The Sweep of Human History
March 3rd, 1968 @ 8:15 AM
THE SWEEP OF HUMAN HISTORY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-3-68 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message from the second chapter of the Book of Daniel. The message is entitled The Sweep of Human History. In the sermon last Sunday morning, we presented the first part of the second chapter of the Book of Daniel. This is the story of the king’s dream, the dream God gave to Nebuchadnezzar that frightened him and troubled him [Daniel 2:1-18]. Then in the story, the revealed secret of that dream is made known to Daniel, and he is brought before the presence of the monarch [Daniel 2:19-30]. Then he speaks, Daniel speaks, beginning at 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 head of the image was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass,
His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.
Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands…
The sermon this morning is cut in two; there’s no time to present it all. And next Sunday morning I shall preach on this mystic stone,
Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were made of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces.
Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.
This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king.
So this morning we shall speak of this sweep of human history; then next Sunday morning we shall speak of that mystic stone that smote the image upon its feet, that destroyed it, and that itself grew to be a great mountain that filled the whole earth [Daniel 2:34-35].
What appeared to the king as a terrible nightmare was not such at all, but it was a revelation from God. Daniel 2:19, “Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision.” And Daniel sees the same dream that God had given to the king. And in outlining what the king had seen, he twice uses this same adjective: “Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image” [Daniel 2:31]. Then he uses that word again, “This great image”; that is, it was a colossal thing, it was gigantic, it was stupendous. And not only was its size colossal, but it was brilliant, it was dazzling bright, “and the form thereof was terrible” [Daniel 2:31]. It was awesomely colossal. The brightness of the metal, the size of its stature, the visage, it was a most frightful looking appearance.
Now the interpretation is given to the king of what he saw. “The image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay” [Daniel 2:32-33]; it was an unusual vision. Now in the interpretation, we are going to be introduced to a new era in humanity, in the story of the human race, and in God’s dealings with His chosen people and with us who belong to the Gentile world. What the king saw and what Daniel outlined, our Savior called, in Luke 21:24, “the times of the Gentiles.” And this is what Daniel means when he interprets the vision and begins like this:
Thou, O king, you, Nebuchadnezzar, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, strength, and glory.
And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field, the fowls of heaven hath He given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.
Now when Daniel addresses the king, and says to him, “And wheresoever the children of men dwell, their land and country, the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air that fly over it, all,” that includes Judah, that includes the children of Israel, that includes God’s chosen family and nation, “all of them hath He delivered in thy hands” [Daniel 2:38]. This is the new departure, and this is what Daniel meant when he addressed the king in the interpretation of the vision that he saw: “All of this, including the chosen kingdom and family of God, all of it hath God given into your hands. Thou art this head of gold” [Daniel 2:38]. So Babylon is the first political, prophetic kingdom in that long sweep of human history that we know as “the times of the Gentiles” [Luke 21:24].
Now I want to describe that to you, so you will have that firmly fixed in your mind. For this is the key vision to all prophecy and to all history, this vision you have just heard read from the second chapter of the Book of Daniel [Daniel 2:31-38]. It had been God’s purpose that the governmental administration of the world should have been through Israel. That was the ordination of God. The leadership and the rulership and the governmental leadership of the world was to be through His chosen people. In the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy, I read, “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance” [Deuteronomy 32:8-9]. And out of that center, out of God’s portion, out of the inheritance that the Lord reserved for Himself, namely Israel, all the families and all the nations of the world were to be divided, and their boundaries set, and the center of it all was to be God’s chosen family. Now that was the Lord’s original purpose; that was His intent for Israel, to be the leader of all of the nations of the earth. Now God purposed another thing: the Lord God purposed that the King of Israel was to be His incarnate Son and that as King over Israel, and as King over all the peoples and nations of the earth, righteousness and truth and justice were to be administered [Psalm 2]. For example, there is no passage in the Old Testament that is more messianic, more truly messianic than the second Psalm. And in that second Psalm, I read, God in heaven speaking, “Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: The Lord hath said unto Me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee”; God speaking to His only begotten Son. Then God adds, “Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the nations for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession” [Psalm 2:6-8]; and then the psalm continues [Psalm 2:9-12]. It was the purpose of God that the central nation of all the earth should have been Israel; and it was the purpose of God that their King, their Messiah, should be the Lord over all of the earth, God incarnate, and that out of Him and His throne should administrative justice and truth flow like a fountain, like a river.
How did that come out? The story is very tragic. Israel failed God grievously and utterly. The northern ten tribes by political, volitional choice entered into national idolatry, and they were destroyed by Assyria [2 Kings 17:5-23]. And the two southern tribes known as Judah, Judah and Benjamin, and the Southern Kingdom morally rebelled against God and also entered into idolatry [2 Kings 21:1-15]. And God finally delivered Judah into the hands of the Babylonians [2 Kings 25:8-21]. And that is what Daniel meant when he said that the scepter, and the rulership, and the intent and purpose of God has been transferred from Israel and from Judah and from the holy nation into Gentile hands [Daniel 2:37-38]. That is, Jerusalem is down, and Babylon is up. The time of the Jews has ended, and the time of the Gentiles has begun [Daniel 2:37-38]. Politically, Jerusalem is a cipher, it is nothing. And politically, Babylon has become the head of the world. This is the transfer of the rulership and the intent of God from the hands of Judah and Israel and God’s holy nation into the hands of the Gentiles. This is the beginning of the times of the Gentiles [Daniel 2:37-38].
Now, I want to speak further that that might be fastened in our mind. Daniel begins with the besieging of Jerusalem in 605 BC. Daniel begins with that first initial captivity [Daniel 1:1-6]. That is the beginning of the seventy years captivity prophesied by Jeremiah [Jeremiah 25:11]. And that captivity ended in the first year of Cyrus, in 536 BC; from 605 to 536, Daniel’s life spanned it all [Ezra 1:3]. Now, when Jerusalem fell into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar [Daniel 1:1-6], that is also the beginning—as we have said—of the times of the Gentiles [Daniel 2:37-38]; and the Jewish nation and Jerusalem never recovered from that deliverance into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. And from that day until this, Israel has been in pieces, and in parts, and in remnants, and is a subject nation.
The illustration that people use today of the rise of the national life of Israel—which the American government under Truman recognized in May of 1948—this is a harbinger, and it is a portent, it is a sign of what is yet to be. But the nation is still a subject nation. They are dependent upon the great powers of the earth for their support. And I would suppose, for example, if the United States were to withdraw her sustaining hand, Israel would be destroyed overnight by the Arab enemies around her, and the bitterness of Russia toward her. She is dependent for her arms and for the delivery of her weapons of defense from other nations outside her. I am just saying that from the time that Nebuchadnezzar came and besieged Jerusalem [2 Kings 25:8-10], from that day until this, Israel, God’s people, are in pieces, in parts, they are in segments, they are buried in the nations of the earth, they are in remnants.
Now the Lord said that that would continue until the times of the Gentiles shall end [Luke 21:24]. The time of the Gentiles therefore is this long period of history when Israel is a subject nation to the Gentile powers of the earth. And Jerusalem will be a subject city, subject to the great powers of the earth, until the consummation of the age [Luke 21:24]—and that will lie in these sermons that lie ahead.
Now, we have so much to say, and I want to say it. First, let us look, let us look at the metallic substances of this great image. “Thou did see a great image, and the head was of fine gold” [Daniel 2:31-32]. And in the interpretation, that is the golden head representing Babylon [Daniel 2:38]. And how fine a choice—in each instance—of these metals. You’ll never see, in any inscription of Nebuchadnezzar, any reference to iron. But how many times will you see a reference to gold. The great Greek historian, the father of history, Herodotus, visited Babylon within ninety years after the Nebuchadnezzarian era, and he remarked and wrote of the amazing amount of gold that he found, for example, in the precincts of the god Baal. And here is an inscription from Nebuchadnezzar, “That house, that golden house, I caused to be made for gazing, and for the beholding of a multitude of the people, the awe of power, the dread of the splendor of sovereignty, its sides be girt.” He made it a golden city for the gazings and the beholding and the awe of the people. This is the golden head of Babylon [Daniel 2:38].
The breast and the arms are of silver, and this is so reflective of the Medo-Persian Empire [Daniel 2:32]. In all of the Semitic languages, the word for “silver” is also the same word for “money.” And the Medo-Persian Empire developed a system of taxation that brought untold quantities of silver into the coffers of the king. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Daniel, in verse 2, it refers to the riches of the king of Persia, Xerxes [Daniel 11:2]. Those riches were hoarded because of the system of taxation devised by his father Darius, without which Xerxes could not at all have gathered together that vast motley army for the invasion across the Hellespont of Greece. Silver is the Medo-Persian Empire.
His belly and his thighs of brass [Daniel 2:32]. When Josephus speaks of that in his Antiquities of the Jews, immediately he sees that it refers to Greece. For from the days of Homer, the Greeks were known for their brazen armor, their brass weapons. I want to show you how that was so distinctive. When you saw, had you seen, a Mede or a Persian, he would have been dressed with a tunic, he would have been dressed with a soft hat, a turban, he would have been dressed with a tunic with sleeves, he would have been dressed with full trousers. That would have been a Mede soldier or a Persian soldier. But when the Greek soldier appeared, he had a helmet, and a breastplate, and a shield, and a sword of brass. And it was a tremendous distinction! And the whole Greek nation came to be known as the brazen Greeks. And they traded in brass. In the twenty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel, for example, in the wares that are traded in the marketplace of Tyre, there are those of Javan, in brass, vessels of brass [Ezekiel 27:13]. Well, Javan is just another spelling of “Ionians,” the Ionic Greeks who lived on the seacoast of Asia Minor. Brass speaks of the Greek in poetry, in literature, everywhere.
His legs of iron [Daniel 2:33]: and that spoke of the Roman Empire. There’s not a schoolboy or girl but that is familiar with the phrase “the iron legions of Rome.” The extensive use of iron was contemporaneous with the rise of the Roman Empire, and they traded brass for the iron sword, and iron shield, and the iron breastplate, and the iron helmet. And the distinctive weapon of the Roman was the iron pilum. It was a sharp spear-pointed piece with a long iron shaft that was fastened to a shaft of wood, and the iron coming up about one-third of the distance of the shaft; used as a pike and used as a javelin. That was the distinctive sword of the Roman. The iron legs, East and West; and then finally dissolving into the feet and toes, part of iron and part of clay [Daniel 2:33].
Now in the brief moment that remains, let us look at the meaning of these separate metals. It has a tremendous meaning, what God revealed here in this vision to the king and the interpretation of it to Daniel [Daniel 2:26-45]. First of all, let us look at these metals in their, in their rising, their ascending strength. This was one of the things that was noticed by Josephus. Now I’m quoting from his Antiquities, and these are the words that he puts into the mouth of Daniel, as he interprets this vision:
Daniel speaks, The head of gold denotes thee and the kings of Babylon that have been before thee. But the two hands and arms signify this: that your government shall be dissolved by two kings, that is Cyrus and Darius, and another king. After that another, king shall come from the West armed with brass; and he shall destroy that government. And another kingdom that shall be like unto iron shall put an end to the power of the former, and shall have dominion over all the earth on account of the nature of iron, which is stronger than that of gold, of silver, and of brass.
So Josephus saw in that series of metallic representations an ascendancy in the strength of the succeeding empires. Silver is stronger than gold; and the Medo-Persian kingdom will be stronger than Babylon. But brass is stronger than silver; and the battles of Marathon and Thermopylae and Salamis were but harbingers of the coming of the brass kingdom of Greece. And iron is stronger than brass, which is a representation of the tremendous strength of the Roman Empire. In this second chapter alone, I counted the number of times that the word “iron” is used; and it is used fourteen times in this interpretation of that dream alone [Daniel 2]; the strength of iron.
You see, the kingdoms were like this, according to that vision and according to its working out in history: the Medo-Persian kingdom was built on the ruins of the Babylonian kingdom, and the Greek kingdom was built on the ruins of the Medo-Persian kingdom, and the Roman kingdom was built upon the ruins, and include the parts of them all, the Roman kingdom, made out of iron, included all of the known and civilized world. And that is also seen in the duration of these separate kingdoms. The Babylonian kingdom lasted seventy years. The Medo-Persian kingdom lasted two hundred years. The Greek kingdom lasted a hundred thirty years. But the Roman kingdom of iron, undivided, lasted five hundred years; the eastern part of the Roman Empire lasted until 1453 AD, when it was overrun by the Turks. When I was in Constantinople in 1950, they were preparing for the five hundredth anniversary of the overwhelming of Constantinople by the Turks. To them it was a great hour of celebration and year of commemoration. To me it was the saddest thing in the whole story of human history—how long that Roman Empire lasted.
Now the other side of it: and in the feet and in the toes [Daniel 2:41-42], the Roman Empire, the Greco-Roman civilization comes down to us today. We ourselves today are a part of that Greco-Roman civilization. All of our roots, all of our studies go back to the days of the Roman Empire and the Greek Empire.
Now, having said that, I want to point out to you what to me is the most terrific and startling of all of the arrangements in this vision, and it is this: the descent of the quality of those metals! It started with gold; and the gold turned to silver; and the silver turned to brass; and the brass turned to iron; and the iron turned finally to mud [Daniel 2:32-35]. Now that is what God depicted as a story of human history. There is a descent in the metal that is very significant and very startling and very astonishing. Now I want to look at that in the few minutes that remain.
It descends in quality: gold to silver to brass to iron to mud [Daniel 2:41-43]. In other words, God is saying that there is a deterioration, there is a declension in all history: national life, personal life, domestic life, social life. There is a descendency in it, there is a deterioration in it; it goes down. Can that be verified in history? Do nations decline? Do social institutions decline? Do families decline? Personally, do people decline? God says yes, and history says yes.
Another thing, there is a declension in cohesiveness: the head of gold, then there is a duality in the arms; then there is a duality in the legs; and finally that duality, that inability to cohere together is tenfold in the feet and the toes [Daniel 2:37-43]. Is this true in history? Is that verified? God says that people and nations have a tendency to pull apart. National life is like that; witness it here today in America, the pulling apart in America. Why, our nation is literally frightened of what may happen this summer in our own country, in our own cities—“Burn baby burn,” the pulling apart in national life. How much more the pulling apart of international life; the breaking of covenants and the discarding of alliances? God says that there is at work in human history this lack of cohesiveness, this pulling apart. Why, Africa has fallen into so many different little countries, that I have no idea how to pronounce the names of them. And seemingly one is born every day. The pulling apart of peoples.
Now the big thing to me, the deterioration; God says, that is in all existence, all of it: the gold to silver, to brass, to iron, to mud [Daniel 2:37-43]. Is that true? I don’t know of a better way to judge the inspiration of God’s Word [2 Timothy 3:16], than just to look at what God says, and then see if it can be verified in human history; and you’ve got thousands and thousands of years in which to do it. All right, let’s see if that’s true or not.
Let’s take the whole universe for example. The universe is like a giant clock that somebody wound up, and it’s been running down ever since; down, and down, and down. When you have atomic fission, what you’re doing is you are releasing energy in a substance that falls down and breaks down into a lesser substance. You cannot create upwardness in substance; you cannot do it. When gasoline is exploded and it loses its energy, it breaks down into component parts, and you can’t put it back together again. The release of energy is a release of energy, energy that was put in this universe in the beginning; and it’s been running down ever since, the entire universe, all existence is like that. The sun gradually losing its energy; the whole universe is like that. In the beginning it was like a big clock somebody wound up. Who wound it up? God wound it up. And it’s been running down ever since.
All right, human life is like that. It has a running downwardness in it. Now isn’t that funny? Darwin says just the opposite. Darwin says that it should have been a head of mud, and then gradually it ascends, and it ascends, and it ascends, until finally we come to the winged feet of the archangels. That’s what Darwin says. Is that so? All you have to do is open your eyes and look! In the animal world that he used to illustrate his point, in the animal world do you find that true? Take the finest breed of cattle, and just let them go; and they will run down, just like that until you won’t recognize the scrawny scrags that they become. Take the finest breed of horses, and let it run its course, just let it alone, and it will run down clear to mud, little old scrawny animals you wouldn’t recognize. The tendency of all life is to run down; just like God says here in this image, finally to mud [Daniel 2:41-43].
Now let’s take humanity. How are we faring in the human race? How are we faring? Of course, [Darwin] says, from mud, up and up and up and up and up until finally to the archangels we’re going to be. Is that so? Well, let’s look at it. You’ve got thousands of years, just look, that’s all; just look. I’m going to choose a man who lived three thousand five hundred years ago. That’s a little spell, three thousand five hundred years ago; long enough for us to look at him. His name is Moses. His name is Moses. At a hundred twenty years of age his eye was not dim, nor was his natural strength abated [Deuteronomy 34:7]. You’ve got a man in the world to put beside him? You? You? Anybody, you? Why, scour the earth, there’s nothing to keep you from doing it; scour the earth, produce any man today that could stand beside Moses, a hundred twenty years of age, and his eye was not dim and his natural force unabated. Why, I got to use these pesky things to read close print with now, and I’m only—I’m old enough. Yet I thought we were coming up and up and up! Listen, we haven’t even started.
Did you know in one period of time, in one period of time, back yonder hundreds of years before Christ, there was a galaxy of heroes, and poets, and artists, and architects, and statesman, and orators, and philosophers beyond anything the world had ever seen. Why, did you know that almost in the same generation there lived Miltiades the great general of Marathon, there lived Themistocles and Aristides and Pericles, the great statesmen of Athens. And almost in that same generation, there lived Aeschylus, and Euripides, and Sophocles, the great tragedian dramatists. And in that same generation there lived Phidias, the immortal sculptor who created the Parthenon. And almost in that same generation, right by the side of it, was Socrates and Plato and Aristotle. And Aristotle was the tutor and teacher of Alexander the Great, against whom Demosthenes thundered his Philippics. Show me any time in history since that you have a galaxy of glorious men like that. All you got to do—it’s a free world—look, look, you will always find that history runs in the mold of God’s prophecy, always!
I’m going to take time though, my time’s already gone. I want to apply this to civilization, civilization. You get your eyes blinded by the gadgets, little old things, buttons you can push, and little old wheels that turn, and by the buttons you push and the wheels you turn; your eyes get blinded to the great truths of Almighty God. All right, I want to take one other; the development of civilization in the Christian era. Wouldn’t you think, “Man alive, brother, if there’s any coming-upness in human history, you’re going to see it in the preaching of the gospel. If there’s any possibility of an ascending, of an ascendancy, of an upwardness, you’ll find it in the propagation of the gospel of the Son of God.” I have chosen to read—and with this I have to quit; I’ve already gone beyond the time—one passage from the immortal and far-famed pastor of the First Baptist Church in New York City, I. N. Haldeman, as he looked upon World War I. Now I want you to notice his emphasis as I read this. What in the world would that man say if he were living today? Now listen to him, I quote:
In the centers of civilization supposed supreme, and in those nations where kings and sovereigns claim to have received their scepters from the right hand of the Son of God Himself, in those nations above all others calling themselves Christian, millions of armed men drawn from every rank of life are leaping at one other’s throats like wild beasts, drunken with one another’s blood. Smoke and flame are going up from burning towns and cities. Women are ravished in the open sunlight. Children are mutilated. And all the fabric of a civilization woven together through the sacrifice and devotion of long and painful centuries has been torn apart, and the priceless texture flung broadcast upon the cyclonic winds of an excuseless and lawless desolation. All the standards of righteousness, of sacred truth and honor, the fealty of man to man and all the worthfulness and sanctity of life have been trampled into the mire and slush and multiplying streams of wasted blood!
This was his description of what was happening to the Christian nations so-called in his day and time. The Lord only knows what he would say as we face the atomic holocaust into which gradually and inexorably we’re being drawn. God says there is a downwardness in this.
We are learning how to use atomic energy, but the prophecy was made if it were ever discovered it would be used in war. And the first and only time we were introduced to it, it was in a bomb. That’s God.
Well, this is why I dislike cutting the sermon in two: you would think that when Daniel had delivered his message and interpretation from gold down to mud [Daniel 2:36-43], you would think that he was plunged into despair. Well, not at all, not at all; for this is the revelation and the background of the mystic stone [Daniel 2:34-35, 45]. And that’ll be the sermon next Sunday. For us who lift up our faces and believe in Jesus, it’s triumph, and it’s victory, and it’s glory, what God shall do.
Now, Lee Roy, let’s sing our song, and we’re way late. And you who today would give your heart to Jesus and would put your life in the fellowship of our dear church, you must come on the first note of this first stanza. And then I’ll dismiss the people who have responsibilities in Sunday school to go to their places; and the rest of us will stay here and rejoice with you who come. But on the first note of this first stanza, you must come. And decide to do it now, and we’ll wait for you all morning long if it takes it to come from that back top seat of the balcony down here to the front. To give your heart to Jesus, or to put your life in the circle of this dear church, come immediately, while we stand and while we sing.