Interpreting Daniel’s Vision of the Four Beasts – Daniel 7:1-28

 
Last Sunday night, we got an overview of Daniel’s dream – without a lot of explanation. Then this morning we cut out Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days, examining Him in more detail. Tonight let’s go through the chapter again, paying more attention to some of the arguments offered for the interpretation we made last week.

As we come to this point in our study, we open-up the possibility for lots of disagreements. But keep in mind that most of these disagreements are over little details and personal opinions. It is perfectly permissible to disagree on the finer points, so long as we remember the over-all purpose of this revelation. Despite the powerful kingdoms that man and Satan might raise, ultimately the Lord will cast them all down to make manifest His eternal kingdom and dominion.

Without getting too serious with ourselves, let’s proceed back through this chapter a little more slowly than we did last Sunday night.

The Introduction.
“In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters. Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea.” Does the “great sea” have more or less meaning, depending on which actual sea it was that Daniel saw? I don’t believe so. From the prophet’s perspective it was probably the Mediterranean. The more pertinent question is whether or not it has prophetic significance. It might be argued that since the four beasts came up out of the sea, they must all have come from Mediterranean countries. But we know from history that only half of them did. So the name of the sea doesn’t mean much. And then there is the fact that verse 17 says that these kingdoms arose “out of the earth.” There are a handful of related Biblical references which some commentators like to stress. For example, Isaiah tells us, “the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.” And in a prophecy from Revelation 17 we are told “the waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.” I won’t quarrel with those who say that the “sea” represents the wicked nations of the earth – multitudes. These are worldly kingdoms, men’s kingdoms, even though to some degree they are Satanically inspired.

But what about the four winds which are sweeping over this sea of wicked humanity? This is certainly a strange & dangerous situation with four winds coming together at one point at one time. As I said last week, some argue that this is the work of the Holy Spirit, but I’m not fond of that idea. I would rather think of these four beasts rising up under the direction of Satan in an attempt to destroy the kingdom of God – and the Lord permits their rise. Remember that Satan is the prince of the power of the air – the four winds. And Revelation 7:1 adds, “After these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.” Most of the time the Lord restrains the four winds of the wicked one, but not in Daniel 7.

The four beasts.
“And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another.” It is pointed out by some that the Bible calls these “beasts” rather than “living creatures” as elsewhere. These are living creatures, but their nature makes them “beasts.” “The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.” Do we see here the king of beasts and the king of birds? Do we see in these a representation of absolute monarchy? Perhaps when the wings are plucked off, we see Nebuchadnezzar becoming satisfied with the extent of his dominion. When he begins to stand like a man and he is given a man’s heart – does this mean that he is no longer a ravaging beast? Or is the plucking of his wings the loss of his sanity? Is there significance in the fact that the wings were plucked from him rather than shed?

“And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh.” A bear is usually stronger than a lion and perhaps more voracious, but it lacks the agility, speed and majesty of the lion. We are told that the armies of the Medes and Persians were enormous – tens of millions, before the vast populations that we have today. The fact it rose up on one side tells some commentators that the Persians were stronger than the Medes. Some say that the three ribs were the kingdoms of Lydia, Babylon and Egypt. This bear was inferior to the lion, just as silver is inferior to the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision.

“After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it.” The leopard was the swiftest of the four beasts, but just as deadly as a hunter. It had four wings which added to it’s speed. Speed was one of the characteristics of the armies of Alexander. He defeated the enormous armies of the Persians and then the Indians – through speed and agility. His was light cavalry and he used a special composition bow, which gave his archers more distance than his enemies. Alexander’s troops didn’t need the same amount of protective armor as his opponents. Should we stress the fact that his wings were only those of a small fowl rather than an eagle? Initially, this Empire was Alexander, but after his death at an early age the Empire was divided into four segments – Thrace, Macedonia, Syria and Egypt, which eventually involved Cleopatra and Herod.

“After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns.” This creature was unlike any living animal – it was hideous and far more evil than its predecessors. It’s iron teeth should remind us of the iron in the legs and feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s image. And the ten horns remind us of the ten toes of that image. There should be no doubt that there is a parallel between this vision and the vision of chapter 2. What really mystified and disturbed Daniel was the introduction of the last little horn. “I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.”

We will come to this little horn in a second, but it needs to be said that it is impossible to directly see the United States anywhere in this chapter. Furthermore, we can’t find Russia, China or Japan, and only remotely some of the other major countries of today. That’s not to say that they won’t play a role among the nations of the last days, but the so-called “world powers” today are not at the center of Biblical prophesy.

The little horn.
Verse 15 – “I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me. I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me… Verse 23 – “Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.”

Horns in the Bible, quite frequently, speak of power. Animals use them for various reasons – they are sometimes weapons; they are glorious; they are crowns. In any of these ways, the ten horns of the fourth beast could speak of successive kings or ten divisions of the Roman Empire. But this Aramaic word is translated “cornet” half as often as it is “horn” – a horn may be musical instrument. This still doesn’t hurt the image of a ruling monarch, and it is quite appropriate for the loud-mouthed, blasphemous little horn. I have heard it said that these ten horns represent the old Unholy Roman Empire. Others suggest that they refer to the first ten members of the new Roman Empire, the European Community. I am not convinced that an accurate understanding of these ten horns is important, nor am I convinced that anyone yet can be completely sure of who they are.

But the little horn is definitely more important than the first ten. Notice that he will not burst on the scene in miraculous power, but slowly arise among the other powers. Reading between the lines, it seems that he will take control through cunning and deception. Somehow he will overthrow three other powers. And verse 24 says that he will be different from the rest of the horns in some ways.

What does the reference to the little horn’s eyes signify? Some think that it is his personal magnetism – his charismatic nature. I prefer to think that it speaks about his use of modern technology and informational intelligence. And of course, there will be his mouth, flowing with great, soothing and smoothing words, until they become more fully blasphemous. But of course, for the most part that blasphemy will offend very few people in the world. This little horn will win much of the world to himself through his personality and his guile.

He “shall think to change times and laws.” The Rabbis understood this to be his attempt to change the Hebrew Sabbaths, festivals and other laws. Other scriptures teach us that the future antichrist will first ingratiate himself into Jewish favor, helping them to reestablish some of their former customs, worshiping in a rebuilt temple and so on. But then in the midst of the Tribulation, he will turn on them, personally entering the temple and demanding the world’s worship of him. Obviously, if this is the case he will be demanding the most blasphemous things. He will “make war with the saints” with the vast majority of those saints, being those recently saved during the Tribulation. This is not referring to his attack up you and me, but to the saints of that day – primarily Hebrews. It needs to be pointed out that some commentators think that the changing of times and laws, shouldn’t be confined to Jewish laws, but to international principles affecting all the countries of the world. In the light of the then recent translation of the saints, some sort of martial law might be set in place.

Turn to Revelation 13 – “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him? And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If any man have an ear, let him hear.” Despite the his blasphemies and the havoc which he will cause, this little horn will be overcome by Christ.

The final kingdom.
Verse 11 – “I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time. I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” Verse 27 – “And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”

As Revelation 13 teaches us, with the help of someone we’ll call “the false prophet” the Antichrist will become a world leader. But it will not be without divine and earthly opposition. At the end, during all the turmoil and slaughter of the 42 month Great Tribulation, the Son of Man will return from Heaven, putting down the Satanic Trinity of the Antichrist, the False Prophet and Satan.

Revelation 19:11 – “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh. And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled.”

I know that we’ve strayed from Daniel 7 just a bit, but Revelation blends with Daniel to give us a fuller picture. And the point is, once again, that the Lord will bring down the four beasts and all their horns – even the little horn. Christ is King of kings and Lord of Lords. His kingdom is from everlasting and His dominion is eternal. Furthermore, the Lord has the future of His creation all mapped out. Our concern shouldn’t be so much about horns as about our relationship to the Son of God.