-Daniel 2 (604 B.C.)
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The Book of Daniel, which many call the Old Testament’s Revelation, develops the story of certain captive Jews in Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon’s court. The six first chapters narrate Daniel’s historical experience there.[i] The others are visions and prophecies. Nevertheless, the vision we illustrate here is situated on the second chapter, because it was originally revealed to Nebuchadnezzar one night, in one of his dreams.
It’s not strange that night Nebuchadnezzar woke up extremely frightened and nervous, hungry to know the meaning of his nightmare, because what he saw was a heavy and highly codified message from God Almighty to all humanity. It was a lesson that he personally learned only after another nightmare, in which he became like an animal (Daniel 4).
God rules not only in heaven, but also on earth.
It is generally known from history and other visions of Daniel (ch. 7, 8, 10) that Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece are identified respectively with the head, the breast and arms, and the belly and thighs of the statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s first nightmare. That means that Nebuchadnezzar received in life, via Daniel, a prophecy of the future of his power (of gold) through the times. His kingdom (God never recognized huge kingdoms as empires) was going to be crushed by an inferior one, Medo-Persia (of silver). That inferior kingdom was also going to be destroyed by another one, Greece (of brass), commanded by Alexander the Great, disciple of Aristotle. These transitions happened, approximately, in 539 B.C. and 330 B.C.
It is harder to discern the political identity of the legs (of iron), the feet and the fingers (both part of iron, part of clay). Traditionally in the West it has been interpreted that the legs of iron represent Rome. We agree, since Rome was strong enough to rule over the entire Mediterranean Sea, kill the Prince of the princes (Lord Jesus), persecute his primitive followers and take away the daily sacrifice by means of cast down the Second Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. This was explicitly prophesied in Daniel 8, a chapter which also contemplates a spiritual resurrection of Rome in the end of the times.
But there are more reasons to believe that Rome was implicitly indicated in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. As in the case of Medo-Persia (two arms, related to the bear of Daniel 7:5), anatomical details provide us with some help. Rome was divided into Western Rome (that fell in 476 A.D.) and Eastern Rome, Byzantium (that survived until 1453 A.D.). That gives us a picture of an operation more complex than the simple division of an empire. The Rome of iron, and its partition, was the instrument to preserve for the world to come the basic ingredients to build today’s democracies – political systems where common people (clay) mixed with old powers (iron) have the pleasure to call themselves kings and lords, sovereigns, something that Nebuchadnezzar learned not to do long time ago.
From Personalist Sovereignty to Popular Sovereignty
Rome preserved Greek philosophy, Roman law and Christian values from the violence of the rest of the world. Greek philosophy contains the elemental rebellion against God: we humans are the center. Roman law articulates the legal consequences of that self-centered mentality. Christian values with their distrust towards the human heart in matters of power and their defense of equality among human beings helps ensure that power is enjoyed by every one, at least symbolically. This is true even if the origin of democracy and the concept of popular sovereignty is radically against God, who is Sovereign not only on heaven, but also on earth. Still, it is better to establish popular sovereignty rather than personalist sovereignties of the ancient world. But we must always have in mind that all this is only temporary. When Jesus returns, there will be no democracy.
Roman law was preserved through Byzantium, thanks to the efforts of Justinian I. Biblical knowledge was hidden in Latin by the power-hungry Popes of the Roman Catholic Church until the Reformation. As in ancient Babylon, God used evil rulers as a means of judgment. It will happen with current democracies too, which prove that emperors and common people alike are evil – capable of saving the trees while at the same time killing children without hesitation. We are capable of giving up our freedom, or using it, for the benefit of a fanatic while forgetting the consequences of that decision for others (remember: Hitler and Hamas were legally elected).
In 1992 Francis Fukuyama became famous for a book entitled “The end of history and the last man”. Although the author refers specifically to liberal democracies, the text suggests that democracy in general seems to be the end of the history. It is the political system longed for by global citizenship. It’s an idea that’s impossible to remove from people’s minds. Even in clear dictatorships like Russia, China, Iran or North Korea, states are forced to legitimize themselves with mandatory references to their people, in many cases using a communist discourse to do so. There are very few governments not self-identified as democratic.[ii] Nobody, except God with his Egyptian plagues of the Apocalypse, can convince the world that we are not truly sovereign, but only clay under the feet of a King who is God and fights sonorously against our wickedness.
That was Nebuchadnezzar’s nightmare, and is the nightmare of the world: the idea of a God who rules upon the entire globe from Zion, as it happened prophetically on a small scale during King David’s times in Israel. Let’s learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s experience, paying attention to his public testimony of repentance in Daniel 4. He was the head of gold.
There is a battle between humanity and new humanity, between Greece and Zion, between democracy and God’s future monarchy. In the past, Hebrews didn’t want to live under the control of their King, God. They asked for a human king to be more like the surrounding nations (1 Samuel 12). Now that kingdoms are unpopular among the nations, Israel has embraced democracy, partly due to the modernization work of figures like Theodor Herzl. But there is no escape, their genuine King will return.
It is one thing that the people leave the south, Egypt, and another that Egypt leaves the people. It is one thing that the people leave the north, Rome and Greece, and another that Rome and Greece leave the people. Jeremiah 16:14-15: “Therefore behold, the days come,” saith the Lord, “that it shall no more be said, ‘The Lord liveth who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘the Lord liveth who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither He had driven them.’ And I will bring them back into their land that I gave unto their fathers”.
It is in this context that some scriptures can be understood more deeply:
I have bent Judah for Me,
filled the bow with Ephraim,
and raised up thy sons, O Zion,
against thy sons, O Greece,
As I live, saith the Lord God,
surely with a mighty hand
and with a stretched out arm
and with fury poured out,
will I rule over you.
Why do the heathen rage,
and the people devise a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord
and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us break Their bonds asunder,
and cast away Their cords from us.”
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh;
the Lord shall hold them in derision.
Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath,
and vex them in His sore displeasure:
“Yet have I set My King
upon My holy hill of Zion.”
“I will declare the decree:
The Lord hath said unto Me,
‘Thou art My Son;
this day have I begotten Thee.
Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee
the heathen for Thine inheritance,
and the uttermost parts
of the earth for Thy possession.
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron;
Thou shalt dash them to pieces
like a potter’s vessel.’”
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings;
be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry
and ye perish from the way,
when His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all they
that put their trust in Him.
i CHRIS WRIGHT. “Tested by fire: Daniel 1-6. Solid faith in today’s world”. Scripture Union Publishing. 1993