Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Fifth Empire

Daniel 2 is a fascinating trip through the history of human accomplishment. A panoply of the greatest and most powerful Gentile empires in world history, most of them then-future, is revealed by God to the king of the Chaldeans in a dream.

Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a great image in the form of a man. We would probably be better to call it a statue than an image because it had substance as well as appearance. The head of the statue was gold, the chest and arms were silver, the belly and thighs were bronze, the legs were of iron, and the feet and toes a mixture of iron and clay.

Empire Pluses and Minuses

Each of these substances has its pluses and minuses: gold is the most precious, but is also comparatively soft. Pure silver has almost 50% more tensile strength than gold, but silver is more affected by oxygen and tarnishes easier, and is therefore less valuable. Bronze is a copper/tin alloy that won’t rust, is easy to forge and sharpen, sturdy enough to last, but more commonplace than either silver or gold. Iron is the strongest of all, but there is nothing particularly attractive about it. Women do not generally covet iron jewelry. As for clay, it is certainly useful if you have nothing better to work with, but you can find it anywhere, and it is nowhere near as desirable as any of the metals.

Each successive substance and part of the statue also corresponds to an empire, and few in all the many years I’ve been hearing the king’s dream interpreted have had a great deal of difficulty establishing the identity of the vast majority of these component parts, especially once Daniel tells us the head of gold represents the Babylonian Empire, and that the other parts of the statue correspond to a succession of world empires that would follow it chronologically.

Blurring the Edges

No attempt is made to represent every major kingdom in world history: God is picking and choosing here, and he is not interested in either empires that predate Babylon (Egypt, Assyria, Akkad) or the vast majority of those that followed Rome to the pinnacle of dominance. The issues involved have little to do with numbers conquered and square miles of territory dominated. The metrics of Gentile “greatness” on the world stage are spiritual rather than material — and by “spiritual” I do not mean “moral”.

There is also a blurring of the edges between empires which occurs naturally, as successive powers absorb and make use of the culture, discoveries and intellectual capital of the nations they conquer. You would not make a statue of pure gold or pure silver; both precious metals would be too fragile. As a little bit of impurity adds strength to gold or silver, a little bit of genetic admixture and cultural appropriation actually helps the coherence of an empire, provided the numbers and influence are not overwhelming. This is what Nebuchadnezzar was attempting when he brought Daniel and other Judean youths to Babylon to be educated. He wanted to strengthen his kingdom and cause it to endure by integrating into it the best of the best. But one must be careful: add too much of any one dilutive ingredient and you no longer have gold or silver at all. Add too many Goths to the Roman Empire and, well, we all know how that turned out.

The Traditional Interpretation

There is widespread agreement with the traditional identification of the first four kingdoms, usually arrived at by comparing the component parts of the statue in Daniel 2 with the four beasts of Daniel 7, a different means of depicting the same four empires: Babylon (gold), Medo-Persia (silver), Greece (bronze) and Rome* (iron). Some interpreters see in the statue’s iron legs the division in the Roman Empire between East and West that occurred in the mid-fourth century, and some even go as far as identifying the ten toes with the ten horns of Daniel 7:7, 20.

This view of the first four components of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue is so common that even Wikipedia refers to it as the “traditional interpretation of the four kingdoms, shared among Jewish and Christian expositors for over two millennia”, though other identifications have certainly been advanced. I have not seen the meaning of any of these first four symbolic representations credibly disputed. The Jewish Talmud, medieval Jewish commentators, Christian Church Fathers, Jerome and Calvin concur with what I learned in church growing up. For our purposes, we will take this view as given and move on.

The Fifth Empire

What interests me here is thinking a little about the fifth (composite) empire, which represents the final stage of Gentile rule on earth prior to the establishment of Christ’s kingdom and his millennial reign. Given that this last kingdom falls at the end of human history, it is easy to see how successive generations of Daniel’s readers might have been predisposed to see the geopolitical landscape of their own day as more significant than was actually merited, and identify some present, growing threat with Daniel’s empire of iron and clay. And yet many years have passed, and many speculative identifications have failed. Here we are in 2022, still waiting for the fifth empire to arrive, and the temptation is to look around us for circumstances that might correspond to the vision in our own era. The advantage of doing it from the present perspective is that our speculations have yet to be disproved.

We should start by observing that the fifth empire has something to do with Rome. Bible scholars often refer to it as the “revived Roman Empire”, though the Bible itself does not. But since iron is one of the two ingredients in the feet and toes of the statue, it is reasonable to assume some aspect of the Roman Empire has survived to influence the final manifestation of Gentile world dominance. What that aspect might be is an interesting guessing game. It is doubtful it has much to do with modern Italy, which is as close to a pre-collapsed national entity as you are likely to find in Europe today. Nevertheless, it is evident that Rome was one of the three major influences on Western civilization (the others being the Germanic tribes and Christendom, which Rome co-opted and institutionalized around AD313). It is also not unreasonable to observe that whatever is left of Rome, both genetically and culturally, has filled Europe, North America and Australia. It exists in the West and pretty much nowhere else.

One recent attempt to identify the fifth empire singled out member states of the European Union as the ten subsidiary kingdoms represented by the horns of the fourth beast in chapter 7 and the toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. It is difficult to see how one gets ten toes out of an organization that began with six member states and now has 27, but let’s concede it’s possible that at one point the association with the number ten may become more obvious.

An Exchange of Seed

What is less often considered is the method by which the iron and clay are to be united. It’s right there in the text if we read it carefully:

Transliteration: ʿăraḇ zᵊraʿ

Hebrew: עֲרַב זְרַע

ESV translation: “will mix with one another in marriage

NLT: “will try to strengthen themselves by forming alliances with each other through intermarriage

NASB: “will combine with one another in their descendants

Literally, עֲרַב זְרַע means an “exchange of seed”. While this may simply be a metaphor, it is also distinctly possible that it was intended to be taken at face value: that the last world empire will not be simply a construction of paper alliances between diverse ethnic groups, of trade agreements or the establishment of common goals between nations, but rather a concerted and deliberate attempt to genetically undo the consequences of God’s judgment on erring humanity at Babel.

Race Mixing in the West

And let’s face it: race mixing in the West is unquestionably on the rise. In 2021, more people than ever self-identified as multiracial. “You’re seeing the future of America right now,” says Tony Luna. Race mixing is also being massively promoted in the media. The next time you watch an evening of TV, count the number of commercials with mixed-race couples. It will boggle your mind. The percentages we are seeing in our media wildly outstrip real-world numbers. This is not being done by accident: miscegenation is being deliberately mainstreamed. Moreover, over the last few years, billions of dollars have been pumped into promoting refugee migration into the West from the Third World by groups enthusiastic about producing a mixed-race West, and also by groups enthusiastic about diluting and weakening the Western influence in the world. The process may or may not have started organically, but numerous organizations profit when it is maximized, some with utopian ideas about the benefits of mixing races.

English professor Carol Spaulding-Kruse writes:

“I find hope in the realization that because humans decide what race means, humans can change what race means.

Meanwhile, when all of us become brown, we won’t be able to use the notion of race as justification to inflict suffering. But we won’t be able to claim an identity through it, either.

When all of us become brown, will that matter?”

Many powerful people think like Carol Spaulding-Krause, and believe that unity can be manufactured by carefully managing the breeding of the human population to excise the nasty tendency we have to group ourselves on the basis of our perceived identity.

The Morality of Race Mixing

For Christians, the morality of race mixing on a case-by-case basis should be a non-issue. In Christ, none of that cultural baggage should matter, and we are increasingly moving away from race-based considerations in choosing a life partner. That doesn’t mean being married to someone from a very different ethnic background and cultural upbringing is without its complications, but nobody I know can make a coherent argument that two Christians from different races who love each other and are committed to the Lord should be discouraged from giving it a shot.

However, morality is not primarily about the rightness or wrongness of any act in itself: morality or immorality always turns on motive. Race mixing on a case-by-case basis within the believing community (where the most important distinctions disappear in Christ) is wildly different from an organized campaign of massive race mixing among the general population (where all those cultural distinctions remain unaddressed) with the goal of subverting and destroying nationhood in the West and giving rise to the globalist empire of the beast of Revelation. One can be perfectly fine with the morality of race mixing on a case-by-case basis between Christians while being not fine at all with utopian social engineers deliberately mucking about with national identity in hope of returning to a pre-Babel state manufactured by nothing more than human effort.

Partly Strong and Partly Brittle

Such a campaign is bound to produce something exactly like we find described in Daniel 2: a “divided kingdom”, “partly strong and partly brittle”, that “will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay”. It will fail because it cannot possibly succeed. Outside of Christ, our differences are simply too great to disappear in even the most impressive and well-designed genetic blender.

It is this highly-compromised kingdom that is destroyed by the “stone cut from a mountain with no human hand” that breaks in pieces the iron, bronze, clay, silver and gold and becomes a great mountain that fills the whole earth.

I look forward to that, don’t you?

* I have seen arguments online for Islam rather than Rome as the fourth kingdom, but these are based on the amount of territory conquered, which is an irrelevant metric. The Medo-Persian Empire occupied more territory than the Babylonian, but is depicted as inferior in some sense from the heavenly perspective.

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