In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter. Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had eagles' wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it. And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the 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 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.
“As I looked,
thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.
“I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
“As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious, and the visions of my head alarmed me. I approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of the things. ‘These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’
“Then I desired to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet, and about the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn that came up and before which three of them fell, the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke great things, and that seemed greater than its companions. As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom.
“Thus he said: ‘As for the fourth beast,
there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth,
which shall be different from all the kingdoms,
and it shall devour the whole earth,
and trample it down, and break it to pieces.
As for the ten horns,
out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise,
and another shall arise after them;
he shall be different from the former ones,
and shall put down three kings.
He shall speak words against the Most High,
and shall wear out the saints of the Most High,
and shall think to change the times and the law;
and they shall be given into his hand
for a time, times, and half a time.
But the court shall sit in judgment,
and his dominion shall be taken away,
to be consumed and destroyed to the end.
And the kingdom and the dominion
and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;
his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’
“Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my color changed, but I kept the matter in my heart.”
(Daniel 7 ESV)
When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became his sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
The sea looked and fled;
Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water.
(Psalm 114 ESV)
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
O Israel, trust in the LORD!
He is their help and their shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD!
He is their help and their shield.
You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD!
He is their help and their shield.
The LORD has remembered us; he will bless us;
he will bless the house of Israel;
he will bless the house of Aaron;
he will bless those who fear the LORD,
both the small and the great.
May the LORD give you increase,
you and your children!
May you be blessed by the LORD,
who made heaven and earth!
The heavens are the LORD's heavens,
but the earth he has given to the children of man.
The dead do not praise the LORD,
nor do any who go down into silence.
But we will bless the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.
Praise the LORD!
(Psalm 115 ESV)
For the Love of God
DANIEL NOT ONLY INTERPRETED the dreams of others, on occasion he himself had dreams that needed interpretation. The one described here (Dan. 7) took place in the first year of Belshazzar (7:1), i.e., more than fifty years since Daniel had first been deported to Babylon. Not all revelation is given at once. From now to the end of the book, Daniel writes in the first person (with the exception of the note at 10:1).
(1) Although the four beasts representing four kingdoms or empires are in some measure sequential (and to that extent probably to be identified with specific historical kingdoms — see below), the initial observation that these four beasts came out of the sea (proverbial for chaos and wickedness) churned up by the four winds (i.e., from the four points of the compass, or everywhere) may hint that they also represent all kingdoms that oppose God.
(2) The evocative nature of these beasts must not be overlooked. The lion combined with the eagle suggests dominion, speed, and strength. The brown Syrian bear may weigh up to six hundred pounds and has a voracious appetite. The leopard is known for its extraordinarily sudden, rapid attacks; its four heads show it to be rapacious in all directions, wanting dominion everywhere. The last beast is “terrifying and frightening and very powerful . . . it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left” (7:7). Horns represent kings or kingdoms or dominion; this beast has ten of them, five times more than the natural two horns. The best identification is that the four beasts represent, respectively, the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires.
(3) The expression “son of man” is a Semitic way of saying “human being.” The other kingdoms are beastly and inhuman; here the reins of power rest in the hands of a human being as God meant a human being to be. Because of the parallels between verse 14 and verses 18 and 27, some have argued that “son of man” is merely a symbol for the “saints of the Most High” (7:18). But the matter is not so simple. If “son of man” in verses 13-14 were merely a symbol of the people of God, why should the authority be given to one who is like “a son of man”? The figure in verse 12 is an individual figure, yet he has a representative role (like the Old Testament priest, cf. Ex. 19:6). He comes “with the clouds of heaven,” a common association with the glory of deity. And by using “son of man,” the vision simultaneously signals a kingship that extends beyond Israel to all of humankind and prepares the way for the incarnation. Cf. Matthew 19:28; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Revelation 1:13-16.