To this point in Daniel, all the visions and dreams have happened to other people and Daniel has merely interpreted them. Now he begins to experience them for himself. These visions, though happening to different people at different times, are all about the same thing: the future, some of which is future even to us. Daniel gives us detail not found anywhere else in Scripture.
This particular vision came to Daniel in the first year of Belshazzar, v. 1, or within a few years of the beginning of the Medo-Persian empire under Cyrus.
The chapter may be divided into two sections:
1. Vision and interpretation, vs. 1-18.
2. Question and answer, vs. 19-28.
Daniel’s vision and its interpretation, 7:1-18.
This vision seems also to be divided into two sections:
a. an earthly scene, vs. 1-8.
b. a heavenly scene, vs. 9-14.
An earthly scene, vs. 1-8.
Something to pay attention to in this vision is the different way it views the various empires of which it speaks compared to Nebuchadnezzar’s vision. Nebuchadnezzar’s vision was of a great image, or statue, 2:31, something man could build and be proud of, something which would show off his ingenuity and skill, a statue made of valuable materials. Daniel himself described it like this: this great image, whose splendor was excellent,…and its form was awesome. Even the least significant part, the feet and toes, was made of ceramic clay, a valuable commodity. This is, if you will, the earthly viewpoint.
Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 shows these same empires as vicious beasts, mongrel beasts, monstrous beasts, good only to destroy and to be destroyed. This is the heavenly viewpoint.
Strange, isn’t it, the difference between the two viewpoints. What fallen man, even religious fallen man, praises and glories in, God finds detestable, Luke 16:15.
As we look more closely at this vision, we see:
A. The first three beasts, vs. 2-6.
We lump these three together because of the relative lack of space given to them as compared with the fourth beast.
1. From later prophecies in Daniel, and from history itself, we know this first beast, vs. 2-4, represents the Babylonian Empire. Lion-like figures with wings and human heads abound in the ruins of this empire. The latter description of this first beast perhaps refers to the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar and his restoration, with a consequent lessening of the brutality of the empire. Cf. the phrase, a man’s heart was given it, v. 4, with the corresponding verses in 4:13-16, where a watcher, a holy one, …from heaven cried aloud concerning Nebuchadnezzar, “Let his heart be changed from that of a man. Let him be given the heart of a beast.”
Perhaps a key word for this beast is “demeanor,” as Nebuchadnezzar learned the cost and futility of human pride of accomplishment. This lesson was lost on those who followed him, either in his own family, i.e., Belshazzar, or in the empires which followed.
2. The second beast, v. 5, is Medo-Persia. The raised side refers to Persia, which was the stronger of the two kingdoms. The three ribs refer to the three kingdoms this empire destroyed: Babylon, Lydia and Egypt. Lydia was a kingdom in approximately the area we know today as Turkey, the area of the seven churches in the Revelation. Perhaps a key word for this kingdom is “destruction”: “arise, devour much flesh.” This kingdom was noted for its rapacity and cruelty.
3. The third beast, v. 6, is Greece. The beast itself, a leopard, is described as having four wings, which symbolize the rapidity with which Alexander, though not named, conquered the Persian Empire. The four heads refer to the four generals who served with him and who divided his kingdom after his early death at 33. The key word for this kingdom is “dominion,” which even the text uses of it. However, Grecian influence went far beyond the mere conquest of lands and kingdoms. Alexander’s great desire was to spread Greek culture, including the language, throughout his domain. So successful was he in this that Greek became the universal language of the day, even down to New Testament times. Wherever the Gospel went, it could be understood. The New Testament was written in ordinary, everyday Greek, and even the Old Testament was translated into Greek. Sometimes that translation is quoted in New Testament uses of Old Testament verses.
A century and a half before the birth of our Lord, it was a ruler of the Seleucid segment of Alexander’s empire, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who did his best to destroy the Jews. His efforts are prophesied in Daniel.
Finally, Greek customs prevailed even among many Jews. This led to a culture war, if you will, between those who wanted to remain faithful to their own heritage, customs and language (the “Hebrews”), and those who saw nothing wrong with adapting and conforming to the Greek culture, even to speaking the language (the “Hellenists,” from the Greek word for “Greek”). The first church dispute, recorded in Acts 6, reflects this dissension: …there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution, Acts 6:1. Vs. 1-6 show how wisely that dispute was resolved. Note the Grecian names of the seven chosen to take care of the problem.
B. The fourth beast, vs. 7, 8.
Again we note that the most space is given to this beast, whose key word is “different.” Exactly how it is different is not described: perhaps there are no earthly beasts to which it can be compared. One difference is that this beast is nowhere identified as to which kingdom it represents. It is simply a fourth beast, vs. 7, 19, and a fourth kingdom, v. 23. It is usually identified as Rome, which did indeed defeat Greece and then spread throughout their known world. This identification in historically tenable, yet it seems this fourth beast of Daniel isn’t quite analogous to Rome. The Spirit’s own interpretation follows later in the chapter.
There are a couple of things said about this beast:
1. its destructiveness, v. 7. The description is of an unstoppable “mad dog” sort of beast, tearing and destroying everything in its path.
2. its distinctiveness, vs. 7b, 8. Again, we’re not told how it is different. The only description Daniel gives us besides its dreadful teeth and paws is the fact that it had ten horns. As we’ll see, this is perhaps the most vital part of the vision. Another horn appears and defeats three of the ten horns. This “horn” possesses eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words. These speak of intelligence and an insolent attitude, although toward what we’re not yet told, as Daniel’s attention is drawn elsewhere. What he saw, Lord willing, will be in our next post.