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Daniel's Dreams and Visions

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Daniel’s dreams and visions

Daniel is gifted in telling people the meaning of their dreams. He also has visions of his own.

The second half of the book describes some of Daniel’s extraordinary visions. This kind of writing is called ‘apocalyptic’ — which means that it ‘reveals’ what is going on behind the scenes of history. Some of Ezekiel’s book is written in this way, as well as the second part of Zechariah and (in the New Testament) the book of Revelation.[1]

Daniel’s dream of four beasts

(Daniel 7:1-28)

Daniel has a fantastic vision of four beasts. They emerge out of a churning sea:

♦    a lion with wings which walks like a human being and is given a human heart

♦    a bear with three ribs in its mouth

♦    a leopard with wings and four heads

♦    a nightmare creature with iron teeth and ten horns, more terrifying and destructive than the others.

While Daniel watches, a little horn emerges among the horns of the fourth creature. It uproots three of the other horns — and then starts looking around and boasting![2]

The winged lion (7:4). The first beast was “like a lion.” It had wings “like an eagle.” Sculpted winged lions guarded the palaces of Babylon. Since the lion and eagle are dominant in their spheres, the beast represented the true regal character of the first world empire. As Daniel kept watching, he saw the wings plucked from the lion. The beast was lifted up and made to stand on two feet like a man. A human mind was given to it. The winged lion assumed human form.

That the winged lion is equivalent to the head of gold in chapter 2 is the consensus of those who have made careful study of Daniel. The change in the character of the beast probably points to the fact that the Neo-Babylonian Empire, in its later stages, was less aggressive and more humane. This change may have been triggered by the humbling experience of Nebuchadnezzar mentioned in chapter 4. In that seven-year stint in the wild, the king’s lust for conquest was removed. After his sanity was restored Nebuchadnezzar never again led his armies into battle.

3. The lopsided bear (7:5). The second beast resembled a bear raised up on one side. This beast is equivalent to the chest and arms of silver in chapter 2. The posture of the bear may have no significance other than the contribution it makes to the imagery. On the other hand, some envision the bear in a crouching position which symbolizes the Medo-Persian empire poised to attack neighboring nations. Others see the bear as leaning to one side, symbolizing Persian domination of Media in the uneven alliance between the two nations.

The bear held three ribs between its teeth. Some see in this symbolism the voraciousness of the beast. Even as Daniel saw his vision the Medo-Persian empire was in the process of devouring the nations of the Near East. Others see the three ribs as specifically pointing to the three greatest conquests of Cyrus the Great, viz., Lydia, Babylon and Egypt. In addition to the ribs which were already in the bear’s mouth, the creature was told to “arise and devour much meat.” This must refer to conquests in addition to those symbolized by the ribs.

4. The four-headed leopard (7:6). The third beast was like a leopard. It had four wings which symbolize the extreme swiftness with which it moved. Like the belly and thighs of the image in chapter 2, this beast symbolizes the Greco-Macedonian empire which Alexander the Great founded. The beast had four heads which may have faced the four directions of the compass. Some take these heads to symbolize the four major territories of Alexander’s kingdom. Others see them as representative of the four Hellenistic monarchies ruled by the former generals of Alexander, the so-called didachoi. Divine providence had singled out this kingdom to have world dominion for a time. However powerful kingdoms seem in the eyes of men, it is God who determines the times and extent of their dominion.

5. The fourth beast (7:7a). The fourth beast is not likened to any wild creature known to man. Daniel described it as “dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong.”  Its teeth of iron remind one of the legs of iron in chapter 2. Those iron teeth “devoured and crushed” its victims. Others were “trampled down” with its feet. Everything in the description of the fourth beast points to Rome including the fact that “it was different from all the beasts that were before it.” The imperial power of Rome was more syncretistic than the predecessors. That which held Rome together was commitment to an ideal rather than commitment to an individual. The unity was legal rather than regal.

6. The ten horns (7:7b). Daniel noted that the fourth beast had ten horns. In prophecy, ten is usually a round number, the number of completeness. As to the meaning of the ten horns, four major schools of interpretation have arisen. Some see historic Rome in the horns. They suggest that the horns represent ten emperors of Rome or perhaps ten contemporaneous kings ruling in various parts of the old Roman empire. Others see post Rome kingdoms represented by the horns. These interpreters attempt to identify ten kingdoms which occupied the territory of Rome after the fall of the empire in a.d. 476. Another school of interpreters advocate what might be called the continuing Rome view. The ten horns represent successive kingdoms which partake of the nature of Rome. These kingdoms span the years between the fall of Rome and the rise of the little horn. Thus the state of world government at any time subsequent to the fall of ancient Rome would be depicted by the horns. If this interpretation is correct, modern believers are living in the period of the ten horns. A final approach to the ten horns sees in them revived Rome, a future empire consisting of ten constituent nations on the territory of the old Roman empire. These interpreters generally point to the European Common Market as the initial stage in the formation of this revived Roman empire.

7. The little horn (7:8). While Daniel was contemplating the ten horns he observed a little horn growing up among them. It uprooted three of the original horns. This suggests that the little horn would have greater power than any one of the ten horns, but not so much as all ten taken together. The little horn is further described as possessing “eyes like the eyes of a man” and “a mouth uttering great boasts.” These phrases may suggest that the little horn is a person rather than a government or kingdom.

On the identity of the little horn wide diversity of opinion exists. To a large measure the interpretation of the little horn depends on one’s understanding of the ten horns. According to the emperorial view the little horn represents a Roman emperor (or emperors) who waged vicious war against the people of God. Those who hold to the ecclesiastical view see in the little horn the Roman Catholic papacy. This is the traditional Protestant view. According to the eschatological view the little horn is that individual who leads the final assault against the people of God just before the second coming of Christ.[3]


[1] Knowles, A. (2001). The Bible guide (1st Augsburg books ed.) (347). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg.

[2] Knowles, A. (2001). The Bible guide (1st Augsburg books ed.) (347). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg.

[3] Smith, J. E. (1992). The Major Prophets (Da 7:2–8). Joplin, Mo.: College Press.

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