Nebuchadnezzar's statue vision in Daniel 2

Nebuchadnezzar's statue vision is a story from chapter of the biblical Book of Daniel.

According to this story, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylonia, is troubled by recurrent nightmares that he refuses to tell his dream interpreters. But the text is clear that he threatens his dream interpreters with death and destruction of their property if they do not tell him the dream, as well as the interpretation. When they cannot do this, the king then orders the destruction of all wise men in his kingdom.

This apparently includes Daniel, who then goes to the king and asks him for a chance to tell him what his dream was, and the interpretation of it (2:16). This is apparently granted, for then the God of Heaven reveals the dream and the interpretation to Daniel (19), who thereupon explains it to Nebuchadnezzar as presaging what shall be "in the last days" (Aramaic:) (28).

Aramaic language

An unusual feature of the text occurs in verse four, where it is stated that the dream interpreters addressed Nebuchadnezzar in Aramaic, already the official language in use at the time. From this point, the remainder of the chapter and the entire text of Daniel through the end of chapter 7 continues in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. It could be that the original significance of the words "in Aramaic" in verse 4 was only to indicate what language the text was in, though it is of course possible that it might also refer to what language the dream interpreters spoke. The literary structure of the Book of Daniel helps explain the use of Aramaic in Daniel 2.

The dream

Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that he dreamed of a large, brilliant statue or idol standing before him. This statue had a head made of fine gold, a chest and arms of silver, a belly of brass, legs of iron, and feet made partly of iron and partly of clay.

Then a stone, cut out without the use of hands, enters the dream. It strikes the statue on its feet of iron and clay, smashing the entire idol into dust. As the wind blows the dust away, the stone becomes a great mountain that fills the whole earth.

The statue is often depicted by modern artists as a figure with its arms crossed. The origin of this depiction is uncertain.

Daniel's Interpretation

After telling the king what his dream was, Daniel then tells him what it means. Nebuchadnezzar himself, king of Babylonia, is the gold head of the statue. After Babylonia will come another empire that is of inferior quality to his, presumably represented by the chest and arms of silver. After that empire will come a third one of brass, followed in turn by the fourth empire of crushing iron, that crushes all others. This fourth empire will later be divided, however, and end up as the feet and toes that are partly clay and partly iron.

"And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever." (v. 44, KJV).

(This is explained as the meaning of the stone cut from the mountain without hands, that smashes the idol to pieces.)

Synthesis of dream and interpretation

Nebuchadnezzar was shown an enormous statue and was told that it depicted what was to take place in the future.

He was told that the God of heaven had given him dominion, power, might and glory. He was made ruler over man, beast and birds. Nebuchadnezzar, and thereby Babylonia, was represented by the symbol of the head of gold.

After Babylonia, another kingdom — symbolized by the chest and arms — would arise. Just as silver is inferior to gold, somehow this kingdom will be inferior to Babylonia.

Then a third kingdom — the belly and thighs of brass — will rule over the whole earth.

The iron legs represent a fourth kingdom that will be strong as iron. It will crush and break all the other kingdoms.

The iron and baked clay "feet and toes" represents a divided kingdom (verse 41). It will have some of the strength of iron, i.e. it will be partly strong and partly brittle. The toes that are a mixture of iron and clay (42) thus represent a mixture of peoples that will not remain united (43).

While these kingdoms exist, God will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. It will crush all the other kingdoms and bring them to an end, but 'not by human hands', ie. this is to be accomplished by divine, not human means (45).

The statue in the vision thus represents a series of earthly kingdoms that will start in the days of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia and end with the establishment of God's kingdom.


Identification of the four kingdoms

Scholars have proposed two alternative views regarding the identification of the four kingdoms in Daniel 2.

One view has traditionally been more prevalent among Christian scholars, at least as far back as Hippolytus (including Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Martin Luther); it has also been supported by some Jewish expositors (including Japet Ibn Ali, Saadia, Rashi, Abraham Ibn Ezra). It is supported by modern scholars such as E. J. Young and Gerhard Pfandl. The sequence is as follows:

  1. Babylon
  2. Medo-Persia
  3. Greece
  4. Rome

Another view has been more popular among Jewish scholars, at least as far back as Flavius Josephus, and has support from 20th century Biblical scholars such as H. H. Rowley, as well as conservative Christian scholars such as Gurney and Walton. The proposed sequence is:

  1. Babylon
  2. Media
  3. Persia
  4. Greece

Discussion of views

A modern interpretation of the 4 kingdoms is associated with the theory that the book of Daniel is a pseudepigraph dated to the mid-second century BC, concerned primarily with the Maccabean era and the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes. The vision therefore terminates in the Hellenist era, and the "kingdom" represented by the stone could then refer to the Hasmonean dynasty set up by the Maccabees, after their defeat of the Seleucid forces.

Nevertheless, other Christians do not accept this interpretation, because Jesus is said in Matthew 24 to have quoted Daniel as a prophet who foretold future events. Some scholars believe that Jesus placed the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy at the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70,; others think he was describing the "end of the age" (Matt. 24:3), immediately preceding Judgement Day. Therefore, their identification of the metals in the statue with empires tends to differ somewhat from the above-mentioned view of the scholars. Instead, the vision is considered to be about the development of Babylon and its successors, from the time of Nebuchadnezzar all the way to the future day when God's eternal Kingdom will be established.

The identification of the gold head is not disputed, as the text clearly indicates that it represents Nebuchadnezzar himself, and by extension, the Babylonian Empire. However, in this view, the second kingdom, represented by the chest and arms of silver, is identified with the combined Medo-Persian empire (which commenced when the Persian king Cyrus the Great defeated Babylon.) The third kingdom, represented by the belly of brass, is thought to be the Hellenic empire of Alexander and his successors. The fourth kingdom of iron legs then becomes the Roman Empire.

The Kingdom of God (represented by the stone that destroys the statue) may be considered in a spiritual sense, as the kingdom set up by Jesus through his death and resurrection during the time of the Roman empire; or alternatively as the literal and physical kingdom that Jesus will set up at his second coming, in which case the feet and toes of part iron and part clay must represent the nations which take the place of the Roman empire until the end of time.

Aside from the scholarly view that the book was written in the time of Antiochus IV, the chapter itself claims to take place in the "second year of Nebuchadnezzar". This could refer to 604 BC, the second year he reigned in Babylon, or it might also possibly mean 587 BC, the second year of his reign over Judah after deposing his last puppet, king Zedekiah.

Mormon Interpretation

The story in Daniel 2 has significant meaning to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who believe that the true church was restored to the earth in the "latter days" through a modern prophet, Joseph Smith, in 1830.

Spencer Kimball explained in 1976, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was restored in 1830. ...This is the kingdom, set up by the God of heaven, that would never be destroyed nor superseded, and the stone cut out of the mountain without hands that would become a great mountain and would fill the whole earth." Kimball agreed with the view of most Christians that the third kingdom represented that of Alexander the Great, the fourth represented the Roman Empire, and the feet of iron and clay represented a group of European nations, which were the great political powers at the time the Mormon church was founded.

Jehovah's Witnesses Interpretation

In the Jehovah's Witnesses' interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, the statue is said to represent the following kingdoms:

  1. The gold head - Babylon
  2. The silver breast and arms - Medo-Persia
  3. The copper belly and thighs - Greece
  4. The iron legs - Rome
  5. The feet partly of iron and partly of molded clay - Anglo-American dual power

The Anglo-American power is seen as the last dominant world power, emerging from a part of the Roman Empire (the iron legs) first as the British Empire, and then with the formation of the United States of America, to develop into the present-day special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. The dual nature of iron and clay (hard and soft), seemingly incompatible materials, is said to indicate the dual aspects of 'hard' and 'soft' power - military strength and diplomacy - both of which have been used to full effect by the USA and UK, while also hinting at inherent differences and even weaknesses in the relationship between the two powers.

The "kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and ... not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever", in verse 44 of the prophecy, is said by Witnesses to be the heavenly kingdom established by God, with Jesus as appointed King, which will ultimately bring to an end human rulership.

Jehovah's Witnesses also believe that the sequence of world powers in Nebuchadnezzar's dream parallels that given in the vision in the Book of Revelation Chapter 17, verse 10 which speaks of "seven kings: five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet arrived". (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece having "fallen" by the time Revelation was written; Rome was the world power at the time - "one is" - while the British Empire and subsequent emergence of the United States was then yet to come, hence "the other has not yet arrived".)

See also



Nebuchadnezzar's Dream Daniel's Interpretation Addendum
31 "You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. 44 The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future.
36 "This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.
37 You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; 38 in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all.
32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, You are that head of gold.
its chest and arms 39 "After you, another kingdom will rise,
of silver, inferior to yours.
its belly and thighs Next, a third kingdom,
of bronze, one of bronze,
will rule over the whole earth.
33 its legs there will be a fourth kingdom,
of iron, strong as iron—for iron breaks and smashes everything—and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others.
its feet 41 Just as you saw that the feet and toes … kingdom
partly of iron and partly of baked clay. were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom;
even as you saw iron mixed with clay. yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it
42 As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle.
43 And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture
any more than iron mixes with clay and will not remain united,
34 While you were watching, 44 "In the time of those kings,
a rock was cut out, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain,
but not by human hands. but not by human hands
that will never be destroyed,
nor will it be left to another people.
It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay
and smashed them. It will crush all those kingdoms
35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold … the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold
were broken to pieces a rock that broke ... to pieces.
at the same time
and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer.
The wind swept them away and bring them to an end,
without leaving a trace.
But the rock that struck the statue
became a huge mountain but it will itself endure forever.
and filled the whole earth.

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