Daniel 7:1-28 – Your Kingdom Come
SummaryDaniel 7 marks the shift from stories to visions and from third- to first-person narration. Now, Daniel, not a king, has dreams, and he himself needs an interpreter. Daniel sees a succession of terrifying and increasingly violent kingdoms. Unlike Daniel 1-6, Daniel himself is not under any immediate threat of death. Particular attention is given to the fourth kingdom out of which a final ruler emerges to challenge both the saints and God. The heavenly judgment, however, stands against him. He will not succeed. As in Daniel 3 and 6, in which Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel let the future be in God's hands, Daniel 7 encourages faithful persistence in the face of any kind of persecution.
AnalysisDaniel sees a succession of four beasts, each destroying its predecessor. The fourth beast is more complicated; ten horns emerge from it followed by yet another horn termed a "little horn". Interpreters have often sought to identify the beasts of Daniel 7 with specific kingdoms or rulers, but all such attempts are disputed. Even in the case of "little horn," which many identify as Antiochus IV Epiphanes (ruler of Syria from 175-164 B.C.E.), interpreters dispute whether the reference is a prediction from the time of the exile or from a time much closer to Antiochus, even a "prophecy" after the fact. Commentators in the early church, however, saw the beasts as different Roman rulers. Others have sought to refer the visions to still other nations and periods of persecution. Various mythological echoes have been posited for the four winds, the great sea, and the four beasts. The language is evocative of prior accounts of chaos and turmoil of transcendent dimensions. It is perhaps sufficient to experience the evocation in general and to forego attempts to provide exact referents for the allusions.
The last beast or kingdom is described more fully than the others. The ten horns indicate a series of kings within the period of the fourth kingdom. The indication of its duration, together with its violence, makes this last kingdom unique. The horn that emerges from the others, the "little" horn, destroys the horns or rulers from its own kingdom. It speaks "arrogantly" (7:8, 20). The kingdom was particularly boastful, which precipitated increased violence directed specifically at the "holy ones of the Most High." Note the shift from mentioning only Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as exiles, as was the case in Daniel 1-6. The other kings and kingdoms attack each other. The last one, however, will also attack the Jews, who will by that time have returned from the exile to Judah and Jerusalem. In spite of this, as indicated by Daniel 2 and 7, God will have the final victory.
The title "Ancient One," the white hair, and the enormous number of attendants (7:9-10) suggest great longevity and durability. The reign of this one is long enough to encompass the destruction of each of the beasts or kingdoms. This emphasis reaches a climax in the language of 7:14. The "Ancient One" has everlasting dominion! This dominion is first extended to the "one like a human being" (traditionally translated "son of man") and then to the "holy ones of the Most High."
Daniel was shocked by the prospect of a future outburst of violence and persecution. His reaction is analogous to that of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2 and 4) and Belshazzar (Daniel 5). However, he turned to God for guidance, for he knew that the kingdoms were in God's hands and that their rising and falling was not subject to human control. Daniel was a servant of God who knew his place. He would not presume to know what only God could disclose; hence, the need for an interpreter.
The violence that is visited upon the people of God (7:21) is a part of the last ruler's attack against God. While the kingdom of God is the one thing certain about the future, the world will resist this kingdom with all it has. The most important thing is that God will break the resistance to God's kingdom and has promised to sustain and keep us in it. "Little horns" have continued to appear in history with sufficient regularity to suggest that Antiochus IV Epiphanes did not exhaust the category.