In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams.” It is thus that we are introduced to the monarch of the greatest of earthly kingdoms in his own home. In chapter one [of the Book of Daniel], Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as the one who besieged Jerusalem; in chapter two, he is spoken of as the ruler of every nation on earth. The kingdom which Nebuchadnezzar brought to the height of its glory can be traced in Bible history to its foundation. The history of Babylon is the story of the great controversy between Christ and Satan, begun in heaven, continued on earth, and which will end only when the stone cut out without hands from the mountain shall fill the whole earth.
Satan’s accusation against God is that the Father is unjust. “But give me a fair chance,” argued Lucifer, “and I can establish a kingdom on earth which will excel in glory the kingdom of heaven.” He was granted the privilege of making a trial. The plains of Shinar were chosen; the people whom God told to fill the whole earth were gathered into a city. Babylon grew, and its mighty walls three hundred and fifty feet in height and eighty-seven feet thick, with the massive gates of brass, were designed to imitate the strength of the city of God. At the time of the founding of Babylon, Satan was still meeting with the council of the representatives of worlds, which was held at the gates of heaven. It was his design to counterfeit the plans of God. The earthly city was patterned after the heavenly. The Euphrates flowed through it, as did the river of God through Paradise. The government was an absolute monarchy; a man occupied the throne, and as it grew, every knee of earth was caused to bow to its king. Tyranny took the place of love. This is always true when man is exalted above God. There was a close union of church and state, for no power was tolerated above that of the monarch. It was to such a kingdom that Nebuchadnezzar fell heir, and the beauty and power of the kingdom were increased by him in every possible way, until it was spoken of everywhere as “Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency.”
Not only the power, but the wisdom also, of Nebuchadnezzar was exceedingly great. The king favored education, and during his reign Babylon was the educational center of the world. Every art and science was taught in the schools of Babylon. The wisdom of the ancients was made known to the students who sat at the feet of her magicians and wise men. They reveled in the study of astronomy and the higher mathematics. There were linguists who could teach the language of every nation.
The king himself was highly educated, for it was he who examined the students on the completion of their course, and granted their degrees. Babylon was proud of her educational system; she trusted to it for salvation, but it was the cause of her ruin. “Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath caused thee to turn away.”
God himself speaks, saying: “Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” In the Babylonish court this was exemplified. Nebuchadnezzar and his counselors,—the wise men, astrologers, and soothsayers,—on one side, represented the education of the world. Daniel, a youth not over twenty-one years of age, a Hebrew and a slave, was chosen by God to confound the wisdom of the mighty.
The Scripture gives the story in language that can be readily understood. But why did God give Nebuchadnezzar a dream? How could the God of heaven reveal truth to this heathen king? Doubtless he could, not during his waking moments, but Nebuchadnezzar had contemplated the glory of his kingdom, and fell asleep with a longing desire to know its future. He knew that life was short. Soon he must die; what would the future be? It was God’s opportunity, and while those eyes were closed to earthly things; while self was lost,—dead, as it were,—the future history of the world was spread before Nebuchadnezzar. On awaking, he found no language to express his thoughts. He who was acquainted with the world’s wisdom knew not the language of heaven. This he had never been taught. He tried to think what he had seen, but as his eyes again rested on the glory about him, the vision faded away. Earthly things drew a veil over the things of God, and while he knew he had seen something, he knew not what it was.
The king demanded an interpretation, but the wisest men of the king answered: “There is not a man upon the earth that can show the king’s matter. . . . There is none other that can show it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” That the pretended knowledge of the wise men of Babylon might be exposed, the Lord had in his providence given Nebuchadnezzar this dream, and then allowed him to forget the details, while causing him to retain a vivid impression of the vision. The king was angered by the request of the wise men for him to tell them the dream, saying, “I know of certainty that ye would gain the time, because ye see the thing is gone from me.” That is, they would be able to agree on some interpretation if the king could tell the dream. The king then threatened that if they failed to tell the dream, they should all be destroyed. The wise men urged that the requirement was most unreasonable; but the more they argued, the more furious the king became, and in his anger he finally “commanded to destroy all the wise men of Babylon.”
This decree was made in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. He had ruled two years conjointly with his father, Nabo-polassar, and two years alone; so Daniel and his fellows were serving their first year as wise men in the court of Babylon, having finished their three-years’ course in the schools. They were therefore sought out by Arioch, the king’s captain, to be slain. Daniel asked: “Why is the decree so hasty from the king?” Then Arioch made the thing known to Daniel. Daniel alone had the courage to venture into the presence of the king, at the peril of his life, to beg that he might be granted time to show the dream and the interpretation. The request was granted.
“There are in the providence of God particular periods when we must arise in response to the call of God.” The supreme moment had come to Daniel. For this very moment had God been giving him a preparation. From his birth every detail of his life had been pointing forward to this time, although he knew it not. His early education was such that at this moment when death stared him in the face, he could look up to God and claim his promise.
Although Daniel had been granted a diploma from the schools of Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar himself, and had been accounted ten times wiser than his fellow students, he had not as yet been classed with the astrologers and wise men of Chaldea. Probably his youth and inexperience delayed such recognition. But God chooses the weak things of earth to confound the mighty, because the foolishness of God is wiser than men.
Four Hebrew youth bowed in prayer, and that night “was the secret revealed unto Daniel.” How could God talk with Daniel?—Because the Spirit of the Lord is with them that fear him. Daniel’s education had acquainted him with the voice of God. He was in the habit of seeing eternal things with the eye of faith. God showed Daniel the same things which he had revealed to Nebuchadnezzar, but which were hidden from him by the glamour of worldliness.
The song of praise which rose from the lips of Daniel when the vision came, shows how self-forgetful he was, and how close his heart was knit to the heart of God.
The schools of Babylon developed pride, love of pleasure, haughtiness, and self-esteem. They fostered an aristocracy, and cultivated the spirit of oppression and slavery. Contrast with this the native simplicity, the courtesy, gentleness, and self-forgetfulness of the child of God as he enters the court and is introduced by Arioch.
Years before this, when Egypt was the educational center of the world, God taught Egyptian senators by the mouth of Joseph, a boy no older than Daniel. When Babylon had outgrown the counsels of Heaven, another Hebrew meets the men of the schools. “Can not the wise men show the secret unto the king?”
Before Daniel was the king in his glory; around him stood the very teachers with whom he had studied three years. At this time were exemplified the words of the psalmist: “I have more understanding than all my teachers; for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts.”
Nebuchadnezzar was careworn from loss of sleep, and in great anxiety because the dream troubled him; but Daniel was calm, conscious of his connection with God, the King of kings. Daniel now had opportunity to exalt his own wisdom, but he chose rather to give all the glory to God. He plainly told the king that it was beyond the power of man to reveal the dream or give the interpretation; “but there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days.” The king’s mind was directed to God alone.
In one night God revealed the history of over twenty-five hundred years, and what the human historian requires volumes to explain is given in fifteen verses. The Scriptures explain themselves, and in divine records every word is well chosen and put in the proper setting.
In the image revealed to Nebuchadnezzar, the glory of the Babylonian kingdom is recognized by the Lord, and represented by the head of gold. But while giving due credit to the present state of things, the spirit of prophecy with equal candor points out to the self-exalted king the weakness of the institution in which he has placed his trust, and the inability of the Babylonian learning to save from impending destruction.
“Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground; there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans; for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. Take the millstones and grind meal.” From being master of all, Babylon must become the most humble servant. Because these people had disregarded the God of heaven, and had said, “None seeth me,” evil would come from unknown sources, and Babylon should be cut off. She would make a desperate effort to save herself by turning to her educators and wise men. “Let now the astrologers, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up and save thee from these things. . . . Behold, they shall be as stubble.” When the trial came, there was nothing in all the realms of Babylon that could save her.
“The strength of nations and of individuals is not found in the opportunities and facilities that appear to make them invincible; it is not found in their boasted greatness. That which alone can make them great or strong is the power and purpose of God. They, themselves, by their attitude toward his purpose, decide their own destiny.” [The Youth’s Instructor, September 29, 1903.]
Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom lasted only until the reign of his grandson, when the second or inferior nation represented by the breast and arms of silver came upon the stage of action.
Medo-Persia took the place of Babylon; Grecia followed the Medo-Persian kingdom, while Rome, the fourth kingdom, was to be broken into ten parts, which were to remain until the end of time. In the days of these kings the God of heaven would set up a kingdom which would never be destroyed nor conquered by any other people; it would break in pieces and consume all former kingdoms, and stand forever.
The image was a comprehensive outline of the world’s history. The “glory of kingdoms” formed the head of gold, all following kingdoms deteriorated from Babylon as shown by the grade of metals forming the image. First gold, then silver, brass, and iron. In the latter part of the world’s history, a marked change was revealed by the iron being mixed with miry clay. There were to be no more universal kingdoms ruled by men when the power of the fourth kingdom was broken; it was to remain divided until the end. In place of one kingdom there would be several.
The clay mixed with iron also denoted the union of church and state. This combination is peculiar to the latter part of the world’s history, to the feet and toes of the image.
Religion was the basis of government in the heathen nations; there could be no separation of the church and the state. When apostate Christianity united with the state, each remained in a sense distinct as the miry clay is separate from iron. This union continues until the stone smites the image upon the feet. The very fact that the “stone was cut out of the mountain without hands,” shows that the last kingdoms on earth will not be overthrown by any earthly power, but that the God of heaven will bring upon them final destruction by giving them to the burning flames.
A Changed Heart
The king listened to every sentence Daniel uttered when telling the dream, and recognized it as the vision which had troubled him. When Daniel gave the interpretation, he was certain that he could accept it as a true prophecy from the God of heaven. The vision had deeply affected the king, and when the meaning was given, he fell upon his face before Daniel in wonder and humility, and said, “Of a truth, it is that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret.”
The youth of twenty-one was made ruler over all the provinces of Babylon, and chief governor over all the wise men of the kingdom. Daniel’s companions were also given high positions in the government. It should be remembered that this dream as recorded in the second chapter of Daniel was given to Nebuchadnezzar in the second year of his sole reign. It was still during the lifetime of Jehoiakim, king of Judah.
It was in the providence of God that his people should carry the light of truth to all the heathen nations. What they failed to do in the time of peace, they must do in time of trouble. Babylon was the ruling power of the world; it was the educational center. The Jews were comparatively a small people; they lost the power of God by neglecting the education of their children; they failed to let their light shine. From their midst God took a few who were trained in the fear of the Lord, placed them in the heathen court, brought them into favor with the ruler of the world, so making himself known to the heathen king. He did even more; he revealed himself to the king, and used these children of his to prove that the wisdom of God excelled the wisdom of the Chaldeans. Having exalted true education, he put Daniel and his companions at the head of that vast empire that the knowledge of the God of heaven might go to the ends of the earth.
Having acknowledged the God of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar was in a position to save Jerusalem instead of destroying it. It was because of these experiences that God could send word by his prophet a few years later that, should Zedekiah, king of Judah, deliver himself to the king of Babylon, Jerusalem would not be burned, and the world would receive the light of the gospel.
The history of the city of Baby-lon is put on record because it is God’s object lesson to the world of today. The Book of Revelation, which is the complement of the Book of Daniel, frequently uses the name, applying it to the modern churches. The relation of the Jews to the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar is the same as that sustained by the remnant church, the true Israel, to the churches which, having known the truth, have rejected it.
The sins of ancient Babylon will be repeated today. Her educational system is the one now generally accepted; her government, with its excessive taxes, its exaltation of the rich and the oppression of the poor, its pride, arrogance, love of display, its choice of the artificial in place of the natural, and the exaltation of the god of science instead of the God of heaven, is the one toward which the world of today is hastening.
As God called Abraham out from the idolatry of Chaldea, and made him the father of the Hebrew nation; as he delivered to that people a form of government that would exalt God; as he gave them commandment so to teach their children that the Jews would become a teacher of nations and might be an everlasting kingdom, so today he calls forth a people from modern Babylon. He has entrusted to them principles of healthful living, which will make them mentally and physically a wonder to the world. He has given them educational principles which, if followed, will make them the teacher of the world, and finally bring them into the kingdom of God. And to them he has delivered the principles of true government which recognize the equal rights of all men, and which in the church organization bind all together—one body in Christ Jesus.
Only a few—four out of thousands—were true to these principles in the days of Daniel. How will it be today?
Story of Daniel the Prophet (1904), 28–38. Printed with permission of the publisher, TEACH Services, Inc., Brushton, New York, 1995.