The Book of Daniel – The Vision of the 4 Beasts in Daniel 7
This revisiting of the account in Daniel 7:1-28 of Daniel’s dream was prompted by the results from the examination of Daniel 11 and 12 about the King of the North and the King of the South.
This article takes the same approach as the previous articles on the book of Daniel, namely, to approach the examination exegetically, allowing the Bible to interpret itself. Doing this leads to a natural conclusion, rather than approaching with preconceived ideas. As always in any Bible study, the context was very important.
Who was the intended audience? It was given by the angel to Daniel under God’s Holy Spirit, this time without any interpretation of which kingdoms each beast was, but as before it was written for the Jewish nation. It was given to Daniel in the 1st year of Belshazzar.
Let us begin our examination.
Background to the Vision
Daniel was given a further vision in the night. Daniel 7:1 records what he saw “I happened to be beholding in my visions during the night, and, see there! the four winds of the heavens were stirring up the vast sea. 3 And four huge beasts were coming up out of the sea, each one being different from the others.”.
It is important to notice that just as in Daniel 11 and 12, and Daniel 2, there were only four kingdoms. Only this time the kingdoms are depicted as beasts.
“The first one was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I kept on beholding until its wings were plucked out, and it was lifted up from the earth and was made to stand up on two feet just like a man, and there was given to it the heart of a man.”.
The description is of a majestic lion that could fly high with powerful wings. But then effectively its wings were clipped. It was brought down to earth and given the heart of a man, instead of a courageous lion. What world power was affected like that? We only have to look in Daniel chapter 4 for the answer, that it was Babylon, in particular Nebuchadnezzar, who was brought down suddenly from his lofty position, and humbled.
With wings Babylon was free to go where it wanted and attack whom it wanted, but Nebuchadnezzar suffered until he learnt “that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind, and that to the one whom he wants to he gives it.” (Daniel 4:32)
Beast 1: Lion with Wings: Babylon
“And, see there! another beast, a second one, it being like a bear. And on one side it was raised up, and there were three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and this is what they were saying to it, ‘Get up, eat much flesh’”.
If Babylon was the first beast, then it would make sense that Medo-Persia was the second, like a bear. The description on one side it was raised up clearly corresponding to the union of Media and Persia with one being dominant. At the time of Daniel’s prophecy, it was Media, but by the time of the fall of Babylon to Cyrus, Persia was in the ascendancy and became the dominant side of the Union. The Medo-Persian Empire eat much flesh as it consumed the Babylonian Empire. It also took over Egypt to the south and lands toward India to the east and Asia Minor and the Islands of the Aegean Sea. The three ribs likely denote the three directions in which it expanded, as rib bones are left when devouring much flesh.
2nd Beast: Bear: Medo-Persia
“After this I kept on beholding, and, see there! another [beast], one like a leopard, but it had four wings of a flying creature on its back. And the beast had four heads, and there was given to it rulership indeed”.
A leopard is fast at catching its prey, with wings it would be even faster. The expansion of the small Macedonian kingdom under Alexander the Great into an empire was swift. It was no more than 10 years from invading Asia Minor that the whole of the Medo-Persian empire and more was under his control.
The area he took over included Libya and towards Ethiopia, and over to parts of western Afghanistan, western Pakistan, and north-west India. Rulership indeed!
However, as we know from Daniel 11:3-4 he died an early death and his kingdom was split in four between his generals, the four heads.
3rd Beast: Leopard: Greece
“After this I kept on beholding in the visions of the night, and, see there! A fourth beast, fearsome and terrible and unusually strong. And it had teeth of iron, big ones. It was devouring and crushing, and what was left it was treading down with its feet. And it was something different from all the other beasts that were prior to it, and it had 10 horns. I kept on considering the horns, and, look! Another horn, a small one, came up in among them, and there were three of the first horns that were plucked out from before it. And look! there were eyes like the eyes of a man in this horn, and there was a mouth speaking grandiose things.”
Daniel 2:40 mentioned the 4th Kingdom would be strong like Iron, crushing and shattering all before it, and this is a feature of Daniel 7:7-8 where the beast was fearsome, unusually strong, with teeth of iron, devouring, crushing, treading down with its feet. This gives us the clue that it was Rome.
4th Beast: Fearsome, strong, like iron, with 10 horns: Rome
How do we understand the 10 horns?
When we examine the history of Rome, we find that Rome was a republic for a long time until the time of Julius Caesar (the first Caesar and Dictator) onwards. We also can see that from Augustus onwards, they took the title of Emperor, and Caesar, in essence, a king. In fact, Tzar … Emperor of Russia is the Russian equivalent of this title “Caesar”. The Caesars of Rome are found to be the following:
- Julius Caesar (c.48BC – c.44BC)
- Triumvirate (Mark Antony, Lepidus, Octavian), (c.41BC – c.27BC)
- Augustus (Octavian takes title Augustus Caesar) (c.27BC – c. AD14)
- Tiberius (c. AD15 – c. AD37)
- Gaius Caligula (c. AD37 – c. AD40)
- Claudius (c. AD41 – c. AD54)
- Nero (c. AD54 – AD68)
- Galba (late AD68 – early AD69)
- Otho (early AD69)
- Vitellius (mid-late AD69)
- Vespasian (late AD69 – AD78)
69AD was named the Year of the 4 Emperors. In quick succession, Otho plucked out Galba, Vitellius plucked out Otho, and Vespasian plucked out Vitellius. Vespasian was a small one [a horn], not a direct descendant of Nero but came up among the other horns.
The Caesars, however, came one after the other, whereas Daniel saw the ten horns in existence together, and so this understanding is not the best fit.
There is, however, another understanding that is possible and that fits better with the horns being in existence at the same time and the ten horns being surpassed by another horn.
It is not so well known that the Roman Empire was divided up into provinces, many of which came under the Emperor, but there was a number that were called Senatorial provinces. As the horns are typically kings, this would fit as governors were often called kings. It is interesting to note that there were 10 such Senatorial provinces for most of the first century. According to Strabo (Book 17.3.25), there were 10 such provinces in AD14. They were Achaea (Greece), Africa (Tunisia and Western Libya), Asia (West Turkey), Bithynia et Pontus (North Turkey, Crete et Cyrenaica (Eastern Libya), Cyprus, Gallia Narbonesis (southern France), Hispania Baetica (Southern Spain), Macedonia, and Sicilia.
Galba was Governor of Africa around AD44 till around AD49 and was Governor of Hispania when he seized the throne as Emperor.
Otho was Governor of Lusitania and supported Galba’s march on Rome, but then he murdered Galba.
Vitellius was Governor of Africa in AD60 or AD61.
Vespasian became Governor of Africa in AD63.
While Galba, Otho, and Vitellius were career rulers from wealthy families, Vespasian had humble beginnings, truly a little horn that came up among the other “normal horns”. While the other three governors died quickly barely having time to proclaim themselves Emperor, Vespasian became Emperor and retained it till his death some 10 years later. He was also succeeded by his two sons, initially Titus, then Domitian founding the Flavian dynasty.
The ten horns of the fourth beast refer to the 10 Senatorial Provinces ruled by Roman Governors, while the Emperor ruled the rest of the Roman Empire.
The mouth of the horn
How are we to understand that this little horn had a mouth that spoke grandiose or pompous things? We have quoted Josephus a lot in this article and that about Daniel 11 and 12, as he wrote one of the few histories of these events. The mouth could be what Vespasian said himself or what his mouthpiece said. Who became his mouthpiece? None other than Josephus!
The introduction of the William Whiston edition of Josephus available at www.ultimatebiblereferencelibary.com is worth a read. Part of it states “Josephus had to fight a defensive war against overwhelming force while refereeing internecine squabbles in the Jewish ranks. In 67 C.E. Josephus and other rebels were cornered in a cave during the siege of Jotapata and took a suicide pact. However, Josephus survived, and was taken hostage by the Romans, led by Vespasian. Josephus shrewdly reinterpreted the Messianic prophecies. He predicted that Vespasian would become the ruler of the ‘entire world’. Josephus joined the Romans, for which he was branded a traitor. He acted as consultant to the Romans and a go-between with the revolutionaries. Unable to convince the rebels to surrender, Josephus ended up watching the second destruction of the Temple and the defeat of the Jewish nation. His prophecy became true in 68 C.E. when Nero committed suicide and Vespasian became Caesar. As a result, Josephus was freed; he moved to Roman and became a Roman citizen, taking the Vespasian family name Flavius. Vespasian commissioned Josephus to write a history of the war, which he finished in 78 C.E., the Jewish War. His second major work, the Antiquities of the Jews, was completed in 93 C.E. He wrote Against Apion in about 96-100 C.E. and The Life of Josephus, his autobiography, about 100. He died shortly after.”
In essence, Josephus claimed the Jewish Messianic prophecies that initiated the First Jewish–Roman War, made reference to Vespasian becoming Emperor of Rome. Certainly, these were pompous or grandiose claims.
Rather than repeat a well-written summary please read the following at https://www.livius.org/articles/religion/messiah/messianic-claimant-14-vespasian/
Highlights of that article were that there were claims made by Josephus that:
- Vespasian fulfilled the Balaam prophecy of Numbers 24:17-19
- Vespasian came from Judea to rule the world (as Emperor of Rome) as the Messiah
Vespasian supports Josephus spreading the claim that Vespasian is the Messiah, to rule the world, and is also fulfilling the Balaam prophecy, thereby speaking grandiose things.
“I kept on beholding until there were thrones placed and the Ancient of Days sat down. His clothing was white just like snow, and the hair of his head was like clean wool. His throne was flames of fire; its wheels were a burning fire. 10 There was a stream of fire flowing and going out from before him. There were a thousand thousands that kept ministering to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand that kept standing right before him. The Court took its seat, and there were books that were opened.”
At this point in the vision, we are transported to Jehovah’s presence where a court session starts to take place. There are books [of evidence] opened. These events are returned to in verses 13 and 14.
“I kept on beholding at that time because of the sound of the grandiose words that the horn was speaking; I kept on beholding until the beast was killed and its body was destroyed and it was given to the burning fire. 12 But as for the rest of the beasts, their rulerships were taken away, and there was a lengthening in life given to them for a time and a season”.
As in Daniel 2:34, Daniel kept on beholding, “until the beast was killed and its body was destroyed and it was given to the burning fire” indicating a period of time in between events. Indeed, there was a time period that passed before the power of the fourth beast was destroyed. History shows that Rome the capital was sacked by the Visigoths in AD410 and the Vandals in 455AD. The year scholars give as the end of the Roman Empire is AD476. It had been in decline since early in the second century. The power of the other beasts, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece was also taken away although they were allowed to survive. In fact, these lands became part of the Eastern Roman Empire, which became known as the Byzantium Empire centered on Constantinople, renamed as Byzantium. This empire lasted 1,000 years more until AD1453.
The fourth beast to last some period of time after the little horn.
The other beasts outlived the fourth beast.
“I kept on beholding in the visions of the night, and, see there! with the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One. 14 And to him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him. His rulership is an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom one that will not be brought to ruin.”.
The vision now returns to the scene set in Daniel 7:11-12. The “someone like the son of man” can be identified as Jesus Christ. He arrives on the clouds of the heavens and goes into the presence of the Ancient of Days [Jehovah]. To the Son of man is “given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that” all should “serve even him”. His rulership is to be “an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away”.
Someone like the son of man: Jesus Christ
“As for me, Daniel, my spirit was distressed within on account of it, and the very visions of my head began to frighten me. 16 I went up close to one of those who were standing, that I might request from him reliable information on all this. And he said to me, as he went on to make known to me the very interpretation of the matters,”
Daniel was disturbed by what he had seen so he asked for more information. A little more information was given.
“As for these huge beasts, because they are four, there are four kings that will stand up from the earth. 18 But the holy ones of the Supreme One will receive the kingdom, and they will take possession of the kingdom for time indefinite, even for time indefinite upon times indefinite.”
The huge beasts were confirmed as four kings that would stand up from the earth. The vision is therefore clearly about rulership. This is confirmed in the following verse when Daniel is reminded that the chosen, set apart, holy ones of the Supreme One would receive the kingdom, a kingdom for time indefinite. (See also Daniel 2:44b)
This appears to have happened in AD70 or AD74 when the existing Kingdom and chosen nation of Israel was destroyed by the 4th beast as they were unworthy of receiving a kingdom for time indefinite.
The kingdom is given to the holy ones, the Christians, not the nation of Israel.
“Then it was that I desired to make certain concerning the fourth beast, which proved to be different from all the others, extraordinarily fearsome, the teeth of which were of iron and the claws of which were of copper, which was devouring [and] crushing, and which was treading down even what was left with its feet; 20 and concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and the other [horn] that came up and before which three fell, even that horn that had eyes and a mouth speaking grandiose things and the appearance of which was bigger than that of its fellows.”
This is a repeat summary of the 4th beast and the other horn, which is interestingly not mentioned as the 11th horn, just “the other horn”.
“I kept on beholding when that very horn made war upon the holy ones, and it was prevailing against them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and judgment itself was given in favor of the holy ones of the Supreme One, and the definite time arrived that the holy ones took possession of the kingdom itself.”
Vespasian’s war upon the Jews from AD67 to AD69 also affected the Christians who were viewed at that time as a sect of the Jews. However, the majority heeded Jesus warning and escaped to Pella. With the destruction of the Jewish people as a people, and a nation, with a large proportion dead and the rest taken into slavery, the Jewish nation effectively ceased to exist and the offer to be a kingdom of kings and priests went to the early Christians. This likely happened either in 70AD with the destruction of Jerusalem or by AD74 with the fall of the last resistance against the Romans at Masada.
“This is what he said, ‘As for the fourth beast, there is a fourth kingdom that will come to be on the earth, that will be different from all the [other] kingdoms; and it will devour all the earth and will trample it down and crush it. 24 And as for the ten horns, out of that kingdom there are ten kings that will rise up; and still another one will rise up after them, and he himself will be different from the first ones, and three kings he will humiliate. 25 And he will speak even words against the Most High, and he will harass continually the holy ones themselves of the Supreme One. And he will intend to change times and law, and they will be given into his hand for a time, and times and half a time. 26 And the Court itself proceeded to sit, and his own rulership they finally took away, in order to annihilate [him] and to destroy [him] totally.”
The Hebrew word translated as “humiliated”  in the NWT Reference edition is better translated as “humbled” or “subdue”. By lowly Vespasian rising to be Emperor and establishing a dynasty he rose above and humbled particularly the former Senatorial Governors who were of noble families and from whom not only Governors but also Emperors were usually chosen,10). Vespasian’s campaign in which he attacked the Jews, given into his hand for 3.5 times or 3.5 years matches the interval between his arrival in Galilee in early AD67 following his appointment by Nero in late AD66 till the fall of Jerusalem in August AD70.
Vespasian’s son Titus succeeded him, who was in turn succeeded by Vespasian’s other son Domitian. Domitian was assassinated after ruling for 15 years ending the Flavian dynasty of Vespasian and his sons. “His own rulership they finally took away”.
The fourth beast: Roman Empire
Small horn: Vespasian humiliates 3 other horns, Galba, Otho, Vitellius
“And the kingdom and the rulership and the grandeur of the kingdoms under all the heavens were given to the people who are the holy ones of the Supreme One. Their kingdom is an indefinitely lasting kingdom, and all the rulerships will serve and obey even them”.
Yet again it is emphasized that the rulership was being removed from the Jews and being given to the Christians who were now the holy (chosen, set apart) ones after the destruction of the Jewish nation.
The inheritance of the Israelite/Jewish nation to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6) was now passed to those accepting Christ as the Messiah.
“Up to this point is the end of the matter.”
This was the end of the prophecy. It concluded with the replacement of the Mosaic covenant with the covenant foretold in Jeremiah 31:31 which states “For this is the covenant that I shall conclude with the house of Israel after those days, is the utterance of Jehovah. “I will put my law within them and in their heart I shall write it. And I will become their God, and they themselves will become my people.” The Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the holy spirit confirmed this in Hebrews 10:16.