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Nebuchadnezzar's Statuary Dream

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Nebuchadnezzar's Statuary Dream, in which Nebuchadnezzar II dreamed of a statue made of five different materials representing five different periods of governmental history, has been a source of intriguing speculation ever since the prophet Daniel recounted the story.

The Narrative

Nebuchadnezzar, according to James Ussher (Annals, pgh. 787) had been reigning alone in Babylon since 605 BC when the dream occurred to him. In it, he saw a statue that might have reminded him of how he saw himself--except that the head of the statue was of gold, the chest and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of brass, the (lower) legs of iron, and the feet of iron mixed with clay--whence the common expression "feet of clay." As he watched, a great stone fell from the sky and struck the statue on its feet. The feet shattered, and then the entire statue and all its constituent metals turned to dust and blew away like chaff in a stiff wind. The stone then grew into a mountain that filled the whole earth.

The dream shocked Nebuchadnezzar awake--and then, so he said, the dream fled from his memory. All he had, then, was a sense that he had had a bad dream, and had no idea what it meant. So he asked his astrologers whether they could reveal to him the dream and its meaning.

The astrologers protested that they could not do such a thing--which made Nebuchadnezzar furious. He then gave an order for the summary execution of all the wise men in Babylon to be slain. Among the targets: Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

Daniel and his friends prayed about the situation, and then Daniel received from God the full particulars of the dream and its meaning. He asked for and received an audience of the king.

He satisfied the king immediately by recounting his dream in every particular. Then he told him the meaning: the head of gold was Nebuchadnezzar himself, creator of the greatest empire that the world knew. Three other empires would succeed to his, each of lesser quality than the last, though capable of greater force. After this fourth empire would come a federation of nation-states, a federation that would be somewhat fragile, as the iron-and-clay mixture would imply. And in the days of that federation, God would destroy it and set up a kingdom that would never have an end.

Nebuchadnezzar not only accepted Daniel's account but also made him a senior administrator, and granted other senior ministries to Daniel's three friends.

A Detailed Interpretation

The dream statue appears to be an uncannily accurate portrait of the course of human history from that day to this, and beyond.

  1. The head of gold is obviously the empire of Babylonia, as Daniel stated. It was the first of four empires to hold sway over the Jewish people, beginning with the Fall of Jerusalem.
  2. The chest and arms of silver represent the empire of the Medes and the Persians, which conquered the Babylonian Empire in the days of King Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar's eventual successor.
  3. The belly and thighs of brass represent the Greco-Macedonian empire of Alexander the Great, who conquered Persia by defeating Darius III in battle.
  4. The legs of iron represent the Roman Republic and Empire. In 63 BC (in the consulship of Marcus Tullius Cicero and Gaius Antonius Hybrida), Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, the Special High Commissioner to the Middle East from the Senate of Rome, captured Jerusalem during his campaign against Mithridates of Pontus and Tigranes of Armenia. The Roman Empire held control of the Holy Land during the life and public ministry of Jesus Christ, either through client kings, such as Herod the Great and his sons, or directly through procurators such as Pontius Pilate.

These empires have come and gone. The place of the feet of iron-mixed-with-clay is a subject of great controversy, especially among scholars of eschatology. Some suggest that these feet represent the current collection of nation-states, that will all quietly pass into oblivion with the Second Coming of Christ. Others--most notably the Dispensational/Premillennial/Futuristic school--identify these feet with a ten-member federation of nation-states to be ruled by a tyrant that would make Adolf Hitler envious, were they coeval. (Revelation 13 ).

In either case, however, the stone that destroys the statue is Jesus Christ, and the mountain is His everlasting Kingdom.