You saw till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image on his feet that were of iron and clay…
Ordinarily there is nothing more unreal and flimsy than a dream. It is but a shadow, a freak of fancy, the effluence of a distempered body or an unquiet soul, the echo of sounds we heard, or the confused picture of sights we saw, on the previous day, a gossamer structure reared by the imagination, which the first breath of awaking reason will dissipate for ever. The great mass of dreams have all this unreality about them. They are as a shadow that declineth. They are more the creatures of the past than the prophets of the future. Their face is turned towards yesterday rather than to-morrow. And yet in the history of the world there can be no doubt they have played an important part, as they have been one of the ways in which God has communicated His will to man. And even the Apocalypse may not unfitly be viewed as a glorious dream. In fact, there is no dream recorded in Scripture which is destitute of meaning; and the meaning of the dream before us is fully expounded by Daniel. It was the dream of a pagan, of a wicked and cruel pagan. But all souls are God's, and He has access to them all; and the narrative before us shows that, though Israel was God's peculiar people, to whom He specially revealed Himself until the fulness of the times should come. He did not leave Himself without witness among the heathen. He was asleep upon his bed, when lo! the form of a stupendous image loomed before him and filled his soul. Some men forget their dreams, forget even that they have dreamed. So did Nebuchadnezzar. He knew only that he had had a dream which greatly troubled him. In vain he tried to recover his dream. What was to be done? He had men, however, about him whose business it was, among other things, to interpret dreams. Let them be summoned and try their skill. They were staggered at the claim. They reminded him that no king, lord, or ruler had ever asked for such an extravagant and impossible thing before; and told him that what they could not do, no one could do except the "gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh." This was true. No one but God could tell the dream and the interpretation thereof. But there was one in his court whom God knew well. Let us look at the vision and the interpretation. The vision, then, consisted of an image, a majestic image, not like some of those which at times appear in our dreams, monstrous and distorted, but symmetrical. It was in the form of a man. But its material was not uniform. Its head was resplendent gold; and not merely gold, but fine gold, gold that had been purified. Then came the breast and the arms, and these were composed of the metal next in preciousness — they were of silver. Below these were the thighs, which were of inferior metal still; and then came the legs of iron; and last of all came the feet, which were part of iron and part of clay. This was the vision, and doubtless as soon as Daniel had finished the description it would be recognised by Nebuchadnezzar as true, just as memory promptly verifies what we had for a moment forgotten, as soon as it is brought to our mind by another. Then comes the interpretation. It promised well at the beginning. It seemed to be very flattering to the king, for he was the head of gold. But the cup of comfort was dashed from his lips at the next sentence, for it speaks of a kingdom that should rise after him. Startling intelligence for the proud and powerful king that he was to pass away. So much for the head. But what of the silver breast and arms? This was the Medo-Persian dynasty, which was established during the life of Cyrus, who marched through the earth with resistless armies, melting the nations as the sun melts structures of snow, and subduing them to his sway. It was touching him that the handwriting on the wall gleamed forth Belshazzar's fatal doom, "Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians." But was even this to last? No; a few years only should elapse, and then a brazen kingdom should arise under the victorious sway of Philip and his son Alexander the Groat, the latter of whom, at the close of his sanguinary battles, finding himself the conqueror of the world, sat down and wept that nothing more was left for his ambition. Surely that kingdom will endure. Look at it. It is so vast. It comprises Macedonia — it comprises Greece — it comprises Persia — it comprises Media — it comprises Asia Minor — it comprises Egypt — it comprises Afghanistan and the Punjaub. Surely such a kingdom will endure. There is not a power in the world to resist him, to fight with him. Alexander is emperor of the earth. But at length he died, and another power arose which is set forth in the iron legs of the great image. Before the prowess of Rome the Greece-Macedonian empire succumbed like a pigmy in the grasp of a giant, a giant which extended its sway more widely than any previous kingdom. Its empire was about two thousand miles in breadth. Its length extended three thousand miles, from the Western Ocean to the Euphrates. It razed Carthage to the ground — it subdued Spain and Gaul — it attacked England and Scotland — it triumphed in Judaea — and to this day may be seen, in Rome, the stone from which the miles were measured throughout the enormous extent of its dominion. But the iron which broke in pieces all else was itself mixed with clay in the toes of the feet, signifying that the Roman empire should be partly weak and partly strong. This wonderful prediction, uttered six hundred years before the birth of Christ, was accomplished with the most literal exactness. It was the forestalling of a series of events which no human sagacity could possibly infer from the condition of things at the time of Daniel. Nay, it was the declaration of what then seemed impossible. But the God to whom prophecy is history, who sees the end from the beginning, who causes weak things to confound the mighty, and things which are not to bring to nought things that are, displayed this wondrous succession of dynasties as in a panorama before the mind of Daniel. And there is one thing which we must very specially note. It is this — that the dream of Nebuchadnezzar did not represent the mere decay of one kingdom through successive stages of diminishing grandeur and power until it finally collapsed in its feet of clay and iron. This might have been in keeping with the general character of the image itself, and Daniel might have said, "Thy kingdom, which is now of gold, shall become at length silver, after that it shall degenerate into brass, then it shall be transformed into iron, and shall finish its course in iron mixed with clay." This has been the history of some nations, but it was not to be the history of Babylon. It should perish in its grandeur. It should be smitten in its strength; so should the Persian, so should the Macedonian; while the Roman power, on the other hand, should, after centuries of imperial rule, sink Slowly into decay, being at length divided into ten minor monarchies. This was one part of the sublime and impressive vision by which the sleep of Nebuchadnezzar was troubled on that memorable night. Now we turn to look at another. The object at which we have been looking was an image at rest, a colossal monument standing, as it were, in solitary grandeur in the midst of an expanded plain. But yonder in the distance, on the edge of the horizon, is seen another object. It is not at rest. It moves. It moves, too, of its own accord: It comes nearer. And lo! it is a stone; a stone which bears no marks of the delver's art and power. It does not bear the dint of hammer nor the scratch of crowbar. It has been out out of the mountain without hands. And this is not all. It grows as it rolls, unlike other stones, which, whether rolling in river or down the hill-side, lose something of their size from moment to moment, the very friction chipping them or wearing them away. This stone expanded as it moved, rose higher, spread wider, advanced with more terrible momentum. But what of the image? Was that left standing? No. Nebuchadnezzar saw the stone roll onwards in the direction of the image with silent and majestic force, like a very symbol of omnipotence, and it was not arrested by the colossal monument and driven back. The stone smote the image on the feet — that is, at its very foundations — and the heterogeneous mass fell down. But it did not lie prostrate in its completeness as when a hurricane wind upheaves a pine tree from its rooting and lays it like a giant on the ground. The stone rolled over it, and broke it in pieces, and ground it to dust, and the wind carried the particles away so that no place was found for them. And the stone ceased not, but rolled on, growing as it rolled, until it filled the whole earth.
I. We see in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar THE GREAT FACT THAT THE KINGDOM OF GOD, THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST, THE KINGDOM OF TRUTH, IS AT LENGTH TO BE SUPREME OVER ALL OTHER KINGDOMS. Other kingdoms have always hitherto represented ideas and forces of evil. From the beginning, even down to the present moment, there has not yet been one kingdom which has aimed supremely at the well-being of the world. All of them, without exception, have been selfish and aggressive, aiming at the accession of territory and the augmentation of power and wealth. There have been men who have aimed at blessing others without dreaming of any blessing for themselves. But there has never been any nation which has been inspired with such noble aspirations. There is not one now. England, as one of the great dynasties of the world, is not contemplating any such purpose. She is seeking trade, wealth, territory, dominion, as other powers have done before her. Nations look at each other with jealousy and distrust and passion, as if they had only to fear danger from each other. But they do not take account of that invisible kingdom which is working behind and through them all, and which, by its secret and Divine power, can undermine their foundations. The image which Nebuchadnezzar saw did not fall of its own accord. It was not destroyed by a band of enemies. It did not crumble to pieces by natural decay. It was not upheaved by earthquake or consumed by fire. It was destroyed by miracle, by a stone cut out of the mountain without hands. The same Divine power formed it that made the world, and it rolled along under the same invisible impulse which wheels the planets in their courses. The gospel is always represented as an exotic — a plant brought from Heaven to earth. It is not the offspring of human genius, of human culture, or of human virtue. The grapes of the Gospel could not grow on the thorns of human nature. How little man could do in the way of elaborating a saving system of truth may be seen by what man did actually do in the most enlightened nation of the world. In his wisdom he knew not God. For thousands of years the problem of human redemption through the power of unaided human genius and virtue had a fair trial. But how did it succeed? Men became warriors, statesmen, scholars, philosophers, poets — but redeemers, never. Here and there sprang up in a few hearts the conviction that man was, somehow, far beneath what he should be, but no help came — no help could come unless it came from above. And it came in the incarnation of our Lord. He was the stone cut out of the mountain without hands. Men have striven to account for Him without the acceptance of His Divine nature and mission. It is vain. They cannot account for Him. No man can rise above the essential conditions of the race to which be belongs. Christ was far above them — He was a stone cut out of the mountain without hands. All other men have been born in the ordinary way of succession. Christ was conceived of the Virgin Mary. He was a stone cut out of the mountain without hands. Of all the unnumbered millions that have trodden the earth there has not been one who, in virtue of his own power, could escape the stroke of death; but Christ possessed the prerogative of defying the assault of the universal foe, exclaiming, "No man taketh away My life from Me: I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." He was the stone out out of the mountain without hands. We do not despise the stones which have been cut out of the mountain with hands; in other words, we despise no true thing, no human work which is beautiful, no human deed which is right, no human word which is noble, no human improvements which ameliorate the condition of the world. All hail inventions, laws, education, which enable the race to rise even by a single step out of its ignorance and degradation and misery; but the great image of evil will stand against them all, firm as the rocky headlands against wind and waves, and will fall only before the majestic movement, and the Divine force of the "stone which has been cut out of the mountain without hands." Such is the origin of the stone. It is supernatural, and it is from Heaven.
II. We notice THE APPARENT CONTRAST BETWEEN THE AGENT WHICH DESTROYS EVIL AND THE EVIL WHICH IS TO BE DESTROYED. A stupendous image — that is the evil; a stone, quite small at first, cut out of the mountain without hands — that is the good. That which is to destroy evil is at first little and despised; and men laugh at it, and treat it with mockery, even as David was treated when he stood forth as the foe of, the Philistine giant. What was Christ to all appearance, that He should assume the part of the destroyer of evil? He was as a root out of a dry ground. He had no form nor comeliness. He was but a rod out of the stem of Jesse. His cradle was a manger at His birth, and He had no settled home when He had entered on His ministry. Look at Him — this Galilean peasant — with few friends, with no favour from the great, with the hostility of kings and priests and rulers of the people, with a face of sorrow and a heart of woe. He it is who claims to be the light of the world, and who, knowing that He would die on the accursed wood, said, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me." Is that the man who is destined to universal empire — an empire not won by force, but by love; not by wounding, but by healing; not by destruction, but by salvation? Ah! that stone cut out of the mountains without hands, does it not seem small, too small to smite anything, still less the kingdoms of this world? Look at Him when "He hangs lifeless on the cross, when He lies lifeless in the grave, dead as the stony sepulchre in which He is entombed! That stone seems harmless now against all evil, hemmed in by rock and seal and soldiery. From that day the stone has rolled on and on, and is rolling still. On the day that our Saviour rose from the dead there was not one man, perchance, in England who had ever heard of His name. Our fathers were then but savages, dwelling in trackless forests; now we are baptized in His name. This day is called after Him — the Lord's day. Our monarchs are consecrated in His name. The symbol of that Cross on which He hung is seen surmounting our churches, and glittering on every side as an ornament of person and of home. The nations that believe in Him are rising, the nations that reject Him are sinking; for the kingdoms and the nations that will not serve Him shall perish. But why shall they perish? They shall perish because they have no life in them; because they lack that spiritual leaven which alone can preserve nations from their doom. But this is as true of men as of nations. Sadly should we fail to realise the full import of this dream if ere did not bring it home to our own hearts.
(E. Mellor, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.