Summary: Belshazzar had a strange dream of frightening images telling of coming world empires but Daniel’s interpretation looks forward to God’s eternal kingdom
DANIEL 7 - THE VISION OF THE FOUR BEASTS
This chapter goes back in time from where chapter 6 had reached in Daniel’s life. He had served three kings, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius, and this vision is dated at the beginning of Belshazzar’s reign. Daniel was established as a leading member of the kingdom but his influence was declining, as the new king did not fear God, as did Nebuchadnezzar. It was a disturbing time for Daniel, as the influence for good that Nebuchadnezzar had in his last years following his restoration to his kingdom was now being lost. The gold of his kingdom was rapidly being devalued. The dreadful images of this dream would do nothing to change Daniel’s thinking that things had taken a turn for the worse.
What a strange dream Daniel had, full of frightening images. To some extent the dream was a repetition of the vision of the four great world-empires which had been given at an earlier date to Nebuchadnezzar. There, the emphasis had been on the glory of these kingdoms, symbolized by a great image. But in this second view they take the form of fierce, wild beasts who lived up to their reputation in destruction and violence. People who fondly believe that mankind is improving as time goes on, expecting utopia around the corner, are deluding themselves. It is true, knowledge has increased, and mankind is exploiting resources previously undreamed of. Although the human race sometimes takes a step forward, all too often it is followed by two steps backwards. We shall see this demonstrated as the vision unfolds, with the political systems deteriorating and wickedness increasing as the end of the age draws near.
The chapter is divided in two: Daniel speaks of the dream he had, and then he goes on to tell of the interpretation that was given to him. The vision is portrayed on the background of a great sea which was being lashed into fury by the four winds of heaven. The troubled waters of the sea are used in Scripture as a symbol of the restless nations of the world, but as we shall see, it is God’s world, and he is ultimately in charge. The first beast that rises from the sea is:
This beast, although like a lion, had eagle’s wings but the odd thing was that they were plucked off while Daniel was looking. The winged lion has been found in excavations made in cities of ancient Babylon, and would symbolize Nebuchadnezzar’s might and the rapidity of his conquests. But suddenly he was halted in his tracks and he became more tolerant and humane. This is seen as a reflection of his humiliation when he lost his sanity for seven years and then was restored to health for his last years. The vision suggests this in the reference to the lion being stood on its feet as a man and a man’s heart given to it (4). When Daniel spoke the vision of the lion, the kingdom it symbolized, had already been overtaken by its successor, portrayed by:
This was a formidable beast, strong, cruel and cunning, but not so majestic as the lion. It is a fitting symbol of the Medo-Persian Empire, being inferior to the Babylonian in power, civilization and nobility. The strange feature described by Daniel was that there were three ribs in the bear’s mouth between its teeth - not a pleasant sight! This depicts the empire feeding on its captive nations in cruelty and inhumanity. When we think back over the wars of this century, nothing has changed. After the bear, Daniel saw:
This was a curious animal, with the wings of a bird and four heads. It is an appropriate image for the Grecian Empire. Alexander the Great, its founder, extended its territory with lightning-like rapidity, reaching India in his conquests. Just as the leopard is an elegant beast, the Greeks were renowned for their culture. The leopard had four heads, and this is taken as referring to the division of the kingdom into four on Alexander’s early death when his generals divided the empire into quarters.
We have seen the first three beasts of the vision, the Lion, the Bear and the Leopard. There is a reference to these animals in Hosea (13:7,8), an earlier prophet, who told the sinful people of Israel that Jehovah would act towards them in the same way as these fearful animals because of their backsliding. The lesson of history must surely be that God does not make idle threats which are not carried out. But there is still worse to come. As the whole fearful drama played before Daniel’s eyes, horror mounted, as each succeeding beast became crueler and more monster-like than its predecessor. We come now to: