The Great Image of Nebuchadnezzar - (Daniel 2:1-3:30)

Nebuchadnezzar's Image of Gold
The second and third chapters of Daniel form a single story told in two parts. In the first, king Nebuchadnezzar sees an enormous image in a dream; in the second, he attempts to implement the image from his dream according to his desire. In his mind, he is the “head of gold” and the “king of kings” and, therefore, the entire image must be constructed of gold to symbolize his rule.
The king experienced a troubling dream that none of the wise men, soothsayers or astrologers of Babylon could interpret. Only Daniel was able to do so. In it, Nebuchadnezzar saw a large image composed of different materials, beginning with a head of gold. In the third chapter, the king presumes to “set up” his version of the image to magnify his glory and dominion, an image covered with gold from top to bottom.
Daniel’s interpretation highlights the book’s proposition: God rules over the World-empire and gives it to whomever He pleases. But Yahweh reigns in an ironic fashion, using the word of powerless exiles to direct the course of history (Daniel 2:36-45).
Nebuchadnezzar reacts to the dream’s interpretation by acknowledging that God is his overlord and elevates Daniel to govern the province of Babylon and to manage its learned men. But his enlightened view does not last; Nebuchadnezzar builds and installs an enormous golden image and commands all “peoples, nations and tongues” to render homage to it (Daniel 2:48).
Both sections end with the king acknowledging the supremacy of the God of Israel, with Daniel and his friends promoted over the “province of Babylon.”
Nebuchadnezzar had his dream in the second year of his reign, approximately 604-603 B.C., the second year of Daniel’s education in Babylon. This means the events of chapter 2 occurred before the completion of Daniel’s three-year education in the wisdom of Babylon; therefore, his ability to interpret the king’s dream was not due to anything provided by Babylon (Daniel 1:5, 2:1).
The king summoned all the “astrologers, enchanters, sorcerers and the Chaldeans to tell him his dream.” Daniel was not from this group; his ability to interpret dreams was by God’s gift rather than divination (Daniel 1:17).
The king was unable to remember his dream (“the thing is gone from me”), so, he commanded the Chaldeans to make known to him the dream’s contents and its interpretation. Three times he ordered the Chaldeans to do so, each time threatening death for failure but promising rewards for success.
The “wise men” acknowledged that only the gods could do what the king had demanded but the gods of Mesopotamia did “not dwell with flesh.” Unlike Babylonian deities, Yahweh dwelt among men and was well able to reveal both the dream and its interpretation. By first revealing the dream’s contents, God validated the interpretation given through Daniel (Daniel 2:10-11).
Furious at the response of the Chaldeans, Nebuchadnezzar determined to destroy “all the wise men of Babylon.” That action would have included Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (“the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain, and they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain”).
Daniel entered the king’s presence to request a time to reveal the dream and its interpretation; to do so without a summons was to risk death. He then prayed with his companions for God to reveal the matter (“They desired mercies of the God of heaven concerning this mystery; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.” Then was the mystery revealed to Daniel in a night vision”).
Daniel Interprets the Dream

Twice reference is made to the “God of the heavens” in order to contrast Yahweh with the deities of the Chaldeans. They believed heavenly bodies influenced the destinies of nations, but Yahweh is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, including the planets and stars, the revealer of “mysteries,” and the Sovereign who controls the fate of empires. “Mystery” translates the Aramaic noun raz, which occurs eight times in chapter 2 (Daniel 2:18-192:27-30,2:47,4:9).
The thanksgiving of Daniel in verses 20-23 anticipates the interpretation of the dream and expresses the theological understanding of the book:  God gives the nations to whomever He wills. True wisdom belongs to God who grants it to His lowliest servant (“He gives wisdom to the wise”), He is sovereign over the sun, moon, and the stars (“He changes the times and the seasons”), and He reigns over all political powers (“He removes and sets up kings”).
Daniel is identified to the royal court as one of the captives from Judah, and he is designated by his captive name or Belteshazzar to stress his lowly position and political impotence.
A new class of Babylonian “experts” is introduced in verse 27, “astrologers” or gezar, a verb meaning, “cut, to divide,” hence, the “dividers” of the heavens.  This usage comes from the astrological practice of dividing the heavens into different spheres of influence (Daniel 4:75:75:11).
God by a dream had revealed to Nebuchadnezzar what “must come to pass in later days.” The chronological reference is ambiguous and means no more than at some point in the future. The same ambiguity is found in verse 45, “God made known to the king what shall come to pass after this” (Daniel 2:28).
Daniel then described the contents of the dream. Nebuchadnezzar saw a colossal image with a head of gold, breast, and arms of silver, belly, and thighs of bronze, legs of iron with both feet of mixed iron and clay. In verse 31, the image is “one” image, despite its several components. The king next saw a “stone cut out without hands” that struck the image’s feet, pulverizing the “iron, clay, brass, silver and gold.” The stone “became a great mountain that filled the whole earth.”
The “stone cut without hands” echoes the Hebrew practice of building altars with uncut stones. The connection of God’s dwelling place to a great mountain is also in the background (Exodus 15:17-18, 20:22-25, Psalm 78:54Micah 4:1Isaiah 11:966:20Revelation 21:10).
Daniel declared that Nebuchadnezzar was “the king of kings”; nevertheless, his kingship was derived from “the God of the heavens.” The head of gold represented him (“you are the head of gold”). That the Babylonian king was the head suggests that Babylon was the first world-empire (Genesis 10:1011:1-9).
Little information is provided about the second and third kingdoms.  The second is silver and “inferior” to Babylon; the third is bronze and “will bear rule over all the earth.” The text does not explain how the second kingdom is inferior, though its “breast and arms of silver” suggest division, not unity.
Whether the third or fourth kingdom is “inferior” to the golden head is not stated, though this inference may be drawn from the decreasing value of the materials used. Silver is less valuable than gold, bronze than silver, and so on. The third kingdom is to “rule over all the earth.” This signifies political and military prowess.
The fourth kingdom is strong as iron because it “shatters and crushes all things.” Just like iron crushes, so this kingdom will “shatter and crush.” Precisely who or what is crushed is not stated. The comparison indicates no more than its ability to destroy.
The feet and toes are “part of clay and part of iron”; the two lower legs are of unmixed iron. The mixture represents division and incompatibility; it will be strong like iron but brittle like clay used for pottery. The mixed materials in the feet and toes suggest brittleness in the latter part of the last kingdom. While the toes and feet are composed of clay and iron, in the interpretation, the two materials are treated together; no significance is assigned to the distinction between toes and feet or to their number, presumably ten.
The mixture is explained in verse 43: “They shall mingle themselves with the seed of men, but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron does not mingle with clay.” No information is provided about the identities of the two groups; the stress is on the attempt to “commingle with the seed of men.”
The interpretation concludes with the establishment of God’s everlasting kingdom.  “In the days of those kings,” God will establish His domain.  “Those kings” must refer to the four kingdoms symbolized by the image’s components. The stone “without hands” strikes the single image on its feet and shatters “all these kingdoms.”
Sovereignty passes from one kingdom to the next, but the earlier regimes do not disappear entirely; something from each survives in each successive realm until the final destruction of the entire image. Nebuchadnezzar saw a stone “cut out of the mountain without hands.”
The image is destroyed by the stone cut from the mountain; it is cut out of a larger whole. The stone symbolizes a “kingdom which shall never be destroyed.” Its sovereignty “shall never be left to another people.” To be “cut out without hands” points to divine intervention in contrast to human effort.
Daniel concluded his interpretation: “The great God has made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain and the interpretation thereof sure.”
Nebuchadnezzar prostrated himself before Daniel, an act that anticipated the replacement of the world-empire by God’s kingdom; the sovereign “head of fine gold” lay prostrate before the powerless representative of the kingdom “cut out without hands.”
In verse 35, the stone “became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth”; the pagan king now makes Daniel great, gives him the authority to govern “the whole province of Babylon,” and appoints him a “great one over all the wise men of Babylon.” The dream-vision finds a proleptic fulfillment in the elevation of Daniel to the governorship.
The chapter concludes by reaffirming through the words and deeds of Nebuchadnezzar the book’s central theme:  Daniel’s God is the “God of gods, Lord of kings,” and He is sovereign over the kingdoms of the world. Wittingly or not, the king acknowledged that his authority was derived from the God of Israel. 
Daniel’s reward for revealing the king’s dream was elevation to govern “the whole province.” His three friends participated in this authority “over the affairs of the province.” Already, the everlasting kingdom was establishing itself as God empowered Daniel in the Land of Shinar.
At this point, Daniel’s interpretation creates as many questions as it answers.  Do the four kingdoms follow each other consecutively or are they concurrent? Does each occupy the same territory? Who are the other three kingdoms (only the head of gold can be identified with certainty)?
The next chapter is a sequel to the second. This is borne out by verbal and conceptual links, and by the omission of any chronological reference (Daniel 3:1-2).
The image with the head of gold from the King’s dream sets the stage for what follows. Nebuchadnezzar attempts to implement his dream in his way by setting up an enormous image made entirely of gold as a symbol of his dominion. He either failed to understand Daniel’s interpretation or refused to accept it.
Nebuchadnezzar erected an image made entirely of gold to demonstrate his power, glory, and achievements. This was in the “plain of Dura,” the location of which is uncertain. “Dura” means “wall” or “rampart.” This suggests a site within one of the series of outer walls that surrounded the city. “Plain” points to a broad and level area able to accommodate large crowds. That is how the translators of the Greek Septuagint understood the clause when they translated it, “the plain of the wall” (en pediō tou peribolou).
Plain” echoes the story of the Tower of Babel when all men spoke one language. Men journeyed east to find a “plain in the land of Shinar and dwelt there” (Genesis 11:1-2, Daniel 1:2).

There is a deliberate contrast with the preceding story. In chapter 3, the king set up his image, whereas, in chapter 2, the “stone cut out of the mountain shattered” the image of iron, brass, clay, silver, and gold (Daniel 2:45).

The image was sixty cubits by six cubits or hexékonta hex in the Greek Septuagint. This is approximately ninety feet high by nine feet wide. The figures reflect the Babylonian sexagesimal or 60-base numbering system. This is further evidence that the author of Daniel was familiar with the ancient Babylonian culture and science.  Nothing is said of the shape of the image and the dimensions may portray an obelisk. What god or human it represented is not stated.
Nebuchadnezzar became famous for restoring Babylon’s temples to her many gods. The addition of an image inside a temple would not have been unusual, but the placement of one in an open area for all men and women to see and venerate was unique in the Mesopotamian culture.
The stone that destroyed the four kingdoms was “cut out without hands.” In contrast, Nebuchadnezzar “set up” his image, a rendering of the Aramaic verb qum. The verb repeats nine times in chapter 3 to stress the same point:  Nebuchadnezzar “set up” (qum) his image (Daniel 3:1, 3:2, 3:3 [twice], 3:5, 3:7, 3:12, 3:14, 3:18).
In contrast, the God of Heaven “sets up” (qum) kings, “set up” the image with the golden head in the king’s dream, and will “set up” an everlasting kingdom that destroys the mighty image of the king’s dream (Daniel 2:21-31, 2:44).
The king commanded all “satraps, nobles, pashas, chief judges, treasurers, judges, lawyers and governors to assemble to the dedication of his image.” All people, nations, and tongues were commanded to render it homage. Anyone who refused was summarily executed (Daniel 3:2-6).
The image represented the king’s absolute power. He did not demand worship of himself but required homage to the image, a show of total allegiance to his authority. By this, he defied the sovereignty of the true God.  He claimed a level of allegiance that belonged only to the “God of Heaven” (Daniel 2:20-22).
The officials at this ritual represented all the “peoples, races, and tongues” of the Empire. By proxy, all nations rendered homage to the king and his image.
The Chaldeans, the wise men, astrologers, and the soothsayers of the court were demoted after their inability to reveal the king’s dream. Now they exploit an opportunity to inflict vengeance on Daniel’s companions. Though loyal to the king, the three Jewish men could not worship the king’s image (Daniel 2:4-132:48-49).
The Chaldeans told Nebuchadnezzar that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego “refused” to pay homage to his image, so he gave them a stark choice: “Fall down and worship the image…or be cast into the fiery furnace.” His rage directed at the Chaldeans in the preceding chapter is redirected against the Jewish exiles (Daniel 3:13-18).
The king ranted, “Who is the god able to deliver you out of my hand?” This was an unwitting challenge to the God of Israel who “gave the king of Judah and the vessels of the Temple into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.” But the Babylonian monarch found he was unable to do anything to thwart the purposes of God.
The three exiles were cast into a super-heated furnace in which Nebuchadnezzar saw them walking accompanied by a fourth figure described “like a son of the gods,” possibly an angel (Daniel 3:20-25, 8:15-179:20-2310:13, 10:21).
With trepidation, Nebuchadnezzar summoned the three men to exit the furnace.  He addressed them respectfully as “servants of the Most-High God.” He had witnessed how the fire could not harm them. They survived unscathed and, therefore, the king, “Blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.” Yahweh had “changed the king’s word” by delivering His servants “out of his hand.” In his fury, Nebuchadnezzar had raged, “Who is able to deliver out of my hand?”  He now had his answer.
Nebuchadnezzar next issued a decree to “all peoples, nations, and tongues.” Anyone who disparaged the God of the exiles would be “cut in pieces and his house turned into a dunghill.” This is a verbal and ironic link to the previous chapter (Daniel 2:5). Nebuchadnezzar had warned the Chaldeans that if they failed to make known his dream, he would “cut you in pieces and turn your houses into a dunghill.”
Once again, the highest praise of God is heard on the lips of a mighty pagan ruler. The ruler over the world-empire acknowledged the supremacy of the God of Heaven. The machinations, purposes, and even the rage of the world’s most powerful king were no impediment to Yahweh’s purposes.
In the Book of Revelation
The image of a stone “cut out without hands” figures in New Testament depictions of Jesus as the Greater Temple in contrast to the Jerusalem Temple that was made “with hands”  (Mark 14:5813:1-3John 2:17-21Acts 7:4817:242 Corinthians 5:1Hebrews 9:119:24).
Daniel’s declaration that God “reveals (apokaluptō) mysteries and has shown the king what things must come to pass (ha dei genesthai)” is alluded to four times in the book of Revelation. John’s book is a “Revelation (apokalupsis) of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants, what things must come to pass (ha dei genesthai) soon” (Revelation 1:1, 1:194:122:6).
Revelation borrows language from Daniel 3:1-7 in its portrayal of the “beast from the earth” who causes all the “inhabitants of the earth” to render homage to the image of the Beast from the sea (Revelation 13:1-18). All who refuse to do so are to be killed. “The small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond,” must give allegiance to the image and receive its “number,” a conceptual parallel to Nebuchadnezzar’s summons to the “satraps, deputies, governors, judges, treasurers, counselors, sheriffs and all the rulers of the provinces” to worship his image.
The “number” of the Beast is “six hundred, sixty and six,” or hexakosioi hexékonta hex in the Greek New Testament. This parallels Daniel 3:1-7 where Nebuchadnezzar made an image sixty cubits by six cubits (hexékonta hex). The book of Revelation adds six hundred to the number sixty-six. The numbers link the two passages, both of which concern pressure to participate in idolatrous worship.
In Revelation, the burning fiery furnace” into which the three Jewish men were cast becomes the model for the “lake of fire burning with brimstone” into which the beast from the land that caused men to venerate the Beast’s image is “cast alive” (Revelation 19:20).

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