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


Daniel had a dream and visions of his head in which he saw four great beasts that came up from the sea. This is reminiscent of the dream Dorothy had in the Wizard of Oz. You may recall that she, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man followed the yellow brick road into the woods. As they entered the woods they were concerned about lions, and tigers, and bears—Oh My! Eventually they ran into the Cowardly Lion, who tried to scare them with all his roaring and bluster only to be found a phony. Daniel, in his dream, sees a lion, and a leopard, and a bear—Oh My! But there is nothing cowardly about these beasts. In addition to the lion, leopard, and bear, there is a beast that defies classification and is described as dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong.

In the previous chapter we learned that God sent angels to help Daniel understand this dream. The angel to whom he spoke told him these four beasts are four kings, representing four world-wide kingdoms. The explanation reminds us of the four parts of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which also represented four world-wide kingdoms. The interpretations of both dreams are the same: the four beasts represent the empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. We will now turn our attention to what this dream says about each of these kingdoms.

The dream shows the beasts coming up out of the sea whereas the angel tells Daniel they arise out of the earth. There is no contradiction here; we are told simply that there are two sides to the natures of these beasts. The sea suggests the beasts are wicked and violent and that they will continually disrupt the land of the Jews as they wage their conquests across the then known civilized world. The earth suggests that these kingdoms are beneath, or inferior to, God in that they are materialistic and they disregard God in every meaningful way.

While the sea and earth parts of their natures are similar, Daniel immediately sees that each beast is also different from the other. Adam Clarke comments: “The people were different; their laws and customs different; and the administration of each differently executed.” Each of these empires consists of peoples much different from the others; but the laws, customs, and administrations of each of the empires are not properly the subject or concern of the prophecy. Each empire begins with a monarch but the cultures arising in each of the kingdoms shape the ruling power so that the ruling entities begin with the lowest and most singular form of rule under the Babylonians, a hereditary monarchy, and become increasingly more complex with each succeeding empire until we have the emperor and elected senate of Rome.


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. (Daniel 7:4, NKJV)


This first beast is like a lion, but a strange lion in that it had eagle’s wings. This first beast corresponds with the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which Daniel said represented King Nebuchadnezzar, and by extension, the Babylonian Empire. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar he was the head of gold, indicating he was the pinnacle of all Babylonian kings, none greater than he before or after him. Nebuchadnezzar was long dead when Daniel had this dream, but yet the dream identifies him still as the proxy for the Empire.

The prophet Jeremiah saw Nebuchadnezzar coming from the north to bring disaster on Jerusalem. He writes in chapter four, verse seven:


The lion has come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of nations is on his way. He has gone forth from his place to make your land desolate. Your cities will be laid waste, without inhabitant.


Besides Nebuchadnezzar being a lion in Jeremiah’ prophecy, he also saw the eagle’s wings that swiftly carried the Babylonians over the land of Judah: verse thirteen,


Behold, he shall come up like clouds, and his chariots like a whirlwind. His horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us, for we are plundered!


While Daniel lived through the lion and eagle stage of the Babylonian Empire, he also experience the second attribute of Nebuchadnezzar, which is seen in in the second part of our text: “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 it.” In Daniel chapter four we read of another dream of Nebuchadnezzar’s, which Daniel was called upon to interpret. Daniel 4:24–25,


This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.


God struck Nebuchadnezzar with madness while seven times passed over him. The eagle’s wings were plucked off and “he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen.” Verse 33 records that, in his madness, the only thing about Nebuchadnezzar that looked like an eagle was not any wings but “his hair had grown like eagle’s feathers and his nails like bird’s claws.”

God had mercy on Nebuchadnezzar because He could see through the man’s pride and see some humility that would come out of the experience. Nebuchadnezzar writes in verse 34:


And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation.


God stood him up on two feet and gave him back his sanity and, recovering from his insanity, he no longer had the brutal heart of a lion; instead he had the heart of a man. Nebuchadnezzar gave his testimony, possibly in his own handwriting, in verses 36 and 37:


At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.


Nebuchadnezzar ruled Babylon from 604 b.c. to 562 b.c. We do not know when his madness occurred during his reign and we do not know for sure how long his madness lasted. The “seven times” could mean seven years or seven seasons, which would be about 21 months. During this time, however long it was, the tributary nations rose up against him in revolt but did not overthrow him. It seems logical to accept the shorter period as the length of his madness. Seven years would be about 16% of his total reign; he might not have continued as monarch without actually being deposed for such a long time. Twenty-one months would be on 4% of his total reign and it makes sense that his supporters could have held off an insurrection for that long. Nevertheless, with this man’s heart, he lost his courage and aggressiveness, became feeble and afraid so that he quit expanding his kingdom. He ended his career with a weak reign.

Four kings followed Nebuchadnezzar over the next twenty-three years. Truly the kingdom was in decline after his death. It was in this state of decline that Daniel sees the next beast suddenly appear and replace the decrepit lion. One does not normally think of a bear taking on and defeating a lion, but by this time, the lion was no match for this hungry, vicious bear.