Online Bible Commentary
Daniel 7:1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head while on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream, telling the main facts. 2 Daniel spoke, saying, "I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea. 3 And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other. 4 The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings. I watched till its wings were plucked off; and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man's heart was given to it. 5 And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And they said thus to it: 'Arise, devour much flesh!' 6 After this I looked, and there was another, 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. 7 After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. 8 I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words. (NKJV)
The first six chapters of the book of Daniel are mainly historical. Now, beginning with this chapter, the writings switch over to prophetical for the last six chapters. We return to a time earlier in Daniel’s life. In chapter six Daniel was about 84 years old. Now, in chapter seven, he is about 70 years old.
Babylon has not yet been overthrown. The Jews, including Daniel, are still being held captive in Babylon. Belshazzar is co-regent with Nabonidus, his father. Nabonidus has abandoned the kingdom to take part in archaeological discoveries. The year is 550 B.C., the first year of King Belshazzar’s reign (v. 1a).
“Daniel had a dream and visions of his head while on his bed” (v. 1b). This passage represents a “telling (of) the main facts” of that dream (v. 1c). The dream was one of end times prophecy given to Daniel by God.
The dream was based on the dream that Daniel interpreted for Nebuchadnezzar, some 52 years earlier (Da. 2:31-45). Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was that of a large statue divided from head to toe into four parts, with each part representing a different empire which succeeded the previous empires. The four empires, in order of succession, were Babylon, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman.
In this passage, “the four winds of heaven” (v. 2a) represent the four changes that came over the gentiles. The changes “were stirring up the Great Sea” (v. 2b), “the earth” (later in v. 17). “Four great beasts” (v. 3a), the four empires, arose from the earth’s history, “each different from the other” (v. 3b).
“The first was like a lion” (v. 4a), with “eagle’s wings” (v. 4b). This represents Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar, throughout scripture, has been referred to as a lion and an eagle. The Babylonian empire used lions to represent itself, and statues of winged lions were common there.
Nebuchadnezzar’s “wings were plucked off” (v. 4c), meaning he was given a mental illness, the heart of a beast, for seven years by God. Then God restored him to his throne after the seven years. He was restored, “made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man's heart was given to it”, when Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged God as sovereign.
Then the second empire arose, the “bear” (v. 5a). This was the Medo-Persian Empire that conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. “It was raised up on one side” (v. 5b), meaning the Persians were more powerful than the Medes. It “had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth” (v. 5c), referring to the three empires it conquered; Babylon to the east, Lydia to the west and Egypt to the south.
The third empire was “like a Leopard” and had “four heads” and “four wings on its back” (v. 6). This was the Greek Empire led by Alexander the Great. The four wings represent the speed that the empire grew. Alexander conquered the world in only thirteen years and then died, empty-handed, at age thirty-three. The four heads represent the division of the empire to four of Alexander’s generals after his death.
The fourth empire was “dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet” (v. 7a). This was the Roman Empire, the first and the revived one to come at the end times. This terrifying beast was “different” (v. 7b) because it was more powerful and had a longer rule. This empire had “ten horns” (v. 7c), representing ten kings.
At the end times a “little horn” (v. 8a) will defeat three others. This little horn represents the Anti-Christ and the “mouth speaking pompous words” (v. 8b) represents the beast that will campaign against God and the saints for forty-two months during the end times.
Daniel’s dream was prophetic. God gave him insights into the end times, that are revealed in more detail in John’s vision recorded in Revelation. Sometimes God speaks to us through dreams. It is likely rare, but it could happen. If it is from God, it will never betray Scripture. Scripture is the primary method that God uses to speak to us. If you want to know God and his will for your life, read the Bible.