36 “This is the dream. Now we will tell the interpretation of it before the king. 37 “You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; 38 “and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all—you are this head of gold. 39 “But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. 40 “And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others.”
Verses 36 to 45 give the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The metals represent different kingdoms and also the outline of the history of the Gentiles from Daniel to the coming of Christ.
This is the dream. Now we will tell the interpretation of it before the king.
Daniel prudently differentiated the dream from the interpretation. This verse begins the interpretation of the dream.
You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory;
Nebuchadnezzar was the world ruler of his day (Je 27:6-7,14). None of the rulers that followed him had as much absolute power as Nebuchadnezzar. He was the “king of kings (Ezek 26:7). God sovereignly gave him this power. That concept may have crushed his pride.
and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all—you are this head of gold.
Nebuchadnezzar ruled because God gave him the privilege to rule. Herodotus visited Babylon about ninety years after Nebuchadnezzar. He said that much of the temples and accouterments were made of solid gold. This was the Chaldean Empire at its zenith.
But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours;
The next kingdom to rise after the Babylonian was the Medo-Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great. This empire covered a greater geographical territory and lasted longer than the Babylonian (539-331 B.C.). The two arms represent the two nations of Media and Persia.
Daniel 11:2 concerns a prophecy concerning Xerxes, who inherited the silver hoarding of his father Darius and other Persian kings. He could have never launched an offensive across the Hellespont against Greece without this treasure of silver.
then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth.
The kingdom after the Medo-Persian Empire was Greece under Alexander the Great (cf. 8:20-21). The territory of this kingdom was yet greater than the Medo-Persian Empire. This kingdom stretched in time from 331 to 31 B.C. and in geography to India. The kingdom lasted longer than the previous two.
After Alexander died in 323 B.C., his generals split the empire into four parts. General Antipater ruled Macedon-Greece. Lysimachus governed Thrace-Asia Minor. Seleucus ruled Asia, and Ptolemy reigned over Egypt, Cyrenaica, and Palestine. Thus, its government was more republican, and less power was given to its rulers.
And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others.
The fourth kingdom was the Roman Empire. Rome defeated Greece in 31 B.C. and ruled until 476 A.D. in the West and until 1453 A.D. in the East. Rome’s empire extended geographically farther than the previous three. The two legs represent the East and West portions of the empire (Rome and Constantinople). Rome’s empire extended from the British Isles to India.
Daniel gives more space to this fourth kingdom than the other three. This is the kingdom we live in today. No human world power follows Rome except the kingdom of the Messiah. Rome stamped its image on western civilization. The western dimension of the Roman Empire reached into France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Great Britain. From there, its influence moved into the United States, Canada, and the Americas.
Note passages in Daniel dealing with the four Gentile kingdoms and the Millennial Kingdom:
Babylon, 2:32, 37, 38; 7:4, 17
Medo-Persia, 2:32, 39; 7:5, 17; 8:3–8, 20, 21; 10:20, 21, 11:2–35
Greece, 2:32, 39; 7:6, 17
Rome 2:33, 40; 7:7, 17, 23
Revived Rome, 2:33, 41–43; 7:7, 8, 11, 24, 25,
Millennium, 2:34, 35, 44, 45; 7:13, 14, 26, 27
God always gives us prophecy for purity reasons.
God already fulfilled the first four kingdoms in history. They happened exactly as Daniel predicted. The head of gold was Babylon and existed within Daniel’s lifetime. The Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon. Alexander the Great of Greece in rapid-fire succession defeated the Medo-Persian Empire. Rome finally gained victory over Greece in the first century B.C. Prophetically, we are still in this kingdom.
God gives prophecy to make us more cautious, not more curious. It should lead us to invest in eternal values, not temporal values exclusively. It gives us perspective on measuring our lives at their end: “Did I waste my life on earth? Did I live for eternal things?” There is a great difference between the passing and the permanent.