Four Beastly Regimes - Vision

SYNOPSIS – The vision of four beastly regimes ascending from a chaotic sea, and the reaction of Heaven to the fourth beast - Daniel 7:1-14

stormy sea Photo by Brian Sumner on Unsplash
In chapter 7 of his book, Daniel describes a dream-vision he received about four “beasts” that he saw “ascending” from a chaotic sea. The first half of the chapter describes the vision itself; the second half provides its interpretation. The image of four beasts "ascending from the sea" gives the vision a fourfold structure. This parallels the four separate parts of the “great image” from the previous dream received by King Nebuchadnezzar.  (Photo by Brian Sumner on Unsplash).

The seventh chapter is transitional. It concludes the first half of the book and introduces the main subjects of the last half. Verbal links are included in the vision of the four beasts “ascending from the sea” to the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 2, and to the visions of chapters 8 through 12.

In his earlier dream, the great image seen by Nebuchadnezzar had a “head of fine gold” that represented him. Each of its four components represented a different kingdom, beginning with Babylon under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar. Thus, Babylon was the first of the four “beasts” that Daniel saw “ascending from the sea.”

Previously, Daniel identified the “head of gold” as Nebuchadnezzar, but the identities of the second, third and fourth kingdoms were allusive - The pictorial clues were too few and ambiguous to link them to known empires. Likewise, in chapter 7, the identities of the second, third and fourth beasts are not immediately clear, although more details are provided - (Daniel 2:37).

Since the four kingdoms appear to be in historical sequence, presumably, the second, third and fourth kingdoms followed Babylon sequentially. If so, and based on the historical record, there are three possible scenarios for the last three kingdoms that seem to fit the clues:
  • The “Medes and Persians,” Greece, and Rome.
  • The Medes, Persia, and Greece.
  • The “Medes and Persians,” Greece, and the Seleucid empire.
  • (Daniel 7:1) – “In the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon, Daniel beheld a dream and visions of his head upon his bed — then he wrote the dream and told the sum of the matters” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The first year of the reign of Belshazzar means that Daniel received this vision when Babylon was still the dominant empire of the Near East. Legally speaking, his father, Nabonidus (reigned - 556-539 B.C.), was the king of Babylon until the fall of the empire. Belshazzar was appointed as his regent over the city of Babylon, most likely in 553 B.C. when Nabonidus left the city for an extended period. This means Daniel received his vision about that time. Belshazzar was the final ruler over the city when it fell to a force of “Medes and Persians” in October of 539 B.C.

Daniel beheld a dream and visions of his head upon his bed.” This description is not for stylistic purposes but provides a verbal link to the earlier dream of Nebuchadnezzar, as follows:
  • (Daniel 2:28-29) – “There is a God in heaven that reveals secrets, and he has made known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Your dream, and the visions of your head upon your bed are these; as for you, O king, your thoughts came upon your bed, what should come to pass hereafter.”
Daniel wants his readers to make the connection. The four beasts he will now see “ascending from the sea” correspond to the four metallic parts from the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. In both visions, the four parts represent four sequential kingdoms.

First Three “Beasts”
  • (Daniel 7:2-6) – “Daniel spake and said, I was looking in my vision [which came] with the night,—when, lo! the four winds of the heavens bursting forth upon the great sea; and four large wild beasts coming up out of the sea,—diverse one from another:— The foremost like a lion, having the wings of an eagle,—I looked until the wings thereof were torn out and it was lifted up from the earth, and upon its feet like a man was it caused to stand, and the heart of a man was given to it. And, lo! another wild beast, a second, resembling a bear, and on one side was it raised up with three ribs in its mouth, between its teeth—and thus were they saying to it, Rise! devour much flesh. After that, I was looking, and lo! another like a leopard, and it had four wings of a bird upon its back—and four heads had the wild beast, and dominion was given to it.
Daniel saw four beastly entities ascending in succession from the chaotic sea. This first part of the vision is followed by a judgment scene, then by the interpretation of the vision provided by an angelic figure.

Four Beasts from a Chaotic Sea
Daniel saw “the four winds of heaven” agitating the surface of the sea. The turbulent sea symbolized restive nations and peoples. The Aramaic text describes the winds as “bursting forth upon the great sea,” suggesting the cause of the turbulence that prompted the beasts to emerge. The verb for “ascend” is an active participle and, as such, denotes action in progress, that is to say, an “ascending.” The beasts were “ascending” out of the sea in quick succession - (Daniel 7:17, 8:8, 11:14, Revelation 7:1-3, 17:15).

The four beasts were unnatural, composite creatures with characteristics from disparate species (e.g., a lion with eagle wings). Each was driven by animalistic voracity to seize territory. The images combined with the use of simile demonstrate that what Daniel described was not literal - (i.e., “like a lion”).

The first beast, the winged lion, corresponds to the “head of gold” from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. It represents either Nebuchadnezzar himself or the whole Babylonian kingdom. Daniel was familiar with the writings of Jeremiah who also used lions and eagles to symbolize Babylon, a swift and voracious conqueror - (Jeremiah 4:13, 25:9-1449:19-22, Daniel 9:1-2).

In its art and architecture, images of lions were used to represent Babylon. One of its most important deities was Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. She corresponded to the Canaanite deity Ashtoreth (Astarte) and the Greek Aphrodite. Her symbols included the lion and an eight-pointed star, and she was linked to the planet Venus. Old Testament references to the “Queen of Heaven” have her in view - (Jeremiah 7:1844:18).

The lion was a powerful predator. The presence of wings points to its rapidity of movement.  The wings are those of a neshar, an Aramaic term for the griffin-vulture of the region, a scavenger that fed on carrion.
The removal of the wings points to the curtailment of Babylon’s activities. Nebuchadnezzar conquered vast territories in only a few short years, but this period of rapid expansion ceased after his death.
The lion “was lifted up from the earth, made to stand” and “given” a human heart. The verbs refer not to what the lion did but to what was done to it - The verbs are passive.  The Aramaic verb qûm rendered “stand” is the same verb applied to Yahweh who removes and “sets up” kings. This indicates that God caused the “lion” to achieve dominion - (Daniel 2:212:444:17).

The description of the receipt of a human heart parallels the earlier loss of reason by Nebuchadnezzar and his downfall, and subsequently, his recovery of a “human heart” - (Daniel 4:164:34-37).

The second beast is seen “ascending from the sea” immediately after the demise of the winged lion.  Whether there was any time interval between the appearance of each successive beast, in the vision, they rise in quick succession.

The second beast is likened to a bear with one side raised higher than the other. It corresponds to the silver portion of the earlier image - The torso with two arms composed of silver that was “inferior” to the head of “fine gold.”

A bear is as strong as a lion but lacks its agility and cunning, being a more ponderous animal. Its two sides correspond to the two arms of the earlier vision and suggest a divided kingdom. The image is not a bear rearing up on its hind legs, but instead, one that elevates its feet on either side as it steps forward - (Daniel 2:322:39).

Bear Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash
(Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash)
The bear grips three ribs in its teeth; prey seized by the ravenous animal. The ribs may represent nations subjugated by the bear. Whether three is a literal or symbolic number is not clear. The bear is commanded to “rise and consume much flesh,” a summons to further acts of predation. A bear poised to strike while gripping three ribs points to an insatiable appetite.

The third beast resembles a leopard and has four wings and four heads. The “dominion given to it” is a verbal link to the bronze section of Nebuchadnezzar’s image that was to “rule over all the earth” - (Daniel 2:39).

A leopard is an agile and cunning predator, and wings suggest speed. The wings are those of a “fowl,” or ōph, an Aramaic term that refers to any kind of bird. Wings normally occur in pairs; however, the number “four” means this creature has two pairs of wings, which suggests its motion in the four directions of the compass.

The four “heads” are not connected to the four wings. Elsewhere in the book, “heads” represent kings and their realms. The four heads are grouped together, suggesting they are contemporaneous, not consecutive - A fourfold division of the kingdom - (Daniel 2:32-387:20).

Fourth Beast

The fourth beast is described in the most detail than the preceding three - It is the real focus of the vision, especially its “little horn.” The first three beasts are more incidental and provide the background to the rise of the fourth beast.
  • (Daniel 7:7-8) – “After that, I was looking in the visions of the night, when lo! a fourth wild beast, terrible and well-hipped and exceeding strong, and it had large teeth of iron, it devoured and brake in pieces, and the residue—with its feet, it trampled down,—and it was diverse from all the wild beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, when lo! another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the former horns were uprooted from before it,—and lo! eyes, like the eyes of a man in this horn, and a mouth speaking great things.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
This beast has no analog from the animal kingdom. It is “terrible and exceedingly strong…with great iron teeth.” It “devours and shatters and tramples the remnant with its feet.” Likewise, the fourth section of Nebuchadnezzar’s image was “strong as iron” and “shattered and subdued all things” - (Daniel 2:40-43).

With its feet, this beast “trampled the remnant (she’ar).” The identity of the “remnant” is not given at this point; however, verbal links connect this image with the vision of the Ram and the Goat from the “west,” as follows:
  • (Daniel 8:8-10) – “But the he-goat shewed himself very great,—and when he had become mighty, the great horn was broken in pieces, and there came up afterwards four in its stead towards the four winds of the heavens; and, out of the first of them, came forth a little horn,—which became exceedingly great, against the south and against the east, and against the beautiful [land]; yea it became great as far as the host of the heavens,—and caused to fall to the earth some of the host and some of the stars, and trampled them underfoot.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The “ten horns” of this beast may correspond to the toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s image, although that dream mentioned toes but not their number - (Daniel 2:41).

A “little horn” emerged from among the “ten horns.”  It was not one of the ten but a smaller horn that appeared later. Three of the ten horns were “uprooted.” The text does not say whether the “little horn” removed them; the passive voice is used. The three horns were “removed” by someone or something.

The number “ten” may be symbolic or literal. Elsewhere in Scripture, the number ten symbolizes a complete set of something. But the removal of three horns and their replacement by an eleventh and smaller one is quite specific, making it difficult to interpret these numbers symbolically. More likely, this level of detail points to a known set of events.

The “little horn” has human eyes and “a mouth speaking great things.” This suggests intelligence and individuality, and something blasphemous - A challenge to the rule of God.

Judgment Scene

The next paragraph presents the reaction of the Heavenly Court to the four beasts from the sea, and especially to the fourth one with its blasphemous “little horn.” The reader is now presented with events from the perspective of the throne of God:
  • (Daniel 7:9-14) – “I continued looking until that thrones were placed, and the Ancient of days took his seat,—whose garment, like snow, was white, and the hair of his head like pure wool, his throne was flames of fire, his wheels a burning fire. A stream of fire was flowing on and issuing forth from before him, a thousand thousand waited upon him and ten thousand times ten thousand, before him, stood up,—Judgment took its seat, and books were opened. I continued looking, then because of the sound of the great words which the horn was speaking, I continued looking until that the wild beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning of the fire. As concerning the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away,—but a lengthening of life was given to them, until time and season. I continued looking in the visions of the night, when lo! with the clouds of the heavens, one like a son of man was coming,—and unto the Ancient of days he approached, and before him they brought him near; and unto him were given dominion and dignity and kingship, that all peoples, races and tongues, unto him, should do service,—his dominion was an age-abiding dominion, which should not pass away, and his kingdom that which should not be destroyed.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Daniel gazed “until thrones were placed.” The vision transitions to a judgment scene before Yahweh’s throne. This is confirmed in verse 10 - “Judgment was set, and the books were opened” - (Daniel 12:1-4Revelation 20:11-15).

The picture of “one seated on the throne” symbolizes the sovereignty of God over events; fire issuing from the throne points to His judicial power - (Revelation 4:1-8).

The vision does not identify the other beings who were sitting on the many “thrones.” Their plurality may serve to stress the majesty of the “Ancient of Days.” Likewise, the picture of “thousands upon thousands that served him.”

The picture of four ravenous creatures “ascending from the sea” gave the impression that human kingdoms were not under the control of the “God of Heaven.” Any such notion is now set aside by the actions that occur in the heavenly court.

The “fiery wheels” suggest mobility - There is no place safe from the judicial reach of the divine throne.  Yahweh’s rule is dynamic and not limited to “heaven.” He determines the course of history and empires. The four beasts can only exit the sea when and as He permits. He is the ultimate source of the forces that stirred the surface of the sea that caused their ascent.

The fourth beast is “slain” because of its arrogance - The “mouth speaking great things.” The impious nature of all four of the beasts “from the sea” reaches its most blasphemous height in the mouth of the “little horn”; consequently, the fourth beast is destroyed. But the text states it was the “beast” that was slain, NOT the “little horn.” This points to the “death” of a regime, not necessarily to the death of an individual ruler.

Next, the first three beasts reappear - (“The rest of the beasts”). In the historical record, each kingdom succeeded its predecessor. In the symbolical world of the vision, on some level, the four realms remain contemporaneous with the “little horn.”

In the first half of the vision, nothing was said about the destruction the first three beasts; symbolically, all four continued to exist until they were destroyed collectively by an act of judgment. Likewise, in Nebuchadnezzar’s earlier vision, all four sections of the image were destroyed simultaneously at the end of the age by the stone cut “without hands” – They were constituent parts of one whole.

Each kingdom is “given a lengthening of life until a time and season.” Each endures for the time allotted by God, but no longer. Each loses dominion and receives the duration of life at the appointed time.  The end of the first three beasts is inextricably linked to the destruction of the fourth; especially, to the final demise of its “little horn.”
The destruction of the fourth kingdom brings the entire World-Power to an end, just as in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream when the “stone” struck the “feet” of the “great image,” causing the destruction of the entire structure.
The sovereignty of the World-Power passes successively from one kingdom to the next - Each exercises the same malevolent power. The form may vary, but the nature of each beast remains the same.

The length of a “season and time” is undefined. This is a link to Daniel’s earlier statement that God “changes times and seasonshe removes kings and sets up kings.” This confirms the control of Yahweh over political events on the earth - (Daniel 2:19-23).

On some level, the lengthening of life means each beast continues to exist in the subsequent regime. Nebuchadnezzar saw four individual kingdoms represented by one figure comprised of four sections. Thus, the empire has multiple incarnations but remains a singular entity. Its form varies over space and time, but its true nature does not. Daniel declared previously that the “Most-High has dominion over the kingdom of men,” singular, and “gives it to whomever he pleases,” also singular.

One like a son of man” is seen approaching the “ancient of days,” presumably, after the destruction of the fourth beast. “Son of man” is an Aramaic idiom that, by itself, means no more than a “human being.” The figure is likened to a “son of man.” It does not state whether he was an actual human or a supernatural being.

The human-like “son of man” is presented in contrast to the monstrous four “beasts,” but especially to the “little horn speaking great things” of the fourth “beast.” The nature of God’s kingdom differs from the beastly nature of the World-Power.

Behind this image is the Genesis account of the creation of Adam. Yahweh made man in His “likeness” and charged him to take dominion over the earth. This “son of man” now succeeds where Adam failed.

The “Son of Man” does not receive the kingdom until the books are opened, judgment is given, and the beast is slain. Recorded in the “books” are the deeds of the four “beasts.” The arrival of God’s kingdom does not produce the immediate destruction of the four kingdoms.

The “son of man” does not arrive from heaven but approaches the Ancient of Days to receive the kingdom. This is another link to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream where he saw the “stone cut out without hands” that became “a kingdom that will never be destroyed”:
  • (Daniel 2:44-45) – “And in the days of those kings shall the God of the heavens set up a kingdom which, to the ages, shall not be destroyed, and the kingdom, to another people, shall not be left,—it shall break in pieces and make an end of all these kingdoms, but, itself, shall stand to the ages. Forasmuch as thou sawest that, out of the rock, a stone tare itself away, but not with hands, and brake in pieces the clay, the iron, the bronze, the silver and the gold, the mighty God, hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter. Exact then is the dream, and trusty its interpretation.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
In Revelation

In the book of Revelation, the vision of four “beasts ascending from the sea” is applied and modified - The four creatures become a single beast summoned by the “Dragon” to “ascend from the sea.”

This single “beast” in Revelation included the same features from the animal world possessed by the four “beasts from the sea.” However, the characteristics are listed in reverse order from Daniel.

The single “beast” has “ten horns,” including one with a mouth “speaking great blasphemies.” It is authorized to act “forty-two months,” which corresponds to the “time, times and part of a time” in Daniel. Finally, this last “beast” also wages “war against the saints” - (Daniel 7:21-26Revelation 11:3-712:12-1713:1-10).


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