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Now the look was forward into the future. And the word came to pass. Babylon's decline was swift after Nebuchadnezzar's death. Daniel the prophet himself lived to interpret the handwriting on the wall at Belshazzar's feast:
"God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. .. Thou art weighed in the balances and art found wanting.
Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians." Dan. 5: 26-28.
The breast and arms of silver, in the great image, represented the Medo-Persian kingdom, which followed the Babylonian, "inferior” to it in brilliancy and grandeur, as silver is inferior to gold. Medo-Persia, however, enlarged the borders of the world empire; and the names of Cyrus and Darius are written among the mightiest conquerors of history.
But the prophet does not stop to dwell upon the grandeur of fleeting earthly kingdoms. The interpretation hastens on to reach the setting up of a kingdom that shall not pass away. Following Medo-Persia, a third power was to rise,
Grecia “And another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth."
The "third kingdom" after Babylon was Grecia, which overthrew the empire of the Medes and Persians. And Grecia's dominion fulfilled the specifications of the prophecy, which indicated a yet wider expansion of empire. Its sway was to be over "all the earth,” said Daniel the prophet, foretelling its history. Arrian, the Greek historian, writing afterward, said that Alexander of Greece seemed truly “lord of all the earth;" and he adds:
"I am persuaded there was no nation, city, nor people then in being whither his name did not reach; for which reason, whatever origin he might boast of, or claim to himself, there seems to me to have been some divine hand presiding both over his birth and actions.”—“History of the Expedition of Alexander the Great,” book 7, chap. 30.
The sides of brass in the great image represented Grecia, the brazen metal itself being a fitting symbol of those
“brazen-mailed" Greeks, celebrated in ancient poetry and song, “Among the foremost, armed in glittering brass."
A Power Rising in the West While Grecia's supremacy under Alexander was disputed by none, there was a power rising in the West that was soon to enter the lists for the prize of world dominion.
Some of the ancient writers say that at the time of his death Alexander had in mind to push westward to strike down the growing power of the city of Rome, of which he had heard. Plutarch says that this man Alexander, “who shot like a star, with incredible swiftness, from the rising to the setting sun, was meditating to bring the luster of his arms into Italy.
He had heard of the Roman power in Italy.”—“Morals,” chap. on “Fortune of the Romans,” par. 13. Lucan, the ancient Roman poet, repeats the thought:
“Driven headlong on by Fate's resistless force,
-"Pharsalia." But in the prime of his years, Alexander was cut down, and Rome had yet more time in which to develop its strength preparatory to the deciding contest for the mastery of all the world. Sure it is that after Grecia, there followed the Roman Empire, the strongest and mightiest and most crushing of them all. This fourth universal empire the prophet proceeded to describe, as represented by the legs of iron in Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the great image.
Rome "The fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise."
How appropriately the iron of the image fits the character of the fourth great empire! Gibbon, the historian, calls it “the iron monarchy of Rome." It broke in pieces the kingdoms, subduing all, just as prophecy had declared so long before. As iron is strongest of the common metals, so according to the prophecy —"as iron that breaketh all these”. this fourth kingdom was to be more powerful than any before it. Strabo, the geographer, who lived in the days of Tiberius Cæsar, said,
“The Romans have surpassed (in power) all former rulers of whom we have any record.”—“Geography,” book 17, chap. 3.
Hippolytus, bishop and martyr, who lived in Rome in the third century,- under the “iron monarchy,"— wrote thus of this prophecy:
“Already the iron rules; already it subdues and breaks all in pieces; already it brings all the unwilling into subjection; already we see these things ourselves.”—“Treatise on Christ and Antichrist,” sec. 33.
Hippolytus also saw clearly from the prophecy that the empire of his day would be divided, and he wrote of the kingdoms that were “yet to rise” out of it. For Daniel's interpretation explained clearly the meaning of the mingling of clay with the iron in the feet and toes of the great image.
The Kingdoms of Modern Europe “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.
“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."
"The kingdom shall be divided." So declared the prophet of God. In the height of its power, Rome scouted the thought that so mighty a fabric could ever be broken up. Horace sang in his “Odes," specifications of the closing portion of the outline will be fulfilled.
“How, added to a conquered world,
Euphrates ’bates his tide,
O'er straitened deserts ride.
“The Goths beyond the sea may plot,
The warlike Basques may plan;
Book 2, Marris's Translation. But the words were written on the ancient parchment in the days of Babylon, “The kingdom shall be divided;” and true to the word of the prophet, the Roman Empire fell apart with the mixture of nations and peoples that swept into it. The elements did not hold together, even as the mixture of iron and clay in the image did not cleave together. Broken up by the invasions of fresh nations from the north, the Western Empire was divided into lesser kingdoms, out of which have grown the modern nations of western Europe.
Not one word in the outline of the prophecy thus far has failed of fulfilment. These modern kingdoms growing out of divided Rome have never been reunited. “They shall mingle themselves with the seed of men," said the prophecy. Nearly all the reigning houses of Europe today are related by intermarriage; the prophecy said it would be so; but "they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay." So we see it. No statesman, no master of legions, has been able to join these nations together again in one great empire. Charles V had the thought in mind, some think. Napoleon dreamed of doing it. But it was not to be. Nevermore was there to be one universal monarchy.
We may know that as surely as the course of world empire has followed the exact outline of the prophecy put on the inspired record in the days of Babylon of old, just so surely the
The fourth great kingdom was to be divided. Rome was the fourth empire: it was divided. The kingdoms of the divided empire are acting their part before our eyes today.
The Next Great Event
And what next? That is the question for us. Now the prophetic outline that began with ancient Babylon touches the things of our own day. The word spoken before Nebuchadnezzar so long ago is now spoken especially to us:
“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 forever.
“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.”
“In the days of these kings,”— these kingdoms of our own time,- the next great world-changing event is to be the coming of Christ to begin the setting up of his everlasting kingdom. That is the grand climax toward which all the course of history has been tending. At last the end is to come.
“Down in the feet of iron and of clay,
Christ and His coming, and eternity.” As the stone, cut out of the mountain "without hands," smote the image, so that all its parts, representative of earthly dominion, were ground to dust and blown away, so Christ's coming kingdom, set up "without hands," by no human power, but by the power of the eternal God, will end all