When Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that he was the head of gold, it shows us a biblical principle that a king in prophecy represents the entire kingdom. In verses 39-40, "after you" indicates four successive world-ruling empires from the time of the Chaldean empire of Nebuchadnezzar until the return of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. We see in overview an outline of world history from a Gentile perspective, beginning with Nebuchadnezzar and coming all the way down through the various kingdoms until the image is struck on the foot by the Stone, representing the Kingdom of God, or Christ.
This prophecy brings us right into our present time—the time of the end—the time when can expect that the Stone, sometime in the not-too-distant future, will strike this image on the feet. We can look for that last empire, represented by the feet and toes, to exist today, or either be coming together, or will shortly be coming together. History has shown that these four empires, beginning with the head of gold, to be the Chaldean (the head of gold), the Medo-Persian (the chest and arms of silver), the Greco-Macedonian (the belly and thighs of brass), and the Roman (the legs and feet of iron) empires. The Roman Empire existed from 31 BC to AD 476. Secular history shows that the Vandals defeated Rome, but Rome was revived and re-established as "the Holy Roman Empire" under Emperor Justinian in AD 554.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 1)
This fourth beast—the one that struck the most terror in Daniel's heart—is described as devouring the whole earth, trampling it, and breaking it into pieces. The Aramaic phrase translated as "the whole earth" is comprised of two words: kol (Strong's #3606) and 'ara' (Strong's #772). Considering the basic meaning of these two Aramaic words, "the whole earth" is a correct literal translation. However, this same word-combination appears in a number of other places, and it does not consistently mean the entirety of the globe or even the entirety of the civilized world.
We can see this in Daniel's explanation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream: "But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth" (Daniel 2:39, emphasis ours throughout). We understand this third kingdom to be the empire of Greece under Alexander the Great. His empire stretched from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas, and included Anatolia, Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. Some would say that Alexander conquered the "known world," but this is a misnomer. Every part of the world is known to those living in it, and there were peoples living in essentially every part of the world at this time.
During Alexander's time, substantial civilizations existed in the rest of Europe, and in particular, the descendants of Israel had settled there. Unconquered tribes lived throughout Africa, Arabia, Tibet, Mongolia, not to mention the civilizations in the Americas—all were completely untroubled by Alexander. Also, ancient cultures inhabited India, the South Pacific, and the Far East. The third kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar's vision encompassed the Middle East and the Near East, but it did not rule over "all the earth," as most English-speakers would interpret the phrase. It was a "world-ruling" kingdom only for a specifically defined "world."
Therefore, if we are on the lookout for a kingdom that can devour "the whole earth," we have to understand that the scope of that Aramaic phrase can be significantly limited, and in most cases, it is. This phrase is also found in Daniel 4:1, 11, 20, where it describes the scope of Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom (which was also not truly global), and in Daniel 6:25, where King Darius writes "to all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth"—yet Darius did not have a global audience.
The one place where the phrase "the whole earth" actually does imply the entire planet is Daniel 2:35, where "the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth." This great mountain represents Jesus Christ's rule on earth, which will certainly be a world-ruling Kingdom in the fullest and truest sense of the word (see Revelation 11:15).
David C. Grabbe
The Whole Earth
Not much is written in Daniel 2 in explanation of the third world-ruling empire represented in Nebuchadnezzar's image. Other than its position on the image and its bronze appearance, the only interpretation of the "belly and thighs of bronze" (verse 32) within this chapter is found in verse 39: ". . . then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth."
Such paucity of detail suggests the relative unimportance of this third empire in the march of prophetic events. Falling "between the Testaments," this kingdom played a lesser role in the history of God's people than Babylon or Persia, although it did indeed "rule over all the earth." From this one detail, as well as from its position between the "chest and arms of silver" (already identified as Medo-Persia) and the fourth kingdom of iron (generally accepted as Rome), we can safely name it as Greece.
Another factor that assists in its identification is the parts of the body by which it is represented. The belly, a single body part, represents a monolithic government, and the thighs, two body parts, represent a division of power. The Greek Empire, built upon the remains of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great, began with a single leader. But after Alexander's death in 323 BC, his generals carved out kingdoms of their own. From the resultant wars among them, two major powers emerged: Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Part Three): 'Belly and Thighs of Bronze'
The idea of inferiority seems to pass to the succeeding empires as well. But in what way was Medo-Persia inferior?
Medo-Persia controlled a larger territory than did Babylon, so it was certainly not inferior in political or military might. Even before the fall of Babylon, Cyrus had defeated the wealthy Croesus, king of Lydia in Asia Minor (546 BC). After victories in central Iran and in Phoenicia, he conquered Babylon in 539 BC, and his son Cambyses overthrew Egypt and Libya in 525 BC. At its height the Persian Empire was nearly double the size of Babylon.
It did, however, have a problem with internal unity. Cyrus, a Persian, initiated the growth of the empire by usurping the Median throne with the help of the Median nobility. The empire, from this point on, was dominated by Persians, or as the Bible says, the "bear . . . was raised up on one side" (Daniel 7:5). The two arms of the image symbolize this division.
Also, each time an emperor died, severe struggles erupted over succession to the throne. Fortunately, mostly strong and capable rulers won these struggles, especially during its first century, and kept the empire whole for over two hundred years. Only the superior might of Alexander's Macedonian army spelled its downfall.
Another factor of its inferiority was, oddly, its rulers. Cyrus, regaled in the Bible as God's "shepherd" and "His anointed" (Isaiah 44:28-45:13), was not the same caliber of man as Nebuchadnezzar. Though he was a humane and conciliatory ruler for his time, he neither lived long enough to stamp his character on his realm (d. 529 BC), nor did he acknowledge God's sovereignty as did his predecessor (Daniel 4:28-37).
In relation to this, the word inferior itself ('ara') means "earth, world, ground." Persia was literally more "earthly" or "worldly" than Babylon in God's eyes. The aims and drives of its kings were, as a whole, of a lower nature than Babylon's, though the latter's were certainly misguided as well. However, the trajectory of this factor in all these kingdoms is, according to the prophecy, downward, and it sinks further with each new empire.
On the other hand, it must be injected here that Cyrus was the instrument that God used to reestablish the Temple in Jerusalem (II Chronicles 36:22-23). The Persians had a general policy to honor the gods of all their defeated enemies by repairing or rebuilding temples and giving offerings to them. This was mainly done to appease the gods "just in case" they had been offended by the subjugation of their peoples, as well as to smooth relations between the Persians and their vassals. Scholars are still divided over whether Cyrus actually meant that the God of Israel was indeed the true God and thus his sovereign Lord. Most think he did not because decrees to other nations have been found in which similar language is used.
Unlike the Babylonians, the Persian Empire centered squarely on its military and political bases rather than its religious, cultural, or economic life. Historians consider the Persian imperial political structure and administrative forms to be the finest example of government before the Roman period. In fact, they think that the Romans borrowed Persian ideas in forming their own. This meant that the real basis of power in the empire was the army, even above that of the king, although the king supposedly controlled the army.
The religion of the Persians was Zoroastrianism, a dualistic belief in good and evil and man's struggle between them. Although it was less bloody, warlike, idolatrous, and superstitious than other polytheistic religions of the region, it retained vestiges of ancient beliefs that eventually supplanted it. The cults of Mithra, the sun god, and Anaita, the goddess of fertility—similar to Nimrod/Tammuz and Semiramis, the old Babylonian Mystery Religion—grew in popularity until Zoroastrianism faded into obscurity. But its principle of dualism lived on in Gnosticism and the mystery religions of the Roman Empire. Some of these beliefs and practices (such as Mithra's birthday, December 25; Sunday as a holy day; All Soul's Day; and heaven, hell and purgatory) were later embraced by Catholicism to counter the popularity of these cults.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Part Two): Chest and Arms of Silver
Daniel 2:36-43 describes four major kingdoms, empires, or governmental systems that have ruled over the greater part of the civilized world:
1. The Chaldean-Babylonian Empire (625 to 538 BC)
2. The Medo-Persian Empire (538 to 330 BC)
3. The Greco-Macedonian Empire (333 to 31 BC)
4. The Roman Empire (Established 31 BC. The imagery suggests that it will exist in some form until the end of the age.)
Clearly, these physical empires existed on earth. Verses 44-45 then say that God's Kingdom will encompass all of these previous kingdoms—on earth! Daniel 7:17-18 says much the same.
Is Heaven the Reward of the Saved?
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Daniel 2:39:
1 Thessalonians 4:17