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And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other. (Daniel 7:3, NKJV)


Four world-wide empires spanning a period of about 450 years are pictured in Daniel’s dream as coming up from the sea. The Great Sea represents a time of great wickedness and merciless destruction that overwhelms the land of the Jews, causing continual fear and astonishment. These four beasts are described as a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a dreadful and terrible beast.

In verse 15 we find Daniel grieved in his spirit and troubled in his mind. Even though he had interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream 51 year earlier, explaining that it represented four world-wide kingdoms, of which Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold, Daniel was perplexed by his own dream. One possible reason for this may be that the beasts in his dream are violent and destructive compared to the parts of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which were inert; just there doing nothing.

Verse 16 is interesting: “I came near to one of those who stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things.” God did not leave Daniel on his own to figure out the meaning of his dream. He was so perplexed that God sent him some angelic beings to be with him during this time. We go through trials and uncertain times in our own lives that may be as perplexing to us as this time was for Daniel. Hebrews 1:13–14 says, “But to which of the angels has He ever said: ‘Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’? Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” You may never have been aware of those angels sent to minister to you, but they were there just as they were there for Daniel.

The angels that ministered to Daniel were visible to him; he does not appear to be surprised by their presence. The text tells us there was more than just one angel because Daniel “came near to one of those who stood by.” Who was this angel with whom Daniel spoke and why did he speak with him and not the other angels?

The angel with whom Daniel spoke is not identified in this chapter but in chapter 8 verse 16 and chapter 9 verse 21 he identified as Gabriel. Gabriel, by name, appears four times in the Bile: twice in Daniel and twice in the gospel of Luke. In Luke 1:19 he appears to Zacharias announcing the birth of John the Baptist. In Luke 1:26 he appears to the Virgin Mary announcing the conception of Jesus. Nelson’ Illustrated Bible Dictionary says of Gabriel, “All appearances of Gabriel recorded in the Bible are connected with the promise about the coming of the Messiah. . . . Gabriel is sometimes identified as the archangel whose voice is heard at the Second Coming of Christ.” William Parker in Everyone In The Bible informs us, “In Jewish mythology, Gabriel was always God’s messenger and is portrayed as resembling a man.” We can be reasonably sure the one Daniel spoke to was the angel Gabriel as he seems to be God’s special messenger.

In verse 17 the angel gives Daniel a brief explanation of the beasts: “Those great beasts, which are four, are four kings which arise out of the earth.” This may have prompted a picture in Daniel’s mind of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream with its four parts; he saw four beasts, the image had four parts; there are four kings. The four kings are not meant to represent four specific kings; they represent four actual kingdoms or empires.

In verse 3 we see the beasts coming up out of the Great Sea. When the angel begins to explain the vision, he tells Daniel the beasts come up out of the earth. Do we have a contradiction? No; it simply implies the sea and the earth are essentially the same thing. While the sea suggests the wickedness and violence of these kingdoms, the earth suggests the underlying quality of these kingdoms. The Hebrew word for “earth” is ar-ah, meaning the ground in the sense of being below or inferior. This word appears 21 times in the Bible, 20 times of which it is rendered “earth” and one time it is rendered “inferior”. The first time ar-ah appears in the Bible is Ezra 5:11, “We are servants of the God of heaven and earth.” It appears 19 times in the Book of Daniel, 10 times of which are in chapter 4 where the insanity of King Nebuchadnezzar is recorded. The one time ar-ah is rendered “inferior” is in Daniel 2:39 where Daniel describes the silver kingdom as inferior to Nebuchadnezzar’s gold kingdom. Putting these concepts together we see that the fundamental principle behind each of these kingdoms is a materialism that disregards God in every meaningful way; they are beneath God and inferior to Him. The Apostle Paul says the same thing in a very precise and theological manner in Romans 8:5–8,


For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.


The Hebrews were a people that nominally served God from the days of Abraham up to the time of Daniel. There were times of deep spirituality and there were times of apostasy. To cure their apostasy God would allow Gentile peoples to attack the Hebrews and put them under tribute for a period of time. When they had learned their lesson, God would deliver them from their enemies. In the eighth century b.c. the apostasy of the then northern tribes, called Israel at this time, lead to the final destruction of that part of the nation under the Assyrians, from which it would never be reclaimed. The apostasy of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, collectively known as Judah, lead to their captivity in Babylon. The shame and defeat with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple of God was something the Jews had never before experienced. Even with their return to Jerusalem under Cyrus the Persian, the future of the Jews was to be bleak and not the glorious kingdom of God they envisioned. They would be run over repeatedly by wicked and cruel empires that had no regard for their uniqueness as the chosen people of God.

With this picture now in his mind, Daniel was depressed and in need of some encouragement from God. Surely there had to be a time when God’s people would be free to serve God and live according to His statutes. The angel gives Daniel a peek into that future kingdom of God in verse 18, “But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.” Daniel saw the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days in verses 13 and 14; as he meditated on them and what the angel said in verse 18 the picture of the stone cut out of the mountain without hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream came to his mind teaching him one vital truth all God’s people must hold on to: No matter what God allows to happen in our history, no matter what we might have to suffer, God is in control; He has a purpose and, somehow, He will take us through.