“Magnificence for Strength”

The Book of Daniel is a magnificent story of the triumph of Daniel and three other godly men in the midst of the moral and spiritual miasma of ancient Babylon. But it is also a record of important visions that prophesy both immediate and distant historical events. Critical scholars of the Old Testament have been hard on Daniel – they cannot believe that God could have given his servant revelations of actual historical events to come.

Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed an important dream. But he had forgotten it, and the dream was disclosed only after Daniel and his friends had prayed for God to reveal it to them.

As Daniel explained it, Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed about a large statue – made of different kinds of metal, the head was gold, the chest was silver, the middle portions were bronze, the legs were iron and the feet were iron mixed with clay. While the king was watching, a rock that was not “cut out … by human hands” struck the statue on its feet, and the whole thing toppled over and broke in pieces, the pieces then being swept away by the wind like chaff at threshing time. The rock that struck the statue grew into a huge mountain that filled the whole earth.

According to Daniel’s explanation, the gold head stood for Nebuchadnezzar himself. This brief description of the importance of Babylon in world history is surprisingly accurate. Babylon had always been great, but it had risen to heights of previously unmatched magnificence under Nebuchadnezzar. It was there, for example, that the famous “hanging gardens”, one of the wonders of the ancient world, were located.

The second part of the statue was the silver part, representing a kingdom that would be inferior to that of Nebuchadnezzar. In the unfolding of history this became the kingdom of the Medes and Persians, brought to power by King Darius.

The third part of the statue was made of brass. It represented the kingdom of the Greeks established by Alexander the Great. Alexander was a remarkable man and a military genius. He conquered as far as the Indus River, where, so the story goes, he wept because he had no more worlds to conquer.

The fourth part of the statue, the part made of iron and the feet made of iron mixed with baked clay, represented the Roman Empire. Although this kingdom was still hundreds of years in the future as Daniel spoke, Daniel nevertheless described it accurately.

This is most remarkable! This accurate forecast of the gentile world empires following the fall of Babylon is the chief reason why liberal scholars of the past tried so hard to discredit this book, assigning it to a later era. But even with such late datings, Daniel still precedes some of the events it prophesies by hundreds of years. Such prophecies are one proof of the Bible’s divine inspiration.

But they are also proof of God’s sovereignty, which is the dominant theme in Daniel. How so? It is because the only way in which God can foretell what is going to come about in history is if God is in control of history. He is able to foretell what will happen because he has determined what will happen and because he has the power to make it happen. What is more, this shows God to be the true God.

Sometimes fortune-tellers make shrewd guesses about some future happening – if it is not too far in the future. The devil, if he speaks through fortune-tellers, mediums, and mystics, can no doubt be even shrewder than that. But nowhere in all history is there a rival to the distant, detailed, and yet accurately fulfilled prophecies of the biblical writers. This is one strong proof of the Bible’s inspiration and of the identification of the God of the Bible as the true God.

There is another thing to be seen about Daniel’s prophecy concerning this world’s empires – it is the decline of glory and even the decline of power that this vision represents.

Daniel makes the point explicitly, showing that each kingdom is “inferior” to the one before it in terms of its glory. That is to say, gold is the most precious of metals, and since the golden head of the statue represents Babylon, Babylon was therefore the most glorious of the four world kingdoms. Silver is less precious than gold, therefore less glorious. Brass is less precious than silver, therefore also a step further down in splendor. Iron, the basest of these metals, is the least glorious of all. Yet each of these is also stronger up to a point. Daniel stresses this, saying, “Iron breaks and smashes everything.” The kingdoms of the world seem to be trading magnificence for strength, when the vision gets to the strongest empire of all, the Roman Empire, the dream shows that the kingdom is (or would be) divided and in its divided state would have its strength, iron, mixed with brittle clay.

This is the opposite of the humanistic view of world progress. In its purest form the doctrine of progress insists that progress must always occur on all fronts. This is not true, of course. There are declines as well as gains. So modified expressions of the “progress” philosophy argue that losses in one area (glory or magnificence, for example) are more than compensated for by gains in another area (strength or power, to preserve the example). But even that is an illusion. When we go on with God, as Daniel and his friends did, we move on from strength to strength, from victory to victory. This is real progress, both personal and social. But apart from God even our imagined advances are declines.

Is the United States not morally and spiritually weaker today, though physically stronger, than it was a generation ago? Is not the same thing true for many other technically advanced societies?