Daniel 7 – A Survey of Five World Empires
A. The four beasts.
1. (1) Introduction to the vision.
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head while on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream, telling the main facts.
a. In the first year of Belshazzar: This vision came to Daniel after the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, but before the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire.
i. 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.
b. Daniel had a dream and visions: 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.
c. Telling the main facts: Daniel could have given us more detail but the Holy Spirit only wanted him to write the main facts. We may wish that Daniel went into greater detail, but he didn’t.
2. (2-3) Four beasts and where they come from.
Daniel spoke, saying, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other.”
a. Stirring up the Great Sea: This was almost certainly the Mediterranean Sea. Each one of the empires mentioned in this vision had a geographical connection to the Mediterranean Sea.
i. Stirring up has the idea of chaos and tumult. “To the Hebrews the sea was both dangerous and mysterious, a restless element but not beyond the Lord’s power to tame.” (Baldwin)
ii. The sea is sometimes used as a picture of Gentile nations (Psalm 74:13, Psalm 89:9, Isaiah 57:20).
b. The four winds of heaven: Some see these winds as a description of the sovereign power of God striving with men (as in Psalm 35:5, Psalm 48:7, Psalm 107:25 Isaiah 27:8 and Isaiah 41:16). Others (such as Strauss) suggest the four winds were satanic forces, as mentioned in Revelation 7:1.
c. And four great beasts came up from the sea: Four large, ferocious animals emerged from the Great Sea, each one distinct from the other.
3. (4-6) A description of the first three beasts.
The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings. I watched till its wings were plucked off; and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it. And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And they said thus to it: “Arise, devour much flesh!” After this I looked, and there was another, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird. The beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it.
a. The first was like a lion: 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).
i. 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.
ii. 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.
b. A second, 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!).
i. 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.
ii. The slow, crushing armies of the Medo-Persian Empire were well known. They simply overwhelmed their opponents with superior size and strength. “The Medes and Persians are compared to a bear on account of their cruelty and thirst after blood, a bear being a most voracious and cruel animal.” (Clarke)
iii. Arise, devour much flesh: “The command to arise and devour much flesh indicates the extreme cruelties often practiced by the Persians, and the wide extent of their conquests.” (Ironside)
iv. Liberal commentators have a vested interest in identifying the bear with only the Median state, and not the combined Medo-Persian Empire. They assign the third beast to the Persian Empire, and the fourth to Alexander’s Greek Empire, so as to remove (even for a second century author) any element of predictive prophecy. Their analysis doesn’t fit. There are many good reasons why the second kingdom could not be exclusively the Median kingdom.
· The Median kingdom did not follow the Babylonian in historical sequence, but was contemporary with it, even rising to strength before the Neo-Babylonian period.
· The Median kingdom never had a world position ranking with the Persian, Grecian or Babylonian Empires.
· The motivation for the interpretation is solely to remove any reference to Rome – and to divinely predictive prophecy.
c. Another, like a leopard: The leopard was known for its sudden, unexpected attacks. This one was especially swift (with four wings), and clever (having four heads).
i. 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)
ii. 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)
iii. After his death 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.
iv. The Babylonian Empire dominated in Daniel’s day. One might have guessed – especially in the reign of Belshazzar – that the next empire would be the Medo-Persian Empire. But how could Daniel know that the next world empire would be like a leopard in its rise and prominence, and that it would be divided into four parts? This shows a plain principle: God knows the future, and reveals certain details of the future through His prophets. It shows that God lives outside our time domain and can see the future as well as the past. He sees the whole parade of human history, not just the part passing in front of a single spectator. The proof of fulfilled prophecy is exceptionally persuasive; no wonder Peter says: We have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).
4. (7-8) The fourth beast: a dreadful, horned beast, with one conspicuous horn.
After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words.
a. A fourth beast, dreadful and terrible: The fourth beast was indescribable, and uniquely horrific in its power and conquest.
b. Different . . . it had ten horns: In the ancient world horns expressed the power and fearsomeness of an animal. This fourth beast was so strong it had ten horns.
i. Different people picture this different ways. Some suggest that the ten horns were actually two five-pointed antlers, rather than ten separate horns.
ii. In historical fulfillment, the fourth beast represents the Roman Empire, which was the largest, strongest, most unified and enduring of them all.
iii. “There is an unmistakable correspondence between these horns and the ten toes of the dream image (ch. 2), and the mention of iron in the teeth suggests the legs and toes of iron in that image.” (Archer)
c. Another horn, a little one . . . a mouth speaking pompous words: Among the ten horns, three are replaced by one horn that was conspicuous for its dominance (before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots), intelligence (eyes like the eyes of a man), and its boastful talk (speaking pompous words).
5. (9-10) The Ancient of Days and the scene surrounding his throne.
I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.
a. I watched till thrones were put in place: The King James Version poorly translates this as thrones were cast down. The New King James Version corrected this and indicates that the thrones were established.
i. When the Apostle John saw heaven, he also saw thrones, but he also saw those who sat on those thrones – the 24 elders described in Revelation 4:4. Daniel made no mention of these elders, perhaps because the 24 elders represent the church, and the church was an unrevealed mystery to Old Testament saints (Ephesians 3:1-7).
b. And the Ancient of Days was seated: The Ancient of Days is obviously God, but there is debate as to if He is specifically God the Father or God the Son. Most believe it is God the Father, and the white garments and white hair stress the eternal character of God the Father.
i. Daniel 7:13 seems to make a distinction between the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man, and this supports the idea that the Ancient of Days is God the Father, not God the Son.
ii. “We ought not to imagine God in his essence to be like any appearance to his own Prophet and other holy fathers, but he put on various appearances, according to man’s comprehension, to whom he wished to give some signs of his presence.” (Calvin)
c. His throne was a fiery flame: This was a brilliant manifestation of God’s splendor and the fierce heat of His judgment. There seems to be something lava-like in the stream of fire pouring from the throne; it was like a river of vast destructive power.
i. Isaiah 66:15-15 describes the judgment of God in terms of fire: For behold, the Lord will come with fire and with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword the Lord will judge all flesh; and the slain of the Lord shall be many.
d. Its wheels a burning fire: Many commentators say that in the ancient eastern world royal thrones were often on wheels. Yet it is just as likely that they represent the endless activity of God.
e. A thousand thousands ministered to Him: This describes the innumerable company of angels surrounding the throne of God.
f. Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him: This describes humanity standing before God in judgment.
g. Court was seated, and the books were opened: The Bible describes several books before God, and any of these or combination of these could be meant.
· The book of the living (Psalm 69:28).
· The book of remembrance (Malachi 3:16).
· The Book of Life (Philippians 4:3, Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27 and 22:19).
6. (11-14) The conspicuous horn is conquered by the Son of Man.
I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame. As for the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. I was watching in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.
a. They had their dominion taken away: This great passage describes the transition from human dominion on earth to divine dominion. This happens as the Son of Man comes and exercises dominion over the earth. The Son of Man succeeds the reign of the fourth beast.
b. The sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking: Here the “little horn” of the fourth beast again speaks pompous words. The final human dictator we commonly call the Antichrist will be characterized by his boastful, blasphemous speech (Revelation 13:5-6).
i. Because of the distinction between the fourth beast and the horn, some conjecture that the beast of Revelation 13 is not the Antichrist but his government or administration. If this is so, it is a small distinction. To a large extent, a man does represent and personify an entire government or system. When we think of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, the figures of Hitler as an individual and Nazi Germany as a state are virtually the same.
c. I watched till the beast was slain . . . the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: The fourth beast is destroyed and the others may continue, but without dominion of their own. When Jesus sets up His kingdom, the empire of the Antichrist will be completely crushed, yet some nations will continue into the Millennium.
d. One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven: The title Son of Man was a favorite self-designation of Jesus, used more than 80 times in the four Gospels. He receives all dominion previously held by the beasts and His reign will be permanent.
e. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away: The reign of Jesus does not last 1,000 years – it is permanent. However, Jesus will rule over this earth before it is remade, with Satan bound for 1,000 years.
B. Interpretation of the dream.
1. (15-16) Daniel’s reaction to the vision and request for understanding.
I, Daniel, was grieved in my spirit within my body, and the visions of my head troubled me. I came near to one of those who stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things:
a. Was grieved in my spirit: Daniel saw all this, and in more detail than he describes for us. He did not really understand all that he saw, and was troubled because of his lack of understanding.
b. Grieved in my spirit within my body: This shows that our spirit indeed dwells within the body. It is true that the spirit is more important than the body (1 Timothy 4:8), but the state of the body generally has an effect on the state of the spirit.
i. Clarke says that the phrase my spirit within my body has the sense of “within its sheath or scabbard.” From this, Clarke says: “Which I think proves, 1. That the human spirit is different from the body. 2. That it has a proper subsistence independently of the body, which is only its sheath for a certain time. 3. That the spirit may exist independently of the body, as the sword does independently of its sheath.”
2. (17-18) Summary of the vision: four kings are conquered by God, and their kingdoms are given to the people of God.
Those great beasts, which are four, are four kings which arise out of the earth. “But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.”
a. Those great beasts, which are four, are four kings which arise out of the earth: 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.
i. 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.
ii. When man writes his own history, there is often much self-congratulation and man seems to be on the verge of paradise. When God writes human history, a different vision is presented.
iii. Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5). Yet He primarily represents Himself not as a ferocious animal but as a lamb (Revelation 5:5-6 and 5:8-10).
b. The saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom: When the day of the fourth beast is over, then God’s people receive the kingdom. Yet we know the Roman Empire is long gone – and it doesn’t seem that the saints have received the kingdom.
i. This is what prompts many to look for either a spiritualized interpretation fulfilled in history, or some kind of restoration of the Roman Empire in the last days, one that will literally fulfill the prophecy of the ten horns and the little horn as well.
ii. Shall receive the kingdom: The saints receive the kingdom. God gives them the kingdom at the return of Jesus. They do not gain dominion over all these earthly kingdoms before the return of Jesus.
3. (19-22) Daniel’s specific request to know about the conspicuous horn.
Then I wished to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the others, exceedingly dreadful, with its teeth of iron and its nails of bronze, which devoured, broke in pieces, and trampled the residue with its feet; and the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn which came up, before which three fell, namely, that horn which had eyes and a mouth which spoke pompous words, whose appearance was greater than his fellows. I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.
a. I wished to know the truth about the fourth beast: 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.
b. Exceedingly dreadful, with its teeth of iron and its nails of bronze: The fourth beast interested Daniel because of its great destructive power, because of the conspicuous horn, and because of its fight against God’s people (the same horn was making war against the saints).
i. If this horn represents the Antichrist, and he fights against the saints, it does not necessarily mean that the church will be on earth as a target of the Antichrist during the tribulation. We can say, “Not necessarily,” because saints can indicate the church or a Jewish remnant in the tribulation (Revelation 12:17; 13:7).
4. (23-27) The meaning of the conspicuous horn and its defeat.
Thus he said: “The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all other kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, trample it and break it in pieces. The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall rise after them; He shall be different from the first ones, and shall subdue three kings. He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time. But the court shall be seated, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever. Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him.”
a. The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth: This initial description of the fourth beast fits well with the Roman Empire of ancient history. It did devour the whole civilized earth, and dominate it completely for about a thousand years.
b. The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom: These ten kingsdo not have a literal fulfillment in the Roman Empire of history. If they are literal, they are still in the future. The only way to say this has been fulfilled is to spiritualize this prophecy and take away its plain sense.
i. Many, like John Calvin, merely spiritualize this. He insisted that what happened in this chapter was fulfilled in history up unto the time of Jesus’ first advent, and supposed that the ten horns merely represent a multiplicity of kings under the Roman emperor, and believed that the conspicuous horn was Julius Caesar and the other Caesars who succeeded him. And for Calvin, the books were opened (verse 10) referred to the preaching of the gospel.
ii. But if there are ten toes (Daniel 2) and ten horns (Daniel 7 and Revelation 13 and 17) associated with the rule of this final world ruler, there is no good reason to spiritualize what God has said in at least four different places.
iii. The same spiritualizing problems apply if one believes that this is fulfilled in the early church and the passing of the Roman Empire (unlike Calvin who saw fulfillment before the first advent of Jesus).
iv. The conspicuous horn must be the Antichrist, arising out of some group of ten nations that is in some way part of a restored Roman Empire.
c. He shall speak pompous words against the Most High: The little horn spoke pompous, blasphemous words, perhaps like the Fascist Creed of Italy (cited in Talbot):
i. “I believe in Rome Eternal, the Mother of my fatherland; and in Italy, her first born; who was born of her virgin womb by the grace of God; who suffered under the barbarian invader, was crucified, slain, and buried; who descended into the sepulcher, and rose from the dead in the nineteenth century; who ascended to heaven in her glory in 1918 and 1922 [by the march on Rome]; who is seated at the right hand of Mother Rome; who will come thence to judge the quick and the dead; I believe in the genius of Mussolini; in our Holy Father, Fascism, and in the communion of its martyrs; in the conversion of the Italians; and in the resurrection of the Empire! Amen.”
d. Shall persecute the saints of the Most High: This speaks of a cruel and systematic pressure, coming from the word “to wear away” or “to wear out,” as friction wears clothes or shoes.
i. “To wear out the saints means to harass them continually so that life becomes a wretched existence.” (Wood)
ii. “Such continual and protracted pressure far more effectively breaks the human spirit than the single moment of crisis that calls for a heroic decision. It is easier to die for the Lord than to live for him under constant harassment and strain.” (Archer)
iii. “The Bible predicts no peace-loving world ruler for the last days. We can expect nothing more than greedy commercialism and political imperialism under the most beastly and barbaric type of warfare.” (Strauss)
e. Shall intend to change times and law: This little horn will intend to change times and law perhaps as at the French Revolution, where radicals wanted to institute a ten-day work week, and declared 1792 (the year of the Revolution) as year 1.
i. Seventh-Day Adventists have historically taught that it was the Papacy which “changed the times and law” by moving the Lord’s day from Saturday to Sunday. Some traditional Seventh-Day Adventists therefore regard Sunday worship as the sign of the Antichrist.
f. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time: The power of the little horn over the saints is limited. It will last for three-and-one-half years (time and times and half a time). This phrase is used in Revelation (11:2-3, 12:6 and 13:5) to refer to half of the last seven-year period of man’s rule on this earth (the seventieth week of Daniel).
g. They shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever: In the day of persecution by this blasphemous ruler, the Messiah will establish His kingdom for His people.
i. Because the kingdom of Jesus immediately succeeds this fourth kingdom, no event in the past answers this prediction in the smallest degree. Certainly, the church did not cause a sudden and catastrophic fall of the Roman Empire. “It is questionable whether the Roman Empire had any serious opposition from the Christian church or that the growing power of the church contributed in a major way to its downfall.” (Walvoord)
ii. There are three options in interpreting the kingdom’s establishment here:
· There is no fulfillment; Daniel is in error.
· The fulfillment is symbolic in church history.
· The fulfillment is literal, and yet future.
h. Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High: This must describe the millennial earth, not our current age or heaven. The kingdom and dominion of the earth certainly does not belong to the righteous now. If this describes the eternal state, then what are the dominions that shall serve and obey Him? It therefore must describe the millennial earth.
i. We again notice that the kingdom and dominion . . . shall be given to the saints. It is something received, not achieved. The church does not convert the world to Jesus’ kingdom and give the kingdom to Jesus; He gives it to them.
5. (28) Daniel’s troubled reaction to the vision and its interpretation.
This is the end of the account. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly troubled me, and my countenance changed; but I kept the matter in my heart.
a. My thoughts greatly troubled me: Many things might trouble Daniel at this vision – such as the ferocity of the attack to come against his people from the conspicuous horn.
b. And my countenance changed: Daniel was convinced that the prophecy was true, and that it was the word of God. He was so convinced of its truth that his countenance changed and he considered what would happen.
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission