Daniel Chapter 7: Daniel's Dream of Four Beasts
From about 1,000 to 900 BC Israel had been the most feared and admired nation on Earth. Then, following Solomon's death and the civil war that ensued, the nation had fallen from its exalted position into a kingdom divided over idolatry. Israel's enemies saw their chance and took it. First the Northern Kingdom was conquered in 701BC by Assyria and then the Southern Kingdom was carried away into slavery 100 years later at the hands of the King of Babylon.
Thus began The Times Of The Gentiles. Also known as Gentile Dominion, it will span over 2600 years from the Babylonian Captivity to the Millennial Kingdom as one gentile empire after another has had a hand at ruling the world, often subjugating Jerusalem in the process. Jesus said, "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." (Luke 21:24) and so it has been. Israel's recapture of the entire City of Jerusalem in June of 1967 and the events of our time are signs that the end of Gentile Dominion is upon us.
Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 give us two different overviews of Gentile world government during this period, man's and God's. As you can imagine they're substantially different. We'll look at things from man's perspective first.
Recall Nebauchanezzar¹s dream in Daniel 2:
"You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statueâ¤²an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:31-35)
"This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold. (Daniel 2:36-38)
Babylon was the country we know as Iraq today. Jeremiah, a contemporary of Daniel's who wrote from Jerusalem, had told envoys from each of Israel's neighbors that God was giving them two choices; surrender to the King of Babylon and live, or fight and die. God had chosen King Nebuchadnezzar to punish Israel's enemies for their past treacheries at the same time that he brought the judgment God decreed against Israel because of their idolatry. (Jeremiah 27:1-11) As a result, Babylon has wound up ruling the entire Middle East including parts of Egypt. But Daniel has just informed the King that any place on Earth that he desires will be given into his hands. Even the animals have been made subject to him. Nebuchadnezzar, representing Babylon, is the statue's head of gold.
"After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron - for iron breaks and smashes everything - and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others. Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay. (Daniel 2:39-43)
Knowing our history makes accurately interpreting this passage possible. Babylon was conquered by a coalition of the Medes (today's Kurds) and the Persians (Iran) at the end of the seventy-year period set aside for Israel's captivity. They're the chest and arms of silver. The Greek armies under Alexander conquered Persia and are represented by the belly and thighs of bronze. The legs of iron are the Eastern and Western divisions of the Roman Empire that displaced the Greeks, and from this point on we've switched from history to prophecy. The Roman Empire was never really conquered, but collapsed from the weight of its own decay, transforming itself from a political entity to a religious one in the process. The Holy Roman Empire held sway over the known world well into the middle ages. Since then various components have had their time in the sun, Spain, England, and now England's colony, the USA.
That leaves the 10 toes, a kingdom not yet in power, whose arrival on the world scene will be characterized by a coming together and splitting apart of components uncomfortable with each other. This possibly describes the European Union, a 27 nation confederacy. The number 10, like seven, is often used as a literary device symbolizing completeness, rather than a precise count. I must point out that nearly every generation has had some idea of what these ³10 nations² might be.
But don't forget, in Nebuchadnezzar's dream the statue had two legs, pointing to the Roman Empire's two components. The Eastern one was made up of much of today's Islamic world, while the Western one is called the EU today. Sometime soon we should see some kind of accommodation made to effectively but imperfectly unite these two legs. Perhaps the rampant "islamization" of Europe is an early sign of this.
And in the King James Version, Daniel 2:43 reads, "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." Miry clay apparently refers to pottery made of the recycled shards or broken pieces of different kinds of pottery ground into dust again and mixed with water to make a clay like substance. When dried, it was very brittle and easily broken. In Nebuchadnezzar's dream it's meant to symbolize the difficulty the end times Empire represented by the ten toes will have in staying together.
But then verse 43 says "they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men" Who is they? Is Daniel telling us that some non-human beings will attempt to join up with humans, or even mix themselves into the human gene pool? And if so, that they'll have a hard time remaining united? We can't tell, but some scholars say we shouldn't be surprised to learn that the return of the Nephilim is prophesied by this verse.
"In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands - a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.
"The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy." (Daniel 2:44-45)
But just when it looks like the 10 toes are finally becoming cohesive and are consolidating their power, the Lord will bring His greatest and final judgment upon the Earth. Every last vestige of the Gentile kingdoms will be destroyed, and the Lord Himself will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. Nor will it ever fall into the hands of others.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, "Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery."
Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel's request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court. (Daniel 2:46-49)
And so begins Daniel's remarkable career as chief advisor to first the King of Babylon, and then the King of Persia.
I said earlier that this vision represents man's view of Gentile Dominion, represented by shiny and precious metals. While each metal is less valuable than its predecessor, representing a decline in the quality of its rule, each one is also less malleable, harder and therefore stronger, representing increased power.
Many different commentaries claim that this chapter is not only the heart of the book of Daniel, it is quite possibly one of the most important passages in the entire canon of the OT.
Why? First, it is where this book suddenly turns from historical accounts to apocalyptic visions. (It is the last chapter written in Aramaic, possibly a deliberate choice to indicate a connection between the two halves of the book) Secondly, this chapter had enormous impact on subsequent Jewish writings, and the entire collection of subsequent apocalyptic literature. Thirdly, this is the most detailed and comprehensive prophecy of future events to be found anywhere in the OT.
Although Daniel had predicted the four great world empires and the second coming of Christ in the 2nd chapter, his details of these events are far greater in this chapter.
In the first year of Belshazzar the king of Babylon whose story was told in the 6th chapter, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.
The vision in chapter 7 occurred 50 years after Daniel 2. Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar's grandson, and Daniel was now an old man. The four winds of heaven symbolize a sovereign act of God, and the fact that these beasts come up from the sea hints that they represent the wickedness of Gentile Dominion. (Isaiah 57:20-21)
7:1-2 ³The sea² is a common symbolic term in scripture for the mass of humanity, or the collection of nations, not necessarily the literal ocean. It fits well, with the world of the unsaved, far from God, being in constant unrest and turmoil. then as well as today.
³The four winds² doesn¹t mean four specific kinds of winds, but is another symbolic description, meaning the world-wide factors of turmoil and disruption that are both from the work of men and from the work of Satan, all those various forces which bring strife and trouble on the nations of the earth.
7:3-4 Here is where there are two great schools of thought the ³Maccabean thesis² (from the work of the 3rd cen AD neoplatonist, Poryphyry, Against Christians), which holds that at least the second half of Daniel was written in the 2nd century BC, and which claims that the four beats represent Babylon, Media, Persia and Greece. There are serious flaws with this theory, but it still holds some sway among liberal interpreters. The other, traditional view of Daniel holds that it was written in the 6th cen BC, and that the four nations represented by the beats are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome.
Just like the statue in Daniel 2, the symbols used for these four empires represent how the relative greatness of each deteriorated, and the symbolic beasts illustrate how they grew meaner and more cruel over the ages.
Babylon's symbol was the winged lion. Being made into a man makes it represent Nebuchadnezzar, who had been reduced to the status of a grazing animal (in Daniel 4) then raised back up again.
7:5 The bear symbolizes the Medo-Persian coalition, both noted for the ferocity in battle and the great sizes of these empires. Though Media was the senior partner Persia became the stronger, which is shown by one side being raised above the other. The three ribs are Persia's three major conquests, Lydia in 546BC, Babylon in 539, and Egypt in 525. ³It was told² indicates the decree from God that it was to expand to be the mightiest empire seen to that day, stretching from Egypt and the Aegean Sea to the Indus River (modern day Pakistan).
7:6 The leopard is Greece. The four wings represent the speed with which Alexander conquered the known world. It took him only 10 years. The four heads are his four generals who took the kingdom upon Alexander's death and divided it among themselves:
1. Antipater (later Cassander), Greece & Macedonia
2. Lysimachus, Thrace and part of Asia Minor
3. Sekeucus I Nicator, Syria, Babylon and most of the rest of Asia
4. Ptolemy I Soter, Egypt and Palestine
This one beast, by the way, is one of the main arguments against the Maccabean Thesis, as Persia at no time was divided into four parts.
7:7 This beast is so strange and terrifying to Daniel that it didn't look like anything he's seen before, presumably the reason he does not give it any beastly name. It's iron teeth recall the legs of iron from Daniel 2:40. Rome was a powerful Empire that brooked no resistance.
Rome was the most powerful and longest lasting empire the world has seen to this day. It used both civil and military power to literally crush it¹s enemies, and all the nations who tried to stand up to it were utterly destroyed. Think of the Carthaginians, whom the Romans called Punici, after the 3rd Punic War (149-146 BC). The three Roman legions under Scipio Aemilianus took the city by storm in the spring of 146 BC, after a lengthy siege.
The remaining 50,000 Carthaginians, a small part of the original pre-war population, were either murdered or sold into slavery. The city was systematically burned for somewhere between 10 and 17 days. Then the city walls, its buildings and its harbor were utterly destroyed and the surrounding territory was supposedly sown with salt to ensure that nothing would grow there again. The remaining Carthaginian territories were annexed by Rome and constituted the Roman province of Africa
7:8 Here's the origin of one of the anti-Christ's titles, the Little Horn. Notice that he's not one of the original 10 horns, but comes from among them. A horn symbolizes power or authority when used symbolically. To me this means that the anti-Christ doesn't start out as part of the official leadership, but comes from a less significant member state outside the centers of power to depose three of the existing leaders and assume their authority. If I'm correct, look for the anti-Christ to burst on the scene suddenly from a previously unimportant segment of the Empire rather than from among its current leaders. (As a merely hypothetical example, look how quickly Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejahd has risen from his former station as the unknown mayor of Tehran to a position of world prominence.)
Daniel saw an angel in the vision who was also observing things. When he asked him about the fourth kingdom and the little horn, he was given this explanation: 'The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time. (Daniel 7:23-25)
It's obviously an End Times reference and includes the 3 1/2 year duration of the Great Tribulation during which the Little Horn will gain control of the entire world, taking over from the 10 kings. As Paul later confirmed he will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped. (2 Thes. 2:4) And as Revelation 13:7 tells us he'll make war against Tribulation believers and overcome them.
7:9-10 But while the anti-Christ consolidates his power on Earth, a Greater Power is setting His plan into motion in Heaven. The lines are being drawn for the climactic battle for Planet Earth. The "thousands upon thousands" attending Him likely represent the angelic host. Ten thousand was the biggest number they had in those days, so Daniel used that number multiplied by itself to describe a multitude no one count, perhaps a reference to the Raptured Church. John borrowed this illustration to describe the scene before the throne in Rev. 5:11.
And notice the plural thrones. Daniel's having a peek at the End Times and sees a hint of the thrones of the 24 elders. None of the other Old Testament views of God's Throne mention these thrones because they all occur in real time. This little insight argues against the opinion some theologians hold that the 24 thrones are occupied by an otherwise unidentified order of angels who assist God in governing the Universe. The fact that they don't appear in Old Testament accounts, but do when the End of the Age is the context implies that another level of government has been added since the cross. It could only be the Church.
"Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.) (Daniel 7:11-12)
Back on Earth, the Great Tribulation is summarized in two verses.
"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
And finally, the culmination of human history. Dominion over Planet Earth, which Adam lost to Satan, has been regained by the Son of God, never to be lost again. He'll rule and reign with His Church forever.
A period of history seen from man's perspective as a beautiful statue of shiny and precious metals is described by God as it really is, a series of voracious beasts who oppress and devour mankind and oppose every effort by God to free us.
Back to the main page...