Daniel 2:31
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.
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(31) A great image.—Properly, one great image. This is one important feature in the vision. The image, though representing many things, was itself only “one.” (See Note on Daniel 2:1.) That the image was of human form is evident from the further descriptions of the various parts of the body given in Daniel 2:32-33; Daniel 2:42. The “greatness” of the image implies the magnificence and size of it. As will be shortly seen, throughout the various parts it represented the many complex phases of the one history of the world.

Daniel 2:31. Thou, O king, sawest, and behold, a great image — “It appears, from ancient coins and medals, that cities and people were often represented by figures of men and women. A great, terrible human figure was therefore a proper emblem of human power and dominion; and the various metals of which it was composed not unfitly typified the various kingdoms which should arise. It consisted of four different metals, gold, and silver, and brass, and iron, mixed with clay; and these four metals, according to Daniel’s own interpretation, mean so many kingdoms; and the order of their succession is clearly denoted by the order of the parts; the head and higher parts signify the earlier times, and the lower parts the latter times. Hesiod, who lived two hundred years before Daniel, spoke of the four ages of the world under the symbols of these metals; so that this image was formed according to the commonly received notion, and the commonly received notion was not first propagated from hence.” — Bishop Newton. This image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee — This image, says Grotius, appeared with a glorious lustre in the imagination of Nebuchadnezzar, whose mind was wholly taken up with admiration of worldly pomp and splendour; but the same monarchies were represented to Daniel under the shape of fierce and wild beasts, chap. 7., as being the great supporters of idolatry and tyranny in the world. And the form thereof was terrible — The success which accompanied their arms made them feared and dreaded by all the world.

2:31-45 This image represented the kingdoms of the earth, that should successively rule the nations, and influence the affairs of the Jewish church. 1. The head of gold signified the Chaldean empire, then in being. 2. The breast and arms of silver signified the empire of the Medes and Persians. 3. The belly and thighs of brass signified the Grecian empire, founded by Alexander. 4. The legs and feet of iron signified the Roman empire. The Roman empire branched into ten kingdoms, as the toes of these feet. Some were weak as clay, others strong as iron. Endeavours have often been used to unite them, for strengthening the empire, but in vain. The stone cut out without hands, represented the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, which should be set up in the kingdoms of the world, upon the ruins of Satan's kingdom in them. This was the Stone which the builders refused, because it was not cut out by their hands, but it is become the head stone of the corner. Of the increase of Christ's government and peace there shall be no end. The Lord shall reign, not only to the end of time, but when time and days shall be no more. As far as events have gone, the fulfilling this prophetic vision has been most exact and undeniable; future ages shall witness this Stone destroying the image, and filling the whole earth.Thou, O king, sawest - Margin, "wast seeing." The margin is in accordance with the Chaldee. The language is properly what denotes a prolonged or attentive observation. He was in an attitude favorable to vision, or was looking with intensity, and there appeared before him this remarkable image. Compare Daniel 7:1-2, Daniel 7:4, Daniel 7:6. It was not a thing which appeared for a moment, and then vanished, but which remained so long that he could contemplate it with accuracy.

And, behold, a great image - Chaldee, "one image that was grand" - שׂגיא חד צלם tselēm chad s'agı̂y'. So the Vulgate - statua una grandis. So the Greek - εἰκὼν μία eikōn mia. The object seems to be to fix the attention on the fact that there was but "one" image, though composed of so different materials, and of materials that seemed to be so little fitted to be worked together into the same statue. The idea, by its being represented as "one," is, that it was, in some respects, "the same kingdom" that he saw symbolized: that is, that it would extend over the same countries, and could be, in some sense, regarded as a prolongation of the same empire. There was so much of "identity," though different in many respects, that it could be represented as "one." The word rendered "image" (צלם tselem) denotes properly "a shade," or "shadow," and then anything that "shadows forth," or that represents anything.

It is applied to man Genesis 1:27 as shadowing forth, or representing God; that is, there was something in man when he was created which had so far a resemblance to God that he might be regarded as an "image" of him. The word is often used to denote idols - as supposed to be a "representation" of the gods, either in their forms, or as shadowing forth their character as majestic, stern, mild, severe, merciful, etc. Numbers 33:52; 1 Samuel 6:5; 2 Kings 11:18; 2 Chronicles 23:17; Ezekiel 7:20; Ezekiel 16:17; Ezekiel 23:14; Amos 5:26. This image is not represented as an idol to be worshipped, nor in the use of the word is it to be supposed that there is an allusion, as Prof. Bush supposes, to the fact that these kingdoms would be idolatrous, but the word is used in its proper and primitive sense, to denote something which would "represent," or "shadow forth," the kingdoms which would exist. The exact "size" of the image is not mentioned. It is only suggested that it was great - a proper characteristic to represent the "greatness" of the kingdoms to which it referred.

This great image - The word here rendered "great" (רב rab) is different from that used in the previous clause, though it is not easy to determine the exact difference between the words. Both denote that the image was of gigantic dimensions. It is well remarked by Prof. Bush, that "the monuments of antiquity sufficiently evince that the humor prevailed throughout the East, and still more in Egypt, of constructing enormous statues, which were usually dedicated to some of their deities, and connected with their worship. The object, therefore, now presented in the monarch's dream was not, probably, entirely new to his thoughts."

Whose brightness was excellent - "Whose brightness "excelled," or was unusual and remarkable." The word rendered brightness (זיו zı̂yv) is found only in Daniel. It is rendered "brightness" in Daniel 2:31; Daniel 4:36, and in the margin in Daniel 5:6, Daniel 5:9; and "countenance" in Daniel 5:6 (text), and in Daniel 2:9-10; Daniel 7:28. From the places where it is found, particularly Daniel 4:36, it is clear that it is used to denote a certain beauty, or majesty, shining forth in the countenance, which was fitted to impress the beholder with awe. The term here is to be understood not merely of the face of the image, but of its entire aspect, as having something in it signally splendid and imposing. We have only to conceive of a colossal statue whose head was burnished gold, and a large part of whose frame was polished silver, to see the force of this language.

Stood before thee - It stood over against him in full view. He had an opportunity of surveying it clearly and distinctly.

And the form thereof was terrible - Vast, imposing, grand, fearful. The sudden appearance of such an object as this could not but fill the mind with terror. The design for which this representation was made to Nebuchadnezzar is clearly unfolded in the explanation which Daniel gives. It may be remarked here, in general, that such an appearance of a gigantic image was well adapted to represent successive kingdoms, and that the representation was in accordance with the spirit of ancient times. "In ancient coins and medals," says the editor of the "Pictorial Bible," "nothing is more common than to see cities and nations represented by human figures, male or female. According to the ideas which suggested such symbols, a vast image in the human figure was, therefore, a very fit emblem of sovereign power and dominion; while the materials of which it was composed did most significantly typify the character of the various empires, the succession of which was foreshown by this vision. This last idea, of expressing the condition of things by metallic symbols, was prevalent before the time of Daniel. Hesiod, who lived about two centuries before Daniel, characterizes the succession of ages (four) by the very same metals - gold, silver, brass, and iron."

31. The world power in its totality appears as a colossal human form: Babylon the head of gold, Medo-Persia the breast and two arms of silver, Græco-Macedonia the belly and two thighs of brass, and Rome, with its Germano-Slavonic offshoots, the legs of iron and feet of iron and clay, the fourth still existing. Those kingdoms only are mentioned which stand in some relation to the kingdom of God; of these none is left out; the final establishment of that kingdom is the aim of His moral government of the world. The colossus of metal stands on weak feet, of clay. All man's glory is as ephemeral and worthless as chaff (compare 1Pe 1:24). But the kingdom of God, small and unheeded as a "stone" on the ground is compact in its homogeneous unity; whereas the world power, in its heterogeneous constituents successively supplanting one another, contains the elements of decay. The relation of the stone to the mountain is that of the kingdom of the cross (Mt 16:23; Lu 24:26) to the kingdom of glory, the latter beginning, and the former ending when the kingdom of God breaks in pieces the kingdoms of the world (Re 11:15). Christ's contrast between the two kingdoms refers to this passage.

a great image—literally, "one image that was great." Though the kingdoms were different, it was essentially one and the same world power under different phases, just as the image was one, though the parts were of different metals.

A great image; not a painted, superficial image, but a massy one, a statue in man’s shape, great, splendid, majestical: thus they were wont of old to represent great emperors and empires, and worshipped them as gods: called here an image, and in a dream, all which is in show and shadow rather than in substance, and therefore vanishing.

Stood before thee, and that upright, of a prodigious height, noting the grandeur of those monarchies.

The form thereof was terrible: government is to be feared, fear to whom fear, and honour to whom honour; also some had rather be feared than loved. Some say the image was so placed that the face looked toward the king, and thus it might trouble and terrify him.

Thou, O king, sawest,.... Or, "wast seeing" (z); not with the eyes of his body, but in his fancy and imagination; as he was dreaming, he thought he saw such an appearance, so it seemed to him, as follows:

and behold a great image; or, "one great image" (a); not painted, but a massive statue made of various metals, as is afterwards declared: such, though not so large as this, as the king had been used to see, which he had in his garden and palace, and which he worshipped; but this was of a monstrous size, a perfect colossus, and but one, though it consisted of various parts; it was in the form of a great man, as Saadiah and Jacchiades observe; and represented each of the monarchies of this world governed by men; and these being expressed by an image, show how vain and delusory, how frail and transitory, are the kingdoms of the earth, and the glory of them:

this great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee: right over against him, and near him, as he thought; so that he had a full view of it, and saw it at its full length and size, and its dazzling lustre, arising from the various metals of gold, silver, brass, and iron, it was made of; which was exceeding bright, and made it look very majestic:

and the form thereof was terrible; either there was something in the countenance menacing and horrid; or the whole form, being so gigantic, struck the king with admiration, and was even terrible to him; and it may denote the terror that kings, especially arbitrary and despotic ones, strike their subjects with.

(z) "videns fuisti", Montanus, Michaelis; "videns eras", Vatablus. (a) "imago una grandis", Pagninus, Montanus; "imago una magna", Junius & Tremellius, Cocceius; "simulachrum unum magnum", Michaelis.

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.
31. sawest] more exactly, wast seeing. So Daniel 2:34.

This image, which was mighty, and whose brightness was surpassing] ‘Excellent’ in Old English (from excello, to rise up out of, to surpass) had the distinctive meaning, which it has now lost, of surpassing, preeminent; and it is regularly to be understood with this force, wherever it occurs in P.B.V. of the Psalms, in A.V., and (usually) even in R.V. See the passages cited in the Note at the end of the Chapter; and cf. Blundeville, Exercises, fol. 156 a (ed. 1594), stars are not seen by day “because they are darkened by the excellent brightness of the sun” (W. A. Wright, Bible Word-book, s.v.).

form] aspect (R.V.), or appearance. Cf. Genesis 12:11, 2 Samuel 14:27 (and elsewhere), where the Hebrew is lit. ‘fair of aspect.’

31–35. Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar his dream.

Verse 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. The Greek versions do not require notice, as they do not imply any difference in reading from the Massoretic text. The Peshitta is shorter, "Thou, O king, wert seeing, and, lo! a great image of beauty exceeding excellent, and it stood before thee." The opening clause of the next verse may be regarded as taking up the last clause of the verse before us. As to the Aramaic of the passage, it is to be observed that the s, me long form of the second person is used in ver. 29. The numeral חַד (had) is used in this verse very much in the sense of the English indefinite article which is used to translate it in the English versions. It is represented in the Greek Version by μία. The particle אְלַוּ ('ulu)," behold," does not occur in the Targums; a cognate form occurs in Samaritan, hala. In Talmudic it occurs in a form like the Samaritan. This word occurs in ch. 7, varied by אֲרוּ ('aru), which is regarded as a phonetic variation. It may, however, be due to defective penmanship, having the top of the ל too faintly written. Its etymology is doubtful. No Assyrian root has been found from which it may be derived. The word for "image," צֶלֶם (tzelem), occurs in the Palmyrene inscriptions, as the regular term for a memorial statue. Hence, unless reason can be shown to the contrary, we could assume, even though there had been no more, that the figure was like a statue of a man. The word for this, דִכֵּן (diccen), occurs only in Daniel; the corresponding word in Ezra is דֵך (dec). The n sound is one that so readily slips away, that its presence as a final letter is a sign that the form of a word possessing it is in an older stage than that without it; hence we would argue that as דֵך (dec) is older than דָא (da) of the Targums, so דִכֵּן (diccen) of Daniel is older than דֵך (dec). The word that is most interesting is זִיוֵהּ (ziveh); it is rendered "brightness" in our version. It is recognized by Professor Bevan, on the authority of Delitzsch, as an Assyrio-Babylonian word, therefore affording an additional evidence of the Eastern origin of Daniel. Noldeke would derive it from the Persian zeb (quoted by Behrmann, but there is some mistake in his reference). This tendency to derive everything from the Persian is to be suspected. The long political connection between Babylon and the Aryan nations north and east of it might easily introduce words of such an origin into the writings of a Babylonian diplomat. Another derivation is from זָחָה (zahah), but seems doubtful, as, although in Hebrew, there is no trace of such a verb in Aramaic. The only other word that merits note is רֵוֵה (reve), "appearance." Professor Bevan says it is the only appearance in Aramaic of a corresponding root to the Hebrew רָאָה (ra'ah), "to see." Daniel, it will be seen, lays stress on the emotions which each feature excited, in order to recall, not only the dream, but something of the feelings with which Nebuchadnezzar had beheld it. With this dream of Nebuchadnezzar we might compare the dream of the seer of Asshurbanipal, given by Lenormant ('La Divination,' p. 137), "The seer (voyant) narrated to Asshurbanipal how the goddess Istar had stood before him seated in her chariot, surrounded by flame, with a bow in her hand" (see also Smith's 'Assurbanipal,' pp. 123. 124). It is unlikely that the colossal image was identified by Nebuchadnezzar with any one of the Babylonian gods; perhaps this was one of the elements of the terror excited by the vision, that he could not identify him. If he did make any identification, Daniel does not do anything to justify him in any such identification. Daniel 2:31The Dream and Its Interpretation. - Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream a great metallic image which was terrible to look upon. אלוּ (behold), which Daniel interchanges with ארו, corresponds with the Hebrew words ראה, ראוּ, or הנּה. צלם is not an idol-image (Hitz.), but a statue, and, as is manifest from the following description, a statue in human form. חד is not the indefinite article (Ges., Win., Maur.), but the numeral. "The world-power is in all its phases one, therefore all these phases are united in the vision in one image" (Klief.). The words from צלמא to יתּיר contain two parenthetical expressions, introduced for the purpose of explaining the conception of שׁגיא (great). קאם is to be united with ואלוּ. דּכּן here and at Daniel 7:20. is used by Daniel as a peculiar form of the demonstrative pronoun, for which Ezra uses דּך. The appearance of the colossal image was terrible, not only on account of its greatness and its metallic splendour, but because it represented the world-power of fearful import to the people of God (Klief.).
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