Four Beastly Regimes - (Interpretation)

SYNOPSIS - The vision of the fourth beast with the arrogant “little horn” is interpreted by an angelic being - Daniel 7:15-28

Stormy Surf - Photo by Alexandre Brondino on Unsplash
The Prophet Daniel received a vision about four “beasts ascending from the sea.” The first three "beasts" featured characteristics from known animals – The lion, bear, leopard. The fourth one was too terrible to be compared to any known animal - It was “diverse from all the wild beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.” The focus of the vision is on the fourth “beast” and its “little horn." (Photo by Alexandre Brondino on Unsplash).

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 the kingship:
  • All peoples, races and tongues should do service unto him; his dominion was an everlasting dominion, which should not pass away - (Daniel 7:9-14).
Troubling Dreams

Previously, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, received a dream that deeply troubled him, a vision of an image with a head of gold. Likewise, now Daniel finds himself troubled at the end of his vision about four “beasts ascending from the sea.” This is a verbal link between the two visions:
  • (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” - (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” - (The Emphasized Bible).
In the vision, the “Son of Man” figure received everlasting dominion over all the nations. Now, in its interpretation, it is the “saints of the Most-High” that receive sovereignty. In other words, the “Son of Man” 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 kingdoms originated.

The Aramaic verb rendered “rise” in verse 17 is the same verb used in the earlier declaration by Daniel that God “removes and raises up kings.” This verb is used repeatedly in Chapter 3 each time it is stated 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).

Fourth Beast Interpreted
  • (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 residuewith 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” - (The Emphasized Bible).
Each of the four “beasts” represents a “king” and a “kingdom”, and each is set in contrast to the “saints of the most-high” who are destined to receive an everlasting kingdom. Not one of the four regimes is identified by name. The interpretation is focused on the last beast and, especially, its “little horn” with the mouth “speaking great things.” Almost certainly, the first beast represents Babylon, especially under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar. The identifications of the remaining three are less certain.

What is stated about the four beasts could fit several nations. For example, “wings” indicates swiftness in conquest; however, that was characteristic of many ancient and modern empires.

The “little horn” appeared “stouter than its fellows” – The “ten horns” of the fourth beast. It became more prominent than the others after it first appeared.  This is conceptually parallel to a description 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” would “make war with the saints and prevail against them.” The term “saints” refers to the group that “received the kingdom”; however, first, they had to endure an assault by the “little horn” and, apparently, suffered defeat by it.

This corresponds to the fourth beast that “trampled the remnant with its feet,” the “remnant” being identical with the “saints” assaulted by the “little horn.” This understanding is confirmed in the next paragraph when the horn “speaks words against the Most-High and wears out his saints” - (Compare Revelation 11:7, 13:7-10).

War Against the Saints
  • (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 dominions unto 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” - (The Emphasized Bible).
The “little horn” symbolizes a malevolent king who attempted to destroy the “saints.” Whether he also subjugated other nations is not a concern of the interpretation - The focus is on his efforts to destroy the people of God. He prevailed over them, “until the Ancient of Days arrives, and justice was granted for the saints.” Only when God intervened did the “saints” receive the kingdom.

In the vision, the “ten horns” represent ten kings. The “little horn” is distinct from them and rises to prominence after the “ten horns,” and only after three of them have been “removed.” This last king is “diverse” from the others and “cast down three.” Whether the ten kings reigned concurrently or consecutively is not stated.

This king “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 to Yahweh alone.  Words that “wear out” the saints suggest royal edicts designed to harm them.
The “little horn” attempted to “change times and the law.” This confirms that it trespassed on the divine territory. As Daniel previously declared, God alone “changes times and seasons” – This figure presumed on 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 - (Aramaic, zeman). The Septuagint Greek version translates the word with kairos, meaning, “season, set time.” Most likely, in view are the annual feasts and rituals from the Levitical regulations, which the “little horn” attempted to change - (Leviticus 23:1-4).

The “war” against the saints would 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 can mean any portion of a full “time,” however long or short. It does not mean a “half” period.

The preceding kingdoms “were given a 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 a different length of time, the “season and time” does not represent a literal number. Each realm was “given” dominion and life by God, the one who changes “times and seasons” - (Daniel 2:21).

The period of a “time, times and part of a time” is not the duration of the reign of the “little horn”; instead, it defines the period during which it “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 that God remains in firm control.

The period of suffering would come to an end at the appointed time. In contrast, the victory of the saints would endure forever. The “little horn” would lose its dominion and be “consumed and destroyed.”

The time of the oppression of the “saints” is part of the necessary process for establishing the kingdom of God, 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 was given to the one “likened unto a son of man,” then to the “saints.” Again, the “son of man” represented the saints of God.

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 – 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 the further illumination provided 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-like figure is Babylon. The beastly symbols that represent 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.

While some commentators view Media and Persia as separate powers, in the book of Daniel they are referred to consistently 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, the empires of Babylon (539 B.C.), and of 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 that was “given dominion” provides an excellent picture of Alexander the Great and his conquest of the Persian empire. He became the king of Macedonia in 336 B.C., attacked the Persian Empire two years later, and completed its conquest in 331 B.C.  Thus, Alexander overthrew the massive Persian realm within three short years to establish his sovereignty from Greece to India.

Alexander died a few years after the downfall of Persia (323 B.C.), which 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 two pairs of wings of the leopard point to its rapidity in conquest, its four heads to the division of the empire into four smaller realms. This background points to the probable identifications of the first three “beasts” - Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Macedonia.

In Revelation

Structurally, the first half of chapter 13 in the book of Revelation conforms to the pattern of Chapter 7 from Daniel. It describes John’s vision of a 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, but also 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.” It is the head with the slanderous mouth that slanders God and “those who tabernacle in heaven” over a period of forty-two months.

The interpretation of John’s vision reveals that “those who tabernacle in heaven” are, in fact, the “saints” against whom the “beast from the sea” wages war. While for many of them this means martyrdom, this is not contrary to the purposes of God - “Authority was given to the beast over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.” It is the Lamb who authorizes when, where, and how far malevolent forces of the “Dragon” may strike - (Revelation 6:1-89:1-1016:9).

But first, the “head” with the slanderous mouth must be slain, then restored. In reaction to its restoration, 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”:
  • 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” – (Revelation 13:10).
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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