Four Beastly Regimes - Interpretation

Synopsis:  The vision of the fourth beast with the arrogant “little horn” is interpreted in Daniel 7:15-28.

Photo by Daniel Bowman on Unsplash
by Daniel Bowman on Unsplash
The Prophet Daniel received a vision of four “beasts ascending from the sea.” The first three were portrayed with characteristics of known animals (e.g., lion, bear, leopard).  The fourth “beast” was too terrible to be compared to any known animal - It was “was diverse from all the wild beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.” The focus falls on one of this beast’s horns, a “little one,” which had a mouth “speaking great things” (Daniel 7:1-14).

The vision concluded with a judgment scene in which a figure “like a Son of Man” approached the “Ancient of Days.” This human figure received kingship so that, “All peoples, races and tongues should do service unto him; his dominion was an everlasting dominion, which should not pass away.”

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was troubled earlier by an earlier dream of a great image. Likewise, Daniel was troubled at the end of his vision of the four beasts. This is a conceptual link between the two visions and demonstrates they are related:


(Daniel 2:1):
And, in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams,—and his spirit was troubled, and his sleep, had gone from him.
- (From the Emphasized Bible).
(Daniel 7:15-18):
The spirit of, me, Daniel, was grieved in the midst of the sheath,—and the visions of my head terrified me. I drew near unto one of them who stood by, and made exact enquiry of him concerning all this,—so he told me, and, the interpretation of the things, made he known unto me.
These great wild beasts, which are four,—are four kings who shall arise out of the earth; but the holy ones of the Highest shall receive the kingdom,—and shall possess the kingdom for the age, yea, for the age of ages.” - (From the Emphasized Bible).

In the vision, the “Son of Man” figure receives everlasting dominion over all nations. Now, in the interpretation, it is the “saints of the Most-High” that receive sovereignty. In other words, the “Son of Man” symbolizes or represents the people of God.

The four “beasts” represent four kings and their respective kingdoms. In the vision, the “beasts” were seen ascending “from the sea.” In the interpretation, the “kings” ascend “from the earth.” Thus, the interpretation moves out of the symbolical world and into the historical. The “earth” represents the peoples from which the earthly kingdoms originate.

The verb rendered “rise” in Verse 17 is the same one used in Daniel’s earlier declaration that God “removes and raises up kings.” The same verb is used repeatedly in Chapter 3 each time it states that Nebuchadnezzar “set up” his idolatrous image. The passage does not state who or what “set up” the four beastly kingdoms; however, implicit is that they rise in opposition to the sovereignty of God. (Daniel 2:20-21).

(Daniel 7:19-23):
Then desired I to be sure concerning the fourth wild beast, which was diverse from all of them,—exceeding terrible, whose teeth were iron, and his claws of bronze, he devoured, brake in pieces, and, the residue—with his feet, he trampled down; also concerning the ten horns, which were in his head, and the other, which came up and there fell—from among them that were before it—three,—and this horn which had eyes, and a mouth speaking great things, and his look was more proud than his fellows: I continued looking, when, this horn made war with the holy ones,—and prevailed against them: until that the Ancient of Days came, and justice was granted to the holy ones of the Highest,—and the time arrived that the holy ones should possess the kingdom. Thus, he said,
The fourth wild beast is a fourth kingdom which shall be in the earth, which shall be diverse from all the kingdoms,—and shall devour all the earth, and shall trample it down, and break it in pieces.” – (From the Emphasized Bible).

Beast with 7 Heads - clipart.christiansunite.com
Each of the four “beasts” represents a “king” and a “kingdom” (Verse 23), each is set in contrast to the “saints of the most-high” who are destined to receive an everlasting kingdom. None of the four is identified by name. The interpretation is focused on the last beast and, especially, its “little horn.” The first beast almost certainly symbolizes Babylon. The identifications of the remaining three remain uncertain.

What is stated about the four beasts is general could fit several different nations. For example, the presence of “wings” indicates swiftness in conquest, however, that was characteristic of many the ancient empires, including the Macedonian kingdom led by Alexander the Great.

The “little horn” appears “stouter than its fellows,” that is, the other ten horns. It becomes more prominent than the others after it first appears.  This description is conceptually parallel to one found in the final vision of the book (Daniel 11:36-37 - “He will do according to his will and magnify himself above all” – Compare 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).

The “little horn” will “make war with the saints and prevail against them.” “Saints” refers to the same group that is to “receive the kingdom,” however, first, they must endure an assault by the “little horn” and, apparently, defeat at his hands. This description fits the preceding image of the fourth beast that “trampled the remnant with its feet,” the “remnant” being identical with the group against which the “little horn” wages war. This understanding is confirmed in the next paragraph where the horn “speaks words against the Most-High and wears out his saints” (Compare Revelation 11:713:7-10).

(Daniel 7:24-28):
And, the ten horns of that kingdom, are ten kings who will arise,—and, another, will arise after them, and, he, will be diverse from the former ones, and, three kings, will he cast down; and, words against the Most High, will he speak, and, the holy ones of the Highest, will he afflict,—and will hope to change times and law, and they will be given into his hand for a season and seasons and the dividing of a season, but, Judgment, will take its seat,—and, his dominion, will they take away to destroy and make disappear unto an end.
And, the kingdom, and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under all the heavens, shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Highest,—his kingdom, is an age-abiding kingdom, and, all the dominionsunto him, will render service, and show themselves obedient.
Hitherto is the end of the matter.
As for me, Daniel, greatly did my thoughts terrify me, and, my bright looks, were changed upon me, but, the matter—in mine own heart, I kept.” – (From the Emphasized Bible).
Whether this malevolent king attempts to subjugate other nations is not a concern of the interpretation - The focus is on his effort to destroy the “saints.” He prevails over them, “until the Ancient of Days arrives, and justice is granted for the saints.” Only when God intervenes do they receive the kingdom. 

The ten horns represent ten kings. A “little horn” distinct from the ten rises after the ten have appeared in the vision and three have been “removed.” This last king is “diverse” from the others and “casts down three.” Whether the ten kings reign concurrently or consecutively is not stated, although their reigns must precede that of the “little horn.”

The little horn “speaks words against the Most-High and wears out the saints.” This expands on the earlier description of its mouth that, “speaks great things.” This may include claims of divine status that belong only to Yahweh.  Words that “wear out” the saints suggest royal edicts designed to harm them.

The “little horn” attempts to “change times and the law.” This confirms its trespass on divine territory. As Daniel previously declared, God alone is the one who “changes times and seasons”; the little horn presumes upon God’s prerogative (Daniel 2:21).

Times” is a generic term and may refer to time delimited in any number of ways; weeks, months, years, and so on (Aramaic, Zeman). The Septuagint Greek version translates the Aramaic word with kairos, meaning, “season, set time.” Most likely, in view are the calendrical rituals specified in the Levitical regulations, the annual feasts and Sabbaths, which the “little horn” attempts to change (Leviticus 23:1-4).

The “war” against the saints will last for a “time, times, and a dividing of time.” This is sometimes interpreted as a period of three and one-half years, but the Aramaic text is not that precise. It reads, “time (singular), times (plural), and part of a time.”  The last clause means any portion of a full “time,” however long that may be. It does not mean, necessarily, a half period, but only a portion of a “season.”

The preceding kingdoms “were given lengthening of life for a season and a time.” Since the same temporal terms are applied to the first three kingdoms, and since each endured for different lengths of time, the “season and time” is not a literal number. Each was “given” dominion and life by God, the one who changes “times and seasons” (Daniel 2:21).

The description of the period of a “time, times and part of a time” is not the duration of the reign of the “little horn” but, instead, the period during which he “speaks words against the Most High,” wages war against the saints and attempts to “change times and the law.” The things “given into his hand” signify God remains in firm control.

The period of suffering comes to an end at the appointed time. In contrast, the victory of the saints is to endure forever. The “little horn” loses dominion; he is “consumed and destroyed.” The time of oppression is part of the necessary process to establish God’s kingdom, otherwise, why would God “give” persecuting power to a malevolent ruler?

The interpretation ends with the “kingdom and dominion” given to the “people of the saints.” The kingdom is given to one “likened unto a son of man,” then to the “saints.” Again, the “son of man” is seen to represent the saints of God.

The passage does not present a theology about the Messiah. However, in Verse 27, the plural pronoun gives way to a singular: it is “his kingdom” and “all dominions will serve him”. The singular pronouns refer to the “son of man” figure. Whether Daniel intended this switch to refer to a future messianic figure, the grammatical change provided Jesus with the basis for his self-identification as “the Son of the Man.”
The chapter concludes with Daniel troubled and terrified by his vision, indicating that he did not understand it. But he kept the matter in his heart. This sets the stage for further illumination in the next vision (Daniel 8:27, “and I wondered at the vision, but none understood it”).
To this point, only the first beast can be identified with certainty - The lion is Babylon. The beastly symbols of the next three regimes are enigmatic. The pattern of four beasts rising in succession indicates the second, third and fourth kingdoms follow Babylon in historical sequence. History provides good candidates for the second and third kingdoms, especially, the Medo-Persian empire and the Macedonian kingdom under Alexander the Great.

Some commentators view Media and Persia as separate powers and interpret the second and third beats, accordingly. But in the book of Daniel, Media and Persia are consistently referred to as a single combined kingdom, the kingdom of the “Medes and the Persians” (Daniel 5:286:86:12-158:209:1).

Cyrus the Great annexed Media to his empire in 550-549 B.C., ten years before his conquest of Babylon. Babylon fell to a combined force of Medes and Persians. After annexing Media, Cyrus conquered two major rival powers, Babylon (539 B.C.) and Lydia in Asia Minor (546 B.C.).

When Cyrus died, his empire stretched from northwest India in the east to the Aegean Sea in the west, the largest empire the world had ever seen. This background fits the description of the bear with three ribs in its mouth, which may represent the Persian conquests of Media, Lydia, and Babylon.

The leopard with four wings and four heads was “given dominion,” a picture that fits Alexander the Great and his conquest of the Persian empire. He became the king of Macedonia in 336 B.C. and crossed the Hellespont in 334 B.C. to attack the Persian Empire, which he conquered by 331 B.C.  Thus, Alexander overthrew the massive Persian realm within three short years to establish Macedonian sovereignty from Greece to India.

Alexander died a few years after the downfall of Persia (323 B.C.). His death caused conflicts over the succession. In the end, his empire was divided among four generals, Ptolemy (Egypt), Antigonus (Asia Minor), Cassander (Macedonia), and Lysimachus (Thrace). The wings of the leopard point to its rapidity in conquest, its four heads to the division of the domain into four smaller realms. This background points to the probable identifications of the first three “beasts” - Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Macedonia.

The next vision will provide additional information to help identify the fourth kingdom and its little horn (Daniel 8:1-27).

In Revelation

Structurally, the first half of Chapter 13 in the book of Revelation conforms to the pattern of Chapter 7 in Daniel. The first half describes John’s vision of the single “Beast” with ten horns and seven heads. The second half interprets the vision (Revelation 13:1-613:7-10).

The single “beast” from the sea has ten horns and seven heads. Unlike the fourth beast in Daniel, it is one of the seven heads that has a mouth “speaking blasphemies against God,” not one of its “horns.”  and against those who tabernacle in heaven.” It is the head with the slanderous mouth that slanders God and “those who tabernacle in heaven” over forty and two months.

The second half of the chapter reveals that “those who tabernacle in heaven,” in fact, are the “saints” against whom the beast wages war. For many, this means martyrdom (“And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them). Nevertheless, this result is not contrary to the purposes of God, for “authority was given to the beast over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.” The latter is a fourfold description applied by Revelation to men and women redeemed by the Lamb (Revelation 5:9-107:9-17). In the book of Revelation, it is the Lamb who authorizes when and where malevolent forces may strike (Revelation 6:1-89:1-1016:9).

But, first, the “head” with the slanderous mouth must be slain, then restored (“And one of its heads was slain unto death, and the death-stroke was healed. And the whole earth marveled after the beast, and did homage to the Dragon”). In reaction, the “inhabitants of the earth” render homage to the “Dragon.” all those whose name is “not written in the book of the Lamb.” Likewise, in Daniel’s vision, “the judgment was set, and the books were opened.”

As for the “saints” persecuted by the Beast for a set period, if anyone is “for captivity, into captivity he goes. If anyone is to be killed with a sword, with sword he must be slain. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.

Likewise, in Daniel Chapter 7, the “little horn” speaks words against the “Most High, and the saints of the Highest will he afflict, and hope to change times and law.” They will be given into his hand, “for a season and seasons and the dividing of a season,” until the time of Judgment when the “greatness of the kingdoms under all the heavens shall be given to the people of the saints.”

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