Daniel 7 is a major turning point in the book of Daniel as the genre changes from court narratives to visions of the future. The style of these visions is a form of writing known as apocalyptic language. This kind of language has several unusual qualities:
-It describes a violent end to history as God conquers His enemies.
-It is rich in metaphorical language, such as bizarre visions and cryptic timetables.
-It reveals the deeper spiritual conflict taking place behind world events.
It is easy to over-analyze these visions. We need to see them for their big-picture impact and avoid the tendency to over-literalize them.
I. The Vision of the Beasts from the Sea (7:1-8)
A. Background (7:1-3).
1. This dream occurred in the first year of Belshazzar, around 550 BC (7:1a).
2. Daniel saw dreams and visions, the usual vehicle for apocalyptic language (7:1b).
3. The setting of the visions is “the great sea” stirred by the four winds, which to the ancient mind often represented the forces of chaos and evil (7:2).
4. Daniel saw four beasts emerge from the sea, different from each other (7:3).
B. The first beast (7:4).
1. Like a lion, with eagle’s wings. Described in terms of the greatest of the animals and the greatest of the birds.
a) Parallel to the gold head of Dan. 2, the finest of the metals.
b) Nebuchadnezzar is described in these terms (Jer. 4:7; 50:17; Ezek. 17:3, 12).
2. Made to stand like man, given mind of a man. Seems to be an allusion to Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity in Dan. 4 where he was the cross between a man and an animal.
C. The second beast (7:5).
1. Like a bear, raised up on one side.
a) Parallel to the chest and shoulders of silver in Dan. 2, Medo-Persia.
b) The reference to lop-sidedness may refer to Persia’s dominance of Media.
2. The three ribs in the mouth indicate the voracious appetite of the bear, and may specifically allude to nations conquered by Medo-Persia, such as Babylon, Lydia and Egypt.
3. It was told to “Arise, devour much flesh,” which possibly indicates that God was directing Persia’s actions (in keeping with Dan. 5, Ezra 1 and so on).
D. The third beast (7:6).
1. Like a leopard, with four wings on back.
a) Parallel to the belly and thighs of bronze in Dan. 2, representing the Grecian empire of Alexander.
b) The swiftness of this animal may allude to the rapid conquest of Alexander, in stark contrast to the lumbering nature of the Persian armies.
2. “The beast had four heads,” which could refer to the division of Alexander’s empire among his four generals after his death.
E. The fourth beast (7:7-8).
1. The fourth beast is not said to be “like” any particular animal, but is described as “terrifying, dreadful, and exceedingly strong” (7:7a).
a) Parallelism with Dan. 2 would suggest this is a reference to Rome.
b) The “iron teeth” in 7:7b may also connect with the iron legs and feet of Dan. 2.
c) Later 7:19 says the beast had “claws of bronze.”
2. Its destructive power is awesome – it devours, breaks in pieces, and stamps what is left with its feet (7:7c).
3. It is also different from the other beasts, though the exact nature of this difference is not spelled out (7:7d).
4. It has ten horns (7:7e-8).
a) 7:20 specifies that the horns were on its head.
b) Since horns often represent strength and power in the Bible, this imagery suggests an unusually powerful beast.
c) From among these ten horns arose one more horn, “a little one.”
(1) Three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots.
(2) This horn had eyes like a man.
(3) It had a mouth speaking great things.
5. The interpretation of the ten horns.
a) John uses much of the same imagery in Rev. 13 to describe the Roman Empire, combining elements from all four beasts in Dan. 7 (see especially 13:1-2, 5-7). Maybe this was true of the fourth beast in Dan. 7 and is the reason Daniel says it was different than the others.
b) In Rev. 17:11-16 John seems to make different use of the ten horns than Daniel. In Dan. 7 they seem to refer to the kings of the fourth empire. In Rev. 17 they are kings distinct from the kings of the beast itself, who are pictured as heads. Possibly in Revelation the ten horns refer to the various client kingdoms allied with Rome.
c) Prophecy speculators like Hal Lindsey believe this pictures a revived Roman Empire growing out of the European Union. “Now, against all odds, 10 nations out of the ruins of the Roman culture and people have arisen as the real power behind the European Union. I believe they will become the power base through which a predicted leader will gain control over the whole world. The Bible calls him the ‘Antichrist.’” Of course, the EU has 27 member nations, not ten.
II. The Vision of the Heavenly Thrones (7:9-14)
A. The Ancient of Days (7:9-12).
1. Daniel sees “thrones,” a picture of the heavenly throne room or court (7:9a).
2. The “Ancient of Days” (7:9b-10).
a) Awesome symbol of the eternal nature of God, with hair and clothing the color of purity, white.
b) His throne is fiery flame (Ps. 97:3)..
c) His throne had wheels of burning fire, indicating the throne is a chariot (see Ezek. 1:16).
d) Fire gushed forth before Him (picture a volcano), as He is served by thousands and tens of thousands (cf. Rev. 5:11).
e) Books were opened, indicating that judgment is about to take place (cf. Rev. 20:12).
3. Destruction of the beast (7:11-12).
a) Daniel’s attention is diverted to the beast because of the great words the horn is speaking.
b) The beast was killed, destroyed, given to be burned (cf. Rev. 19:19-20).
c) The rest of the beasts also lose power, but their fate is secondary to that of the fourth beast.
B. One Like A Son of Man (7:13-14).
1. “There came one like a son of man” (7:13).
a) In one sense this simply means the figure looked like a human being, though it becomes clear this is no ordinary human.
b) Came “with the clouds of heaven,” normally the way God’s travel is described (Ps. 68:4; 104:3-4; Isa. 19:1; Nah. 1:3).
c) Came to the Ancient of Days.
2. Given everlasting dominion (7:14).
a) In contrast to the other kingdoms which are destroyed, the kingdom given to the son of man shall not be destroyed (cf. 2:44).
b) This is a reference to the enthronement of Christ (Mark 14:62; Rev. 12:5).
III. The Interpretation of the Visions (7:15-28)
A. The four beasts (7:15-18).
1. Daniel was alarmed by these visions and wanted to know what they meant (7:15).
2. Daniel asked one of those who stood there, presumably one of the thousands (7:16, cf. v. 10).
3. Basic interpretation: the four beasts are four kings (“kingdoms,” NIV, see v. 23) but their reign shall end, while God’s people shall reign forever (7:17-18).
B. The fourth beast and the horns (7:19-27).
1. Daniel wanted to know more about the unusual fourth beast and the horns (7:19-22).
a) More detail is given about the beast (7:19).
b) More detail is given about the horns (7:20-22).
(1) The little horn made war with the saints and prevailed temporarily (7:21, cf. Rev. 13:7).
(2) This ended when the Ancient of Days came in judgment, and the saints possessed the kingdom.
2. The interpretation (7:23-27).
a) The fourth kingdom will conquer the whole earth (7:23).
b) The horns represent kings, and one will arise after the ten (7:24).
c) The little horn is a king who blasphemes God and makes war against the saints “for a time, times, and half a time” (7:25).
(1) Some believe this represents a future Antichrist who will persecute God’s people.
(2) Those who take the view that the fourth kingdom as Greece identify the little horn as Antiochus Epiphanes, who tried to stamp out Judaism. I do not believe he is the little horn here, but I do think Dan. 8:9-27 refers to him.
(3) I believe it symbolizes a Roman emperor who would make war against the church (see Rev. 13:1-7). I do not believe we have to make a precise identification with eleven actual emperors – the number ten is probably symbolic. Further, there were many such “little horns” in Roman history who tried to do destroy the church. I prefer to see this as a general picture.
(4) The “time, times, and half a time” may refer to 3 ½ years (cf. Rev. 13:5), but it may simply mean that this leaders power grows and grows and then is suddenly cut off.
d) God is in control of history, and decides to put an end to his power (7:26-27).
C. Daniel was troubled by the vision (7:28).
1. Even though it ends triumphantly, it nevertheless indicated that trouble was ahead for God’s people, and I assume that is why Daniel was troubled.
2. He kept this in his heart.