THE IMAGE AND ITS INTERPRETATION.
"Thou art this head of gold." A question has arisen whether this expression relates to Nebuchadnezzar personally, or to his empire and dynasty continued to his grandson. The principle is an important one, although history has already removed all difficulty as to the facts. C. B. Michaelis, Willet, Wells, and others, consider the monarch as the representative of his empire, not only during his life but until its overthrow. In the quaint language of Willet, "In this short sentence, thou art the head of gold, there are as many figures as words." Thou, that is, thy kingdom; art, meaning signifiest or representest; head, means "the antiquity and priority of that kingdom, and the knowledge and wisdom of that nation;" gold, "betokeneth their riches, prosperity, and flourishing estate." Compare also Isaiah 14:4, and Jeremiah 51:7, where the epithet golden alludes to the majesty and wealth of the city. Wintle interprets the golden head as representing the duration of the empire of Babylon from Ninus to Belshazzar, a period of 700 years; but this is objectionable, since the father of Nebuchadnezzar was of a different race from the early sovereigns of Babylon, and the vision becomes far more emphatic, by being limited to Nebuchadnezzar and his immediate successors. Oecolampadius limits the period to his own times, and gives an ingenious reason for the head being of gold. He quotes the authorities for the extensive dominion of this king, viz.,
Berosus known to us through Josephus, and Megasthenes through Eusebius, as well as Orosius, who extend his sway over Syria, Armenia, Phoenicia, Arabia, Lybia, and even Spain; but this commentator is not satisfied with this allusion. He explains it of the justness of his administration. His earlier years were more righteous than his later, and though many faults may be detected in him, yet he was less open to the charge of injustice than the Persians and Greeks who succeeded him.
Daniel 2:39. The Second Kingdom is the Medo-Persian, denoted according to Josephus by the two arms. Wintle very appositely quotes Claudian --
Assyrio, Medoque tulit moderamina Perses. 1
The Vulgate here introduces the adjective "silver," adopting it from Daniel 2:32, not as a translation, but, according to Rosenmuller, as a modus interpretamenti.
The Third Kingdom is that of the Greeks, but the Fourth is variously interpreted. It relates to either the successors of Alexander or to the Romans. The majority of the older commentators agreed with Calvin in thinking it to mean the Roman empire, viz., Oecolampadius, Bullinger, Melancthon and Osiander, while Grotius and Rosenmuller, and Cosmas, the Indian traveler whom we have previously referred to as known to us through Montfaucon, advocate its reference to the Seleucidae and Lagidae. Poole's Synopsis will furnish the reader with long lists of varying opinions, each fortified by its own reasons, and Willet has carefully collected and arranged the arguments on both sides. The divines of Germany have added their conjectures to those which have preceded them. Kuinoel in his theological commentaries has preserved the view of Velthusen 2 and others; while the absurdities which some of them propose may be understood from the opinion of Harenberg, who thinks the stone which destroyed the image to be the sons and grandsons of Nebuchadnezzar, and Doederlein in his notes to Grotius, and Scharfenberg in his "Observations on Daniel," approve the foolish conjecture.
A third view, very different from those which preceded it, has been ably stated and laboriously defended. Dr. Todd of Dublin, in his valuable "Lectures on Antichrist," considers the fourth empire as yet to come. The kingdoms of Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, and Cyrus, are said to be signified by the golden head, that of Alexander by the silver breast and arms, the Roman by the brass, while the iron prefigures the cruel and resistless sway of Antichrist, which shall not be overthrown till the second advent of Messiah. We shall have future opportunities for discussing this theory more at length; it has necessarily enlisted him in the ranks of the Futurists, whom Birks has confuted at length in his "First Elements of Sacred Prophecy." We refer the student to these two worlds, each excellent of its kind, while we defer the discussion of this most interesting question till we treat the chapters contained in our second volume.
In descending to details, the arms of the image have been treated as symbols of the Medo-Persian empire; Theodoret considering the right arm to represent one, and the left the other. Various reasons have been given for the implied inferiority. Willet adopts one the direct contrary of Calvin's. While one author treats the inferiority as moral, in consequence of a general corruption of manners, Willet thinks the "government more tolerable and equal toward the people of God." Some have thought the silver to refer to remarkable wealth, and others to superior wisdom and eloquence. The belly and thighs being of brass, are thought to prefigure the intemperance, and yet the firmness of the Grecian powers. Alexander's personal debauchery and extravagance is said to be hinted at. The brass is said to imply his warlike disposition and his invincible spirit. The iron is thought to be peculiarly characteristic of the conquests of Rome; the mingling with clay signifies "the division and dissension of the kingdom," says Willet; while others refer it to the marriages between the Roman generals and the barbarians, or generally to the intermingling of the conquerors of the world with the tribes whom they subdued. The two legs are said to be the two great divisions of the Roman empire after the time of Constantine, though those who treat them as belonging to the successors of Alexander, think they mean Egypt and Syria. The mingling with the seed of men (Daniel 2:43) is interpreted of the admission of the subject allies to the freedom of the state (donati civitate), and also of the fusion between the barbarians and the Romans, in the late periods of the declining empire. Whether the toes represent individual kings or distinct kingdoms, has been discussed by Birks in his "Elements of Prophecy."
1 II. Consul., Lib. de Stil., 163, 164.