What do the beasts of Daniel 7 represent?

In the first few verses of Daniel 7, Daniel says that while he was one night sleeping he had a dream. In the dream, he saw the four “winds” striving upon the “sea” and then four different “beasts” come out of the sea (Daniel 7:1-3). Already, there are three symbols here to decode: winds, sea, and beasts. According to the Bible, these symbols represent:

  • Winds represent strife, commotion, and destruction (Revelation 7:1-3).
  • Sea or water represents vast amounts of people-a densely populated area (Revelation 17:15).
  • Beasts represent kingdoms (Daniel 7:23).

In Daniel’s dream, God is about to reveal to him information about kingdoms that would arise from a densely populated area as a result of strife or wars.

Daniel then goes on to describe each of the four beasts in his dream.

The First Beast

“The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it” (Daniel 7:4).

Here we have an additional symbol which is “eagle’s wings.” In Bible prophecy, wings of eagles represent speed (Deuteronomy 28:49; Jeremiah 4:13; Habakkuk 1:6-9).

The lion with eagles wings represents Babylon (605/6 – 539 B.C.). The symbols for Babylon are all in the superlative: Gold (Daniel 2) is the finest of metals; the lion is king of the beasts; the eagle is lord of the air. Ancient Babylon was a mighty empire and history reveals to us that a winged lion was evidently the official symbol of the Babylonian kingdom.

Notice the words “… wings plucked, lifted up …, made to stand like a man, and a man’s heart given to it …” and compare this to Daniel 4: 33-34. This sounds like the experience of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel chapter 4.

The Second Beast

The second beast was “like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh” (Daniel 7:5). The bear represents Medo-Persia (539 B.C.) under Cyrus the Great. Notice that the bear has one side higher than the other and that it has three ribs in its mouth. The image of ribs crushed in its mouth points to the bear devouring other animals until they are consumed. These are the three great conquests that brought the Persians to power. Egypt, Lydia and Babylon formed an alliance but were defeated.

  • Babylon. 539 BC. Babylon is occupied. Nabonidus captured.
  • Lydia. 547 BC. Croesus of Lydia taken prisoner.
  • Egypt. 568 BC. Amasis II of Egypt suppressed. In 605 BC, Egypt was originally defeated in the battle of Carchemish.

At first the Medes and Persians ruled jointly, but later the Persians rose to be the greater power over Astyages of Medes, and this is depicted as the bear being lifted on one side.

The Third Beast

The third beast was “like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it” (Daniel 7:6). This leopard represents Greece (331 – 168 BC). The Grecians, under Alexander the Great, literally flew (wings representing speed) from conquest to conquest to dominate the world. Alexander the Great died of consumption, caused by drunkenness, at age 33 on June 10, 323 BC. The kingdom passed to the Diodachi (“successors”) and was eventually divided up among four generals, represented by the four heads of the leopard:

  1. Cassander (East) – Macedonia, Thrace and Greece
  2. Lysimachus (North) – Asia Minor
  3. Ptolemy (South) – Egypt and Palestine
  4. Seleucius (West) – Babylon, Persia and Syria

The Fourth Beast

After these three beasts, Daniel saw “a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things” (Daniel 7:7-8).

This dreadful beast represents Rome, the next kingdom to come after the Greek Empire. We can see a correlation between Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 when it comes to describing Rome: the beast has iron teeth (Daniel 7) and the image had iron legs (Daniel 2).

We also have an additional symbol here, these are the horns. According to the Bible, the horns represent kings that will come out of the kingdom of Rome “And as to the ten horns, out of this kingdom shall arise ten kings; and another shall arise after them; and he shall be diverse from the former, and he shall subdue three kings” (Daniel 7: 24).

These 10 kingdoms are the same as the 10 toes of the image described in Daniel 2:41-44. History tells us that the kingdom of Rome was overcome by barbaric tribes that each gradually took over a certain part of the Roman empire and made it their own. These barbaric tribes were 10 in number, equivalent to the 10 horns. Seven of those 10 tribes developed into the countries of modern Western Europe, while three were uprooted and destroyed (Daniel 7:8).

  1. Visigoths–Spain
  2. Anglo-Saxons–England
  3. Franks–France
  4. Alemani–Germany
  5. Burgundians–Switzerland
  6. Lombards–Italy
  7. Suevi–Portugal
  8. Heruli–Rooted up
  9. Ostrogoths–Rooted up
  10. Vandals–Rooted up

Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 complement each other in portraying the history of world empires in consecutive order, and in giving specific identifying criteria to help Bible students to be sure of the interpretation.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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