Throughout the vast span of human history innumerable kingdoms have risen and nearly all of them have fallen into the dust until now they only exist as remnants of scattered memories. These kingdoms are much like the human life—they are born, they grow and develop, they reach their maturity with a show of great might and splendor, and then they decay only to be replaced by another maturing kingdom.
As we study the fate of various mighty kingdoms, through the lens of Daniel 2, we will focus on two main themes: the sovereignty of God as the greatest and last ruler of The Kingdom which will fill the entire earth and the powerful impact one faithful and courageous individual can have in the face of great opposition.
The Mighty Kingdom of Babylon
Undoubtedly, Babylon was one of the mightiest kingdoms in the world of its day (c. 600 BC). In the course of several decades, beginning around 650 BC, the Babylonians steadily grew in strength, though they were ruled by the powerful Assyrian empire located about two hundred miles to the north. By the turn of the century (600 BC) the Babylonians had reached full maturity, brought Assyria to its knees and claimed the throne of imperial domination for themselves. Insignificant and petty kingdoms, such as Judah, that did not willing submit were severely and repeatedly punished. On more than one occasion the Babylonians marched upon Jerusalem, captured Jewish rulers and forced thousands of Jews to immigrate to Babylon as captives. Among those deported to Babylon were the heroes of the Book of Daniel, namely Daniel, ((Daniel’s name in Hebrew likely means “God is my judge.” El = God; Dan = judge)) Hannaiah, Mishael and Azariah. ((“The bestowal of a new name portended new destiny (nomen omen) and finds a parallel in Pharaoh’s renaming of Joseph (Gen 41:45) and Nebuchadnezzar’s renaming the last crowned head of pre-exilic Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:17)” see Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.662. Hannaiah, Mishael and Azariah are better known by their Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They were placed in positions of authority within the Babylonian empire where the Babylonian king gave unto them new names. Shadrach is probably a modified form of the Babylonian word for “Marduk” the chief Babylonian god; Meshach is probably a Babylonianization of the Hebrew name Mishael; Abednego most likely means “servant of Nabu” (“abed” = servant, “nego” = variant of “nabu”; see note on Nebuchadnezzar’s name in this article for more information on “nabu”). We see in Daniel 1:7 that Daniel also received a new Babylonian name, that of Belteshazzar. The name “Belteshazzar is the Akkadian name balatsu-usur ‘guard his life,’ and is a shortened form of a name that originally consisted of an invocation of a god, namely ‘(may Marduk) guard his life.’” See Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.661-662.))
Key Themes in the Book of Daniel
The Book of Daniel is guidebook of sorts on how to a live a life of courage, faith and hope in the reality of miracles in the face of oppression, opposition, persecution and trials. The stories in this book are well-known and have served generations of God-fearing individuals to strengthen their resolve to remain faithful to God despite death and hell. Daniel 1 focuses on Daniel and his companions’ resolve to keep their bodies whole and pure, though food and drink against their religious vows was offered to them. Daniel 1 expresses how these four courageous and faithful men were favored of God for their obedience with wisdom and knowledge. ((A comparison may be made between Daniel 1, with the tacit assumption that those who protect their minds and bodies from harmful substances will be blessed with great wisdom and knowledge, and the mighty promises given to the Saints in the Latter-days who observe the wise counsel offered in D&C 89.)) Other stories in the Book of Daniel reflect a similar theme that God will indeed bless those who stand courageous and faithful in their covenants (see also Daniel 3 & 6).
Our focus turns to Daniel 2 with the famous encounter between Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar ((Nebuchadnezzar is a Babylonia name that means “Nabu, guard of the frontier.” Nabu was a Babylonian god. Within the Babylonian pantheon of gods, Marduk was the chief god and Nabu was Marduk’s son. It is clear from his name that king Nebuchadnezzar’s personal god was Nabu.)) and Daniel over the interpretation of a dream. We will explore this chapter by looking at the major plot points while probing more fully the meaning of select passages and verses.
The story in Daniel 2 opens with the spotlight on the foreign king, Nebuchadnezzar. The framework for that light is a troubling dream which causes the king consternation; an interpretation of the dream eludes him. In the world of the Ancient Near East, dreams were understood to be portents of good or evil. However, the portent could only be interpreted by the wisest, most gifted and trusted officials, typically of the royal court. Indeed, whoever could offer the king the interpretation was richly rewarded, for such knowledge served as powerful counsel to guide the kingdom through difficulties to greater strength and prosperity. We see such a story with faithful Joseph, the one sold into Egyptian slavery. Brought out of the deep pit of prison, he was entrusted to deliver the true interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams. And in so doing, Joseph was rewarded with riches, honors, power and authority, all of which created the circumstances to be as a savior unto his brethren. ((See the Joseph novella in Genesis 37, 39-46.))
As the story in Daniel 2 progresses, Nebuchadnezzar gathers together all of the wise men ((Here the wise men are labeled as magicians (those who use “ritual actions” to appease the gods), astrologers (those who read the signs of the stars), sorcerers and Chaldeans. In the Book of Daniel these latter two terms are synonymous with magician and astrologer. See Anchor Bible Dictionary 4.464.)) in order to demand that they not only give him the interpretation of the dream but that they tell him what he dreamed. He threatens that if no wise man can give the dream and the interpretation, all the wise men in the kingdom will be killed. We will see momentarily that this crisis of destruction would only be averted through a superhuman intervention.
It is common to find stories in the ancient writings from the Near East of brilliant dream interpreters who saved kingdoms and principalities for the benefit of many. However, what is noticeably different with the story in Daniel 2 is that the king required all of his wise men to tell him his dream. Usually the king relates his dream to the dream interpreter (see the Joseph in Egypt story for example). The whole purpose of this plot point in the story is to underline the human impossibility of such a task:
There is not a man upon the earth that can shew the king’s matter; therefore there is no king, lord, nor ruler, that asked such things at any magician, or astrologer, or Chaldean. And it is a rare thing that the king requireth, and there is none other that can shew it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh. Daniel 2:10-11
Only the intervention from God could solve this dilemma, a dilemma that threatened to destroy all of the wise men of Babylon, including Daniel and his companions.
The Response to the Crisis
Prayer and Faith
When the hero (Daniel) hears the calamitous news he acts with courage and faith. In courage he approaches the volatile king to request time to ponder the matter; in faith he encourages his three trusted companions to implore the God of Heaven. And heaven answers. In the stillness of the night Daniel receives a vision from God which discloses the entire matter.
In joyous response and relief Daniel sings out praises to God:
Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast now made known unto us the king’s matter. Daniel 2:20-23
However, the crisis is still looming and so Arioch, the king’s captain, quickly brings our hero Daniel before Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel affirms in the hearing of all at the royal court that indeed no wise man can make known the secret dreams of the king. Then Daniel seizes the moment to testify that only the true God of Heaven and Earth can reveal the mysteries of the ages, the secrets of the heart and the true interpretation of dreams.
There is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known…what shall be in the latter days. ((Also translated as “end of days” (see the New Revised Standard Version translation of this verse). This is a stock phrase that refers to the end of a present era and the ushering in a new age where God rules supreme. Other examples of the use and meaning of this phrase can be found in Daniel 10:14; Isaiah 2:2; Jeremiah 23:20; Ezekiel 38:16; and Hosea 3:5. The academic term for the discussion and study of the “last days” is called eschatology. This is derived from the Greek words eschatos = last; logos = science/scholarship/words.)) Daniel 2:27
Daniel, a Jew exiled to a strange and foreign land, stands faithful to God against the threat of mockery and death. In so doing he dramatically sets the stage to display the power, might and knowledge of God. He demonstrates superhuman knowledge as a direct gift from God in revealing both the king’s dream and the interpretation of that dream.
Revealing the Dream
The scene shifts as Daniel begins to reveal the dream to king Nebuchadnezzar. In this well-known dream an image of gold, silver, brass and iron ((It is quite interesting to find that other ancient writers from various cultures expressed the succession of various ages of human history in terms of various metals. As far back as Hesiod the great Greek poet who wrote Theogony and Work and Days (c. 700 BC) we have a reference to several ages of the earth that correspond to several different metals. Similar expressions of world ages according to the “four-kingdom schemes are found in several ancient sources (the Fourth Sibylline Oracle, the Babylonian Dynastic Prophecy, the writings of Aemilius Sura, and Pseudo-Daniel).” Please see note Daniel 2:36-45 of the NRSV translation of the Bible.)) stand mighty and terrible. But soon thereafter
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. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. Daniel 2:34-35
Interpreting the Dream
After successfully revealing the king’s dream the scene progresses to Daniel offering an interpretation that has prophetic purposes. What was one man’s dream now becomes a blueprint for how God will establish His kingdom in a new age when all other kingdoms have fallen into the dust. Daniel explains to the king that the image represented succeeding ages of human history (or succeeding human kingdoms) culminating in the last days when God’s rule would be established upon the earth, destroying entirely the image made of human hands. This new era which ushers in God rule will exist forever and ever.
Symbolism of Stone
Let us look more closely at this stone cut out of the mountain without hands. That the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands underscores that it is an act of God and not an act of man. What is also significant here is that according to Biblical law altars were to be constructed from unhewn stone.
And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Exodus 20:24-25
And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day. And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaister them with plaister: And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over, that thou mayest go in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee. Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaister them with plaister. And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them. Thou shalt build the altar of the LORD thy God of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD thy God: And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the LORD thy God. And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly. Deuteronomy 27:1-8
Thus, the stone cut out of the mountain without hands is the holy and pure stone used for temple altars. ((There may be several reasons that unhewn stone was to be used for temple altars. Some have postulated that reverence was to pervade the temple setting and so the sound of tools used to shape stones would disturb that reverence. A more plausible explanation is that the metal tools (most likely of iron, copper or brass) used to work stone would leave small shavings of metal on the stone. Over time the metal would “bleed” onto the stone and thus tarnish, stain and eventually “pollute” the natural color of the stone. Instead of pure white Jerusalem granite a greenish hue would eventually form, distorting the pure color and nature of the white stone.)) But the temple imagery does not end there. In Daniel 2:35 we read:
And the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.
The stone that had come from the mountain grew until it had become a mountain, a mountain that encompassed the entire earth. In Ancient Near Eastern symbolism mountains were synonymous with temples.
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2:2-3
Thus the kingdom that God will set up in the Latter-days will be His kingdom, a kingdom that fills the entire earth, a kingdom that is as a holy temple. And so the entire earth will be as one sacred temple, a place that we can ascend to find ourselves as we find God.
A Crisis Averted
With the dream successfully revealed and interpreted king Nebuchadnezzar showers the greatest of honors and blessings upon Daniel. The king even goes so far as to affirm in the presence of his royal entourage that the Lord God is indeed the God of gods and Lord of lords.
This story in the Book of Daniel expresses clearly that God is sovereign above all else and that those who maintain their faith in God whatever the circumstances may be (in peril, in exile, in persecution, in the face of death) will do great things for the benefit of humanity and be blessed beyond compare. Daniel, our story’s hero, is a mentor in the faith of God and because he does not fear what man can do he is able to provide temporal salvation for many of his fellowmen. Perhaps we will not all have experiences like those of Daniel and perhaps we will not be honored in the same ways in which king Nebuchadnezzar chose to honor him, but those who prove faithful to God will be honored and blessed beyond any earthly glory.
Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free. Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever! And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers! D&C 128:22-23