Great Image of Nebuchadnezzar

SYNOPSISDaniel interpreted the King’s troubling dream, then implemented the dream according to his own desires - Daniel 2:1–3:30.

Nebuchadnezzar's Image -
The second and third chapters of the Book of Daniel present a single story told in two parts. In the first, King Nebuchadnezzar sees an enormous image in a dream composed of several materials; in the second, he attempts to implement the image from his dream according to his concept of political power. In his mind, he is the “head of gold” and the “king of kings” from the dream and, therefore, he “sets up” an image covered entirely in gold to symbolize his universal and perpetual sovereignty.

The interpretation of the dream given by Daniel highlights the key theme of the book: God rules over the World-Power and gives it to whomever He pleases.

However, Yahweh reigns in an ironic fashion. He employs the words of powerless exiles to direct the course of history. Both chapters end with the king acknowledging the supremacy of the God of Israel, with Daniel and his friends promoted over the “province of Babylon” (Daniel 2:36-48).

The Dream of the King

Nebuchadnezzar had his dream in the second year of his reign and the second year of Daniel’s education in Babylon, approximately, 604-603 B.C. This means the events of Chapter 2 occurred before the completion of his three-year education in the “wisdom of Babylon”; therefore, his ability to interpret the dream was not due to anything provided by the Babylonian State or culture (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 the gift of God, not any of the arts of divination:

(Daniel 1:17) – “And as for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom — and Daniel had discernment in all visions and dreams”).

The king was unable to remember his dream (“the thing is gone from me”), therefore, he commanded the Chaldeans to make known the dream’s contents as well as its interpretation. Three times he ordered them 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, however, 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 contents, God validated the interpretation given through Daniel:

(Daniel 2:10-11) – “The Chaldeans answered before the king and said, There is not a man upon the earth who can declare the matter of the king — although, indeed, there is no king, chief ruler who a thing like this hath asked of any sacred scribe or magician or Chaldean; and the thing which the king hath asked is difficult, and none other is there who can declare it before the king — saving the gods whose dwelling is not with flesh” – (The Emphasized Bible).

Furious at their response, Nebuchadnezzar determined to destroy “all the wise men of Babylon,” intentionally or not, an action that would include 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 approached the king to request a time to reveal the dream and its interpretation; to do this without a summons was to risk death. He then prayed with his companions for God to reveal the matter:

(Daniel 2:17-19) - “Then Daniel, to his own house, departed,—and to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, made the matter known; that tender compassion they might seek from before the God of the heavens, concerning this secret,—that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed, with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then, unto Daniel—in a vision of the night, the secret was revealed,—whereupon, Daniel, blessed the God of the heavens.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

Twice reference is made to the “God of the heavens” to contrast Yahweh with the deities of the learned men of Babylon - 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 “secrets” or “mysteries,” and the Sovereign who controls the fates of empires. “Mystery” translates the Aramaic noun raz (Strong’s #H7328), which occurs eight times in Chapter 2 (Daniel 2:18-192:27-30,2:47,4:9).

(Daniel 2:20-23) – “Daniel responded and said, Let the name of God be blessed from age to age — in that wisdom and might to him belong; And he changeth times and seasons, removeth kings and setteth up kings — giving wisdom to the wise and knowledge to them who are skilled in understanding: He revealeth the deep things and the hidden — knoweth what is in the darkness and light with him doth dwell. Unto thee, O God of my fathers, do I render thanks and praise in that wisdom and might thou hast given unto me — yea, already hast thou made known to me that which we desired of thee, for the matter of the king hast thou made known unto us” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The thanksgiving by Daniel 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 the One 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 is designated by his captive name, Belteshazzar. This stresses his lowly status and political impotence.
A new class of Babylonian “experts” is introduced in Verse 27, “astrologers,” “Soothsayers,” from the Aramaic gezar (Strong’s #H1505), a verb meaning “cut, to divide,” hence, the dividers of the heavens.  This usage comes from the astrological practice of dividing the heavens into spheres of influence (Daniel 4:75:75:11).

(Daniel 2:27-28) – “Daniel answered before the king, and said — The secret which the king hath asked the wise men, the magicians, the sacred scribes, the astrologers are not able to declare unto the king; but there is a God in the heavens, who revealeth secrets and hath made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what shall come to pass, in the afterpart of the days” – (The Emphasized Bible).

God revealed to Nebuchadnezzar by a dream 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 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 represents a single entity, despite its several components. The king next saw a “stone cut out without hands” that struck the feet of the image, 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 common 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 11:966:20).

Tower of Babel
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-Power (Genesis 10:1011:1-9).

Little information is provided about the second or the third kingdom.  The second is made of silver and is “inferior” to the golden head. The third realm is represented by bronze and it “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. Additionally, silver was often considered less valuable than gold.

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 each metal. Silver is less valuable than gold, bronze than silver, and so on. The third kingdom is to “rule over all the earth.” This signifies its 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; 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 completely; something from each survives in the successive realms, that is, 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, not 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-Power by the kingdom of God. Thus, the sovereign “head of fine gold” lay prostrate before the powerless representative of the kingdom that is “cut out without hands.”

In Verse 35, the stone “became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.” The pagan king made Daniel great, gave him authority to govern the “whole province of Babylon,” and appointed him a “great one over all the wise men of Babylon.” The dream-vision found a proleptic fulfillment in the elevation of Daniel to the governorship of the province.

The chapter concludes by reaffirming through the words and deeds of Nebuchadnezzar the central theme of the book:  Yahweh 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 was elevation to govern the “whole province.” His three Jewish 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, the 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 and what are the other three kingdoms (only the head of gold can be identified with certainty)?

The Great Golden Image

The next chapter is the sequel to Chapter 2. This is borne out by verbal and conceptual links between them, and by the omission of any chronological reference at the start of Chapter 3:

 (Daniel 3:1-2) – “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height thereof, sixty cubits, the breadth thereof, six cubits,—he set it up in the valley of Dura, in the province of Babylon. And Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the satraps, the nobles and the pashas, the chief judges, the treasurers, the judges, the lawyers, and all the rulers of the province,—to come to the dedication of the image, which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

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 covered entirely with gold to symbolize his dominion. He either failed to understand Daniel’s interpretation or refused to accept it.

The king erected an image covered in 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 of Babylon. “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 11:1-9, 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 “set up” by Nebuchadnezzar was sixty cubits high by six cubits wide, or hexékonta hex in the Greek text from the Septuagint. This is approximately ninety feet by nine feet. The figures reflect the Babylonian sexagesimal or 60-base numbering system. This is further evidence that the author of the book of Daniel was familiar with the ancient Babylonian culture and science.  Nothing is said of the shape of the image; the dimensions may suggest an obelisk. What god or human it represented is not stated.

Nebuchadnezzar became famous for restoring the temples of Babylon 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 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 He will “set up” an everlasting kingdom that will destroy all opposing realms (Daniel 2:21-31, 2:44).

The king commanded all the “satraps, nobles, pashas, chief judges, treasurers, judges, lawyers and governors to assemble to the dedication of his image.” All peoples, nations, and tongues were commanded to render homage to it. Anyone who refused was summarily executed. These officials represented all the “peoples, races, and tongues” of the Empire. By proxy, all nations rendered homage to the king and his image (Daniel 3:2-6).
The image represented the king’s absolute power. He did not demand worship for himself but required homage to the image, a show of total allegiance to his rule. By this act, unwittingly, he defied the sovereignty of the true God and claimed a level of allegiance that belonged only to the “God of Heaven” (Daniel 2:20-22).
The Chaldeans, the wise men, the astrologers, and the soothsayers of the Babylonian court had been demoted following their failure to reveal the king’s dream. In Chapter 3, they exploit an opportunity to inflict vengeance on the companions of Daniel for their earlier loss of face and position. Although loyal to the king, the three Jewish men could not worship his 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 was about to discover his inability 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 while 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 did 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 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 preceding chapter. 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-Power 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 achieving His purposes.

In the Book of Revelation

The declaration of Daniel that God “reveals (apokaluptō) mysteries and has shown the king WHAT THINGS MUST COME TO PASS (ha dei genesthai)” is echoed four times in the Book of Revelation, 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 and imagery from Daniel3:1-7 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 men and women who refuse to worship the image of the Beast are to be killed. “The small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond,” all segments of society must give allegiance to the image and receive its “number,” a conceptual parallel to the summons by Nebuchadnezzar 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 3:1-2 where Nebuchadnezzar made an image sixty cubits by six cubits (hexékonta hex). The Book of Revelation adds six hundred to the number sixty-six to produce the “number of the Beast.” The numbers link the two passages; both concern pressure on humanity to participate in the idolatrous worship of the World-Power.

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.” The followers of the Lamb are preserved from the “second death, the Lake of Fire”; however, the Dragon, the Beast and the False Prophet that attempt to destroy the saints are, instead, cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:17-2120:11-15).


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