Daniel 7:4-8 – The Four Beasts

Virtually everyone agrees Daniel 2 and 7 are in some ways parallel, but as John Goldingay observes the four-empire scheme need not be identical (Daniel2, 371). The four metals in Daniel 2 and the four animals in Daniel 7 describe a progression of empires culminating in a fourth powerful empire which will be destroyed and replaced by an everlasting kingdom of God. In Daniel 2 a stone “not cut by human hands” strikes the weak feet and destroys the statue, “crushing the kingdoms and bringing them to an end” (2:44). In Daniel 7, the final beast will be judged by a divine court, his power taken from him (7:26) and one like a son of man will be given authority to rule a worldwide kingdom that will never be destroyed (7:14).

Four Beasts in Daniel 7Each of the first three animals are normally dangerous, but there is something hybrid or deformed about each of the beasts. The Law considered hybrid animals unclean and it was forbidden to cross-breed animals. In Babylon animals born with defects were considered bad omens. Are the unusual features important for identifying the empire implied by the imagery? If the bear is Persia, for example, do the three fangs or tusks in its mouth refer to some series of Persian kings or sub-regions of Persia, or is this simply a terrifying image of a mutant animal?

Although the interpretation of the vision in 7:15-28 does not make this specific interpretation, most agree the lion with the wings of an eagle (7:5) represents Babylon. This is based first on the parallel to Daniel 2 where the head of gold is identified as Babylon. Commentators often point to decorations of winged lions from Babylon’s the Ishtar Gate as evidence for this interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar is described as a lion (Jer 4:7) and an eagle (Lam 4:19, Ezek 17:3).

The lop-sided bear (7:5) does have some affinity with the Persian Empire since Persia is well-known from its massive (and slow moving) army. In Daniel 8 Persian is a ram against which no other animal could stand, but there is no allusion to massive size or that the ram was lumbering or slow moving. This bear is raised up one side and had three ribs in its mouth. The three ribs or perhaps tusks are sometimes identified as three major Persian conquests (Lydia, Babylonia, and Egypt) or three nations which rebelled against Babylon along with the Medes (Ararat, Minni and Ash-kenaz, see Jer 51:27-29; Gurney, 43). Or perhaps the ribs are simply a strange mutation associated with a bad omen.

The third beast is a leopard with four heads and four wings (7:6). The image seems to highlight speed, but also a divided leadership. Similar to the goat in Daniel 8, this animal moves quickly and is “given authority to rule.” Alexander the Great quickly conquered much of the eastern world, but his kingdom was divided when he died. The four heads are often seen as an allusion to the four generals who divided Alexander’s kingdom after his death: Lysimachus took Asia Minor, Ptolemy took Egypt, Cassander took Macedonia and Greece, Seleucus took Syria and Asia. On the other hand, four is sometimes used to say something “everywhere,” as in “they spread out to the four corners of the earth.” Even so, if the first two in the progression are Babylon and Persia, then this swiftly conquering beast seems to be Alexander’s Greek empire. But the four heads do not require the fourth beast to be Rome since the Seleucid dynasty was a terrifying beast like empire which sought to control Judea.

An OliphanutThe fourth beast is terrifying and vague (7:7-8). It is frightening, powerful, terrifying, has iron teeth and smashed everything.  Other than the ten horns there is no real description of the beast because it “defies and zoological category” (Montgomery, Daniel, 282).  There are simply no good comparisons for this thing! Goldingay point out the coincidental similarity of this beast to an elephant, a terrifying beast used by Antiochus IV Epiphanes when he invade and Judea.

1 Maccabees 1:17 So he invaded Egypt with a strong force, with chariots and elephants and cavalry and with a large fleet.

1 Maccabees 3:34 And he turned over to Lysias half of his forces and the elephants, and gave him orders about all that he wanted done. As for the residents of Judea and Jerusalem…

The bizarre beast has ten horns. Horns normally are associated with strength or power and the little horn appears to refer to an arrogant ruler. It may be the case the ten horns parallel to the ten toes as a “divided kingdom” (2:41). Are the toes/horns kingdoms or kings?  Are they sequential or do the ten rule at the same time?  Most attempts to suggest ten kings leading up to Antiochus IV Epiphanes or ten Roman emperors are fraught with difficulties, so some commentators argue ten refers to completeness (suggested as early as Calvin).

As is often observed, in the interpretation of this vision there is no concern for the first three kingdoms, only the final kingdom. Nor is there any interest in the other horns, only the arrogant horn. And even then, the focus of the interpretation is on the judgment and punishment of this arrogant little horn. Although there is much interest in tracing the progress of kingdoms, Daniel’s vision is focused on God’s sovereignty and judgment on the arrogant little horn.

Before examining the little horn in more detail, it is important to pause and make some observations about what this progression of empires is saying about the kingdoms of man and the sovereignty of God. First, all human empires are twisted and evil. Just as a mutant bear with fangs is an abomination within nature, so too are human attempts to exert power over the whole world. Human empires are always evil in apocalyptic literature.

Second, in contrast to the mutant evil beasts trying to rule the world, God’s appointed rule is a son of man, a human (7:13-14). Whoever this son of man is, he is a real human, unaffected by the corruption of evil. While the empires try to control the whole world, the sovereign God gives his authority to the son of man to rule a kingdom that includes all people of every language and that kingdom will never pass away or be destroyed (7:14, 27).

13 thoughts on “Daniel 7:4-8 – The Four Beasts

  1. The four beast
    In the second half of Daniel, which is chapters 7-12, we see a handful of visions from daniel. The nice thing about this book is that every time Daniel has a vision, he then interprets the vision. But it is still not always clear. Those interpretations will need some more interpretation for us to understand. Specifically, chapter seven where Daniel has the vision of the four beasts.
    Daniel can interpret that the four beasts are going to be kings or kingdoms that rise, but the fourth beast will for sure be a Kingdom. The fourth beast has ten horns and a little arrogant horn that will talk trash, then be taken care of. This will be a kingdom that has a king who will fall, then the ten other horns will be divided up. Daniel doesn’t give us any names. So it is up to us to interpret the interpretations.
    This can honestly be frustrating. I honestly enjoy reading and learning about the bible, but I have a tough time when people loosely interpret the bible and or make a verse mean what they want it to mean. The bummer is that the bible is full of needing interpretation. We are human and we aren’t perfect. This is going to happen.
    The cool thing about Daniel is that we can hear the prophecy and match it up with whatever happens in the years proceeding. And they seem to be pretty accurate. As long as we are reading the bible with prayer and reading the bible to learn. Not to confirm your opinions.

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  2. The book of Daniel is very prophetic. When Daniel has his visions, it is very interesting how God works with him and helps Daniel interpret his own dreams and the king’s dreams. When it comes to the 4 metals from chapter 2 and the 4 powerful from chapter 7, we clearly know that chapters are parallel, and this is because in both chapters we see what the 4 metals represent and which kingdom each beast represents.
    When it comes to deciding who is the kings for each beast, it can be very challenging because even though some scholar agree on some topics, not all agree on everything, therefore, it is very challenging to decide which is which, however, I strongly believe that the lion represents Nebuchadnezzar himself because of how in other verses of the Bible he is described as a lion and even as an eagle. It is clear that since Nebuchadnezzar is compared to a lion and an eagle in other parts of the bible, we can assume that the lion represents him in chapter 7. We can also assume that the other beasts represent other strong kingdoms do to how they are described and how each kingdom managed to rule. As I stated, the book of Daniel is a very interesting book, and it can be confusing too, however, with enough knowledge from scholars, it is much easier to decide why and how chapter 2 and 7 are parallel.

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  3. It is an interesting thought to know that mutated animals were considered an abomination. I can imagine the description of these animals were just as frightening to the original audience as they are to us and would be even more noticeable as things that are detestable. Although these animals largely resemble animals easily identified (with exception to the last beast) and they are extremely powerful beasts, they are not pure, not everlasting. It is interesting to note that that is how God describes human empires, empires created by men. God has given us the ability to do some amazing things, but without God and his influence, we become corrupt and evil. This reminds me of the tower of babel. People were getting to powerful and to prideful and had no care for God, thus God destroyed them. Then we read of a stark contrast between empires created by evil men to a kingdom that will be everlasting created and ruled by a son of man, given authority by God. Someone who is not corrupted by sin.

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  4. An observation that I made in this passage is the fact that, as you said, the focus is on the judgement of the little horn. Yes, the beasts are coming under judgement; however, even though there are the large, strange, scary beasts to analyze and study, the focus is on the little blasphemy-speaking horn.
    The contrast is so interesting of the little horn to the Ancient of Days that we see in this chapter. It seems that the Ancient of Days is powerful and mighty: “his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire” (Daniel 7:9b). As well as the son of man, in his description: “and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man” (Daniel 7:13a). The contrast of these mighty Figures, who are soon to be reclaiming their full authority and dominion over their kingdom, and the little “puny” horn is so diverse.
    The focus starts on the four beasts; the ones not thought of as easy to defeat. The kingdoms of this world seem to be the ones to bring destruction. It seems like there is no hope. Then, the next focus is the Ancient of Days: the one who brings judgement upon the beasts. He is depicted as one of greatness—not easily defeatable. In fact, His kingdom is the one that will overcome all earthly kingdoms (i.e. the beasts). Then, we dive deeper into the idea of the fourth beast and the little horn that is on it. It is so emphasized on the horn that the large beast seems to be forgotten in a way. The contrast then from the little horn to the Ancient of Days is not even a question of who wins in the end. Of course, the powerful and mighty Ancient of Days will—and establish His kingdom forever and ever.

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  5. Understanding what the four beasts in the vision mean is an interesting feat. Obviously, these creatures are not normal looking, which makes the vision even more bizarre. It is fascinating that the animals are all mixed in some way with another animal. With the hybrid animal being against Jewish law and the Babylonians disliking deformities as the article says, it seems strange that they would be in the vision unless to make a point. Perhaps the deformed animals are a way of showing that the empires that are to come are not from God and are thus, abnormal and repulsive. This is a similar outcome to what this article concludes as well. Anything coming from a human ruler is eventually going to end up twisted and wrong. It makes it the knowledge of God’s pure ways even more amazing that he is so great that only he will prevail in the end. It resembles the passage of 1 John 2:15-17 that talks about the things of this world will pass away and only God’s will is going to endure. The significance of the little horn on the fourth beast is also a puzzling concept within this chapter. Who is this horn and why is it so important that its arrogant presence overshadows the rest of the horns that are bigger than it? Scripture, like the four beasts, doesn’t give a clear explanation of what or who it represents, but it does keep with the theme of God’s final say as the horn does face judgment from God. Overall the chapter shows that no matter how powerful other kingdoms may get, they all crumble next to God.

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  6. There is no denying that Daniel chapter two and chapter 7 are at least somewhat parallel. Even if you choose to avoid the meaning of the dreams and just look at the numbers and how similar in succession they are they are parallel. Now, the four beasts line up, depending on your interpretation, with the four metals in chapter two and help support the near future events during Daniel’s time and some of the far future events when Jesus returns. It seems as though these beasts are deformed not only to emphasize their uncleanliness and evil but to also emphasize different characteristics of the cultures and empires themselves. The lion with eagles wings is a blatant comparison to Babylon whose former king Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as those things (Jeremiah 4:7, Lamentations 4:19). There is no mystery as to who that beast represents. The lopsidedness of the bear referring to the Medes and Persians is a statement of the greatness of the Persians (the taller side) and their less great counterpart the Medes (the slumped side) (7:5). As you mentioned, the tusks/ribs could have multiple meanings to them. That answer is not as clear. The third beast, again, is clearly a representation of Greece. While the fourth beast is unknown and most likely Rome it could also be casting vision of the far future.
    The book of Daniel, specifically in this vision, is encouragement about the humanness of these empires. Each one of them falls to each other until the eternal empire, the Kingdom of God, establishes its reign on earth. These visions are now and not yet. They are already and eventually. The sovereignty of God shines through this vision by reminding the Jewish readers at the time that there is something greater coming and that God has a plan for the world and his people. Jesus is clearly that plan for this redemption and he is coming back soon.

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  7. Daniel 2 and 7 seem to be very similar, but they also are different. There are 4 animals/metals that are mentioned, but how the story finishes is different. The four empires that are mentioned in the visions are Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman. The Lion is Babylonian, the bear is Persian, the leopard is Greek, and the unknown breast is possibly Roman. The fourth empire(possibly the roman empire) seems to be different than the other three empires because the explains there are ten horns on the beast and a little horn that takes out three other horns. At the end of both stories though, there is the final kingdom that will come and destroy all of the other kingdoms. This seems to represent God’s kingdom and that it will overcome all other kingdoms and reign forever. “His kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” (Daniel 7:27). The visions tell us that the kingdoms will be destroyed, but the final kingdom will remain forever and can never be destroyed. “And in the days of those kings the God of Heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people” (Daniel: 3:44).

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  8. The Four Beasts
    In the book of Daniel, our main character, Daniel himself, is having all these strange visions about four beasts. They’re not regular beasts though. They’re cross bred animals and they’re malformed. It’s almost as if God started grafting animals as one would graft plants. Regardless, these visions have got to mean something more if they’re coming to Daniel. Many scholars would speculate that they meant something during the ancient times. The first one, in Daniel 7:5, is a lion with the wings of an eagle. This one refers to Babylon because Nebuchadnezzar was usually described as a lion. The second one is a lop-sided bear to represent the Persian Empire. The third beast identified is leopard with four heads and four wings. This leopard is usually identified as the four generals after the passing of Alexander the Great. Lastly, the fourth beast is something that wasn’t identifiable. One thing we know about it is that it had a lot of horns and a lot of horns means it’s dangerous and powerful. Perhaps the horns were meant to represent kingdoms yet to come or maybe they were rulers themselves that were yet to come. It’s interesting to see what each beast represented from Daniel’s visions. In all honesty, I think it would be both really cool and really scary to see beasts like that.

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  9. While reading chapter 7 in the book of Daniel, I found it very interesting with Daniel’s vision. The one thing that I am happy about it that when Daniel or someone else has a dream, then Daniel will interpret it. If Daniel did not interpret the dreams that people had dreamt, then I would have a hard time understanding what they meant due to them kind of being off the wall type of dreams. The most interesting dream that Daniel had was the dream with the four beasts, at which it was mentioned in the initial post. I really liked reading the interpretation of this dream because each beast represented a different kingdom and each horn represented the different kings. The different beast also represented how evil them empires were, and they would do anything to get more power over all of the other kingdom to rule the land. Then as the dream continues it showed how each kingdom then ruled over each other and attempted to take over all the other kingdoms, at which they did.

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  10. “The four metals in Daniel 2 and the four animals in Daniel 7 describe a progression of empires culminating in a fourth powerful empire which will be destroyed and replaced by an everlasting kingdom of God.” —

    Two unexplained assumptions in this statement are open to debate: —

    In Dan. 2 there are FIVE parts to the image, head, arms-chest, belly-thighs, legs, feet-toes. If you can read Aramaic you can see this clearly enough, especially in Dan. 2.41 where the description of the feet-toes begins. So five, not the assumed four by many prophecy teachers. —

    In Dan. 7.3 we are told Daniel saw “four great beasts” come up out of the sea, “different from one another”. If Daniel saw them sequentially, then how would he know they were all different from one another. And if he saw all four at the same time, as this verse seems to clearly indicate, then why should anyone assume Daniel is talking about a sequence of empires, and not four competing regions of the known Middle Eastern world that all arise at about the same time? Dan. 7.12 says that after the fourth terrible beast is destroyed the other beasts are allowed to live for yet some further length of time. Seems like all four exist at the same time, and only the fourth is destroyed while the others remain for a time. So this is not the typical sequential four equals sequential four of Dan. 2 and 7.

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  11. By the way, in Rev. 4.7 John describes the four creatures he saw at the same time as first, second, third and fourth. So numbering would not necessarily mean there is a chronological sequence in Dan 7.

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  12. Reading theses prophesies gives me a headache. It requires a lot of deep thinking in order to fully grasp what is really taking place. Praise God that every time he gives Daniel a vision, there is an interpreter to hep us all understand what is taking place. Never in a million years would I have ever known the representation of the four kingdoms and the horns representing the kings to ruler over. It is crazy to see how much disatisfacton of power each king has. They have the thrones yet they still searching for more, and they would do it at any cost that had evil.
    And stated in the article above, It is interesting to that “The son of man” is more human than all the other mutated beasts. I love that God levels his son to the human condition without any deformity. Although powerful he is humbled doing the will of his father, eventually seating on the throne judging all there four kingdom. I like how he shuts down the arrogant little horn. God’s Sovereignty is really shown, that kings and kingdoms will rise and fall. He remains remains sovereign over all.

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