The Moral and Religious Conditions of the Times of the Gentiles Daniel 3-6
Arno C. Gaebelein
The four chapters that follow the great dream of
Nebuchadnezzar are of a historical character. They do not contain direct
prophecies but record certain events that transpired during the reign of
Nebuchadnezzar, his successor and grandson, Belshazzar, and Darius the Mede. On
the personal history of these three persons and where they are found in profane
history we have little to say, as a deeper examination of this subject would
lead us too far and would be tedious.
But this much must be said that the criticism which charged Daniel with being incorrect has been completely silenced by the Babylonian cylinders of Cyrus and Nabonnaid and the so-called annalistic tablets, the very records of those days. It is true that the personality of Darius the Mede has not yet been definitely located historically. However, we do not believe the Bible because its historical statements can be verified from profane history. We believe the Bible because its records are divinely inspired and therefore correct. What would we know of the genuineness of these ancient tablets and cylinders covered with cuneiform inscriptions if it were not for the Bible? These witnesses from the stones, which indeed cry out, do not verify the Bible, they are rather declared genuine and correct by the Word of God.
These four chapters then give us historical events. Each has a prophetic meaning, though direct prophecy is not found in them.
Analysis of the Four Chapters
We give first of all an analysis of these four chapters before we comment on them briefly.
Chapter 3. The golden image of Nebuchadnezzar erected. The fiery furnace and the miraculous deliverance of the faithful captives.
Chapter 4. Nebuchadnezzars proclamation. His dream vision. Daniels interpretation. The mania of the King and his restoration.
Chapter 5. Belshazzars feast. The handwriting on the wall. Daniel interprets. The fall of Babylon. This happened in 538 B. C. or 68 years after Daniel had been brought to Babylon.
Chapter 6. The decree of Darius the Mede. Daniels faithfulness; how God delivered him out of the lions den. The proclamation of Darius. This must have happened in the same year when Babylon fell. The pictures one sees sometimes showing Daniel as a young man standing amid lions are not correct. If Daniel was 14 years old when he was brought to Babylon, he was over 80 years of age when they cast him into the lions den.
The purpose of the Holy Spirit in guiding the pen of Daniel in this manner, reporting first these historical happenings, is not difficult to discover. These chapters describe the moral conditions prevailing during two of the great world empires. But they also indicate the moral conditions that will continue to the very end of the times of the Gentiles.
We may trace in them the following five things that are prophetically foreshadowed:
1. The moral characteristics of the Times of the Gentiles.
2. What shall happen at the close of the Gentile age.
3. The faithful remnant of His people in suffering.
4. Their deliverance.
5. The Gentiles acknowledge God as the King and God of Heaven.
The Image of Gold (Daniel 3)
Nebuchadnezzar had heard from Daniels lips, You are this head of gold (Daniel 2:38). The poor king became puffed up and in the pride of his heart attempted to unify the religious worship of his vast empire. He had an immense statue of gold made, the image of a man no doubt, and he set it up in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. It was idolatry and the deification of man.
Idolatry and the deification of man are then the first moral characteristics mentioned which are to prevail during the times of the Gentiles. The times of the Gentiles produce a religion that is opposed to the God of heaven. The image was sixty cubits high and six broad. Seven is the divine number and six is the number of man. Sixty cubits and six reminds us of that familiar passage in the Book of Revelation, where we have the number of a man given, that mysterious number Six hundred three score and six, that is 666. The image then represents man, but the climax of man was not yet reached.
However, the beginning foreshadows the end of the times of the Gentiles. That end is described in the 13th chapter of Revelation. This chapter leads us upon the ground of the restored Roman Empire, when the ten kingdoms are established. Then a great Roman emperor, of whom we hear later as the little horn in Daniels vision, will appear and will make a covenant with the Jews, which permits them to resume their worship. He will break that covenant. Another beast, the second beast in Revelation 13, the personal Antichrist, equally energised by Satan like the head of the restored Roman Empire, will put up an image, the image of the beast and demand its worship. Then the idolatry and deification of man has reached its full height. The Antichrist and the image will be worshiped; he will sit in the temple of God and show that he is god. We see from this brief review how the act of Nebuchadnezzar clearly points to the time of the end.
The civil power tried to force this universal religion upon the people. The great governors, judges, captains, and rulers had to appear for the dedication of the image. But then the whole thing had a religious aspect. Listen, after looking at this great awe-inspiring image of gold, to the sweetest music. The cornet, the flute, the harp, the psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of instruments sound forth. No doubt the Chaldean priests approached chanting some sweet Babylonian song.
Why all this? To stir up the religious emotions and to aid the worship of an idol in this way. It is intensely interesting that the ancient Babylonian worship, with its ceremonials and chanting is reproduced in Rome, which is called in Revelation, Babylon. (The book by Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, gives reliable and important information on this fact.)
And do we not find here lessons likewise for our day? We hear from many sides the cries for a new religion, for a universal religion. It will surely come; yes, it is almost upon us. The age will not run out irreligiously. The false worship, the Cain-cult, is all about us. It is the bloodless religion, the religion that exalts man. And there you may even now go and hear the sweetest music. And the magnificent ceremonies and rituals all great helps to worship yes, but what kind of worship? A sensuous, soulical worship, but not the worship in Spirit and in truth.
The Faithful Three
The proclamation had been made and when the sweet music was heard all nations and languages fell down and worshiped. And whoever did not follow the Kings demand was to be cast into a fiery furnace. Then came the Chaldeans and accused the three friends of Daniel: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then they brought these men before the King. Nebuchadnezzar spoke and said to them: Is it true O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not you serve my gods nor worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you be ready that at what time you hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, you fall down and worship the image which I have made, all is well; but if you worship not, you shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the King: O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace and He will deliver us out of your hand, O King. But if not, be it known unto you, O King, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image that you have set up (verses 13-18).
Nebuchadnezzar finds out that the accusation is true. Here are three men who refuse to worship the image of gold. And Nebuchadnezzar, whom we saw bowing before Daniel and acknowledging God the Lord of Kings and the Revealer of secrets, can say now in an arrogant way Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? But in that dark hour the Grace and Strength of God covered the three friends of Daniel. What gracious words they were permitted to speak! No exciting note or any fear whatever can be discovered in their answer to the King. They breathe calmness and determination. They were men of faith, and faith is seen here in its perfection. They know that the God whom they serve is an omnipotent God; He is able to deliver them. And then they add: and He WILL deliver us out of your hand, O King. But if not, be it known unto you that we will not serve your gods.
What victorious language this was! The raging King stood helpless in the presence of these men, with their holy separation and determination, born of faith.
The furnace is heated seven times more; the mightiest men are commissioned to cast the three into the furnace heat. The very men who cast them into the flames were consumed by the flames. But when the King looked towards the furnace he beheld, to his great astonishment, not three men bound and burning up, but four men loose and actually walking in the fire. They are unharmed, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God (3:25). And when they were brought up from the fiery furnace, no smell of fire was about them; not even a hair was singed, only the bands that had bound them were burned off. The fire had set them free, but it could not touch them.
But did the King speak true when he beheld the fourth like the Son of God? Little did he know what he said or what it meant, but assuredly he saw in that fire the Son of God, Jehovah, for He had promised His people, When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame set you ablaze (Isaiah 43:2). The faithful Lord kept His promise to His trusting servants.
And has not all this been repeated throughout the times of the Gentiles, especially during the Roman Empire? Pagan Rome persecuted the true worshipers of God; and in great persecutions multitudes suffered martyrdom. But think of what is worse: papal Rome, that Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots. There we find the images and the sweet music, the prostrations and political power enforcing unity of worship. The fiery furnaces are there, the stake, the most awful tortures for those who were faithful to God and to their Lord.
Think of the story of the Waldensians and Huguenots. And while for these noble martyrs, for whom there is a martyrs crown in the coming day of Christ, there came no deliverance and their bodies were consumed by the fire, yet the Son of God was with them and with praising hearts and a song upon their dying lips, He carried them through the fire.
It is interesting to read in expositions of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, written in the 16th and 17th centuries, how the expositors saw in papal Rome the Antichrist. But a great fulfilment of all this is yet to come under the domineering little horn, the beast out of the sea.
The Remnant of the Time of the End
When Antichrist terrorizes Jerusalem and the image is set up we read that all who do not worship the image of the beast shall be killed. And in that time of fiery trial the great tribulation there will be a faithful Jewish remnant. They will refuse to worship the image and many of them will suffer martyrdom while others will be miraculously kept by the Lords mighty power and pass through the great tribulation without being harmed by it.
The blessed application in connection with our trials, the furnace experiences of Gods people, we cannot enter into now. But blessed be God, whatever the trial may be, whatever the fiery heat, one is always there with His believing trusting children our blessed Lord, the Son of God. In all our trials and sorrows, the Son of God is with us. And the fire but burns off our bands and sets us free. Once more the king acknowledged the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Nebuchadnezzars Dream Vision His Insanity and Restoration (Daniel 4)
The fourth chapter is in the form of a proclamation from the King. He relates his experience. A time of peace had been reached by him, and he was flourishing in his palace, when once more he was disturbed by a dream. He saw in his dream a high tree in the earth. The tree grew and reached unto heaven. It was a fair tree giving fruit and shelter. The beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heavens dwelt there. But all at once a watcher and a holy one, an angel, for the angels are the holy watchers, came down from heaven with a message. He cried aloud, and said thus: Cut down the tree and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit. Let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches. Nevertheless leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field.
Let him be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth; let his heart be changed from mans, and let a beasts heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him (4:14-16).
Once more Daniel interprets through the wisdom of God, and once again he points to the King. It is you, O King, that have grown and become strong. He then announced to him his coming fate:
They shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you to eat grass as oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever he will. And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree, your kingdom shall be restored to you after you acknowledge that the heavens do rule. Therefore, O King, let my counsel be acceptable unto you, and break off your sins by righteousness and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. It may be that then your time of prosperity will continue. All this came upon the King Nebuchadnezzar (4:22-28).
Twelve months later he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. Then with a haughty mien he uttered the fatal words: Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power and for the honour of my majesty? (4:29-30). Notice the personal pronoun.
But while he yet uttered these words, a heavenly voice was heard which announced that the kingdom had departed from him. What Daniel had said in his interpretation is repeated from heaven. The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar and he was driven from men and did eat grass as the oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hairs were grown like eagles feathers and his nails like birds claws. And after the seven times had passed over him, his understanding returned to him and he blessed the Most High.
The last verse of this chapter sums up the whole experience of the King: Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways just. And those that walk in pride He is able to humble (4:37).
The meaning of this is not difficult to find. A great tree in Scripture is the symbol of man with great power and influence on earth. The Prophet Ezekiel, for instance, had a vision concerning the Assyrian, and he beheld him as a cedar of Lebanon with fair branches and of high stature (Ezekiel 31:3).
Israel is spoken of as a vine brought out of Egypt, and God expected fruit from it, but when it failed and brought forth the sour grapes (Isaiah 5), then the Gentiles began to flourish and became the big tree with its branches spreading everywhere.
And we find the tree in the New Testament. In the third parable in Matthew 13, our Lord speaks of the mustard tree with its roots in the field, the world, and its branches extending far and wide while the birds find shelter there. This tree tells us of the development of Christendom as a vast earthly institution with power and influence. But connected with this growth and influence in the earth of Gentile dominion is self-exaltation and pride.
This was the great sin of Nebuchadnezzar. He spoke of the Great Babylon that I have built, my power and my majesty. This pride and self-exaltation is the work of Satan, as pride is the crime of the Devil, and it must result in divine judgment. So a holy watcher announced that judgment, and we see the proud king as a beast, no longer looking up but down, and living like a beast, wandering about as a beast till seven times had passed over him, then he acknowledged the Most High and was restored.
The last we hear of Nebuchadnezzar is this pleasant record of his restoration, praising God.
And so judgment will come upon this proud and self-exalting age of the Gentiles, both political and religious. That great big tree will some day be cut down and destroyed, though the root will be left. We must also remember the parable of the good and the wild olive tree in Romans 11. The good olive tree is Israel; branches were broken off on account of unbelief. The wild olive tree is the Gentiles. They are grafted upon the good olive tree. But God warns against self-exaltation. He threatens judgment if the grafted in branches are high-minded. He tells these high-minded branches that He will cut them out of the good olive tree. This is spoken not concerning the church, but Gentile Christendom is in view the great big mustard tree.
Today we behold a boasting and high-minded Christendom. The crime of the devil has never before been so apparent as now. Judgment will come when the tree will be destroyed. Oh how we should beware in these evil days of pride and self-exaltation. With this the child of God steps upon the territory of the enemy. May we not seek great things and be in that which feeds our proud hearts but, lowly at his feet, be clothed with humility.
And Nebuchadnezzars great humiliation in becoming a beast for seven times (seven years), points us to the end of this Gentile age once more. Apostasy from God will be the great characteristic of that end. There will be no more looking up to God, but the attitude of the beast will be the attitude of the nations. We see much of this already. They mind earthly things and become the earth-dwellers so frequently mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Madness and bestiality will seize upon the Gentiles after the One who hinders, the Holy Spirit, is removed. Then proud and apostate Christendom will believe the lie and follow the beast with its lying wonders. This will last seven times, that is, seven years.
The stump of the great tree that remains in the field suggests the fact that the judgments that fall upon the nations in the time of the end will not completely destroy all nations. Many of them will be swept away. For those who wilfully rejected the Gospel and turned away from the truth, there is no hope. But there are others who will be left, and when these judgments are in the earth, the nations learn righteousness.
The millennium is also seen in this chapter in the restoration of Nebuchadnezzar and in the praise he gives to the Most High. In the previous chapter, the three friends of Daniel speak of Our God, but in this chapter we hear of The Most High. It is the millennial name of God. We see then in the fourth chapter the pride and self-exaltation of the Gentiles, and how the Gentiles will be humiliated and judged. First there is self-exaltation that is followed by judgment and then follows restoration and the acknowledgment of the Most High.
That nothing more is now reported of Nebuchadnezzar, that the last we hear of him in Scripture is his acknowledgment of the Most High, is also not without meaning. It foreshadows the universal acknowledgment of God in the Kingdom which the God of heaven will set up, when the stone fills as the mountain the whole earth! (To be concluded in the next issue.)
Taken from The Prophet Daniel.
Home | Links | Writings | Biography