Lesson Number Seven
The Great World Empires
What the future holds has always been a matter of deep interest to world leaders and their subjects. Proud monarchs cherished the ambition to expand their kingdom to the uttermost ends of the world and to establish security for their kingdoms forever. To this end they devoted all their energies by heavily fortifying cities and raising huge armies. When, to all human probability, it appeared that they had attained their goal, their kingdom was often overthrown and followed by another. What does the future hold? Does the rise and fall of great world empires happen by chance or do they all form part of a great plan? If so, what will the outcome be? God’s foreseeing eye reveals the future; history establishes the certainty of it.
A World Ruler Troubled
Nebuchadnezzar, the great and ambitious king of ancient Babylon longed to know what would come to pass in the future. One night he had a remarkable dream. His mind was deeply impressed, but when he awoke he found it impossible to recall the dream. His wise men, the magicians, astrologers and soothsayers were unable to tell the king what he had dreamed, and because they claimed to have supernatural power, the king was angered at their inability to tell the dream, and ordered them to be executed.
Among the wise men at the court of Babylon was a young man named Daniel, and his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. These four young men had been chosen from the Jewish exiles, to be educated at the king’s court. When he heard of the death decree and the reason for it, Daniel begged the king for an extension of time, so that he and his friends could pray to God to reveal to him the dream and the interpretation of it.
This request was granted and the four young men, with strong faith in God’s ability to answer them, prayed together. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James 5:16. It is not surprising that the answer came immediately. Read Daniel 2:1-30.
The Dream Revealed
Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar the dream he could not recall: “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. This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. 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. 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.” Daniel 2:31-35.
The king had been listening with close attention to every particular and knew that it was the very dream which had so troubled him. His mind was thus prepared to favorably receive the interpretation.
Daniel declared: “. . . there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. . . . This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king.” Daniel 2:28, 36.
The Dream Interpreted
1. The Head of Gold
Daniel proceeded with the interpretation: “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. 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.” Daniel 2:37, 38.
Babylon was the golden kingdom of a golden age. The city of Babylon was referred to as “the golden city,” Isaiah 14:4. It towered to a height of splendor never reached by any of its later rivals. This beautiful city was sixty miles in circumference, with solid gates of brass, its walls were approximately 120 meters high and 30 meters thick. Its magnificently terraced hanging gardens, its temples and palaces were called “The glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency.” Never before or since, has the earth seen a city like it, or has there been an equal. The images’ head of gold was a fit representation of the earth’s greatest city, Babylon. “No capital in the world has been the centre of so much power, wealth, and culture for a period so vast.” (History of Babylonia and Assyria, Volume 1, page 397).
After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, its greatest Monarch, Babylonia declined and eventually passed away under weaker rulers. During the reign of king Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Cyrus the Persian, invaded Babylon. Belshazzar gave a feast and the whole city joined in the drunken revelry. While the party was in progress, Cyrus temporarily diverted the water of the river Euphrates which flowed through the city, and marched with his soldiers along the river bed, under the river gates and onto the drunken city and took the Babylonians by surprise in 538 B.C. This feast of Belshazzar is described in the fifth chapter of Daniel; and the scene closes with the simple record, “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain, and Darius the Median took the kingdom.”
2. The Breast and Arms of Silver
“And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee . . . ” Daniel 2:39.
The Medes and Persians succeeded Babylon. But in what way was Medo-Persia inferior to the preceding kingdom? Not in power, for it was Babylon’s conqueror. Not in territory, for it was the most extensive empire that ever existed. It was inferior in wealth and magnificence.
Under the rulership of king Cyrus, the seventy years of the Jewish exile came to a close and they were permitted to return to Jerusalem and to build their temple.
Two hundred years later Greece was rising to prominence, emerging as the next world empire.
3. The Belly and Thighs of Brass
“. . . and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.” Daniel 2:39.
With unparalleled speed, Alexander the Great, ruler of Greece, led his armies in conquest. At the Battle of Arbela in 331 B.C., Darius III, King of Persia, was completely vanquished. Alexander was given to excessive drinking and lowest passions. Having conquered the world, his time was wasted in intemperate revelry. This proved his downfall and at the early age of thirty-two he died in a drunken orgy in the year 323 B.C. Because of ambitious leaders, his kingdom was soon divided under four of his generals. The kingdom’s greatness was short-lived, and the divisions fulfilled other prophetic expectations.
Rome conquered the Syrian division of the Greek Empire in 190 B.C., the Macedonian division in 168 B.C., and Egypt surrendered to Rome in the same year.
4. The Legs of Iron
The iron kingdom of Rome is the fourth empire that ruled the world. Gibbon wrote: “The arms of the Republic, sometimes vanquished in battle, always victorious in war, advanced with rapid steps to the Euphrates, the Danube, the Rhine, and the ocean; and the images of gold, silver, or brass, that might serve to represent the nations or their kings, were successively broken by the iron monarchy of Rome.” (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chapter 38, paragraph one, “General Observations.”)
In the time of Christ, the Roman Empire included all of Southern Europe, France, England, the greater part of Holland, Switzerland, the Southern part of Germany, Hungary, Turkey, and Greece as well as extensive possessions in Africa and Asia.
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” Luke 2:1.
The first taxing of the world, enforced by the decrees of Rome, shows the expanse of this Roman Empire.
How could this mighty and stable empire disappear from the earth? It seemed well nigh impossible from human observation. But a further scene from the prophetic vision was to take place.
5. Feet of Iron and Clay
“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. 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.” Daniel 2:41, 42.
Unlike the previous empires, Rome was not overthrown in battle by a successive nation. Rome weakened internally as the people lived in luxury and experienced the degeneracy of self-content and intemperance. The territory which made up the official Roman kingdom lay west of Greece, which was represented by the legs of iron. By fragmentation, this territory was divided into ten independent kingdoms, represented by the ten toes of the image. Some retained the strength of the original iron kingdom, and some were weak, as symbolized by the clay.
This division took place between the years A.D. 351 and A.D. 476. The ten tribes were: the Lombards, Franks, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Burgundians, Suevi, Heruli, Vandals, Alemanni and Saxons. Later prophecies, given in chapters eight and nine of Daniel revealed that three of these kingdoms were to be uprooted (destroyed) by another power. This has proved true, but the remaining nations are still traceable in the nations of Europe today as Italy, France, England, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and Germany.
Although the prophecy shows Christ’s coming as the next event, other prophecies indicate intervening developments. These will be discussed in future lessons.
“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.” Daniel 2:43.
For centuries the nations of Europe have endeavored to be united again under a central government. Neither by force, nor by diplomacy have men and women succeeded in foraging the iron and clay together. Wars have been fought but to no avail. Marriages formed to unite the nations under one ruler. All monarchies of Europe are related to each other through intermarriage, but the division still stands, as the word of God foretold. The prophecy says, “they shall not cleave one to another.”
Charlemagne tried to bring Europe under one kingdom, so did Charles V, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Wilhelm, Hitler, and the European Common Market. Although they have appeared to succeed for a time, there has been and will not be a permanent cohesion.
What Is the Next Event?
1. The Stone Cut Out Without Hands
“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. 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.” Daniel 2:44, 45.
Here is the climax of this great prophecy. The final act in the drama of the world empires is the establishment of the kingdom of God. This is certain! Just as the previous symbols were all exactly fulfilled in the course of history, so we know that this final part will also come to pass. Daniel said: “The dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.” We are instructed to study the historic fulfillment of Bible prophecy and to be assured of their truth: “Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them.” Isaiah 34:16.
It is in the days of the last kingdoms of iron and clay, that the kingdom of Christ will come. Christ will return, not as the Lamb of God, but as King of kings, as a mighty conqueror. His kingdom does not depend on human support, it is the kingdom of Heaven, a stone cut out without hands. His kingdom, unlike the human kingdoms, is everlasting and shall stand forever.
Jesus will soon return, but before He does He seeks first to establish His kingdom in the hearts of men. Dear friend, will you allow the Prince of Peace to rule your heart now, so that when He comes you may inherit the Kingdom of Heaven?
Quiz For Lesson Number Seven
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