In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, ‘Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter. Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it. And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things. Daniel 7:1-8
In the last six chapters of Daniel both the tone and subject matter changes. In the first six chapters we see how Daniel and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, lived in a way that honored God. Now we will read about the prophetic visions Daniel experienced. Time wise we are still in the later years of Daniel’s life right before the decree to rebuild Jerusalem.
Some Bible critics say that there really were two Daniels, the Daniel of the first six chapters and the Daniel of the last six. This is because of the different subject matter as well as the tone and language used. Jewish tradition would disagree with this take on Daniel. As to the change in tone, it follows the change in subject matter. Apocalyptic writings such as we find in Daniel seven to twelve are by their very nature different. We are dealing with visions that do not necessarily translate well into human language. Compare the Gospel of John with the Book of revelation both of which traditions tells us were written by the same person.
As to language, Daniel switches from Aramaic to Hebrew in chapter 8. Why, these last chapters are being written for a Jewish audience while the first six chapters and chapter seven were written for a wider audience including people living in Babylon. Chapter seven is a parallel to Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream of the statue. Daniel being a learned man would have been comfortable writing in both languages. Let’s take a look at Daniel’s first vision.
The First Beast is a lion with wings of an eagle. This beast represents Babylon and corresponds to the golden head of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s’ dream. While the lion symbolizes the greatest in the animal kingdom, it soon is caused to walk upright and the lion’s heart is replaced with the heart of a man. This shows the gradual decline in the Babylonian empire.
The Second Beast is a bear raised up on one side. The differences in the sides of the bear represent the Medes and Persians, two empires which became one. The bear is a fierce beast, but not seen as regal as the lion. Just as the Medo-Persian empire was not as great as the Babylonian empire. The bear corresponds to the silver chest on the statue. There is much debate as to what the three ribs represent. One idea is they represent Babylon, Egypt and Assyria all conquered by the Medo-Persians.
The Third Beast is the leopard with four wings and four heads. The leopard represents the Grecian empire. Just as the leopard is viewed as fast and the four winds also connote speed, Alexander conquered the world with lighting speed. The leopard corresponds to the bronze portion of the statue.
The Forth Beast is not described as any known animal. It had teeth of iron and ten horns. This beast not only corresponds to the legs and feet of the statue, but the beast John sees in Revelation 13:2. It represents the Roman Empire and the yet to be reconstituted Roman Empire. The little horn represents the first mention of the antichrist and corresponds to the writings of John in the New Testament particularly the Book of revelation.
Sometimes you will hear people talk about Eschatology which is a big word for the study of last things. It can include all things after this life and often is used to cover the end times we see in Revelation and Daniel. When we read the last chapters we see Daniel writing not historically as in the first six chapters but symbolically such as we see in the four beasts. Because so much of this writing is symbolic there can be a great deal of disagreement in its interpretation.
Some believe that these events have already happened and others that these are things that are yet to happen. Still others that this last part of Daniel was written after the events. In this area good Christians can and do disagree. Since Jesus quoted Daniel so often I believe that the events described in the last six chapters of Daniel had yet to be completed. In fact at the time of the writing only the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians had happened. For us today certainly the empires of Babylon, Greek and Roman have fallen but we have yet to see the coming antichrist.
If you are interested in further study I recommend Clarence Larkin’s Daniel which can be hard to find but is a great study of Daniel. I also recommend John F. Walvoord’s End Times and Every Prophecy of the Bible or Revelation Illustrated and Made Plain revised as Revelation Unveiled. I believe all four books are available on Amazon.com. I have found that all of late John F. Walvoord’s books on Revelation, Daniel and prophesy to be most helpful. He is one of my favorite authors.
Have a blessed day,