You are hereThe Prophecy of the Rock in Daniel 2
The Prophecy of the Rock in Daniel 2
by John Evans
In this article I elaborate upon a theme that I have previously suggested on this site, namely that the prophecy in Daniel 2 about the supernatural rock that destroys the great statue and becomes an earth-covering mountain (v.34-35, 44-45) includes in its symbolism historical events that extend from AD 70 until at least our own time. I hasten to add that this does not mean that I assign the Parousia or Second Advent of Christ to the future. As I indicated in my book on the four kingdoms of Daniel, I believe that the rock’s striking the feet of the statue symbolizes the relatively short period running from the First Advent until the events of AD 70, and I view the Parousia as having occurred at the end of that period in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem and the obliteration of Herod’s Temple.In this article I elaborate upon a theme that I have previously suggested on this site, namely that the prophecy in Daniel 2 about the supernatural rock that destroys the great statue and becomes an earth-covering mountain (v.34-35, 44-45) includes in its symbolism historical events that extend from AD 70 until at least our own time. I hasten to add that this does not mean that I assign the Parousia or Second Advent of Christ to the future. As I indicated in my book on the four kingdoms of Daniel, I believe that the rock’s striking the feet of the statue symbolizes the relatively short period running from the First Advent until the events of AD 70, and I view the Parousia as having occurred at the end of that period in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem and the obliteration of Herod’s Temple.The prophecy of the rock is the subject of four verses in Daniel 2. Verses 34-35 give the portion of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision pertaining to the rock, and verses 44-45 give Daniel’s interpretation of the prophecy. Using the NIV, here are these verses:
34“While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 35Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.”
. . . .
44“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.”
One question that arises about how this prophecy should be understood is why doesn’t it simply state that the rock hits the statue without specifying that the statue is hit on its feet? An obvious answer to this question is that since time elapses as we move down the statue, the rock’s striking the feet conveys the idea that the statue is destroyed late in the history of the last kingdom in the sequence that the statue symbolizes. This answer, however, is insufficient.
Although it is true that the four metals of the statue symbolize a sequence of dominant kingdoms—Babylonia (gold), Medo-Persia (silver), Greece (bronze), Rome (iron)—it is also true that the Book of Daniel indicates that the first three of these kingdoms do not completely disappear as the successive displacements occur. The displacements by successor kingdoms before the rock strikes the statue should be viewed as changes in the military/ political status of the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean region, but this does not rule out the survival of the earlier kingdoms in the cultural and religious spheres, or even as lesser political entities. This understanding of the displacement process is implied by the passage “In the time of those kings” at the beginning of 2:44. Reinforcing this understanding is the emphasis given in verse 35 to the different parts of the statue being destroyed “at the same time.” If the first three kingdoms no longer exist when the rock strikes the feet, then how can they be destroyed “at the same time” as the fourth kingdom? Even more persuasive is the reinforcement of this understanding by Daniel 7:12, which follows the statement in 7:11 that the fourth beast was slain with the parenthetical information that the first three beasts, though “stripped of their authority,” were allowed to survive “for a period of time.” I also maintain that the passage in Daniel 7:19 that references “the iron teeth and bronze claws” (emphasis added) of the fourth beast points to the cultural influence of the third kingdom (Greece) upon the fourth kingdom (Rome). Here I am assuming that Daniel 7 complements Daniel 2 and does not conflict with it, and I realize that not all liberals are willing to make that assumption. So be it.
Against any interpretation which portrays Rome as the kingdom of iron stands the seemingly inconvenient fact that the Roman Empire obviously lasted long past the Jewish War of AD 66-70; indeed, it was not until around 300 that it achieved its maximum territorial extent. Recall, however, Jesus’ words in John 18:36: “My kingdom is not of this world.” It follows, therefore, that in the messianic interpretation of Daniel 2 that I advocate, the rock’s striking the feet of iron and clay symbolizes the inauguration of the spiritual kingdom of Christ and the ensuing displacement of the preceding four kingdoms in the spiritual realm. Of course, if the kingdom of Christ is destined to fill “the whole earth,” this implies that it is destined to have enormous political influence as well.
I contend, incidentally, that the clay in the feet and toes of the statue symbolizes the Jewish people. In doing so, I completely reject the commonly held belief among those who take Daniel’s fourth kingdom to be Greece or Seleucid Syria that the clay has something to do with conflict between Seleucid Syria and Ptolemaic Egypt. The four metals of the statue are not only kingdoms, but also peoples, and the clay can be viewed in the same way. Moreover, as Don Preston pointed out to me, both Isaiah 64:8 and Jeremiah 18:6 liken the Jewish people to potter’s clay.
The location of the clay on the statue indicates that whatever the clay represents comes into play a relatively short time before the rock strikes the statue. The Hasmonean kingdom of Judea was incorporated into the Roman Empire by Pompey in 63 BC, but Rome’s rule over Judea remained relatively indirect until after the death of Herod in around 4 BC. As the extent of Judea’s integration into the Empire increased, Jews migrated extensively into different parts of it; and because of migration, natural population growth, and religious conversions, they came to constitute a very important minority population outside Judea. Thus, the Jewish “clay” became thoroughly mixed with the Roman iron. As the massacres of Jews and the retaliatory slaughter of Gentiles that occurred when the Jewish War erupted in AD 66 reveal, however, the mixture was a very brittle one.
Daniel 7 strongly reinforces this analysis. In verse 13, “one like a son of man” comes into the great judgment scene and is led into the presence of the Ancient of Days. The breathtaking next verse reads as follows: “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Notice that although the one like a son of man receives dominion over the earth, the emphasis is on the spiritual aspect of His dominion and the wording suggests that nations continue to exist as separate entities. This impression is reinforced by verse 27, where we are informed that sovereignty and power in the “everlasting kingdom” are to be handed over to the people of the Most High, who will be worshiped and obeyed by “all rulers.” Since the everlasting kingdom contains rulers, nations evidently continue to exist also; and while the dominion exercised by the one like a son of man is fundamentally spiritual, it is so complete that it has great political influence.
As I pointed out in detail in my article “A Comment on Daniel 7:27,” which was posted here last September, the proper translation of these verses and those that are closely related to them is greatly disputed among linguistic authorities. Liberals generally favor translations that minimize the messianic implications of Daniel 7, and to the extent that they allow traces of messianism to be retained, they generally turn what they prefer to call the “one like a human being,” as opposed to “one like a son of man,” into a collective entity, i.e., the Jewish people, or else they find him to be an angelic being, preferably Michael, the patron saint of the Jews. Also, instead of winding up verse 27 with “all rulers will worship and obey him,” they tend to favor translations in which “worship” is replaced by “serve.” Moreover, they disagree as to just who it is that is being served. One view is that the service is rendered to the kingdom of the people of the Most High while another is that it is rendered directly to the Most High.
For reasons that I explain in my book and in my article on Daniel 7:27, I favor the idea that this verse indicates that worship, not just “service,” is rendered to the Most High without going through His people as an intermediary. This may still seem to leave a conflict between 7:14 and 7:27 since the earlier verse has the “one like a son of man” being worshiped while the latter’s object of worship is the “Most High”; i.e. God. There should be no problem here, however, for Christians who understand Christ to be the messianic figure in 7:14.
Returning to Daniel 2, an apparent problem for the line of analysis that I offer is that the demolition of the statue is depicted as a sudden event in which all parts of the statue are destroyed “at the same time.” In my judgment, however, the idea of a sudden destruction that simultaneously obliterates all four of the statue’s kingdoms is too literal an application of the imagery of the statue and conflicts with both common sense and the symbolism of the rock becoming an earth-covering mountain. Remember that the rock strikes the statue on its feet, which seems to suggest that the spiritual dominion of the “everlasting kingdom” is first established over the kingdom of iron. If, as I believe, the rock represents the arrival of a spiritual kingdom that is destined to envelop the entire earth, is it not logical to believe that the envelopment process would require some time before encompassing all four kingdoms? Note, too, that the rock becomes an earth-covering mountain and that the process of becoming implies the passage of time, presumably a good deal of time in this instance. If it takes time for the rock to obtain the spiritual dominion represented by the mountain, is it not logical to believe that at least some time must transpire before the rock gains spiritual dominion over the first three kingdoms? Compared to the time required for the mountain to cover the earth, the time required for the rock to gain spiritual supremacy over the lands represented by the kingdoms of gold, silver, and bronze could seem very short. In effect, therefore, I am suggesting that the language “at the same time” in 2:35 should be understood as meaning during the same period of time.
Another indication of the passage of time in the prophecy of the rock is that 2:35 states that the components of the statue are broken into pieces (not vaporized) and become like chaff before being swept away by the wind. To this observation I add the possible significance of the fact that although 2:35 states that the statue’s components are “broken to pieces at the same time,” it lists those components in following order: iron, clay, bronze, silver, and gold. While it can be argued that this listing is simply a chiasm (although a perfect chiasm would have the clay precede the iron), it can also be argued that it represents the order in which the spiritual displacement represented by the rock occurs among the different peoples symbolized by the materials. It should be noted, however, that 2:45 lists the component materials in a slightly different order: iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold.
Daniel 7 arguably provides support for my contention that the first three kingdoms are not eliminated from the spiritual realm as quickly as the fourth kingdom. Verse 7:11 informs us that “the [fourth] beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire.” The next verse adds parenthetically that “The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.” Although it is not stated explicitly that the first three beasts outlive the fourth beast in the spiritual/cultural realm, I submit that a reasonable interpretation of 7:12 is that they probably do so.
Against the analysis of the last paragraph it can be argued that since 7:11-12 precede 7:13-14 in the text of Daniel 7, this means that all four kingdoms symbolized by the statue of Daniel 2 are removed from the scene, whether spiritually or politically, before the arrival of the one like a son of man and that this conflicts with the idea that the investiture of the one like a son of man with authority over the kingdoms of the earth precedes the removal of the four kingdoms. In response, I suggest that 7:11-12 do not necessarily precede 7:13-14 in time. Although Daniel 7 can be viewed as a single grand vision received by Daniel one night in the first year of Belshazzar’s reign over Babylon, a careful reading of the text makes it clear that it is actually presented as a collection of distinct segments that are woven into a whole. I believe that 11-12 should be understood as completing the segment of the grand vision that pertains to the four beasts and that it is quite possible that it overlaps the time encompassed by 13-14, which constitute another segment of the overall vision.
In the various branches of futurist eschatology that for so long have dominated conservative Christian theology, the prevailing tendency has been to assume that “at the same time” must be taken literally. Futurists generally take the rock’s striking the statue’s feet to symbolize the yet-to-be Second Advent of Christ that will bring with it the sudden establishment of His rule over the entire earth. In doing so, they take “at the same time” quite literally. This means, however, that they ignore the implication in the text of 2:35b that the rock’s growth into an earth-covering mountain requires a great deal of time for its completion. Some futurist scholars have recognized the rock becoming a mountain problem and have taken the “everlasting kingdom” to represent “Christ’s invisible, spiritual reign in the hearts of believers established at his first advent and evident in the church.” In general, however, this view has been rejected by futurists, primarily, I suspect, because of their belief that the language of the prophecy of the rock mandates that the everlasting kingdom must be understood as one that immediately and completely displaces the kingdoms of the statue in the political sphere as well as in the realm of the spirit. I concede that the language and imagery of 2:35 and 2:44 readily lend themselves to the political displacement notion, but I believe that this bit of evidence is greatly outweighed by the other evidence that I have presented and the additional evidence presented in the next paragraph.
One can maintain, I suppose, that when the rock hits the feet of the statue, all other “kingdoms” existing at that time or in the future are “destroyed” in the sense of being rendered spiritually obsolete in the eyes of God, but I am uncomfortable with this line of argument. To me, it is akin to saying that the introduction of the automobile immediately destroyed the horse-drawn buggy industry. The process of the rock growing into the mountain clearly implies the passage of a very substantial period of time, and since the rock’s immediate impact is upon the fourth kingdom, and not the other three, I think it is reasonable to argue along the lines I have presented to the effect that some time must also transpire between the spiritual destruction of the fourth kingdom and that of the other three. Moreover, remember 2 Peter 3:8: “But do not forget this one thing, friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” If the forty plus years elapsing from Christ’s ministry to the destruction of the Temple can be symbolized by the rock’s striking the statue, does it not make sense to view the destruction of the entire statue as something that requires considerable time in human terms? In my view, both the rock’s action and the statue’s destruction constitute what I call “prophetic abridgement”; i.e the telescoping of a lengthy but continuous process into a short one so as to achieve a dramatic symbolic effect.
Tim Martin’s recent postings on this site regarding the regional vs. global flood debate remind me that I need to write a little about the meaning of the words “whole earth” at the end of 2:35. I am definitely on the regional flood side of this debate, and I agree with those who believe that there are numerous biblical passages that employ hyperbolic language about the earth and various natural phenomena that are not to be taken literally. For example, in Daniel 8:5, the goat with a prominent horn that comes from the west is said to cross “the whole earth;” and when I read Christ’s prophecy in Matthew 24:14 that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come,” I take “the whole world” to mean the “world” of the Roman Empire and “the end” to be the end of the Old Covenant in AD 70. What, then, are we to make of the passage in Daniel 2:35b stating that “the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth?” Is “whole earth” to be given a regional understanding, or is it to be taken literally? It is my judgment that in this case, the meaning of “whole earth” is clearly global. The prophecy of the rock conveys the meaning that the kingdom whose existence begins with the appearance of the rock is never to be destroyed, which implies, in my view, that no competing kingdoms remain on the earth to seriously challenge it. Moreover, since the four kingdoms of the statue constitute the “regional earth” and are destroyed at the outset of the prophecy, the mountain has to cover a much larger area.
As a recent posting on planetpreterist.com by a person identified as rfwitt reminded me, the prophecy of the rock of Daniel 2 seems to have a strong complementary relationship to the swords into plowshares prophecy of Isaiah 2:2-4. Here is the NIV’s translation of that prophecy with the poetic lines suppressed to save space:
2In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes among peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
I shall not offer a comparison of the two prophecies, but I must say that I believe them to be complementary, and I understand the “last days” of Isaiah to extend far beyond AD 70. If that is the case, it reinforces my argument for a global understanding of the whole earth passage in 2:35b.
In closing this article, I shall refer to what I consider to be an essential fact about Old Testament prophecy: that although it does not provide details of prophetic fulfillment that go beyond the first century AD, it does present us with a general outline of human destiny that allows us a glimpse of what the future holds in store, a glimpse that should generate great hope and optimism. I do not claim to be a theologian and have never formally studied theology. For what it is worth, however, it seems to me that the prophetic details provided in the OT pertaining to the Old Covenant have the function of demonstrating to those with eyes to see that God is in control and has always been in control. I also believe that with respect to what the future holds, He has told us the general outlines and has left it to us to work out the details in the course of shaping the human personality into what He wants it to be.
See “The Little Horns of Daniel 7 and 8: Part II,” November 12, 2005.
John S. Evans, The Four Kingdoms of Daniel: A Defense of the “Roman” Sequence with AD 70 Fulfillment (Xulon Press, 2004), xi, 128.
Isaiah 64:8 reads as follows: “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” And here is Jeremiah 18:6b: “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary, 18 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers) 100).