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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Daniel 7

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 7 The Wild Beasts and the Kingdom of the Most High.

In this chapter four empires under their kings are depicted as arising which will be like wild beasts. They represent the whole of the present and future until the rise of God’s everlasting kingdom, the fifth empire, the empire which results from the fulfilment of the covenant. We can compare here chapter 2, and can, unless we have reason to see otherwise, assume the same four empires, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece (as also specifically in chapter 8) and the apocalyptic empire.

They are in contrast with ‘the son of man’, a human figure who represents the people of God under their prince. The empires behave like wild beasts, savagely, irrationally and immorally; the people of God behave like man created in the image of God, rationally and morally. The son of man suffers under the beasts, but in the end is victorious and receives the everlasting kingdom. Through the intervention of God good will triumph in the end.

We must remember that this is a dream. We must not expect it necessarily to proceed fully in logical and chronological form (see especially Daniel 7:11-12). Two parallel activities are described. The activities of the wild beasts on earth, and the parallel activities in heaven, as the One on the throne, with His attendants, monitors all that is happening.


Verse 1

The Four World Empires (Daniel 7:1-8).

‘In the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head on his bed. Then he wrote the dream and told the sum of the matters.’

‘In the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon.’ Official documents at the time were all dated by the years of Nabonidus, who was Belshazzar’s father and outlived him, but Belshazzar had been given the ‘kingship’ of Babylon by his father when his father spent ten years fighting, and then studying, in Arabia. We are told that his father ‘entrusted the army and the kingship’ to him, probably around 556 BC (others argue for 553 BC).

Up to now we have seen Daniel interpreting other people’s dreams, but now we learn that he also had dream-visions for which we were prepared in Daniel 1:17. (See also Daniel 2:28; Daniel 4:2; Daniel 4:10 for comparable phraseology). The dream does not come chronologically, for had it done so it would have come between chapter 4 and chapter 5. Rather it takes up and expands on chapter 2 once assurances have been given of the fact that the living God is able to deliver His people in the face of the greatest of kings and empires. Daniel writes the dream down to ensure a permanent record, together with its interpretation. ‘The sum of the matters’ means that he wrote down the essentials, depicting the heart of things.


Verse 2

‘Daniel spoke and said, I saw in my vision by night and behold, the four winds of the heaven broke on the great sea. And four wild beasts came up from the sea, different one from another. The first was like a lion and had eagle’s wings. I beheld until its wings were plucked and it was lifted up from the earth, and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.’

From this point on Daniel speaks in the first person (apart from Daniel 10:1). Rather than recording historical events he is now communicating personal visions.

The four winds of heaven indicate heavenly activity, the winds of God. For He is the king of heaven and acts from heaven (Daniel 4:37 compare Daniel 4:13; Daniel 4:26; Daniel 4:31). For these ‘four winds of heaven’ compare Jeremiah 49:36, where they represent God’s fierce activity against Elam resulting in their scattering to all parts of the earth. They are winds with ‘worldwide’ effects, although we must remember that it means the known world of that day. Israel too had been spread in all directions around the known world by the four winds of heaven (Zechariah 2:6). Thus the idea of the four winds of heaven is of the activity of God stirring up ‘the world’ with mighty effects (contrast Ezekiel 37:9 where the four winds are life giving for the people of God).

Here the four winds break on the Great Sea. The Great Sea was the Mediterranean Sea (Numbers 34:6-7; Joshua 1:4; Joshua 9:1; Joshua 15:12; Joshua 15:47; Joshua 23:4; Ezekiel 47:10; Ezekiel 47:15; Ezekiel 47:19-20; Ezekiel 48:28). It is its standard name. Thus what arises is connected with the Mediterranean area. But the sea was seen by Israel as an enemy. The roaring of enemies against Israel was likened by Isaiah to the roaring of the sea (Isaiah 5:30), which is described as restless and casting up mire and dirt (Isaiah 57:20). He also likens it to the roaring and tumult of the nations (Isaiah 17:12-13). Israel was ever afraid of the sea and looked on it as hostile, although thankfully controlled by God. So they would not like the thought of anything arising from the sea. The arising from the sea links these wild beasts firmly to the earth, and to the earth in tumult.

The first wild beast was ‘like a lion’ and had eagle’s wings. The lion was the king of the wild beasts, and lions were noted for their strength (Judges 14:18), boldness (2 Samuel 17:10), ferocity (Psalms 7:2), and stealth (Psalms 10:9; Lamentations 3:10). There was no escape from the lion (Isaiah 5:29). The thought of eagle’s wings is of strong wings. They would bring Israel’s enemy against them (Deuteronomy 28:49). But being borne by eagle’s wings was also a sign of being borne by God (Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11). However, in the context here the emphasis is on the ferocity of the wild beasts. Thus this wild beast was a fearsome sight, with the strength, ferocity and stealth of a lion and the speedy attack and bloodthirstiness of the eagle (see Job 39:28-30).

In Jeremiah 4:7 (compare Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44) Nebuchadnezzar is likened to a lion coming to make the land desolate and he is described as ‘the destroyer of nations’, and in Ezekiel 17:3 an eagle represents Nebuchadnezzar as the transplanter of Israel, (and a second eagle the Pharaoh), a picture confirmed by Habakkuk 1:8. Thus in view of chapter 2 we are certainly to see here Nebuchadnezzar and his empire. The lion-likeness confirms its superiority to what follows, as did the head of gold in chapter 2.

This interpretation is even more confirmed when we read on. For its wings were plucked off, reminding us of Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation at the hands of God (Daniel 4:33), and after this the beast then stood on two feet like a man and a man’s heart was given to it. This surely indicates his repentance towards the Most High, and the return of both rationality and the growth of spirituality (Daniel 4:34-36). Compare Daniel 8:18 where Daniel was stood upright to signify readiness to receive the revelation of God, and Daniel 10:11 where standing was linked with understanding. The rampaging, swift flying beast has become softened and humanised like Nebuchadnezzar. But his empire will not survive long.


Verse 5

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

The second wild beast was ‘like a bear’. This reminds us that this was a dream. What he saw reminded him of a bear. Next to the fierceness of the lion is the fierceness of the bear. The two are often paralleled (Proverbs 28:15; Lamentations 3:10; Hosea 13:8; Amos 5:19). Thus this second empire is only slightly inferior to the first. Compare the body and arms of silver of chapter 2. It is more ungainly, but still to be feared.

‘And it was raised up on one side (shetar).’ The noun is difficult. It possibly comes from a root ‘to write’ which develops into ‘officer, overseer, magistrate’, and thus ‘rulership’. It occurs in the form found here only this once. Thus we might translate ‘it raised up one rulership’. In view of the clear lack of total unity emphasised in chapter 2 it may suggest combined nations with one ruler overall (combined because one wild beast), which fits well with the Medo-Persian empire. Alternately it might suggest having one side higher than the other, signifying an empire with a greater and lesser part. We can compare Daniel 8:3 where one horn was higher than the other, coming up last. All emphasise the duality yet oneness of the empire. The great lumbering bear was actually a marvellous picture of the coming huge armies of Medo-Persia.

The ‘three’ ribs between its teeth, which it is in process of devouring, probably indicates completeness of conquest (it will ‘devour much flesh’), although some have seen them as representing Lydia, Babylon and Egypt. Note the steady growth as we go through the empires, two feet (Daniel 7:4), three ribs here, four wings and four heads (Daniel 7:6), ten horns (twice five - Daniel 7:7). All is of a pattern.

‘And they said thus to it. “Arise and devour much flesh.” The previous beast arose on its feet and became humane. This one arises to its feet, but to eat much flesh. It is fiercer and more brutish, a downward step. Deterioration in empires is a feature of the empires in chapter 2, and here it includes increase in wildness. The next beast will not even stand up. It will remain on four legs. The nations are becoming more beastly.

The command to ‘arise’ also suggests that God is now commanding it to arise to carry out its foreordained task to capture Babylon (Belsahazzar is at present on the throne) and the world around it. The ‘they’ may well be the watchers (Daniel 4:13-14; Daniel 4:17).


Verse 6

‘After this I was beholding, and lo another, like a leopard which had on its back four wings of a bird. The beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it.’

The third wild beast was ‘like a leopard’, and yet a leopard with wings. Chapter 8 tells us specifically that this was Greece (Daniel 8:21). The swift movement of the leopard (Habakkuk 1:8) combined with the dual sets of wings of a bird indicates its fierceness and swiftness, typical of the conquests of Alexander. It needs two sets of wings because it remains an animal throughout. It needs to be able to land on four feet.

Like the bear, the leopard is also paralleled with the lion as a fearsome creature (Song of Solomon 4:8; Jeremiah 5:6; Hosea 13:7). It is a hunter. So this beast too is swift and fearsome. The dual emphasis on four indicates that ‘four’ is intended to mean something, and four indicates worldwideness. Thus the four heads indicate ‘worldwide’ rulership (he could have depicted it as having horns, as it had wings, but horns would be contradictory to its being a leopard. A leopard kills with tooth and claw). All is controlled from the head. But it also indicates that the one empire will become four (see Daniel 8:22). The beast ‘was given dominion’. It had control over the Mediterranean world.

On the death of Alexander the Great his empire was in fact split between his four generals, two of whom were prominent in the Mediterranean world north and south of Palestine. Most who hold this view think that they were Lysimachus (who ruled over Thrace and Bithynia), Cassander (Macedonia and Greece), Seleucus (Syria, Babylonia, and the eastern territories), and Ptolemy (Egypt, Palestine, and Arabia Petrea). However, the exact identification of the rulers is debatable because it took about 20 years for the kingdom to be successfully divided. But there is no question about the fact that Greece split into four major parts (cf. Daniel 8:8; Daniel 8:22). All is leading up to the final empire, the great apocalyptic empire of Daniel 2:40-43.


Verse 7-8

‘After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, terrible and powerful, and exceedingly strong. And it had great iron teeth. It devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet. And it was different from all the creatures which 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 first 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.’

The terribleness of this beast is emphasised. It is worse than all. It was not ‘like’ anything that Daniel knew. It was a monster like no known beast. The great iron teeth remind us of the fourth empire in chapter 2. Its devouring and breaking in pieces, and stamping of what remains with the feet, makes it more terrible than the bear (Daniel 7:5). It is different from all the creatures that were before it. It is indescribably brutal.

Moreover it will eventually produce ‘ten’ kings, for horns represent strength and power (Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Samuel 2:1; 1 Samuel 2:10; Psalms 18:2), and therefore kings. They ‘arise out of this kingdom’ (Daniel 7:24). It becomes a diverse empire (Daniel 2:41). It was emphasised that the bear had one rulership. Then the leopard developed into four rulerships. Here the empire develops into ten rulerships, ‘a number of’ rulerships. It does not remain a united empire. It is a second phase of the empire and illustrates that it is divided up. (In Scripture ‘ten’ is regularly used to mean ‘a number of’).

We have noted before the succession presented, two arms, three ribs, four heads, and now ten horns. This suggests that we might also see ‘ten’ as twice times five, an intensification of five. Five is the number of covenant. Thus the beast imitates the covenant community. It is Anti-God, setting itself over against God.

This intensifies in the final description. There is a later, final phase, the arising of another horn, a small one. The emphasis on the smallness is derogatory. It will think it is large but really it is ‘a small one’. ‘And behold in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.’ Having the eyes of a man indicates that it is but human in spite of its great claims. But there is there also the idea of imitation and pretence. It seeks to give the impression of being truly human (rational and godly), and of submitting to God (compare Daniel 7:4) but it is all a pretence, it is all outward show, for it is given away by what comes from its mouth. It is still a beast and yet it boasts about itself and makes great claims for itself and for its future. It speaks ‘great things’. ‘Great things’ indicates above all the activity of God (1 Samuel 12:24; 2 Samuel 7:21; 2 Samuel 7:23; 1 Chronicles 17:19; Job 5:9; Job 9:10; Job 37:5; Psalms 71:9; Psalms 106:21; Psalms 126:2-3; Joel 2:21. Contrast Joel 2:20). Thus it is setting itself up against God as an anti-God..

And it is a beast which finally begins to destroy itself. The horn, ‘the small one’, attacks ‘three’ of the horns (three represents a group complete in itself, an alliance, but not the whole). From the beginning the empire loves war, and now it is a divided up empire out of control and indulging in ‘civil war, with kings attacking each other (compare Mark 3:24-26). And this horn, this small one, will mercilessly attack, not only its fellow rulers, but also especially the people of God (Daniel 7:21). But in the end he will be dealt with at the judgment.

The picture is of a world continually at war, continually destructive, pursuing its way without thought of true obedience to God, continually dividing up and yet partially coming together in its later phase, first in an alliance and then under the arrogant horn, ‘the small one’.

As with the fourth empire of chapter 2 this represents the eschatological empire which grows out of the others, which is initially powerful and destructive, and becomes weak and divided. It is the final empire of ‘the last days’, (as long as we remember that in New Testament terms ‘the last days’, ‘the end of the ages’ began when Jesus was crucified). Its beginnings may be seen as Rome, but it does not just represent Rome, for it divides up into a number of smaller ‘empires’ under a number of rulers. It represents the idea of ‘empire’, in opposition to God, the future unidentifiable ‘empires’ going on to the end of time which take the place of Rome.

It is the ‘fourth’ empire, the summation of empire, the multiple empire to end all empires, the empire with many rulers, encompassing the world. It is the world divided and apart from God. And in its final phase will come ‘the horn, the small one’, with the eyes of a man and the words of a god, speaking ‘great things’ (see above), in defiance of God. Opposition to the people of God will have now reached its ultimate.

This final figure is depicted in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10, the ultimate of the antichrists that are always among us (1 John 2:18-19). It is expanded on in Revelation. And behind it lies the power of the Evil One.


Verse 9-10

A Flashback. The Scene in Heaven While the Empires Strut on Earth (Daniel 7:9-10).

‘I was beholding until thrones were placed,

And one who was the ancient of days did sit.

His clothing was white as snow,

His throne was fiery flames

And its wheels burning fire.

A fiery stream issued

And came forth from before him.

A thousand thousands ministered to him,

And ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.

The judgment was set

And the records were opened.’

This is put in poetic metre to emphasise its heavenly nature, and to stress that it is not just following on what has gone before. Notice that there is here no ‘after this’. This is a totally new aspect on things from a heavenly viewpoint. He was continuing to watch but has now switched to a new aspect of his vision, going back to look at things from this viewpoint of heaven. It was this court that in fact adjudicated on what Nebuchadnezzar was doing to God’s people, that observed the behaviour of Belshazzar, and that watched over Daniel in the den of lions. They were ‘the watchers’.

(Daniel 7:12 is quite crucial on this. It demonstrates that the court was sitting and passing judgment from the very first empire).

Until now the impression in the dream has been that God appeared to have been almost silent as the wild beasts trod the world scene. But now we are privileged to see behind the scenes. The truth is that the world was not just being left to itself, it was being observed by the watchers, and the reports were being examined by the court as they came in, and judgment passed on them. God was constantly aware of what was happening to His own.

Note the careful order to bring this out, the growth of the three beasts (4-6), the growth of the fourth beast (7-8), the court scene in heaven (9-10), the fourth beast dealt with by the court (11), the three beasts dealt with by the court previously (12).

‘I was beholding.’ This is not just ‘I beheld’. It is a more complicated construction, ‘I was beholding’ (also in Daniel 7:6; Daniel 7:11; Daniel 7:13). ‘We might paraphrase, ‘I went on dreaming until I saw’. His dream was continuing, and another vision came before him. But this was not just a chronological continuation of what had gone before. There is no ‘after this’ and the poetic metre brings out that here is a new aspect on things. For in his visions, as he was surveying the scenes coming before him, he saw a whole new change of scene. He was now going to see what God was doing all this while, while the empires raged on. The vision of the wild beasts and the vision of the heavenly court were in parallel. Note Daniel 7:11-12, where first the fourth beast is dealt with, and then, moving backwards in time, the three other beasts are dealt with. These were decisions of this court at different times. The visions go forwards and backwards.

We can compare this heavenly vision with John’s vision in Revelation 4-5, which draws on this scene. There too the court is continual, observing and worshipping continually through the ages. As with the seven seals God’s judgment is a continual operation. The last judgment is only its final summation. It is a travesty to assume that God only judges at the end of time. He judges and punishes continually (as Daniel has already demonstrated).

‘Thrones were placed.’ Unknown to the world, while the world was strutting its piece, the heavenly court was being set up (note that there is no ‘after this’ here - contrast Daniel 7:6-7). While earth was in turmoil heaven also was to be busy. Here Daniel saw the deliberate placing of the thrones, in order to deal with the thrones spoken of below, the beast-like kings. But on these thrones is one King. We may see this specific assembly as having been set up almost from the beginning of the time covered by the vision, or even before (it might be a flashback to when man had first to be judged). It explains the words of the watcher to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:14-17). These were the watchers whose decree determined events on earth. This serene scene is in direct contrast with the tumult of the nations. While the world suffered under the activities of the wild beasts, here all was unity, centred on the figure on the throne.

It is, however, possibly significant that more than one throne was placed and yet there is only mention of One Who takes His seat. The only mention of any other person worthy of enthronement in this whole passage is the son of man who comes on the clouds of heaven to whom rulership and dominion is to be given (Daniel 7:14). Perhaps then the other throne(s) is (are) there awaiting His arrival with His people. (The ‘son of man’ represents both the Prince and His people). All was waiting for that day.

Alternately we may see the thrones as the heavenly equivalent of all the thrones in the world so that the One Who takes His throne sits as One upon all thrones, represented by His throne. Or it may be seen as a plural of majesty stressing the majesty of His throne (compare Psalms 122:5), but having a contrast with the many thrones on earth in mind.

Others see it as representing thrones for heavenly attendants, whose sitting is not mentioned lest it take men’s eyes off the One on the throne. But there is no such idea anywhere else in the Old Testament. We may compare Psalms 89:5; Psalms 89:7, but there is no suggestion of sitting; or 1 Kings 22:19, but there we are actually told that they stand around Him; or Isaiah 6:2, but there the seraphim also stood and shielded themselves with their wings. So no such angelic thrones are ever mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament, and the thought of others sitting in the presence of the King was not likely to be an acceptable thought then. Occupation of such a throne would require a unique and exceptional figure.

We cannot read Revelation 4:4 back into Daniel. That was after the Lamb had been slain so that the representatives of the people of God could then sit on thrones before the King (see Revelation 3:21).

Finally we might translate, ‘thrones were cast down’ indicating the commencement of the dethroning of all earthly rulers, for the same verb is used of the casting into the fiery furnace and the casting into the den of lions. This may then be seen as God’s response to those situations, ‘I was watching until thrones were cast down’ as God’s servants had previously been. But this translation is generally not considered probable.

Then enters One Who takes His seat in the great court. He is the ‘ancient of days’. Age was looked on as venerable, an indication of wisdom, and of worthiness to judge, and thus the representation is of the all-wise and reliable judge and arbiter, in such contrast with the earthly beast-kings below who pass away one by one. But here was the everlasting One Who was even the ‘ancient of days’ in heaven. He could look back to the growth of the first empire in Genesis 10:9-10; Genesis 11:1-9. He goes back to the beginning of time, before empires ever existed.

He was clothed in white, with hair like pure wool. White is always the symbol of purity and righteousness (Daniel 11:35; Daniel 12:10; Psalms 51:7; Isaiah 1:18; Lamentations 4:7) which is here outwardly revealed and grows from Him. All here is pure and righteous, and eternal.

‘His throne was fiery flames and its wheels burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him.’ We see here the chariot throne of God as depicted by Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 1; Ezekiel 3:13; Ezekiel 10). All is fire, the fire of glory and of judgment (see Ezekiel 1:4; Ezekiel 1:13; Ezekiel 1:27 and compare Exodus 19:18; Exodus 24:17; Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 9:3; Deuteronomy 18:17; Psalms 18:8; Psalms 50:3), for God is a consuming fire. For the fiery stream see Daniel 7:11 and compare Deuteronomy 32:22; Deuteronomy 33:2; 2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:14; Isaiah 30:33; Jeremiah 15:14; Jeremiah 17:4; Revelation 4:5). With fire He will finally destroy all evil.

‘A thousand thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.’ Gathered around the throne was a countless multitude of heavenly beings, attentive to serve Him and do His will (compare Deuteronomy 33:2; Psalms 68:17; Psalms 89:5; Psalms 89:7; Psalms 103:21; 1 Kings 22:19). He is the Most High, above all things, unique on His throne, before Whom all things bow and worship. The emphasis is on His power and glory.

‘The judgment was set and the records were opened.’ God will not act arbitrarily. The truth must be examined and known. It is all recorded and will be recorded through time (Daniel 10:21; Isaiah 65:6; Jeremiah 2:22; Jeremiah 17:1; Psalms 56:8-9; Psalms 139:16). The ‘records’ here are the records as they are brought to the court through the ages by those appointed to watch activities on earth, like a great king would expect to receive continual intelligence reports from his sub-rulers (compare the Amarna letters). This is not the final judgment, but part of God’s continual judgment, continuing on during the activities of the four beasts, dealing with one after another (Daniel 7:12), although it leads up to the final judgment. It is also explaining the background to what happens in chapters 3 to 6 when the court sends dreams to warn men, passes sentence on them, punishes them, and delivers the righteous.


Verse 11-12

‘I was beholding then (what would result) from the voice of the great words which the horn spoke, I beheld even until the beast was slain, and his body was destroyed, and he 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.’

These two verses warn us against assuming that in the vision one thing just follows after another. It is a summary of what happens, and what has happened previously, without regard for chronology. It starts at the end and backtracks. It is a dream. Firstly he declares what will be the effect of God’s activity through the court because of the great words spoken by the horn (the small one), what will result from his words. Its result will be that the beast on which it grew will be slain. Its body will be destroyed, it will be handed over to the fire, just as had happened to God’s people in chapter 3. God’s people had been accused of blasphemy and handed over to the fire. So will it be done to the great and terrible beast because of the blasphemy of the little horn. The fires of God (Daniel 7:10) will destroy it.

But then Daniel 7:12 deals with previous judgments of the court, God’s activity on the other three beasts as He observed them through the centuries. One by one their dominion had been taken away from them by sentence of the court, but they had been allowed to go on as parts of other empires until the final end of the fourth beast. Their lives had been preserved ‘for a season and a time’, that is, for God’s determined period.

To be consistent with chapter 2, where all are destroyed together, this must refer back to the times when each one was replaced, but was allowed to continue, although without having the dominion, until the destruction of the fourth beast, when they too will be destroyed. But there will be no amelioration or delay in respect of the fourth beast. Its destruction will be total and complete, and at that time all empire will be destroyed. So the scene in heaven above refers to a continual judgment scene which monitors activities on earth and deals with them as they arise.


Verse 13-14

The Reception and Crowning of the Prince (Daniel 7:13-14).

‘I was beholding in the night visions:

And behold with the clouds of heaven,

Came one like a son of man,

And he came to the ancient of days,

And they brought him near before him.

And to him was given 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 one

That will not be destroyed.’

Again there is a change of scene. Again a scene in heaven is put in poetic metre.

No indication is given of how these verses tie in timewise with the surrounding narrative. The previous verse has indeed looked back to the ending of the first three empires.

The vision refers to the entry of ‘one like a son of man’ into the presence of God on His throne. As with the wild beasts ‘one like’ is dream language. In appearance he seemed like a son of man, that is, a true man. The description is in contrast with the beasts, who were four kings (Daniel 7:17) and also kingdoms (Daniel 7:23). Thus unlike the previous kings who were like brute beasts this one was rational, spiritual and moral, revealing the image of God. It too represents a king and a kingdom.

This one enters the presence of God to receive dominion, glory and a kingdom. Later we learn that the kingdom and the dominion (but not the glory) is to be given to the saints (holy ones) of the Most High (Daniel 7:27). Thus this ‘son of man’, this representative of His people and of the true humanity as revealed by His people, comes as their prince and representative to receive his due glory, and to receive the kingdom and the dominion on their behalf. It is difficult to see how anyone could fail to recognise that this must be the promised son of David who would come to be prince to his people and who was to be set over the everlasting kingdom (Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24-25; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4; Psalms 89:3-4). (Whether we call it Messianic or not is simply a matter of definition). And the subsequent verse shows that He was crowned. Was He also seated on the empty throne?

‘And behold with the clouds of heaven came one like a son of man.’ The beasts arose out of the sea. This Man came with the clouds of heaven. The starting point of the beasts was world tumult, mire and dirt (Isaiah 57:20; Isaiah 5:30), the starting point of this Man was among the clouds. In Psalms 104:3 God is described as the One Who makes the clouds His chariot (compare Isaiah 19:1), and we may see here that He has given the use of His chariot to His chosen prince. For the One Who usually travels with clouds is God Himself (Psalms 18:11-12; Psalms 97:2; Ezekiel 10:4 compare Deuteronomy 4:11). So while this does not necessarily here imply His full divinity, (for that we must look elsewhere), it does imply a very special relationship with God, and even more so when we realise that He receives an everlasting kingdom.

‘And he came to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.’ Arriving in the heavenly court, the prince is brought into the King’s presence, presumably by angels. And there he is given dominion, glory and a kingdom; an everlasting dominion, an indestructible kingdom, and authority over the whole world. Daniel 7:27 tells us that it was on behalf of his people who would share with Him in His kingdom.

Thus one day in Daniel’s future he knew that the chosen prince of the house of David would come into the presence of God to receive the kingdom. But it is to the New Testament that we must turn in order to discover when, and how, and to discover Who He really is.

That Jesus came using of Himself the title of ‘Son of man’ we know. He did so partly as the equivalent of the Messiah without the misunderstanding that the title gave, and partly because He was the true representative Man, the second Adam, but He also used it to claim that He was the One Who would enter God’s presence on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:64 - note the ‘henceforth’) and would return again in glory for His people, and as judge (Mark 8:38; Mark 13:26; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 24:30).

And we are also told the time when He received His kingship. On earth He had proclaimed that the Kingly Rule of God could be entered by all who would respond to His words and believe in Him, but it was after His resurrection that He appeared to His disciples and said, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth’ (Matthew 28:18), and that Peter said, ‘Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus Whom you crucified’ (Acts 2:36 compare Acts 2:33).

Stephen adds his testimony, ‘Behold I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God’ (Acts 7:56), and Paul says, ‘For this reason also God highly exalted Him, and gave to Him the name which is above every name -- that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:9-11), when He ‘made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenlies, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion’ (Ephesians 1:20-21 compare also Romans 14:9; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 2:9; 1 Peter 3:22). And this in order that His people might be transferred out of the power (kingdom) of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13).

So this coming of the son of man with the clouds of heaven refers to the immediate time that follows the resurrection of Christ when He received dominion and glory and a kingdom, although it is true that its full manifestation to the world awaits His second coming. But this was not His manifestation to the world, it was His crowning in heaven. And Paul tells us that at that time His people received kingship along with Him (Ephesians 2:6). Then began the destruction of the fourth wild beast, which will finally be concluded by the brightness of His appearing (2 Thessalonians 2:8), as He comes to receive His own (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17) and renders vengeance on ‘the wild beast’ (in the end those who believe not) in flaming fire (2 Thessalonians 1:8).

And it is at this time that His true people will finally share fully with Him the glory of kingship (Daniel 7:27; Revelation 3:21). But as we have seen they do also receive it in part when they become His (Ephesians 2:6), so that there are two aspects to the revelation and crowning of the prince, and two aspects to the blessing of His people. The first occurs when the fourth empire is still in its beginnings. But He reigns on in heaven and it is this kingship finally revealed on earth (Revelation 19:11-16) that will finalise the work of the smiting stone and will literally bring the fourth empire finally crashing down.


Verse 15-16

Daniel Is Concerned About The Meaning Of His Vision (Daniel 7:15-16).

‘As for me, Daniel, my spirit was grieved in the midst of my body (literally ‘my sheath’), and the visions of my head troubled me. I came near to one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me that he would make me to know the interpretations of the things.’

Meanwhile Daniel was concerned over what he had seen, indeed greatly troubled. What could all this mean? And such was the vividness of his dream that in it he approached one of the heavenly beings to ask him what the truth was about his visions. And the heavenly being promised to give him his answer, and to interpret the dream for him.


Verse 17-18

A Brief Explanation of the Vision (Daniel 7:17-18).

‘These great beasts which are four, are four kings who will arise from the earth. But the saints of the most high will receive the kingdom, and will possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.’

Note that the interpretation states that the kings arise from the earth, not from the sea. The idea of the sea was conveying ideas, but was not to be taken literally. And they are four kings. This has in mind the four kings who are most prominent in the empires as depicted, but the kings represent their empires. In Daniel 7:23 they are four empires, growing from the work of the four kings. However, the people of God need not be concerned about these kings and empires, for in the end the kingdom, the everlasting kingdom, will be theirs. Note the emphasis on its everlastingness. (This has nothing to do with any Millennial kingdom). We are probably to see the four kings as Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander the Great and the Anti-God, (the horn, the small one).

‘The holy ones (saints) of the Most High.’ This does not mean Israel as such, but those who are faithful to God and His covenant and thus separated to Him. Apart from this passage the word ‘holy ones’, used in this way, is found also in Daniel 8:24 (‘people of the holy ones’, thus the holy people); see also Psalms 16:3; Psalms 34:9. Note that they ‘receive the kingdom’. It is not obtained by their own strength and power. But once received it is their possession for eternity.


Verse 19-20

Daniel’s Further Question About the Fourth Empire (Daniel 7:19-20).

‘Then I desired to know the truth about the fourth wild beast, which was diverse from all of them, exceedingly terrible, whose teeth were of iron and his claws of brass. Who devoured, broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet. And about the ten horns which were on his head, and the other which came up, and before which three fell. Even that horn who had eyes, and a mouth which spoke great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows.’

Daniel outlines his greatest concern. About the fourth wild beast. As far as the earthly scene goes this has been the emphasis all through. This is the wild beast above all wild beasts, a monster of monsters. His terrible features are again described, but an added feature is given to us. His claws are of brass, adding to his fearsomeness. Daniel also wants to know about the ten horns, and especially about the final one that came up, the one who caused the fall of the three, had eyes, and a mouth which spoke great things, and who looked superior compared with his fellows. The answer will shortly be given, but meanwhile he must wait for his dream goes on.


Verse 21-22

Daniel Sees A Further Vision, A Vision Of The End Days (Daniel 7:21-22).

‘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.’

This continuation of the dream moves on to new subjects. This is not recapitulation, it is advancement. This is the first suggestion of an empire persecuting God’s people, and the persecuting is clearly particularly severe. It is depicted again in Revelation 19. ‘He prevailed against them.’ They were being destroyed wholesale, and it seemed that nothing could save them from his activities.

But then the ancient of days comes and deals with this latest evil as He has previously dealt with the other empires and the prior part of the fourth beast. Now He gives judgment (a rightful and fair verdict resulting in corrective action) finally on behalf of His people and the time comes for the saints to possess the kingdom. This is advancement on what has gone before, as it was described in Daniel 7:2-14. This is describing the final stages of the fourth empire, and the final action of the heavenly court. Then the heavenly court can close down. It will be required no more.


Verses 23-25

The Explanation Concerning the Fourth Wild Beast (Daniel 7:23-27).

‘Thus he said, “The fourth wild beast will be a fourth empire on earth, and will be diverse from all the empires, and will devour the whole earth, and will tread it down and break it in pieces. And as for the ten horns, out of this empire will ten rulers arise, and another will arise after them. And he will be diverse from the former and will put down three kings. And he will speak words against the Most High, and will wear out the saints of the Most High, and he will think to change the times and the law. And they will be given into his hand until a time, and times and half a time.’

The fourth wild beast also represents an empire from the Mediterranean world. Diverse (altered) from all empires signifies its uniqueness in that it will continue in a broken up form as depicted in chapter 2. It is first the mighty Roman empire, but then it expands into a number of empires (‘ten’ indicates ‘a number of’), and finally produces the Anti-God. But the Anti-God only destroys ‘three’ kings. He is lord of a complete section of his world but not of the whole world.

Then arises the Anti-God. He is ‘altered’ from all that has gone before. He carves out for himself an area of the Mediterranean world, complete in itself, and openly challenges God and all that is of God, putting himself in the place of God (compare 2 Thessalonians 2:4). To ‘speak words’ has an evil connotation (see Hosea 10:4).

‘He will wear out the holy ones of the Most High’, like ill treatment wears out clothes, leaving them, as it were, ragged and in tatters. Some link the Aramaic word to an Arab root which means ‘to treat roughly, to harm’.

‘And he will think to change the times and the law.’ That is the times which God has in His own power (Daniel 2:21; Acts 1:7; Acts 3:21; Ephesians 1:10 compare Genesis 17:21; Genesis 18:14), and His law which He has given to men in the Scriptures, or possibly God’s law as proclaimed by the heavenly court. His thoughts will centre on destroying God’s purposes and truth.

‘And they will be given into his hand until a time, and times and half a time.’ The thought here is of an incomplete period of time, in contrast, for example with ‘seven times’. ‘Seven times’ depicted time under perfect control, time which God had in His own power, but ‘a time, and times and half a time’ depicts time not under control. Unlike God he is unable to determine the divinely perfect set times in which things will happen, nor is he able to control his own times. It is probably intended to represent less than the perfect ‘seven’. (It has been suggested that it was building up to seven but failed - a time, two times and then an expected four times, making seven, but then the four times collapsed into a half). He wanted to change the seasons but failed. They were not under his control. Compare for the phrase Daniel 12:7; Revelation 12:14, both referring to the persecution of the people of God which is broken off before the persecutors can complete their purpose.

Note.

All we can say about the attempt to make ‘times’ mean ‘years’ is that there is no definite evidence for it. Nor does ‘times’ necessarily mean ‘two times’. Indeed the noun is plural and not dual. If Daniel wanted to say three and a half years there was perfectly good Aramaic with which to do it. It is true that Revelation 12 parallels the Greek equivalent with twelve hundred and sixty days (Revelation 12:6 with Revelation 12:14), but that does not necessarily equate them. He may be getting over two ideas. It could be argued that that was why he used different expressions. The twelve hundred and sixty days was probably to reflect the three and a half years of Elijah’s time in the wilderness (Luke 4:25; James 5:17), and Daniel never refers to a period of twelve hundred and sixty days. Interestingly he does refer to a period of twelve hundred and ninety days (Daniel 12:11). But we cannot just dismiss the difference. If John wanted to equate with Daniel, why did he alter the phrase? Surely because he did not wish to equate with it. His eyes were on Elijah and not on Daniel.

Thus John was pointing out that the persecution and fleeing for safety of the people of God could be compared with that of Elijah, and that it also lasted for an incomplete period, rather than the time that Satan had determined, in a similar way to here in Daniel.

I would in fact have no particular objection to a meaning of three and a half years if that were clear from the wording and the context, as long as there was no attempt always to make periods of three and a half years mean the same period, for they clearly do not as the reference to Elijah’s three and a half years demonstrates. But I think that the attempt fails and misses the whole point of the phrase.

(End of note).


Verse 26

‘But the judgment will sit, and they will take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it to the end.’

As through history ‘the judgment will sit’. That is, God will sit in judgment on this evil ruler as He had on the empires. And the court will take away his dominion, to get rid of it and destroy it. God is a consuming fire (see Daniel 7:9). ‘To the end.’ That is, for ever. It is in contrast with God’s kingdom which continues ‘to the end’ (Daniel 6:26) . Thus will Satan’s final attempt to prevail be defeated.


Verse 27

‘And the kingdom, and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people (who consist) of the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions will serve and obey him.’

Compare Daniel 7:18. After the persecution the blessing. Those who have been trodden down will be lifted up. They will receive the kingdom, and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, in other words supreme authority over all things. This is indeed God’s promise to His people elsewhere (Ephesians 2:6 with Daniel 1:19-21; Revelation 3:21).

‘The people (who consist) of the holy ones of the Most High.’ Thus not earthly Israel, but God’s true people, His holy ones, whoever they may be.

We note that this almost parallels what is given to the son of man in Daniel 7:14 (He also receives the glory). The son of man (or ‘The Man’) there is in contrast with the wild beasts. The wild beasts are both the kings and their kingdoms, one merges into the other. They both behave like wild beasts, but the true people of God behave like true human beings made in the image of God, and through their representative, the true Man, they receive the dominion. Thus the son of man is both the people’s representative and the people themselves. But whereas He receives the dominion at His resurrection, they finally receive the dominion at His return in glory.


Verse 28

‘Unto this point is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts much troubled me, and my brightness was changed in me. But I kept the matter in my heart.’.

Commencing from the time of Nebuchadnezzar we have now reached the end of the matter, the everlasting kingdom. But Daniel was not at ease. He was deeply troubled, and he had lost his brightness. He was horrified at what lay ahead for the people of God. But nevertheless he told no one, nor asked others to share the burden. It was not easy to be the source of God’s revelation on such matters.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Daniel 7:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/daniel-7.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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