The Rock (no, not the wrestler/actor!)

In Daniel chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that bothered him a lot. He refused to tell anyone the dream but demanded it be interpreted. He’s the king, he make those kinds of demands I guess. His wise men were confounded. If he would tell them the dream, they’d at least have a shot at an answer! Finally, a Hebrew man who’d been brought into captivity in Babylon from Judah was brought to the king and he told the dream and the meaning. This wasn’t just dream interpretation, it was also prophecy. How could Daniel know the dream, especially with such specificity? Only because God had revealed it to him.

The dream was of a statue made of different kinds of metals and its destruction. It had a gold head, silver chest, bronze midsection, legs of iron and feet of mixed iron and clay. Then a rock came and struck the feet and destroyed the statue. What Daniel explained was that this dream was about coming kingdoms. Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold. After his kingdom would come three others and then all of them would be blown to dust by one unlike the others. It would be a stone not cut by human hands and it would fill the entire earth.

Previously when I’d studied this I was impressed at how accurate this prophecy was. The Babylonian kingdom was replaced  by the Persians who were replaced by Alexander the Great who was replaced by the Romans. Jesus came during Roman rule and eventually the Roman empire became Christianized. Even the most liberal scholar wouldn’t suppose that Daniel had been written after all of these events and yet it was amazingly accurate as to how the next several hundred years of geopolitics played out. God is sovereign in the affairs of humanity including the establishment and removal of kingdoms!

What occurred to me this morning as I reflected on this was how each of these kingdoms was necessary. Not just so the prophecy would be true, but how each one lead to the ultimate conclusion of the prophecy. Israel (the Northern 10 tribes) had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians and years later Judah, the Southern tribes, were carried away by Babylon. After 70 or so years of captivity and exile, they were returned to the land. But weren’t they spread across two different kingdoms? No. The Assyrian kingdom had been taken over by the Babylonians after Israel’s exile in Assyria and before the Babylonians took Judah into captivity. So the kingdom of Israel that had divided under self-governance while in the Promised Land was reunited in exile under the Babylonians: the head of gold.

But Daniel, after explaining that Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold went on to say “Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you.” The Babylonian kingdom wouldn’t do all that God had in mind. Before the exile God, through Isaiah, had announced that a king who was yet to be born would be named Cyrus and he would return Israel to the land. God raised up the Medes and Persians who took over Babylon’s rule and their king was none other than Cyrus and he returned Israel from exile. That’s what Ezra and Nehemiah are about: the chest of bronze.

At this point, the Biblical narrative ends and we have a gap of about 400 years. We know from world history what happened next and it totally agrees with what is detailed in the book of Daniel. Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in 331BC and rose to global power.  His part in God’s work was to establish a global 1And by ‘global’ I mean regional. The area of concern was ‘the world’ as far as those folks were concerned. lingua franca, or common tongue. Greek became the language of trade and commerce across the entire Mediterranean region. His reign also served to end the regional wars you read about in Samuel, Kings and Chronicles.

After Alexander’s death, the Greek empire was taken over by the Romans. The Roman general Antiochus Epiphanes invaded Israel and desecrated the temple and stirred up the Maccebean Revolt. He was a bad dude to say the least. However, the Romans did do some good in the world. They didn’t throw off everything Greek, instead they kept the Greek gods and kept Greek as the lingua franca. Their assimilation of portions of Greek culture enabled Rome to pike up where Greece left off instead of having to start from scratch.

Rome’s contribution to the world was travel. Rome constructed roads and began securing them. Before that, it was a much more dangerous business traveling between cities. They also began an international system of justice which, of course, favored Roman citizens.

All of these things contributed to the possibility and success of the gospel; that is, the stone that crushed the idol and grew and filled the entire earth. The Babylonians regathered the Jews. The Persians returned them to the land. The Greeks established a common tongue so that the gospel could more easily be preached internationally. The Romans made roads secure which made it possible for the gospel to spread. They also established a form of international justice by which “a company of evildoers encircles”and pierces the hands and feet of the Son of God. (Ps 22) He would be cursed by hanging on a tree (Gal 3:13) and thereby bear our sins (1Pt 2:24).

Each portion of Nebuchadnezzar’s idol made the next portion possible and successful and all made it possible for the gospel to spread and fill the earth. Amazing.

1 And by ‘global’ I mean regional. The area of concern was ‘the world’ as far as those folks were concerned.
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