DANIEL - CHAPTER 7
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
7:1. “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.”
Obviously the chapters of Daniel do not run in chronological order, since what is described here in chapter 7 in the first year of Belshazzar, follows chapter 5, which describes events at the end of his reign, as does also chapter 8.
Having been brought historically in chapters 1 through 6, from Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar, to the Medo-Persian empire under Darius, and symbolically from the Babylonian kingdom to the beginning of Christ’s millennial reign, we are now being taken back so that we may view that same period in greater detail, and from a different perspective, for it is generally accepted that the period portrayed here in chapter 7 under the figure of four savage beasts is the same as that depicted in chapter 2 under the figure of a great metal image.
But why represent the same historical period under a different set of symbols? Most exegetes agree that the great metal image portrays these Gentile empires from man’s perspective. He sees them as being great, powerful, glorious, majestic. God’s view, however, is very different. He sees them, as savage, rapacious, cruel, inhuman, beastly, Scofield making the interesting comment that, “It is remarkable that the heraldic insignia of the Gentile nations are all beasts or birds of prey.”
7:2. “Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea.”
The one addressed by the prophet isn’t identified, nor is it important for us to know, since in the broad sense his message is directed to all who care to read.
In Scripture, night is frequently used to represent spiritual darkness, so that Daniel’s having been given this revelation at night, may be to remind us that it is in the midst of earth’s spiritual darkness that God reveals Himself and His truth to those who walk in obedience, as did the prophet.
The wind is one of the Scriptural symbols of the Holy Spirit, e.g., “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:8). Winds (plural), on the other hand, seem to portray Satan’s minions, the evil spirits of the air, for almost invariably they are mentioned in connection with harm to men; and in quelling the storm on the lake, the Lord rebuked the winds, Mt 8:26. These four winds therefore appear to refer to evil spirits, and since the sea is one of the Biblical symbols of the great sea of humanity in its restless rebellion against God, their striving or rushing forth on the great sea (the Mediterranean), portrays Satan and his hosts as the evil power behind humanity’s turbulent rebellion against God.
7:3. “And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another.”
7:4. “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.”
The lion is the universal symbol of a king or kingdom, e.g., Christ is the Lion of Judah; Satan, the prince of darkness, is also referred to as a lion; and here, it is generally agreed, the lion represents both Babylon, and Nebuchadnezzar its great king, and the fitness of the symbol is apparent when we remember that as the lion is supreme in the animal kingdom, so was Babylon, as to its form of government, supreme amongst these four, for as already noted, its form of government was closer to the Divine ideal than was that of any of the others.
Commentators are not agreed as to the significance of the eagle’s wings, but the most satisfactory interpretation seems to be that which applies them to Nebuchadnezzar prior to his being recovered from his seven-year insanity, (see chapter 4). The reference, then, to the plucking of the wings, the lion’s being “lifted up from the earth,” its being “made to stand upon the feet as a man,” and its being given “a man’s heart,” all seem to speak of the change wrought in Nebuchadnezzar as a result of the restoration of his sanity. As noted already, it isn’t clear whether he was genuinely converted at that time, or whether the experience merely resulted in his being made to acknowledge the superiority of Jehovah over all other so-called gods. The fact remains that the experience appears to have wrought a profound change in him for the better. More important, however, than being able to settle that question, is the need to see that in preserving the record of His dealings with the Babylonian king, God would begin this prophecy by warning all who would hear or read, that though He may permit man’s rebellion, He Himself never ceases to be in control, and ultimately works all things together for the accomplishment of His own purposes. That the warning has been largely ignored by those who rule among the nations, is too apparent to need comment, nor is that surprising when we remember that Belshazzar, who had firsthand knowledge of God’s dealings with Nebuchadnezzar, was one of the first to ignore the warning.
7:5. “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.”
The second beast “like unto a bear” represents the empire of Medo-Persia, and its raising itself up on one side is the symbolic announcement of the eventual emergence of Persia as the dominant power. Nor could a more fitting animal have been chosen to represent it, for in the clumsiness of the bear we see in symbol the cumbrous character of the Persian empire. Alexander conquered it with a very much smaller army which cut virtually at will through the unwieldy mass of the Persian forces.
The “three ribs in the mouth of it,” are generally accepted as representing the three nations it had conquered, Lydia, Egypt, and Babylon. Their urging the bear to, “arise, (and) devour much flesh,” seems to suggest that it was Persia’s conquest of these three nations, which impelled it to embark on the further conquests by which it enlarged the sphere of its control to include virtually the whole ancient world.
7:6. “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.”
As the Babylonian empire had fallen to Persia, so did Persia fall to Greece, for this third beast “like a leopard” is generally taken to represent Greece, the leopard being the fitting symbol of the grace and culture with which Greece has always been synonymous. The “four wings of a fowl” are generally understood to symbolize the speed with which Alexander subdued, not only the great Persian empire, but so much of the rest of the world as well, those conquests being accomplished by the time he was thirty-two, so that he is said to have wept because there were no more kingdoms to conquer. The four heads are believed to represent the division of the empire among his four generals after Alexander’s death.
7:7. “And 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 nondescript beast represents the empire of Rome, which absorbed the fragmented Grecian empire, as Greece had absorbed the Persian; and Persia, the Babylonian. “... dreadful ... terrible ... strong ... iron teeth, etc.,” all point to the phenomenal might of the ancient Roman empire. It may be well incidentally, to note here that the description of this fourth beast given in Re 17:8 does not contradict what is written here in Daniel. There it is described as ascending out of the bottomless pit, whereas Daniel saw it and the others rising up out of the great sea, i.e., the sea of the nations. The explanation is that in Daniel the focus is on the earthly character of the empires, but in Revelation it is upon the fact that Satan is the evil spiritual power behind all of them.
There is disagreement among commentators as to the meaning of the ten horns, but consideration of the whole prophetic picture leaves little doubt that they represent the final form of the empire revived, and ruled by the beast in the Tribulation. Everything points to that final form as being a coalition of ten kingdoms.
7:8. “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 a man, and a mouth speaking great things.”
All things considered, the present European Common Market coalition seems to be that which will eventually resolve itself into the ten kingdom federation that will be the old Roman empire revived, the verse we are now considering making it clear that there will then arise a small eleventh kingdom, which will subdue three of the ten, and then be accepted as supreme head of the whole federation. The ruler of this small kingdom will become the beast of Re 13:1, the final great dictator, empowered by Satan to rule the Tribulation-age earth. This little horn’s having eyes like a man, and a mouth speaking great things, assures us that for all his boasting, and his claim to be God, he is still only a man.
7:9. “I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.”
The proper rendering of “the thrones were cast down” is “the thrones were set in place,” and very obviously, set for judgment. The description of the Judge as “the Ancient of days” appears to refer to God the Father, for verse 13 speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ coming to the Ancient of days. The judgment referred to is that of the nations at the end of the Tribulation, when Christ will separate believers from unbelievers, the unbelievers being banished into hell, and the believers being brought into the millennial kingdom. Since, however, the description of Christ in Re 1:13-15 is virtually the same as that used here of the Father, we are being reminded perhaps that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God.
The reference to “his wheels as burning fire” is very similar to Isa 66:15, “For, behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.” Since a circle is the symbol of that which is eternal, the reference here to wheels may be also the symbolic reminder of the eternal character of His judgment.
7:10. “A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.”
Since this is clearly a scene of judgment, the fiery stream appears to represent the Divine judgment that will separate believers and unbelievers at the end of the Tribulation. The countless multitude waiting in attendance on the Judge, announces the truth that He is the One whose right it is to command the obedience of all creation. On that day when Christ takes up the scepter of earth, obedience will be compelled, and not, as in this and other ages, optional.
Since the books that will be opened at the final judgment of the great white throne are clearly the record of men’s deeds (Re 20:12), it may be assumed that the books mentioned here represent a similar record, though the context makes it clear that this judgment is of the nations at the end of the Tribulation, and not that of the great white throne at the end of the world.
7:11. “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.”
“The voice of the great words which the horn spake” refers to the impious boasting of the beast emperor, which brings God’s judgment upon his guilty head. As noted already, “the beast” describes both the empire and the emperor, and here the application is twofold: the empire is slain, brought to an end, destroyed, and so is the beast emperor, for as we read in Re 19:20, “the beast (the emperor) 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 worshiped his image, These both were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.”
7:12. “As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time.”
The correct rendering of verse 12 is, “... the rest of the beasts had had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time.” The focus in this chapter is upon the fourth “beast” or kingdom in the Tribulation age, but it must be remembered that while Babylon fell to Persia; Persia to Greece; and Greece to Rome, the three conquered “beasts” (nations) continued to exist, but bereft of their former power. This is what is meant by its being said that “their dominion (was) taken away: yet their lives were prolonged....” The “season and time” appears to denote the unspecified duration of their continued existence in an inferior state, each continuing to exist, in fact, until the total destruction of Gentile power by the Lord’s return to end the Tribulation and establish His millennial kingdom. Since the date of that coming is not disclosed, the duration of their existence is of necessity also left undisclosed.
7:13. “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”
This of course refers to Christ’s appearance before the Father immediately prior to His departure from heaven as He prepares to return to earth in power and glory to end the Tribulation, and establish His millennial kingdom. It appears, in fact, to coincide with the moment described in Re 5:6-7, “And I (John) beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne, and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns, and seven eyes which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.” Other Scriptures which speak of the Lord’s coming “with the clouds of heaven” are Mt 27:30 “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory,” and Re 1:7 “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.”
7:14. “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.”
This describes the glory of Christ’s millennial reign, and the assurance that it will neither pass away nor be destroyed, reminds us that the end of the Millennium will not bring an end to his kingdom or rule: both will continue eternally, as the angel had assured Mary before His birth, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” (Lk 1:32-33).
7:15. “I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me.”
Those who have agonized over the meaning of a portion of Scripture will be able to understand what it must have meant for Daniel to have been given a Divine revelation, the meaning of which he couldn’t understand.
7:16. “I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things.”
Though the identity of this one who stood by isn’t disclosed, he can scarcely have been any other than one of the angels standing in attendance upon God as mentioned in verse 10, and as he enlightened Daniel, so does the Holy Spirit today enlighten obedient believers, God’s command to ask in order to receive, and to seek in order to find (Mt 7:7), clearly applying to just such situations as this.
7:17. “These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.”
We have already noted that the kingdoms and their rulers are often viewed as being one and the same. In verse 3 the kingdoms are described as coming up out of the sea (of the nations), but here the rulers are seen coming up out of the earth (used sometimes in Scripture as the symbol of the believing remnant of Israel, but clearly not so here). As in 1 Co 15:47 the natural man is described as being “of the earth, earthy,” so here God would emphasize that the rulers of the four great empires are unbelieving men, “of the earth, earthy.” The twice repeated mention of the number four continues to emphasize this truth, for four is the number of earth, and testing.
7:18. “But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.”
We should note that here where the reference is to the inheritance of the saints, the word is not kingdoms but kingdom (singular), reminding us that the world over which we will reign with Christ, will be no longer a world of warring kingdoms of men, but one unified under His dominion, there being unity even though there will continue to be national distinctions, with each nation under the control of its own ruler, who will be under the lordship of Christ. This thought of a unified world, but retaining its national distinctions, is always emphasized in Scripture when the reference is to Christ’s kingdom. It is only under the dominion of Satan that there are divisions and discord.
In connection with this emphasis upon the earthy state of those ruling the nations prior to the inauguration of Christ’s millennial kingdom, it is instructive to note what is written concerning those who will inherit the kingdom. The same Apostle who describes the natural man as earthy, writes also, “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Co 15:50). Those who will pass from the Tribulation into the millennial kingdom, will be those who will have become believers during that terrible reign of the beast, and like believers of this present age, they will be on the earth, but without being themselves earthy. They will be spiritual.
7:19. “Then I would know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet.”
This fourth beast, of course, is the Roman empire, and its being “diverse (different) from all the others” may lie in the fact that it is the only one that will have, as it were, experienced death and resurrection: it appeared to die in 476 A.D., but will be revived in the latter days as a ten kingdom coalition. It will be different from the others also in that it will be the only one to confront the Lord in literal battle, that battle being fought in the valley or plain of Megiddo, see e.g., Zec 12:11; Re 16:14-16; Joel 3:2.
The rest of the description applies not only to the phenomenal might that marked ancient Rome, but to that which will characterize Rome revived under the rule of the beast.
7:20. “And of the ten horns that were in his head, and of the other which came up, and before whom three fell; even of that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows.”
Verse 24 assures us that the ten horns represent the rulers of the ten kingdoms that will constitute the revived Roman empire, and that the eleventh horn represents the ruler of the eleventh kingdom, who will subdue three of the ten, and who will emerge as the head of the whole coalition. He is the beast out of the sea, the beast ruler of the revived Roman empire.
7:21. “I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them;”
7:22. “Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.”
This describes the beast’s venomous hatred of believers in the Tribulation, and informs us that he will succeed in killing many of them, but as verse 25 and other Scriptures make clear, that power will be given him for just three and a half years, the last half of the Tribulation era, that last half being the great Tribulation. The giving of judgment to the saints means simply that in the end God will render judgment in their favor against the beast, He taking the kingdom from the beast and giving it to the saints.
The fact that in verses 9 and 13 the term the Ancient of days is used to describe the Father, and here in verse 22 to describe the Son, reminds us again that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are coequal, the One being no less God than the other Two.
7:23. “Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon the earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces.”
Having already discussed the significance of this verse, it remains only to note the last clause “and break it (the whole earth) in pieces.” As the old Roman empire tottered to its fall in 476 A.D., and left a shattered, ruined kingdom to the barbarians, so will the reign of the final emperor, the beast, end with a world in ruins, as the book of Revelation makes very clear.
It will be of interest to students of Biblical typology to note that at his death, king Saul, who is a very clear type of the Tribulation-age beast, left behind him a scattered and broken Israel (1 Sa 31), the battle at Gilboa foreshadowing the battle of Armageddon. But as the reign of Saul was followed by that of David, so will the reign of the beast be followed by that of the Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom David is an unmistakable type.
7:24. “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.”
Since this verse is virtually the same as verse 20, the same comments apply here.
7:25. “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.”
The “great words” refer to the impious boasting of the beast emperor; just as his wearing out the saints, refers to his murderous persecution of those who belong to God. His thinking to “change times and laws” is very likely to mean that he will attempt to abolish observance of the special days which have significance relative to Israel’s worship, for it is to be remembered that the Tribulation era will be uniquely Jewish, all indications being that the form of worship will be again according to the OT ritual, e.g., in Jerusalem there will be some form of temple which will be the center of Jewish worship, the beast appearing in that temple, claiming to be God, 2 Thes 2:4, and causing “the sacrifice and the oblation to cease” (Dan 9:27). It is very possible that he will also seek to abolish those laws which now help in some measure at least to curb immorality, the disregard of many of those laws even today, preparing the way for their total abolition in that fast approaching age when evil will envelope the earth like a tidal wave.
The “time and times and the dividing of time” as already noted, are the great Tribulation, the final three and a half years of the whole seven year Tribulation period.
7:26. “But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.”
Unquestionably the judgment is that executed by God, the “they” apparently being the Divine Trinity. The beast’s power, like that of Satan, will be exercised only by God’s permission. At the end of the Tribulation that power will cease, its end being synchronous with the final destruction of all Gentile power.
7:27. “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.”
The end of the Tribulation will bring an end to the subjugation of believers. The usurper will be banished, and the saints will inherit the earth as promised by the Lord, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5). All “dominions,” i.e., nations and their rulers, will obey Christ, and that kingdom, beginning with the Millennium, will endure for ever in the new earth.
7:28. “Hitherto is the end of the matter. As for me Daniel, my cogitations much troubled me, and my countenance changed in me: but I kept the matter in my heart.”
This was the end of the revelation, and the result of his having been given it was that his thoughts troubled him so much that his countenance changed, i.e., he turned pale, but he discussed it with no one.
The reason for his consternation isn’t given, but the suggestion has been made that it may have been because of the sufferings his people would experience before being delivered from Gentile dominion, and being brought into kingdom blessing.