The prophet Daniel first makes a splash in the royal court of Babylon when he gives and interprets a dream of the king. In this post I review the dream, the common interpretation, and then give a different way to look at the interpretation. Read on for more.
The story in question is recorded in Daniel Chapter 2. After lots of drama, the story turns to the dream at verse 31, if you are in a hurry you may want to pick up there. Let me summarize the key points here.
The king has a dream of a statue. There is a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron and feet part of iron and part of clay. Then there is a stone, cut out, but not by human hands, which strikes the statue and causes it to collapse. In the end the stone grows into a mountain and fills the whole land.
Daniel will then interpret the statue of the dream and then state that Nebuchadnezzar is the head of gold. The rest of the parts of the statue being kingdoms that will arise on the earth following.
Generally speaking, in the Protestant world, the head is Nebuchadnezzar's own kingdom, the chest is Media Persia, the belly is Greece, and the legs are Rome.
Some think the feet might be the EU, and the stone is still to come. The EU worked better when it had 10 countries, not the 30 or so there now.
I have subscribed to variations on this throughout my Christian walk, and at least in the circles I hung out in, I never heard a serious alternative.
The fundamental enigma in this interpretation is how does ancient Greece or Rome fall by events in the future? All of these ancient kingdoms have long fallen. So there is room for better interpretation.
After recently reading through this passage again, I find my thinking processes drawn to various points. First, the writing pace is pretty slow compared to other passages, so there might be some editing going on. But, if that has happened the editors were smooth, and cut points are not easy to identify.
The second point I noticed was the use of precious metals. These are the sorts of things that carry symbolic meaning. So perhaps there is meaning that is overlooked. I have been thinking about 3D models recently. Several cases are going to get updates based on manuscript recovery work. These metals flow across the 3D cases in an important order, so this passage could be a manuscript related dream. Likely a Babylonian counterfeit to something inspired.
Since Daniel's context for the entire book is language and literature, the dream may well be about the text. If so, the iron is hard to identify, but the clay at the bottom is the treasure in jars of clay held by Paul. I will return to this idea below.
The other surface problem in this passage is Daniel's dream interpretation itself. It is a principle that we had to thoroughly get into our heads that NO interpretation of inspired writing is given within its own book. Editors always add interpretations into parables they do not otherwise like.
Yet here we see Daniel giving an interpretation. In this unusual case the passage may pass this filter that normally identifies an editor's hand because the story's purpose is to interpret a dream for the king. Even with this caveat we as readers must flag this passage as very unusual under this key interpretive rule. Daniel must be up to something important when he breaks such an important rule.
We can at least state that what Daniel intends by this structure is BOTH the dream and the interpretation are parables to his audience that we must unpack together.
So accept for a moment that this is a literature related dream. The clay is the clay pot given to Paul as the youngest member of the NT generations. That pot carried the vault copies dug up near Sychar by Joshua early in his ministry. We know that clay pot did mix with the work passed down from earlier in history.
The iron mixed with clay at the bottom of the statue would be the public writings passed down to that generation and mixed via the NT editors to create the NT we know now.
So who or what are the upper layers to the statue? The other editors. The dream is about the kings and their kingdoms who edited the text.
Solomon would be the head of gold. The guy who set up the central bank and enslaved everyone to build the temple. Setting in place the sacrificial system.
Ahab and Jezebel the chest and arms of silver. 2 arms being 2 writers working together at this step in the process.
Nebuchadnezzar himself would be the belly and thighs of brass.
Then Mordecai and Ezra, writing at nearly the same time would be the 2 legs of iron.
Leading of course to the feet of iron and clay, the mixture of the editors traditions since Solomon and the inspired NT writings kept in jars of clay.
What remains is a stone, but not cut by human hands, that can break the entire statue to pieces. The foundational stones for the Testimony are the tablet stones given to Moses on the Mountain. They became the first monument stones of Gebal and Gerezim. So there is a history of a small stone growing into (or onto) a mountain.
The weaving patterns for inspiration are taught using exactly those stone tablets. Even the fundamental unit of measure, the cubit, can be shown by its spelling to be from those stones.
So I have sketched out an interpretation based internal to the text instead of based on exterior headlines. These are almost always better. So I am defeating the Protestant interpretation already. But let me go deeper into Daniel's interpretation.
Daniel is keeping himself and his friends alive by this interpretation, so the king should not think he will receive complete truth. Joshua nearly always speaks parables in these situations, even when it comes out as clear text.
Also, realize, this is NOT a truth seeking task on Nebuchadnezzar's part. Daniel is forced to give an interpretation that the king will like, otherwise Daniel and his friends will die.
Daniel, on the other hand, can give an interpretation to keep the king happy, and give us, as readers, an additional layer of information on each editing wave. You can pick up this part of the story at verse 36.
The god of the skies has given the head of gold dominion. So Solomon's system of sacrifice, public temples, debt and slavery, wins. At least until the bottom of the statue.
Kingdom 2, the inferior silver kingdom, is Ahab and Jezebel. So inferior Daniel gives no more details. Kingdom 3, the belly of brass, ie Nebuchadnezzar's own Hebrew language, will rule over the land. Kingdom 4, the iron legs of Mordecai and Ezra, future to Daniel, breaks up everything that came before. Rearranging stories, especially.
The iron and clay kingdom comes in the first century. It was eventually divided. The religion that uses both iron and clay, ie both the texts down from Mordecai and Ezra, and the NT texts in jars of clay, is Christianity as we know it now.
Divided as it is along several branches, say Coptic, Ethiopian, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Catholic and then various branches of Protestantism. If we thought hard enough we could probably identify 10 key branches across this religious family.
This passage is doing something else, maybe not obvious to someone from an American protestant upbringing. This story sees no difference between Church and State. To the mind that inspired the dream, they are the same.
So the Pope running the western world as both king and priest is a good model for how it really worked 1000 years ago. The American separation of these 2 functions is simply a foil to keep parts of government to rulers, and out of the hands of people of faith. Read Esther to understand who rules kings. Go understand the painting on the inside of the dome of the US capital building too and you will begin to understand the secular religion behind what I mean.
Finally, starting at verse 44, there is a replacement kingdom and a stone that strikes the entire statue. Everything from top to bottom is removed and something else takes its place.
If we see the statue as the works of editors and their net influence, then this easily beats the standard interpretation that these are successive kingdoms on the ground. The top of this statue has not yet fallen, and only will when struck by that stone.
Now a common Protestant fringe interpretation of this story says the most likely stone is the core of a nuclear weapon. The world will be stoning itself soon enough, so I have no trouble with that in concept.
But, nukes are stones carved by human hands, and the passage expressly excludes anything made by man as being the stone in question. So what might this stone be?
Let me suggest this stone is the recovery of the text and the recovery of the monument systems that show why it could never have been written by human hands without divine inspiration. The stone itself that grows into a mountain is/are the stone tablets that grew into the mountains of Gebal and Gerezim. That story will repeat, and is what is alluded to in this dream.
I hope to return and explain how 1 small stone tablet grows into 1 mountain. The 2nd stone tablet and 2nd mountain grow out from the 1st. So only 1 mountain starts the story, as per here in Daniel.
Once that stone event happens a different system of religion and civil government will one day take the place of what we know now. That change is permanent, and good for thousands of more years. Even if it must start while nukes fly.