Servants' News

Mar/Apr 2000

Understanding Daniel 2

By Jim Sorenson (with some editing by Norman Edwards)

Daniel 2 is the account of a dream of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, who was responsible for the captivity of the Jewish people for 70 years. It is a dream, prophetic of future events, given by God to Nebuchadnezzar, but it required a man of God to interpret it to him. This dream was then explained by Daniel.

The dream consisted of a statue, the head was of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron and feet part of iron and part of clay. Then a stone smashed the image on the feet and destroyed it. After that the stone became a great mountain.

Daniel explained most of the dream. He tells Nebuchadnezzar that he and the Babylonian kingdom were the head of gold. His kingdom was going to end and be replaced by another kingdom of silver that would be inferior to his. That would be replaced by a third kingdom of brass which would rule over all the earth. This would be followed by a fourth kingdom of iron. Then Daniel explains that the feet of iron and clay and the whole statue were going to be destroyed by God and another kingdom was going to be established by God and it would never be destroyed.

This is, in fact, the history of the western world. The kingdom of gold, Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, was in fact taken by the dual kingdom of the Medes and Persians, which (represented by the silver and the two arms). The Persian empire was later taken from Greece by Alexander the Great, who is represented by the brass. Then finally Rome, the iron, came on the scene and took over and subdued the “brass” empire of the Greeks.

The common teaching is that there were to be only four world-ruling empires in the history of the world and in the end time the iron empire will be revived in the form of ten nations from Europe who will form the ten toes of iron and clay. In the time of these ten kingdoms, God will destroy them and set up the Kingdom of God.

The historical part of this teaching as far as it goes is correct. But the understanding that explains the iron and clay of the ten toes and the setting up of the Kingdom of God may not be correct.

There are other alternatives to the common understanding of Daniel 2. One is in the translation of the word ara (Strong’s #772). This word is the Chaldean equivalent of the Hebrew word erets (Strong’s #776) which is translated “earth” 712 times in the KJV, but as “land” 1,543 times. About half those times, it means “the land of Israel”. Yet in Daniel 2:35, 39 it is translated as “the earth”. Thus, in common interpretation, we have four “world-ruling” empires:

• The 1st kingdom, the head of gold, was Babylon.

• The 2nd kingdom, the silver, was the Medes and the Persians.

• The 3rd kingdom, the brass, was the Greek Empire.

• The 4th kingdom, the iron, was and is the Roman Empire.

Did the translators pick the right word here? These kingdoms did not rule “the whole world”. If you have any doubt, ask a Chinese person who knows a little bit about his history. We cannot say that these millions of people and their extensive civilization “don’t count”. It is not even fair to say that these empires ruled over the “known world” of their time. Historic evidence shows they had at least minimal interaction with the East—people whom they did not rule. To be honest, God stopped the building of the tower of Babel, and there have never been any “world-ruling” empires since.

However, we can say these kings ruled “the land” in the Middle East, the land God gave to Abraham—Palestine as some people call it. Nebuchadnezzar, the “head of gold” ruled over the land of Israel when the prophecy was given. The prophecy ends with Christ returning, who will rule from the land of Israel. Daniel 2 should probably say that this final kingdom will rule “the whole land”. We can look elsewhere to find that it will rule the whole world.

The clay is not just there to divide the Iron into fragments, but can be viewed as a 5th Empire. It is listed separately in verse 35. I believe we have are five “land of Israel”-ruling empires, not four “world-ruling” empires. The clay appears to have ruled “the land” longer than the other four kingdoms all put together.

The kingdom of iron divided into two parts is represented by the two legs. The western half of the Roman Empire was ruled from Rome and the eastern half was ruled from Constantinople in what is known today as Turkey. The western empire was later turned over to the Pope of the Catholic Church. Even the title of the rulers of the Roman Empire, ‘pontificus maximus’ was transferred to the Pope. Today, the Catholic Church and much of Europe represent the iron kingdom of Rome. But the eastern half of the Roman Empire including northern Africa was conquered by the Moslems, who have ruled over that portion of the Roman Empire to this very day (except for the time that the iron reclaimed “the land” during the Crusades and since 1917 when the land was returned to Israel).

I believe the clay, which is virtually ignored in all explanations of Daniel 2 is the Moslem Empire. It is divided and fractured not cleaving one to another, and in conflict with the iron as to who should rule “the land” (Dan 2:41-43).

The contention between the Iron and clay, as described in Daniel 2:43 has been fulfilled in several ways. One way was by way of the Crusades. Rome (the iron) under the inspiration of, or in the form of the Catholic Church came down and recovered much of “the land” and established a branch of the iron empire in the Land of Palestine. As time passed, the clay in the form of the Ottoman Empire recovered “the land”. The clay had complete control until December 9, 1917 when the British General Allenby brought his army in. This was Kislev 24 on the Hebrew Calendar, a date mentioned in Haggai 2:10, 18, 20. It was exactly 7 times 360 years (a day for a year) or 2,520 years after it had been captured by the Head of gold, Nebuchadnezzar in 604BC (God had said to the nation of Israel, “If you will not obey me I will punish you 7 times”). To this day, “the land” is neither completely under Moslem or Israelite control. The Jews control much of it, but the Moslems still have their areas or control, which include the Temple mount.

But more of this prophecy is yet to be fulfilled. The iron and clay in Daniel 9 are mingled together, yet not sticking to one another. The stone smashing the idol is also yet to be fulfilled. Just what will this mean for the future? We need to ask God to show us that which we need to know. We can also ask good questions and watch events in the Middle East.

How are the events playing out today in the Middle East fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel 2? Is the iron going to form ten nations, and the clay also going to form ten nations, or will the ten toes be represented by five nations from the iron and five nations from the clay? And just how does the Catholic Church figure into this equation? The Pope has recently traveled to the Middle East and embraced the Moslem Yasser Arafat. Will there be a temporary agreement between the iron and the clay, especially concerning “the land”? Will Jerusalem fall further under the control of the iron and/or the clay again?

The land ruled by the eastern half of the old Roman Empire is now almost entirely Moslem in religion, and the land ruled by the western half of the old Roman Empire is almost entirely Roman Catholic in religion. (But those portions of the western part of the Roman Empire that are not Roman Catholic are undergoing a religious ecumenical movement to co-operate and even reunite with the Mother Church of Rome. Just what does all this mean? Is this also part of the fulfillment of this prophecy?) How can these two different religions, the Catholics and the Moslems, come together in a temporary agreement?

There are ten nations spoken of in Psalm 83—a prophecy that has apparently never been fulfilled. Could these ten nations be the ten nations of the clay that are in the feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream? What about Saddam Hussein, who has spent billions of dollars rebuilding the ancient city of Babylon? How does the city of Babylon fit into this prophetic scenario? Are Arafat and the PLO the “little horn” Daniel speaks of in later chapters of the book of Daniel, as Marvyn Byers claims in his book, “Is Arafat an Apocalyptic Character?” Time will only tell, but we should be watching the events in Israel and the Middle East and the Roman Catholic Church’s involvement there very closely. Prophecy may be fulfilled right under our noses!

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