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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Writings

Daniel 7

Verses 1-28

THE FOUR BEASTS

Daniel 7

The seventh chapter forms the introduction to the second division of the book of Daniel. In this division we have no longer the interpretations of dreams and messages given to heathen kings, but revelations and interpretations of visions given to Daniel himself.

The whole book treats, as we have seen, of the times of the Gentiles. In regard to this period two great subjects are brought before us: first, in Daniel 1 to 6 , the failure of the Gentiles in their responsibility to govern in the fear of God, ending in apostacy and judgment; secondly, in chapters 7 to 12, the circumstances of the Jews during this time. Thus, there will again pass before us the four great Gentile empires, but now in their relationship with the Jewish people, and their treatment, not only of that nation as a whole, but of the godly remnant of the nation. We shall learn that, though God chastens His people, He always reserves a remnant as a witness to Himself, and never gives up His purpose to re-establish the nation in blessing under the reign of Christ.

The seventh chapter again brings before us the four great Gentile empires, not as they appear before men as an imposing image, but as viewed by God, and therefore presented under the form of beasts.

The chapter contains three distinct visions and their interpretations: -

First, verses 1-6, the vision of the four beasts with details of the first three:

Secondly, verses 7-12, the vision giving a detailed account of the fourth beast:

Thirdly, verses 13-14 the vision of the dominion of the Son of Man:

Fourthly, verses 15-28, the interpretation of these visions.

(a) The first vision (Vv. 1-5).

(V. 1). It has been noticed that the prophecies of Daniel are unlike any other prophecies in the Old Testament, inasmuch as they are not directly addressed to God's people. During the time of the captivity, the Jews are no longer publicly recognised as the people of God; therefore. any communications that God makes are not addressed to them, but to Daniel personally. Nevertheless, we read that Daniel "wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters." Thus, these visions, which unfold the future of the world, are recorded for the guidance of God's people in all ages.

(V. 2). In his vision Daniel sees the great sea agitated by the four winds of heaven. The sea is used in prophetic scriptures to set forth "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues" ( Rev_17:15 ). The four winds of heaven would seem to indicate that from every quarter of the globe there was a providential dealing of God allowing the world to fall into a condition of anarchy and revolution.

(V. 3). Out of this agitated sea there arise four successive beasts diverse from one another. From the interpretation that follows, it seems conclusive that these four beasts present another aspect of the four great world empires, already depicted in the image of Nebuchadnezzar's dream. In the vision of the image these empires were presented as imposing but deteriorating powers in the sight of men. Here these same empires are presented in a form that expresses their successive moral deterioration in the sight of God. Cruelty, selfishness, rapacity, with no recognition or knowledge of God, marks the beast; and such are the solemn features of the world empires during the times of the Gentiles until the dominion of Christ is established.

(V. 4). The first beast was "like a lion, and had eagle's wings." Other Scriptures lead to the conclusion that this first beast sets forth Babylon, the first world empire. In the fourth chapter of Jeremiah, verse 7, the prophet refers to Babylon under the figure of a lion. In Ezekiel 18 Babylon is likened to an eagle. Again, in Jer_49:19 ; Jer_49:22 , both figures are used to represent Babylon in its power and majesty, as well as the swiftness of its conquests.

Further, the prophet sees a remarkable change in the beast. The wings were plucked and the beast stood upon its feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it. The plucked wings would seem to indicate that the rapid conquests of the empire would cease. A lion standing on its feet as a man, and with the heart of a man, has neither dignity nor strength, and this apparently points to what actually happened when Babylon was shorn of its dignity as a world power, and became a mere province in subjection to the Persian Empire.

(V. 5). The second beast was "like to a bear, and it raised itself up on one side," and had three ribs in its mouth. This surely pre-figures the Medo-Persian Empire, which succeeded the Babylonian Empire. It was composed of two nationalities, the Persian nation being exalted over the Medes. We know it was Darius, the Mede, who captured Babylon, though shortly after Cyrus, the Persian, became the great power in the empire. The three ribs in the mouth probably indicate the rapacious character of the empire, devouring other nations without mercy.

(V. 6). The third beast was "like a leopard," but with four wings of a fowl and four heads. These figures vividly set forth the character and history of the Grecian Empire. The four wings may aptly set forth the impetuosity and rapidity of the conquests of Alexander the Great by which the Grecian Empire came into pre-eminent dominion. The four heads would seem to point to the four kingdoms into which the empire was finally divided after the death of Alexander.

(b) The second vision (Vv. 7-10).

(V. 7). The fourth beast, largely prophetic of events yet to be fulfilled, is of such deep importance that details are given to Daniel in a second vision. There is nothing in nature to which this beast can be compared. It is purposely presented as an unnatural monster, awakening dread and terror in the beholder. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and brake in pieces, and what it did not devour, it stamped upon with its feet. It was different to all the other beasts and had ten horns.

Probably all would agree that this beast is a figure of the Roman Empire, marked by its overcoming strength, and the terror it inspired in the nations of the world. In its irresistible power of conquest and aggrandisement it brought other nations under its despotism, while those who refused to submit were crushed.

(V. 8). The importance of this empire, as distinguished from the first three empires, lies in the fact that it is the empire that will exist in the closing days of the times of the Gentiles, the one that comes into contact with Christ and His people, and therefore the power that will be directly judged and set aside by the kingdom of Christ. This empire, then, will yet play a great part in the near future of the world. This future aspect of the Roman Empire comes before us in the part of the vision that speaks of the ten horns and the little horn. This little horn had the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.

The interpretation will give us further details of these ten horns, and the little horn. Here it is sufficient to note that the ten horns clearly take us on to the future when the Roman Empire will be revived in a ten kingdom form under one head (See Rev_13:1 ; Rev_17:12 ).

(Vv. 9, 10). The second vision that describes the fourth beast also foretells the judgment of the beast. Daniel sees a vision of the eternal God, the Ancient of Days, seated upon the throne of judgment. We know that Christ is also the Ancient of Days - a divine Person, as well as the Son of Man. In the first chapter of Revelation He is presented as the Judge with all the characteristics that mark the Ancient of Days in the Book of Daniel. Moreover, Daniel not only sees the throne of the Ancient of Days, but he sees other thrones which were "set up" (not "cast down" as in our version). These thrones evidently refer to the thrones of the saints that will be associated with Christ in this judgment of the living nations. They are again referred to in the Revelation, when the Apostle John says, "I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them" ( Rev_20:4 ; Rev_20:22 : 1Co_6:2 ).

Surrounding the throne are thousands of angelic beings. The execution of judgment is one of the functions of the angels. The passage describing the judgment of the living nations in Matthew 25 opens by presenting the Son of Man coming to His throne of glory, "and all the holy angels with him" ( Mat_25:31 ).

(V. 11). Here the judgment is specially concerned with dealing with the little horn and the beast over which he ruled. The immediate occasion of the judgment is "the voice of the great words which the horn spake." The blasphemous defiance of God which will mark the last head of the revived Roman Empire will bring swift and overwhelming judgment upon himself and his dominion. It is well to notice that the judgment of which Daniel speaks is not the final judgment of the Great White Throne, when the dead will be raised and judged. Daniel speaks of the judgment of the living nations which will precede the reign of Christ, but viewed more especially in connection with the Roman Empire and its head.

(V. 12). The fourth beast comes under the direct judgment of God. The first three beasts had their dominion taken away. They lost their world-wide power, not by direct judgment, but in a providential way. Nevertheless, their lives were prolonged for a season and time. Though losing their predominant position, they still exist as nations, however feeble they may have become.

(c) The third vision (Vv. 13, 14). The judgment of the beast clears the way for the setting up of the Kingdom of Christ. This glorious event is foretold by a third vision, in which Daniel sees one like the Son of Man come with the clouds of heaven. He receives His kingdom as Man from God, the Ancient of Days. His dominion is world-wide, embracing "all people, nations, and languages." His dominion will be everlasting. It will not, like other kingdoms, pass away. It will never be destroyed.

(d) The interpretation of the visions (Vv. 15-28).

(V. 15). The immediate effect of these visions was to grieve the spirit of Daniel and trouble his mind. There must have been much in the three visions that Daniel could not understand, but at least he realised that they foretold a time of trial and sorrow for his beloved people.

(V. 16). Apart from divine instruction, Daniel is no more able to interpret his own dreams than those of heathen kings. So he drew near to "one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this." We are not definitely told who they were that "stood by." Probably it is a reference to the angels that, in the vision, "stood before" the Ancient of Days. The one to whom Daniel appeals is evidently intelligent in the mind of God, and deputed, like the angelic messengers in the Revelation, to give "the interpretation of the things" seen in visions.

In the interpretation that follows, it is well to note that, as another has said, "We always find, whether in prophecy or parable, that the explanation goes beyond that which the original statement contains." So is it in this passage: the visions bring before us the character and history of the four world powers; the interpretation shows the connection of these world powers with the people of God. Thus in the course of the explanation the saints are mentioned five times (verses 18, 21, 22, 25, 27).

(V. 17). First, Daniel is told that these four great beasts are four kings which shall arise out of the earth, and a little later we learn that "the fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth" (23). Evidently, then, "kings" are used to represent kingdoms. We cannot then be mistaken in viewing these four beasts as representing four great monarchies. In the vision they arise out of the sea; here they arise from the earth. The vision describes their providential or political origin, the interpretation their moral origin. Providentially they arise in a time of political upheaval; morally they are earthly, in contrast to the kingdom of the Son of Man, who comes from heaven.

(V. 18). Then Daniel is informed, for his comfort and ours, as to the ultimate end of the times of the Gentiles, as regards the people of God. These monarchies may oppose the people of God and blaspheme God, "but" the end will be the triumph of God's people, for, "the saints of the Most High God shall taken the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever."

We may enquire, Who are the saints of the Most High? The better translation is "the saints of the most high places." There are those who, like the beasts and their subjects, are morally of earth, and there are the people of God who own the God of heaven, and are thus in connection with heavenly, or high, places. In the third vision it is the Son of Man that comes with the clouds of heaven, and to Him is given the kingdom that will never pass away. Here we learn the further truth, that the people of God of all ages, all those who through the history of the world have been in touch with heaven, will share with the Son of Man in His glorious reign. To this great event Enoch looked when he prophesied, saying, "Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints" ( Jud_1:14 ).

(Vv. 19-22). Then Daniel enquires more particularly concerning the fourth beast. He repeats the vision, but with added details, for now he refers to the saints, and tells us that he beheld that the one represented by the little horn persecuted the saints, and for a limited time was allowed to prevail against them, for this triumph over the saints was "until the Ancient of Days came," and then the saints exercised judgment over those who had prevailed against them.

(V. 23). In answer to Daniel's enquiries, the angel expounds the vision of the fourth beast. We are definitely told that it represents "the fourth kingdom upon earth." This we know was the Roman Empire. It was "diverse from all kingdoms" in that it assumed a form of government which combined autocracy with democracy, already prefigured in the iron and clay of the image. In its almost universal dominion it could well be said to "devour the whole earth." By treading down and breaking in pieces, it subdued the nations, and crushed those who refused to submit. Thus we have a picture of the Roman Empire in the day of its pristine power.

(V. 24). The details of verse 23 look on to events which, in Daniel's day, were still future. In our day we know they have been fulfilled to the letter. In the details that follow we are carried on to events which are still future. The angel says, "The ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise." It is impossible to resist the conclusion that this looks on to the last phase of the Roman Empire when, as plainly stated in Revelation 17 , it will be revived in the form of ten kingdoms confederated under one imperial head.

Then we learn the meaning of the little horn of verses 8, 20 and 21. Another king shall arise after the ten kings, diverse from them, and he shall subdue three kings. He is diverse from the ten kings inasmuch as they represent different kingdoms, but this king represents a special power that arises in the midst of the ten kingdoms and gains his territory by subduing three of the kingdoms. It is "his dominion" that is finally dealt with in judgment (26), and therefore it seems conclusive that the little horn, while subduing three of the kings, acquires power over the whole empire.

The picture that is presented of the last phase of the Roman Empire is clearly that of seven kingdoms, united with the three subdued kingdoms, under one imperial head - the little horn. Reading this Scripture in conjunction with details given to us in Rev_13:1to8 and Rev_17:1 , we can only conclude that the little horn of this chapter is the revived head of the Roman Empire that comes so prominently before us in the book of Revelation.

(V. 25). Four things are definitely foretold of this terrible man. First, "he shall speak great words against the Most High." Not only, like any natural man, will he be at enmity with God, but with daring impiety he will openly defy God (See Rev_13:6 ). Secondly, he will persecute the saints of the Most High, those who own God in the high, or heavenly, places (See Rev_13:7 ). Thirdly, he will "change times and laws." Not only will he destroy the saints, but he will think to change the times and laws of God's earthly people, the Jews, who at that time will have returned to the land. Fourthly, we are told that he will be allowed to prevail for a time and times and the dividing of time, that is for a period of three and a half years (See Rev_13:5 ).

(V. 26). his blasphemy against God and persecution of the saints will not be allowed to continue. At the end of the allotted time judgment overtakes him. His dominion is taken away, and utterly consumed and destroyed unto the end. Unto the end of time it will never be revived.

(V. 27). Following upon the judgment of the beast and his kingdom, all the kingdoms of the earth will pass under the sway of the people of the saints of the Most High - God's earthly people, the Jews. Then, through the people of God, all the peoples of the earth will be brought to serve and worship Him, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.

(V. 28). Daniel had been privileged to look far into the future and see the people of God established in a world-wide and everlasting kingdom under the sway of the Most High God. Nevertheless, as he thought of the seas of sorrow and trial through which they will pass ere they reach the kingdom, his thoughts troubled him and his countenance was changed. However, he cherished these things in his heart. Good, too, for God's people at all times to look beyond the long dark night, and, in their hearts, to hail the coming day.

For the King of kings is coming,

And the dawn is in the sky,

And the watchers on the mountains

Proclaim the day is nigh.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Daniel 7". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/daniel-7.html. 1832.