“Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image… The image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces.” – Daniel 2:31-34
Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon when it was at the height of its power. It subdued Egypt and Assyria and took Judah into captivity.
Babylon is used in the Scriptures as the symbol of self-love – that love of ruling over others which would subject everything to its dominion, even the Church, that it might rule over the souls of men to the end that thus it might dominate the whole world, both natural and spiritual.
The king of Babylon represents the principle of unbridled love or rather lust of dominion. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had conquered many nations; he was ambitious to rule the whole world. And while he was in this state of mind, he had the significant dream which is narrated in our text.
This dream was a revelation from the Lord as to the state of the world and as to the future conditions of the church.
Spiritual things are hard to describe. Natural-minded men are not trained to think on spiritual levels, and spiritual things are so different from the natural things of man’s life in this world that if he were told of them in the abstract terms of spiritual philosophy, he would not give ear to them. So to place the subject upon a level of thought which the king of Babylon or any other natural-minded man could understand, the prophet Daniel was led to interpret the dream as if it related to a series of earthly kingdoms.
But as all things in the Word relate to spiritual life, the interpretation of the dream as given by Daniel needs as much explanation as the dream itself. Spiritual things are within all natural phenomena as causes are in effects. For example, the external acts of men are determined by their inward motives, their ideals, their ambitions. Consequently human history is determined primarily by the relation of man to the Lord; or in other language, the state of the church upon earth determines the character of civilization. Future history in its every detail will be determined by man’s relation to the Lord, for the Lord is ruler upon the earth as well as in heaven. Just as the natural world is an image of the spiritual, as the face expresses the emotions of the heart, as inward motives determine the act, He who rules the soul must rule the body also, and He who governs the heavens rules the earth as well.
In its largest aspects Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great image is a parable in which the whole history of the world – past, present, and future – is portrayed, the golden, silver, brazen, and iron ages and the new age which is to come from the reign of the Lord’s truth on earth. It tells of the establishment of the successive churches, through the final church.
Man is both the product and the maker of history. We are inheritors of the past. All the past is ours, and the future will be what we make it. So the dream has also a personal application. It is the story of the development of the individual mind as well as of the race mind.
“This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king.
“Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory.
“And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.”
Is it not so with each one of us? We are given a kingdom, power, strength, and glory – the kingdom of our souls – and the beasts, our natural affections, and the fowls, our understanding of truth, are ours to rule over.
Said the Psalmist, “My soul is continually in mine hand.” Each of us is ruler over the kingdom within, and this is the kingdom of real power and strength, the kingdom of real and abiding glory. The kingdoms of this world pass away, but the kingdom of the soul abides to eternity.
The image was in the form of a man. The head governs the body. Gold represents love to the Lord, silver the love of truth, and brass the love of natural good, the love of obeying the commandments in the outward plane of natural law and act. Iron represents natural truth, the truth of inflexible natural law. But all these things may be perverted, and are perverted when selfish ambition is allowed to enter. Nebuchadnezzar’s image is the correspondent of the true form of man gradually perverted by an indwelling love of dominion.
The dream also reveals to us the inevitable final result of the love of dominion, as it works out in the individual mind and in general human history, because the love of self, if unrestrained, will look to self alone and finally will lead to destruction in a life of sin. So we are told that the feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s image were part of iron and part of clay, and therein was its final weakness. Iron and clay will not make a firm joining. Even natural truth will not unite with self-love, which the clay represents. Self-love has no power to bind men together. “They shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.” This is the history of the development of the love of ruling.
There are incidents in the story of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel which suggest that he may at the start have intended to be a good man. The great image had its head of gold. In the beginning with Nebuchadnezzar, and in every individual in the highest states of mind there is some love to the Lord. A ruler may at first sincerely believe that he is doing good to those he rules because they are the Lord’s children put under his care. But the operation of the dominant love of ruling gradually drags the mind down and brings on a new mental condition – a forgetting of the Lord’s claims and a belief that one has the right to rule because of his superior intelligence. This is a descent to the breast and arms of silver. Then as the self-love hidden in the love of ruling gradually increases in force, even the element of wisdom is forgotten, and the ruler persuades himself that his rule will inevitably bring about external and natural good. This is descending into the belly and thighs of brass. Then the gradual descent brings about still another state of mind, a forgetfulness of goodness even on the natural plane and a descent to the feet of iron, the hard laws of natural truth, by which the ruler persuades himself that he has the right to rule others, whatever the results to them. Then all ideas of either spiritual or natural goodness and truth are put aside, and purely selfish motives rule, though the mask of appearing to follow the law is maintained. But the iron of natural truth and law will not cohere with the miry clay of evil, and so the whole image becomes insecure. How graphically this pictures the inevitable development of unrestrained natural ambition!
Then it is recorded that a great stone cut without hands smote the image upon its feet and broke them in pieces. This stone is the truth of the Word revealed by the Lord to men. When Peter confessed the Christ, the Lord said, “Upon this rock will I build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The stone crushed the image and grew into a great mountain which filled the whole earth. The Lord Himself is this truth, and as this truth grows in the lives and hearts of men it will fill the whole earth with love to the Lord. So it is written: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed.”
The story is a picture of what takes place when man departs from the Lord and looks to self. This has been disastrously true of the church. The teachings of the Word have been subjected to the opinions and desires of men. The stone cut without hands is the great truth of the Lord Jesus Christ as the one God of heaven and earth. Men would follow the Lord if they really believed in Him. It is the love of self and self-complacency that blinds our eyes.
The command still stands: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”