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23 December 2018

The King’s Great Golden Image (Daniel 2:1–3:30)

Nebuchadnezzar's idol
The second and third chapters of Daniel form a single story with two parts. In the first one, king Nebuchadnezzar sees an enormous image in a dream; in the second section, he attempts to implement The image from his dream according to his desire. Nebuchadnezzar was the “head of gold” and the “king of kings,” therefore the entire image must be made of gold and symbolize his kingdom’s sovereignty.
The king experienced a troubling dream, which none of the wise men of Babylon could interpret. Only Daniel was able to do so.  Nebuchadnezzar saw a large image composed of different materials, beginning with a head of gold. In the next chapter, the king presumes to “set up” his version of the image to magnify his glory and dominion, an image of 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 (2:36-45). But He reigns in an ironic fashion, using the word of a powerless exile to direct the course of an empire.
Nebuchadnezzar reacts to the dream’s interpretation by acknowledging God as his overlord. He then elevates Daniel to govern the province of Babylon and its learned men (2:48). But his enlightened view does not last, for Nebuchadnezzar next installs an enormous golden image and commands all “peoples, nations and tongues” to bow down and render homage to it.
Both sections end with Nebuchadnezzar 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 (2:1), approximately 604-603 B.C., the second year of Daniel’s education in Babylon (1:5). This means the events of chapter 2 occurred before the completion of his three-year education in the wisdom and literature of Babylon. Daniel’s ability to interpret the king’s dream was not due to anything provided by Babylon.
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 (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 reveal his dream, 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” (2:10-11). Unlike Babylonian deities, the God of Daniel dwelt among men and was well able to reveal both dream and interpretation. By first revealing the dream’s contents, God validated the interpretation given through Daniel.
Furious, Nebuchadnezzar determined to destroy “all the wise men of Babylon,” which 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 an appointed 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”).
Twice reference is made to the “God of the heavens” to contrast Yahweh with the deities of the Chaldeans. They believed heavenly bodies influenced the destinies of nations. Daniel’s God 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 (2:18-192:27-30;2:47;4:9).
Daniel’s thanksgiving in verses 20-23 anticipates the interpretation of the king’s dream and expresses the theological understanding of the book of Daniel:  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 stars (“He changes the times and the seasons”), and reigns over all political powers (“He removes and sets up kings”).
Daniel is identified to the royal court as one of the captives of Judah, and by his captive name (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 to “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” (2:28). 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 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 (Exodus 20:22-25). The connection of God’s dwelling place to a great mountain is also in the background (Exodus 15:17-18Psalm 78:54Micah 4:1Isaiah 11:966:20Revelation 21:10).
Daniel declares that Nebuchadnezzar is “the king of kings,” nevertheless his kingship is derived from “the God of the heavens” (2:36-37). The head of gold represents him (“you are the head of gold”). That the Babylonian king is the head suggests Babylon itself is 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 “shall bear rule over all the earth.” The text does not explain how the second kingdom is inferior, though its “breast and arms of silver” suggests division.
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,” which signifies its political and military prowess.
The fourth kingdom is strong as iron because it “shatters and crushes all things.” Just like iron crushes things, 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 location of the mixed materials in the feet and toes suggests brittleness in the latter part of the last kingdom. While the toes and feet are described as composed of clay and iron, in the interpretation the two 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 would 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 in order to shatter “all these kingdoms.”
Sovereignty passes from one kingdom to the next, but the preceding regimes do not disappear entirely; something from each continues to survive 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, 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 sovereign over the kingdoms of this 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 in the book, 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 geographic territory? Who are the other three kingdoms (only the head of gold can be identified with any certainty)?
The third chapter of Daniel is a sequel to the second, which is borne out by verbal and conceptual links and by the omission 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 his way by setting up an enormous image made entirely of gold to symbolize his dominion. He either failed to understand Daniel’s interpretation of the dream 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,” which suggests a site within one of the series of outer walls that surrounded the city.
“Plain” points to a broad level area able to accommodate large crowds. That is how the translators of the Greek Septuagint understood the clause and translated, “the plain of the wall” (en pediō tou peribolou).
“Plain” echoes the story of the Tower of Babel when all men spoke one language. When men journeyed east they found 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 for literary effect.  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 (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 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 an image in an open area for all Babylonians 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 (3:15), 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 (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 (2:21), “set up” the image with the golden head in the king’s dream (2:31), and will “set up” an everlasting kingdom that destroys the mighty image of the king’s dream (2:44).
The king commanded all “satraps, nobles, pashas, chief judges, treasurers, judges, lawyers and governors to assemble to the dedication of his image” (3:2-3). All people, nations, and tongues were commanded to render it homage. Anyone who refused was summarily executed (3:3-6).
The image represented the king’s absolute power and great majesty. He did not demand worship of himself but required homage to the image, a show of total allegiance to his authority. By this, the king defied the sovereignty of the true God, intentionally or not.  He claimed a level of allegiance to his government that belonged only to the “God of Heaven” (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 diviners of the court were demoted after their inability to reveal the king’s dream (2:4-132:48-49). They now 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.
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” (3:13-18). His rage directed at the Chaldeans in the preceding chapter is redirected against the Jewish exiles.
The king ranted, “Who is the god able to deliver you out of my hand?” (3:152 Kings 18:33-3519:12-13Isaiah 36:19-2037:11-12). 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” (Daniel 1:1-2). But the Babylonian monarch quickly 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” (3:20-25), possibly an angel (cp8:15-179:20-2310:13; 10:21).
With trepidation, Nebuchadnezzar summoned the three men to come out of the furnace.  He addressed them respectfully as “servants of the Most High God,” for he had seen how the fire was unable to harm them. They survived unscathed and therefore Nebuchadnezzar “blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.” Yahweh “changed the king’s word” by delivering His servants “out of his hand.” In great fury, Nebuchadnezzar raged, “Who is able to deliver out of my hand?”  The king now had his answer.
Nebuchadnezzar next issued a decree to “all peoples, nations, and tongues,” anyone who spoke disparagingly of the God of the exiles was to 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 and interpret his dream, “you shall be cut in pieces and your houses turned into a dunghill.”
Once again, the highest praise of God is heard on the lips of a mighty pagan ruler. The earthly ruler over the world-empire acknowledges the supremacy of the God of Heaven. The machinations, purposes and even 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 contrasted with the Jerusalem Temple made “with hands”  (Mark 14:5813:1-3;John 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) in later days” is alluded to at least 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 to portray 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). Anyone who failed to do so was 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 3:1-7where Nebuchadnezzar made an image sixty cubits by six cubits (hexékonta hex). The book of Revelation adds six hundred to the number sixty by six, or hexékonta hex hexakosioi. The numbers link the passages, both of which concern pressure to participate in idolatrous worship (cp. 1 Kings 10:13, “the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred sixty and six talents of gold”).
In Revelation, Nebuchadnezzar’s “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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