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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Daniel 7

 

 

Verses 1-28

VISION OF THE FOUR WILD BEASTS

WE now enter upon the second division of the Book of Daniel-the apocalyptic. It is unquestionably inferior to the first part in grandeur and importance as a whole, but it contains not a few great conceptions, and it was well adapted to inspire the hopes and arouse the heroic courage of the persecuted Jews in the terrible days of Antiochus Epiphanes. Daniel now speaks in the first person, whereas throughout the historical section of the Book the third person has been used.

In the form of apocalypse which he adopts he had already had partial precursors in Ezekiel and Zechariah; but their symbolic visions were far less detailed and developed-it may be added far more poetic and classical-than his. And in later apocalypies, for which this served as a model, little regard is paid to the grotesqueness or incongruity of the symbols, if only the intended conception is conveyed. In no previous writer of the grander days of Hebrew literature would such symbols have been permitted as horns which have eyes and speak, or lions from which the wings are plucked, and which thereafter stand on their feet as a man, and have a man’s heart given to them.

The vision is dated, "In the first year of Belshazzar, King of Babylon." It therefore comes chronologically between the fourth and fifth chapters. On the pseudepigraphic view of the Book we may suppose that this date is merely a touch of literary verisimilitude, designed to assimilate the prophecies to the form of those uttered by the ancient prophets; or perhaps it may be intended to indicate that with three of the four empires-the Babylonian, the Median, and the Persian-Daniel had a personal acquaintance. Beyond this we can see no significance in the date; for the predictions which are here recorded have none of that immediate relation to the year in which they originated which we see in the writings of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Perhaps the verse itself is a later guess or gloss, since there are slight variations in Theodotion and the LXX Daniel, we are told, both saw and wrote and narrated the dream.

In the vision of the night he had seen the four winds of heaven travelling, or bursting forth, on the great sea; and from those tumultuous waves came four immense wild beasts, each unlike the other.

The first was a lion, with four eagles’ wings. The wings were plucked off, and it then raised itself from the earth, stood on its feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.

The second was like a bear, raising itself on one side, and having three ribs between its teeth; and it is bidden to "arise and devour much flesh."

The third is a leopard, or panther, with four wings and four heads, to which dominion is given.

The fourth-a yet more terrible monster, which is left undescribed, as though indescribable-has great devouring teeth of iron, and feet that stamp and crush. It has ten horns, and among them came up a little horn, before which three of the others are plucked up by the roots; and this horn has eyes, and a mouth speaking great things.

Then the thrones were set for the Divine judges, and the Ancient of Days seats Himself-His raiment as white snow, His hair as bright wool, His throne of flames, His wheels of burning fire. A stream of dazzling fire goes out before Him. Thousand thousands stand before Him; ten thousand times ten thousand minister to Him. The judgment is set; the books are opened. The fourth monster is then slain and burned because of the blaspheming horn; the other beasts are suffered to live for a season and a time, but their dominion is taken away.

But then, in the night vision, there came "one even as a son of man" with the clouds of heaven. and is brought before the Ancient of Days, and receives from Him power and glory and a kingdom-an everlasting dominion, a kingdom that shall not be destroyed-over all people, nations, and languages.

Such is the vision, and its interpretation follows. The heart of Daniel "is pierced in the midst of its sheath" by what he has seen, and the visions of his head troubled him. Coming near to one of them that stood by-the angelic ministrants of the Ancient of Days-he begs for an interpretation of the vision.

It is given him with extreme brevity.

The four wild beasts represent four kings, the founders of four successive kingdoms. But the ultimate and eternal dominion is not to be with them. It is to be given, till the eternities of the eternities, to "the holy ones of the Lofty One."

What follows is surely an indication of the date of the Book. Daniel is quite satisfied with this meagre interpretation, in which no single detail is given as regards the first three world-empires, which one would have supposed would chiefly interest the real Daniel. His whole curiosity is absorbed in a detail of the vision of the fourth monster. It is all but inconceivable that a contemporary prophet should have felt no further interest in the destinies which affected the great golden Empire of Babylon under which he lived, nor in those of Media and Persia, which were already beginning to loom large on the horizon, and should have cared only for an incident in the story of a fourth empire as yet unheard of, which was only to be fulfilled four centuries later. The interests of every other Hebrew prophet are always mainly absorbed, so far as earthly things are concerned, in the immediate or not-far-distant future. That is true also of the author of Daniel, if, as we have had reason to see, he wrote under the rule of the persecuting and blaspheming horn.

In his appeal for the interpretation of this symbol there are fresh particulars about this horn which had eyes and spake very great things. We are told that "his look was more stout than his fellows"; and that "he made war against the saints and prevailed against them, until the Ancient of Days came. Then judgment was given to the saints, and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom."

The interpretation is that the fourth beast is an earth-devouring, trampling, shattering kingdom, diverse from all kingdoms; its ten horns are ten kings that shall arise from it. Then another king shall arise, diverse from the first, who shall subdue three kings, shall speak blasphemies, shall wear out the saints, and will strive to change times and laws. But after "a time, two times, and a half," {Comp. Revelation 12:14 Lu 4:25 James 5:17} the judgment shall sit, and he will be annihilated, and his dominion shall be given forever to the people of the saints of the Most High.

Such was the vision; such its interpretation; and there can be no difficulty as to its general significance.

I. That the four empires, and their founders, are not identical with the four empires of the metal colossus in Nebuchadrezzar’s dream, is an inference which, apart from dogmatic bias, would scarcely have occurred to any unsophisticated reader. To the imagination of Nebuchadrezzar, the heathen potentate, they would naturally present themselves in their strength and towering grandeur, splendid and impassive and secure, till the mysterious destruction smites them. To the Jewish seer they present themselves in their cruel ferocity and headstrong ambition as destroying wild beasts. The symbolism would naturally occur to all who were familiar with the winged bulls and lions and other gigantic representations of monsters which decorated the palace-walls of Nineveh and Babylon. Indeed, similar imagery had already found a place on the prophetic page. [Isaiah 27:1, Ezekiel 29:3,, Ezekiel 32:2]

II. The turbulent sea, from which the immense beasts emerge after the struggling of the four winds of heaven upon its surface, is the sea of nations. {Comp. Job 38:16-17, Isaiah 8:7,, Isaiah 17:12}

III. The first great beast is Nebuchadrezzar and the Babylonian Empire. There is nothing strange in the fact that there should be a certain transfusion or overlapping of the symbols, the object not being literary congruity, but the creation of a general impression. He is represented as a lion, because lions were prevalent in Babylonia, and were specially prominent in Babylonian decorations. His eagle-wings symbolise rapacity and swiftness. {Comp. Jeremiah 4:7; Jeremiah 4:13; Jeremiah 49:16, Ezekiel 17:3; Ezekiel 17:12, Habakkuk 1:2,, Lamentations 4:19} But, according to the narrative already given, a change had come over the spirit of Nebuchadrezzar in his latter days. That subduing and softening by the influence of a Divine power is represented by the plucking off of the lion’s eagle-wings, and its fall to earth & bull; But it was not left to lie there in impotent degradation. It is lifted up from the earth, and humanised, and made to stand on its feet as a man, and a man’s heart is given to it.

IV. The bear, which places itself upon one side, is the Median Empire, smaller than the Chaldean, as the bear is smaller and less formidable than the lion. The crouching on one side is obscure. It is explained by some as implying that it was lower in exaltation than the Babylonian Empire; by others that "it gravitated, as regards its power, only towards the countries west of the Tigris and Euphrates." The meaning of the "three ribs in its mouth" is also uncertain. Some regard the number three as a vague round number; others refer it to the three countries over which the Median dominion extended-Babylonia, Assyria, and Syria; others, less probably, to the three chief cities. The command, "Arise, devour much flesh," refers to the prophecies of Median conquest, and perhaps to uncertain historical reminiscences which confused "Darius the Mede" with Darius the son of Hystaspes. Those who explain this monster as an emblem, not of the Median but of the Medo-Persian Empire, neglect the plain indications of the Book itself, for the author regards the Median and Persian Empires as distinct. [Daniel 5:28; Daniel 5:31; Daniel 6:8; Daniel 6:12; Daniel 6:15-28; Daniel 8:20; Daniel 9:1; Daniel 10:1]

V. The leopard or panther represents the Persian kingdom. It has four wings on its back, to indicate how freely and swiftly it soared to the four quarters of the world. Its four heads indicate four kings. There were indeed twelve or thirteen kings of Persia between B.C. 536 and B.C. 333; but the author of the Book of Daniel, who of course had no books of history before him, only thinks of the four who were most prominent in popular tradition-namely (as it would seem), Cyrus, Darius, Artaxerxes, and Xerxes. {Comp. Daniel 8:4-8} These are only four names which the writer knew, because they are the only ones which occur in Scripture. It is true that the Darius of Nehemiah 12:22 is not the Great Darius, son of Hystaspes, but Darius Codomannus (B.C. 424-404). But this fact may most easily have been overlooked in uncritical and unhistoric times. And "power was given to it," for it was far stronger than the preceding kingdom of the Medes.

VI. The fourth monster won its chief aspect of terribleness from the conquest of Alexander, which blazed over the East with such irresistible force and suddenness. The great Macedonian after his massacres at Tyre, struck into the Eastern world the intense feeling of terror which we still can recognise in the narrative of Josephus. His rule is therefore symbolised by a monster diverse from all the beasts before it in its sudden leap out of obscurity, in the lightning-like rapidity of its flash from West to East, and in its instantaneous disintegration into four separate kingdoms. It is with one only of those four kingdoms of the Diadochi, the one which so terribly affected the fortunes of the Holy Land, that the writer is predominantly concerned-namely, the empire of the Seleucid kings. It is in that portion of the kingdom-namely, from the Euxine to the confines of Arabia-that the ten horns arise which, we are told, symbolise ten kings. It seems almost certain that these ten kings are intended for:-

1. Seleucus I (Nicator) 312-280

2. Antiochus I (Soter) 280-261

3. Antiochus II (Theos) 261-246

4. Seleucus II (Kallinikos) 246-226

5. Seleucus III (Keraunos) 226-223

6. Antiochus III (Megas) 223-187

7. Seleucus IV (Philopator) 187-176

Then followed the three kings (actual or potential) who were plucked up before the little horn: namely-

1. Demetrius 175

2. Heliodorus 176

3. Ptolemy Philometor 181-146

Of these three who succumbed to the machinations of Antiochus Epiphanes, or the little horn, [Daniel 11:21] the first, Demetrius, was the only son of Seleucus Philopator, and true heir to the crown. His father sent him to Rome as a hostage, and released his brother Antiochus. So far from showing gratitude for this generosity, Antiochus, on the murder of Seleucus IV (B.C. 175), usurped the rights of his nephew. [Daniel 11:21]

The second, Heliodorus, seeing that Demetrius the heir was out of the way, poisoned Seleucus Philopator, and himself usurped the kingdom.

Ptolemy Philometor was the son of Cleopatra, the sister of Seleucus Philopator. A large party was in favour of uniting Egypt and Persia under his rule. But Antiochus Epiphanes ignored the compact which had made Coele-Syria and Phoenicia the dower of Cleopatra, and not only kept Philometor from his rights, but would have deprived him of Egypt also but for the strenuous interposition of the Romans and their ambassador M. Popilius Laenas.

When the three horns had thus fallen before him, the little horn-Antiocbus Epiphanes-sprang into prominence. The mention of his "eyes" seems to be a reference to his shrewdness, cunning, and vigilance. The "mouth that spoke very great things" alludes to the boastful arrogance which led him to assume the title of Epiphanes, or "the illustrious"-which his scornful subjects changed into Epimanes, "the mad"-and to his assumption even of the title Theos, "the god," on some of his coins. His look "was bigger than his fellows," for he inspired the kings of Egypt and other countries with terror. He made war against the saints, with the aid of "Jason and Menelaus, those ungodly wretches," and "prevailed against them." He "wore out the saints of the Most High," for he took Jerusalem by storm, plundered it, slew eighty thousand men, women, and children, took forty thousand prisoners, and sold as many into slavery (B.C. 170). "As he entered the sanctuary to plunder it, under the guidance of the apostate high priest Menelaus, he uttered words of blasphemy, and he carried off all the gold and silver he could find, including the golden table, altar of incense, candlesticks, and vessels, and even rifled the subterraneous vaults, so that he seized no less than eighteen hundred talents of gold." He then sacrificed swine upon the altar, and sprinkled the whole Temple with the broth.

Further than all this, "he thought to change times and laws"; and they were "given into his hand until a time, and two times, and a half." For he made a determined attempt to put down the Jewish feasts, the Sabbath, circumcision, and all the most distinctive Jewish ordinances. In B.C. 167, two years after his cruel devastation of the city, he sent Apollonius, his chief collector of tribute, against Jerusalem, with an army of twenty-two thousand men. On the first Sabbath after his arrival, Apollonius sent his soldiers to massacre all the men whom they met in the streets, and to seize the women and children as slaves. He occupied the castle on Mount Zion, and prevented the Jews from attending the public ordinances of their sanctuary. Hence in June B.C. 167 the daily sacrifice ceased, and the Jews fled for their lives from the Holy City. Antiochus then published an edict forbidding all his subjects in Syria and elsewhere-even the Zoroastrians in Armenia and Persia-to worship any gods, or acknowledge any religion but his. The Jewish sacred books were burnt, and not only the Samaritans but many Jews apostatised, while others hid themselves in mountains and deserts. He sent an old philosopher named Athenaeus to instruct the Jews in the Greek religion, and to enforce its observance. He dedicated the Temple to Zeus Olympios, and built on the altar of Jehovah a smaller altar for sacrifice to Zeus, to whom he must also have erected a statue. This heathen Altar was set up on Kisleu (December) 15, and the heathen sacrifice began on Kisleu 25. All observance of the Jewish Law was now treated as a capital crime. The Jews were forced to sacrifice in heathen groves at heathen altars, and to walk, crowned with ivy, in Bacchic processions. Two women who had braved the despot’s wrath by circumcising their children were flung from the Temple battlements into the vale below.

The triumph of this blasphemous and despotic savagery was arrested, first by the irresistible force of determined martyrdom which preferred death to unfaithfulness, and next by the armed resistance evoked by the heroism of Mattathias, the priest at Modin. When Apelles visited the town, and ordered the Jews to sacrifice, Mattathias struck down with his own hand a Jew who was preparing to obey. Then, aided by his strong heroic sons, he attacked Apelles, slew him and his soldiers, tore down the idolatrous altar, and with his sons and adherents fled into the wilderness, where they were joined by many of the Jews.

The news of this revolt brought Antiochus to Palestine in B.C. 166, and among his other atrocities he ordered the execution by torture of the venerable scribe Eleazar, and of the pious mother with her seven sons. In spite of all his efforts the party of the Chasidim grew in numbers and in strength. When Mattathias died, Judas the Maccabee became their leader, and his brother Simon their counsellor. While Antiochus was celebrating his mad and licentious festival at Daphne, Judas inflicted a severe defeat on Apollonius, and won other battles, which made Antiochus vow in an access of fury that he would exterminate the nation. [Daniel 11:44] But he found himself bankrupt, and the Persians and Armenians were revolting from him in disgust. He therefore sent Lysias as his general to Judaea, and Lysias assembled an immense army of forty thousand foot and seven thousand horse, to whom Judas could only oppose six thousand men. Lysias pitched his camp at Beth-shur, south of Jerusalem. There Judas attacked him with irresistible valour and confidence, slew five thousand of his soldiers, and drove the rest to flight.

Lysias retired to Antioch, intending to renew the invasion next year. Thereupon Judas and his army recaptured Jerusalem, and restored and cleansed and reconsecrated the dilapidated and desecrated sanctuary. He made a new shew-bread-table, incense-altar, and candlestick of gold in place of those which Antiochus had carried off, and new vessels of gold, and a new veil before the Holiest Place. All this was completed on Kisleu 25, B.C. 165, about the time of the winter solstice, "on the same day of the year on which, three years before, it had been profaned by Antiochus, and just three years and a half-‘a time, two times, and half a time"-after the city and Temple had been desolated by Apollonius. They began the day by renewing the sacrifices, kindling the altar and the candlestick by pure fire struck by flints. The whole law of the Temple service continued thenceforward without interruption till the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. It was a feast in commemoration of this dedication-called the Encaenia and "the Lights"-which Christ honoured by His presence at Jerusalem. [John 10:22]

The neighbouring nations, when they heard of this revolt of the Jews, and its splendid success, proposed to join with Antiochus for their extermination. But meanwhile the king, having been shamefully repulsed in his sacrilegious attack on the Temple of Artemis at Elymais, retired in deep chagrin to Ecbatana, in Media. It was there that he heard of the Jewish successes and. set out to chastise the rebels. On his way he heard of the recovery of Jerusalem, the destruction of his heathen altars, and the purification of the Temple. The news flung him into one of those paroxysms of fury to which he was liable, and, breathing out threatenings and slaughter, he declared that he would turn Jerusalem into one vast cemetery for the whole Jewish race. Suddenly smitten with a violent internal malady, he would not stay his course, but still urged his charioteer to the utmost speed. In consequence of this the chariot was overturned, and he was flung violently to the ground, receiving’ severe injuries. He was placed in a litter, but, unable to bear the agonies caused by its motion, he stopped at Table, in the mountains of Paraetacene, on the borders of Persia and Babylonia, where he died, B.C. 164, in very evil case, half mad with the furies of a remorseful conscience. The Jewish historians say that, before his death, he repented, acknowledged the crimes he had committed against the Jews, and vowed that he would repair them if he survived. The stories of his death resemble those of the deaths of Herod, of Galerius, of Philip II, and of other bitter persecutors of the saints of God. Judas the Maccabee, who had overthrown his power in Palestine, died at Eleasa in B.C. 161, after a series of brilliant victories.

Such were the fortunes of the king whom the writer shadows forth under the emblem of the little horn with human eyes and a mouth which spake blasphemies, whose power was to be made transitory, and to be annihilated and destroyed unto the end. [Daniel 7:26] And when this wild beast was slain, and its body given to the burning fire, the rest of the beasts were indeed to be deprived of their splendid dominions, but a respite of life is given them, and they are suffered to endure for a time and a period.

But the eternal life, and the imperishable dominion, which were denied to them, are given to another in the epiphany of the Ancient of Days. The vision of the seer is one of a great scene of judgment. Thrones are set for the heavenly assessors, and the Almighty appears in snow-white raiment, and on His chariot-throne of burning flame which flashes round Him like a vast photosphere. The books of everlasting record are opened before the glittering faces of the myriads of saints who accompany Him, and the fiery doom is passed on the monstrous world-powers who would fain usurp His authority.

But who is the "one even as a son of man," who "comes with the clouds of heaven," and who is brought before "the Ancient of Days," to whom is given the imperishable dominion? That he is not an angel appears from the fact that he seems too be separate from all the ten thousand times ten thousand who stand around the cherubic chariot. He is not a man, but something more. In this respect he resembles the angels described in Daniel 8:15; Daniel 10:16-18. He has "the appearance of a man," and is "like the similitude of the sons of men." {Comp. Ezekiel 1:26}

We should naturally answer, in accordance with the multitude of ancient and modern commentators both Jewish and Christian, that the Messiah is intended; and, indeed, our Lord alludes to the prophecy in Matthew 26:64. That the vision is meant to indicate the establishment of the Messianic theocracy cannot be doubted. But if we follow the interpretation given by the angel himself in answer to Daniel’s entreaty, the personality of the Messiah seems to be at least somewhat subordinate or indistinct. For the interpretation, without mentioning any person, seems to point only to the saints of Israel who are to inherit and maintain that Divine kingdom which has been already thrice asserted and prophesied. It is the "holy ones "(Qaddishin), "the holy ones of the Most High" (Qaddishi Eloinin), upon whom the never-ending sovereignty is conferred; and who these are cannot be misunderstood, for they are the very same as those against whom the little horn has been engaged in war. [Daniel 7:16; Daniel 7:22-23; Daniel 7:27] The Messianic kingdom is here predominantly represented as the spiritual supremacy of the chosen people. Neither here, nor in Daniel 2:44, nor in Daniel 12:3, does the writer separately indicate any Davidic king, or priest upon his throne, as had been already done by so many previous prophets. [Zechariah 9:9] This vision does not seem to have brought into prominence the rule of any Divinely Incarnate Christ over the kingdom of the Highest. In this respect the interpretation of the "one even as a son of man" comes upon us as a surprise, and seems to indicate that the true interpretation of that element of the vision is that the kingdom of the saints is there personified; so that as wild beasts were appropriate emblems of the world-powers, the reasonableness and sanctity of the saintly theocracy are indicated by a human form, which has its origin in the clouds of heaven, not in the miry and troubled sea. This is the view of the Christian father Ephraem Syrus, as well as of the Jewish exegete Abn Ezra; and it is supported by the fact that in other apocryphal books of the later epoch, as in the Assumption of Moses and the Book of Jubilees, the Messianic hope is concentrated in the conception that the holy nation is to have the dominance over the Gentiles. At any rate, it seems that, if truth is to guide us rather than theological prepossession, we must take the significance of the writer, not from the elements of the vision, but from the divinely imparted interpretation of it; and there the figure of "one as a son of man" is persistently (Daniel 7:18, Daniel 7:22, Daniel 7:27) explained to stand, not for the Christ Himself, but for "the holy ones of the Most High," whose dominion Christ’s coming should inaugurate and secure.

The chapter closes with the words: "Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts much troubled me, and my brightness was changed in me: but I kept the matter in my heart."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Daniel 7:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/daniel-7.html.

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