NEBUCHADNEZZAR'S DREAM (DAN. 2) could usefully occupy us for many pages. It provides insight not only into Daniel and his times, but into our times as well.
(1) The pagan Babylonian Empire had its share of astrologers and other fortune tellers. Like thoughtful people in every generation, Nebuchadnezzar had his suspicions about their competence, and put them to this rather brutal test. Anecdotal accounts of "magical" insight cannot withstand this level of analysis.
(2) Daniel's bold approach to the king claims nothing for himself and ascribes everything to God, who knows our thoughts and our dreams. That took courage. Here is the next stage in the development of Daniel's character. The courageous and unshakable old man that Daniel became (Dan. 6) was formed by a young man who obeyed God even in what he ate, and who was so honest that he would not take any credit where none was due. He was committed to faithfulness, humility, courage, and integrity. He has few successors in high places.
(3) Doubtless contemporary psychiatrists would speculate that the colossus in Nebuchadnezzar's dream betrays profound personal insecurity. Megalomaniacal ambition to rule the world may suggest secret doubts about whether or not one has feet of clay. Whatever the means, God uses the vision to disclose something more profound—the future of forthcoming empires.
Most liberals have argued that the four metals—gold, silver, bronze, and iron—represent, respectively, Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece. After the death of Alexander the Great, the Greek Empire disintegrated into four territories squabbling among themselves—hence the feet of clay. Certainly the later chapters of this prophecy focus not a little attention on that period, and picture the dawning of the messianic kingdom succeeding it. Nevertheless that view is tied up with the theory that at the very least the later chapters of Daniel were written pseudonymously in the second century B.C. Most evangelicals find little evidence to support that stance. Moreover, they point out that there never really was a Median Empire. It is better to speak of the Medo-Persian Empire; the Median element was not much more than a transition team. On that view the four empires are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome—and during the latter the messianic kingdom delivers the mighty blow that ultimately fells the colossus. That seems to be what Jesus held (Matt. 24:15).
(4) This vision reminds us that in this broken and ambiguous world the people of God nurture a hope for what God will do in the end. Little in the Christian way makes sense without such hope; little in our culture makes much sense without a shared vision toward which to press, a vision that transcends personal fulfillment and selfism.