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7. Daniel's Dream of Four Beasts
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters. 2Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea. 3And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. 4The 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. 5And behold another beast, a second, 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. 6After this I beheld, and lo another, 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. 7After this I saw in the night visions, and behold 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. 8I 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.
9I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. 10A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. 11I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. 12As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time. 13I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
15I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me. 16I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things. 17These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. 18But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever. 19Then I would know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet; 20And of the ten horns that were in his head, and of the other which came up, and before whom three fell; even of that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows. 21I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; 22Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom. 23Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. 24And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. 25And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. 26But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. 27And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. 28Hitherto is the end of the matter. As for me Daniel, my cogitations much troubled me, and my countenance changed in me: but I kept the matter in my heart.
Daniel proceeds with what he commenced in the former verse. He says a splendor or stream of fire; for נהר, neher, may be used in both senses, since נהר, neher, signifies both “to flow” and “to shine.” Yet, since he previously spoke of splendor, the word “stream” will suit the passage very well; for a fiery stream issued from the presence of God, which both inundated and burnt up the land. Without doubt God wished to inspire his Prophet with fear for the purpose of arousing him the better, as we never sufficiently comprehend his majesty unless when humbled; and we cannot experience this humility without fear. This is the reason why God always shows something terrible when he appears to his servants, not merely to create astonishment, but to excite their fear and reverence. Hence God seems to have considered this point in this vision, when the stream took its rise from his appearance, even a river of flame. Afterwards he adds, numberless attendants stood before him. Without the slightest doubt, the Prophet here speaks of angels. He says there were thousands of thousands, or ten times a hundred thousand; and again, ten thousand times ten thousand, that is, ten thousand myriads. Here the numbers are not reckoned, but God signifies his having at hand the greatest forces obedient to his will, and far surpassing any armies which the greatest; and most powerful princes collect. This passage teaches us that angels were created for the purpose of receiving and executing the commands of God, and of being the ministers of God, as it were his hands in heaven and in earth. As regards numbers, no wonder many myriads are enumerated by the Prophet. Christ said,
“Can I not ask the Father and he will send a legion?”
So, in this passage, Daniel says there were numberless angels under God’s hand, and there was no need of collecting armies after the manner of princes, since they are always present and intent on obedience. Thus they immediately fulfill all his commands, as angels run swiftly throughout heaven and earth. We also perceive the supreme power of the Almighty denoted here, as if the Prophet had said — God is not like a king or a judge merely by title, but he possesses the greatest and most unlimited power; he has myriads of satellites ever at hand for the purpose of fulfilling and executing his supreme will. And in this sense he says, they stood before him. He uses the word for ministry or service, and afterwards, adds, to stand. For ministers cannot always render their service as quickly as their rulers desire. But the angelic method is different. Not only were they prepared to obey, but in a moment they understand what God wishes and commands without needing time for compliance. We see even the greatest princes cannot immediately carry out their decrees, because their ministers are not always at hand. But there is no necessity for dwelling longer upon angels. Daniel adds, The judgment was fixed, and the books were opened. Although God alone is eminent and conspicuous above the angels, and the height of their glory and dignity does not obscure the supreme empire of the Almighty, yet, as we have formerly said, he deems them worthy of the honor of being placed as councilors on each side of him, and that for the sake of illustrating his own majesty. For we have stated that nobles do not sit at the side of monarchs to diminish his majesty or to attract it to themselves, but rather to reflect the magnitude and power of the monarch more fully. This is the reason why the Prophet joins angels with God, not as allies, but simply as his councilors.
I refer the phrase, the books were opened, to the preaching of the gospel. Although God was recognized in Judea, as it is said in the 76th Psalm, (Psalm 76:2,) yet this acknowledgment was but slight and involved in many figures. God was revealed through enigmas until Christ’s coming; but then he manifested himself truly, just like opening books previously shut. There is therefore a contrast to be observed here between that obscure season which preceded the coming of Christ, and the clearness which now shines under the gospel. Because, therefore, God was plainly made known after the Sun of righteousness arose, according to the Prophet Malachi, (Malachi 4:2,) this is the reason why the books are now said to have been opened at that season. Meanwhile, we confess that God was not altogether hidden, nor did he speak from astonishment, but this is said comparatively by the Prophet, as the books were opened whenever God openly appeared as the Judge, Father, and Preserver of the world, in the person of his only begotten Son. It afterwards follows: —