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Wednesday, July 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 7

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


Practically all scholars, whether liberal or conservative, are convinced that the prophecy of this chapter follows the same pattern as that in Daniel 2, and that the “four beasts” appearing here are to be identified with the four parts of the great image with the head of gold which appeared in Daniel 2. This means also that the same critical errors alleged in their interpretations of Daniel 2 are repeated in this chapter, where against all reason, and opposed to the plainest facts, critical enemies of the Bible insist on identifying the fourth of the world empires prophesied here as that of the Greeks and Macedonians under Alexander the Great.

The greatest minds of human history, as well as many of the intellectual giants of our own millennium, have unanimously and invariably identified the “four beasts” of this chapter as Babylon, Medo-Persia, the Greeks, and the empire of the Romans. Note the following:

“The traditional theory is that the fourth empire is the Roman.”(F1)

“The common Jewish belief much earlier than the fourth century was that the fourth empire was the Roman.”(F2)

“The Fourth Book of Esdras (dated near the beginning of the Christian era) describes the Roman power as an eagle and expressly identifies the Roman empire as the fourth beast of Daniel.”(F3)

The apostle John, as we found in our studies of the Revelation, did not hesitate to identify the beast with the ten horns as Rome.

“The apocalypse of Baruch which was written about 60 B.C. expressly designates Rome as the fourth beast of Daniel.”(F4)

The Bible teaches that the kingdom of God was to be established in the days of the “fourth beast”; and that of course was during the times of the Roman empire. Trying to force the interpretation that Alexander’s kingdom was the fourth beast reduces the prophecy to an absurdity.

“The interpretation commonly received in the church (throughout history) is that these four kingdoms (or beasts) are the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Macedo-Grecian, and the Roman. On this opinion, Martin Luther wrote, ’All the world are agreed, and history and fact abundantly establish it.’“(F5) “Sir Isaac Newton stated that the fourth beast is undoubtedly that of the Roman empire and devoted an entire chapter to his exposition of how the little horn rooted out three of the ten horns.”(F6)

From the above, it is absolutely clear that when this prophecy is approached intellectually, the traditional and we believe authentic understanding of the prophecy is absolutely valid. The greatest minds of two millenniums could hardly be wrong about what the language says and means. Besides, anyone who will put his mind to the task of discerning what is meant by the words of these chapters (Daniel 2 and Daniel 7) cannot fall to discern the truth.

How then does it come about that the near-unanimous opinion of critical scholars today shifts from the true interpretation? It is very important that this be properly understood.

The a priori bias of the critical schools today which deny the supernatural, reject any such thing as predictive prophecy, reject all ideas of the miraculous, do not believe in the inspiration of Bible writers, and in fact reject every major premise of Christianity, including all of its fundamentals such as the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment - this bias, this necessity which they have taken upon themselves to deny everything in the Bible that contradicts their godless prior assumptions forces them to deny a book like Daniel.

Keil stated that the true understanding of Daniel prevailed until about the end of the last century; but when faith in the supernatural origin and character of Biblical prophecy was shaken by Deism and Rationalism, the prophecy of the Roman Empire under the figure of the fourth best was denied. On what grounds? Here is the logic (?). Since there is no such thing as predictive prophecy, the author of Daniel could not have prophesied anything that he had not seen and witnessed; and, since the very earliest that they dared to allege the date of Daniel had to be placed subsequent to what is prophesied, they misinterpreted clear and undeniable references to the Roman Empire as being references to the empire of Alexander! Then they arbitrarily, and against all evidence and all reason, moved the date of Daniel to the times of the Maccabees (about 165 B.C.). This meant, of course, that Daniel could not have written the book.

The whole fraudulent position of critical enemies of the Bible is apparent in such shenanigans as that!

Furthermore, look at the writings of the whole fraternity of the Bible enemies; there is not an original idea in all of them put together. They are all parroting the same outdated, exploded, disproved and ridiculous arguments that were first advocated a hundred years ago. We are willing to admit this: if one is willing to give up all hope, reject the claims of the Christian religion, and enter upon a sensuous unbelieving existence apart from God and without hope in the world, these critical enemies of God’s Word are exactly the crutch that he needs. Any truth in their evil postulations? Certainly not.

Verse 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.”

“This dream and the visions were special, divinely-imposed revelations from God, as the rest of the chapter shows? We are here dealing, not with an ordinary dream of Daniel, but with a revelation from God.

Some of the inscriptions excavated from Babylon indicate that Nabonidus was actually king, leading to charges that this contradicts the Biblical account where Belshazzar is seen as the king when the nation fells But, as Thomson said, “We now know that for five years during the nominal reign of his father Nabonidus, Belshazzar was acting as king.”(F7) This solves the difficulty.

Verse 2

“Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and behold the four winds of heaven brake forth upon the great sea.”

“The four winds of heaven here” are cosmic forces of the greatest extent. Involved are the rise of populations and human systems and developments pertaining to all the people of the earth. The “great sea” here is not the Mediterranean sea, but the oceans of population upon earth. Just as we have in Revelation 13, where either the apostle John, or perhaps even Satan himself (depending upon the translation) “stood upon the seashore” to behold the great scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns that came up out of the sea, the sea of earth’s peoples, just as in the case here. The kinship between Revelation and Daniel is evident in many such particulars.

Verses 3-4

“And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion, and had eagles’ wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made to stand upon two feet as a man; and a man’s heart was given to it.”

These beasts do not represent individual kings, but kingdoms. Scholars of all schools agree that Babylon was this first beast. We have already noted that Babylon was noted for its identity with this beast, the king of animals. There is some disagreement about what is meant by “a man’s heart being given to it” (Daniel 7:4); but Young’s view that, “The change that came upon the beast evidently has reference to the event of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness and his subsequent restoration,”(F8) is as good as any.

Verse 5

“And behold another beast, like to a bear; and it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth; and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh.”

The big factor in the identification of this beast is that it came after the first thus denoting that it was the empire that succeeded Babylon. All of the other details, it appears to us are inert factors in the vision, collectively designed to show the ruthless and destructive character of all the great pagan empires as they most surely applied to the second beast also. We have discovered no reasonable interpretation of the three ribs between its teeth.

For long ages, this second beast was identified by all scholars as the Medo-Persian power which succeeded Babylon. The critical device of making this second beast refer to the Median Empire and the third beast a reference to the Persian empire, with only one thing in mind, namely that of making the fourth beast a prophecy of Alexander’s empire, is fraudulent. The Medo-Persian empire was not two different empires, but one only. “History knows of no Median empire.”(F9) “This hypothesis of Medo-Persia being two empires is destitute of every foundation.”(F10) In Daniel’s prophecy that Babylon would be divided and given to “the Medes and the Persians” (Daniel 5:28), the fulfillment is given in Daniel 5:31, “Darius the Mede took the kingdom,” indicating that there was just one kingdom, Darius taking “the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians.”

Verse 6

“After this I beheld, and, lo, another, like a leopard, which had upon its back four wings of a bird; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it.”

This beast having four wings of a bird was thus represented as moving very rapidly; and of all the empires ever to rise in human history, Alexander’s came to power with the greatest swiftness. Another factor that make it mandatory to apply this to the Macedonian-Grecian empire is the mention of four heads. This simply cannot be applied to Persia. It is obviously a prophetic reference to the four generals of Alexander the Great who founded four different empires upon the territory conquered by Alexander. This particular alone makes it impossible intellectually to identify this third beast with any other except the empire of Alexander. The proof of this is in Daniel 8:22, on which Keil made this comment:

“If the four horns of the he-goat represent four world-kingdoms rising up together, then the four heads of the leopard can never represent four kings reigning one after the other, even though it were the case, which it is not, that Daniel knew only four kings of Persia.”(F11)

Verses 7-8

“After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrible and powerful, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth; it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet: and it was diverse from all the other beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the other horns were plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.”

See the chapter introduction for some of the reasons why it is necessary to see this fourth beast as a prophetic reference to the Roman Empire and to no other. In the mid-19th century, Alexander Campbell debated Bishop Purcell of the Roman Catholic Church, affirming that, “The Scriptures teach that the hierarchical Papacy of the Roman Church is `The great Harlot’ of John’s apocalypse, `The Man of Sin’ of Paul, and `the Little Horn’ of Daniel.” It is the resistance of this interpretation that leads to the false allegations seeking to deny this. This interpretation is still true, no matter how men may resent it. Sir Isaac Newton, one of the greatest intellectual giants of an entire millennium, unequivocally interpreted this `little horn” as follows:

“The little horn is a little kingdom. It was a horn of the fourth beast, and rooted up three of the first horns; and therefore we are to look for it among the nations of the Latin Empire. But it was a kingdom of a different kind from the other ten kingdoms, having a life and soul peculiar to itself, with eyes and a mouth. By its eyes it was a Seer;, and by its mouth speaking great things and changing times and laws, it was a Prophet as well as a King. And such a Seer, Prophet, and King, is the Church of Rome.”(F12)

There is not a Protestant church of any name on earth today that was not founded upon the premise that this interpretation of “the little horn” is true and correct. Furthermore, Sir Isaac Newton went on to identify in detail the “ten kingdoms” (the ten horns) that succeeded the fall of Rome in 476 A.D., and to identify the “three” which were rooted up by the “little horn,” the same three being “The Exarchate of Ravenna,” “The kingdom of Lombardy,” and “the Duchy of Rome,” these three becoming “the Patrimony of Peter,” making the Roman church a small temporal kingdom, which began about that time to coin money, and to assume other signs of temporal authority, such as the establishment of an armed force (the Papal Guards), etc. It was shortly after the development of this usurpation that the Papacy claimed authority over the kings of the earth, one Pope even presuming to crown Charlemagne as “King of the Holy Roman Empire” on Christmas Day, 800 A.D.(F13)

The identification of the hierarchical apparatus of the Medieval apostate Church as the little horn of Daniel has been accepted through the entire series of our commentaries; and related passages in the Epistles, and in the Book of Revelation are all synchronized with this interpretation. We do not feel that it is necessary to go into all of this in detail here; but supporting passages in the New Testament should be consulted in the commentaries for further comment on this interpretation.

Needless to say, there is absolutely nothing in the description of this fourth beast that gives any hint whatever that the Greek empire is the world power represented by that beast. The critics have tried to find “ten kings” in the Greek Empire; but they are not there. Keil has devoted 22 pages of detailed studies to this question, pp. 245 to 267; and reference is here made to this very excellent study. Of all the preposterous postulations the critical enemies of the truth have ever made, this attempt to make the fourth beast mean the Greek empire is the most ridiculous and unbelievable of all.

Verses 9-12

“I beheld till the thrones were placed, and one that was ancient of days did sit: his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and the wheels thereof burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousands of thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. I beheld at that time because of the great words which the horn spake; I beheld even till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed, and it was given to be burned with fire. And as for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.”

This passage is undeniably a prophecy of the eternal judgment. (See extensive comment upon the thoughts here as expanded and developed in Revelation 20.) This is the so-called “Great White Throne Judgment.” The Ancient of Days should here be capitalized as it could not possibly refer to anyone else except Almighty God; and the fact that in the New Testament (Revelation 20) it is Christ who sits on this throne, such is a natural result of the early church’s acceptance of Our Lord as indeed Deity, to whom the Father has committed the judgment of all men.

It is surprising that the “other beasts” here are represented as being present even until the destruction of the final beast. This is a remarkable consonance with the Apostle John’s Apocalypse, in which it appears that “the kings of the earth” (all of them), the Great Harlot (apostate religion), and Satan himself shall all perish simultaneously in the “lake of tire.”

Verses 13-14

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even 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 the peoples, and 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 paragraph somewhat out of chronological sequence relates to the setting up or the establishment of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Note the statement that he was brought near unto God (the Ancient of Days) “with the clouds of heaven,” corresponding exactly with the facts related in the New Testament, that upon Christ’s ascension to the Father to receive the kingdom that he was taken up “with the clouds of heaven” (Acts 1:9-11). Keil and other usually dependable scholars are mistaken in their view that “coming with the clouds of heaven” indicates Christ’s coming down from heaven to earth. We are sure that the words refer to Christ’s “coming with the clouds of heaven” is a reference not to the Second Coming, but to His Ascension to heaven “to receive the kingdom.”

“One like unto a son of man” This expression should be capitalized. “Son of Man,” by far and away Jesus’ favorite title for himself, simply cannot refer to anyone else who ever lived. See extensive discussion of this title under John 1:51 in this series of Commentaries.

The problem encountered by the position of this paragraph relates to the fact that it appears that Christ received the kingdom only after the total and final destruction of the world kingdoms. However, the placement of this paragraph cannot indicate the chronological sequence of the event of Jesus’ receiving the everlasting kingdom. Daniel 7:9-12 merely indicate the fact of the vision’s continuing until the time of the judgment and the destruction of the four beasts. These verses do not teach that all of the world powers were destroyed before Christ’s kingdom was established.

Daniel 7:13-14 simply announce the establishment of Christ’s kingdom with no word whatever of exactly when this magnificent achievement took place. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 states categorically that at the time of Christ’s giving that commission, “All authority in heaven and upon earth” were at that time in the possession of Christ. Without this light from the New Testament, it would be difficult to discern this. Daniel 2:44, however, which is parallel to the visions here and must be consulted in connection with the interpretation, makes it very plain that the kingdom was to be established “in the days of those kings,” not in the days after the kings were destroyed.

Verses 15-16

“As for me, Daniel, my spirit was grieved 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 concerning all this.”

There is no wonder at Daniel’s grief. Such terrible monsters as appeared in the vision were a dreadful indication that terrifying times were in store for the troubled races of men.

“One of them that stood by,” indicates some heavenly being, perhaps an angel, who explained to Daniel the significance of the visions.

Verses 17-18

“These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, that shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom, forever, even forever and ever.”

There is practically no disagreement from the understanding that “kings” in this vision are to be understood as “kingdoms” or “world-governments.” “Four” in the numerology of the Hebrews is the number of the earth; and what is indicated here is that monstrous world-governments shall continue throughout the world’s history (Isn’t it true?).

“But the saints of the Most High shall possess the kingdom” Exactly when this event takes place was not indicated here; but Daniel 2:44 and supplemental information from the New Testament indicate that the possession was to take place in the days of the “fourth” great beast, namely, the days of the Roman Empire.

Daniel 7:22 also mentions the saints’ possession of the kingdom; and apparently that reference is focused upon the everlasting phase of the kingdom mentioned by the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:10-11. Thus the “possession of the kingdom” is not a single date at all. Christian baptism admits one into the kingdom (Colossians 1:13); but it is fidelity that grants one, at last, admission “into the eternal kingdom” (2 Peter 1:10-11). Such facts as these were not revealed to Daniel; and it is therefore quite normal that there should have appeared some evidence of ambiguity on these particular points in the vision.

Verses 19-22

“Then I desired to know the truth concerning the fourth beast, which was diverse from all of them, exceeding terrible, whose teeth were of iron, and its nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet; and concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn which came up, and before which three fell, even that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows. I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; 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.”

Some scholars have mistakenly confused “saints of the Most High” with the Jewish people; but, in this connection it must be remembered that during the times of the fourth beast with the ten horns and the little horn that made war against God’s people, the Jews are most definitely not meant. Israel was at that time in total rebellion against God and had already suffered judicial hardening. Therefore, the mention of “saints” here is a reference to Christians, servants of Jesus Christ. Any notion that secular Israel, or racial Jews ever “received the kingdom of Christ” is totally refuted by every word of the New Testament.

It is precisely in the instance of these ten horns and the little horn that uprooted three of the ten, persecuted God’s people, and became a perpetual factor on earth even until the time of the judgment, - it is precisely here that the fourth beast was “diverse” from the others. See under Daniel 7:25, below, for interpretation of “how long” this little horn continued, namely, for “time and times and half a time.”

“Until… the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom” The possession of the kingdom here is not a reference to the establishment of the kingdom, nor to the entry of saints into the kingdom, but is a reference to that point in the future at which time, “The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ: and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).

Verses 23-25

“Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all the kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. And so for the ten horns, out of this kingdom shall ten kings arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the former, and he shall put down three kings. And he shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High; and he shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and a half a time.”

Several very important deductions are made mandatory by these words. Note that the “saints” existed throughout the period of the little horn, itself a part of the fourth beast, having arisen out of it.

“Shall be diverse” This is twice mentioned - in both Daniel 7:24 and Daniel 7:25. Not all of that diversity is spelled out here; but the New Testament sheds further light upon it. The diversity is seen in that (1) the little horn is a religious kingdom, as indicated by its two horns (of a lamb) (Revelation 13:11); (2) it shall prevail mightily, continuing, even to the end; (3) it will think to change times and law, especially as regards sacred things (changes were made in such things as baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the two central ordinances in the Christian religion); (4) it became a terrible persecuting power of God’s true people; it formed alliances with the kings of the earth, etc., etc.

“Time and times and a half a time” The key fact of what this means is plainly taught in the Book of Revelation; but as far as we have been able to determine, the true meaning is today unknown by practically the whole world of Bible scholars.

The whole dispensation of the kingdom of Christ until the final judgment, embracing all of the time between the First Advent of Christ and the Second Advent of Christ culminating in the Final Judgment of all men, is repeatedly mentioned in Revelation. Here are the references:

1. The Christian martyrs of Revelation 6:10 pleaded with God to tell them, “How long?” it would be before the final judgment at which time they would be avenged upon those who had slain them. From the answer given, it is obvious that that vengeance would come at the final judgment in the end of time, that is, at the end of the whole Christian dispensation. The answer? And it was said unto them that they should rest yet FOR A LITTLE TIME (until all the future martyrs who were yet to die in the faith should join them). Here the whole Christian dispensation is called “a little time.”

2. Revelation 12:12 explains the hatred of Satan for God’s church, a hatred which, of course, exists during every moment of the Christian dispensation. What is the reason? “Satan has great wrath, knowing that he hath but a SHORT TIME. How long is that? It is the total time between the First Advent and the Second Advent of Christ.

3. God promised to nourish his church during her wilderness probation (Revelation 12:14). This period is described as “always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:18-20); but it is also referred to in this passage (Revelation 12:14), as A TIME AND TIMES AND HALF A TIME.

4. This same period when God will nourish his Church in the wilderness, protecting her from Satan’s hatred, is also called in Revelation 12:6 A THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED AND THREE-SCORE DAYS.

5. The authority of the little horn (identified with the fourth beast of Daniel) is stated in Revelation 13:5 to continue for FORTY AND TWO MONTHS. Since both Daniel and Revelation make it clear that this period is actually to last until the end of time, it becomes mandatory to believe that all such time-references in Revelation have exactly the same meaning. Every one of these means “The whole Christian Dispensation.”

6. “They shall live and reign with Christ a THOUSAND YEARS” (Revelation 20:4-6). As long as saints “suffer with Christ,” they also “reign with Him”; and therefore this “THOUSAND YEARS” can be nothing else except the whole dispensation of Christ, lasting all the way from the First Advent through the Second Advent of Christ.

The above understanding of these mysterious time-references in Daniel and Revelation is absolutely necessary to any complete understanding of these prophecies.

In connection with these studies, the Commentary on Revelation should be consulted. Much additional material is available there. (Also see the Excursus on “The Man of Sin” in 2 Thessalonians 2 in this series.)

A careful coordination of the passages in Revelation, with the revelations in this prophecy (Daniel 2 and Daniel 7), with due respect to other New Testament references to this same phenomenon, namely, that of the Great Apostasy from Christianity which was specifically foretold by the New Testament authors, will fully confirm all of the positions which we have advocated in the interpretations presented here.

Verses 26-28

“But the judgment shall be set, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given unto the people of the saints of the Most High: his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts much troubled me, and my countenance was changed in me: but I kept the matter in my heart.”

“But the judgment shall be set” This is God’s final and effective answer to all of the misdeeds of men and of nations. It is necessary in the mercy and providence of God that the continuity of Adam’s race upon earth shall be allowed until the full number of the Redeemed have come into service of God through Christ. Concurrently with this it is unavoidable that many terrible developments shall plague Adam’s rebellious, sinful race. These terrible examples of wicked human governments, symbolized by the four beasts, are among the most prominent and the most evil of those wicked things that shall arise among earth’s populations. But, in His own good time, THE JUDGMENT. “But the Judgment!” Yes there shall indeed be a final Judgment Day. This is one of the foundational doctrines of Christianity (Hebrews 6:2).

The Judgment Day is extensively mentioned in the New Testament. That is the occasion when God will cast evil out of his universe, when Satan, and the Beast (all of the beasts), and the False Prophet (all false and immoral religion) shall be cast alive into the lake of fire that burneth with brimstone. (See Revelation 18-20.) The Final Judgment may not be dismissed as merely a sensational feature of apocalyptic literature. Christ spoke plainly of it in Matthew 25; and those who accept Christ as the world’s only Lord and Saviour are surely obligated to believe what he said of that Eternal Day.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Daniel 7". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/daniel-7.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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