Nebuchadnezzar's Image

John David Clark, Sr. - November - December, 1995

"Thou, O king, saw, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before you, and its form was terrifying. This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. You watched until a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces." (Daniel 2:31-34)

Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of Babylon, built a powerful Empire in the ancient Middle East. He conquered the fierce and cruel Assyrians and enlarged upon the area of their conquests. Among the lands which Nebuchadnezzar subdued was the tiny kingdom of Judah, the last remnant of the former nation of Israel, which first was divided by civil war and then was wasted by the Assyrians. By an astounding miracle from heaven, Judah survived the Assyrian onslaught; now, God had given Judah into Babylon's hand, and Nebuchadnezzar was not kind. After his army had starved Jerusalem into submission, "the city was broken up, and all the men of war fled by night . . . and the king [Zedekiah] went the way toward the plain. And the army of [Babylon] pursued after the king, and overtook him in the plains of Jericho; and all his army scattered from him. So they took him to the king of Babylon . . . and they gave judgment upon him. And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon" (2Kgs.25:4-7).

There was no power which could resist Nebuchadnezzar because God had raised him up to accomplish His purposes. Likewise, when God at a later date finished with the Babylonian kingdom, there was no power which could save it.

After returning in victorious splendor to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar reigned in luxury in his magnificent palace. In the middle of one fateful night, however, his servants heard loud cries coming from the king's bedchamber and came rushing in. They found the king shaken and wide-eyed, in the throes of a strange terror. He had been given an amazing, enigmatic message from God in the form of a dream. "Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to show the king [the meaning of] his dreams." (Dan.2:2).

The wise men of Babylon were not stupid. Their observations of the heavens, and their calculations of time based on maps made from those observations, have impressed learned men of all ages. They developed a system for calculating the length of a year, as well as other divisions of time, which is similar to the system we use today. On this occasion, however, they found themselves in a situation in which their knowledge of the heavens provided no help whatsoever.

The troubled king was tormented by two elements of his dream. First, he knew that it was a communication from the supernatural realm. He knew it was an important message. Second, and far more disturbing, he found that he was completely unable to remember the dream at all!

"I have dreamed a dream", mournfully bellowed the distressed king to the magicians and sorcerers, "and my spirit was troubled to know the dream."

"O king, live forever" replied the supremely confident counsellors, "tell thy servants the dream, and we will render the interpretation."

At this, the king grew indignant. "The thing is gone from me! If you will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, all of you will be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill! But if you reveal the dream and the interpretation thereof, you shall receive gifts and rewards and great honor. Therefore, show me the dream, and the interpretation thereof!" The wise men bowed at the king's feet in a spectacularly arrayed palace, gorgeously decorated with gold and blue bricks and all the finest materials on earth; but, the king's mood made the shining palace seem gloomy indeed.

"If the king will only tell us the dream, we will tell him the interpretation", replied the worried sorcerers.

"You're stalling!" exploded the king. "If you will not make known to me the dream, there is but one decree for you! You are craftily delaying in giving an answer, hoping that things will change! You tell me the dream; then I will know that the interpretation is right!"

The cunning, but perplexed, wise men tried to reason with the distraught Monarch. "There is not a man upon the earth that can do this", they pleaded. "Therefore, there is no king, lord, or ruler, that has asked such a thing of any magician, or astrologer, or Chaldean."

At that, the king flew into a mad rage and commanded his military officers "to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. And the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain."

Among the wise men who served the king of Babylon was an humble young man of God who, with a number of other young men from Judah, had been taken into Babylonian captivity some years before. The Babylonians had castrated him and his friends and had given him a Babylonian name, Belteshazzar. We know him better by the Hebrew name his parents had given him: Daniel. He was among those marked for death by the king's decree.

When Arioch, chief of the king's executioners reached Daniel's home, he announced the gruesome purpose for his arrival.

"Why is the decree so hasty from the king?" asked the young man of God. Then Daniel requested that Arioch take him to the king, which Arioch agreed to do. At the palace, Daniel pleaded with the king "that he would give him time, and that he would show the king the interpretation" of his dream. Nebuchadnezzar (no doubt to the surprise of his servants) gave Daniel a little time, and Daniel returned to his house, where he promptly called three other faithful young Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, "that they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret, that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon" (Dan.2:18).

That night, the God of heaven heard the prayers of his endangered children and visited Daniel in a vision. Daniel saw the same startling scenes which Nebuchadnezzar had seen in his dream and had then forgotten. How thankful were Daniel and his companions! How they rejoiced and praised God for His compassion! With the dawn, they were ready to return to Nebuchadnezzar's palace. First, Daniel went to Arioch, who was in charge of the slaughter of the wise men, "and said thus unto him, `Destroy not the wise men of Babylon. Bring me in before the king, and I will show the interpretation.'"

As the rumor flew through the palace that a man was being brought before the king to reveal his dream and its interpretation, an excitement filled the air. When Arioch bowed before the king to present the young Hebrew to the king, it was an awesome moment in the court, full of hushed suspense and drama.

"I have found a man of the captives of Judah that will make known unto the king the interpretation", said the strangely confident Arioch.

"The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, `Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof?' Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, `The secret which the king has demanded can neither the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, nor the soothsayers, show unto the king. But there is a God in heaven Who reveals secrets, and He has made known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days.'"

With these words, Daniel, the young servant of God, began to unravel the mystery of the king's amazing dream. Daniel began by reminding the king of what he had been thinking as he prepared for sleep that fateful night.

"As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, `What shall be in the future?' And He that reveals secrets has made known to you what shall come to pass."

Nebuchadnezzar was stunned. This young man was not only going to reveal to him the dream and its interpretation, but he was also telling the king what he had been thinking as he drifted into sleep in his palace that night! And yes! He remembered! He had been wondering to himself what would happen on earth after his death. The king leaned forward and fastened his gaze on Daniel.

"Thou, O king, saw, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee, and its form was terrifying. The image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. You watched until a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces."

As Daniel continued, awe filled the king's heart. He remembered! Yes, the Image! He remembered the terrifying Image, the glittering metals - and the Stone, the mighty Stone that smashed the brilliant Image into tiny, insignificant pieces which the wind carried away. The Stone that then grew into a mountain which filled the whole earth. Yes, he remembered! That was it! But Daniel wasn't finished. He must now give to the awe-stricken king the interpretation of the Image: the future of the nations of earth.

"Thou, O king, art a king of kings. For the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. . . . Thou, O king, art the head of gold. And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee [silver], and another kingdom of brass, which shall rule the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron. Forasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and subdues all things, it shall break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of iron and part of clay, [this last] kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken."

Silence reigned in the throne room. Both the dream and its interpretation were revealed. Nebuchadnezzar had gone to bed wondering what would happen on earth after his demise, and the God of heaven had revealed to him in a dream the future course of world events.

From his perspective, he could not have known that the silver chest and arms of the Image represented the coming Medo-Persian Empire, the empire which would capture Babylon in 539 B.C. and replace Nebuchadnezzar's Empire with its own larger one. As the Image had two arms, so this kingdom had kings from two kinds of people, the Medes and the Persians.

Following the Medo-Persian Empire would come the kingdom represented by the brass belly and thighs of the Image, the Grecian kingdom of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered the armies of the Persian Emperor Darius III swiftly and decisively, and stretched the borders of his kingdom as far as India to the east. There was no stopping what this very young king set out to do, because God had foreordained him to do it.

The fourth kingdom, destined to be the most powerful of them all, was of course the Roman Empire, the city which sat upon seven hills, which ruled supreme for centuries over all lands surrounding the Mediterranean. This was the fourth kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar's Image.

Military power, though, is only one element of the mystery of the Image. There are other mysteries to consider. The reader will notice that as human history progressed, the value of the material used to make the Image decreased. This speaks of the ever decreasing moral and intellectual quality of the human race. As cheap as iron is, in comparison to gold, so far had the moral and intellectual quality of humankind degenerated from the time of Nebuchadnezzar to the time of the Roman Empire.

Continuity

In 539 B.C., when Cyrus, the great Persian king, came with his conquering army to Babylon, the city freely and gladly opened its gates to him; and the people welcomed him as their new ruler. There was no destruction of Babylonian beauty, no rejection of Babylonian culture or religion, and no loss of the remarkable Babylonian achievements in the sciences, most notably in astronomy and time-keeping. As the head is attached to the body beneath it, the thoughts and knowledge of Babylon were attached to the kingdom which succeeded it.

In 331 B.C., when Alexander conquered the last of the Medo-Persian rulers, he insisted upon assimilating the conquered peoples, not annihilating them. He married the dead Persian king's daughter, Roxanne, and in one ceremony, 10,000 of his soldiers married women of the defeated countries. Alexander was a conqueror, not simply a destroyer. He valued the achievements which other nations had made, and he took advantage of them.

There is an old saying to the effect that "When Rome conquered Greece, Greece conquered Rome." What this means is that when Rome had become the predominant political force in the known world, it incorporated so much of Grecian thought and style into its own life, that it was as if Greece had conquered Rome. The culture which the Romans spread throughout the world was not purely Roman; it contained so many Grecian elements that it is called the Greco-Roman culture.

So, there was a continuity and unity from the head of gold, the Babylonian Empire, to the iron legs, the Roman Empire. Of course, since there was no added revelation from God, neither Daniel nor Nebuchadnezzar knew the details of the future - the names, the dates, the places - but it is remarkable how truly, even in minute ways, the Image prefigured future events.

Beginning with the Medo-Persian conquest of the Babylonians, there was a sort of harmony between the conquerors and the conquered which was unlike many other conquests. God commanded the Israelites to utterly destroy the Canaanites when they took from them the Land of Promise. None of their people were to be spared, none of their religious traditions were to be continued, none of their culture was to be admired and salvaged, and even their animals were to be destroyed. "So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God commanded" (Josh.10:40).

In Egyptian history, we find that not only were they cruel to their external enemies, but when one Pharaoh succeeded another, he might well remove all remembrance of that previous king by all possible means. In such a case, his desire was to obliterate any trace of that man's life on earth. If his name had been carved into great monuments, the new Pharaoh would have it chiseled out. All written records which preserved in any way his memory were destroyed. There was no continuity, no building upon progress previously made by that man. All was destroyed.

The Vikings were not prone to appreciate the good qualities of the villages they raided. They had no concept of an ongoing, constantly improving world civilization. They were vandals, pure and simple. The ingeniously cruel Assyrians seemed to be more interested in humiliating and torturing the peoples they conquered than in taking from them what might be beneficial for their kingdom.

But the Empires of the Image were different. Even the deep bitterness which the Greeks held toward Persia did not lead them to despise Persian people in general or their cultural advances. The exquisite Persian capital of Persepolis was sacked and plundered in retaliation for Persia's earlier sacking of Athens, but this was not typical of Alexander, and there are no other examples of such wild and wanton destruction by his troops.

The Seed

It was no accident that Christ, whom Paul called the Seed of a new race, was born at the time of the Greco-Roman era. On the Image, this was the point where the iron legs were joined to the silver thighs and belly of the body. This is the part of the human body where the seed of man is produced. And at this time in history, as Greece was giving way to Rome, the Seed came.

The Empire Survives!

Through recent studies I have found the answer to a question concerning this Image which I have pondered many times before. Daniel's interpretation clearly shows that the iron legs of the Image continue from the time of Christ until the end of this age, when Jesus, the Stone, shall return and smash the Image to tiny bits and set up a kingdom which shall never end. This was the greatest mystery of all to me, for I had been taught that the Roman Empire was overrun by Barbarians in the fifth and sixth centuries, A.D., and that it came to an end. But Daniel's interpretation does not allow for that. And if the Roman Empire survived, where is it?

As Daniel said it would do, the Roman Empire did survive - and survives to this day - but not in the same form by which it was known at the time of Christ. World domination is still its goal, the political influence over many nations is still in its hand, and its very cruel armies have fought fiercely at various times during the last two thousand years to accomplish the will of its new Caesar - the Pope for some, various other Christian leaders for others. For though its ultimate goal, to rule the earth, is the same, the methods of the Empire have been altered. In ancient times, Rome ruled by sheer military might. It imposed its rule upon men's bodies, but not their souls; now, however, this mighty Empire rules over men in a more sophisticated manner. It maintains its political power by intimidating men through superstition. As John would later declare, "By thy sorceries were all nations deceived."

The Image which Nebuchadnezzar saw had two legs are iron. This means there must have been a division of the Roman Empire into two fairly equal parts. Does history record any such division? Yes, the Roman Empire was divided into two realms, the Eastern Roman Empire and the Western Roman Empire, each with its own Emperor. Rome was capital in the West, and Byzantium, later renamed Constantinople, was capital in the East. In time, both Emperors were considered to be the religious as well as the political rulers of their domains. In the fourth century, A.D., when Roman Emperors began to embrace the belief in the Lordship of Jesus, they did not obey Jesus and remove themselves from entanglements with the political affairs of this world. On the contrary, they incorporated their faith in Jesus into the Roman political arena. At the Emperor's coronation ceremony in Constantinople (the Romans were intensely ceremonial), a cross was hung about his neck as a symbol of his commitment to Christ, whose ways he claimed to defend.

By the end of the fifth century, both Roman Empires, East and West, had become thoroughly "Christianized". The Roman Empire exchanged its toga for ecclesiastical vestments. The Roman Empire became Christianity, and where its rulers reigned was not called a kingdom (that was too obvious a title), but Christendom. Under the Emperor Theodosius, Christianity (a non-biblical term) became the official state religion, and adherence to Christianity was demanded. Ancient religious customs, such as animal sacrifice, were made "crimes of high treason against the state"; idolatrous temples and their riches were confiscated "for the benefit of the Emperor, or the church, or the army". The political and military might of the Eastern and Western Empires were used to impose upon men this new religion; as a result, paganism was extirpated, an event so incredible and of such import for all mankind that one historian calls it "a singular event in the history of the human mind."

But the new religion called Christianity (or, Roman Catholicism) was not the religion that had arrived on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, nor was it the faith which was depicted in the book of Acts and in the letters of the apostles. Jesus's kingdom, according to the Master himself, was "not of this world"; but Christianity, the religion of Rome, was most certainly and most thoroughly of this world. Something strange and mysterious had happened.

The "something" that had happened was that Rome, the mistress of the nations, was guided by Satan to alter her appearance so as to be able to continue to rule, and to rule not only the territories of earth, but the souls of its inhabitants. The Roman Empire became an earthly kingdom which claimed not to be one. It governed not merely by military power but by religious doctrine; and as it had once conquered worldly kingdoms by force, it now conquered men's souls by claiming to speak in Christ's stead. Even many of the newly created nation of Spirit-filled believers in Christ were taken.

After centuries of cruel persecution by pagan Roman Emperors, weary servants of the Lord were sorely tempted to welcome an official adoption of faith in Christ as a gift from God. It certainly appeared to be so; but the gift was not freely given, and the price was extremely high. In exchange for the favor and protection of both Rome and Constantinople, the saints were required to submit to a more fashionable, ceremonial, and less charismatic, gospel. Of course, those who refused the Empire's form of the gospel were silenced as enemies of the state, and, in time, multitudes would be murdered in the name of the Jesus that Rome preached. Many converted to this new religion for purely political reasons, and personal safety. Christianity was born.

Though few perceived it, what had arrived on the stage of world history was the final kingdom prefigured by Nebuchadnezzar's awful Image. John's vision in Revelation describes her as "the great Whore that sitteth upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication. And the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. . . . And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration."

Throughout European history, the dream of a "Holy Roman Empire" has persisted, and actually claimed by some. Charlemagne, in A.D. 800, had himself crowned emperor of Rome in hope of resurrecting the glory of the ancient empire; but such claims -and there were many - were always subject to the Pope's approval. As recently as the early 1900's, leaders of both Germany and Russia flattered themselves with titles derived from the title "Caesar" (Kaiser and Tsar, respectively). In the sixth century, when invading barbarians forced the civil authorities to abandon the city of Rome, the head of the Christian church in Rome remained behind and assumed an ancient Roman title which designated the ruler of the city. To this day, this name is preserved in the Pope's title, "Pontiff". But more than mere titles, from the statutes of ancient Rome, writes one historian, "has flowed both canon (Christian church laws) and secular law codes."

There is much more that could be said, of course. The study of early Christianity in relation to Roman government and society is an area of growing interest and attention. God is focusing the attention of even secular scholars on the beguiling and critical events of the centuries following the death of Jesus. It is like awaiting the unveiling of a statue crafted by a master's hand. When God determines it is time, what those with eyes to see will behold is an unveiled Image, an Image with a golden head, a silver chest, a belly and thighs of brass, and two powerful iron legs - legs that reign now as Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the Christianity of the West, Catholicism and Protestantism. It is an Image which not only was a mystery to the man who first saw it in a dream, but is still a mystery to all who have been made drunk by the sweet wine of the Roman Empire's version of the gospel of Christ.


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