A Dream of Empires – Daniel 2

by Dr. Bob Ostenson
transcribed by Roger McCay
20 January 1980
Sermon Passaage: Daniel 2
Link to Audio Version

… Chicago Tribune, after visiting Europe, wrote, “The people in Europe are really living it up, because they feel like the days are like the days of 1939. Many are no longer making plans for old age, because they don’t believe there’s going to be any old age.” The New York Times reported a Hollywood psychiatrist, who said, “All my patients need a mourner’s bench.” These statements plus many others that could be cited this morning point up the mood of the world in which we live—a mood of despair, of doom, of fatalism. Even those who were once so optimistic are asserting this morning that we stand on the threshold of danger, of disaster, and destruction.

Now, it might be added, if our only hope was to be found in man, if our only hope was to be found in this present world order, then also this morning we too could be a part of this atmosphere of despair and hopelessness. If we belong to that school that has advocated all these years that we’re the masters of our own fate, the captains of our own soul and salvation, then we this morning also could become submerged with these feelings of futility and hopelessness and helplessness.

But the Christian has absolutely no cause; he has absolutely no reason for being taken in with this frustration and futility, which grips the world. For, if he is a true believer, he believes that there is an all-wise, sovereign God, who has not abdicated, who is in control, who controls the affairs of men, of nations, of empires, and of history; and that this sovereign God is moving everything to its ultimate consummation. And what we see taking place in this world about us is simply the part of a plan, which God has decreed from all eternity and will certainly bring to its ultimate purpose and fulfillment. Almighty God has accomplished everything according to the counsels of his perfect will. And there is absolutely nothing that is going on in the world this morning of which Almighty God is not aware.

Now, that all of this is true is certainly emphasized and made clear by what we find here in the second chapter of the book of Daniel. This remarkable book contains many prophecies of events that were to take place in subsequent history. Not only is this book that which illumines our minds and our hearts, as to future events, the fact of things that are going to fall out and take down through the ages and the centuries, but it also reveals the truth to us this morning that Almighty God controls the destiny of nations, and empires, and of men.

Now, in our study of the first chapter last week, we saw the remarkable character of this man, Daniel, and his three friends. Young Jewish exiles, who had been carried from Jerusalem back to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar, in order to be trained for service in the royal court of the Babylonians. We discovered that these were young men of courage, of deep conviction and faith, who were willing to wager even their very lives upon the faithfulness of Almighty God. They were young men who had such conviction and such courage, concerning their God, that they were willing to put it all on the line even in the face of the threats of the world’s dictator.

Now, it is particularly with one young man, Daniel, that God was pleased to reveal Divine truth concerning the future. Daniel had been given the gift or the ability for interpreting dreams and visions. Daniel had been blessed by God to be God’s instrument for bringing before us some of God’s plan for the ages. Now, Daniel’s ability to interpret dreams is brought out here in this second chapter, in the dream that was given to King Nebuchadnezzar. Apparently, Nebuchadnezzar was inflicted with insomnia, which had been brought on by fear, as a result of this dream, and Nebuchadnezzar was desperate for tranquility. He was one of the pioneers in seeking peace of mind, though there had been many others through the ages. And so, he turns to his Chaldean soothsayers, and astrologers, and wise-men, for them to interpret the dream. But, apparently, to test them, Nebuchadnezzar says that he has forgotten the dream, and that not only must they interpret it, but they must reconstruct the dream and tell him what he had dreamed. And the Chaldeans insisted the king is asking that which was humanly impossible. But, Nebuchadnezzar is adamant, and he says that all the wise-men of the kingdom will be slain (and that included Daniel and his three friends), unless they not only bring up what the dream actually was, but also give its correct interpretation.

Now, when Daniel heard about this, he called a prayer meeting, a prayer meeting of himself and his three young friends. And Daniel’s prayer, found here found in this second chapter, is one of the most beautiful examples of the wisdom of God that we find in the entirety of the Scriptures. And Daniel utters his prayer after God had given unto him the dream and the meaning of the dream. We read in Daniel 2, beginning with v. 19:

19 Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. 20 Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: For wisdom and might are his: 21 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: 22 He revealeth the deep and secret things: He knoweth what is in the darkness, And the light dwelleth with him. 23 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.

Then the record says that Daniel hastened to Arioch, the royal officer entrusted with destroying the wise-men. And he says to him, “Destroy not the wise men of Babylon: bring me in before the king, and I will shew unto the king the interpretation.” And Arioch, realizing the urgency of the situation, and knowing what kind of tyrant Nebuchadnezzar actually was, hastened to take Daniel before the world emperor.

And, again, we see something of the character of this man, Daniel. Now, as Daniel stood before the mighty emperor of the Babylonian empire, he had every opportunity to exalt and magnify himself. But, what does he do? He remains in the background, and he puts his God in the foreground. He demonstrates his absolute humility, and he declares [v. 30], “But as for me, this secret is not revealed unto me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, to the intent that the interpretation may be made known to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart.” You see, Daniel minimizes himself, and he magnifies God.

Now, let me insert something here. Bible believing evangelical Christians, learn a lesson. We who are so involved in Bible studies and think that somehow the Lord has blessed us with great insight and wisdom into the Scriptures, learn a lesson from Daniel. What did the giving of this insight into God’s plan and Word do for Daniel? It humbled him. We evangelical believers are so guilty of spiritual pride: “Look how much I know. Look at my understanding of the Scriptures. I’m more spiritual than that individual who doesn’t have this insight.” Not Daniel. Daniel pulled to the background; moved his God to the foreground. And this insight, and this deeper knowledge into the things of God should always be accompanied by humility.

And then, to the utter amazement of King Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel narrates to him the essence of the dream. It was a dream of a giant colossus, that is, a great image of a man. The head was of fine gold. The breast and the arms were of silver. The belly and the thighs were of brass. The legs were of iron; and the feet part of iron and part of clay. But then came a great catastrophe in the dream. Nebuchadnezzar beheld a great stone cut out without human hands fall and crush the feet of the colossus. And, as the feet were crushed, the colossus collapsed and disintegrated. And all the metals in that image became as dust and were blown away as the wind. And then it says, the great striking stone became a great mountain that filled the earth.

Now, after recounting the dream, Daniel then gives the interpretation. The parts of the great image made out of all these different metals are four successive world empires. Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar (you’ll notice here), “Thou art the head of fine gold,” indicating that Babylon was the first of these great world empires. But, it was to be succeeded by three successive kingdoms. The stone cut out without hands was the Kingdom of God, which was devised of God and not made with human hands, and it will never, never perish. It will last forever. Read v. 44: “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.”

Now, one of the great evidences of the supernatural origin of the Bible is predictive prophecy.

I’ll never forget several years ago down in Miami. A young student from the University of Miami came to my study one day, and he says, “I don’t believe anything about the Christian faith. I repudiate the Bible. “But,” he says, “there’s one thing that bugs me, and I don’t know how to handle it.” He says, “I don’t know what to do about predictive prophecy. I cannot explain it, how there can appear things in the Bible of things that are going to happen hundreds and hundreds of years later, and they actually come to fulfilment.” And, of course, that was a toe-hold for me to really begin to go at this young man.

But, one of the supernatural evidences of the integrity of Holy Writ is this whole matter of predictive prophecy. And here in Daniel, chapter two, in the dream and interpretation of the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar we have one of these evidences of history written in advance.

Now, although scholars have differed in their interpretation of many of the details, yet Biblical scholars are agreed on many of the basics that are involved in this passage. There is agreement, for example, that this great image, this great colossus, does symbolize four great world powers that would come to power in human history; that would appear successively on the stage of human history; and the coming of the Messianic Kingdom, which would overthrow the kingdoms of this world and would establish a kingdom that would last forever and forever.

Now, the traditional, orthodox, conservative view of this history is this: Babylon, from 604-538 B.C.; Medo-Persia, from 539-333 B.C.; Greece, from 490-146 B.C.; and the Roman Empire, from 27 B.C. to A.D. 455.

One distinguished scholar has pointed out that the gold represents the absolute autocracy of Nebuchadnezzar. He was the man in charge. He had absolute power. The silver represents the monarchial oligarchy of the Medes and Persians, where the nobles had as much power and authority as did the king. The aristocracy was characteristic of ancient Greece; and the democratic imperialism of the Roman Empire. The two legs of the image represent the division that came in the Roman Empire into the eastern and the western division. The feet and the toes of clay and iron symbolize the fragile combination, that when the iron of Rome is mixed with the clay of popular will. And, it’s significant in verse 39, “and after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee.”

Now, Dr. Edward Young, the late professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary has pointed out what we find here in this symbolism of these metals is a progressive inferiority in the symbolism. That is, inferiority in the lack of inner unity with each of these kingdoms, progressively growing worse down through history.

Now, we might add, this is in direct contrast to the modern philosophy of history. According to the evolutionary view of history, which is popular in our own day, it would have started out with a head of clay and evolved a feet of gold. But that’s not what we find in the revelation given to Daniel. We find, rather, progressive deterioration going on in what might be called the times of the gentiles. Decay.

We shall see in further studies of the book of Daniel more reference to this image. For example, in chapter 5. The overthrow of the Babylonian emperor, of the Babylonian empire, the word that came to Belshazzar, who was then the king of Babylon, it says, “PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” And the Scripture says that very night Darius the Mede came onto the center of human history.

Also, by way of an aside, in the book of Isaiah, we have a prophecy concerning Cyrus, the great Persian king, made 100 years before Cyrus even appeared in human history. In the seventh chapter, we read the story of the king of Persia overthrown by the king of Greece. And history says that Alexander the Great cried because he thought there was no more of the world to conquer. You see, he was like Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon; he was like Cyrus of Persia; he wanted to conquer the whole world, every nation and every language.

The fourth kingdom, the kingdom of Rome, was to be strong. It says, “For as iron breaketh to pieces and subdueth all things, so shall this kingdom break in pieces.” And we know from secular history that this is a perfect description of the Roman Empire. And equally clear from secular history, is the truth that the Roman Empire was divided into the east and to the west. And we know also the mixture of monarchies and democracies within the Roman Empire.

Now, it’s when we come to the great catastrophe, the great stone cut without human hands striking the feet, that we really come to the difference of interpretation among the scholars. Now, most scholars agree that the stone does represent the Messianic Kingdom, which shall last forever and ever. For example, in the book of Isaiah, chapter 28, verse 16, we read, “Behold, I lay in Zion a foundation stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation.” When you come to the New Testament, Jesus Christ is called the foundation stone of the church, the cornerstone, the stone which was rejected. And then Jesus’ own words in Matthew 21:44, “And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” Perfect fulfillment of the vision and the dream of Nebuchadnezzar.

Now, the real point of debate has to do with the question, “When does the stone strike?” One school upholds that it occurred at the first coming of Jesus Christ. That the phrase, “In the days of these kings shall the God of Heaven set up a kingdom,” refers to the fact that it was in the period of these four empires, collectively, particularly in the fourth empire, the Roman Empire, that the Messianic Kingdom was set up. And we do know that the incarnation, the coming, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ took place during the reign of the Roman Empire. They say the significance of the striking of the feet really doesn’t have direct reference to the fourth kingdom. It simply symbolizes that the Kingdom of Christ will destroy and overcome the kingdoms of this world, and his kingdom shall be established forever and forever.

The other school of thought says that the fourth kingdom not only refers to the historic Roman Empire, but to a revived Roman Empire, which will bring an end, by a sudden judgment and catastrophe by the Messiah, the fourth kingdom. This school of thought says there will be a revived Roman Empire in the last days, perhaps a confederation of ten European nations. And then Christ will return, and he will judge the gentile nations. And he will establish a new Heaven and a new Earth where indwelleth righteousness.

Now, my friends, I don’t have the time to go into all the arguments of these schools of thought, and I’m certain that all of you are thoroughly confused as it is. But there are some lessons to learn out of this, this morning.

Incidentally, notice Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction. When he was aware, here, of the assurance of his own power, and convinced that Daniel’s interpretation was true, he prostrated himself before Daniel and acknowledged that Daniel’s God was the God of gods. However, he did not acknowledge that Daniel’s God was the only true God. But, he did elevate Daniel in his authority, and Daniel took his three friends along with him to high places in the government.

But the point I want to make this morning, in closing. This story may be very interesting, and it may be very entertaining. But, it’s more than that. It’s true. It’s a revelation to us this morning that there is a sovereign God, who rules over human history; a God who has a perfect plan; a God who knows everything that is going on in the world about us right now, this morning, January 20th, 1980. And that history is not a conglomeration of happenstances, but that human history is His story, and it’s the fulfillment of a divine plan from all eternity. God rules over history, over nations, over empires, and over men.

You pick up your morning newspaper. You look at it and what’s happening in Afghanistan; what’s happening in the Middle East; what’s happening in Washington, D.C. All of us get uptight. My friends, you don’t have to get uptight if you’re a believer, because certainly Daniel, chapter two says that Almighty God is in control. In his day, Nebuchadnezzar was considered to be the invincible world ruler, but Nebuchadnezzar was removed from the scene. And Darius the Mede appeared on the stage of human history; and after Darius, Alexander the Great; and after Alexander the Great, the Roman emperors. And down through history you’ve had your Atillas, and your Charlemagnes, and your Napoleons, and your Kaisers, and your Hitlers, and your Mussolinis, and your Stalins, and your Khrushchevs, and your Maos, and all the rest of them. And they appeared on the stage of human history for a time, and then they were removed. The kingdoms of this world come and go. The kingdoms of this world will pass away. The great emperors, the great leaders of the world, are temporary.

But the Kingdom of God is divine and everlasting. And one day, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords will return to this earth. And when he does, he will come to judge the quick and the dead. He will bring down the curtain on human history. And he will establish a new heavens and a new earth. And as we read in Revelation 11:15, “And there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.”

Now, if you are a true, born-again, redeemed by the blood believer, you are already a member of the Kingdom of God. If you have been brought to faith in Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior, if you have been spiritually reborn by the Holy Spirit, you are already in the Kingdom of God. Remember, Jesus said to that Jewish leader, Nicodemus, “Nicodemus, except you be born anew of born from above, you cannot see, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” But, if you have trusted Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are already in the Kingdom.

What does this mean? It means this. Though the nations roar, and though the heathen rage, and though the world picture grows darker and more ominous day after day, you can face it all with confidence and assurance, because you know that you’re on the side of victory. And when the Lord Jesus returns at the end of the age, as it says again in the Scriptures, “The kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”

Now, do you believe that? If you believe that; if you believe that history, this morning, is not happenstance; but if you believe that history is His story, and that Almighty God is in control, and that he’s moving it all towards his consummation; then you can pray, as did the Apostle John, with confidence, “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

But, if you don’t know him, and if you know in your heart that you’re not a member of the Kingdom of God, then, my friend, if I were in your place, and I picked up my morning newspaper, and I read the things that are beginning to unfold and take place in the Middle East … And we’re setting no dates. That time is known alone to God. I know one thing. I’d begin to make enquiries as to whether my spiritual house and life were in order. Because, I believe most firmly and most earnestly that the Lord more and more is unfolding the background of what’s going to take place as the end of the age approaches. And I want to be found, that when he returns (whenever that may be and however it may be), I need not be ashamed before him at his coming; but that I can rejoice when my Savior appears.

God is in charge. Do you know him?

Shall we pray.