As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:
36This the dream and its meaning we will tell before the king:
37You the king [are] the king of the kings that the God of the heavens has granted to you the kingdom, the possession, and the might and the honor, 38and in all of which dwelling the sons of the mankind, the animal of the field, and the bird of the heavens He granted in the hand of you and He gave authority to you in all of them. You [are] he, the head which is of the gold.39And in the place of you another kingdom will arise, earthward from you, and another kingdom, a third, which [is] the bronze will rule in the all of the earth, 40and a fourth kingdom shall be mighty like the iron; forasmuch as iron crushes and subdues the all, and as the iron which smashes all of these, it shall crush and smash. 41And then you saw the feet and the toes from them clay like a potter and from them an iron, [the] kingdom shall be divided, but from the stability like iron, forasmuch as you saw the iron being mixed in the clay of the mud. 42And the toes of the feet from them iron and from the clay, from the end the kingdom shall be mighty and from it shall be frail. 43Then you saw the iron being mixed in the clay of the mud. They shall be mixed in the seed of the man and they shall not be ones clinging, this with this. Behold! Like the iron not being mixed with the clay.44And in the days of them, these kings, the God of the heavens shall set up a kingdom which to ages. Not it shall be harmed and the kingdom shall not be left to another people. The kingdom shall crush and put an end to all of the these and it shall arise to the ages.45Consequently, all of which you saw where from the mountain a stone severed itself not in hands and it crushed the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver and the gold. The great God makes known to the king what shall be after this and certain the dream and being faithful.
As has been observed before, barrels of ink have been spilt on these passages all down through the twenty-six or so centuries which have passed since these events occurred and Daniel recorded them.
This may seem a strange commentary on these verses, but the most encouraging thing I take from them is the assurance that my study methods are in fact correct. I determined long ago to study the Bible, to discover what it does (and does not) say, then simply let it be, whether I understand it or not. As John warned us, it is a dangerous thing to add to or take away from the Words of the living God.
What is remarkable to me is that, if in fact you simply let this passage say what it says, it has been and is a remarkably accurate account of human history. Babylon was followed by Medo-Persia, was followed by Greece, was followed by Rome. I don’t think anyone would challenge Daniel’s description of Rome as a kingdom of iron that crushed and smashed everything before it.
I also think it was amazingly accurate to say, when the stone cut without hands smashes the statue, it smashes all four of those kingdoms. Historically speaking, each of those kingdoms did not so much destroy those before it but rather absorbed them. To this day we measure time and directions by multiples of six, which was the Babylonian numbering system. The numerical system of land surveying is still based on multiples of six. Greek history and language has carried down through the centuries, along with their architecture, and even much of Greek ideas of government are incorporated into the government of our own United States. In a sense, the Roman Empire never really ended. It just sort of faded into the nations of Europe. We still use Roman numerals. Roman law is the model on which western culture’s laws are based. Latin continued to be the lingual-franca of the civilized world for centuries and of course the languages of Europe to this day are Romanic languages, all just linguistic evolutions of Latin itself. So, when the stone cut without hands strikes the image, it destroys all four kingdoms at once. Only God could have known 2600 years ago that the world would progress as it has, but His Word precisely and accurately predicted it.
This matter of literal translation is also seen in the whole matter of the fourth kingdom (Rome) and the stone cut without hands (Christ). This vision predicted that the Roman kingdom would be strong as iron, that it would crush and devour everything, and yet it would be divided (two legs) and that it would somehow end up including these feet and toes of clay and iron mixed and there being the ten toes. In fact, the Roman Empire broke up into the Western and Eastern kingdoms (probably depicted by the two legs). Then those of us who believe in literal interpretation said for years that someday there would be a European Union, that somehow the nations of Europe would unite to actually reform the Roman Empire. That, of course, is exactly what has happened. But we also said that, when it did, it would be, as Daniel said, a “divided kingdom … the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.” Once again, even though the European Union did come about, yet England has chosen its “Brexit,” and the Union itself is fragile at best – just as God said. We’ve taken His words literally and watched them come about – just as He said.
At this point, we don’t know exactly what He means by the ten toes. Later, in Daniel 7:7 and 24, when Daniel sees the fourth kingdom as a ravenous beast, we’re told of the ten horns and that they will be ten kings. Taking things literally, we can predict that somehow, by the time Jesus comes, the European Union will have developed into a ten-kingdom unity. That is not true today. But, believing in literal interpretation, we are certain that is exactly what will come to pass.
Now about the stone cut without hands, I would suggest this is where we really see the value of literal interpretation. Down through the ages, people have maintained that the stone is Jesus at His first coming and that His kingdom is the Church. People have said that it was Christianity that took down the Roman Empire and that since then Christianity has been progressing to conquer the whole world. This interpretation was particularly attractive in the 18th and 19th centuries when the British Empire was expanding, taking Christianity to the four corners of the earth, and when world missions were progressing with amazing results. During that time, it really did look like Christianity could become the dominant world religion.
And so, interpreters said that was the meaning of the stone cut without hands and the kingdom He would establish.
Today, things don’t look so rosy.
Had those interpreters been more careful with their exegesis, they wouldn’t have made such ill-fated and embarrassing predictions.
What do I mean? First of all, when the stone cut without hands strikes the image, it is clearly an event. It happens at a very specific point in time, not gradually over centuries. When Jesus returns in Rev 19, riding His white horse, a sharp sword goes forth from His mouth, wherewith to slay the nations. His Second Coming is an event. Also, what He establishes is a kingdom. A kingdom is a civil institution with a real physical king, ruling over real people, in a real world. The previous four parts of the great image were kingdoms. No one would question they were real physical kingdoms. It does not make logical sense to then make the final kingdom into something totally different. The Church is not a civil institution. It is not a kingdom. (Probably a lot of people will read this and be saying, “But, but, but … we are the kingdom of God!” – to which I would reply, “No, we are not.” That association is, once again, the result of sloppy exegesis, and is the very error which led to the ridiculous and ill-fated predictions of the 19th century). If we take the word “kingdom” literally, then the stone cut without hands has not yet struck the image and its kingdom has not yet begun.
And that is in fact what we are seeing. The fourth kingdom has not yet formed into ten kingdoms, and we are yet waiting for Jesus to come, to destroy the kingdoms of this world, and in fact rule over this world as our King over an earthly kingdom. The reason why we, as Christians, easily identify with the kingdom of God is because our Savior is the King. As a believer, I accept His kingship, I want Him to be king, I want Him to rule in my heart as King, and I long for a world where He actually physically rules. In a sense, in our world, He is an exiled King. Although He is “exiled,” we ourselves acknowledge Him as the true King, try to live under His rule, as if He was the king, and we long for the day when He returns and does rule. So, it is easy for us to see ourselves as His “kingdom.”
But … His kingdom, as a kingdom, is yet to come.
As Paul said in II Timothy, “In the last days, perilous times will come …” The very clear image the Bible presents is not that the world will get “better and better” until finally Jesus comes to rule over us. Like Daniel’s image, it gets worse and worse, until Jesus comes to smash it all and set up His kingdom.
I believe that, all along, down through the last twenty-six centuries, if people would have simply let the words say what they say, even if they didn’t make sense at the time, they would have saved all the ridiculous interpretations which were eventually proven false. As with the rest of the Bible, we have to resist the temptation to embrace attractive positions which are “close” to the wording of the Scriptures, yet require a little “fudging” here and there. No. No fudging. It says what it says. It says exactly what it says and that is exactly what it means.
I hold great respect for the Reformed theologians of history. When it comes to Bible exegesis, the glory of God, and real Christian living, I’d rather read them than anyone else. But, for whatever reason, when it comes to prophecy, they like to conclude, “We just don’t know. We don’t know what it means. It’s all just allegories.” They just don’t know what to do with things like the “thousand years” of Rev 20. We do. It means “one thousand years” – literally.
And I feel encouraged, studying the prophecy of Daniel 2, and seeing how, in fact, literal interpretation is the only interpretation which has tracked accurately through twenty-six centuries. I am very encouraged to just keep studying the Bible, trying to understand exactly what God says – and doesn’t say – and letting it simply say what it says. I’m very aware that I occasionally say things that probably make other people’s theological hair stand on end, but I don’t care. If that is what the Bible says, that is what it says. Maybe I need to understand it better and maybe I need to understand what to do with it, but it still says what it says – whether anyone likes it or not.
Let us all remember that, in the end, the stone cut without hands smashes the kingdoms of this world – and that same Jesus and His truth will always, in the end smash all our foolish notions. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. May He be our Truth we live by -- literally.