D. The Prediction Regarding Kingdoms (2:36–45).
Daniel proceeds with confidence from the presentation of the dream to the predictive interpretation of it (2:36).
1. The head of gold (2:37–38). Nebuchadnezzar was the king of kings to whom the God of heaven had given sovereignty over the world (cf. Jer 27:6–8). The head of gold symbolized him. Since Nebuchadnezzar was the embodiment of all that Babylon was, the head represented the Babylonian kingdom as well as its king. This symbolism was most appropriate for two reasons. First, Babylon was called the golden city (Isa 14:4) because gold was used profusely to decorate its shrines and public buildings. Second, the idea of world empire originated with the Babylonians. The policies which were formulated in Babylon continued to control succeeding empires even as the head controls the body (2:37f.).
2. The breast of silver (2:39a). The breast and arms of silver represented a kingdom inferior to Babylon which would subsequently arise. Most likely this is the Medo-Persian empire which assumed sovereignty over the Near East in 539 B.C. when Cyrus conquered Babylon. The symbolism here was significant for three reasons. First, the two arms appropriately indicate the two major ethnic components of this empire, viz., the Medes and the Persians. Second, the breast encloses the heart. Cyrus, the founder of this empire, is reputed to have displayed heartfelt charity on friend and foe alike. Third, silver was virtually equivalent to money. Thus the silver here may be intended to portray the more commercial spirit of this empire.
The question as to how the Medo-Persian empire was inferior to that of Nebuchadnezzar is difficult. Certainly the inferiority did not lie in geography, for the territory administered by Cyrus far exceeded anything Nebuchadnezzar ever ruled. The assertion of the moral inferiority of the Medo-Persian empire is debatable. Perhaps the inferiority of the second world empire was in the following areas. First, the Babylonian empire in the broadest sense was basically uninterrupted for two millennia. On the other hand, the Medo-Persian empire survived for but two centuries. Second, the second empire lacked the inner unity of the first.14 Third, in terms of influence and achievement the old Babylonian empire outranked the Medo-Persian by far.15
3. The belly of bronze (2:39b). The third kingdom appears to be the Greco-Macedonian kingdom founded by Alexander the Great. Again the symbolism was appropriate. First, bronze was the primary metal in instruments of war, and Alexander’s army was noted for its military prowess. Second, what began as a unit (the abdomen) divided itself into two separate parts which were never reunited. This may point to Syria and Egypt, the two great Hellenistic kingdoms which grew out of the empire of Alexander.
4. The legs of iron (2:40). Assuming that the second and third empires have been correctly identified, the fourth kingdom most likely is Rome. The iron might of Rome crushed and broke “all these in pieces.” Each successive kingdom had assumed the elements of the previous kingdom which it supplanted. So when Rome crushed the Hellenistic kingdoms (Syria and Egypt), it in effect crushed all the previous kingdoms.
5. The feet of iron and clay (2:41). The Roman empire would experience a second phase in which it would be a mixture of firmness (iron) and weakness (clay). This may represent the decline of Rome as it absorbed Germanic tribes and became a decadent dictatorship. No rival empire conquered Rome. The fourth empire did not fall so much as it crumbled from within.
6. The toes (2:42–43). Presumably the statue had ten toes. A wide divergence of opinion exists as to the meaning of this symbolism. The Adventists think in terms of ten kingdoms which at one point constituted the Roman Empire. Some modern students of prophecy suggest that a ten nation confederacy, a revived Roman Empire, will appear on the territory once ruled by Rome. Recent political and economic developments in Europe are regarded as the fulfillment of this prophecy. Ten, however, is the number of completeness. It probably was not intended to be taken literally here. Therefore, attempts to identify ten specific kingdoms are unreliable. The toes may designate all the kingdoms which would follow Rome on the stage of history. The iron and clay mixture could be a way of portraying attempts to forge alliances of diverse ethnic and linguistic groups.16
7. The stone (2:44–45). The stone cut out of the mountain without hands represented the messianic kingdom. God would set up that kingdom “in the days of those kings.” Daniel seems to use the terms kings and kingdoms interchangeably (cf. 7:17, 23). Therefore, the reference here is probably to the kingdoms just enumerated. During the span of time represented by the image, the God of Heaven would establish a kingdom of a different sort. That kingdom would be (1) indestructible, (2) non-transferable, (3) irresistibly powerful, and (4) eternal. Although it would coexist with the kingdoms of this world for a time, eventually it would triumph over all human government. Since this kingdom endures forever it cannot be the millennial kingdom which some anticipate. Daniel described the smashing of the image as a sudden, powerful and decisive blow. This probably represents the sweeping away of the world powers at the second coming of Christ.17
Smith, J. E. (1992). The Major Prophets. Joplin, Mo.: College Press.