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Wednesday, June 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 7

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-14

Daniel’s Dream of Four Beasts (7:1-28)

This chapter was probably once an independent literary piece which has now been attached to the earlier six chapters. It is parallel to chapter 2, where the four-empire theory was introduced by the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in which he saw an image of gold, silver, brass, and iron-clay.

The Dream Itself (7:1-14)

In the first year of Belshazzar, co-regent with his father Nabonidus, Daniel had a dream which had special significance. So that he would not forget the substance of the dream he made a written record of it. It is interesting to note that from this point forward in the book the material is mostly by Daniel and not about him, the narrative being generally preserved in the first person singular.

The "four winds of heaven" were thought to come from the four comers of the earth and "the great sea" is doubtless a double reference — to the Mediterranean and at the same time to the primeval deeps. The background for this whole vision is the struggle between chaos and cosmos which is depicted in Genesis and is a recurring motif throughout much of the Old Testament It was thought that, if it were not for the restraining power of God, evil would break forth from the great deep (see, for example, Genesis 1:2; Genesis 7:11; Isaiah 51:9-10; Amos 7:4).

Out of the turbulent sea emerged "four great beasts" who were "different from one another" (vs. 3) ; evil had come out of the sea to struggle with good. There is always the downward pull of confusion against order (see Revelation 13:1). It was with this understanding of the sea in mind that the writer of the Apocalypse predicted a time when there would be no more sea; that is, when the source of chaotic evil would be destroyed by God (Revelation 21:1).

The first beast was a lion with the wings of an eagle, thus combining the features of the rulers of land and air. This lion-eagle was made to stand upon its hind legs. Its wings were plucked off and it was given the mind of a man. The cryptic passage appears to refer to Nebuchadnezzar’s madness and to the waning power of the Chaldean Empire in his latter years (vs. 4).

The second beast is like a ravenous bear, raised up on one side ready for attack, having in its mouth "three ribs." Ordinarily these three ribs have been identified with the remains of partly devoured prey which this beast had not finished consuming. However, an old proposal, which until recently had been discarded, has much to support it. On the basis of an Arabic word meaning "fangs, incisors," the three ribs may better be interpreted as "three large fangs." The correct translation, then, would be "three fangs were in its mouth." This bear with three large incisors among its teeth was ordered to "Arise, devour much flesh."

A third beast followed the bear. It was "like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back; and the beast had four heads; and dominion was given to it" (vs. 6). The four wings probably refer to the swiftness of conquest by this beast, while the four heads may refer to the four comers of the earth which were brought under Medo-Persian domination. The suggestion that the four heads refer to the best-known Persian rulers — Cyrus, Darius, Artaxerxes, and Xerxes — makes good sense. In any case, the third beast was swift and powerful, although not as great or as powerful as the first two.

Then Daniel records the climax of his night vision. "After this I saw ... a fourth beast, terrible and dreadful and exceedingly strong; and it had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns" (vs. 7). This indescribable beast is obviously the most terrifying of all, and is by far the most cruel. Iron teeth that devour and break are indicative of the bestial nature of this monster. In ancient symbols it was not unusual for animals to have as many as ten horns; hence this picture was quite within the framework of accepted expression. "Horns" usually refer to rulers, which is the case in this passage.

Watching with transfixed interest these ten horns, Daniel was amazed to see "another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots." One ruler displaced three to gain the throne. The reference was to Antiochus Epiphanes, who had "a mouth speaking great things."

In this fashion a review of history beginning with the Chaldean era and leading to Antiochus passed before the eyes of Daniel, But for the man of God this was not the whole story. In fact, this was not even the important part of the historical scene, since history and life to be understood correctly must be viewed in the perspective of God. Daniel now saw the central feature of his vision (vss. 9-10). This theophany (appearance of God), though dependent for imagery on earlier visions, has a grandeur and a glory unique in biblical record. The scene is obviously a judgment scene where God was sitting in judgment upon the throne of his glory. The fact that the throne had wheels has an obvious relationship to Ezekiel’s visions (Ezekiel 1, 10). Fiery flames and a stream of fire usually had a central place in theophanies (for example. Genesis 15; Exodus 3:2; Exodus 19:16-25; 2 Kings 2:10-12; Isaiah 6:1-8). Fire combines the symbolism of judgment and of purification. White raiment was proof of purity, while white hair proclaimed that this was the God of all ages, no late comer. Uncounted multitudes stood in silent awe as the records of life and history were about to be opened. This pictorial vision of God and description of judgment became almost standard in the early years of the Church and is especially reflected throughout the Book of Revelation (see Revelation 5). It is important to remember that God’s divine judgment can never be equated with the description of it. The reality is always beyond the power of the description.

At this awesome moment the little horn was speaking "great words," not realizing that the judgment of God was in process. As Daniel looked, the indescribable fourth beast was destroyed and given over to be burned. This is doubtless a reference to the dissolution of Alexander’s empire. However, the rest of the beasts — lion, bear, and leopard — devoid of dominion, lived on for "a season and a time." There was apparently a belief that these kingdoms without power still remained in existence within the crumbling fourth empire.

The next act in the cosmic drama involved the judgment given by the Ancient of Days (vss. 13-14). The Ancient of Days sitting upon the judgment throne received "one like a son of man." That this was not just an earthly court is demonstrated by the "clouds of heaven" which seemed to uphold the throne. Referring to this passage, Jesus at his trial said to the high priest, "I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matthew 26:64). In the Book of Daniel the "one like a son of man" "came" before the Ancient of Days; he is in no sense identified with God. He is rather the Ideal Israel, embodied in a person. Concepts of individuality and of corporate identity were so fluid that a single figure might easily have been understood simultaneously as both individual and corporate. In any case, the everlasting Kingdom was delivered into the hands of this one "like a son of man." Later in the chapter "the saints," who were God’s true people, received the same Kingdom. Thus true Israel will inherit the Kingdom and the power.

Christian interpretation, which goes beyond the original intent of the author of Daniel, has always understood Christ to be the fulfillment of this passage. It was Jesus Christ who received the Kingdom which was and is an everlasting Kingdom.

Verses 15-27

Interpretation (7:15-27)

The four beasts are "four kings" — an expression which should be rendered "four kingdoms" — that would "arise out of the earth." In a symbolic sense the beasts came out of the primeval sea, the source of every dark evil, but in the historical sense they arose "out of the earth." These kingdoms are to be identified with Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece, although countless alternatives have been suggested. There is no great inconsistency between verses 2-3 and verse 17. These kingdoms will arise, but theirs will be a temporal and, as such, ephemeral rule. "The saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, for ever and ever." The "one like a son of man" mentioned above must be identified with the "saints of the Most High" in this passage since both are said to receive the Kingdom. The true Israel, the Messianic Community, shall inherit the Kingdom. It was Jesus Christ who fulfilled the mission of Israel and established the New Israel of faith. To these "saints of the Most High" the Kingdom will be given through Christ, the Son of Man.

The real center of gravity in this chapter is "the horn which had eyes and a mouth that spoke great things" (vs. 20). There can be little doubt about the identity of this little horn which sprang out of the indescribable beast; it was Antiochus Epiphanes. Apparently when this was written the repressive reform of Antiochus was in full swing. No proper offering was being made at the Temple. Massacre of all who refused to conform to the new way was actually in process. Against the true Israel who remained faithful to God, the "little horn" was at war. The conflict would continue until in judgment God gave the everlasting Kingdom into their hands, as had been divinely promised.

It is plain that the writer expected that the Kingdom would be given over to the righteous remnant in the immediate future. After Antiochus IV, the Kingdom would come. The author conceived of this everlasting dominion as about to be established on the earth in Palestine. Much of the confusion about the Kingdom and the Church today arises because of an unwillingness to see that these insights are partial, not final. When God’s rule is complete, de facto, there must be a new heaven and a new earth.

In a statement cast in poetic form the fourth beast was identified as the fourth kingdom on earth, which would "devour the whole earth" (vs. 23). Alexander the Great established a kingdom which in a very true sense did devour the whole earth. As for "the ten horns," they were the kings who succeeded Alexander the Great but whose exact identity was of little importance at this point. After the ten had passed, another arose who would "put down three kings." The three displaced have been variously identified with a series of would-be royal trios. Be that as it may, the little horn came to power over all his opponents, whom he had either destroyed or displaced. His policy was to "speak words against the Most High," "wear out the saints of the Most High," and "change the times and the law." Antiochus IV thought that he was Zeus incarnate and was not at all reluctant to accept homage due to deity. He was zealous for the Greek way and instituted persecution to force the Jews to accept the enlightened culture of Greece. Death was the threat held over "the saints" who remained loyal to their heritage. In addition to other facets of reform, Antiochus sought to change the fixed times in Israel’s worship and to blot out all knowledge of and obedience to the Law of God.

God allowed this time of bloody resistance to continue for "a time, two times, and half a time" or, in our modem way of reckoning, three and a half years. However, it should be remembered that this was a round number, being one half of seven, which was the most common Hebrew round number. To say "three and a half” at that time was similar to our saying "half-a-dozen." People were asking: How long? Daniel gave God’s answer that the persecution and tribulation would continue for only three and a half years.

At the end of that time the heavenly court, as forecast in the earlier part of the dream, would meet, and the dominion of Antiochus would be taken away, consumed, and destroyed. Very shortly Antiochus did die. At this juncture in time "the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven" was to be given to "the saints of the Most High." All rule and authority was to be given to "the saints" who had been loyal to the faith. New meaning was given to this passage in the light of Jesus Christ, whose coming ushered in the Kingdom of God, in which believers are citizens. The main lesson of the chapter is that although God may be allowing persecution to continue for a little while, his final aim is to give the Kingdom to the saints.

Verse 28

Postscript (7:28)

This single verse was probably the concluding verse of a larger section before materials from other sources were added to chapters 2-7. It tells us that Daniel was alarmed and that he kept his visions secret.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Daniel 7". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/daniel-7.html.
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