Daniel 7

We noted earlier in our study that Daniel 2.4-7.28 were written in Aramaic, which may be significant as this entire section focuses on the Lord’s rule over the nations. As we put forth before, there’s a scheme to the material in this section:

  • 4 kingdoms and God’s sovereignty (Daniel 2)
    • God delivers those who trust in Him (Daniel 3)
      • God humbles those who walk in pride (Daniel 4)
      • God humbles those who walk in pride (Daniel 5)
    • God delivers those who trust in Him (Daniel 6)
  • 4 kingdoms and God’s sovereignty (Daniel 7)

However, it would seem that chapter 7 is the beginning of a new section in the book, a section comprised of Daniel’s dreams and visions. Note that this chapter breaks from the historical of the first 6 chapters and now we are back in the reign of the Babylonians (vs. 1). Thus, it seems best to divide the book into 2 main parts:

  1. Historical Narrative (chapters 1-6)
  2. Visions and Revelation (chapters 7-12)

We would also do well to note how chapter 7 compares to chapter 2. First, here are a few points of comparison, and these are by no means exhaustive:

  1. Four world kingdoms are described (2.31-45; 7.1-8)
  2. God gives dominion to these kingdoms (2.36-38; 7.6,12,26)
  3. There is a focus on the 4th kingdom (2.40-43; 7.7-8,29-25)
  4. God established an everlasting kingdom (2.44; 7.13-14,27)

However, there are points of contrast between the two chapters:

  1. The vision of chapter 2 was given to a pagan king, but in chapter 7 it is God’s prophet who receives the vision.
  2. In chapter 7 we see that the 4th kingdom will blaspheme God and persecute His saints (vss. 8,11,20,21,25). Yet, the saints will share in God’s victory (vss. 18,22,27).
  3. The length of the 4th kingdom’s dominion is given in chapter 7 (vs. 25).

One final point we should make before looking at the text of chapter 7, and that is the apocalyptic that begins to be employed starting with chapter 7. This style is typically used during times of crisis when it appears that evil may triumph over good, but God intervenes to defeat evil and exalt His saints. Other sections in the Old Testament employ similar language to convey the surety of deliverance by God in times of great crisis (see Isaiah 24-2756-66Ezekiel 38-39Joel 3Zechariah 1-612-14). However, we must remember that while apocalyptic language is highly symbolic, this is not an allegory. Therefore, we need to be careful that we don’t try to shoehorn meaning into every single detail of the visions.

Vision of the four beasts (Daniel 7.1-8 NASB95)

1In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel saw a dream and visions in his mind as he lay on his bed; then he wrote the dream down and related the following summary of it.

  • The first year of Belshazzar was ~553 BC

2Daniel 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.

  • The image is similar to that of chapter 2. Just as the image in chapter 2 was comprised of different parts, yet they were all part of one image.
  • Likewise, the beasts of chapter 7 differ from each other, but they all originate from the same place. In this verse they are said to arise from the sea (likely referring to the nations). In vs. 17 they are said to come from the earth. 
  • Thus, the beasts my differ from each other, but each is from this world!

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.

  • This beast would represent Babylon which is characterized as both a lion (Jeremiah 4.749.19) and an eagle (Jeremiah 49.22) in Scripture.
  • “Winged figures are common in the art and sculpture of Mesopotamia. The winged bulls and winged lions, both with human heads, flanked thrones and entryways in Assyria, Babylon and Persia. Winged human figures (wearing headdresses with horns) are known as early as the eighth century and stood guard at Cyrus’s palace in Pasargadae.” (IVP Bible Background Commentary)
  • The end of this verse is likely an allusion to the humbling of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4. In that chapter a man was made like a beast, in this vision a beast is made like a man.

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!’

  • Represents the Medo-Persian empire.
  • Here we must be careful that we don’t allegorize the vision. For instance, the three ribs could represent three defeated foes, but we can’t be certain.
  • What we do know is the Medo-Persian empire conquered more kingdoms and territory than any before it.

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.

  • Represents the Greek empire.
  • The great speed of the leopard would be an apt symbol for the rapid expansion of the Greek empire under Alexander.
  • Likewise, the four wings and heads could very well represent how the kingdom was divided after Alexander’s death (see 8.8,22). 

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, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts.

  • Note the similarities between this beast and the legs of the image in Daniel 2.40-43. This beast represents the Roman empire.
  • Horns were symbols of power and we see later that they were to represent kings (vs. 24).
  • Some see the 11th, boastful horn as representing Domitian. This is possible, but it could be that the image speaks more generally of a ruler or rulers in this empire who would boast against God and persecute His people. We will say more about this later.

Vision of the Ancient of Days and One like a son of man (Daniel 7.9-14 NASB95)

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.

  • This image emphasizes various aspects of God’s nature. He is timeless (Ancient of Days, see Psalm 90.1-2), He is pure and holy (white snow, pure wool, see Isaiah 1.18), and He is ready to judge (note the images of fire, see Isaiah 66.15-16). 

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.

  • This beast may boast against God (vs. 8) and even persecute His saints (vs. 25), but his utter destruction is assured.

12“As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time.

  • Remember that their dominion had been given to them (see vs. 6).
  • Extension of life likely refers to the fact that other kingdoms would continue to arise which would seek to war against God and His people. But just like the 4th beast, they won’t last.

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.

  • “son of man” was Jesus’ preferred self-designation, occurring ~ 80 times in the gospels (see Matthew 8.209.616.27-2826.64).
  • “the stress here is ‘a son of man’ as opposed to ‘a beast’. One in the image of God as opposed to a savage, mindless animal. He comes on “clouds of heaven” which speaks of the non-human, the divine. The beasts came up out of the earth; they are the kingdoms of earth. This is the kingdom of heaven.” (Jim McGuiggan).

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.

  • The establishment of this kingdom was already promised in Daniel 2.44. But now we see its establishment would only occur when Jesus (the son of man) was brought to God (see Mark 16.19). 

Interpretation of the vision (Daniel 7.15-28 NASB95)

15“As for me, Daniel, my spirit was distressed within me, and the visions in my mind kept alarming me.

  • We’ve noted similar reactions from both Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar.

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:

  • Previously, it was Daniel who interpreted for Nebuchadnezzar (chapters 2,4) and Belshazzar (chapter 5), but now he needs help in understanding.

17‘These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth.

18‘But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.’

  • “it didn’t matter that the saints had at one time Jewish opponents and then (as in this section) Roman opponents. And it didn’t matter that it sometimes looked as though the sovereignty (kingdom) wasn’t theirs – it was!” (Jim McGuiggan)

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,

20and 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

22until 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.

  • It may appear that evil is triumphing over God’s people, but God’s victory and the victory of His satins is assured!

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.

  • It is God’s prerogative to “change times and epochs” (Daniel 2.21), thus this horn (king) is assuming the rights of Jehovah.

26‘But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever.

27‘Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.’

28“At this point the revelation ended. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts were greatly alarming me and my face grew pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”

The meaning:

To comprehend the meaning of this vision, we should note how the imagery of this chapter is used in Revelation:

  1. Beasts coming from the sea (Daniel 7.3Rev 13.1)
  2. Lion, bear and leopard (Daniel 7.4-6Rev 13.2)
  3. Ten horns (Daniel 7.7Rev 13.1)
  4. Boasting, blaspheming (Daniel 7.8,11,20,25Rev 13.5-6)
  5. Beasts arise from the earth (Daniel 7.17Rev 13.11)
  6. 4th beast wages war with saints (Daniel 7.21,25Rev 13.7)
  7. 4th beast would seem to overpower the saints (Daniel 7.21Rev 13.7)
  8. 4th beast oppresses the saints for time, times & half a time (Daniel 7.25Rev 13.512.6,14)
  9. Books opened (Daniel 7.10Revelation 20.12,15
  10. Beast utterly destroyed (Daniel 7.11Revelation 19.2020.10
  11. Extension of the life of the beasts (Daniel 7.12Revelation 20.7-10
  12. Son of man on the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7.13Revelation 14.14

I’m sure there are other parallels, but these suffice to show that the vision of Daniel 7 foretold the very matter at the heart of Revelation. In the case of Revelation, John was writing about things “which must soon take place” (Revelation 1.1). At that time, Rome under the rule of Domitian (the 11th horn?) was persecuting God’s people. It seemed as if Rome would triumph, but the letter revealed that God would triumph over the kingdoms of the world and over Satan who was using these kingdoms to persecute God’s people.

God knew that all of these things would take place ~600 years before it occurred! Daniel was shown the future suffering of the saints, but also the surety of their victory and of the everlasting rule of God. And if God knew then what His saints would undergo, He also knows every trial and tribulation we face. We too can be assured that God will prove victorious and we will continue to reign with Him!

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