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What the Bible says about Nebuchadnezzar's Image
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Daniel 2:32-35

Several important details surface immediately. First, it is an image. The second commandment (Exodus 20:4-6) describes God's revulsion of images of any kind used in worship. Although no one is seen worshipping this image, the idea that what this image represents is contrary to God is definitely present.

Second, the image's body parts are formed from different materials in descending value (Daniel 2:39). Gold is more valuable than silver, which is more valuable than bronze, etc. Finally, it ends in iron mixed with clay, an amalgam that is practically worthless and useless. However, the order of these materials increases in hardness with the exception of the iron-clay mixture (verses 40-43). This symbolizes two aspects of the same idea: While the spiritual, moral, or cultural qualities of these empires decline, their military or political power increases as one empire overthrows another.

Third, the progression from head to toes conveys the movement of time. Though these empires overlap to a small degree as one rises and another falls, their dominance in world affairs is successive. This is clearly shown in Daniel's explanation: "But after you shall arise another kingdom . . . then another" (verse 39). Thus, we should expect to be able to follow this prophecy on a historical time-line except where it continues into the future.

Fourth, the body parts themselves describe traits of the empires they symbolize. The head of the image shows a monolithic structure of government which determines the course of the body, just as in the symbolism of Christ being the Head of the body, the church (Colossians 1:18). The two arms and two legs indicate divisions of government or bases of power. Ten toes of inconsistent materials symbolize a weak-strong and possibly short confederation.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Part One): 'Head of Gold'

Daniel 2:32

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'

Daniel 2:33

The body parts as well as the quality of the metals offer help in understanding the identity and characteristics of each empire. Like previous empires, this one is divided into two parts, represented by the two legs and two feet (verse 33). Later, it is further divided into ten toes, indicating a separation of powers into ten parts.

The iron legs suggest strength far superior to the previous empires—just as iron is far stronger than bronze—although it also shows diminished quality of its culture. With the addition of clay, a material that will not bond to iron, its power further declines to the point that is only "partly strong and partly fragile [brittle, margin]" (verse 42). The clay also takes its toll on the qualitative aspects. Verse 43 indicates the empire's internal unity will be very unstable in its final form, though it will retain its toughness to some degree.

The phrase "mingle with the seed of men" (verse 43) has spurred much debate. In one sense, it serves to explain why the iron and clay will not bond: The cultural and political components of this empire are too diverse to unify for long. Otherwise, the phrase suggests a mongrelized people who no longer uphold the values and goals of the original nation that founded the empire. However one understands it, cohesion within the final stages of this kingdom will be fragile.

Generally, biblical commentators agree that the legs, feet, and toes represent the Roman Empire. Iron indeed describes the toughness and brutality by which Rome subjugated the nations, reaching its greatest domination under Trajan (AD 98-117). The Romans had little sympathy for the populace of the nations they conquered, sending millions of men, women, and children into slavery. As one commentator, John F. Walvoord, put it, "The glory of Rome was built on the misery of its conquered peoples."

When Rome finally defeated Carthage in 146 BC, Scipio Africanus Minor, the Roman general, razed the city, enslaved or dispersed its citizens, and forbade anyone to live there again. Similar actions were taken against other cities. The Romans made crucifixion of the enemies of the state a standard practice. When Galilee revolted in AD 6, the legions hammered the region's untrained army and crucified two thousand men along the roads to Sepphoris, which they leveled.

Even Cicero (106-43 BC), a Roman statesman and author, wrote:

It is difficult to convey to you, gentlemen, the bitter hatred felt for us among foreign nations because of the unbridled and outrageous behavior of the men whom we have sent to govern them during these past years. What temple in those lands do you think has had its sanctity respected by our magistrates? What state has been free from their aggression? What home has been adequately closed and protected against them? They actually look around for wealthy and flourishing cities in order to find an occasion of waging war against them and thus gratify their lust for plunder.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Part Four): Iron and Clay

Daniel 2:39

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 7:5

Among modern interpreters there is a consensus that the three ribs represent three nations subjugated by the Persians. They also represent the three kingdoms that posed the greatest threat to their power: Lydia, Babylon and Egypt (or some think, Media, Lydia and Babylon). The command to "devour much flesh" emphasizes Persia's superior military might over the peoples from Asia Minor and Egypt to India.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Part Two): Chest and Arms of Silver

Daniel 8:3-4

History records that the Persians considered a ram with sharp, pointed horns to be their guardian spirit, and the king bore the head of a ram instead of a crown when he led his armies into battle. The symbols of Medo-Persia used in the Bible, the ram and the bear, are powerful creatures, as opposed to the quick and agile goat and leopard, representing Greece. As for the different heights of the horns, the taller one represents the Persian half of the empire that rose to power later than the Median half.

Both the Medes and the Persians, as the Bible shows are represented by these horns (Daniel 8:20), also had territories located near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Though it makes little difference in the prophecy's interpretation, this river could also be "the River Ulai" (Daniel 8:2) upon whose banks the Persian capital of Susa (Shushan) was built.

The ram's pushing in every direction except east reflects the historical reality that Persia's eastern campaigns were inconsequential as compared to its other conquests. Though they did conquer as far east as the Indus River, subjugating Asia Minor, Babylon, Egypt, and Armenia was much more significant. Persia felt very little resistance in the east, and in its later history the western Macedonians under Alexander, represented by the he-goat with a notable horn (verse 21), were its most challenging foes.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Part Two): Chest and Arms of Silver

Daniel 8:7

The entire Persian Empire collapsed in six years (336-330 BC) under the relentless onslaught of Alexander's troops, who never lost a battle against the larger Persian forces. It was certainly "cast down . . . and trampled" in remarkable fashion.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Part Two): Chest and Arms of Silver


 




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