12 April 2013

Daniel 2:31-49

“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.” (v. 44)


The story so far ... After failing to find an interpretation of his recurring dream from his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers, nor any of them wise enough to divine what the dream was, King Nebuchadnezzar has ordered their execution. Daniel, however, has intervened. He asks for thinking time, after which he will tell the king both what he dreamed and what it means. He comes to the king, and tells him that the wisdom to interpret is not Daniel's, but is from God; and the mystery has been revealed to Daniel so that God may speak to Nebuchadnezzar.

However, the interpretation of this dream is not for Nebuchadnezzar alone. It is also for the second century BC Jews who are hearing the story of the struggles of their people from four hundred years earlier. The story has been written to give them hope in a time of persecution under the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

Daniel interprets the dream as pointing to three decreasingly-strong kingdoms which will eventually be divided into two. The readers would understand this meaning: the golden empire of the Babylonians (verse 38) had been replaced by the silver empire of the Medes, then the bronze empire of the Persians (even though historically the 'Medes and the Persians' were one empire under Cyrus). The fourth kingdom of iron was that of Alexander the Great (verse 40) - but that empire had been divided into two - the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Empires (verse 41). And despite their feeling the full force of the 'iron' of the Seleucid Empire, the message was that the 'clay' in that Empire would eventually weaken it (verse 42). Even the efforts of the Seleucid Antiochus II in marrying the Ptolemaic princess Bernice in 252 (verse 43) had ended in war between the two kingdoms (Daniel 11:6) (although it didn't help that he abandoned Bernice to go back to his first wife!). They need not fear Antiochus II's great-grandson (Antiochus IV) for ever.

To Ponder

  • This passage gives us the expression 'to have feet of clay' in which we recognise crucial weaknesses in ourselves. A Christian replaces clay feet by building on a firm cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6), and asking for the strength of Christ in whose strength we can do all things (Philippians 4:13). How have you made this true in your life?

Bible notes author

The Revd Neil Cockling

Neil spent 20 years as a circuit minister before becoming the District Development Enabler for the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District. He now works full-time for the NHS as a Consultant Lead Chaplain in mental health, leading a multi-faith team of 14 chaplains working in 10 hospitals in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.