Kingdoms rise and Kingdoms fall.
The book of Daniel is unique in the Bible because it gives us a fascinating look at the story of human history. The Daniel 2 is especially stunning in how clearly it has been fulfilled in human history.
Daniel 2 centers around a vision that the King of Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar) has one night while he's asleep, and the interpretation that Daniel provides for this dream. But without even getting into the details of the dream, there are already interesting dynamics at play: Daniel had been captured from Jerusalem and taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar's army, and was serving the king in Babylon. He was not a slave per se, since Daniel actually occupied a very high and noble position within the empire. He was, however, an exile - forced to live a life in an unfamiliar land - and in spite of the luxuries and wealth that surrounded him, Daniel's heart could never be fully at peace in Babylon.
Not only this, but Daniel is a prophet who witnesses something strange: God chooses to deliver a prophecy first to a pagan king who cannot even understand what God is saying to him, and who requires the guidance of one of the exiles he had kidnapped from Judah. There are interesting differences in power here between characters, which adds to some dramatic tension. If the king is not pleased with the interpretation of his dream, he has the power (and the tendency!) to lash out in anger and have his wise men, philosophers, and magicians executed. The pressure is on for Daniel not only to prove that God can reveal mysteries, but also to save many lives of his fellow workers.
Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a giant statue made of different kinds of metals, depreciating in value from head to toe. And the very end of the vision, an invisible force cuts a giant stone out from the side of a mountain and hurls this stone at the feet of the statue, shattering it and establishing this massive rock as the new dominant power in the vision.
God showed Daniel the meaning of this dream: The head of the statue, made out of solid Gold, represented the Empire of Babylon (Daniel 2:37-38). The arms and chest were made of silver, and represented the kingdom of the Medes and Persians, who would rule much of the world after the Babylonians (Daniel 2:32, 8:20). The belly and thighs of the statue were made of Bronze, which represented the kingdom of Greece that would rise up under the leadership of Alexander the Great (Daniel 2:32, 39; 8:21). The rest of the statue’s legs were made of Iron, which represented the great power of Rome that would smash other kingdoms to pieces (Daniel 2:40).
The feet and toes of the statue were made of both iron and clay, which do not mix together. This meant that after Rome there would be a divided world made up of strong and weak nations, and that people in this time would not be united. (Daniel 2:41-43).
But the point of the story is not to retell all of world history. The point of the story comes at the end: God himself will create his own kingdom that will overthrow and replace all the warring kingdoms of this world. In those last days represented by the bottom of the statue, God would break the powers of the kings of earth and set up a new kingdom for the whole world, for all people.
Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, accepted this interpretation of the dream, at least partially. As it turns out later in the story, it seems to bother him that the dream implies that the empire of Babylon would one day end and be overtaken by another. But for now, Daniel has appeased the king and saved many magicians, wise men, philosophers, and scholars from being executed by an impulsive and overly emotional ruler. God has spoken to a pagan ruler directly and given him a dream. The pagan emperor of the world has had to work alongside a prophet of God who was willing to take a "secular" job in the king's court. Through this dynamic, God will begin reaching out to the heart of the emperor. We see God looking out for massive-scale concerns of nations and kingdoms, as well as for the more intimate issues of individual people.
The history of our world, with all it’s complicated politics, is going somewhere. It always has been, because God has a plan. While we might sometimes feel powerless to make change in the world, God has all the power we could ever need. He is guiding history towards a final, happy ending. The stone that was cut out from the mountain, which overthrew the idol of human history, is the kingdom of God, which will outgrow and overshadow all the destructive and violent regimes that people have created. God is in the business of creating a new world out of the ashes of this old one. The question is, will you be a part of his new world?
- In Daniel 2:1-16, we meet a group of people called "the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans." The story suggests that these people are supposed to be able to interpret and understand supernatural events, but their inability to do so puts their lives in danger. Here are some questions about them:
- From reading the text, does it seem like Daniel and his friends were included in this group of wise men and magicians? Note especially 2:12-13, 2:24, as well as 1:3-4, and 1:20. Was Daniel familiar with the religions and cults of Babylon, and was he a part of those guilds, or not?
- Read 2:12-16 again. Why do you think Daniel didn't allow the other magicians - who practiced unacceptable forms of spirituality, including necromancy - to be killed before he interpreted the dream? Should God's people use their power to harm people from other religious groups? Should we be cruel or violent to people we believe are mistaken in their spiritual practices?
- Look at 2:17-30. What important lesson does this section teach us about wisdom, prophecy, knowledge, interpretation, and understanding secret/mysterious things?
- Read the whole vision in Daniel 2:31-35. What is the focal point of the statue vision? What is the most important part of the vision?
- Consult Daniel 2:36-45 where Daniel offers the interpretation of the dream.
- The first four kingdoms that Daniel talks about in this vision are known in history as being (in order) Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Some scholars find it difficult to believe that the book of Daniel could have been written in the actual time of the Babylonian kingdom since that would mean he accurately predicted the future. Instead, they will suppose that Daniel was written at a much later date when these events had already happened, and that the writing style simply makes it seem like an accurate prediction. What do you think? Do you believe that this prophecy in Daniel 2 actually predicted the future? Why or why not?
- If God actually gave Daniel an accurate prediction of the future, would that inform the amount of trust you have in the Bible?