Studies in Daniel: Chapter 7

DanielThe kingdoms of man have always been at war with the Kingdom of God. Even when they are not actively aggressing against the Almighty, they are still at war with Him because their values of practices do not align with His. Often, then, men are forced to give their allegiance to one or the other. Daniel 7 gives solid reasons to give your allegiance to the Kingdom of God.

Chapter 7 marks a major shift in the book of Daniel. Chapters 1-6 have been a chronological unfolding of the events of Daniel’s life. The is shaped by three distinct kings under whom Daniel served: Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Belshazzar of Babylon, and Darius of Persia. The chapters are largely narratives of the events, and specifically threats, that marked Daniel’s life, and the lives of his three friends, in these foreign empires. Chapter 7 shifts from a strict chronology to focus more on the visions that Daniel experienced. So, chapter 7 takes place, verse 1 tells us, under King Belshazzar. This is the beginning, then, of the second half of the book of Daniel.

The vision that Daniel experiences parallels the specific vision that Nebuchadnezzar had back in chapter 2. The image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was of a great statue composed of four different materials, each marking out a different king/kingdom. Daniel is given the same sort of vision, but from a different perspective and expressed in a different way. The four beasts each represent a different kingdom. They are represented all as wild and ferocious beasts. Daniel describes the dramatic and wild vision itself:

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. (v.3-8)

Each beast is disturbing enough on its own, but collectively they represent a terrifying display of violence, wickedness, and destruction. The last of these being the worst, for it “made war with the saints and prevailed over them” (v. 21).

There are some who argue that we can draw direct parallels between the beasts in the vision and the various empires they are intended to highlight. So, one of the symbols of the Babylonian empire was the lion with wings (seen on the Ishtar Gate). The bear with three ribs in its mouth represents Medo-Persians, who conquered three nations. Finally the Leopard with four heads represents Greece, who, after Alexander the Great, was given over to his four generals. The last beast, we are told, the unnamed beast, is representative of Rome. There may be some validity to these claims but we should hold those interpretations loosely. Interpretations like this are not a precise science and there is nothing in the text that guarantees assignment of these kingdoms to these beasts.

There is a larger point that we can and should focus on, namely that the Kingdom of God is greater than all these kingdoms of men. That’s the point God drives home to Daniel in the vision itself. After seeing these terrifying creatures, who crush and destroy, Daniel looks and sees “the Ancient of Days,” and he is given these words of encouragement and hope:

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.10 A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. (v. 9-10)

This “Ancient of Days” sitting on His throne destroys the great best and takes away the dominion of the lesser ones (v. 11-12). And then the words of encouragement continue:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And 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 one that shall not be destroyed. (v. 13-14)

The Ancient of Days establishes the “Son of Man” as an eternal King, with an “everlasting dominion.” While these other kingdoms all pass away, the Son of Man will sit on His throne forever! His Kingdom is not like these lesser ones. His Kingdom “shall not be destroyed.”

The point for Daniel is to hope beyond the earthly kingdoms that so persist in setting themselves up against God’s people. The challenge is for Him to align himself with God’s Kingdom and not these puny kingdoms of men. It’s not that the kingdoms of men aren’t impressive. The outlandish description of the beasts, the amount of destruction that they cause is evidence that they are problematic, even Daniel can say at the end of this chapter that his thoughts “greatly alarmed” him (v. 28). Yet, in spite of the impressive and threatening nature of these kingdoms there is one that is greater.

Daniel 7 is a text for today. Our temptation to read these passages in purely prophetic and future terms undermines their immediate value. Was this a prophetic vision depicting future events? Yes. Daniel was seeing, before it ever happened, the rise and fall of empires. He was being forewarned that these enemies would not last, despite their impressive and threatening appearance. The first six chapters confirm the legitimacy of belief in these prophetic predictions, as does secular history itself. Do they, likewise, predict events still yet to come? Yes. The modern reader can look at these passages and believe in the eternal Kingdom of God that is still yet to come to realization on earth. Yet, we should not overlook the value of Daniel 7 for today.

My own eschatological view argues that there is a cyclical nature of many of the apocalyptic texts. They repeat themselves throughout history over and over again until the return of Christ. Even if that is not, however, your specific interpretation we can recognize how applicable Daniel 7 is to 2016. We live in an age of constant global and political threat. We are experiencing a current presidential campaign that, depending on who you talk to, whichever dominate candidate wins will spell certain disaster to our country. Yet, in the face of whatever threat you see before you there is a Kingdom of eternal value and infinite power. We are reminded, like Daniel, that the kingdoms of men are always at odds with the Kingdom of God, but God’s Kingdom will rule over all opponents.

In many ways Daniel 7 asks us the same question Joshua asked the people of Israel centuries before: whom will you serve (Josh. 24:14). Will you align yourself with the various threatening, and ever-changing, kingdoms of men? Or will you align yourself with the Kingdom of God? There is every reason to align with God’s Kingdom! We know that God’s Kingdom is sure, and victory in it is sure, because this “Son of Man” is none other than Jesus Christ. Jesus who conquered sin and death and hell for His followers, this Jesus will one day wipe out all wickedness from the earth. He himself promises:

41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matt. 13:41-43)

God’s Kingdom is sure and everlasting. Choose this day, then, whom you will serve!

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