on Daniel 2 :38
Thou art this head of gold - See on Daniel 2:31-34 (note), and at the end.
on Daniel 2 :38
And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the heavens, hath he given into thy hand - This is evidently general language, and is not to be pressed literally. It is designed to say that he ruled over the whole world; that is, the world as then known. This is common language applied in the Scriptures to the Babylonian, Persian, Grecian, and Roman kingdoms. Thus in Daniel 2:39, the third of these kingdoms, the Grecian, was to "bear rule over all the earth." Compare Daniel 8:5 : "And, as I was considering, behold, an he-goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth." So of the Roman empire, in Daniel 7:23 : "The fourth beast shall devour the whole earth." The declaration that his kingdom embraced the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air is a strong expression, meaning that he reigned over the whole world. A somewhat similar description of the extent of the empire of the king of Babylon occurs in Jeremiah 27:4-8 : "And command them to say unto their masters, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Thus shall ye say unto your masters; I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power, and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me. And now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant; and the beasts of the field I have given him also to serve him. And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son's son, until the very time of his land come: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him. And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand."
At the time referred to by Daniel, the scepter of Nebuchadnezzar a extended over all these realms, and the world was, in fact, placed substantially under one head. "All the ancient Eastern histories," says Bishop Newton, "almost are lost; but there are some fragments even of pagan historians yet preserved, which speak of this mighty conqueror and his extended empire. Berosus, in Josephus (Contra Apion, c. i. Section 19), says that he held in subjection Egypt, Syria, Phoenicia, Arabia, and by his exploits surpassed all the Chaldeans and Babylonians who reigned before him. Strabo asserts that this king among the Chaldeans was more celebrated than Hercules; that he proceeded as far as to the pillars of Hercules, and led his army out of Spain into Thrace and Pontus. But his empire, though of great extent, was not of long duration, for it ended in his grandson Belshazzar, not seventy years after the delivery of this prophecy, nor above twenty-three years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar." - Newton on the "Prophecies," pp. 186, 187.
Thou art this head of gold - The head of gold seen in the image represents thee as the sovereign of a vast empire. Compared with the other monarchs who are to succeed thee, thou art like gold compared with silver, and brass, and iron; or, compared with thy kingdom, theirs shall be as silver, brass, and iron compared with gold. It was common, at an early period, to speak of different ages of the world as resembling different metals. Compare the notes at Daniel 2:31. In reference to the expression before us, "Thou art this head of gold," it should be observed, that it is not probably to be confined to the monarch himself, but is rather spoken of him as the head of the empire; as representing the state; as an impersonation of that dynasty. The meaning is, that the Babylonian empire, as it existed under him, in its relation to the kingdoms which should succeed, was like the head of gold seen in the image as compared with the inferior metals that made up the remaining portions of the image. Daniel, as an interpreter, did not state in what the resemblance consisted, nor in what respects his empire could be likened to gold as compared with those which should follow. In the scanty details which we now have of the life of that monarch, and of the events of his reign, it may not be possible to see as clearly as would be desirable in what that resemblance consisted, or the full propriety of the appellation given to him. So far as may now be seen, the resemblance appears to have been in the following things:
(I) In respect to the empire itself of which he was the sovereign, as standing at the head of the others - the first in the line. This was not indeed the first kingdom, but the design here was not to give an account of all the empires on earth, but to take the world "as it was then," and to trace the successive changes which would occur preparatory to the establishment of the kingdom which should finally spread over the earth. Viewed in reference to this design, it was undoubtedly proper to designate the empire of Babylon "as the head." It not only stood before them in the order of time, but in such a relation that the others might be regarded as in some sort its successors; that is, "they would succeed it in swaying a general scepter over the world." In this respect they would resemble also the Babylonian. At the time here referred to, the dominion over which Nebuchadnezzar swayed his scepter was at the head of the nations; was the central power of the Pagan world; was the only empire that could claim to be universal. For a long period the kingdom of Babylon had been dependent on that of Assyria; and while Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire, Babylon was the head of a kingdom, in general subordinate to that of Assyria, until Nabopolassar, the immediate predecessor of Nebuchadnezzar, rendered the kingdom of Babylon independent of the Assyrians, and transferred the seat of empire to Babylon. This was about the year 626 before the Christian era. See "Universal History," vol. iii. pp. 412-415. Nebuchadnezzar, receiving this mighty kingdom, had carried his own arms to distant lands; had conquered India, Tyre, and Egypt; and, as would appear, all Northern Africa, as far as the pillars of Hercules, and, with quite unimportant exceptions, all the known world was subject to him.
(II) The appellation "head of gold" may have been given him on account of the splendor of his capital, and the magnificence of his court. In Isaiah 14:4, Babylon is called "the golden city." See the note at that place. In Isaiah 13:19, it is called "the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency." In Isaiah 47:5, it is called "the lady of kingdoms." In Jeremiah 51:13, it is spoken of as "abundant in treasures," and in Jeremiah 51:41, as "the praise of the whole earth." So in profane writers, Babylon has similar appellations. Thus, in Aesch. Per. 51, mention is made of Βαβυλὼν η ̓ πολύχρυσος Babulōn hē poluchrusos - "Babylon abounding in gold." The conquests of Nebuchadnezzar enabled him to bring to his capital the spoils of nations, and to enrich his capital above any other city on the earth. Accordingly, he gave himself to the work of adorning a city that should be worthy to be the head of universal empire, and succeeded in making it so splendid as to be regarded as one of the wonders of the world. His great work in adorning and strengthening his capital consisted, first, of the building of the immense walls of the city; second, of the tower of Belus; and third, of the hanging gardens. For a full description of these, see Prideaux's "Connections," vol. i. p. 232, following.
(III) The appellation may have been given him by comparison with the kingdoms which were to succeed him. In some respects - in extent and power - some one or more of them, as the Roman, might surpass his; but the appellation which was appropriate to them was not gold, but they would be best denoted by the inferior metals. Thus the Medo-Persian kingdom was less splendid than that of Babylon, and would be better represented by silver; the Macedonian, though more distinguished by its conquests, was less magnificent, and would be better represented by brass; and the Roman, though ultimately still more extensive in its conquests, and still more mighty in power, was less remarkable for splendor than strength, and would be better represented by iron. In magnificence, if not in power, the Babylonian surpassed them all; and hence, the propriety of the appellation, "head of gold."
(IV) It is possible that in this appellation there then may have been some reference to the character of the monarch himself. In Jeremiah 27:6, he is spoken of as the "servant of God," and it is clear that it was designed that a splendid mission was to be accomplished by him as under the Divine control, and in the preparation of the world for the coming of the Messiah. Though he was proud and haughty as a monarch, yet his own personal character would compare favorably with that of many who succeeded him in these advancing kingdoms. Though his conquests were numerous, yet his career as a conqueror was not marked with cruelty, like that of many other warriors. He was not a mere conqueror. He loved also the arts of peace. He sought to embellish his capital, and to make it in outward magnificence and in the talent which he concentrated there, truly the capital of the world. Even Jerusalem he did not utterly destroy; but having secured a conquest over it, and removed from it what he desired should embellish his own capital, he still intended that it should be the subordinate head of an important province of his dominions, and placed on the throne one who was closely allied to the king who reigned there when he took the city.
But the appellation here, and the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, are to be contemplated chiefly, like the kingdoms that succeeded, in their relation to redemption. It is in this aspect that the study of history becomes most interesting to a mind that regards all events as embraced in the eternal counsels of God, and it is undoubtedly with reference to this that the history of these kingdoms becomes in any way introduced into the inspired writings. All history may be contemplated under two aspects: in its secular bearing; and in its relation to the redemption of the world. In the former aspect, it has great and important uses. As furnishing lessons to statesmen; as showing the progress of society; as illustrating the effects of vice and immorality, and the evils of anarchy, ambition, and war; as recording and preserving the inventions in the arts, and as showing what are the best methods of civil government, and what conduces most to the happiness of a people, its value cannot well be overestimated.
But it is in its relations to the work of redeeming man that it acquires its chief value, and hence, the sacred volume is so much occupied with the histories of early nations. The rise and fall of every nation; the conquests and defeats which have occurred in past times, may all have had, and perhaps may yet be seen to have had, an important connection with the redemption of man - as being designed to put the world in a proper position for the coming of the Prince of Peace, or in some way to prepare the way for the final triumph of the gospel. This view gives a new and important aspect to history. It becomes an object in which all on earth who love the race and desire its redemption, and all in heaven, feel a deep concern. Every monarch; every warrior; every statesman; every man who, by his eloquence, bravery, or virtue, has contributed anything to the progress of the race, or who has in any way played an important part in the progress of the world's affairs, becomes a being on whom we can look with intense emotion; and in reference to every man of this character, it would be an interesting inquiry what he has done that has contributed to prepare the way for the introduction of the Mediatorial scheme, or to facilitate its progress through the world. In reference to this point, the monarch whose character is now before us seems to have been raised up, under an overruling Providence, to accomplish the following things:
(1) To inflict "punishment" on the revolted people of God for their numerous idolatries. See the book of Jeremiah, "passim." Hence, he led his armies to the land of Palestine; he swept away the people, and bore them into captivity; he burned the temple, destroyed the capital, and laid the land waste.
(2) He was the instrument, in the hand of God, of effectually purifying the Jewish nation from the sin of idolatry. It was for that sin eminently that they were carried away; and never in this world have the ends of punishment been better secured than in this instance. The chastisement was effectual. The Jewish nation has never since sunk into idolatry. If there have been individuals of that nation - of which, however, there is no certain evidence - who have become idolaters, yet as a people they have been preserved from it. More than two thousand five hundred years have since passed away; they have been wanderers and exiles in all lands; they have been persecuted, ridiculed, and oppressed on account of their religion; they have been placed under every possible inducement to conform to the religion around them, and yet, as professed worshippers of Jehovah, the God of their fathers, they have maintained their integrity, and neither promises nor threatenings, neither hopes nor fears, neither life nor death, have been sufficient to constrain the Hebrew people to bow the knee to an idol god.
(3) another object that seems to have been designed to be accomplished by Nebuchadnezzar in relation to Redemption was to gather the nations under one head preparatory to the coming of the Messiah. It will be seen in the remarks which will be made on the relation of the Roman empire to this work (see the notes at Daniel 2:40-43), that there were important reasons why this should be done. Preparatory to that, a succession of such kingdoms each swayed the scepter over the whole world, and when the Messiah came, the way was prepared for the easy and rapid propagation of the new religion to the remotest parts of the earth.
on Daniel 2 :38
2:38 Made thee ruler - He hath given thee absolute dominion of all creatures, men and beasts within the bounds of thy vast kingdom. Thou - He was first in order, as the head is before the other parts, and the vision began in him, and descended downwards to the other three monarchies. He was the head of gold, because of the vast riches wherein this monarchy abounded, and because it stood longest, five hundred years, and was fortunate and flourishing to the last.