In this essay we are studying Daniel, chapter seven. It is very important, because it forms a kind of bridge between the two halves of the book. The first six chapters are primarily narrative, except for chapter two, which predicts the distant future. Chapter five has some predictive prophecy in it, but the predictions were limited to Belshazzar’s reign.
The second half of the book (chs. 7-12) is primarily a prediction of distant events. And the parallels with chapter two tie the two halves together. Not all scholars divide the book this way. Some, because 2:4-7:28 are written in Aramaic and the rest in Hebrew, divide the book at the end of chapter seven, instead of at the end of chapter six as I am doing.
But I believe the content of the material suggests the division at the end of chapter six. Chapters 1-6 are narratives of events in chronological order from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Chapters 7-12 all are accounts of visions that came to Daniel, also in chronological order, beginning with the reign of Belshazzar.
Chapter seven, verse one, sets forth the situation. It reads, “In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of hs dream.”
As you can see, this vision came in the first year of the reign of Belshazzar. Therefore it probably occurred before the writing on the wall incident of chapter five.
Verses two and three contain a general statement about the vision, with the details following. It is a vision of four beasts that arise out of the great sea. Now I want to jump ahead in the vision for a single piece of information that will help us understand what these four beasts represent. Verse 17 tells us that these beasts represent a succession of kingdoms.
Now with that piece of information before us, we come back to verse four, where we see that the first beast looked like a lion that had eagles wings (v. 4). Of course the lion, because it is the top predator wherever it lives, is commonly known as “the king of beasts.” Moreover the eagle is the king of birds. Therefore the lion with eagles’ wings symbolizes the great strength and power of the first kingdom.
Then Daniel saw a change in this first beast. The lion lost its wings. This symbolizes a partial, or temporary, loss of power. Then the beast was made to stand like a man, and the mind of a man is given to it. This immediately reminds us of an incident we saw earlier in the book.
This is exactly what happened to king Nebuchadnezzar in chapter four. He temporarily lost his kingdom, because he lost his sanity. But then both his sanity and kingdom were restored to him. So this first beast represented the kingdom Nebuchadnezzar.
The second beast, seen in verse five, looked like a bear that was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth. Since the bear is second only to the lion in its strength and power, the symbolism indicates that the second kingdom is less powerful than the first. The prominence of the one side of the bear suggests an alliance in which one of the two kings is dominant. This symbolizes the alliance of the Medes and Persians that arose after Nebuchadnezzar. The ribs in the bear’s mouth symbolize nations that were devoured by the bear.
In verse six a third beast is described. It looked like a leopard that had four wings. The leopard is neither as kingly as the lion, nor as strong as the bear; but it is a fast and rapacious animal. Notice that the wings are the wings of an ordinary bird, in contrast to the eagles’ wings of the first beast. Once again this symbolizes less power than the previous kingdoms.
The leopard had four heads. In biblical imagery, heads on animals represent kings or kingdoms. So the vision was saying that four contemporaneous kingdoms would arise out of the kingdom symbolized by the leopard.
Then comes a fourth beast in verses seven and eight. When we get to the interpretation in verses 15 and following, we will see that this fourth beast (or kingdom) is the most important one seen in this vision.
Notice that the fourth beast is not likened to any animal. Daniel says that it was different from the former beasts and had “large iron teeth” and ten horns. Then out of the ten horns, a little horn grew. This little horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and was boastful. It displaced three of the original ten.
At verse nine there is a sudden shift of scene to the throne room of God in heaven, where Daniel saw a glorious scene and the beasts were judged and sentenced. . “The Ancient of Days,” who is God, took his seat on the throne, in the midst of a fiery scene, while ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him worshiping. Then all were seated, and “the books [meaning the books of judgment] were opened.” The fourth beast and its horns were slain and burned. The other, earlier beasts (kings) lived on in a sense, after the later ones absorbed them.
In verses 13-14 Daniel was given a glimpse of the end-time coming of the son of Man. Later revelation reveals that this Son of Man was God’s Messiah, his Son, whose name was and is Jesus. Daniel saw “one like a son of man” come before the Ancient of Days “And in Daniel’s words, “he was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” The point is that the Kingdom of God ultimately will replace all the kingdoms of the earth.
At verse 15 the interpretation of the vision begins with a general interpretation of the overall vision, and verses 15-18 reveal what we already have figured out. The beasts represent successive kingdoms that ultimately will be replaced by the kingdom of God.
In verses 19-25 the person interpreting the vision for Daniel went on to explain about the fourth beast. The key points are in verses 21-22. There we learn that the little horn is the main figure. He is going to make war against the saints and prevail over God’s people. But then in verse 22 we see the same kind of apocalyptic jump to the end time that we saw in connection with chapter 2. The imagery here is that of final judgment and the vindication and restoration of God’s people.
Verses 23-25 provide the details about the judgment of the fourth beast. It shall have its day of power and even victory over God’s people, but God will bring it under judgment. This will take place over a long period of time. Ten other kingdoms will rise out of the fourth, and out of those ten will emerge the king symbolized by the little horn.
Verses 24 and 25 indicate four things that he will do. First, he will “subdue three kings.” Presumably that means three of the ten. Second, he will speak against the Most High. Third, he will “oppress the saints.” and fourth, the saints will come under his dominance “for a time, times and half a time.”
The time reference, “a time, times, and half a time,” traditionally has been interpreted as three and one half years on the basis of Rev. 11:2-3 and 13:5. But this may not be accurate. The term “time(s)” sometimes is used to symbolize periods of time other than years.
Finally, verses 26-28 show us that the sovereignty and power of all the kingdoms will be given over to God’s saints as part of God’s end-time kingdom. And his kingdom will last foreer.
Once again we see in these verses the apocalyptic leap to the end time. That does not preclude fulfillment at some historical level as well; but the final fulfillment is in the end-time.
Now then, as we did in relation to chapter two, we shall not at this point get into various attempts to identify the specific kingdoms symbolized by the beasts. I promise you, we will do that. We will look at several opinions about which kingdoms were intended. But I want to do it at the end of our study of the book, after we have looked at all of the visions.
For now I just want you to se the common pattern that exists between this vision and Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter two. You will remember that Nebuchadnezzar dreamed about a huge statue.
Its head was gold; its breast and arms were silver; its belly and thighs were bronze; and its legs were iron. And we were told in the interpretation that these symbolized a succession of four kingdoms, the first one of which was Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom.
The feet and toes were made of a mixture of iron and clay; and we were told that the toes represented kingdoms that would emerge from the fourth kingdom. But then there was a leap to the end-time when the kingdom of God, symbolized by a great stone not cut by human hands, will smash the statue and replace it.
Here in chapter seven we have a similar pattern. The four beasts represent a succession of four kingdoms, out of which will emerge 10 kingdoms. There is an added element in comparison with thee dream of chapter two; namely, the little horn. But the end is the same. There is a leap to the end-time when the kingdom of God will triumph; and the kingdom of God will replace the kingdoms of this world.