Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (18): The Adventist Approach to Daniel II

Continuing our look at Daniel 2. . .

“Next (“another”), a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth” (2:39). Daniel’s explanation again uses an Aramaic term of sequencing, this time making it clear that the third kingdom corresponds to the third metal on the statue, bronze. In Daniel 8, the kingdom that replaces Medo-Persia is Greece.

“Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron–for iron breaks and smashes everything–and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others” (2:40). The “finally” here is supplied by the translators of the NIV. The Aramaic term is the simple conjunctive. But “finally” is not an inappropriate translation, as the movement to the fourth and final kingdom in the series is explicit in the passage. The association of this fourth kingdom with iron also makes the correlation between the metals on the statue and the sequence of historical kingdoms clear.

The move to the fifth stage of iron and clay again lacks a sequencing term, but by this stage in the vision the progression is clear enough without continual repetition. The vision portrays a series of historical stages beginning with the time of the “prophet” Nebuchadnezzar. “Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay” (2:41). Interestingly, the transition to the fifth stage differs from the others in that the fourth kingdom is not replaced by a more powerful one, but seems to disintegrate into a divided and weakened condition.

The mention of clay at this point in the vision is rather startling. Doukhan notes that clay is an unexpected material after the metals, indicating a power or powers of a different nature than those that came before. He sees the clay as pointing to a religious connotation in contrast to the political nature of the metallic kingdoms. The clay here may reflect an allusion to Adam, the human creature who was made from clay (Gen 2:7; 3:19). Adam owed his existence to the divine potter (Isa 64:8; Jer 18:6ff.). Doukhan believes that this is foretaste of the appearance of the human-featured little horn in Dan 7:8 and 25.

The climax of the vision and its interpretation comes in Dan 2:44, “In the time of those kings (literally “in the days of those kings”), the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. . . .” “In the days of those kings” can be understood in two ways. Since the kingdom of iron and clay is referred to in the singular (2:41-42), the plural of verse 44 could be understood to refer to all four of the kingdoms together. This would imply that the course of history will continue unbroken until the coming of the divine kingdom represented by the stone. The spirit of the earlier kingdoms lives on in the later ones. More likely the “kings” refer to pieces of the divided kingdom of iron and clay. In this case, it would be clear that the coming of the stone kingdom is after the reign of the four major kingdoms and during the time of division between strong and weak. The coming of the stone kingdom is the final event of the vision, the one that brings the whole course of history to an end.

The vision of Daniel 2, then, is an apocalyptic prophecy with a clear historical sequence running from the time of the prophet down to the end of earth’s history, the establishment of the kingdom of God. The explanation, grounded in the language, time and place of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, clearly marks out the sequence of events that moves the reader from the time when the prophecy was given to the time when history comes to its end. In Daniel 2, therefore, the basic characteristics of historical apocalyptic are firmly and exegetically set in place.

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