A rock struck the statue
The Approach of God
Date, place and players
Around 2,600 years ago, the people of Judea were residing not in the area that is today known as Israel, but in Babylonia to the east. Its capital, Babylon was the location for this incident. The city’s ruins are about 100 km south of Baghdad, the capital of Iraq.
The main players in this drama are three: Daniel, a young Jewish exile employed in the king’s court; the king, Nebuchadnezzar; and — God!1 He’s another king, but Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t know that yet!
What can we say about Daniel?
Remember. Success, even in the conflict between Christ and Satan, does not come by chance. I heard a man once say, “Hoping is not a method.” Success is the result of choice and action. Those who ally themselves with God not only pray, “Thy kingdom come,” they also cooperate so that “Thy will is done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Daniel was like that: moved by the Spirit of God — whether in Jerusalem or Babylon — whether at home or in exile. Because God wants His kingdom to come all over the world He uses His people wherever they are — if they are willing to be His instruments — to extend His kingdom.
When Nebuchadnezzar deported the Jews from Judea, little did he realize that those very people would cause both heartache and healing. And, to the Jews, at times it might have appeared that God had abandoned them. But you can’t always go by appearances.
God had spoken to the Jews through prophets. Now He was about to speak to their conqueror. Although they might have hated Nebuchadnezzar for what he had done to them, God loved him. Another job for God!
Now, if you could choose to dream about God, how would you like Him to appear? Telling you “what He thought of you?” As the Head Gardener, showing you around Paradise? Smiling at you from His throne?
On the other hand, if God decided that He wanted to visit you in a dream, would you be prepared?
Rather than “looking for” divine dreams, one should leave it to God to do it when He decides. He decides when to give dreams, and for his own good reasons.
Further, if you were God, what would you say to a king who thought that he was God?
Oh. What can I tell you about God? Let’s learn fromNebuchadnezzar’s dream of God which occurred in the second year of his reign, 603 B.C.
A dream and a search for meaning
This is what happened. Because his dream bothered him and deprived him of sleep, he called in his soothsayers and said, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.”
When his consultants asked for a description of the dream, Nebuchadnezzar divulged his decision: “If you don’t recite my dream and interpret it, I will dismember you and demolish your dwellings. But if you comply, you will be rewarded and honored.”2
Appeals for a description of the dream were futile. Nebuchadnezzar would not budge one inch. Then the truth came out. In common with all men, their abilities in this area were nonexistent. Interpretation under the conditions set by the king was impossible!
In his rage, Nebuchadnezzar decreed the death of all soothsayers in his kingdom. My question is, “Why would the execution of the incompetent be preferable to their being ignored?” Anyway, Daniel and his three Hebrew colleagues were included in the decree and sought out by Arioch, commander of the king’s guard.
How Daniel was able to delay his execution can only be attributed to his wisdom and tact.
The search for the meaning ends
That night, after they had prayed, not for Nebuchadnezzar, but for themselves, the search for the meaning ended in a God-given vision received by Daniel himself.
With gratitude he went to Arioch and asked to be taken to Nebuchadnezzar to deliver the explanation that had eluded the others.
After introductions, Daniel repeated the problem previously faced by the others. “No soothsayer can explain the mystery. However [the truth is that] there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. What has happened is that He has revealed toyou the future. This was your dream.”
The dream went like this
“While you were lying in bed thinking about the future, there before you stood a large statue with a gold head, silver chest and arms, bronze belly and thighs, iron legs, and feet part iron and part baked clay. While you were watching, a rock 3 was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, clay, bronze, silver and gold were all broken to pieces simultaneously and became like chaff on a threshing floor in summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace.
“But that rock became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.”
Daniel must have been correct, for Nebuchadnezzar neither interrupted nor contradicted him. Here comes the meaning.
The king learns the meaning
One thing must be done at this point. Keep the dream’s dominant feature in mind while Daniel presents the interpretation.
He began with a description of Nebuchadnezzar’s God-given role and the power that he had — at his fingertips, so to speak. At this point, what would Nebuchadnezzar be thinking?
First of all, the sacred edifices of Babylonia were intended as a matter of fact to be imitations of mountains … [This was the] … ideal of the Babylonian temple. According to Babylonian notions … the earth is pictured as a huge mountain.
In fact the earth was actually called E-Kur, “Mountain House.” Later they began to identify one particular part of the earth, a mountain peak preferably, as the dwelling of the god, so that the temples which were built later were known as “mountain houses.”
The Mesopotamian ziggurat is the most famous example of a temple representing the cosmic mountain. … Temples, then, are understood as replicas of this central cosmic mountain, which bears and preserves the universe.4
Excitement, disappointment and reaction
So, now I can imagine Nebuchadnezzar’s heart beating faster and faster. He thinks that Daniel will tell him that his kingdom is the rock that became a great mountain.
But Daniel says, “You are that — head — of gold.”
The highlight of the dream was not the head of gold but the rock that became a mountain.
What a disappointment for Nebuchadnezzar to be told that he was only part of a statue destined for destruction!
Out of courtesy, or maybe curiosity, he continues to listen.
Daniel goes on. “An inferior kingdom will follow yours. Then a kingdom of bronze. And finally a fourth as strong as iron.”
“Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this [fourth] will be [at a later time] a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this [fourth and final] kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.5 In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
“It will happen just as you saw in your dream. Just as the falling rock destroyed the statue, the kingdom that the God of heaven will set up will crush all those kingdoms. It will end them, but it will itself endure forever.
“It is the great God who has revealed the future to the king. This vision of the rock6 is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.”
In a poetic description of a fictional memorial to someone called “Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelley expressed the truth of the impermanence and mortality of kings, and indeed of all humanity.
I met a traveler from an antique land
“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and snear of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Some people are slow learners. Nebuchadnezzar, having honored Daniel with obeisance, an offering and incense, and a speech about his God, then promoted him and his three Hebrew colleagues. It seems that Nebuchadnezzar was more fascinated with the story than with its explanation. But what would you expect?
Just as the cut stone impacted on the image, the message should have impacted on Nebuchadnezzar’s mind: “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.”
Nebuchadnezzar, you and all rulers, regardless of what you might think about yourselves, are just like statues — powerless against God. He will conquer you all. Why not surrender and become a member of His eternal kingdom now.
It took more time and bitter experiences for Nebuchadnezzar to grasp that truth.
You and I. How about us?
The date? Today. The place? Where you are right now. The main players? You and I, and God.
The destruction of the image, and all that it stands for, is imminent. Today God approaches us. Why not surrender now? An assured future with Him awaits anyone who does.
There is no other kingdom than that of God. It is not found in the regular dance of political parties. It is not found in the excitement of arcade and computer games, of movies and sport. It is not found in withdrawal from reality and the denial of the problems. Neither is it found in the guesswork and strange assumptions of astrology.
Jesus explained, “ … the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21).”
If we are ever going to be citizens of the kingdom of God it must be established within us. There is no place in eternity for those who harbor the pride, ambition and self-assurance that marked Nebuchadnezzar, the great King of Babylon. But there is a place in eternity for those who surrender to the Prince — the Prince of peace.
In another place, He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20).”
- In the Book of Daniel, God is known as the Lord (Heb. adonai), God (Heb. elohim) and, in Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9, by His name, the LORD (Heb. YHWH). The Hebrew word “adonai” is not used in Daniel 5:23, but the Aramaic word “ mare` ” which is also translated “lord” in Daniel 2:47; 4:16,21. It is from a root word that means “domineering” and “master.”
- It is more likely that Nebuchadnezzar expressed a firm decision rather than an admission of amnesia. (The KJV reads: “The thing is gone from me.” ) See recent translations of the Aramaic word used here. Aramaic, not Hebrew, is the language from Daniel 2:4 through 7:28.
- The Aramaic word ‘eben (= Heb. ‘eben), “a single stone,” includes sling stones and hewn stones. See The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary on Daniel 2:35
- Ford, Desmond, Daniel (Nashville, Tenn: Southern Publishing Association, 1978), 85. See also Gaebelein, Frank E. (ed.) The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan, 1985) on Daniel 2:45a. See also art. “E-Kur” in Wikipedia.
- A historical fact: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, the Eastern Roman Empire, the Western Roman Empire, its fragmentation, the Holy Roman Empire and numerous attempts at its revival including the EU.
- The NIV has expressed Daniel’s comments a little differently from those of other translations. The NRSV’s “just as you saw that a stone …”, e.g., is expressed as “the vision of the rock” by the NIV. Of course, the rock is of greater importance than the statue. The statue which had dominated the landscape is demolished by the rock and replaced by a mountain. The statue is but a memory and a fading image in the eye.
© 2010, Angus McPhee
Photo: Landscape north of Maitland, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia. Artwork by Annita McPhee (© 2010, Angus and Annita McPhee)
Photo: Ruapehu from Mount Egmont, New Zealand (© 2010, Angus McPhee)