FOCUS ON THE PROPHECIES OF DANIEL
(1) “The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground.” (Dan. 7:4)
The Neo-Babylonian Empire. Reference to the wings being plucked suggests Nebuchadnezzar’s experience of eating grass like an ox. The lion was then given a “man’s heart.” This suggests a more humanitarian disposition of Nebuchadnezzar following his re-exaltation as king (Wood, 182). “The lion symbol was characteristic of Babylon, especially in Nebuchadnezzar’s time, when the Ishtar Gate entrance was adorned on either side with a long procession of yellow lions on blue-glazed brick, fashioned in high relief” (EBC, 7:85-86).
(2) “And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth. . . Arise, devour much flesh.”
The bear symbolizes the Medo-Persian empire. The bear is raised up on one side to signify that one member of this coalition (Persia) was stronger than the other. The use of the bear as a symbol for Medo-Persia is also significant. The Persians did not move as swiftly as the leopard or the lion with eagle’s wings. Persians won battles by amassing large quantities of troops (Wood, 183).
Some scholars suggest that the three ribs in the mouth of the bear stand for Persia’s three crucial victories over Babylon, Lydia (in Asia Minor), and Egypt. It is quite possible, however, that the three ribs merely symbolize complete conquest (devouring in a military sense). Note: “The overall stress for this beast is on conquest; and Medo-Persia did take over far more land than any prior kingdom, reaching finally all the way from the Indus River on the east to Egypt and the Aegean on the west” (Wood, 183).
(3) “After this I kept looking, and behold, another one, 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” (Dan. 7:6).
The leopard symbolizes the Grecian empire founded by Alexander the Great. The leopard’s four wings suggest the lightning swiftness with which Alexander moved in his conquest of the world. In 336, Alexander became king of Greece (at age 20). In 334, he won his first victory over Persia at Granicus (in Asia Minor). Only three years later (331), he soundly defeated the Persians at Gaugemela (in the vicinity of what was Nineveh), effectively ending Persian hegemony in the Ancient Near East.
The four heads symbolize the four divisions into which the Greek Empire divided following the untimely death of Alexander in 323. The kingdom was divided into four parts and given to four generals of Alexander’s (the latter two listed below become significant in Biblical history):
Macedonia and Greece (given to Cassander)
Thrace and Asia Minor (given to Lysimachus)
Syria, and the eastern region (given to Antigonus and then Seleucus)
Egypt (given to Ptolemy)
(4) “...a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed, and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns” (7:7)
The fourth beast symbolizes the Roman Empire. The beast was “dreadful” probably because of its size (Wood, 185). The Roman Empire was the largest of all four of the empires in Daniel. The Roman Empire differed from all the other beasts. “It suggests that Rome would make her conquests with greater decisiveness, fearfulness, and terror-inspiring tactics than any of the others. This was true of Rome. Conquest was made at wide range and with the greatest strength and ferocity. Her conquests were more permanent, too; for whereas the other empires had been satisfied with only a loose confederation of countries seized, Rome consolidated and organized for lasting control” (Wood, 186).
Later in the chapter, Daniel is told clearly that the “ten horns” represent ten kings (7:24). Obviously, these are not ten kings that reign successively but ten kings that reign contemporaneously. Some commentators suggest that the prophecy regarding these ten horns still awaits fulfillment. If so, the fulfillment will come in the day of the Antichrist, who rises after the ten horns as the “little” horn (7:8). This little horn will crush the power of three of the ten kings (7:24) and will rise to a place of prominence over the remaining seven. This “little horn” or Antichrist is to be identified with the Beast in Revelation 13:5-8 and 17:11-14. He will “speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One” (7:25). The Antichrist will be given power for three and one half years (“a time, times, and half a time”; 7:25).
The Ram and the He Goat:
“Then I lifted my gaze and looked, and behold, a ram which had two horns was standing in front of the canal. Now the two horns were long, but one was longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last. I saw the ram butting westward, northward, and southward...” (8:3-4a)
Like the bear with three ribs in its mouth, the ram here symbolizes the Medo-Persian Empire. The longer of the two horns is the Persian part of the Medo-Persian coalition, which although it arose later than the Medes to a position of prominence eclipsed the Medes in might and strength. Notice that the ram does not push eastward; the greatest sphere of Persian domination lay west, south, and north of Persia.
“While I was observing, behold, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of the whole earth without touching the ground; and the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. . . . And I saw him come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered his two horns, and the ram had no strength to withstand him. So he hurled him to the ground. . . . “Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven” (8:5-7)
The male goat symbolizes the Grecian Empire. “Compared with a ram, a he-goat has greater strength and agility, features significant in the symbolism” (Wood, 209). The male goat comes from the west; Greece was west of Persia. The conspicuous horn is Alexander the Great. The wrath of the he-goat corresponds to the anger that the Grecians felt toward the Persians. The four horns symbolize, as in chapter 7, the four ways in which the kingdom was divided when Alexander the Great died.
“And out of one of them [one of the four horns in 8:8] came forth a rather small horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Beautiful Land. And it grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth. . . . It even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down” (8:9-11).
From one of the four horns (the line of Seleucus, who reigned over Syria) arose Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Dan. 8:23-26), who becomes a type of the Antichrist because of his oppression of the Jews. “This suppression came to a head in December 168 B.C., when Antiochus returned in frustration from Alexandria, where he had been turned back by the Roman commander Popilius Laenas, and vented his exasperation on the Jews. He [Antiochus] sent his general, Apollonius, with twenty thousand troops under orders to seize Jerusalem on a Sabbath. There he erected an idol of Zeus and desecrated the [bronze] altar by offering a swine on it” (EBC, 7:98). This idol is also known as the abomination of desolation (Dan. 11:31; NASB) and becomes symbolic of the future abomination that will be committed by the Antichrist (Matt. 24:15). This begins the period of the Maccabean revolt, a key feature of the Intertestamental Period. (For a history of the Maccabean Period, read I Maccabees in the OT Apocrypha).
Daniel 11 expands upon that which is set forth in Daniel 8. It begins with a passing reference to the kings of Persia (11:2) but soon launches into an extremely detailed prophecy of the events that will take place between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies, the descendants of two of Alexander the Great’s generals (11:3-35). This prophecy eventually turns once again to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, his military conflicts, and his defiling of the Jewish Temple (11:21-35). In 11:36-45, the chapter looks ahead to the Antichrist, the antitype of Antiochus IV, and describes some of his nefarious activities during the Great Tribulation.