Daniel 7: The Vision of the Four Beasts, Part 1
Jun 09, 2015
The last half of the book of Daniel (chapters 7-12) are the visions and revelations of the prophet regarding the times of the Gentiles (nations). His view spans history from the start of the Babylonian empire until the resurrection of the dead. His revelation contains remarkable details about the rise and fall of empires not yet established.
Even so, there were a few details that he did not see, and these were left for John to reveal in the book of Revelation.
Daniel’s first two visions, recorded in chapters 7 and 8, were given to him in the early part of the reign of Belshazzar. The record shows that they were to be considered as Part 1 and Part 2, or perhaps as a main revelation in chapter 7 followed by supplementary material in chapter 8.
Chapter 7 was given in the first year of Belshazzar, and chapter 8 was given in his third year. These two visions are linked together in the structure of the book, forming B in the outline that is directly related to B (chapter 2). See the outline here.
Dating the First Vision
In 548 B.C., when King Nabonidus left Babylon to live in the oasis where his favorite god resided, his son Belshazzar took the throne as a co-regent and, for all practical purposes, was the sole monarch until the threat from Persia brought him back to Babylon. This is what Daniel means by “the first year of Belshazzar” in Daniel 7:1,
1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions in his mind as he lay on his bed; then [Aramaic: b’edayin] he wrote the dream down and related the following summary of it.
We have already seen that Nabonidus actually outlived Belshazzar, because the Persian king spared the life of Nabonidus. Belshazzar was not so fortunate, however, as he was killed in 537 B.C. when Babylon was taken. So there is really no “first year of Belshazzar” where he ruled as a sole monarch. Technically, he was never the full king in the legal sense but always ruled in the name of his father. Hence, Daniel must be referring to 548 B.C. as his first year, and this is then the date of the vision in chapter 7.
Daniel wrote it down immediately so that he would forget no pertinent details. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says of this,
“Then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters. He recorded it immediately (then or thereupon, or at that time, as the Aramaic ‘edayin prefixed by b emphatically requires).”
The visions of Daniel 7 and 8 were given to the prophet many years before the fall of Babylon in Daniel 5. The book is not set forth in chronological order. The history is given in the first six chapters, and the visions in the last half of the book.
Daniel Tells the Vision
Daniel 7:1 says that the prophet did two things. First, “he wrote the dream,” and then he “related [told, spoke verbally] the following summary of it.” The question is: to whom did he relate the vision? His audience is unknown. Was it a trusted friend? Was it a group of people—perhaps the Order of Magi, of which he was presumably still the headmaster?
We do not know why Daniel was written in the third person, except for the times when he was relating the visions to others (Daniel 7:2, 6, 7, etc.). Daniel may have written the book himself, using the impersonal third person, but it is also possible that, like Moses, Paul, and many other biblical writers, he had a scribe who actually wrote about Daniel and related what the prophet had told him. Moses’ scribe was Eliezer, who obviously wrote the last chapter of Deuteronomy, recording the death of Moses. Paul’s scribe was Luke.
In the end, it does not matter who physically wrote these books. They were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and certainly under the supervision of the men whose names appear as authors.
The Origin of Nations
Daniel’s vision was related verbally beginning in Daniel 7:2 and 3,
2 Daniel 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.”
We see later that these “four great beasts” were actually nations or empires, coming out of the sea of humanity. Many years later, John would write in Revelation 13:1, “And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea.” We also read in Revelation 17:8 about a beast coming “out of the abyss.” The abyss was a common expression denoting the depths of the sea. The great Harlot, John says, sits on many waters, and he defines this clearly in Revelation 17:15,
15 And he said to me, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.”
So the beast nations who rule during this time originate in the earth. They differ from the final kingdom that originates in heaven. Though it manifests on earth, it comes from heaven, rather than from the abyss of the sea.
The First Beast: Babylon
The first beast correlates with the head of gold in Daniel 2:32. Daniel 7:4 says,
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.
Daniel saw a lamassu, which was very common throughout Babylon and Assyria.
The lamassu is a celestial being from Mesopotamian Mythology bearing a human head, bull's body, sometimes with the horns and the ears of a bull, and wings. It appears frequently in Mesopotamian art.
To protect houses, the lamassu were engraved in clay tablets, which were then buried under the door's threshold. They were often placed as a pair at the entrance of palaces. At the entrance of cities, they were sculpted in colossal size, and placed as a pair, one at each side of the door of the city, that generally had doors in the surrounding wall, each one looking towards one of the cardinal points.
Anyone listening to Daniel’s speech would have known that the first beast was Babylon itself. The winged lion with the human head was clearly the most common visible symbol of Babylon. Daniel said also, “a human mind also was given to it,” as if the lion had a human head.
The two wings of the Babylonian lion denote swiftness, as Habakkuk 1:8 says, “Their horses are swifter than leopards… they fly like an eagle swooping down to devour.” The same metaphor is seen in the third beast (leopard), as we will see shortly. The main difference is that the leopard has four wings, rather than two, showing how the Grecian conquest was very swift indeed.
When the lion’s wings were “plucked,” some invisible force lifted its front legs and forced it to stand on its back legs like a man. The word translated “man” is enosh, which is a picture of frailty or weakness. The more common word for man is awdawm (Adam). But Daniel sees Babylon move from a strong, winged lion, to a weak lion whose feathers have been plucked. Even as a bird is weak and cannot fly without feathers, so also would this lion be plucked and weakened.
The Second Beast: Medo-Persia
The second beast correlates with the arms of silver in Daniel 2:32. Daniel 7:5 says,
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!”
This is a picture of a hungry bear, which, when applied to the nation of Medo-Persia, shows its hunger for world conquest. The “three ribs” probably refer to Persia’s most notable conquests: Lydia, Babylon, and Egypt.
Keep in mind also that Daniel 7 and 8 are parallel to Daniel 2, where these four empires were described in metallic terms on the image. The metals: gold, silver, bronze, and iron, showed a pattern of decreased value while increasing in hardness and strength—perhaps to denote an increase in oppressiveness.
The Third Beast: Greece
The third beast correlates with the belly of bronze in Daniel 2:32. Daniel 7:6 says,
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.
This beast was to have a reputation for swiftness. In Habakkuk 1:8 the prophet compared the horses of the Chaldeans to leopards, saying, “their horses are swifter than leopards.” Obviously, if leopards were slow, this comparison would have had no meaning.
In this vision Daniel saw little about this third beast, but two years later in his next vision (Daniel 8) he received much more supplementary revelation about this empire. The Grecian empire was led by Alexander the Great, who conquered Persia in 330 B.C. However, Alexander died just seven years later in Babylon (323 B.C.), and his kingdom was divided among his four generals. These four generals are pictured as the four heads of the leopard, and perhaps also in the four wings on the leopard’s back.
The four wings speak of the swiftness by which the four generals could move their armies and conquer the nations. Whereas the lion of Babylon had only two wings, the leopard of Greece was seen with four wings. Beyond this, we are given no details until chapter 8.
We will continue with the fourth beast in the next weblog.
This is part 27 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Daniel." To view all parts, click the link below.