Daniel 7 (NRSV)
Visions of the Four Beasts
Here is the traditional Christian interpretation of this chapter: It is very clear that the history of the world, from Babylon to Christ’s second coming, is given in Daniel 7 as in Daniel 2. There were to be but four universal kingdoms until the setting up of God’s kingdom, according to Daniel 2; history has confirmed this story. Since Daniel 7 also gives us four and they are presented as succeeding one another (Daniel 7:4-7,23), it is evident that we are dealing with Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.
In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream:
Daniel chapters 1 through 6 describe the life and times of Daniel. Chapters 7 through 12 describe visions Daniel had. In order of events, the vision described in Daniel 7 took place during the time between Daniel chapters 4 and 5.
This first vision — one of four described between Daniel 7 through 12 — was the most comprehensive. The other three visions go into greater detail within the general framework of this first vision.
2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings.
Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being; and a human mind was given to it.
The first beast was more majestic than any of the following beasts (lions and eagles are “kings” of their realms). But this majestic beast was humbled (wings were plucked off) and made human (a man’s heart was given to it).
A little later (Daniel 7:17) Daniel tells us that these four beasts are four kingdoms ruling over the earth. The first kingdom is the Babylonian Empire, represented by a lion and an eagle. This fits in well with the majesty and authority of Nebuchadnezzar in his reign over the empire of Babylon.
Jeremiah used both the lion and the eagle as pictures of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 49:19-22), and Babylon’s winged lions can be seen at the British Museum today.
–David Guzik (and all following comments in red)
5 Another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear.
The second beast didn’t have the majestic bearing of either the lion or the eagle. A bear is slower, stronger, and more crushing than a lion — and this bear had a voracious appetite for conquest (Arise, devour much flesh!)
The bear represented the Medo-Persian Empire, succeeding the Babylonian Empire. In this partnership between the Medes and the Persians, the Persians dominated the relationship. Most think the three ribs represent their three great military conquests: Babylon, Egypt and Lydia.
The slow, crushing armies of the Medo-Persian Empire were well known. They simply overwhelmed their opponents with superior size and strength.
6 After this, as I watched, another appeared, like a leopard. The beast had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and dominion was given to it.
The leopard was known for its sudden, unexpected attacks. This one was especially swift (with four wings), and clever (having four heads).
Each animal is mighty, but dominates its prey in a different way. “The lion devours, the bear crushes, and the leopard springs upon its prey.” (Strauss)
The leopard represented the Greek Empire. Alexander the Great quickly conquered the civilized world by age 28. “Nothing in the history of the world, was equal to the conquests of Alexander, who ran through all the countries from Illycrium and the Adriatic Sea to the Indian Ocean and the River Ganges; and in twelve years subdued part of Europe, and all Asia.” (Clarke)
After his sudden death at age thirty-three, his empire was divided into four parts (four heads). Specifically, the four heads were Casander, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy, who inherited Alexander’s domain after his death.
7 After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns.
8 I was considering the horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly.
The fourth beast was indescribable, and uniquely horrific in its power and conquest.
In the ancient world horns expressed the power and fearsomeness of an animal. This fourth beast was so strong it had ten horns.
In historical fulfillment, the fourth beast represents the Roman Empire, which was the largest, strongest, most unified and enduring of them all.
Judgment before the Ancient One
9 As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.
11 I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13 As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.
Daniel’s Visions Interpreted
15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. 16 I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: 17 “As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.”
The divine interpretation of the dream shows that this vision covers the same material as Nebuchadnezzar’s vision in Daniel 2, which also described the rise of four empires, which are succeeded by the kingdom of God.
Yet Daniel’s vision was different, seeing the kingdoms from God’s perspective, not man’s. Nebuchadnezzar saw the present and future world empires in the form of a stately and noble statue of a man. Here God showed how He regarded them: as ferocious and wild animals who devour and conquer without conscience.
19 Then I desired to know the truth concerning the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped what was left with its feet; 20 and concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and concerning the other horn, which came up and to make room for which three of them fell out—the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke arrogantly, and that seemed greater than the others. 21 As I looked, this horn made war with the holy ones and was prevailing over them, 22 until the Ancient One came; then judgment was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time arrived when the holy ones gained possession of the kingdom.
There was much interest in all these four beasts, but Daniel was especially interested in the fourth, most terrible beast – and especially about its conspicuous horn.
23 This is what he said: “As for the fourth beast,
there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth
that shall be different from all the other kingdoms;
it shall devour the whole earth,
and trample it down, and break it to pieces.
24 As for the ten horns,
out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise,
These ten kings do not have a literal fulfillment in the Roman Empire of history. If they are literal, they are still in the future.
and another shall arise after them.
This one shall be different from the former ones,
and shall put down three kings.
25 He shall speak words against the Most High,
shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High,
and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law;
and they shall be given into his power
for a time, two times, and half a time.
26 Then the court shall sit in judgment,
and his dominion shall be taken away,
to be consumed and totally destroyed.
27 The kingship and dominion
and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High;
their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey them.”
In the day of persecution by this blasphemous ruler, the Messiah will establish His kingdom for His people.
28 Here the account ends. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly terrified me, and my face turned pale; but I kept the matter in my mind.
“My thoughts greatly terrified me,” Daniel says. How often is that not the case for us as we face our future with its unknowns! Yet it need not be so, for the Lord has promised us everlasting peace: Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way . . . (2 Thessalonians 3:16). HERE is Libera and John Rutter’s serene “Deep Peace.”
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of Christ,
of Christ the light of the world to you.
Deep peace of Christ to you.