The Course of the Nations - Daniel 2 & 7

Reprinted from eParousia #5, June, 2003

It has been said that the book of Daniel is to the Old Testament what the book of Revelation is to the New Testament. In order for us to understand prophecy and the events of the end of the age, we must have a grasp of the prophecies of the book of Daniel. As we begin to understand the book of Daniel, we will have a framework around which we can build our knowledge and understanding of other biblical prophecies.

Daniel was taken captive in the year 605 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar as part of the first invasion of Babylon against Israel. In 586 BC the temple and city of Jerusalem were destroyed by Babylon. The Prophet Jeremiah had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and the seventy-year exile of the Jews to Babylon (Jer. 25:8-11). This captivity lasted from 605 BC until they were allowed to return to their land in 536 BC by the decree of Cyrus, King of Persia.

The Great Statue

In the second year of Daniel's captivity in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a great statue. A search ensued for an interpreter and none could be found, until Daniel prayed for enlightenment from God and was granted understanding of the dream.

Here is Daniel's retelling of Nebuchadnezzar's dream:

You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary splendor, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome. The head of that statue was made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.

You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay, and crushed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (Dan. 2:31-35)

God had given king Nebuchadnezzar a vision of the course of the nations that would follow Babylon and lead up to the establishment of a final kingdom that would dominate the earth. After retelling the dream, Daniel now proceeds to the interpretation:

You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength, and the glory; and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold.

And after you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth. Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces. And in that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay. And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery, so some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle. And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery. And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. (Dan. 2:37-44)

Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that he is the head of gold. Babylon is the first kingdom of the statue. This kingdom is to be followed by 3 successive kingdoms, represented by the breast and arms, belly and thighs and legs of the statue. With the advantage of hindsight and history we can identify these successive kingdoms as Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. If we look closely, we can see that the Roman Empire will eventuate into a 10-king empire, represented by the ten toes of the statue. It is during the days of "those kings" that the kingdoms of man will be crushed and the everlasting kingdom of God will be established.

The Four Beasts

More than 60 years later, in the first year of King Belshazzar, Daniel had a vision of four great beasts. Like the statue of Daniel 2, the beasts of Daniel 7 represent 4 successive kingdoms that will arise. Here is Daniel's description of the four beasts he saw:

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 and made to stand on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it. 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; and thus they said to it, 'Arise, devour much meat!' 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. After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, 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. (Dan. 7:4-7)

As Daniel seeks an interpretation of the vision, he is told that these four beasts are four kings who will arise from the earth. This vision parallels the vision of Daniel 2 and we can identify these kingdoms as follows:

1. The winged lion represents the Babylonian Empire and parallels the head of gold on the statue.

2. The bear represents the Persian Kingdom and parallels the arms and chests of silver. The bear is raised up on one side because the Persian Kingdom was composed of the Medes and the Persians with the Persians dominating. The three ribs probably represent the three major conquests of the Persian Empire: Lydia in 546 BC, Babylon in 538 BC, and Egypt in 525 BC.

3. The leopard with four heads and four wings represents the Greek Empire and parallels with the belly and thighs of bronze. Alexander the Great was its first and greatest king. After his death, his kingdom was divided between four of his generals, Cassander reigning over Macedon and Greece; Lysimachus, over Thrace and Bithynia; Ptolemy, over Egypt; and Seleucus, over Syria. Thus the four heads. They never gained the greatness of Alexander, however.

4. The dreadful and terrifying beast represents the Roman Empire and parallels the legs of iron in the statue of Daniel 2.

The focus of this vision in Daniel 7, however, is not the 4 kingdoms, but the activity of one horn that arises from the ten horns of the fourth beast. Daniel's vision continues:

While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth uttering great boasts. (Dan. 7:8)

This is where the vision of chapter 7 goes beyond that found in chapter 2. We are told in the interpretation of the vision that follows that these 10 horns represent 10 kings that will arise from the Roman Empire.

As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings. And he will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. (Dan. 7:24-25)

This "little horn" is characterized by military conquest and religious blasphemy and he is a persecutor of God's people. He is allowed a short period of time (3-1/2 years) to "wear down" the saints, but then his kingdom will be destroyed forever.

Eternal Kingdom

Just as Nebuchadnezzar's dream ended with the destruction of the final kingdom and the establishment of the kingdom of God, so Daniel's vision concludes with the destruction of the "little horn" and the inauguration of an everlasting kingdom.

But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, the dominion, and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him. (Dan. 7:26-27)

We have seen these four kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome come and go in history, but we are still looking forward to the everlasting kingdom of God when "all the dominions will obey Him." According to both Daniel 2 and 7, this final kingdom of 10 toes (and 10 horns) is to be destroyed by God Himself and immediately followed by God's kingdom. As we look back in history, there is no individual who fulfills the details of the little horn of Daniel 7: A ruler who rises among 10 kings, overthrowing 3 of them, and then persecutes the people of God for 3-1/2 years, followed by his destruction and the establishment of the enduring Kingdom of God on earth. Since these events have not been historically fulfilled, we must conclude that they lie in the future.

The Final Beast

As we examine this "little horn", we can see that he is the same person as the beast of the book of Revelation; the same person the apostle Paul calls the "man of lawlessness". There are many parallels between these two individuals: a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, speaking out against God, waging war with and overpowering the saints (Rev. 13:5-7). We are also told that the beast of Revelation will have authority to make war with the saints for 42 months. This 3-1/2 year time period correlates with the time, times and half a time that the little horn of Daniel 7 will wear down the saints.

Conclusion

These prophecies from Daniel tell us that a day is coming when an evil conqueror will arise and seek to destroy the people of God. But, we have the assurance that God Himself will judge and destroy Him and set up an eternal kingdom. I believe there are some practical lessons that we can take from this short look at these prophecies:

First of all, we can be assured that God's Word is true. The first part of these amazing prophecies of future kingdoms were fulfilled over the next 500 years. In fact, dozens, even hundreds of prophecies from the Word of God have been fulfilled just as they were written. His Word is true and accurate and we can trust it. Seeing past fulfillment of prophecy encourages our faith as we look forward to the future fulfillment of the events of Christ's Second Coming.

Secondly, we know that God is in control. He is the one that rules over the nations and that turns the kings heart like channels of water (Prov. 21:1. After being humbled and turned into an animal for seven years, Nebuchadnezzar finally learned that God is the one in control of the course of this world. He said:

But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What hast Thou done?' Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride (Dan. 4:34-37).

We can have faith and confidence in God's sovereignty, knowing that He is in control. God is the one that allows the final ruler to have 3-1/2 years. And He is the one who will destroy him. We know that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). Even times of suffering and persecution are used by God to purify us and increase our faith.

 

This article was originally published through eParousia, Sola Scriptura's monthly end-times e-newsletter.

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