Daniel 2 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

(Read all of Daniel 2)
The position of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel

On the other hand, we see in the second chapter the mighty king of the Gentiles made the depositary of the history of the Gentiles, and of God's entire plan, as the recipient of these divine communications; yet in such a manner as to exhibit Daniel, the captive child of Israel, the faithful one who kept himself separate in Babylon as the one whom the Lord acknowledged, and who enjoyed His favour. But the details of this chapter, as a general picture of Gentile power, beginning with the dominion bestowed on Nebuchadnezzar, must be considered more attentively.

The great image

We may first observe that the Gentile kingdoms are seen as a whole. It is neither historical succession nor moral features with respect to God and man, but the kingdoms all together forming, as it were, a personage before God, the man of the earth in the eye of God—glorious and terrible in his public splendour in the eyes of men. Four imperial powers were to succeed each other, as the great head of which God had set up Nebuchadnezzar himself. There should be in certain respects a progressive deterioration; and at length the God of heaven would raise up another power that would execute judgment on that which still existed, and cause the image to disappear from off the earth, setting up in its place a kingdom that should never be overthrown. In the progressive decline in principle and character of imperial power there would be no diminution of material strength. Iron, that breaks in pieces and crushes all things, characterises the fourth power. The peculiar excellency of the head of gold appears to me to consist in its having received authority immediately from God Himself. In fact the absolute authority of the first power was founded on the gift of the God of heaven; the others succeeded by providential principles. But God, known as supreme, bestowing authority on the head, replacing His own authority on the earth by that of the head of the Gentiles, was not the immediate source of authority to the others. Babylon was the authority established of God. And therefore we found in Ezekiel (and the same thing is seen elsewhere) that the judgment of Babylon is connected with the restoration of Israel and of the throne of God.

God's sovereignty as God of heaven

Observe, nevertheless, that God does not here present Himself as God of earth, but of heaven. In Israel He was God of the earth. He will be so again at the restitution of all things. Here He acts in sovereignty as God of heaven, setting up man, in a certain sense, in His place on the earth (see v. 37, 38). Although more limited, it is a dominion characterised by the same features as that of Adam. It differs in that men are placed under his power; it is more limited, for the sea is not included in his sovereignty, but it reaches to every place where the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven exist. Human strength is found at the end of its history; but the subsisting power is much more remote from the ancient relationship of God with the world.

The mixture of iron and potter's clay; God's indestructible kingdom

The mixture of iron and of potter's clay is a change wrought in the primitive character of the imperial Roman power—another element is introduced into it; the character remains in part, but another element is added. The energetic will of man is not there in an absolute manner. It is the introduction into the imperial Roman power of an element distinct from that which constituted its imperial strength, namely, the will of man devoid of conscience—military and popular power concentrated in one individual without conscience. There are two causes here of weakness—division and the want of coherence between the elements. The kingdom (v. 41) shall be divided, and (v. 42) it shall be partly strong and partly brittle. The "seed of men" is, I think, something outside of that which characterises the proper strength of the kingdom. But these two elements will never combine. It appears to me that the Barbaric or Teutonic element is probably here pointed out as added to that which originally constituted the Roman empire. The fact of a subdivision is seen in verse 43. It is then announced that, in the days of these last kings, He who rules from heaven will set up a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and that shall never pass into other hands. This is properly the only kingdom that, on God's part, takes the place of the kingdom of Babylon. The God of heaven had established Nebuchadnezzar in his kingdom, and had given him power, and strength, and glory, making all men subject to him. Doubtless the three others had followed, according to the will of Him who orders all things. But it is only with respect to the kingdom of verse 44, that it is once more said, "the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom." The character, and some leading features in the history, of the last four of the kingdoms are given. Nothing but the existence of the two preceding ones is stated, except the inferiority of the latter of the two to the first. So that the Spirit of God gives us the divine establishment of the first, the character of the fourth, and the divine establishment of the fifth or final kingdom.

The kingdom of Christ destroying the last form of power and filling the whole earth

We will now observe the manner in which this last kingdom is established; and we see that it is accomplished by means of a judicial and destructive act which reduces the image to powder, bringing about its complete dissolution, so that no traces of it are left (v. 34, 35). The instrument of this destruction was not formed by the wisdom or the schemes of man. It is "cut out without hands." It does not act by a moral influence that changes the character of the object on which it acts. It destroys that object by force. It is God who establishes it and gives it that force. The stone does not gradually increase in size to displace the image. Before it extends itself, it destroys the image. When it has become great—it is not merely a right given by God over men, it fills the whole earth—it is the exalted seat of a universal authority. It is on the last form of power, exhibited in the image, that the stone falls with destructive force—when the empire is divided and is partly strong and partly weak on account of the elements of which its members are composed. We may observe, that it is not God destroying the image in another way to establish the kingdom. The kingdom which He is establishing smites the feet of the image as its first act. It is the outward and general history of that which, by God's appointment, took the place of His throne and His government in Jerusalem, and which had gradually degenerated in its public character with respect to God, and which at length comes to its end by the judgment executed by the kingdom established of God without human agency. The kingdom of Christ, which falls on the last form of the monarchy formerly established by God, destroys the whole form of its existence, and itself fills the world.

The four monarchies named

I have nothing particular to say on the four monarchies. We find Babylon, Persia, and Greece named in the book, as being already known to the Jews, and the Romans introduced by the name which their territory bore, the coasts of Chittim; so that I receive, without further question, the four great empires ordinarily recognised by every one as pointed out in this prophecy. It does not appear to me that these prophecies leave room for any doubt on the subject.

The effect of God's communications on Nebuchadnezzar

The effect of the communication, which proves that God is with the remnant who alone understand His mind, is that the haughty Gentile acknowledges the God of Israel as supreme in heaven and on earth. That which characterises the remnant here is that God reveals to them His mind.