Series: Thru the Bible
Daniel sees Lions, Leopards & Bears…Oh my!
We are about to dive into the heady waters of eschatology, which has never been my strong suite. However, the fact of my historical weakness in grasping the imagery of biblical eschatology may actually be beneficial to us. I believe we stand to learn more by a broad panorama of these visions and what they are ultimately pointing to than by getting overly caught up in the specifics of all the imagery. There is a certain place for searches into the imagery of the visions, but I think we often stand to lose more than we gain. Getting lost in the specifics has a tendency to cause us to lose any real sense of why they are being mentioned. In other words, the imagery is there to support and and bring into focus the overall point, not to BECOME the point itself.
These visions of Daniel, which are covered in the next several chapters, are of those things which will transpire from the time of Daniel until the end – when God judges all people and creates a new heaven and new earth. So the timespan, from a human perspective is vast!
I believe that these visions and their corresponding counterpoints in the Revelation given to John reveal what I have been telling you all for years now.
Ever since the movie ‘Unstoppable’ by Kirk Cameron and my exposure to the book ‘Sacred Romance’ by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge, I have slowly pierced together a view and understanding of the overall story God is telling in this creation. In Kirk Cameron’s film he claims to be addressing why bad things happen to good people, which in my humble opinion he utterly fails to even directly address. Beyond that, the question is all wrong because according to the scriptures at large and Jesus in particular there are no ‘Good” people. However, the film irritated me enough to explore the premise of the question and out of all of that pondering came a study and out of the study came an article on our website. Can anyone guess at its title? It is provocatively titled, ‘Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?’
In that article I examine the claim and address the question behind that question, which I believe is a question with which the man Daniel was ultimately concerned.
In brief, I speculate that this entire creation was brought into being by God in order to settle a dispute and answer a question. It was the type of question which carried huge enough implications that a simple verbal response would never have sufficed so, God created the natural world.
You see, the answer to the question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people” has got a lot of baggage and unspoken assumptions about the nature and purpose of this life. If you and I and God’s unfailing love for us were the ONLY points, then there is no good answer to that question. But what if human beings and God’s love and devotion to us are NOT the point of this creation but is only part of the story He is telling? Well that is provocative indeed!
In brief, and I know you have heard me explain this, I believe God is answering the rebellion of satan through creation. Now satan was NOT asking a question of God, he was leveling an accusation, but his rebellion created a question mark in heaven, a suggestion in the hearts of the angels who, for all of their love and devotion to worshiping God – needs answering.
Satan said that he was going to be like the most high and exalt his authority or throne above the clouds of God. In this statement was a heart of rebellion against a distorted conception of God. Behind the rebellion was a question – why should God rule and reign? Is it because He is good? Well if He were good wouldn’t He serve me and let me reign? No it has to be because He is the bully on the celestial playground. He is bigger and more powerful and therefore, we all have to play by His rules. Well I challenge that!
So satan fell, but his fall was not alone – he clearly influenced a third of the angels of God to rebel with him. This was not an isolated incident which occured behind closed doors or in a solitary corner of heaven – this was prime time and it needed a response.
I believe WE are the response which is why all the angels are so involved with mankind. They are messengers between God and man, they are helpers and protectors but perhaps more than anything else they are observers. They are watching us. Why? Well Paul tells the Ephesian church why which is included in those things I mentioned on Sunday Paul told that church when he did tell them the WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD. He told the Ephesian saints that God’s purpose in creation was to reveal to the principalities and powers the multifaceted wisdom of God THROUGH THE CHURCH.
So no wonder there is always a challenging of authority by satan and his crew! No wonder so much is made of God’s sovereignty and man’s need to worship God, even when we do not benefit from that worshiping. No wonder the devil is allowed to tempt and try us in an attempt to tempt us away from fidelity to God. Satan showed us his hand in his words to God regarding Job. “Of course Job serves you – he stands to profit from it, but if for one moment he discovered that serving you produced no net profit – he’d drop You like yesterday’s bad news” (I’m paraphrasing of course).
Of course, Job got frustrated and even angry. Accused God of not being just, but when God revealed His power and glory to Job in His discussion with him, Job’s heart was broken and humbled and he exalted the God of heaven. THIS was NOT what satan was expecting and it became one of countless testimonies throughout the ages of why it is right that God rules and reigns – even if we do not benefit from it. Its “rightness” is intrinsic!
So when all that we read in scripture about the past and the future of kings and kingdoms who either honor or rebel against God… when all of these are placed into this context – we can see it is telling a story, and it is a story in which God’s plans and purposes are being revealed and brought to pass. The devil will have his day, but God will have the last say!
In the end, God’s kingdom rules over all!
Can you see why, ever since the garden this has always been about two things – the kingdom of God and belief in His good heart.
So here in Daniel, we see he is given some dreams about the future, but it is only natural that some of the vision pertains to Daniel himself… at least on some level.
So far we have only seen a Daniel who was strong, courageous, confident and in a honored position of authority in Babylon. This is the surface Daniel – meaning the Daniel anyone with eyes could perceive. What we have NOT seen is the secret chambers of his heart.
As we will see in chapters 7-9 is a Daniel who is increasingly unsettled. Partly by the visions he has and partly by the Israel he sees.
We have to remember, regardless of his position of prestige and power, Daniel is still a captive in Babylon and Jerusalem lies in ruins and the temple of God has been ransacked and plundered.
“Though chains be of gold, they are chains even still.”
We also have to remember that Israel had no real understanding of God’s future and universal kingdom in which ALL peoples would be equally welcome by faith. From their perspective THEY – the Jewish people WERE the people of God and they never saw that changing.
So Israel being in captivity having been exiled from their land of promise and the temple in ruins – was interpreted for all intents and purposes as the end of the kingdom of God.
Daniel, as we will see, harbors a doubt regarding the intentions of God and the future of Israel. He calls to mind the prayer of Solomon all those many years ago and the word spoken through Moses of Israel’s destruction if they continued in rebellious disobedience and idolatry. So he wonders… “is this it?” Have we gone so far that there is no further redemption for God’s people? Could that even happen, regarding a people upon whom God has placed His name? Would not God’s diligence and zeal regarding the integrity of His Own name, inspire and even require the deliverance of His people?
So when Daniel gets these visions he is left reeling. He sees a future where Israel is only part of God’s plan. A future where evil continues to grow and the kingdoms of this world seem to stand in triumph even over God’s people. Then he sees the end of the story – God conquers all His enemies and redeems His people and the Kingdom of God rules over all – for all eternity.
As you might well imagine these images are overwhelming, distant, confusing and yet, in the end, hopeful. But it would leave Daniel with the questions we mentioned earlier. Where does that leave us now? What are your intentions and plans with the Israel of today?
As I place myself in Daniel’s shoes I am heart broken to the point of despondency for the crushing impressions these visions would likely have had on his soul. And I think myself not too far off, because I see it in the words he speaks to the angel and those he prays to God. But Daniel is a good and upright man who is devoted to God and valued by God, so he does not give up, but rather presses on!
“(1) In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream filled with visions while he was lying on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream in summary fashion.
(2) Daniel explained: “I was watching in my vision during the night as the four winds of the sky were stirring up the great sea. (3) Then four large beasts came up from the sea; they were different from one another.”
The bible mentions the “four winds” about 25 times in scripture and when spoken of in a physical and natural way are often a colloquialism for north, south, east & west, but when spoken of spiritually it is usually in judgment – whether good or bad.
- The North wind is associated with rain
- The South wind is associated with heat, though sometimes pleasant and good.
- The East wind is strong with scorching heat and drought. A desert wind.
- The West wind is only mentioned in the removal of locusts in a plague.
Seas when used symbolically in scripture most often refer to peoples and nations. In fact, in the book of Revelation when it says that in the New Heaven and the New Earth there will be no more seas, it may in fact be meaning that there will be no more nations – but only the Kingdom of God.
We also know that the beasts represent kings because when the angle helps Daniel understand the vision he says so and it is recorded in the upcoming 17th verse.
“‘These large beasts, which are four in number, represent four kings who will arise from the earth.”
Now there is difficulty in identifying these kings. I believe the great majority of educated Christians have the 4 kings and kingdoms as Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Cyrus the Great of the Medo-Persian Empire, Alexander the Great of the Grecian Empire and Caesar Augustus (a.k.a. Gaisu Octavius Thurinus) of Rome.
The difficulty with this is that this 4th beast is said to have been given power over the holy ones or saints for 3.5 years, which is only one of SEVERAL points which correlates this Beast with the first of two beasts mentioned in the book of Revelation.
If this is the same beast, and it nearly HAS to be, then the only ways to reconcile these rulers with historical events is by assuming the 4th beast has a dual reference – one of Rome and the second of the antichrist. Both are superseded by the rule of Christ but in different ways, so this is “possible” but not without its own difficulties.
The second way that I can think of is by assuming the entire vision is future and therefore the first beast/king is Cyrus the Great of the Medo-Persian Empire, Alexander the Great of the Grecian Empire as the second beast and Caesar Augustus (a.k.a. Gaisu Octavius Thurinus) of Rome as the third – leaving the final beast which was unlike all the former to be the antichrist in the distant future.
I WANT to favor the first and most well accepted interpretation but I have one two major obstacles.
- Rome never had a 3.5 year time period where it was given authority over the saints. The closest thing would be Nero, but his persecutions lasted from 303 AD to about 313 AD which is 10 years not 3.5.
- The phrase is found in Daniel 7:17, which indicates that all of these kings have yet to come to power by the words, “who WILL arise”. While it is true that these words “can” be used to indicate the continuance and durability of an empire, but that is not how it is used in this verse. Furthermore, this vision took place during the reign of Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s son, who only ruled for 2 years before being replaced by Darius the Mede, so this vision could not be describing the longevity and continuance of Babylon as a sovereign power nor of Nebuchadnezzar its greatest leader for he was already dead.
So with those suggestions and uncertainties in place, let’s press forward.
The 1st beast:
(4) “The first one was like a lion with eagles’ wings. As I watched, its wings were pulled off and it was lifted up from the ground. It was made to stand on two feet like a human being, and a human mind was given to it.
I could find little to no connection between these animals and the kings and kingdoms they represent IF the first King and Kingdom was Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The only connection that I found even a little compelling was a comparison given by Guzik (though it is probably not original to him). That comparison is between the hunting habits of the animal stated and the method of conquest employed by the King and Empire it supposedly represents.
In this case, the Lion is powerful and greatly feared as was Nebuchadnezzar’s power which was unrivaled during his reign. Though the same could be said about Cyrus the Great who came after him. The wings being plucked could fit Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation when given the mind of a beast and his standing upright and given the mind of a man could easily compare with his restoration. So there is that!
However, if used simply as a known symbol of Babylon it doesn’t seem a good fit because a known symbol of the kings of that kingdom were lions – but they had no wings.
In my opinion, the lion depicted on the Ishtar gate could easily be argued to have wings, but in deliberate searches which describe them as such I failed to find any.
There are though an extinct subspecies of lions called Barbary lions whose manes continue down their sides and if drawn might approximate wings.
Lions with wings and a human head were a symbol of the Assyrian Empire, from which it is assumed that Darius and the Persians adapted their symbol of a winged Lion.
<-> Attribution and free use – Here
It is also presumed that Darius the great was the same Darius who was ruling in Babylon until Cyrus took over, since the time period would have been correct but this is not solid enough evidence to be dogmatic. However it seems more than coincedental that the same symbol connected to Darius is connected to the Empire being represented in Daniel’s dream and if this is the case then the best fit for who this 1st beast represented would be the Medo–Persian Empire in my opinion.
<-> File Attribution: Rmashhadi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
This is apparently where all the symbols attached to ancient empires ends because none of the following actually coincide with their assumed and respective kingdoms.
The 2nd beast
(5) “Then a second beast appeared, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and there were three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and devour much flesh!’
I could find no connection between a bear and the Persian empire other than by that mentioned earlier in attempting to compare their hunting habits to the method of conquest used by the Medo–Persian Empire.
“The slow, crushing armies of the Medo-Persian Empire were well known. They simply overwhelmed their opponents with superior size and strength.”
And Clarke says,
“The Medes and Persians are compared to a bear on account of their cruelty and thirst after blood, a bear being a most voracious and cruel animal.”
As for the three ribs, many commentators believe they represent the three great conquests of the Medo–Persian Empire, that of Babylon, Egypt and Lydia.
There is however a loose connection with the bear and the Grecian Empire but even that is a little forced.
The 3rd beast
(6) “After these things, as I was watching, another beast like a leopard appeared, with four bird-like wings on its back. This beast had four heads, and ruling authority was given to it.”
“The lion devours, the bear crushes, and the leopard springs upon its prey.”
The leopard “could” represents the Greek Empire in that by the tender age of 28, Alexander the Great had quickly conquered the civilized world.
“Nothing in the history of the world, was equal to the conquests of Alexander, who ran through all the countries from Illycrium and the Adriatic Sea to the Indian Ocean and the River Ganges; and in twelve years subdued part of Europe, and all Asia.”
As for the four heads with ruling authority, Guzik says,
“After his (Alexander the Great’s) death his empire was divided into four parts (four heads). Specifically, the four heads were Casander, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy, who inherited Alexander’s domain after his death.”
The 4th beast:
“(7) “After these things, as I was watching in the night visions a fourth beast appeared – one dreadful, terrible, and very strong. It had two large rows of iron teeth. It devoured and crushed, and anything that was left it trampled with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that came before it, and it had ten horns.”
This is the only beast with no animal used to describe it. It was simply unlike all the others having two rows of iron teeth and ten horns.
“(8) “As I was contemplating the horns, another horn – a small one – came up between them, and three of the former horns were torn out by the roots to make room for it. This horn had eyes resembling human eyes and a mouth speaking arrogant things.”
While noteworthy attempts have been made to connect this with the Roman Empire, it lacks a complete comparison.
In the early days of the Roman Empire they did in fact have kings, but in total there were only 7 and that was nearly 500 years before they replaced Greece as the world superpower in 31 BC.
From the time of the Greacian conquest Rome did in fact have 10 super rulers if that is what is in view here.
- Caesar Augustus (Reign: 27 B.C. to 14 A.D.)
- Tiberius (Reign: 14 to 37 A.D.)
- Vespasian (reign: 69 to 79 A.D.)
- Trajan (reign: 98 to 117 A.D.)
- Hadrian (reign: 117 to 138 A.D.)
- Antoninus Pius (reign: 138 to 161 A.D.)
- Marcus Aurelius (reign: 161 to 180 A.D.)
- Valerian (reign: 253 to 260 A.D.)
- Diocletian (reign 284 to 305 A.D.)
- Constantine the Great (reign: 306 to 337 A.D.)
The problem which arises is that it seems as if these horns all co-existed and that one arose among the ten and replaced them, leaving a total of 8 horns. Nothing, so far as I am aware, fits this profile in Roman history.
Also, the rule of God through Christ happened at about the mid-point of Roman history and towards the beginning of this list of 10 emperors. So if God i being set forth as the Ancient of Days and is supposed to have replaced this Empire AFTER the removal of these 10/8 kings, then we have a problem, because Rome continued for 300+ years after the resurrection of Jesus.
This chapter goes on to say “(24) The ten horns mean that ten kings will arise from that kingdom. Another king will arise after them, but he will be different from the earlier ones. He will humiliate three kings.”… and it is AFTER this that the Ancient of Days will establish His kingdom.
So Rome, while fitting so well superficially, seems to fail at this key juncture!
(9) “While I was watching, thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His attire was white like snow; the hair of his head was like lamb’s wool. His throne was ablaze with fire and its wheels were all aflame.
(10) A river of fire was streaming forth and proceeding from His presence. Many thousands were ministering to Him; many tens of thousands stood ready to serve Him.
The court convened and the books were opened.
(11) “Then I kept on watching because of the arrogant words of the horn that was speaking. I was watching until the beast was killed and its body destroyed and thrown into the flaming fire.”
This 4th beast ALSO seems to be the 1st beast of two mentioned in Revelation 13 by Jesus in His revelation to John.
Why the difference in the number of beasts?
Well I don’t know specifically but it is possible that the first three beasts of Daniel’s vision were before the ones revealed to John. Meaning that John did not see or mention these other beasts because they were in his history and therefore not part of the future Jesus was revealing to him.
There are some notable differences…
The beast mentioned by Daniel looks different, but we must remember that these “appearances” are merely descriptive – they are metaphors not literal. Obviously human kings do not look like lions with eagle’s wings or leopards with 4 wings. Symbolism which had meaning to Daniel in Babylon in 600 BC would very likely be different from those carrying meaning to John 600 years later in Rome.
As to the similarities…
The beast of Revelation 13 has ten horns, but it also has 7 heads.
One of the horns speaks blasphemies whereas in Revelation it simply says the beast was given a mouth speaking proud words and blasphemies – it does not mention where the mouth was located.
This beast is given ruling authority and is permitted to go to war against the saints and to conquer them, by which has to mean the physical lives, for true saints always have the victory and overcome the evil one by their trust in Him. So these may be killed, like countless other men and women of God throughout the centuries, but theirs is the victory for to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. This power is given for a total of 42 months or time, times and a half a time (3.5 years).
In Revelation it mentions a second beast after the first which if placed together with Daniel’s vision gives us a 5th beast. This beast is the false prophet who performs wonders and signs on behalf of the first beast mentioned by John. Evidently Daniel did not see this beast in this vision mentioned in Daniel 7.
“(12) As for the rest of the beasts, their ruling authority had already been removed, though they were permitted to go on living for a time and a season.
(13) I was watching in the night visions, “And with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man was approaching. He went up to the Ancient of Days and was escorted before Him.
(14) To Him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving Him. His authority is eternal and will not pass away. His kingdom will not be destroyed.
(15) “As for me, Daniel, my spirit was distressed, and the visions of my mind were alarming me.
(16) I approached one of those standing nearby and asked him about the meaning of all this. So he spoke with me and revealed to me the interpretation of the vision:
(17) ‘These large beasts, which are four in number, represent four kings who will arise from the earth.
(18) The holy ones of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will take possession of the kingdom forever and ever.’
(19) “Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others. It was very dreadful, with two rows of iron teeth and bronze claws, and it devoured, crushed, and trampled anything that was left with its feet.
(20) I also wanted to know the meaning of the ten horns on its head, and of that other horn which came up and before which three others fell. This was the horn that had eyes and a mouth speaking arrogant things, whose appearance was more formidable than the others.
(21) While I was watching, that horn began to wage war against the holy ones and was defeating them, (22) until the Ancient of Days arrived and judgment was rendered in favor of the holy ones of the Most High.
Then the time came for the holy ones to take possession of the kingdom.
(23) “This is what he told me:
‘The fourth beast means that there will be a fourth kingdom on earth that will differ from all the other kingdoms. It will devour all the earth and will trample and crush it.
(24) The ten horns mean that ten kings will arise from that kingdom. Another king will arise after them, but he will be different from the earlier ones. He will humiliate three kings.
(25) He will speak words against the Most High. He will harass the holy ones of the Most High continually. His intention will be to change times established by law.
They will be delivered into his hand For a time, times, and half a time. (26) But the court will convene, and his ruling authority will be removed – destroyed and abolished forever!
(27) Then the kingdom, authority, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be delivered to the people of the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; all authorities will serve Him and obey Him.’
(28) “This is the conclusion of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts troubled me greatly, and the color drained from my face. But I kept the matter to myself.”