“In the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon” (“king of the Chaldeans” [Theodotion]; “reign of Belshazzar over the territory of Babylonia” [LXX]), Daniel had a prophetic dream. The expression “visions of his [Daniel’s] head” suggests that the images he saw in his dream were impressed on his mind while he was lying on his bed. In the Septuagint, including P967, the preposition pará (beside, by, or near) precedes the word for “head” and could be taken to indicate the direction from which Daniel saw the vision. In the Masoretic Text, the verse, after mentioning that he wrote down the dream, ends with a phrase that may be rendered, “he told the main point of the matters” or “he told the sum of the words.” The Septuagint preserves the thought by indicating that Daniel wrote the vision that he saw “in a summary of words.” The Greek text of Theodotion does not include this phrase. (7:1; see the Notes section for this chapter and, regarding Belshazzar, the Notes section for chapter 5.)
The Masoretic Text begins with the words, “Daniel was answering and saying, seeing I was.” This awkward wording is not preserved in the Greek version of Theodotion. It reads, “I, Daniel, was beholding in my vision of the night.” The Septuagint says, “Upon my bed, I was beholding during my slumbers of the night.” Daniel saw the “four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea.” The motion of the turbulent sea would have revealed to Daniel that winds were blowing from every compass direction. According to the verses that follow, beasts (representing ruling powers) ascend from the turbulent body of water. Empires came into existence through destructive conquests, and so the “sea” may here be representative of masses of humanity in a state of conflict. (7:2)
“Four beasts” emerged from the sea, each one of them different from the others. (7:3)
The “first beast” resembled a lion (a “lioness” [Theodotion and LXX]) with the wings of an eagle. Daniel saw the wings being ripped out and this beast being made to stand upon two feet like a man and given the “heart of a man.” In the divinely sent dream of Nebuchadnezzar, the gold head represented him and, in a fuller sense, the empire of Babylon over which he reigned. (2:38) This provides the basis for identifying the first beast as the empire of Babylon. As with wings of an eagle, the Babylonian warriors moved quickly in campaigns of successful conquest. (Compare Habakkuk 1:6-11.) Therefore, the plucking of the wings indicated that the empire of Babylon would lose its military advantage and become vulnerable. By having to stand upright and being given a human “heart,” the beast was rendered defenseless. It was deprived of good mobility and brute courage. (7:4)
The second beast looked like a bear and was “raised up on one side ” (“it was stood on the one side” [LXX] “it was stood on one part” [Theodotion]). “Three ribs” were in the bear’s mouth “between its teeth.” The command directed to it was, “Get up; devour much flesh.” Portrayed as “raised up on one side,” the beast would be in a position to make an attack. If the thought is that one side of the beast appeared higher than the other side, it could denote that, in the empire, the Persians came to have the more prominent role. The three ribs in the mouth of the bear could point to the insatiable appetite of the Medo-Persian world power for territorial expansion of the empire. Having been given the command to “devour much flesh,” the beast would be setting out on a campaign of extensive conquest. (7:5)
The third beast Daniel saw looked like a leopard with four wings of a bird on its back and with four heads. Leopards are known for their speed, and so the portrayal of the beast as having four wings make this feature even more prominent. This beast was given “dominion.” Like a leopard moving forward at a rapid pace, the beast would speedily become the master of a vast empire. In being portrayed with four heads, this beast appears to be represented as an empire that was to be one where dominion would come to be shared by four distinct heads instead of being exercised exclusively by one monarch. The figure of a four-headed leopard with wings fits the world power before which the empire of Medo-Persia fell. This was the Grecian or Hellenic empire that had its start with Alexander the Great. (7:6; see the Notes section.)
From the time that Alexander succeeded his father Philip II as king of Macedonia at the age of 20 until his death at the age of 32 (not quite 33), his life was largely occupied with campaigns of conquest. By the time of his death, he had succeeded in creating an empire that extended from Greece to India (the present Pakistan) and included Egypt. After his death, four of his generals eventually established themselves in control of different parts of the former empire. Seleucus Nicator (after the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BCE when Antigonus was killed and his army was defeated by the combined forces of Seleucus Nicator and Lysimachus) ruled over Mesopotamia and Syria; Cassander controlled Macedonia and Greece; Ptolemy the son of Lagus (Ptolemy I Soter) ruled Egypt and gained control over the land of Daniel’s people; and Lysimachus had Thrace and Asia Minor as his domain. Until Rome became the dominant power in the region the Hellenistic dynasties that came into existence after the death of Alexander the Great continued to exercise authority over a vast empire like a beast with multiple heads. (7:6)
The fourth beast that Daniel saw “in visions [a vision (LXX)] of the night” did not resemble any specific animal. It is described as fear-inspiring, dreadful, and extremely strong. The beast had large teeth of iron with which it devoured and crushed. Anything that remained, this beast trampled with its feet. It was different than all the other beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns. As suggested by the explanation that is given in verses 24 through 26, these “ten horns” appear to represent a final phase of the ruling powers of the world before their end. (7:7; see the Notes section.)
When the four-headed leopard is understood to portray the Grecian world power that had its start with Alexander the Great and was thereafter governed by multiple heads, the next beast that appeared on the scene was the empire of Rome. The crushing effect that the Roman legions had during their campaigns of conquest would then be fittingly represented by a beast with large teeth of iron and the capacity to trample with its feet. (7:7)
While his focus was on the ten horns, Daniel saw another horn, a “little one,” come up among them, and three of the horns were plucked up before it. This “little horn” had “eyes like a man’s eyes” and a mouth that spoke “great things” or words that reflected extreme arrogance or self-exaltation. Later, in response to his inquiry, Daniel learned more about the “little horn” and the significance of what he saw. The Septuagint adds that this horn waged war against the “holy ones” or God’s people. (7:8; see the Notes section and see verses 24 and 25 for the commentary about the “little horn.”)
During the course of the vision, Daniel continued to look at the images that passed before him. He then saw thrones being placed in position, and the “Ancient of Days” seated himself. In the role of the “Ancient of Days,” God is portrayed as the supreme Sovereign in possession of the matchless wisdom associated with advanced age and which wisdom would figure prominently in the exercise of his judicial capacity. He was attired in a snow-white garment, and the “hair of his head” was like “clean wool” or pure white. With everything associated with the “Ancient of Days” being white, this suggests that his judgments will always be right and just. The throne itself appeared brilliant like flames of fire, and it had glowing wheels that looked like burning fire. In the Septuagint, however, no mention is made of wheels. Possibly because fire reveals what is pure and consumes that which is combustible and valueless, it is here associated with the throne from which judgments are rendered. (7:9)
From before the “Ancient of Days,” a “stream of fire” came forth (as if ready to consume all that is worthless). A “thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand [times] ten thousand stood before him.” All these angels were prepared to render any service that might be assigned to them. With the “Ancient of Days” as the Supreme Judge, the court was ready to begin judicial proceedings. The “books” that were opened apparently contained the record of the ruling powers of the world — a record that provided the basis for the judgment to be rendered. (7:10)
Daniel did not include the “great words” or arrogant expressions that he heard the little “horn” utter, but he indicated that what he heard caused him to continue looking, apparently to see what would happen next. He then saw that the beast was slain and its body destroyed, being “given over to be burned with fire.” (7:11)
“Dominion” was taken from the rest of the beasts, but their lives were lengthened “for a time and a season.” According to the Septuagint, the Ancient of Days removed “authority” from those around the destroyed beast. For a time and a season, however, they were given a “time of life.” Although ceasing to exercise dominion as dominant world powers, the beasts that resembled a lion, a bear, and a four-headed leopard are apparently represented as being allowed to function as governing entities. Unlike the fourth beast, they are not destroyed as by fire, being permitted to continue existing “for a time and a season.” (7:12)
“In the visions of the night,” Daniel saw someone “like a son of man” coming “with [on (LXX)] the clouds of the heavens [heaven (Theodotion and LXX)].” This one came to the “Ancient of Days” and “was presented before him.” With seeming reference to the thousands upon thousands of angels standing before the Ancient of Days, the Septuagint (not P967) says that “those standing by were present.” In the first century CE, the identity of the one “like a son of man” was revealed to be the promised Anointed One, Messiah, or Christ — Jesus. (7:13; Matthew 24:30; 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 21:27; see the Notes section.)
The one “like a son of man” received “dominion and honor and a kingdom” so that “all peoples, nations [tribes (Theodotion)], and languages” (people speaking languages native to the lands where they resided) “should serve him.” According to the Septuagint, “authority [royal authority (P967)] was given to him and all the nations of the earth according to kind, and all glory [or honor] is serving him.” His “dominion” will last for all time to come (“his authority” will be “an eternal authority” [LXX and Theodotion]) and “will not pass away” (“will by no means be removed” [LXX]), and his kingdom will never be destroyed. (7:14)
Daniel appears to have experienced an inner upheaval because of the things he had seen in vision. He referred to his “spirit” as being “distressed” or troubled. The “visions of his head,” or the images that were impressed on his mind, frightened or alarmed him. In the Septuagint, Daniel appears to speak of himself either in a state of exhaustion or one of anguish from the things he had seen in the “vision of the night.” (7:15)
Daniel did not understand what he had seen and so approached one of those standing by (an angel), asking him for clarification. This one then made known to Daniel the interpretation of the things he had seen. (7:16)
The four great beasts that Daniel had seen represented four “kings” (“kingdoms” [LXX, Theodotion]) or ruling powers to arise from the earth. In the Septuagint, no mention is made of these kingdoms as arising from the earth, but it says that they “will be destroyed from the earth.” The Greek version of Theodotion includes the point about the kingdoms arising from the earth but adds that they “will be removed.” (7:17)
After all earthly ruling powers come to their end, the “holy ones of the Most High” are the ones who will receive the kingdom, and they will possess it for all eternity (for limitless time and for limitless time to limitless times; “unto the age and unto the age of the ages” [LXX]). In the vision Daniel had seen, one like a “son of man” received the kingdom from the “Ancient of Days.” (7:13, 14) Therefore, the “holy ones” are those who will share with him in the kingdom. In the first century CE, those who recognized Jesus as the “son of man,” the promised Messiah or Christ, also came to know that they would share with him in his royal realm. Upon being forgiven of their sins on the basis of their faith in Jesus and his sacrificial death, they became “holy ones,” no longer tainted by the stain of sin. The Most High then acknowledged them as reconciled to him as his own, and so they are indeed his “holy ones.” (7:18; Luke 22:28-30; Romans 5:10, 11; 1 Thessalonians 2:11, 12; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:18)
Daniel was especially focused on being sure about developments involving the fourth beast that was different from the other three and extraordinarily fear-inspiring. In his relating what he saw during the course of his vision, he included a number of details that he did not mention earlier. Daniel previously referred to the iron teeth, and this time additionally mentioned that the beast had “claws of bronze” or “copper. Whatever remained of what the beast had devoured or crushed, it trampled with its feet. (7:19)
Daniel desired to know more about the “ten horns” and the one “horn” before which “three fell.” This horn had eyes and a mouth that spoke “great things,” reflecting arrogance. To Daniel, the horn appeared greater than its “fellows” or than the other horns. (7:20)
As he watched, Daniel saw the horn with eyes warring against the “holy ones,” God’s people, and triumphing over them. (7:21)
The successful warring of the horn ended when the “Ancient of Days” came and rendered judgment — a judgment in favor of the “holy ones.” The holy ones of the Most High then received the kingdom, for he, the one to whom the “holy ones” belonged, removed the ruling powers of the world from exercising authority. (7:22; see the comments on 7:18.)
At this point, the angel to whom Daniel had directed his inquiry, began the explanation. The “fourth beast” represented a fourth kingdom to come on the earth. It would be different from those that had preceded it. Portrayed as devouring “all the earth,” trampling and crushing, this beast is revealed to be an aggressive ruling power that engages in extensive campaigns of conquest. As mentioned in the comments on verse 7 (which see along with the accompanying footnote), this description fits the empire of Rome. (7:23)
Out of the fourth kingdom, ten kings (represented by ten horns) were to arise. Then, after them, another horn or king was to rise up. This one would be different from the others and would put down or triumph over “three kings.” The Septuagint indicates that the one represented by the horn would surpass the others in committing evils. This development involving the “horn” is represented as taking place prior to the judgment of the Most High. That judgment, which will bring about the end for all ruling powers of the world, has not taken place. (7:24)
In the first century CE, those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah or Christ, the Son of God, believed that he would return in glory. At his return, God’s judgment would be expressed. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10) According to Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians (2:1-4), the future judgment that is linked to the return of Jesus Christ will not take place until after the coming of the “apostasy” or the great rebellion against God and the revelation of the “man of lawlessness” (or, according to the reading of other manuscripts, the “man of sin”). This “man of lawlessness” would be guilty of God-defying conduct, exalting himself over and resisting everything regarded as “god” or sacred. He would seat himself in the sanctuary of God and claim to be god. These actions of the “man of lawlessness” fit what is said in the next verse about the horn that puts down three kings, providing a basis for identifying this “horn” as the “man of lawlessness” or the “man of sin.” (7:24)
The horn that triumphs over three kings “will speak words against the Most High” and will subject his “holy ones” to continual abuse. According to the Aramaic text, they will be given into the “hand” or power of the horn for a “time and times and half a time.” This period is possibly to be regarded as being comparatively short (as if it were just half a week long). With reference to the horn, the Septuagint says that “all things [not just the holy ones] will be given into his hands.” The one represented by this horn will seek to change “times and law.” This action and also the speaking against the Most High and the persecution of the “holy ones” constitute a great rebellion. Instead of submitting to law, the “horn” lifts itself above the law, seeking to change it. These are actions that one would expect from one designated as the “man of lawlessness” or the “man of sin.” (7:25)
Divine judgment will be expressed against the one represented by the horn. His dominion will be taken away, and he will be consumed and destroyed “to the end” or completely. (7:26; compare 2 Thessalonians 2:8.)
After the divine judgment is expressed against the rebellious one represented by the horn and all ruling power of the world will have been brought to its end, the “holy ones” of the Most High receive the “kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under all the heavens.” According to the Aramaic text, “His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom, and all dominion will serve and obey him.” The antecedent for the singular third person masculine suffix appears to be the masculine noun for “people” (“people of the holy ones of the Most High”), which would also agree with the earlier reference (verse 18) that the holy ones would have possession of the kingdom for eternity. In the Septuagint and the Greek text of Theodotion, however, the word for “people” is not included. Accordingly, the Most High is the one to whom “all authorities will be subjected and obedient” (LXX) or whom “all dominions will serve and obey” (Theodotion) (7:27; see the comments on 7:18.)
“Here [is] the end of the matter.” These words appear to relate to the end of the account about what Daniel had seen in the vision and the explanation he had been given. Probably because the vision pointed forward to a time of suffering for God’s people or the “holy ones,” the thoughts Daniel had frightened or alarmed him. His “color changed” or he became pale from fright, but he kept the “matter” or what had been revealed to him in his “heart,” making it a part of his memory as if deposited in his inmost self. According to the Septuagint, he “established” or “fixed” the “word,” message, or “matter” in his “heart.” (7:28; see the Notes section.)
In the oldest extant Greek manuscript (P967), the material in chapters 7 and 8 related to the time of Belshazzar appears after the account about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream regarding the large tree and before the narration regarding Daniel in the lions’ pit. This arrangement places the three accounts associated with Belshazzar in chronological order (the first year [7:1], the third year [8:1], and the final year [5:30]). The first-century Jewish historian Josephus, in his narration regarding Daniel, followed the order of the material as found in the Masoretic Text, the extant Dead Sea Scrolls, the Greek version of Theodotion, and other manuscripts of the Septuagint.
In verse 6, the Septuagint says that the beast was given a “tongue” or a “language.” Possibly this arose through a misreading of the Aramaic text or the copy from which the translation was made contained a transcriptional error. The Aramaic word for “dominion” is shaltán, and the designation for “tongue” or “language” is lishshán.
In verse 7, the Greek version of Theodotion does not contain a reference to a “vision of the night.”
From early times there have been persons who did not identify the fourth beast (verse 7) with Rome because of not believing that the book of Daniel contained reliable prophecy. One of them was Porphyry who lived most of his life in the third century CE. Regarding his view, Jerome wrote in his commentary on Daniel (as translated by Gleason Archer), “He claimed that the leopard was Alexander himself, and that the beast which was dissimilar to the others represented the four successors of Alexander, and then he enumerated ten kings up to the time of Antiochus, surnamed Epiphanes, and who were very cruel. And he did not assign the kings themselves to separate kingdoms, for example Macedon, Syria, Asia, or Egypt, but rather he made out the various kingdoms [to be] a single realm consisting of a series.” Similarly, numerous modern commentators who regard the book of Daniel to be of late composition and not prophetic provide interpretations of the various beasts that exclude Rome. One common interpretation is to link the bear to the kingdom of the Medes, the four-headed leopard to the kingdom of the Persians, and the beast like none of the others to the Grecian empire and its development into Hellenistic kingdoms after the death of Alexander the Great. By excluding Rome, commentators can identify the “little horn” of the next verse as Antiochus Ephiphanes and support the view that the book of Daniel is a product of the second century BCE.
The Septuagint reference (verse 8) to “many counsels” or advices being in the ten horns either arose through a misreading of the Aramaic text or has another Aramaic text as the basis for the rendering. If a different text is involved, the meaning could be that the ruling powers represented by the ten horns would have different plans or objectives.
In verse 13 of Rahlfs’ printed text, the designation “son of man” is equated with “ancient of days,” for it reads, “like [hos] an ancient of days.” This reading has the support of the oldest extant Greek manuscript (P967) and the ninth-century Codex Chisianus 88.
In Rahlfs’ printed Greek text, verse 28 starts with the words, “Until the termination of the word, I Daniel was gripped by exceeding dismay.”