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Lessons on Daniel: Chapter 2, The Dream of the Great Image

by R. H. Boll

Robert H. Boll (1875-1956)

Robert H. Boll (1875-1956)

Daniel 2

A little more than three years had passed since the date mentioned in Dan. 1:1, “the third year of Jehoiakim,” (which was one year before Nebuchadnezzar became sole ruler of Babylon; see Jer. 25:1) Daniel and his three companions had completed their three-year course in the university of the Chaldeans; had passed with highest honors, been presented to the king, accepted, and duly enrolled in the order of the Wise-men of Babylon. Their education in the learning of the Chaldeans embraced some valuable scientific work (chiefly in mathematics and astronomy); but also included the subjects of Babylonian religion, myths of their gods, magic, divination, astrology, interpretation of dreams, and the like.

Now it was in the second year of his reign that Nebuchadnezzar had his memorable dream–the profound impression of which had remained upon his mind, but the dream was blotted from his memory. So “his spirit was troubled and his sleep went from him”; and he called the clan of the “Chaldeans,” magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and demanded of them that they should tell him his dream which he had forgotten, and the interpretation of it. In vain did the unhappy Chaldeans expostulate and try to excuse themselves: the king was adamant: if they tell him not his dream they should be “cut in pieces, and their houses made a dunghill.” He had perhaps long doubted their pretended knowledge of secret things–now this would be the test: if they could tell him his dream then he would know that they could also interpret it. So the sentence went out that all the Wise-men of Babylon were to be slain. Daniel and his three friends were counted as belonging to this order, and so the death-sentence applied in their case also, although they were ignorant as to the reason for it.

Here we see an instance of Daniel’s wonderful tact and wisdom. By a polite and humble inquiry of the soldier in charge, Arioch, Daniel learned what had happened; and went in to the king and desired an appointed time, at which he would show the king his interpretation. That granted the four young Hebrews resorted to prayer; and in a vision of the night was the secret revealed to Daniel. His prayer of praise and thanksgiving is singularly beautiful and full of significance: it sounds the keynote of all the rest of the prophecies of Daniel. (Dan. 2:20-23)

Again we behold the wonderful ways of Daniel’s God-given wisdom. This time he gives the honor of making the announcement to the king to Arioch, the officer by whose favor he had learned of the situation. And being brought before the king–who incredulously asked, “Art thou able to make known unto me the dream and the interpretation thereof?”–see how he speaks a word in defense of the Wise-men of Babylon, and for himself disclaims all superior personal ability. (Compare Joseph’s speech in Gen. 41:16, 39).

It must have been a dramatic moment when the young Jewish captive brought forth to the king out of the unfathomable depths of the Divine omniscience, the vision of his forgotten dream. Nebuchadnezzar must have realized at that moment that the Almighty God was speaking to him from the lips of this simple, quiet youth. “Thou, O king sawest, and behold, a great image. This image, which was mighty and whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the aspect thereof was terrible.” In more particular description he recalled to the king that (1) its head was of fine gold; (2) its breast and its arms of silver; (3) its belly and its thighs of brass, (4) its legs of iron; and (5) its feet partly of iron and partly of clay; and that while the king’s eyes were fastened upon the image as it stood before him in its splendor and its terribleness–behold, “a stone was cut out (out of the mountain, (Dan. 2:45) without hands, which smote the image upon its feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them in pieces.” Then was the whole great statue, with all its parts, iron, clay, brass, silver, gold, broken into small pieces together, and “became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors.” Nor was that all: the small debris that was left was swept away by the wind, “so that no place was found for them.” But as for the stone that struck the Image, it “became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.”  (Dan. 2:31-35)

“This is the dream,” Daniel continued; and then proceeded to “tell the interpretation thereof [10] before the king. The beauty of the language would tempt us to full quoting of it; but we must summarize what follows (Dan. 2:37-46) The meanings of the several parts of the image were:

The head of pure gold: Nebuchadnezzar, representing the kingdom of Babylon.

The breast and arms of silver: “another kingdom inferior to thee.”

The belly and thighs of brass: “another, a third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over

all the earth.”

The legs and feet of iron: “the fourth kingdom . . . strong as iron . . .”

Here he stops to tell us more. This iron kingdom breaks in pieces and subdues all; and so shall it break in pieces and crush “all the others”–the other kingdoms over which it will extend its power. Now he speaks of the feet (especially mentioning the toes) in which the iron has an admixture of “miry clay” (R. V. mg., or “earthenware”). This, he says, signifies that (in its last development) the fourth kingdom shall be a “divided kingdom,” “partly strong and partly broken” (or, brittle); and this condition is due to the fact that “they” (the governing powers of that time, certainly) “shall mingle themselves with the seed of men.” But this combination is unstable and a cause of weakness. The two substances, clay and iron, cannot coalesce nor unite.

Here again let us stop to consider these things. It is clear that the image as a whole represents the great Gentile world-power, made up in its several parts of the four successive world-powers. We need not go outside the Bible to learn the names of these. From the book of Daniel itself we get the first three: (1) The Babylonian (Dan. 2:37-38) (2) the kingdom of the Medes and Persians (Dan. 5:28; Dan. 5:30-31. (3) the third, vanquishing the power of Persia, is Greece (Dan. 8:20-21); (4) the fourth, the Roman power, is spoken of in the New Testament (Luke 2:1).

It is very noticeable that the metals, representing the four world powers in the image, progressively lose in weight and value: from the fine gold we pass to the kingdom of silver, which is said to be inferior to the first; then to brass, then to iron; the last and cheapest metal is at the end mingled with clay. But until this last stage is reached the parts gain in strength. However the fourth and strongest is at last weakened by the admixture of clay. In what respect do these four kingdoms successively deteriorate in value? Obviously in the excellence and glory of their governmental power. The first is absolute monarchy conferred upon one ruler by the God of heaven. In the second the power is divided between the Medes and Persians; also the king did not have the same unlimited jurisdiction. (Dan. 6) In the third and fourth the sovereignty of the ruler was yet more circumscribed. But the clay in the feet and toes represents the intrusion of foreign matter, different in kind from the divinely ordained governmental power, which throughout is represented by metals–the clay therefore is an element to which the power of government had not been originally committed, and which does not cohere with metal with which it is mingled, but only threatens the strength and stability of the whole. However some of the iron remains to the last and some of its strength abides in the feet and toes to the end.

The interest of the whole vision focuses in the fourth world-power in the last phase of the same (represented by the feet and the toes) and the great event which will then transpire. The image, though grand and imposing of appearance is top-heavy, and its weight rests on its weakened feet. It is ready for a mighty fall. This is brought about by Divine action. A stone is cut out of the mountain without hands and smites the image upon its feet and reduces it to small rubble, “as chaff of the summer’s threshing floor”; which thereupon is carried away to nowhere. But the stone that smote and destroyed the image becomes a mighty mountain filling the whole earth. The interpretation given of this is as follows:

“And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that a 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.” (Dan. 2:44-45).

These statements are of such importance, and the questions connected with them so many and weighty, that we must devote a special lesson to them. In the meanwhile let us think over it. Take the expression, “In the days of those kings”–what kings are meant? And, just what is this stone that is cut out without hands? What does it do to the image? Does it come down upon it in gentle, peaceful contact, or does it strike with destructive force? Do we get the impression that the stone is seeking to penetrate the image with a good influence, to transform it–or does the stone break it to pieces and annihilate it? Or is there any idea here that the stone in its growing would gradually crowd the image off the scene? Or that perhaps the stone, little by little, will wear away the image? Does the stone grow at all until the image is utterly destroyed and its remains all swept away? Do the stone and the image exist side by side at all at any time? Or does the one go out when the other comes in? Has the event of Dan. 2:35, 44 ever been fulfilled? Or is its fulfillment yet future? Perhaps with some thought you may be able to answer some of these questions for yourself.


Why did God send such a dream to Nebuchadnezzar? Would the dream and its interpretation tend to humble the pride of a world-conqueror? Would the lesson of it be meant for all subsequent Gentile rulers and kingdoms to the end of the age?

Though God sent the dream to Nebuchadnezzar He would not permit him so much as to remember it, nor would He allow heathen soothsayers a chance at its interpretation. But a young captive from Judah, one of the nation which God had chosen to be His channel of communication to the race of mankind must tell the king his own dream and give him the Divine interpretation of the same. Would that fact also tend to heighten the king’s respect for the God of Israel, and for that people, though he had been permitted to conquer them?

God was Daniel’s Rock to which he continually resorted. We shall have occasion to note this again later. Would God gladly hear and answer a prayer of Daniel’s? Whose prayers will He not hear? (Psalm 66:18) Consider  James 5:16)

In his prayer of thanksgiving (Dan. 2:20-33) was Daniel more taken up with his own deliverance, or with the greatness and glory of God? With  Dan. 2:21, compare Ps. 75:4-7)

Why, in speaking to the king ( Dan. 2:28-30, 45;  did Daniel not say, “God has made known to me the secret that I might tell it to the king?” How came Daniel with such wonderful tact and wisdom in all that he said and did? Could a man get wisdom from God today (James 1:5). Would it be worth while?  (Prov. 3:13-18).

What is a “World-Power?” See  Dan. 2:37-40; also Dan. 4:22 and Dan. 5:18-19.  What is to be the attitude of Christians toward the world’s governments? (Rom. 13:1-7).

A great scholar (Samuel Prideaux Tregelles) said that in this dream of Nebuchadnezzar and its interpretation we have “the alphabet of all prophecy.” Keep that in mind, and we shall see later whether this statement is justified.

Bro. R. H. Boll was an editor of the print edition of Word & Work from 1916 to 1956.

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