the thoughts contained in Daniel 7:21; Daniel 7:25.
(5) Nor is it clear that Daniel knew of a Median as distinct from a Persian Empire. If Darius “received the kingdom,” some superior power must have given it to him. If he was “made king,” some higher authority must have invested him with the sovereignty. Nor does history give us any reasons for supposing that there was at this time any broad national distinction between the Medes and Persians.
(6) Lastly, the empire of Alexander the Great does not correspond to the fourth empire, which is described in Daniel 2, 7. None of the elements of iron appear in it. The leading characteristic of it was not “breaking in pieces and bruising” other empires, but rather assimilation. The policy of it was to Hellenise them, to clothe their ideas in Greek forms, to unite widely separated nations which it had subdued, by treating them courteously, adopting their national customs, and by polishing the whole external with Greek culture.
Great and undoubted though the difficulties are which are contained in the interpretation given above in the Notes, they are not so great as those which are involved by the so-called “modern” interpretation just mentioned.
(1) The second year.—Nebuchadnezzar was proleptically spoken of as “king of Babylon” in Daniel 1:1, for his father did not die till after the battle of Carchemish. On the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, see Notes on 2Kings 24:1.)
Dreams.—Spoken of in Daniel 2:3 as “a dream.” The one dream consisted of several parts, and is therefore spoken of in the plural. For the effects of the dream upon the king’s mind, comp. Genesis 41:8.
His sleep brake.—i.e., his sleep finished. A similar use of the word occurs Daniel 6:18; Esther 6:1. The anxiety which the vision caused him prevented him from sleeping again. And no wonder. The battle of Carchemish, which forced Egypt to retire within her ancient frontiers, had indeed made Nebuchadnezzar master of all the district east of the Euphrates; but there was a growing power northward of him, the Median, which he may have dreaded, though at this time he was on good terms with it, and this may have increased his alarm, and led him to feel some presentiment of evil.
Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to shew the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king.(2) Magicians.—Heb. chartummim, so called, most probably, from the pencil or stylus with which they wrote. The word is elsewhere used of the Egyptian magicians. (See Schrader, Keil-Inschriften, p. 26; Records of the Past, vol. 1 p. 131.)
Astrologers.—Heb. ashshaphim, a name derived from the whisperings or mutterings made by them while employed in their incantations. They are mentioned by Daniel only.
Sorcerers.—Heb. mekashshaphim; are spoken of in the Pentateuch both as male and female, (e.g. Deuteronomy 18:10). They are mentioned by Isaiah (Isaiah 47:9; Isaiah 47:12) as prevalent in the Babylon of his days. Probably the Chaldæans spoken of in this verse did not form a separate class of magicians, but denoted the priests, such as those mentioned Herod. i. 181, and was contained in the first class of magicians mentioned in the verse. It appears that Daniel excelled (Daniel 1:17) in all classes of magic learning, whether it required a knowledge of “learning, wisdom, or dreams.”
And the king said unto them, I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit was troubled to know the dream.(3) I have dreamed.—It has been questioned whether the king had really forgotten his dream, or whether he only pretended to have done so in order that he might prove the skill of his wise men. The conduct of the Chaldæans (Daniel 2:10) makes the latter hypothesis possible. However, it is more in accordance with what is stated about the anxious condition of the king’s mind to assume that he remembered a portion of the dream, but that he had lost the general outline of it.
Then spake the Chaldeans to the king in Syriack, O king, live for ever: tell thy servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation.(4) In Syriack.—Probably a fresh title, indicating to the copyist that the Chaldee portion of the book begins here. It has been conjectured that this portion of the book (Daniel 2:4-7) is a Chaldee translation of an original Hebrew work, but there is no authority for the conjecture. God is about to reveal facts connected with the Gentile world, and therefore a Gentile language is used as the vehicle of the revelation. (See 1Timothy 2:3-4; Matthew 2:1-2).
The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me: if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill.(5) Is gone from me.—This difficult word, the etymology of which is very uncertain, appears only here and Daniel 2:8. It seems to mean, “The order has been published by me (comp. Esther 7:7; Isaiah 45:23), and therefore cannot be recalled.”
Cut in pieces.—This was by no means an uncommon form of punishment: (See Smith’s Assurbanipal, pp. 137, 245.)
But if ye shew the dream, and the interpretation thereof, ye shall receive of me gifts and rewards and great honour: therefore shew me the dream, and the interpretation thereof.(6) Rewards.—A word of uncertain meaning. It occurs again Daniel 5:17, and probably is correctly rendered.
They answered again and said, Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation of it.(7) Let the king tell.—The request was reasonable enough, according to the principles of Babylonian sorcery. Nebuchadnezzar’s doubts, however, were awakened, and he was not sure of the veracity of his magicians. He speaks with great common sense (Daniel 2:9), “If you can tell me the dream, I shall be sure that your interpretation is correct.”
The king answered and said, I know of certainty that ye would gain the time, because ye see the thing is gone from me.(8) Gain time.—They hoped that by continual postponement they would induce the king to let the matter pass over; or, if not, that they might be able to wheedle the dream out of him,
But if ye will not make known unto me the dream, there is but one decree for you: for ye have prepared lying and corrupt words to speak before me, till the time be changed: therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that ye can shew me the interpretation thereof.(9) There is but one decree.—He refers to the decree mentioned Daniel 2:5, that both the dream and the interpretation must be told. These two things must go together, for they form the subject of one decree.
Ye have prepared . . . be changed—i.e., “you have made au agreement among yourselves to postpone the matter till a more lucky time for explaining the dream shall come.” On Eastern notions about fortunate days, comp. Esther 3:7 and the standard inscription or Nebuchadnezzar towards the end.
The Chaldeans answered before the king, and said, There is not a man upon the earth that can shew the king's matter: therefore there is no king, lord, nor ruler, that asked such things at any magician, or astrologer, or Chaldean.(10) No king.—A further argument of the wise men, offering a delicate flattery to the king, and, at the same time, assuming as a proof of their wisdom, that all possibilities had been already submitted to them. “Because no king,” they say, “has left any precedent for such a request, therefore the thing is impossible.”
And it is a rare thing that the king requireth, and there is none other that can shew it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.(11) A rare thing—i.e., a difficult matter. The difficulty is so great, that the gods whose dwelling is not with flesh are alone able to solve it. Here the reference is to a doctrine of Babylonian theology, according to which every man from his birth onward had a special deity attached to him as his protector. It lived in him, or “dwelt with flesh,” as the wise men here remark. The deity, being united to the man, became a partaker of human infirmities. For instance, it was subject to the action of evil spirits, and to the influence of the spirits of sickness to such an extent that it might injure the person whom it was bound to protect. Even these deities, the wise men urge, cannot do what the king requires. Such wisdom belongs only to the gods whose dwelling is apart from man. (See Lenormant, La Magie, pp. 181-183.)
For this cause the king was angry and very furious, and commanded to destroy all the wise men of Babylon.(12) This order to massacre the wise men extended apparently only to those who were resident in the city of Babylon, where they had a fixed habitation. Though Daniel had been already trained in their schools, he had not as yet been appointed “a wise man.” However, being a student, his death was implied in the general order, which, as appears from Daniel 2:13, had already begun to be executed.
Then Daniel answered with counsel and wisdom to Arioch the captain of the king's guard, which was gone forth to slay the wise men of Babylon:(14) Arioch.—See Note on Genesis 14:1.
He answered and said to Arioch the king's captain, Why is the decree so hasty from the king? Then Arioch made the thing known to Daniel.(15) So hasty.—Literally, why is this severe decree of the king? By this question Daniel wished Arioch to understand that after all the matter was not impossible, as the wise men had stated it to be.
Then Daniel went in, and desired of the king that he would give him time, and that he would shew the king the interpretation.(16) Daniel went in.—Two characteristics of the prophet strike us, which distinguish the one who trusts in God’s help from those who relied entirely upon their secular wisdom. (1) The courage of Daniel, which led him to venture into the king’s presence upon a humane errand. (2) His humility, in asking the king to give him time. The wise men regarded the whole matter as an impossibility, and treated it as such, not even asking for any extension of time. But the faith of Daniel inspired him with this courageous humility, and was amply rewarded.
We are not told in so many words that this extension of time was granted, or that Daniel undertook to show more than the interpretation of the dream. A true account of what happened can only be gathered by reading Daniel 2:18; Daniel 2:28 by the side of this verse. It should be remembered that many narratives of scripture are related in a very condensed form, fuller details being added afterwards. (See Daniel 2:24, Note.)
That they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.(18) The God of heaven.—We meet with this title of Almighty God for the first time in Genesis 24:7. After the Captivity, it frequently designates the true God as contrasted with the heathen gods. (See Ezra 1:2, Nehemiah 1:5, Psalm 136:26.) It is used by Daniel in this sense in this verse.
Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.(19) Night vision.—Not in a dream, but literally in a vision; but that Daniel saw a repetition of the king’s dream cannot be inferred from the words. We know from Numbers 12:6 that God was pleased to reveal the truth both by dreams and by visions.
Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his:(20) Blessed be the name.—Daniel’s prayer is for the most part framed upon the model of scriptural language, while on the other hand it appears to have been adapted to their own special needs by later pious servants of God. The Doxology, with which it commences, is founded upon the liturgical formula concluding Psalms 41, the substance of it being repeated by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:5).
And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:(21) Changeth times—i.e., He orders the events which occur at different times and seasons. Daniel refers to the dream which had been recently revealed to him, in which the changes of future times and seasons were depicted in so marvellous a way. “Times” are opposed to “seasons,” as circumstances of time may be contrasted with epochs of time. (Comp. Daniel 7:12.)
He removeth.—Comp. 1Samuel 2:8.
Wisdom . . .—Comp. Jeremiah 32:19.
The wise—i.e., wise men generally. Wise men become what they are, not through their own study and natural ability, but by the grace and mercy of God.
He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.(22) He revealeth.—Comp. Job 12:22.
He knoweth.—Comp. Psalm 139:12.
The light dwelleth.—Perhaps “illumination” rather than “light” expresses the actual meaning. Man himself requires illumination from an external source. This source is God, the “sun of man’s soul,” in Whom light dwells as if He were a palace, and in “His light do we see light” (Psalm 36:9).
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.(23) Who hast given me.—The Hebrew perfect represents what has already occurred and still continues. (See Jeremiah 2:2.) The wisdom spoken of here does not refer to the dream, but to the same subjects as in Daniel 1:7.
God of my fathers.—Comp. 1Kings 18:36, Psalms 105 God dealt gloriously with Israel of old. He continues to be faithful to His promises to Israel by blessing Daniel’s education in secular subjects, and finally by the dream. Observe that to Daniel each appears alike supernatural, his proficiency in Chaldean wisdom, and his skill in interpreting dreams.
Therefore Daniel went in unto Arioch, whom the king had ordained to destroy the wise men of Babylon: he went and said thus unto him; Destroy not the wise men of Babylon: bring me in before the king, and I will shew unto the king the interpretation.(24) Therefore—i.e., now that he knows the dream and the interpretation. Daniel approached the king through Arioch, for it is probable that the Babylonian custom, like the Persian (Esther 5:1) or Median (Herod. i. 99), did not permit any persons except the principal officers of state to have direct access to the royal presence. We must suppose that in Daniel 2:16 (where see Note) Daniel approached the king as he does here, through Arioch, the captain of the guard.
Destroy not.—Observe Daniel’s humanity towards his heathen teachers. It was owing to his intercession only that the king’s decree was not carried out. (See Ezekiel 14:14.)
Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste, and said thus unto him, I have found a man of the captives of Judah, that will make known unto the king the interpretation.(25) I have found.—It is not strictly true that Arioch had diligently searched for any interpreters of the king’s dream. However, the circumstances mentioned in Daniel 2:16; Daniel 2:24, warrant the language which he uses.
The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof?(26) Whose name was Belteshazzar.—A parenthetic clause, introduced to remind the reader that by this name only Daniel was known to the king. (Comp. Daniel 4:8.)
Art thou able.—The king does not pretend to be ignorant of the person of Daniel. He had, in fact, only recently (Daniel 1:19-20) examined him in “matters of wisdom and understanding.” What surprises him is, that after the wise and experienced had failed to tell him his dream, one so young and a mere novice should succeed.
Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king;(27) The secret . . .—In this and the next verse Daniel justifies the astonishment of the king, and explains to him that what the wise men had stated was perfectly true. The “gods whose dwelling was with flesh” (see Note on Daniel 2:11) could not reveal the secret, but there was a God in heaven who had made it known. Daniel here teaches us what Scripture lays down elsewhere (Genesis 20:3; Genesis 41:16; Genesis 41:25; Genesis 41:28; Numbers 22:35), that all power of prediction is to be excluded from heathen gods, and is possessed by wise men only so far as they acquire it through the God of heaven.
But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these;(28) Visions of thy head.—Called “thoughts,” Daniel 2:29, which were the natural means through which the supernatural revelation was communicated. These “came” into his mind without his forcing them upon himself. He was thinking of other things, further conquests, perhaps, and the like, but these thoughts came from a higher source.
As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter: and he that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass.(29) Hereafter—i.e., in the course of history, not only in the Messianic days.
But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart.(30) For any wisdom—i.e., by reason of any wisdom of his own, but “for the sake of the king.”
Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible.(31) A great image.—Properly, one great image. This is one important feature in the vision. The image, though representing many things, was itself only “one.” (See Note on Daniel 2:1.) That the image was of human form is evident from the further descriptions of the various parts of the body given in Daniel 2:32-33; Daniel 2:42. The “greatness” of the image implies the magnificence and size of it. As will be shortly seen, throughout the various parts it represented the many complex phases of the one history of the world.
This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass,(32) Breast . . .—It should be remarked that though many different parts of the body of the image are mentioned, Daniel regards the whole thing as made up of only four parts, each corresponding to one of the four metals. Similarly he shows the history of the world in its relation to God’s people, complicated though it may be and varied in its aspect, consists of no more than four principal parts. It will be noticed that by the additional matter mentioned Daniel 2:41-42, certain minor complications of history are intended, which, however, do not interfere with the fourfold division of which the outline is here given.
Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces.(34) Thou sawest.—Literally, the king kept on gazing in wonder at the image.
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 threshingfloors; 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.(35) Like the chaff.—This language recalls Psalm 1:4; Psalm 2:9. It is emblematic of Divine judgments, as Isaiah 41:15-16; Jeremiah 51:33, &c. Comp. with this the description of the Judgment, Daniel 7:9-14. Observe, however, that the stone did not crush the head, breast, or loins of the body. These became fragments by falling when the feet were broken. (Comp. Daniel 7:12.)
This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king.(36) We—i.e., Daniel and his three friends, for to their intercession (Daniel 2:17-18) the revelation was due.
Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory.(37, 38) Interpretation of the vision. Nebuchadnezzar is the head; or, in other words, he is the first of the four kingdoms which are denoted by the image. His kingdom was the largest that the world had till then known; in fact, a writer cited by Josephus (Ap. i. 20), compares him to Hercules. We find a similar allusion to the beasts of the field as Nebuchadnezzar’s servants Jeremiah 27:6; Jeremiah 28:14. The title of “king of kings” is also ascribed to Nebuchadnezzar by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 26:7). We are therefore left in no doubt as to what is meant by the first of the four empires. It is the Babylonian Empire, of which Nebuchadnezzar was in every sense the head, being the actual founder of it, and its mainstay during his long reign of forty-three years.
And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.(39) Another kingdom.—These words make it clear that by “the king” in the last verse “kingdom” was meant; or, in other words, Nebuchadnezzar was identified with his kingdom (comp. Daniel 7:5; Daniel 8:3; Daniel 8:20). The second kingdom is the Medo-Persian (as appears more fully below, Exc. E). The inferiority is to be found in the divided character of that empire, as compared with the massive solidity of its predecessor. This is signified in the image, partly by the inferiority of the metal, silver instead of gold, and partly by the symbol of division, the two breasts opposed to the one head. It must not be forgotten that in other respects, such as extent of territory and duration of empire, the Medo-Persian far exceeded the Babylonian kingdom.
Another third.—The metal implies a certain inferiority, but the phrase “shall bear rule over the whole earth” speaks of an empire that extended further than the preceding. This is the Græco-Macedonian Empire (see Exc. E, and comp. Daniel 7:6; Daniel 8:5-7).
And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.(40) And the fourth.—It should be observed that the description of this kingdom is much fuller than those of the preceding empires. The same fact will be remarked in the later visions (Daniel 7:7-8; Daniel 7:19-20).
Breaketh all things.—Remembering that the comparison is between iron and the fourth empire, this portion of the vision implies that the Roman empire, which is here intended (see Exc. E), will crush out all traces that remain of preceding empires, just as iron is capable of breaking gold, silver, or copper. Of the second and third empires, each borrowed something from that which preceded it. The fourth empire introduces a new system, and a new civilisation.
And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay.(41) Shall be divided.—The meaning seems to be, “notwithstanding that there will be inward divisions in this last empire, as is signified by the divisions, first into two legs, then into two feet, and lastly into ten toes, yet the outward character of it will be the strength of iron.”
And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken.(42) So the kingdom.—This strength, however, is only apparent. There are certain discordant elements in the fourth empire. These are here represented by the iron and clay, which cannot be made to cohere.
And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.(43) Seed of men.—The great obscurity of this verse is partially cleared by a reference to Jeremiah 31:27. Daniel appears to be contrasting what man is endeavouring to accomplish by his own efforts with that which the God of heaven (Daniel 2:44) will carry out. Man will form his plans for uniting the discordant parts of this empire, by encouraging marriages between the royal families that rule the various component kingdoms. (Comp. Daniel 11:6; Daniel 11:17, Notes.)
And in the days of these kings 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.(44) In the days of these kings.—Yet no kings have been mentioned hitherto. They must therefore correspond to the toes of the image. (Comp. Daniel 7:24.) It appears therefore that while this fourth kingdom still contrives to exist in some modified form, while its component parts are in a state of war and turmoil, the kingdom of God shall come. (Comp. Daniel 7:25-27.)
God of heaven.—(See Daniel 2:18).
Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.(45) The stone cut out of the mountain.—The mountain was not mentioned in Daniel 2:34. In the language of prophecy, it must mean Mount Zion, which appears in other passages to be closely connected with the Messiah and His Kingdom, e.g., Isaiah 2:2; Psalm 1:2. The stone is set free from this mountain, and as it rolls on in its destructive course, overthrows all the kingdoms of the world, and becomes a mountain which fills the whole earth. The Messiah is elsewhere spoken of under the figure of a stone (Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:42). The phrase “cut without hands” refers to the supernatural agency by which the stone accomplishes its work. The stone is now rolling, as the kingdom of God spreads further and further day by day. The image is still standing, the stone has not yet fallen upon it. When that moment arrives, and not till then, “the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” (Revelation 11:15).
Throughout the vision we must notice one great contrast. There is on the one hand the image, which, of course, was weak, by reason of being formed of such incongruous elements, composed of the most precious metals at the top, while the lower parts ended in “miry clay “—in fact, the image was top-heavy. On the other hand, there is the stone, an emblem of strength and solidity, single, notwithstanding the countless atoms which unite in forming it, growing in strength, as it continues its historic course till it becomes a mountain, the type of all that is solid and indestructible. And one further point of contrast must be noted. While one earthly empire passes into another as insensibly as the head yields to the trunk of the body, and as this passes into arms, legs, hands, and feet, without any discontinuity—that is, as empire after empire passes away, while the history of the world remains continuous—such is not the case with the stone. The work that it does is instantaneous. The moment it falls on the feet of the image the whole collapses, or, in other words, the history of the world comes to an end. Such is the relation in which the kingdom of God stands to the kingdoms of this world. They are all transient, in spite of their apparent strength, and their history will cease, as soon as the “stone shall fall and grind them to powder” (Matthew 21:44).
Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him.(46) Worshipped.—This act is of an entirely different nature from such as are mentioned Genesis 33:7; 1Kings 1:16. The Hebrew word employed here is always used (e.g., Isaiah 46:6) of paying adoration to an idol. Probably the king imagined that the gods were dwelling in Daniel in a higher sense from that in which they dwelt with his other wise men, and worshipped them on account of the marvellous revelation which they had vouchsafed to him through the means of Daniel.
Oblation.—That is, the unbloody offering customary among the Babylonians; some honour different from the present mentioned in Daniel 2:48.
The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret.(47) God of gods.—He does not acknowledge Jehovah as the true God, but deems Him worthy of a place in the Babylonian Pantheon.
Then the king made Daniel a great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon.(48) The Province.—According to Daniel 3:2, the Babylonian empire consisted of several provinces, each of which had its own ruler or Shilton. Daniel became ruler of this one province of Babylon. What the other office was to which he was advanced may possibly be explained when further discoveries have been made. Hitherto it has been inexplicable.
Then Daniel requested of the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, over the affairs of the province of Babylon: but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.(49) Over the affairs.—Compare Nehemiah 2:16; Esther 3:9. These holy children, it appears from this verse, were satraps, under Daniel’s supervision.
Gate of the king.—Compare Esther 3:2, &c. Daniel was of higher rank than his three friends, and was therefore admitted into the inner part of the palace.