The Bible

Daniel 2:1-45 : Nebuchadnezzar's Dream of the Great Image

Study the Inner Meaning

1 And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, wherewith his spirit was troubled, and his sleep brake from him.

2 Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to shew the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king.

3 And the king said unto them, I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit was troubled to know the dream.

4 Then spake the Chaldeans to the king in Syriack, O king, live for ever: tell thy servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation.

5 The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me: if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill.

6 But if ye shew the dream, and the interpretation thereof, ye shall receive of me gifts and rewards and great honour: therefore shew me the dream, and the interpretation thereof.

7 They answered again and said, Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will shew the interpretation of it.

8 The king answered and said, I know of certainty that ye would gain the time, because ye see the thing is gone from me.

9 But if ye will not make known unto me the dream, there is but one decree for you: for ye have prepared lying and corrupt words to speak before me, till the time be changed: therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that ye can shew me the interpretation thereof.

10 The Chaldeans answered before the king, and said, There is not a man upon the earth that can shew the king's matter: therefore there is no king, lord, nor ruler, that asked such things at any magician, or astrologer, or Chaldean.

11 And it is a rare thing that the king requireth, and there is none other that can shew it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.

12 For this cause the king was angry and very furious, and commanded to destroy all the wise men of Babylon.

13 And the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain; and they sought Daniel and his fellows to be slain.

14 Then Daniel answered with counsel and wisdom to Arioch the captain of the king's guard, which was gone forth to slay the wise men of Babylon:

15 He answered and said to Arioch the king's captain, Why is the decree so hasty from the king? Then Arioch made the thing known to Daniel.

16 Then Daniel went in, and desired of the king that he would give him time, and that he would shew the king the interpretation.

17 Then Daniel went to his house, and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions:

18 That they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.

19 Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.

20 Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his:

21 And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:

22 He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.

23 I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast now made known unto us the king's matter.

24 Therefore Daniel went in unto Arioch, whom the king had ordained to destroy the wise men of Babylon: he went and said thus unto him; Destroy not the wise men of Babylon: bring me in before the king, and I will shew unto the king the interpretation.

25 Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste and said thus unto him, I have found a man of the captives of Judah, that will make known unto the king the interpretation.

26 The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, Art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof?

27 Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king;

28 But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these;

29 As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter: and he that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass.

30 But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart.

31 Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible.

32 This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass,

33 His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.

34 Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces.

35 Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.

36 This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king.

37 Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory.

38 And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.

39 And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.

40 And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.

41 And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay.

42 And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken.

43 And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.

44 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

45 Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.

Study the Inner Meaning

Main explanation(s) from Swedenborg's works:

The Inner Meaning of the Prophets and Psalms 173

Commentary on this story:

Stories:

Other references by Swedenborg to this story:

Arcana Coelestia 426, 1298, 1326, 1361, 1422, 1551, 1837 ...

Apocalypse Revealed 211, 538, 567, 664, 717, 775, 781 ...

Conjugial Love 73, 78, 79, 81

Divine Providence 328

The Lord 4, 42, 48

Sacred Scripture 117

The Last Judgment 54

True Christian Religion 156, 275, 609, 625, 754, 761, 788

Show references from Swedenborg's unpublished works


Commentary

Ages of the Church and Stages of Regeneration

By Rev. Edward Craig Mitchell

The love of ruling over others, will, at first, induce some of the leaders in the church to learn, and to teach, the good and true principles of the church, from the Divine Word, in order to build up a church. But such leaders will gradually decline in intelligence and knowledge, until they teach literal rules instead of spiritual truths; and until, finally, all the good and truth of the church shall be adulterated with evil and falsity, and the church shall be brought to an end; and then the Lord shall come, to establish a new church. These things refer to the general church, on the earth, and also to the particular churches in the individual minds of men on earth.

BABYLON.
Babel, or Babylon, represents the love of ruling over others, from self-love, which would subject everything to its dominion, using even the holy things of the church to rule the souls of men, and thus to dominate the whole world. The king of Babylon represents this lust of dominion. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had conquered many nations; and he was ambitions to rule the whole world. And while in this state of mind, he had the significant dream which is narrated in our text. The dream was a revelation from the Lord, as to the future conditions of the church.

But, to place the subject upon a level of thought which the king, or any other natural-minded man, could understand, the prophet Daniel was led to interpret the dream as if relating to a series of earthly kingdoms. But the important meaning of everything in the Word of the Lord relates to man's spiritual life; and to earthly things only as they embody and illustrate spiritual principles. And so, in reaching the spiritual meaning of the dream, Daniel's interpretation of it needs as much explanation as does the dream, itself. Thus, the dream may be interpreted in several aspects.

THE CHURCHES.
There have existed on the earth four general churches, or four general conditions of the Lord's church among men, the celestial church, of Adam; the spiritual church, of Noah; the natural church, of the Israelites; and the spiritual-natural church, the First Christian Church. Among the ancients, who understood something of the correspondence between natural and spiritual things, the wise men referred to these different ages, or churches, of human progress, by the names of different metals, of greater and less value, as "The Golden Age," "The Silver Age," "The Brazen Age," "The Iron Age," etc., because, in these different ages, different principles dominated men on earth.

THE METALS.
Gold, as the most valuable among common metals, and the least subject to corrosion, has always represented the most excellent principle in human life, the love-principle, especially as directed to man's unselfish love of the Lord. This is called the celestial principle, which actuates those who dwell in the celestial heaven, the third heaven, which is the highest condition of heaven. This is the "gold, tried in the fire," which makes men spiritually rich in character. Silver represents a lower grade of principle, but still a heavenly element of human life, the love of the neighbor, the spiritual principle, called charity. This is lower than love to the Lord, because love to the Lord is the love of goodness, itself, while the love of the neighbor is, fundamentally, the love of truth, and the love of the good which comes by means of doing the truth. This is the characteristic love of the angels who dwell in the second heaven, the middle heaven, called the spiritual heaven. Brass, or copper, represents natural good, good as it comes to a man who obeys the laws of the Lord, in his natural life, in order that he may do good. Iron represents natural truth, the truth of law, or rule, which controls the conduct. These are the qualities of good and of truth which exist with those who are in the natural heaven, the lowest general form of heavenly life.

Thus, there is a correspondence between the comparative values, and the qualities, of these metals, and those of the different Churches, or different aspects of the general Church, among men on earth.

THE HUMAN BODY.
And there is also a correspondence between these different degrees of human life, and the different parts of the human body. When the man stands erect, his head towers above the rest of his body. And his head is of the greatest importance and value. And it corresponds, comparatively, to the golden principle of love to the Lord, the highest element of human life, which is the head of all things in man. Next below the head come the breast and arms, which are of great value, and which correspond to the silver principle of love to the neighbor, the spiritual principle of regenerate life, Next below, come the abdomen and thighs, which here represent natural good, to which brass, or copper, corresponds. And below this, Come the lower legs and the feet, which represent the life of natural truth, the Iron of the mind. All these different elements are necessary to a good and fully developed manhood.

And there is a similar relation between the different elements of life, in the heavens, the higher and the lower. Thus, these comparisons and correspondences relate to human life in all its different aspects, whether in the different churches which have existed on the earth, or the different conditions of the church in the heavens, or the relative conditions of principles in men's individual minds.

THE IMAGE.
And these are the things represented by the great image, seen by Nebuchadnezzar. And we can easily see that this image was a reflex of the image erected in the king's own mind, by his ambitious thoughts, while he reflected upon his own greatness, the splendor of his kingdom, the extent of his power, and his desire to govern the whole world.

But the dream reveals to men (to each as he is able to see and to understand the case) the inevitable final result of the love of dominion, working in a human mind, and in general human history; because the love of rule is based on the love of self; and, finally, it will look to self alone, and will depart from the Lord; and it will thus necessarily perish, spiritually, by self-destruction, in the love of evil and in the life of sin.

The head of the image was of gold, representing celestial love, love to the Lord. The upper body was of silver, representing spiritual love, love to the neighbor. The lower body was of brass, representing natural goodness. The legs were of iron, representing natural truth. All these were good and necessary to a right manhood. And if the feet, also, had been of good iron, only, the image would have represented a noble manhood, in which the different principles bear similar relations to each other. But the weakness of the image was in its feet, because they "were part of iron, and part of clay." And the iron and clay would not make a firm and strong joining; and so the image could not stand firmly. The clay, which would not join with iron, represents a state of natural evil, which would not unite with natural truth, and which would not furnish a firm basis in a good natural life.

HUMAN HISTORY.
And now we have the full history of the principle of the love of ruling over others, and its inevitable final self-destruction. This great image had its head of gold; i. e., in its beginning, and in the highest states of the mind, there was some love to the Lord; and the ruler supposed that he loved to rule for the sake of doing celestial good to those whom he ruled, because they were the Lord's children, brought under the king's care.

But the operation of the dominant love of ruling, gradually dragged down the mind, below this celestial love, and brought a new mental condition; i.e., a forgetting of the Lord's claims, and a love of ruling the neighbor because the ruler wished well, spiritually, to those whom he ruled. This was a descent to the breast and arms of silver, and a departure from the head of gold.

But, as the fundamental self-love, hidden in the love of ruling, gradually increased its force, even the spiritual element of love was forgotten; and the ruler persuaded himself that he ruled others for their external and natural good. This was descending to the bowels and thighs of brass. And again, the gradual descent brought about another new state of mind, a forgetfulness of goodness, even on the natural plane, and a descent to the legs of iron, the hard laws of natural truth, by which the ruler persuaded himself that it was right for him to rule others, and that they ought to see it to be right.

But the descent did not stop, even at this stage; but the mind of the ruler set aside all ideas of either spiritual or natural goodness or truth; and he tried to stand upon feet partly of iron and partly of clay; i.e., he operated from selfish motives, but tried to put on an appearance of following the law. But the iron of natural truth and law, would not cohere with his miry clay of evil; and so the whole image lost its secure standing.

THE DESTRUCTION.
When the great image stood upon the low plane, a stone from an adjacent mountain rolled out upon the image, and broke it to pieces. The stone struck the weak feet, and threw down the-image, and ground its whole form to dust, like mere "chaff of the summer threshing-floors." The clay, the iron, the brass, the silver and the gold, were all destroyed.

The "stone," which crushed the image, was the Truth of the Lord, revealed to men, and coming out from the great mountain of the Lord's love. The Lord, Himself, was in His truth. And, as the truth passed along, in human minds, it grew, and "became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth;" i.e., it filled the church, and the minds of men, with the love of the Lord. This stone was not taken from the mountain by human hands, but it came out, as of itself; representing that the truth which disperses false and evil things, is not any man-made creed, but the spirit of the Divine Truth, itself.

These things explain both the dream and Daniel's interpretation of it. But, when Daniel said to the king, "Thou art this head of gold," it is not meant that either the king, or Babylon, was in a celestial state of mind.

But Babylon was the degenerate remnant of what was once a celestial church, in which the rulers once ruled in the name of the Lord, and for the good of the people. In every church, we can trace the gradual decline in its characteristic quality, until its end. In every stage of progress, as long as something of a church could be maintained, existing institutions have been permitted to continue. When men became sensuous, and lost all spirituality of character, they could still be kept in some kind of order, externally, by means of external churches. But when a church could no longer serve for any good, it has come to its end.

THE CHURCHES.
The Most Ancient Church possessed great spiritual intelligence. But its members began to degenerate, by wrongly eating of the tree of knowledge; i.e., by appropriating to themselves, as their own, the truths revealed to them by the Lord. And thus they fell into the pride of self-intelligence, in which they were destroyed, as represented by the allegory of the deluge. The destruction of the Ancient Church is represented by the casting out of the people of Canaan, by the Israelites. The end of the Jewish Church is represented by the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and by the carrying away of the Jews, into captivity; and by the coming of Christ. The end of the First Christian Church is minutely and graphically pictured in the Scriptures, especially in the Book of The Revelation. And, at the end of the First Christian Church, the Lord came again, not physically, but spiritually, in a fuller outpouring of light and of life, to those "who have ears to hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Revelation 2:29).

Every church which finally has been brought to an end, has degenerated by its inversion of the image of God, in man; and its attempt to stand the heavenly gold and silver upon feet of iron, mixed with clay; an attempt to uphold the principles of heaven upon a life of selfish evil.

PRACTICAL LESSONS.
The image seen by the king stands before us, as a striking picture of the final end of every unregenerate mind. We may seek to cover our selfishness with pretended virtues; and we may even deceive ourselves as to the evil of our real motives; but we cannot thus stop the downward trend of our character, nor its final self-destruction. Nothing but actual regeneration can break the course of degeneration.

And, to meet this case, the last part of our text was given: "And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed." This is the spiritual kingdom of the Lord, Himself, especially in His Second Coming, in the Spirit, to build His kingdom in the hearts of those who love Him. This kingdom shall be built up by means of the Divine Word, especially in its inward and spiritual meaning. And this kingdom "shall stand forever." "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the Word of our God shall stand forever" (Isaiah 40:8).

The First Christian Church, as a dispensation, passed through all the states represented in our text, from the gold of its early state, down to silver, brass, iron, and even clay, until it was brought to an end, at the Second Coming of the Lord. And now, in the rising progress of the church, the case is inverted; for the individual man and the general church, must now work up, again, from lower to higher things. And the promise comes to the New Jerusalem, at this day, that our Lord will lead us back over the lost ground, that we may regain our spiritual inheritance. "For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood, brass, and for stones, iron" (Isaiah 60:17).

To the man of the New Jerusalem, every good principle, loved, understood, and built into the daily life, will open itself in its higher phases, and will elevate the mind to higher things, that the man may return nearer and nearer to his Lord.

PRESENT CONDITIONS.
Often, we wonder why the New Jerusalem does not descend from heaven more rapidly. The great stone of the doctrine of the Lord, the great truth of the Divinity of the Lord, Jesus Christ, as the one God of heaven and of earth, has struck upon the weak feet of the great image. But we are living in the age when the great crushing of the image is still going on. The good that is now in the sects of Christendom, is largely natural good, rather than spiritual good. And much that is called good, is mixed with the clay of man's natural evils.

Look about you, in all phases of human life, and ask yourself what foundation is ready for the New Jerusalem to stand upon. These are times of wide-spread disorder, of colossal schemes for selfish purposes, of impatience against all legal restraint, even by right and truth. These are times of bold self-assertion and insolent self-seeking. Crime abounds; a great many men are not faithful to their trusts, nor loyal to their obligations. Immorality stalks through the land, with brazen face. All kinds of irrational isms seek to supplant genuine Christianity. Coarse, rude and vulgar evils laugh at refinement. These are not conditions which prepare foundations for the holy city to descend upon. But, in spite of the times, those individuals who are willing to climb to higher spiritual conditions, will find the way open to them, and the right path revealed. Therefore, "Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live" (Amos 5:14).


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