Corresponds with Sabbath School Study Guide: Nov 6-19
Daniel has a vision in which he sees four wild beasts rising out of the ocean. Three have identifiable forms, while the fourth is a monster of terrifying appearance with ten horns. A heavenly court sits in judgment upon them and sentences the three beasts to loss of power and the fourth to be slain. A human figure is brought into the presence of the heavenly Judge and is granted universal and eternal kingship.
Two texts, one biblical and another extra-biblical, are very helpful for a better understanding of the background of the chapter. The first is a text written before Daniel’s time in which symbols of wild beasts are used to describe God’s judgment on Israel:
So I will come upon them like a lion, like a leopard I will lurk by the path.
Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open.
Like a lion I will devour them; a wild animal will tear them apart. (Hosea 13:7-8)
The four beasts listed in this text are a lion, a leopard, a bear and a lion-like beast that is not identified. While Hosea’s passage speaks of God’s judgment on Israel, Daniel’s vision extends to the whole world.
The second text comes from the document known as “Verse Account of Nabonidus” and it describes a ceremony that took place in Babylon in the year 549 BC, or ten years before Babylon’s fall. King Nabonidus was leaving Babylon and he decided to entrust his royal prerogatives to his eldest son Belshazzar:
After he [Nabonidus] had obtained what he desired, a work of utter deceit, Had built (this) abomination, a work of unholiness
–when the third year was about to begin-
He entrusted the “Camp” to his oldest (son), the first-born,
The troops everywhere in the country he ordered under his (command).
He let (everything) go, entrusted the kingship to him.
And, himself, he started out for a long journey,
The (military) forces of Akkad marching with him;
He turned towards Tema (deep) in the west.
Since Nabonidus was very unpopular in Babylon and he was entrusting kingship to his eldest son Belshazzar, the priests and the aristocrats including Daniel must have been deeply concerned about Babylon’s future. In that same year God gave Daniel a vision, similar to the event that he had witnessed in Babylon. The vision was not about an event on earth, but in heaven. It was not about the unpopular Nabonidus leaving Babylon but about the Ancient of Days who was in full control of history. It was not about a weak son who received kingship for a time, but about someone who was both divine and human and who will reign for eternity.
The following chiastic-concentric plan may be proposed for this chapter:
Relevant Biblical Passages
The first half of the chapter is a report on the vision and it may be divided in three parts, each one beginning with the words “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were/was …”
- Daniel 7:2-6. Apocalyptic visions abound with symbols. What are some of the most important ones found in this text and what do they represent? Does the Bible give enough information on the meaning of the symbols? How important is the word “like” in this text? What does this vision describe in general? How important are the details of the vision?
- Daniel 7:7, 8. The fourth beast was terrifying, powerful and zoologically unclassifiable. What was the main difference between this and the previous beasts? What does a horn represent in biblical imagery? How was the eleventh horn different from the previous ten?
- Daniel 7:9-14. Notice the change in the literary form of verses 9, 10, 13 and 14! Where did the events described in those verses take place, on earth or in heaven? Explain the concepts behind the metaphors used for God such as old age, whiteness, fire, etc. The use of a numerical progression in verse 10 leads us to conclusion that those who serve God are without number. What is the meaning of the sentence “and the books were opened” in the context of this chapter?The expression “one like a son of man” should be understood as saying “someone who looked like a human being” or “someone who looked like a member of the human race.” There is a contrast in verse 13 between the series of beasts and someone who looked human. What was Jesus’ favorite title according to the Gospel writers and why? What do the clouds of heaven stand for in the Bible? The Ancient of Days gives an everlasting dominion to this humanlike person.
- Daniel 7:17, 21, 22. Verses 17 and 18 are the shortest and the most concise summary of the whole chapter. The angel interpreter tells Daniel the outcome of the conflict right in the beginning. The worst enemy of the saints who defeats them is the little horn. How are those two judged by the Ancient of Days?
- Daniel 7:24-26. The interpretation given to Daniel is not as nearly concerned with the identity of the symbolic powers as it is with their activities. The anti-God power’s activity in this text is directed against God himself, his saints, and his laws. From the literary point of view, the expression “time, times and half a time” is a case of a broken numerical progression. The message that this figure is communicating is that the evil power makes a progress and is able to defeat the saints for a limited period of time, but all of a sudden God intervenes and brings it to an end. How has this same expression been applied in church history?
Lessons for Life
The central concept in this chapter is God’s judgment. Is this biblical teaching still important for us today? Is the message of God’s judgment a good or a bad news for people? The vision recorded in this chapter is widely known as the vision about the four beasts. What (or who) do you think should be in focus in this vision? Do you believe that heaven and earth are as closely related as apocalyptic passages often suggest?