Daniel 1-5: Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon

In Daniel 1, we have a brief description of what has gone on in history to bring Daniel to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar has besieged Jerusalem and taken captives back to Babylon. Among these are Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. These young men want to eat clean food (pulse or vegetables and grains) and water rather than the king's meat and wine. The head of the eunuchs is skeptical. At Daniel's suggestion, the head of the eunuchs runs a ten day test and decides they look better for doing this, so he agrees. God blesses them:

Daniel 1:17

As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

Later, when these young men are brought before the king and compared to the others, the king makes his own decision as to the best of the captives.

Daniel 1:19

Among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm. And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus.

This would mean he held the office through the 70 years of the captivity in Babylon.

For this study, we will cover Daniel 2-5, including the two dreams of Nebuchadnezzar and their interpretation by Daniel.

Nebuchadnezzar's Dream

If you will remember, King Nebuchadnezzar had a real problem (well more than one, but one starts things off). God gave him a dream in the middle of the night, and he couldn't remember it in the morning. Now, I would venture to say that every one of us has had a dream in the middle of the night that we would like to remember the next morning at some point in our lives. Since we aren't kings, that's pretty much where it ends. But as King, Nebuchadnezzar didn't choose to leave it at that. He wanted to know what he had dreamed, and he had the authority to try to make that happen. (What was he paying those court magicians for if they couldn't do this one little thing for him? They interpreted dreams after all.) So he asked all the astrologers, sorcerers, and magicians, along with the Chaldeans to tell him his dream.

The Chaldeans politely told him that if he would tell them the dream, they would come up with an interpretation. Surprisingly for them, the king told them that he had forgotten the dream and wanted to know both the dream and its interpretation. If they couldn't do that, they would be cut to pieces and their homes made a dung hill. If they succeeded, they would get great honors. Truly a cold and hot water faucet sort of guy. Stupidly, they repeated what they had just said. Then the king blew, accused them of stalling, and told them to tell him the dream because he felt they had prepared lying and corrupt words to speak before him. They replied that there wasn't a man on earth who could do what the king desired. After some more give and take, the king ordered all the wise men of Babylon to be executed.

When Arioch, the captain of the king's guard goes out to carry out the king's wishes, Daniel asks the king to be given a chance to interpret the dream. Daniel and the other three at Daniel's house pray for the mercy of God and that God would provide them with the needed information about the dream so that their lives would be spared.

God gives Daniel a night vision that informs Daniel of what the king dreamed, and he tells Arioch to spare the wise men of Babylon and to bring him before the king so he can tell the king the dream and the interpretation. Daniel proceeds to do this, being very clear that it is God that provided the answer and that no astrologer, magician, soothsayer, or wise man could have provided the information.

The dream itself was about what shall be in the latter days, according to Daniel 2:28. The dream was of a statue. It was a great image that was shining bright. The head was fine gold. The breast and arms were silver. The belly and thighs were brass. The legs were iron. The feet were part iron and part clay. It had a fearsome countenance. At the end of the dream, a rock was hewn without any visible tools and smote the statue, breaking the feet to pieces. The iron, the clay, the brass, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and the wind carried the tiny chaff away. The stone became a great mountain that filled the earth.

Daniel's Interpretation and Dake's Time Line

The Bible then goes on to record Daniel's utterance of the interpretation God had given him for the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had. Each of the different sections of the statue represented kingdoms that currently existed or would come to pass. Dake comments...

The 5 kingdoms succeeded each other as the time came for them to fulfill God's plan in punishing Israel. They all existed before they were used to punish Israel in the times of the Gentiles, and each in turn, after fulfilling her mission with Israel, was absorbed in the succeeding kingdom.

I am sure that atheists would argue that the kingdoms rose and fell due to outside forces and had nothing to do with Israel at all, but the historical timing and comments in the Bible about some of them would seem to give God's interpretation and the dream itself weight in the historical record. God allowed them to rise and fall in accordance with His needs in correcting the paths of His chosen people.

  1. The golden head represented Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon empire. He was represented by the head of gold, a king full of power, strength, and glory. The kingdom is spoken of as ruling over all the earth, although it didn't have physical dominion over all of the real earth. Dake notes that:
    Nebuchadnezzar and subsequent rulers of Babylon oppressed Israel for 70 years, 616 B.C. to 546 B.C.
  2. Another kingdom, represented by the silver arms and breast was a second kingdom that would rise after Nebuchadnezzar's. It was described as being inferior to that of Nebuchadnezzar. Dake comments that this would correlate to the kingdom of the Medes and Persians:
    The two arms symbolize the two nations making the dual kingdom, the Medes and the Persians. This kingdom was inferior to the Babylonian Empire as silver is to gold. It was not inferior in power for it overthrew Babylon, but in form of government, wealth, luxury, and glory.

    He goes on to say that the inferiority came from the rule of law in it as opposed to the absolute rule that the king of Babylon had.

    Medo-Persia continued until Alexander the Great who founded the old Grecian Empire, 334 B.C.
  3. The kingdom of brass was the next that would rule and oppress Israel. Dake comments that this empire was represented by the Grecians. Alexander the Great went out from Macedonia and conquered the empire of the Medes and Persians. Dake comments:
    This 3rd empire became the greatest in territory of the first three kingdoms. Alexander started from Greece and Macedon and conquered all the territories of the other two kingdoms and even part of India. The Grecian Empire began to decay with the death of Alexander. His vast territory was divided into four parts as we shall see when we study Dan. 8.
  4. The next kingdom was one of iron, represented by the legs of the statue in the dream. According to Dake, it represents the old Roman Empire. It was a mighty empire, symbolized by the iron that can break all the other metals. Dake notes:
    The two legs of iron represent the eastern and western divisions of the old Roman Empire

    although I'm not convinced there is anything significant about the legs other than representing yet another kingdom, divided or not.

  5. The feet and toes of iron mixed with clay represented the final empire that would oppress Israel and that the stone would crush. According to Dake, this represents a yet to be formed world empire, of revised Rome. The reason for pushing it to the future is that this empire is crushed by a stone that no man cuts. That stone is the kingdom of heaven, led by Jesus Christ.

    He was not responsible for destroying any world empires while present as a man on Earth. Indeed, the Roman empire was in full swing when He was here. When He returns to Earth as King the second time, it will be to put down the Antichrist and his kingdoms, so the feet and toes of iron mixed with clay would represent that future empire. It should also be noted that the iron mixed with clay implies that there will be a lack of strength to this final empire. Dake notes:

    The clay represents the rule by the masses and the iron the rule by the kings.

    Some parts will be strong, but they will be mixed with weak parts - Dake points out that the Chaldean phrase "partly broken" means fragile or easily broken. It will be a divided kingdom. We will deal more with this kingdom as we go through the parts of Daniel's vision in the later chapters of Daniel.

    As we will see when we get to Daniel's visions next week, the 10 toes represent 10 kingdoms that will be formed from within the territory of the Old Roman Empire. The Antichrist will rise up after they are formed, and defeat three of them. The others will then submit to his rule forming the final unified kingdom under the Antichrist that makes war against Israel and that God destroys as pictured here.

  6. The stone grows into a great mountain and represents a kingdom that will never be destroyed. It will consume all these kingdoms and will stand forever. God alone will raise up this kingdom as it is not hewn by human hands. Daniel declares that the dream is certain and the interpretation of the dream is sure.

The Effect

Nebuchadnezzar is very pleased with the results of Daniel's interpretation, and indeed discovering the dream at all. He worshiped Daniel and commanded gifts be made to him. He declares God to be a God of gods and a Lord of lords and makes Daniel a great man in the kingdom. He is made ruler over the whole province of Babylon and the chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel asks to promote his three Hebrew friends, and they are also promoted by the king over the province's affairs. Daniel gets to sit in the king's gate.

Nebuchadnezzar's Idol

The next recorded action of Nebuchadnezzar was when he made a huge image of gold, 125 ft. high by 12 1/2 ft. broad. All the leaders were commanded to come to the dedication ceremony. The king's herald commanded that when the music played, everyone should bow down and worship the image that Nebuchadnezzar had commissioned. The music played, but the Jews refused to bow down. The Chaldeans, not being particularly thankful at being shown up by Daniel in front of the king and losing some of their standing, told on them. The king gave them a second chance, warning them they would be thrown in a fiery furnace if they didn't worship when the music sounded and they would see that there was no God that could deliver them out of the king's hands.

They again refused and said they would not serve the king's gods nor worship the golden image the king had set up. The king was wroth and commanded that they be cast into a fiery furnace that he had ordered heated seven times hotter than its normal rating. It was so hot that when the Jews were thrown bound into the furnace, the people that did the deed were killed by the heat from the furnace's mouth.

When the King looked into the furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (the names given the three Hebrew captives by the prince of the eunuchs), were walking around unbound and unharmed with a fourth man who looked to the king to be the Son of God. The king called them out of the furnace and the fire had not harmed them at all. Their hair wasn't singed and their clothes were fine. Nebuchadnezzar makes a proclamation that anyone speaking out against the God of these three men would be cut to pieces and have their houses turned into dunghills. (This was his popular punishment it seems.) The three Hebrew men are promoted in the kingdom. He declares to all his subjects that God has an everlasting kingdom and that he does great works and provides mighty and wondrous signs.

The problem is, the king still doesn't really understand. He has had the experience of the interpretation of his first dream by Daniel, who made it clear that His God had provided the dream and the interpretation of it. He had seen God deliver the other three named Hebrews from death in the furnace. He had ordered that that God not be spoken ill of by his subjects. However, he still didn't understand that God was God and Nebuchadnezzar was, indeed, not the most important thing in the universe. Kings who make 125 ft tall golden statues to be worshiped have an over-inflated opinion of themselves.

How many of us are like Nebuchadnezzar? We have an idea of who God is. We have an idea of what Christ has done for us and accept His sacrifice for our sins. But when it comes right down to it, we still don't really understand the awesome reality of God. I pray that God will get hold of each of our hearts and the hearts of each of the Christian leaders today in every denomination in a soft and merciful way. I pray that we won't be like Paul on the road to Damascus. We don't want to be out carrying out our religion in ways that look good to our own eyes and have Jesus Christ pull us up short with a

Acts 9:5

"Saul! Saul! Why, persecutest thou me?"

We also don't want to go through what Nebuchadnezzar went through either. Each individual needs to stop and acknowledge the King of the Universe who created all things and start trying to absorb the power and majesty of the Father and stop playing church, playing around with their salvation, and playing around with sin.

The Second Dream

God gave Nebuchadnezzar a second dream of significance. Again, rather than going to the one who had already proven that he could get and deliver a dream's interpretation, he went first to his magicians, astrologers, the Chaldeans and the soothsayers. He was still essentially clueless. None of them could interpret the dream.

The dream showed a beautiful tree that reached up to heaven. It had fair leaves that gave shelter to the fowls of heaven and all flesh was fed from its fruit. A watcher, Dake says a holy angel from heaven came and commanded that the tree be cut down and its stump left with an iron band around it. He ordered that its fruit would be scattered and its leaves shaken off. The fowls and beasts would leave. The heart of the stump would be changed from man to beast for seven years so that the living would know that God, the most High rules in heaven and in the kingdom of men and gives kingdoms to whomsoever He will, even to the enemies of the king.

The Interpretation

For one hour, Daniel was astonished at the dream's nature and gave no interpretation. Daniel says that the dream is for those that hate the king and the kings enemies. The tree was the king. The watcher and holy one that came down from heaven will drive the king from men to live with the beasts of the field for seven years until he acknowledges that God rules everything from heaven. Since the stump remains, Daniel declares that after the king comes to his senses and acknowledges God's place in ruling the affairs of man, the kingdom will still be his. Daniel counsels the king to immediately acknowledge God to prevent this from coming upon him.

The king refuses and after God gives him a period of 12 months to make up his mind, he starts to utter a boast... he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar.

How many successful business leaders and politicians today would give God any credit for their position of power or for the companies and business empires they have created? How many religious leaders would give God the glory for their position instead of the hard work and sacrifice they had given to the church all those years? How much credit do we give God today for what we have? I included this second dream sequence of Nebuchadnezzar in this message to raise this important point rather than dwell on any particular relevance of it to our Revelation study.

We always need to give God the glory for all the good things we have, whether they are simple and ordinary or magnificent and opulent. If we have freedom to worship Him, we need to thank Him for that! We need to thank God for our jobs and for our families. If we are fortunate enough to have them, we need to thank God for our homes and cars. If we are fortunate enough to have money in the bank or other assets, we need to thank God for them. We need to thank Him for His patience and mercy towards us and that He doesn't deal with us as we deserve to be dealt with. Just because we aren't kings like Nebuchadnezzar, we don't get off the hook of thanking God for what He has given us. If you haven't spent some time enumerating your blessings lately, you should stop reading right now and "Count your many blessings, name them one by one... and it will surprise you what the Lord has done!"

The Results

By most modern estimates, Nebuchadnezzar is stricken with lycanthropy. He literally goes insane and believes he is a wild animal. This is a mental disease that can come and go. His altered state continues for seven years. At the end of that time, his reason returns and he blesses the most High and prays and honors the God that lives forever and acknowledges his everlasting dominion. Unfortunately, his conversion doesn't get passed down the line to subsequent generations.

The End of Babylon

Some time later, Belshazzar the king throws a great feast for 1,000 of his leading men. Dake notes Belshazzar:

was the son of Nabonidus and grand-son of Nebuchadnezzar. The inscriptions show that he was co-regent while his father went to meet Cyrus in battle.

He commands that the gold and silver vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought so he and his cronies could use then to drink. The Bible records:

Daniel 5:4

They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.

The Bible says that the same hour they did this, the hand of God drew on the plaister of the wall of the king's palace. The king was very frightened, and this king once again orders the astrologers, Chaldeans, and the soothsayers to read the writing. None of them can read the writing. The queen remembers Daniel and his service to Nebuchadnezzar and suggests that he be brought in to interpret the writing on the wall. The king does so and promises Daniel great gifts if he succeeds.

Once again, Daniel correctly interprets the dream, but declines the gifts. He says that even though Belshazzar knew of his father's history with God, his pride, and his resulting insanity, that he has followed in the evil practices of his father and has lifted himself up against God and drunk out of the vessels from the temple, glorifying idolatrous things. He then reads the writing.

  • Mene; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
  • Tekel; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
  • Peres; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

According to the biblical account, this then occurs that very night. Let all who are in power on the Earth in business, politics, or religion hear this word! God may well be trying all you have done in His balances. He may well judge you similarly if you aren't putting Him first. Even if He doesn't judge you here, you will stand before Him one day to answer for what you have done with all He has entrusted to you. Try to have something good to say that you won't feel ashamed of when that happens.

For all the rest of us, let us live our lives so that God will never have a reason to find us wanting in our performance and understanding of His place in the universe. Let us not be finished prematurely! You don't want to end your life without your name being recorded in His books as one Jesus has saved. If you haven't made that decision yet, then act on this altar call.

Summary of the Statue Dream

The nice thing about the dream of the statue, is that it has been largely fulfilled in clear ways. There have in fact been three more kingdoms that stretched over large territories and oppressed Israel post Babylon (the Medes/Persians, Greeks, and Romans). After the Roman Empire, the nation of Israel ceased for a very long time. It wasn't till after WWII that they once again got their national status back, fulfilling prophecy.

The Jews have been oppressed mightily by many nations in the time since the Roman Empire, but for most of that time there has been no nation of Israel to be oppressed. God has kept His scattered children for the intervening centuries through the Nazi tyranny during WWII when millions were killed, and through various pogroms under other world powers. Today, there are terrorist attacks against them on a frequent basis. Yet there is not at the time of this writing, another empire that has been formed that will be the final representation of the clay and iron that the Antichrist will end up controlling and will be Israel's final oppressor. We can say this with surety, because of all the oppressors that the Jewish people have had in the intervening time, none have been crushed by a stone hewn without human hands.

While we cannot say how long it will take until the Antichrist rises to rule newly formed kingdoms in the old Roman Empire, at least for the last long expanse of time post Roman Empire, the prophecy has held correct. In the next couple of weeks, we will look into some of the substance of Daniel's own visions that came during the reign of Belshazzar mentioned above, recorded in Daniel 7-12. This background will then be used in the study of the remainder of our Revelation series.

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Dake excerpt taken from Dake's Annotated Reference Bible, © 1961, 1963 by Finis Jennings Dake, and is reproduced on our web site with permission from representatives of Dake Publishing.