I know this is a little late, because those of us who are on schedule with the 90-Day-Bible Reading Challenge are into the New Testament. But in the past I have written about Daniel’s dreams, so I wanted to go back and comment on Daniel’s dream recorded in Daniel 2:31-35. This is the standard interpretation of Daniel’s dreams, and yes, I agree with it. I have learned however, not to be too dogmatic about future events. Hindsight is easy, but if God wants to fulfill his prophecies in a way I haven’t expected, well, that’s okay with me.
History has proven Daniel’s interpretation to be absolutely and totally accurate. As he prophesied, the empire which replaced Nebuchadnezzar’s head of gold was the Medo-Persian, the breastplate of silver. The Medo-Persians were displaced by Alexander the Great of Greece, the loins of brass. Alexander’s empire fell to the Romans, the strong and mighty domain which eventually divided into eastern and western empires.
You’ll noticed that as Daniel’s eye traveled down the image, the strength of the metals progressed from soft (gold) to very hard (iron.) This corresponds to the military strength of nations that would develop in centuries to come. Mankind has progressed from relatively weak weapons such as spears and cudgels to smart bombs, scud missiles, and thermonuclear devices.
It is important to note that the strength of the iron kingdom seems to dilute over time. The lower the eye descends, the weaker the material becomes, until the feet are composed of iron and clay, two materials which simply will not blend with each other. The “partly strong and partly broken” kingdom of Rome did weaken as it aged, until it finally divided into ten toes, or ten kingdoms.
What are the two substances that will not mix? Scholar William Kelly suggests that the final form of power from the old Roman Empire will be a federation composed of autocracies and democracies, represented by iron and clay. In his view, iron represents nations ruled by a monarch; clay represents nations which adhere to a democratic or representative form of government.[i]
These ten toes, or empires, will be some sort of European federation arising from the old iron, or Roman, empire. These ten nations—some ruled by monarchs, some by democratic governments—will be the “ten toes” crushed by the stone cut without hands, Israel’s Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Nebuchadnezzar’s image, representing the glorious and powerful kingdoms of the world, will be ground to powder and totally obliterated by this stone, who will conquer all dominions and rule a kingdom which will stand forever.
Nebuchadnezzar was thrilled with the interpretation of his dream, and gave glory to the God of Israel.
But Daniel wasn’t done with dreaming . . . nor was God finished painting a portrait of prophecy.
Many years later, during the first year of Belshazzar’s rule over Babylon, Daniel slept, then awoke and wrote down the aspects of another disturbing dream:
“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 from the sea, each different from the other. The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings. I watched till its wings were plucked off; and it as lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it” (Dan. 7:1-4).
In this dream we will see the same parade of nations described in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, but with a different and disturbing twist. Daniel saw four beasts rise up from the sea. The first beast was like a lion with the wings of an eagle: the exact representation of the Babylonian national symbol, a winged lion. Daniel had already seen the fulfillment of the first part of this vision. Nebuchadnezzar, who had risen to staggering heights of accomplishment, took pride in his success, but God struck him to the ground in a supernatural display of real power. Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and actually ate grass like an ox for seven years, after which God restored his sanity. He returned to his kingdom with “the heart of a man” and a new appreciation for the power of God (Dan. 4).
But Babylon was doomed to failure. On the night of October 13, 556 BC, Cyrus the Great of Persia defeated Babylon’s army on the Tigris River just south of modern-day Baghdad. He entered the city and had Belshazzar executed. Interestingly enough, Daniel also foretold the city’s fall to the Persians—the story is told in the fifth chapter of Daniel.
“And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And they said thus to it: ‘Arise, devour much flesh!’” (7:5).
The second beast, a lopsided bear (because the Medes were more prominent than the Persians), represents the Medo-Persian Empire. The three ribs in the bear’s mouth graphically illustrate the three prominent conquests of the empire: Lydia in 546 BC, Babylon in 539 BC, and Egypt in 525 BC. A succession of kings ruled this empire, including King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) of the book of Esther. The Persian king Artazerxes was king during Nehemiah’s royal service.
“After this I looked, and there was another, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird. The beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it” (7:6).
The third beast, the leopard with four wings and four heads, represents Greece under Alexander the Great. The leopard is a swift animal, symbolizing the blinding speed with which Alexander’s military juggernaut attacked its enemies. Greece’s Golden Age produced some of the most notable personalities of the ancient world, including Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, renowned philosophers.
Through the telescope of history, the significance of the four heads becomes clear. In 323 BC, at age thirty-two, Alexander died in Babylon. At his death, his four leading generals divided his kingdom: Ptolemy I took Israel and Egypt, Seleucus I reigned over Syria and Mesopotamia, Lysimachus chose to rule Thrace and Asia Minor, and Cassander took charge of Macedonia and Greece.
“After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns” (7:7).
The frightening fourth beast, more terrifying than its predecessors, represents the Roman Empire and the final form of Gentile power on the earth. Rome controlled central Italy by 338 BC, and the Empire gradually expanded. Pompey, the famous Roman general, conquered the Holy Land in 63 BC. Rome ruled Palestine with an iron fist during the time of Christ and afterward. In 70 AD the Roman general Vespasian ordered his son, Titus, to destroy Jerusalem. The Temple was demolished, just as Jesus had predicted it would be.
In 284 AD, Diocletian separated the Eastern Empire from the West and appointed Maximian to rule the eastern realm. A succession of rulers struggled for control over the years, and in 476, the last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was dethroned. Notice, however, that the Roman Empire was never conquered—it simply fell apart from struggles rising from within. It fell into separate kingdoms, but the spirit of Rome—in the European Union—is alive and well today.
The most important thing to notice about this last horrifying beast is not its strength, its ferocity, or the fact that it has destroyed all the other beasts before it. Notice that it has ten horns.
The ten horns of Daniel’s dream correspond to the ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s. The horns represent ten kings or leaders who will lead nations that have risen from the fourth great world kingdom—the Roman Empire.
“I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words” (7:8).
From among the ten kingdoms will arise one individual who will control the entire federation of nations. Who is this “little horn?” And what is his purpose?
Before we consider the answer to those questions, let’s look at the end of Daniel’s dream.
“I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.
“I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame. As for the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.
“I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom; that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (7:9-14).
Though Daniel’s dream ended with the good news of the permanent reign of Christ, still he was troubled. Four great empires would arise in the timeline allotted to the world’s kingdoms, and from a final confederation would come a pompous destroyer. The victory would ultimately be God’s, but not before the world had suffered greatly.
Before I conclude, I have to quote one of my absolute favorite prophecies of the OT. It’s from Thursday’s reading, in Zechariah. God is speaking of Israel: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great . . . . ” BUT . . .”On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhavitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity. On that day, I will banish the names of the idols from the land, and they will be remembered no more.” (Zech. 12:10ff) .
[i] William Kelly, Notes on Daniel (New York: Loizeaux Brothers), 50.