Notes on the Book of Daniel: chapter 7

Chapter 7:

Larry Hunt Bible Commentary // The Four Beasts of Daniel 7

Daniel’s vision of the four beasts from the sea and the Ancient of Days – Silos Apocalypse (1109)

v. 1: At this time Daniel may not be in any recognizable or significant position of power in Belshazzar’s court. (See 5:11-13.)

v. 2: The four winds of heaven are North, South, East, and West, I suppose.  I don’t know what to make of the symbol of the Great Sea.  I can accept that it is the “nations of humanity,” as Barnes says, but I would still lean towards a slightly different interpretation, given John’s use of the sea in Revelation as the abyss.  (John must have drawn from the apocalyptic imagery of Old Testament books like Ezekiel and Daniel, and his imagery may be a kind of clue to interpreting some of these Old Testament books.) Note too the parallel between Genesis 1 and here; the four winds parallel the Spirit of God hovering over the waters.

v. 4: I don’t know how majestic the lion was to Daniel, but if it filled the role of King of Beasts, then it would very easily parallel the gold head of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.  I think it is pretty arguable, given the parallels between the two dreams, that they describe the same events.  This first beast must be Babylon.  I do not believe that his being stood on two feet and given the heart of a man emphasizes the weakening of his bestial power (as Barnes suggests).  Almost certainly it refers to the humbling of Nebuchadnezzar, but I believe the emphasis is on Nebuchadnezzar’s subsequent glorification by God after he had the humility to honor God in his letter of chapter 4.  The voice is passive (“it was lifted” not “it lifted itself”) and reflects God’s action in bringing Nebuchadnezzar out of the madness of being a beast.

v.5: I believe this beast represents the Medo-Persian Empire since it follows the lion, which is Babylon.  One interesting point about the symbol itself is this report that “it was raised up on one of its sides.”  I’m not sure what Daniel is trying to express here.  I assume, perhaps wrongly, that these beasts walk up out of the sea, but the action here (since it is noteworthy) seems like it should be different from that of ordinary walking.  Yet, if this noteworthy action is the swiping of the bear’s paw in a ferocious manner, it seems odd that Daniel would describe the action thus.  A straightforward reading could suggest that the bear is showing its side for some reason.  That makes me want to connect this action to the three ribs in its mouth (since ribs come from a creature’s side).  It also makes me suspect that this and the three ribs allude to the silver area (the chest and arms) of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue.

v. 6: The number four occurs four times in this dream: four beasts, four winds of heaven, four wings on the leopard, and four heads on the leopard.

I believe this leopard to be the Greek/Macedonian kingdom founded by Alexander.  Three things support this interpretation.  First, the leopard comes in the right order: Alexander’s kingdom is the immediate successor to the Medo-Persian Empire.  Second, the four heads of the leopard could easily reference the fact that Alexander’s kingdom split into four parts (with four separate heads) after his death.  And lastly, there is some similarity here in the words describing this third beast, which “was given authority to rule,” and those describing the bronze kingdom (the Greek/Macedonian kingdom) of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue; it “will rule over the whole earth.”

v. 7: Notice that the fourth beast is not said to be like a beast already known on Earth.  This fact makes it more frightening to me.  It has much in common with the legs and feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.  The iron is common to both, as is the fact that both are said to be brutal.  Also, although it may be a stretch, I’d like to point out that the ten horns here and the ten toes of the feet may correspond.  And, of course, the chronology fits.  Also, judgment falls on this kingdom as it does on the fourth kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom immediately follows the judgment in both dreams.

The eternal kingdom is obviously that of the Messiah (Christ) who is the “one like the son of man coming with the clouds of heaven.”  (Compare with Matthew 26:63-64 and Acts 1:9-11.)  Note the parallels with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:

1) Both dreams describe an eternal kingdom.

2) In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the rock signifying this eternal kingdom is “not cut by human hands,” and the kingdom in Daniel’s dream is established by God.

3) The destruction of the fourth kingdom as well as that of the previous three kingdoms in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is a prelude to the establishment of the eternal kingdom, and in Daniel’s dream the fourth beast is slain and the other three beasts have their dominion taken away as a prelude to the establishment of the eternal kingdom.

4) In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the rock signifying the eternal kingdom fills the whole earth, and the eternal kingdom of Daniel’s dream is given authority over all people.

If the kingdom was established after Christ’s resurrection, on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 1-2) and is here established after the destruction of the fourth kingdom as it is in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, then the end of the fourth kingdom (Rome) should come before the establishment of the eternal kingdom.  (In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the actual coming of the eternal kingdom is what destroys the fourth kingdom, and perhaps that could be implied in this dream as well.)  Therefore, one could conclude that, in the mind of God, the Roman Empire was destroyed in the first half of the first century A.D.  Since its actual physical destruction came centuries later and was a matter of stages, this destruction was conceptual and spiritual.[1]

v. 24: The ten kings might have been contemporary with each other.

v. 25: For comments on this period of time “time, times, and half a time,” see notes on 8:14.

The underlying theme of the book of Daniel is the coming of the eternal kingdom.  This is one reason that Jesus so often referenced the book and applied it to himself.  I wonder if the Jews of the first century believed this fourth kingdom to be that of Rome.

[1] See notes on Nebuchadnezzar’s statue (2:27).


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