What exactly did Nebuchadnezzar dream, and what did Daniel interpret it to mean? Central to the king’s dream was a statue made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and clay. Twice it is called “great,” and it must have been an awesome sight. It was the image of a man whose head was gold, chest and arms were silver, abdomen was bronze, legs were iron, and its feet and toes were a mixture of iron and clay. The statue had a limited lifetime: its ultimate destiny was the utter destruction that came suddenly and surely when a great stone demolished it and then filled the whole earth.
So who does this image represent? Daniel got specific in verses 36–43, but anyone who knows world history from 600 BC until the present day knows that there have been four dominant world empires. In 605 BC, the Babylonian Empire was reaching its zenith. In 539 BC, the great Medo-Persian Empire diverted the Euphrates River and entered the great walled city of Babylon by night. After only sixty-five years of world dominance, Babylon fell virtually overnight. Next, in 331 BC, a young Greek named Alexander swept across the world of his day, and the Greek Empire ruled the known world. But in 146 BC, the Roman legions began their conquest, crushing everything and everyone in their path. All these world empires were represented in the king’s dream—centuries before they were ever heard of.
First, Daniel interpreted the “head of gold” as Babylon herself. Babylon was well known for its gold. The ancient historian Herodotus visited Babylon and wrote that he had never seen such a proliferation of gold. He saw golden temples, golden altars, golden gates, and even golden walkways. Nebuchadnezzar had built a golden city complete with his own golden throne. So that there would be no doubt as to the image’s meaning, Daniel stood before the king and exclaimed, “You are this head of gold” (Daniel 2:38).
Who, then, is the chest and arms of silver? Unquestionably, it is the Medo-Persian Empire. Daniel revealed to the king that coming after him a new kingdom would arise (Daniel 2:39). And so it was: the Medes and Persians defeated the Babylonian Empire and became the next world power under Cyrus. From the book of Esther, we learn that these Persian rulers would dominate the world. The two arms represent the Medes and the Persians in this coalition, and world history records these events just as Daniel had foreseen them.
Next in the body of this image we come to the abdomen of bronze, representing the Greek Empire. How do we know this? Just as foretold, the Greeks defeated the Medes and the Persians in 334 BC after Alexander took the throne of Greece at only twenty years of age. He died at thirty-two, weeping over the fact that “there were no more worlds to conquer.” God identified this very kingdom even by name in Daniel 8:21 and 11:2. The Greeks were well known for their use of bronze and brass: their helmets, breastplates, and shields were made of such metals. The Greeks’ contributions to world culture are beyond description. Herodotus stands without peer as the father of historians. Hippocrates is the father of modern medicine. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have helped shape philosophy for centuries. The amazing thing is how God spoke of all these world powers long before they existed. We are watching through Daniel the recording before the game is even played.
Then came the “legs of iron.” There is zero doubt about the identity of this empire. Here we see the great Roman Empire rise to dominate the world for the next few centuries and rule with an iron hand. Rome was ruthless; it broke in pieces and shattered every nation in its path (Daniel 2:40). Iron was the symbol of strength, and this empire more than lived up to its name. Rome is expressed in the two legs of iron because this great power would divide into two, Rome in the west and Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul, in the east, where it became known as the great Byzantine Empire. The monarchies of France, Germany, Spain, and later Great Britain were the result of the western spread of the Roman Empire. Our own Western world here in America is Roman in its roots. It is imprinted in our own history. Our senate, our representative form of government, our courts, our laws, and our military all reflect the influence of the ancient Roman Empire. And it is worth nothing that Rome was never defeated; she collapsed from a corrupt culture within. But she still lives on in the ideals adopted and preserved by the Western world.
Finally, this image had feet and toes that were a mixture of iron and clay. These toes represent the continuation of Rome. The Bible reveals that a coalition—a federation of nations—would arise out of the ruins of the Roman Empire. These nations would mix the iron and clay; that is, the ideas of totalitarianism/imperialism and the principles of democracy that are more pliable and can be molded like clay. Great Britain and the United States are illustrative of this fact.
Content drawn from The Daniel Code: Living Out Truth in a Culture That Is Losing Its Way.