Bear and Leopard - Identities

SYNOPSIS – In Daniel’s vision, how do we identify the second and third kingdoms, the “Bear” and the “Leopard”? - Daniel 7:5-6

Acropolis - Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash
n his dream-vision, Daniel saw “four beasts ascending” from the sea. The first three “beasts” each had characteristics from the animal kingdom – A winged lion, a bear, and a leopard. The fourth beast did not resemble any known species from the animal world - It was a horrifying monstrosity with “great iron teeth,” “ten horns,” and another “little horn with a mouth speaking great things.” - [Acropolis - Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash].

In the interpretation of the vision, all four “beasts” were labeled “kingdoms,” successive political powers that would appear on the earth:
  • (Daniel 7:17, 23) – “These great beasts are four kings, that shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most-High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever…The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all the kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth.”
The four “beasts” from the sea correspond to the four parts of the “great image” in Nebuchadnezzar’s earlier dream - The head of gold (“lion”), silver torso (“bear”), brass belly and thighs (“leopard”), and legs of iron and clay (“fourth beast”). In the interpretation of that dream, the “head of gold” was identified as Nebuchadnezzar - (Daniel 2:31-45):
  • You, O king, are king of kings unto whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the strength, and the glory…You are the head of gold.”
Thus, the winged lion represented Nebuchadnezzar himself, the Neo-Babylonian kingdom over which he reigned, or both. The other three “beasts” were ascending from the sea in succession after the “lion,” presumably, to represent the historical sequence of three subsequent kingdoms. This is the first clue as to the identities of the “bear” and the “leopard.”
  • (Daniel 7:5) – “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.”
In the book of Daniel, the kingdom that followed Babylon was the “kingdom of the Medes and Persians.” It is always called “kingdom” – singular - and rather consistently, it is kingdom of the “Medes and Persians” – (Daniel 5:28, 6:8-15).

The “bear” had one side raised higher than the other. Similarly, both the “arms” and the “breast” of the silver torso of the “great image” were listed – (“its breast and its arms of silver”) - There are two distinct divisions within this realm.

The “bear” had “three ribs” gripped in its mouth. If the “bear” represented the “kingdom of the Medes and Persians,” the “three ribs” fit the historical record – In its first twenty-five years, the Medo-Persian Empire conquered the kingdoms of Lydia (546 B.C.), Babylon (539 B.C.), and Egypt (525 B.C.).

In the vision, a voice commanded the “bear” to “rise, devour much flesh!” This description is echoed in the vision of the “ram” in chapter 8 - A “ram with two horns, with one higher than the other.” No other “beast” could stand before the “ram”; it did according to its will “and magnified itself”; that is, until “a goat from the west with a notable horn between his eyes” overthrew it.

In the interpretation of the vision in chapter 8, the “ram” is identified as the “kingdom of the Medes and Persians,” which is followed by “Greece.” The same scenario is presented in the introduction to the book’s final vision in chapter 11. In both cases, the identifications are quite explicit:
  • (Daniel 8:19-20) – “Behold, I will make you to know what will be in the later time of the indignation; for it belongs to the appointed time of the end. The ram which you saw that had the two horns, they are the kings of Media and Persia.”
  • (Daniel 11:2-3) – “Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and when he is waxed strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece. And a mighty king will arise who will rule with great dominion and do according to his will.”
When interpreting the symbolism of Daniel, priority must be given to the clues provided in the book before resorting to outside sources - Daniel has its own theological agenda. Based on the interpretive keys provided, the “bear” can only represent the kingdom of the “Medes and Persians.”
  • (Daniel 7:6) – “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.
Leopard - Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash
Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

Regarding the “
leopard,” its two pairs of “wings of a bird” indicate rapidity of movement, and even flight, and its “four heads” point to internal divisions. The description parallels the image of the “goat” in chapter 8:
  • (Daniel 8:5-8) - “The goat came from the west over the face of the whole earth and touched not the ground; and the goat had a prominent horn between his eyes. And he came to the ram that had the two horns, which I saw standing before the river, and ran upon him in the fury of his power.  And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with anger against him, and smote the ram, and broke his two horns; and there was no power in the ram to stand before him; but he cast him down to the ground and trampled upon him; and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand. And the goat magnified himself exceedingly: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and instead of it there came up four notable horns toward the four winds of heaven.”
The speed of the goat in conquest is compared to its feet “not touching the earth.” This corresponds to the description of the leopard’s “four wings of a bird.” The “four heads” of the leopard parallel the four “lesser horns” that appeared on the “goat” after its first “prominent horn” was broken. As to its identity, the interpretation of the “goat” leaves no doubt:
  • (Daniel 8:21-22) – “And the goat is the king of Greece: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.  And as for that which was broken, in the place where four stood up, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not with his power.”
The vision of the “goat” can only refer to the Greco-Macedonian kingdom and its first great king, Alexander, that overthrew the Medo-Persian Empire in only three years. After his death, Alexander’s empire was divided between four of his leading generals. None of the four subsequent Greek kingdoms ever approached the size of Alexander’s realm.

Like the Medo-Persian Empire, this same reality is portrayed at the start of the vision in chapter 11. Note carefully the several verbal parallels to the vision of the “goat” and its interpretation from chapter 8:
  • (Daniel 11:2-4) – “And now will I show you the truth. Behold, there will stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth will be far richer than they all: and when he is waxed strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece. And a mighty king will stand up who will rule with great dominion and do according to his will. And, when he stands up, his kingdom will be broken and divided toward the four winds of heaven.”
Thus, the second and third “beasts,” the “bear” and the “leopard,” represent the empires of the “Medes and Persians” and of Greece. The mighty Babylonian kingdom was overthrown by the Medo-Persian Empire, which, in turn was itself overthrown by the Greco-Macedonian kingdom of Alexander the Great.


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