Daniel 7 takes us back to the time of Belshazzar, the last king of the Babylonian Empire. During the first year of his reign, Daniel had a dream and visions (7:1). These he wrote down for the posterity, along with an interpretation. They are prophecies given by God to His people, and His people include you and me. As you will see, these prophecies indeed concern us, for they depict historical events of relevance up until the end of earth’s history. The first part of the chapter reads like this:
2 Daniel said, ‘I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3 And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it. 5 And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth; and thus they said to it, ‘Arise, devour much meat!’ 6 After this I kept looking, and behold, another one, 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. 7 After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. 8 While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, his horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts.’ (Daniel 7, 2-8, emphases mine)
As you can see, we are dealing with lots of symbols. In fact, from now until the end of the book, we will be studying mostly prophecy and its figurative language, which is also why the chronological writing ceases. While it may not be very easy to understand prophecy, it is important that we seek to be as accurate as possible and interpret it with other parts of Scripture and historical evidence. After all, God did not reveal anything in the Bible that does not bear some weight, nor did He leave us completely in the darkness to find our own way to interpretation. He guides understanding with light from the throne of heaven and from the inspired Bible itself. That being said, let’s see what these four beasts are about.
A notable feature of Daniel 7 is the evident parallel with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2. There, we also deal with four symbols – the four parts of a statue, representing four successive world kingdoms.Now Daniel himself has a dream about four beasts, which, in fact, represent the same four kingdoms.
The winged lion parallels the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and represents the kingdom of Babylon. Historical and archaeological records indicate that Babylonians often depicted their empire through the symbol of a winged lion, such as on wall tiles or the principal city road. The Bible also represents Nebuchadnezzar through the symbols of a lion and an eagle (Jer. 49:19, 22). Together, these convey the ideas of power and speed – a fitting representation of the kingdom’s prominence among nations. The plucking of its wings parallel the stripping of the tree symbolizing Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4, while the human mind alludes to his recovery from madness.[i]
The bear corresponds to the chest and arms of silver in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. Both symbols refer to Medo-Persia, the two arms of the statue paralleling the posture of the bear raised on one side, as if ready to strike. This position with one side higher than the other also suggests that one side is stronger – a historically verified fact. In approximately 650 B.C.E., the Persians, once vassals to the Medes, overturned their government under the leadership of Cyrus, who united the kingdoms under his rule.
The three ribs in the bear’s mouth suggest its greediness for meat, which the beast devours. This symbol finds historical correspondence in the conquest of Lydia, Babylon, and Egypt. The cruelty of the bear is also depicted in Scripture in several passages like 2 Sam. 17:8, Prov. 28:15, and Amos 5:19, while the aggressiveness of the “side” is echoed in Ezek. 34:21. Interestingly, the Jewish tradition depicts the Persians through reference to this animal: “Persians eat and drink like the bear, have hair like the bear, are agitated like the bear.”[ii]
The leopard parallels the belly and thighs of bronze in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, both representing the Greek Empire. The growing speed of this kingdom is suggested by the animal’s main feature – swiftness, further emphasized by the four wings. The four heads indicate political and cultural dominion – a fact easily demonstrable given the massive influence of Greek thought that pervades our society even today[iii] – and alludes to the division of the empire between Alexander’s four generals following his premature death.
The Other Beast
The Other Beast parallels the legs of iron and clay in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and represents the Roman Empire. If in chapter 2 “the iron metal was to ‘break,’ ‘smash,’ and ‘break things to pieces’ (Dan. 2:40) [the beast with iron teeth] in chapter 7 ‘devours,’ ‘tramples,’ and ‘crushes’ (Dan. 7:23).”[iv] Just as the fourth part of the statue was unlike the others in that it was made of metal mixed with clay, the fourth beast is different than the previous ones in that it has a human face.
Ten kingdoms emerge from this last kingdom, which are represented by ten horns in chapter 7 and the ten toes in chapter 2. Historically, these are considered to be the “Franks, the Burgundians, the Allaman [or Huns] the Vandals, the Suevi, the Visigoths, the Saxons, the Ostrogoths, the Lombards, and the Heruli,”[v] which invaded the Roman Empire. The kingdom is divided into small units whose symbolic significance does not seem to concern the prophet. Instead, he takes great interest in a little horn, which he depicts in more detail. We will study this more in-depth below but for now I would just point to the fact that, aside from the evidence from biblical parallelism and historical records suggesting that these four beasts represent four kingdoms, Daniel himself notes that.
15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was distressed within me, and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. 16 I approached one of those who were standing by and began asking him the exact meaning of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth. (Daniel 7:15-17)
A Belligerent “Little Horn”
Back to the little horn and its relevance. To study this, we need to skip to the latter part of the chapter where Daniel shows express interest in it.
19 Then I desired to know the exact meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others, exceedingly dreadful, with its teeth of iron and its claws of bronze, and which devoured, crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet, 20 and the meaning of the ten horns that were on its head and the other horn which came up, and before which three of them fell, namely, that horn which had eyes and a mouth uttering great boasts and which was larger in appearance than its associates. 21 I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them 22 until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom. 23 Thus he said: ‘The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, which will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth and tread it down and crush it. 24 As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. 26 But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. (Daniel 7:19-26)
That this entity symbolized by this fourth beast has both political and religious power has already been noted in chapter 2 (link to https://thecompassmagazine.com/blog/secrets-to-success-from-the-book-of-daniel-part-2-sleepless-nights). Its rising from the downfall of three of the then kingdoms (the Visigoths, the Vandals, and the Ostrogoths) points to the Catholic forces who eliminated them in an attempt to eradicate their Arian influence. The main actions of the little horn are
- against the saints:
- waging war with the saints … overpowering them22 until the Ancient of Days came (7:21, 22)
- they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time and (7:25)
- against God:
- … speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law. (7:25)
The attack against God is verbal (vs. 8, 20, 25), and the Aramaic terminology implies the idea of arrogant and prideful desire of usurpation. This desire is also manifested in its intention to alter laws and times, changes that involve placing tradition over or on par with Scripture and replacing the worship day sanctified by God since the beginning of humanity (Gen. 2:2).
The war against the saints – those loyal to God and His heavenly kingdom, is marked by persecutions over “a time, times, and half a time” (7:25),[vi] meaning 1260 days representing 1260 years (in the Bible a day stands for a year in prophetic interpretation; see Ezekiel 4:6 and Dan. 4:16, 23, 25; 12:7, 9, 11, 12; Rev. 11:2, 3, 12:6, 13:5). The chronology of biblical prophecy points to 538 A. D. as the beginning of this period (the crushing of the three kingdoms),[vii] which then ends in 1798. That year marks the French Revolution and its dethroning of the papal authority.
While the religious institution is held accountable for these actions, it is essential to state that individuals belonging to it may be sincere Christians who belong to the kingdom of heaven. It is equally important to note that any religious institution that attempts to undermine the divine laws and replace them with human laws follows this destructive path – destructive both of others, and eventually, of itself. [viii]
Hope in Judgment
As the text indicates, the prophetic vision is given in a context of judgment. How we do know this, and who participates in this process?
9 I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. 10 “A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; the court sat, and the books were opened. 11 Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire. (Daniel 7:9-11)
The judge is “The Ancient of Days,” (the only time this expression occurs in the Bible), who is none other than God Himself. His portrayal as ancient is a symbol of His eternal existence preceding everything and everyone, while the white vestment and hair symbolize His purity and righteousness. The blazing throne alludes to His evil-consuming holiness (see also Gen. 15:7 Ex. 3:2; 19:18; Deut. 4:11, 33; Eze. 1 :21, 27, 28; Rev. 1:14).
As God takes His seat, some books are opened and thus the judgment begins. The imagery of open books is based on the Israelites custom of recording the names of the citizens in a city (see Ezra 2:62, Eze. 13:9).[ix] Angel Rodrigues suggests that “the register of a city may be called a ‘book of life’ in the sense that those inscribed in the list had the right to live there and enjoy the privileges and responsibilities of a citizen.”[x] This concept of a book of life is recurring in the Bible (Ex. 32:32, Luke 10:20, Dan. 12:1, Rev. 13:8, 17:8, 21:27) and alludes to records of the saved – that is, believers who placed their faith in Christ and accepted His atoning and justifying sacrifice.
While all are judged, those who trusted God and accepted His salvation receive God’s kingdom, but the fourth beast (including the little horn) are found guilty, destroyed, and cast into the fire for complete annihilation.[xi] As Doukhan writes, “God intends the vision of judgment to be good news. In the twilight of human history the event of judgment is the last ray of hope. The judgment announces a new world, a new order, a city of peace and justice. The promise of the end of our misery, it predicts a new dawn.”[xii]… Judgment is the fulfillment of humanity’s hopes and yearnings.”[xiii]
An Everlasting Dominion
As Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2, Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 concludes with the establishment of God’s everlasting kingdom.
13 I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. 14 And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13, 14; See also 7:27)
The rock in the king’s dream destroys the statue and becomes a great mountain that fills the whole earth. Thus, the earthly kingdoms all come to an end, while Christ’s dominion is established forever. In chapter 7 Christ is beautifully depicted as the Son of Man, for it Christ’s sacrificial life and death that “earned” Him the right to rule. Not that He did not already possess this right inherently as God, but that the creatures in His kingdom could witness His infinite love and choose to permanently worship Him out of love. Only a kingdom of love can endure forever.
Secrets of Success
The highest aspirations of humankind cannot even begin to compare with the hope God offers us. This hope is available to everyone, and the future it depicts is difficult, if not impossible to reject. It is, therefore, a paradox that some people will be lost forever when others cross the threshold of eternity. The paradox only deepens with the reality that this eternity is one of love. Isn’t that our earnest longing? From birth to death, don’t we seek love above all other joys and fulfillments?
Yet most of us know that love, beautiful and desirable as it may be, is not easy. Love is a constant uplifting of each other that requires sacrifice and self-denial. On our own, we cannot live it, and our futile attempts can surely sink the hope for the future. That is why accepting Christ’s sacrifice and His imputed righteousness is crucial, for only in so doing can we not only stand before God as acceptable citizens of His kingdom, but also have eternally before us an example worth following. The judgment is good news, for it liberates the universe of evil. Let’s just make sure that the choices we make here and now can one day count us on winning side in eternity.
[i] Jacques Doukhan, Secrets of Daniel (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), 101-102.
[ii] Babylonian Talmud Kidduslzin 72a, cited in Doukhan, 103.
[iii] Doukhan, 104.
[iv] Doukhan, 105.
[v] Doukhan, 105.
[vi] See also Daniel 12:7 and Rev. 12:14.
[vii] Zdravko Stefanovic, Daniel: Wisdom to the Wise, (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2007), 282.
[viii] See Doukhan, 106-110 and Stefanovic, 253-254, 276.
[x] Angel Manuel Rodriguez, “God’s Heavenly Books.”
[xi] Doukhan, 111-116.
[xii] Doukhan, 116.
[xiii] Doukhan, 112.