Daniel 7. The Four Beasts and Their Fates.
Key Notes: Apocalyptic style. Four beasts are four empires. Vision of the Son of Man. Prophecy already fulfilled. Interpreting history.
Daniel 7 introduces the second part of the book, devoted to prophecy, replacing the simple narratives of the four Jewish captives. Chapter 7 is in Aramaic, but the remaining chapters are in Hebrew. The literary style changes dramatically. This half of Daniel, the first three chapters of Ezekiel, and the Revelation use a style of writing called apocalyptic.
Apocalyptic writing is different from ordinary Biblical prose. It is characterized by:
- symbolic images which convey complex ideas. For example, animals represent kingdoms.
- spiritual conflict with a stark contrast between good and evil.
- the prospect of impending doom with a cataclysmic conclusion.
- time-lines that give a historical perspective.
- destruction and transformation of the universe with a new world and earth and a golden age.
7:1 We go back ten years from Daniel 6 to the beginning of Belshazzar's reign. Daniel had a disturbing dream which even he could not understand. The dream had two scenes; the first was of four beasts that came out of the sea, one after another; the second was a scene in Heaven which led to the destruction of the fourth beast and the reign of the rightful king. The four beasts invite comparison with the four empires of Nebuchadnezzar's dream (Dan.2), since they are interpreted to be four kings. 7:17
7:4 The first beast was lion-like with eagle's wings that were plucked off. The beast was made to stand on its hind feet and given the mind of a man. Babylonian icons were often a winged lion or centaur. The clipped wings, and the man's mind are believed to represent Nebuchadnezzar's insanity and restoration to a God-fearing, more humane leader. It corresponds to the head of gold in Daniel 2.
7:5 The second beast was bear-like, standing with one side higher than the other, holding three ribs in its teeth. The second empire was Medo-Persia (Persia being stronger), holding the three nations it conquered: Babylon, Lydia (Asia Minor) and Egypt. It corresponds to the upper torso of silver in Daniel 2.
7:6 It was followed by a leopard-like animal with four wings and four heads. It was characteristic of Greece's Alexander to move his armies with great speed. When he died at 32, his empire was divided between four generals: Ptolemy (Egypt, Syria), Seleucus (Mesopotamia, Babylonia over to India), Philip (Greece) and Antigonus, (Macedonia). It corresponds to the lower torso of bronze.
7:7–8 The fourth beast with iron teeth and ten horns was terrifying in its strength. It corresponds to the Daniel 2 image of the legs of iron with (ten) toes, believed to represent Rome. Among the ten horns, another sprang up, displacing three. The little horn appeared very intelligent (eyes like a man), and vocal (speaking great things). The Little Horn would speak against God (7:25), make war on the saints (7:21) and they would be given into his hand (7:25) for 3 1/2 "times", presumably 3 1/2 years. He would try to change the times, perhaps the calendar, and the law. 7:25
A federation of ten kings has never been described in the Roman Empire, leading us to believe that the end of the Empire has not yet been seen.
7:9–14 Then the scene changed, apparently to Heaven. Thrones were set up. The Ancient of Days was seated on a wheeled throne, surrounded by fire. Millions served Him.
Wheels attached to a throne or chariot , as well as the fire, were described by Ezekiel. (Ezek.1:4,13,16). A similar appearance of Christ was described by John. (Rev.1:13–16). We know it is Christ in Revelation because His death and resurrection are part of His identity. In this scene the Ancient of Days (The Father) is clearly distinguishable from the Son of Man.
Suddenly the noise of the Little Horn ceased and the fourth Beast was killed, although the other three beasts survived for a time without power. Then one like a Son of Man was presented before the Ancient of Days and He was given sovereignty over all the nations forever. The kingdom was given to the people of the saints. 7:27
This passage is renowned for its picture of Christ, using His name "Son of Man", the name He preferred during His life on earth. The link between Dan. 7:13 and Jesus' name would not be lost on Jesus's contemporaries. He will win over every opponent. He will rule the world.
7:15–28 Daniel was disturbed. Why should the saints (presumably his people) have to suffer? Had they not had enough suffering? Why did God not intervene earlier? Would Israel ever be free again?
The fourth beast will consume the other kingdoms and speak against God. But its time is limited and the kingdom will be given to the godly. That kingdom will endure forever.
One of the unique features of Scripture is telling the future, as well as recording the present and past. We can list some of the national predictions other than the more familiar Messianic references.
•God told Abraham that his descendents would stay in Egypt 400 years. Gen.15:13
*Jacob instructed Joseph to bury his bones in Canaan rather than Egypt because Israel would return to the Promised Land. Gen.47:29–30
•God told Moses that He would deliver Israel back to Canaan. Ex.3:7–8
•Moses prophesied the apostasy of Israel and her exile from Canaan. Deut.28:63
•Solomon prophesied Israel's return from exile (IK.8:46–53) in his prayer of dedication of the Temple.
•Îsaiah prophesied many things already fulfilled (*) :
* the end of the Northern Kingdom (Isa.7:8) and the attack of Assyria. 10:5–11.
* the overthrow of Assyria. 14:24–27
* the destruction and exile of Judah. 5:13
* the power of Babylon and its destruction. 13–14
* the emergence of Cyrus the Persian. 45:1–6
* the second return of Israel to Canaan. 11:11
* salvation of the Gentiles. 65:1–16
the reign of Messiah in His Kingdom. 2:1–4; 4:2–6; 9:1–7; 11:1–9; 24:21–23
the final peace and glory of Israel. 32:15–20; 60:1–22; 62:1–12; 66:10–14
the new heavens and earth (66:22–23); no more tears. 25:8
* the return of Judah from Babylon after 70 years in exile. Jer.29:10
* Israel's revival. Ezek.37:1–14
Northern hordes would attack Israel (Ezek.38–39) and be defeated.
Daniel prophesied four great nation-states beginning with Babylon and the downfall of the fourth nation brought by the Son of Man. Dan.2,7,8
Zechariah prophesied the last battles after which Messiah would return to the earth in power. Zech.12–14
Christianity is imbedded in the history of the world. It is HIStory. It sees God working since creation, telling the future in a progressive fashion, and then allowing us to witness it. Although Henry Ford said "History is bunk" and Rudolf Bultmann said "the question of meaning in history has become meaningless", we must disagree. (Authentic Christianity.J.Stott; Edit.T.Dudley-White; IVP;199, p.379). In the microcosm of our personal lives we may not see a pattern, but the larger scope of Scripture shows us the plan.
Fig. 1 Chart of the Nations. The top panel [Four Beasts] is the time-line of ascendancy of four great western empires. Note that the life of each is approximately doubled from the previous. The middle panel [Panorama of seven Millennia] puts the empires in the panorama of biblical history. Note that the time of creation is not given and the time of the FLood is vague. The inset panel is the logarithmic curve of population growth since 1500AD. The lower panel [Plan of the Ages] puts time into an eschatological framework. RC is the Resurrection of Christ; R1 is the first resurrection, of believers; R2 is the resurrection of the rest of mankind. (The lower chart is from The Gospel of the Kingdom. G.E.Ladd; Eerdmans,1959, p.38.)
The life of the four beasts (Chart 1) shows the progressive length of life of each of the empires. The extent of their territories is roughly correlated with the length of their rule. Rome is not given a terminus because we are not sure we have seen it yet. Rome seems to have been absorbed rather than conquered.
The Panorama of the Seven Millennia (Chart 2) reveals few events that seem significant in the first three millennia. 5000 BC is chosen as the time when civilization is as we know it is understood to have begun. After David, and after Christ there is a surge of activity and then a trough. The life of the four beasts exists mainly during the period six hundred years before Christ and 300 years after.
The Plan of the Ages (Chart 3) funnels our seven millennia into the larger picture and allows us to see that a great deal of time remains in the future, even after the age of this world is past. There are no exact measures of time on this chart. RC=Resurrection of Christ; R1=First resurrection--of the righteous; R2=Second resurrection, of the remaining dead.
History is linear, with a beginning--Creation--and an ending, Christ's everlasting kingdom. There are repeated cycles, such as Israel's eight cycles of spiritual decay, enslavement, rescue by a champion (Judges) and restitution, followed after a few years by spiritual decay again. There were also four waves of conquest by the four great nation-states.
The puzzle of history is the long period since Pentecost, which Peter said signaled The Last Days. (Acts 2:16). We cannot see prophetic fulfillment in this extended period until the second return of Israel (1947AD, with Isa.11:11) and perhaps the European Common Market. Where is Ghengis Khan, the Moslem conquests, Napoleon and Hitler?
Even if Christians can interpret history, what difference does it make? First, Christianity is historically true, not mythic or superstitious. The prophecies of the Coming of the Christ were fulfilled and more has been promised. Because it is true, we can and must believe it and trust Him for the future.
Second, we are advised to observe the signs of the times and make wise choices. Matt.16:3