Daniel 2, the Kingdom of God

Lecture 2 Daniel 2

Nebuchadnezzar II[1] (d. 562 bce)


The storyline begins with events that Happen outside of Daniel’s control. Often this is how life works. You cannot avoid it, bad things that happen. All things come from the hand of God, and is totally inscrutable. One of the great ironies of the Christian faith is that we can honestly say that we don’t know why god is doing something. He brings calamity and blessing upon both then just and the unjust. One thing is for certain though, God brings it about.

 Ours is not to question why something is happening, but how to respond to the event. This character trait is clear in Daniel. Daniel did not ask “why?” He sought to act.

Why cannot we ask Why?

This simply makes sense. If you don’t know why something is happening, but only how  to respond, then simply respond. Daniel sets this up when he makes the distinction between the revealed things of God and the hidden things. In Deuteronomy 29:29, Moses said that the “hidden things belong to God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, than we may obey the commands of the Lord forever.” Moses’ point was that we do not know God’s knowledge, but we do know what God has revealed about how we ought to act in light of all circumstances.

Daniel alluded to Moses’ words when he said in 2:19, “The Mystery was revealed” and verse 22, “It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.” There is also the connection to “the Fathers” to whom then Daniel would be a child (cf Dt 29:29, “to us and our children”). The point Here was that Daniel trusted that God was the revealer.

Notice also that Daniel responded to the King with this same idea in verse 27-28 “However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” Then he went on to explain that “He who reveals mysteries has made known to you what will take place.” (29) and finally credit was given to god by both Daniel for the revelation (2:30), and by Nebuchadnezzar, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.” (47)

How ought one Respond?

Daniel responded wisely and prudently (See verse 14). The NASB translates these “Then Daniel replied with discretion and discernment to Arioch, the captain of the king’s bodyguard, who had gone forth to slay the wise men of Babylon.” (14). The notion here is that Daniel was careful to act in a wise way.

The first word only appears here in the whole Old Testament. It is an Aramaic word for wisdom “עטא” (‘t’a).  The Second Word means “judgment” as in “to pass a judgment upon something.”  The point is clear, Daniel did not act flippantly, but sought to do the wise and right thing.

Wisdom, in the Bible, is not just that which works, but what is just, true, or merciful according to God’s words. Psalm 19:7 says that the “Word of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” The point is that you do not necessarily have to be that smart to be wise.

Pragmatics and Principles: We are not a People of pragmatics, i.e. what will work to take care of the body, but we are people of principle. Principle is more important than what serves self best. The higher calling of the Christian is to seek God’s glory in all things, not necessarily comfort. This applies to all areas of life.

How do these two things work together?

James understood this well. He simply assumed that bad things happen, but told his readers to count it all joy and seek wisdom. It is not in the human purview to figure out what is the reason behind God’s secret counsel, but simply to obey what he has commanded.


The Interpretation of the Dream is the easiest part of this passage, and for good reason. The meaning is plain and contained in the text itself. In short, Daniel predicted four successive kingdoms and then the Kingdom of God. The rest of the book is a variation on the themes of this chapter. Daniel deliberately declared this vision in such a way as to show “what would come about during the latter days” (vv28-29).

The dream of the Statue: The Statue was described in verses 31-35. There was a single statue, whose head was made of gold, arms and chest of silver, torso and thighs of bronze, and the legs and feet of clay-tile and iron. Then suddenly a great stone came from heaven and crushed the statue. There are several features about this (non-cut, crushing, and filling)which will be parsed out below.    

The Interpretation of the Statue as Successive Kingdoms, vv 36-45: That these are kingdoms is beyond doubt because Daniel interpreted it thus (37, 39-40). The question then is the identity of the kingdoms.

Vision Element Empire
Head Gold Nebuchadnezzar  (605-535)
Chest and Arms Silver Medo-Persian Empire (535-332)
Stomach and Thighs Bronze Alexander and the Greeks (332-108)
Legs and Feet Iron and Clay Tile Rome (168 bc onward)
Stone Uncut Stone Kingdom of God


Various features of the statue demonstrate the identity of the kingdoms to come.

                a. Elements: The elements out of which the parts of the statue are composed signify what nation they are meant to represent. For example, Nebuchadnezzar was called the “head of Gold” (37). This description fits Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom as his head was on the minted Gold coins of the Kingdom. Aeschylus, a Greek author, wrote that Babylon was “teeming with gold.” Marduk, the patron god of Babylon, was usually formed out of gold. The Gold image which Nebuchadnezzar built in chapter 3 would demonstrate the shear amount of gold in Babylon. Herodotus (a Greek historian) corroborates the existence of such a statue (which was removed by Xerxes, Esther’s husband). Babylon was characterized in the ancient near east as a city of gold.

The Medo-Persian Empire was similarly characterized by an element, Silver. The silver chest and arms in Daniel’s vision signify the Medo-Persian Empire (535-332 bc). King Darius was he after whom the minted silver “Daric” coin got its name.  They weighed their wealth with regards to silver. The measures in chapter 5 which refer to Babylon falling to Persia, were Persian silver coin measures.  They amassed large stores of Silver from mines in the Persian hill country. Persia, especially financed their wars and conquest with silver. This signified the Medo-Persian Empire.

The Bronze thighs refer to the Greek army who wore their infamous Bronze armor. Jospehus called Alexander a “King from the West, clad in bronze” and the Greeks “men in bronze.”[2] It is clear that this signified Alexander and the Greek armies.

The Iron and Clay tile shows this strong military force which “crushes as Iron crushes”  (40) which was the Military strength and unity of Rome. Yet there is a ten part fragility which is connoted by the clay tile toes. This signified the many provinces which made up the Roman empire and brought a great deal of instability by way of civil wars.  This is what the Roman, Ovid, described as the “Iron age” where a society is marked out by greed, immorality, distinction of boundaries, and general sustenance living rather than flourishing.[3] These ages actually may have colored the literary makeup of Daniel 2 because the classical ages system used these same metallic substances. However, Daniel differs in the end coming with the Kingdom of God, and the setting up of a Kingdom that will have no end, rather then dissolution and annihilation as in the Classical system.

                b. Body Feature Signification: The body features also fit the successive empires. The Head is signified by Nebuchadnezzar whose head was indeed the symbol of Babylon because he was on the money. The Folded arms of the Medo-Persian Alliance. The Bronze loins of the Greeks who wore their armor around the loins as such. The multiplicity of the Roman provinces in the Empire fits the description of the toes.  

                c. Chronology: There were no other kingdos that arose besides these four before the Advent of Christ. These four kingdoms do indeed follow one after another. They are consistenly portrayed in what follows in the book. Finally, they are clearly portrayed in the metallic elements and the body features of the statue in the vision.

The Stone and The Establishment of God’s Kingdom:

a. Earthly yet Other-worldy: Notice that the stone was “cut without human hands” (45). God’s sovereignty is placed on display in the foundation and progress of the Kingdom. This is the other-worldly strength of this kingdom. God is in control of the situation.

But, at the same time, it is also profoundly earthly, in the sense that the realm of the Kingdom is in this world. God is ruler over all things, but in another sense he is progressively taking back his rule over both humanity and the Devils’ rebellious kingdom. It is not a rule only in heavenly realms, but God retaking his rule over actual rebellious men, kingdoms, and their worship of the created rather than the Creator.

  The application of this is that the work of the Kingdom is profoundly physical, ordinary and based in the transformation of belief, piety, and practice. Kingdom work is not with an eye to some esoteric beatific vision, but is based in the ordinary and earthly belief, piety, and practice of the Bible.

b. Messianic: Notice also that being cut without human hands is a worship word in the Old Testament. See 2 Corinthians 5:1, “without human hands” refers to the Temple, and Especially the Altar in the Tabernacle, which was made of stone “not cut with human tools.” This refers to the incarnation of Christ, who is often referred to as a stone, stumbling stone, the stone of offense, the stone cut without human hands, the cornerstone, but the reality in the incarnation (Heb 9:24, the temple made without human hands was Christ’s body!). All in all, we can say that God took matter into his own hands to take on flesh and dwell among us in order to accomplish the rule of his kingdom. 

                c. Progressively Pervasive: Notice how the Rock destroys the kingdoms of this world and them replaced them. 2:35 says, “Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” The point is that the kingdom will progressively grow until it pervades the whole earth both geographically and pervasiveness of society.

                 d. Eternal (As opposed to temporary, i.e. prior to the Millenium): Is there a parenthesis or a progression? There is a difficulty in this passage. The tension lies in the fact that the Kingdom was not entirely inaugurated all at once, but will come to completion in the future. There have been two ways to interpret this in the contemporary Christian church. They are either Parenthesis or Inaugurated.

  • There is a paranthesis between the first and second advents of Christ, during which we now live.
    • This current age will therefore be destroyed and only the religious merits of this life will last into the next age.
  • And the second is that there is a inauguration of the Kingdom by Christ’s first advent which will fill the earth prior to the ultimate consummation.
    • This view holds that the world will not be annihilated and then re-created, but will be simply re-created fully. This “new creation” has begun with the resurrection of Christ, and therefore God progressively glorifies his church and his kingdom in this age. 

Feet of Iron and Clay: The real question is with the identity of the Feet and then the transition to the Kingdom that has no end. Does the kingdom grow progressively (already not yet renewal) or instantaneously (revived Roman empire followed by annihilation and recreation)?

Will God Destroy that which is already part of the new creation? Does this life matter for eternity? That is the question. The amillennial position, demonstrated here, would argue that the God will not destroy what he has brought about as part of the new creation. Therefore the work of the Christian church will indeed last into the next age, and will be met with the recreation of the universe.

The dispensational argument, above, which holds to the parenthesis, does not believe that any cultural endeavor will matter for eternity because they a priori hold that the world will be destroyed entirely at the end of the age.

So does this debate stay at a battle of the a priori? Certainly one, or both, may be wrong. But this idea will be brought up again in another lesson. Suffice it to say here that there is no parenthesis in this passage. That is the great difficulty for dispensationalism. They must prove from silence that there will be a parenthesis between the first coming of Christ and the inauguration of the Kingdom Daniel predicted. This does not explain how the kingdom would destroy the Roman empire, nor the other temporally conditioned empires could be thwarted by the Kingdom of God. But I digress.    

Political Satire

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dilemma

Dan 2:1  “Now in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him.”

What was it that troubled Nebuchadnezzar? Nebuchadnezzar (605-562) had conquered the known world at the time. He is one of the shining stars of culture, military genius, economic ingenuity, wit, artistic taste, and legend of the ancient world. Nebuchadnezzar was truly a uniquely brilliant individual. However, Daniel portrayed Nebuchadnezzar as in great inner turmoil over the fact that there was a higher power who ruled over him.  

Absolute Power? Nebuchadnezzar had absolute power, but something had rattled his cage. For example: He threatened to make his enemies’ homes desolate (2:5-6) but the severity of this command does not fit typical Nebuchadnezzar. It shows how disturbed he was by the dream. Also, Daniel picked up on the “haste” with which Nebuchadnezzar called this order, “”For what reason is the decree from the king so urgent?”” (2:15). Nebuchadnezzar was uncharacteristically agitated by this dream.  

A Greater Potentate: Higher power was manifested to him in the dream, and the interpretation, and the witness of Daniel’s lack of fear of Nebuchadnezzar showed a higher potentate from whom Nebuchadnezzar had derived his power.

For example, Nebuchadnezzar did not trust his servant (2:7-12) and would not even tell them the dream, but wanted a true prophet. Why? Verse 10 says “there is not a man on earth…” which is exactly the point. Nebuchadnezzar was frightened because he realized that this message did not come from the earth! So Daniel entered and said in verse 27-28,

“Daniel answered before the king and said, “As for the mystery about which the king has inquired, neither wise men, conjurers, magicians nor diviners are able to declare it to the king “However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed.”

He declared the God of Heaven to Nebuchadnezzar. He showed the distinction between creator and creature. This is the tension that terrified Nebuchadnezzar because it meant that he was not the ultimate power in the universe, Yahweh was!

Derived Authority: The Implications of that higher power terrified Nebuchadnezzar. Let us make this more explicit. Verses 19-23 describe the nature of the case. “God sets up kings” (v 21). God is in control of which kings rule and authoritative over how kings rule.

This is portrayed in the vision itself when God will raise up successive kingdoms and put down others (30-45). We also see it in Nebuchadnezzar’s epilogue (46-48) when he said, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.” (47)  This would probably be a consolation to Nebuchadnezzar because it would mean that God showed great favor to him in causing him to rule the known world.

The Dramatic Tension: But remember, this frightened Nebuchadnezzar, and caused him to repent! So what was it that caused this reaction of fear and trembling, rather than confidence and pride? The answer is if God sets up kings, then he also has a say in their policy, and there is a greater judge than Nebuchadnezzar.

Derived authority means both that God sets up kings, and he is the one to whom they ought to ultimately defer on matters of how they rule. That is why Nebuchadnezzar made the comparison to himself, “Your God is… Lord of Kings.” (47). This comparison made it clear to Nebuchadnezzar that he derived his authority from God the creator and Lord, therefore he was going to be held accountable for his acts as he would any of his subjects.

“Light of the Law” For example, Daniel referred to “He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.” (v 22). The point is that God is righteous, and reveals righteousness, and he had revealed righteousness to Israel. “Light” refers to the righteousness of God revealed to men, See Psalm 19 and the simile between the Sun and the Law, Psalm 36:9, John 1:9, I John 1:5, Ephesians 5:11-14. The light of the law sets up the ultimate standard for the kings of the earth. They are not independent of God’s authority, design, and revealed morality.

This is what frightened Nebuchadnezzar. He was terrified at the prospect of having to stand before another King. A king who knew no bounds of power or jurisdiction. This was the great tension built into Nebuchadnezzar’s character. And it led him say:

Dan 2:47″…Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.”

Application: As far as Characterization goes, Nebuchadnezzar is the star of this passage. Daniel plays a supporting role in the first half of the book. For example, the Tension built up is “will the king believe.” There is no doubt about what Daniel and his cohort will do, but the tension is all around Nebuchadnezzar.  Therefore when you read this you should read this you should identify with Nebuchadnezzar.

Ill: If Daniel were movie, the big name actor would be Nebuchadnezzar because he is the one in turmoil. The casting agent would find someone who could portray kingly prowess, but at the same time a great inner turmoil over the notion of a greater power who rules over him, and especially, the Ruler who these Jewish subjects fear much more than him.

Ill: Forget Rembrandts’ portrayal of Daniel in the Lions’ Den: the problem I have with this painting is that it interprets Daniel as the one in distress, but Daniel’s absurd courage is exactly the point in that passage, and is a courage that frightened King Darius, BeltaShazzar, and Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar was the one who lost sleep over it, not Daniel!

Aramaic Audience: Further, remember that this story is written in Aramaic. My point is that Daniel is a major character, but the book is primarily portraying the tension and heart of the Aramaic reader, possibly even the unbeliever!  The idea is that you are accountable to God. Whatever authority you have is derived from God. He has say over both your gain and exercise of authority.

The king has the real choice to make, he must choose to obey and submit to the God of the universe. This is what we ought to do as we are present in this world is conform our lives to the will of our sovereign God. We are called to show this that we believe in another potentate.  God rules and reigns and has a kingdom which shall have no end. All of your authority is derived from God as well. And this means that your policy is also.

Faithful yet Present Witness: The question is how do we confront this world. Simply, show the difference! You don’t have to  convince them that God is sovereign, but simply to show the difference between their worldview and yours.  That is clear from the fact that God gave the dream and its interpretation, just show the difference between the two worldviews! God will do the convincing.

[1] Anton Nyström, Allmän kulturhistoria eller det mänskliga lifvet i dess utveckling, bd 2 (1901)

[2] Antiquities, 10:10:4, See analysis of all of these in Adams and Fisher The Tome of the End 15-17

[3] Ovid, Book 1.89-150 of the Metamorphoses. There seem to be other similarities between “Ages of Men” systems in Greek and Roman literature  to Daniel 2 which I have not yet had time to explore.