Nebuchadnezzar was the son of Nabopolassar, founder of the Chaldean (or Babylonian) Empire. Nebuchadnezzar served as the commander of the military campaign that led to Judah’s conquest on 606 B.C. (cf. Daniel 1:1-12; 2 Kings 24:1; 2 Chronicles 36:5-7).
Following his father’s death, Nebuchadnezzar reigned as King of Babylon (this area is modern-day Iraq) from 605-562 B.C. It was during his second year as King that Nebuchadnezzar had dreams of a great image (Daniel 2:1-ff).
“This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay” (Daniel 2:32-33).
1. The Head of Gold
Daniel provided the interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar, declaring, “You are the head of gold” (Daniel 2:36-38). At first glance, one might conclude that the individual, Nebuchadnezzar, was the head of gold. However, the context makes clear that the head of gold included more than the person of Nebuchadnezzar. Kingdoms are mentioned (Daniel 2:39-40). Babylon was the head of gold.
Babylon lasted only from 612-538 B.C., but it was glorious. Don Simpson has written, “The image contained four metals (gold, silver, bronze, iron) varied on beauty, hardness, and frangibility.” Note: the highest quality was at the head (A Textual Study of The Book of Daniel, p. 31).
2. The Chest and Arms of Silver
Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, “But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours” (Daniel 2:39). The last of the Kings of Babylon was Belshazzar. He literally saw the handwriting on the wall, “MENE (numbered B.H.), MENE (numbered B.H.), TEKEL (weighed B.H.) UPHARSIN (divided B.H.). This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and the Persians” (Daniel 5:25-28 cf. 2 Chronicles 36:20). Historically, the next great empire was Medo-Persia (this area is modern-day is Iran). This kingdom lasted from 538-331 B.C.
Persia was inferior to Babylon. “Politically the power of the central government in which the nobles shared with the King, being weakened by growing independence of the Provinces, was inferior to Nebuchadnezzar whose sole word was the law throughout his kingdom” (Jamison-Fauset-Brown).
3. The Belly and Thighs of Bronze
Daniel said of this, “then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth” (Daniel 2:39). Greece was the kingdom which defeated Persia, breaking its power (cf Daniel 8:3-7, 20-21). David Vaugh Elliot commented, “Secular history confirms the third kingdom to be Greece; the book of Daniel agrees. Chapter 8 contains a vision of a goat totally overpowering and trampling a ram. Verse 20 and 21 point out the ram… the Kings of Media and Persia. And the male goat is the kingdom of Greece” (Nobody Left Behind, p.151). Alexander the Great defeated Darius Codomannus, the last King of Persia, in a series of battles between 334-331 B.C. It is said that Alexander boasted that he had conquered the world (Matthew Henry). After Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., the kingdom was divided among four generals. However, this is still viewed as one Kingdom (Daniel 7:6, 8:8). Don Simpson explained, “The successors of Alexander did not constitute a separate world-wide empire; but rather divided rulership over Alexander’s already conquered empire” (Kingdom Prophecy in Review, p.122). Greece would be the world power until 63 B.C.
What about the bronze? “The Greek … were celebrated for the brazen armor of their warriors” (Jamison-Fausset-Brown).
4. The Legs of Iron, and Feet of Iron and Clay
Daniel said, “And the fourth Kingdom shall be strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that Kingdom will break in pieces and crush others (Daniel 2:40). History is clear. Rome was the next world empire. It was strong as iron. It was the dominate world power from 63 B.C.-476 A.D.
However, it had an internal weakness. Daniel wrote, “And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the Kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile. As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another; just as iron does not mix with clay” (Daniel 2:42-43). Rex Turner Sr. saw this as weakness that came by conquest. “Those captive people would not be amalgamated into a single nation of loyal Romans” (Daniel: A Prophet of God, p. 55). Matthew Henry saw this as a division between the plebs and the patricians. “This empire divided the government for a long time between the senate and the people, the nobles and the commons, but they did not entirely coalesce” (Henry Vol. 4, p. 809).
Some assume that the image was in the likeness of man, and thus had ten toes. It is further assumed that the ten toes represent ten kingdoms – either arriving out of Rome, or appearing later. However, the text mentions only four Kingdoms. It stops counting at four, and so should we. The feet and toes no more form separate kingdoms from the legs, than do the thighs from the belly, or do the arms from the chest.
The Stone/ Everlasting Kingdom
The dream saw a stone which was cut out without hands (Daniel 2:34,45). The language “without hands” means that this was done by the work of God (Daniel 2:34,45; 8:25; Colossians 2:11).
The stone crushed the image (Daniel 2:34, 45). It struck the feet (the Roman Empire). Remember the Roman Empire fell in 476 A.D.
“The stone became a mountain filling the earth” (Daniel 2:35). The term “mountain” is sometimes used of Kingdoms (Jeremiah 51:24-25). Such is the case here (Daniel 2:34-35 cf. 2:44).
It would be while the image was still standing that God would establish an everlasting Kingdom. Daniel said, “in the days of these Kings (the four Kingdoms B.H.) the God of heaven will set up a Kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the Kingdom shall not be left to other people (as earthly Kingdoms are replaced by other earthly kingdoms B.H.)” (Daniel 2:44).
In order to be fulfilled, this Kingdom had to be set up before 476 A.D. when the Roman Empire came to an end. There was a Kingdom set up during the days of the Roman Empire. That Kingdom is the church (Mark 9:1 cf. Acts 1:8 cf. Acts 2:4; Colossians 1:13; Revelation 1:9). It is an eternal Kingdom. One day Jesus will deliver this Kingdom up to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24-25).