Four Beastly Regimes - Vision

SYNOPSIS – Next, Daniel saw a vision of four beastly creatures ascending from a chaotic sea - Daniel 7:1-6.

Storm Sea - Photo by Barth Bailey on Unsplash
 Daniel received a dream-vision in which he saw “four beasts ascending” from a chaotic sea. The first half of chapter 7 describes the vision itself. The second half presents its interpretation. The number of the “beasts” gives the vision a fourfold structure, which corresponds to the four parts of the “great image” seen by Nebuchadnezzar in his earlier dream – head of gold, silver arms and breast, brass belly and thighs, and legs - partly iron and partly clay - (Daniel 2:31-45). - [Storm Sea - Photo by Barth Bailey on Unsplash].

The seventh chapter of Daniel 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 to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the “great image,” as well as to the visions of the next several chapters.
  • (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 great image envisioned by Nebuchadnezzar had a “head of fine gold,” which represented his reign. Each of its four components signified a different kingdom, beginning with Babylon. Likewise, in Daniel’s dream-vision, Babylon was the first of the four “beasts” he saw “ascending from the sea.”

Daniel had identified the “head of gold” as Nebuchadnezzar, but he did not identify the three subsequent kingdoms. And the pictorial clues given in his interpretation were too few and ambiguous to link them to any known historical empires. Likewise, in chapter 7, the identities of the second, third and fourth beasts are allusive, although more details are provided - (Daniel 2:37).

Presumably, since the four kingdoms appear to be in historical sequence, the last three kingdoms followed Babylon sequentially. If so, there are three plausible scenarios as to their identities:
  • The “Medes and Persians,” Greece, and Rome.
  • The Medes, Persia, and Greece.
  • The “Medes and Persians,” Greece, and the Seleucid empire.
The “first year of Belshazzar” means that Daniel received the dream-vision when Babylon was still the dominant power in the Near East. Belshazzar was the regent who governed the city for his father, King Nabonidus (556-539 B.C.). Belshazzar was killed when the city fell to the “Medes and Persians” in October 539 B.C.

Daniel beheld a dream and visions of his head upon his bed.” The 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.”
The verbal link is deliberate. The four beasts “ascending from the sea” correspond to the four metallic parts of king Nebuchadnezzar’s “great image,” and in both dream-visions, the four parts represent four sequential kingdoms.
  • (Daniel 7:2-6) – “I was looking in my vision in the night when, lo, the four winds of the heavens bursting forth upon the great sea; and four large beasts ascending from the sea, diverse one from another. The first like a lion, having the wings of an eagle. I looked until the wings were torn out and it was lifted up from the earth, and stood upon its feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it. And, lo, another 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 beast, and dominion was given to it.
The four winds of heaven” were agitating the surface of the sea, which symbolized restive nations and peoples. The Aramaic text describes the winds as “bursting forth upon the great sea.” That is, it was the turbulence that caused the beasts to emerge from the sea.

The verb rendered “ascending” is an active participle, which denotes action in progress – Here, a process of “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 beasts were unnatural, composite creatures with characteristics from disparate species, for example, a lion with eagle wings. Each creature was driven by animalistic voracity to seize territory.

The “winged lion” corresponds to the “head of gold” in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. It represents the Neo-Babylonian Empire. 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, lions represented the glory and might of Babylon. One of its most important deities was Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. She corresponded to the Canaanite deity Ashtoreth (Astarte), and to the Greek god Aphrodite. Her symbols included the lion. Ishtar was linked to the planet Venus, and Old Testament references to the “Queen of Heaven” have her in mind - (Jeremiah 7:1844:18).

The lion was a powerful predator. Its wings points to rapidity of movement, and their removal to the curtailment of movement. Nebuchadnezzar conquered vast territories in only a few short years; however, this period of rapid expansion ceased after his death.

The lion was “lifted up from the earth, made to stand,” and it was “given” a human heart. The Aramaic verb qûm that is rendered “stand” is the same verb that was applied to Yahweh, the One who “removes and sets up” kings. Likewise, God caused the “lion” to achieve dominion, and later curtailed its expansion - (Daniel 2:212:444:17).

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

Bear Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash
Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

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 and two arms that was “
inferior” to the head of “fine gold.”

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

The bear grips “three ribs in its teeth” - prey seized by the ravenous animal. The ribs may represent nations subjugated by the “bear.” Whether the number “three” is literal or symbolic is not clear. The bear was commanded to “rise and consume much flesh,” a summons to further conquests. A bear poised to strike while gripping three ribs suggests an insatiable appetite.

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

A leopard is also an agile predator, and again, wings suggest speed. Wings normally occur in pairs; however, the number “four” means this creature has two pairs of wings. The number “four” may point to motion in the four directions of the compass.

The four “heads” of the leopard are not connected to its 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 represented by the leopard - (Daniel 2:32-387:20).

In the book of Revelation, the vision of four “beasts ascending from the sea” is modified - The four creatures become a single beast summoned by the “Dragon” to “ascend from the sea.” It includes the same features from the animal world possessed by the four “beasts from the sea.” However, in Revelation, the characteristics are listed in reverse order.

The information provided on the first three beats is minimal and allusive. As will become apparent, the focus of the vision and its interpretation is on the fourth “beast,” and especially on its “little horn with a mouth speaking great things.”


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