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Visions of the Four Beasts


In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: 2I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 4The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being; and a human mind was given to it. 5Another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth and was told, “Arise, devour many bodies!” 6After this, as I watched, another appeared, like a leopard. The beast had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and dominion was given to it. 7After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns. 8I was considering the horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly.

Judgment before the Ancient One


As I watched,

thrones were set in place,

and an Ancient One took his throne,

his clothing was white as snow,

and the hair of his head like pure wool;

his throne was fiery flames,

and its wheels were burning fire.


A stream of fire issued

and flowed out from his presence.

A thousand thousands served him,

and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.

The court sat in judgment,

and the books were opened.

11 I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13As I watched in the night visions,

I saw one like a human being

coming with the clouds of heaven.

And he came to the Ancient One

and was presented before him.


To him was given dominion

and glory and kingship,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

should serve him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

that shall not pass away,

and his kingship is one

that shall never be destroyed.

Daniel’s Visions Interpreted

15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. 16I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: 17“As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. 18But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.”

19 Then I desired to know the truth concerning the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped what was left with its feet; 20and concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and concerning the other horn, which came up and to make room for which three of them fell out—the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke arrogantly, and that seemed greater than the others. 21As I looked, this horn made war with the holy ones and was prevailing over them, 22until the Ancient One came; then judgment was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time arrived when the holy ones gained possession of the kingdom.

23 This is what he said: “As for the fourth beast,

there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth

that shall be different from all the other kingdoms;

it shall devour the whole earth,

and trample it down, and break it to pieces.


As for the ten horns,

out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise,

and another shall arise after them.

This one shall be different from the former ones,

and shall put down three kings.


He shall speak words against the Most High,

shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High,

and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law;

and they shall be given into his power

for a time, two times, and half a time.


Then the court shall sit in judgment,

and his dominion shall be taken away,

to be consumed and totally destroyed.


The kingship and dominion

and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven

shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High;

their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,

and all dominions shall serve and obey them.”

28 Here the account ends. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly terrified me, and my face turned pale; but I kept the matter in my mind.

Hear. Daniel begins to offer instruction peculiar to the Church. For God had formerly appointed him an interpreter and instructor to, profane kings. But he now appoints him a teacher to the Church, that he may exercise his office within it, and instruct the sons of God in the bosom of the Church. We must notice this first of all, because thus far his predictions extended beyond the limits of the household of faith, but here Daniel’s duty is restricted to the Church. He says: This vision was bestowed upon him in the first year of King Belshazzar, before that change happened, which we have previously seen. First of all, we must try to understand the design of the Holy Spirit; that is, the end and use for which he opened up to Daniel the material of this chapter. All the prophets had held out to the elect people the hope of deliverance, after God had punished them for their ingratitude and obstinacy. When we read what other prophets announce concerning their future redemption, we should suppose the Church to have been promised a happy, quiet, and completely peaceful state, after the people had returned from captivity. But history testifies how very differently it turned out. For the faithful must have grown weary and have fallen away unless they had been admonished of the various disturbances which were at hand. This, then, is the first reason why God revealed to his Prophet what we shall soon see; namely, that three monarchies yet remained, each of which should succeed the former, and that during them all the faithful should endure permanently and constantly in reliance on the promises, although they should see the whole world shaken, and severe and distressing convulsions prevailing everywhere. For this reason, Daniel’s vision concerning the four empires is here set forth. Perhaps it will be better to defer the summary of it till the Prophet begins to treat of each beast separately. But with regard to the two first verses, we must observe the time of the dream.

Before the Medes and Persians transferred the Chaldean Empire to themselves, the Prophet was instructed in this subject, that the Jews might recognize the partial fulfillment of what God had so often promised themselves and their fathers. For if their enemies had possessed Babylon without any new prediction, the Jews perhaps would not have been so attentive to those prophecies which had been long ago uttered in their favor. Hence God wished to refresh their memories, and then, when they saw the fall of that empire which all thought to be impregnable, they would perceive the government of God’s secret counsels, and the partial, if not the complete fulfillment of what he had testified by their prophets. He says — he saw a dream When he previously spoke of the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar he mentioned a vision, but not for the same reason, because the unbelieving when seeing do not observe. They perceive something indeed, dimly and without distinctness, while their thoughts immediately fade away. The Prophet’s method was different; because he not only dreamed, but saw a distinct vision, and thus could profitably deliver to others what he had received. The Prophet then expresses something peculiar by this phrase, for we know how prophets usually attribute such visions to God, when they perceive the secrets of heaven, not with the eyes of flesh, but by the illumination and intelligence of the Spirit. He adds — visions of his head were on his bed; thus the dream would have more weight, and lest we should think any confusion existed in Daniel’s brain. Thus he expresses how he saw whatever the Lord wished him to know in a dream with a calm mind. He afterwards adds — Then he wrote the dream, and explained the meaning of the words. By this phrase he teaches us how his seeing the vision was not for his own sake personally, but for the common edification of the Church. Those who suppose Daniel to have leapt suddenly from his bed, lest he should forget the dream, offer a vain and frivolous comment. Daniel rather wished to bear ‘witness to this vision as not peculiar to himself, but common to God’s elect people; and hence not only to be celebrated orally, but to be delivered to posterity for a perpetual remembrance. We must bear in mind these two points; first, Daniel wrote this prophecy that the knowledge of it might ever be celebrated among the faithful; and then, he considered the interests of posterity, and so left the vision written. Both these points are worthy of notice to induce us to pay greater attention to the vision, since it was not delivered for a single individual; but God chose Daniel as his minister, and as the herald and witness of this oracle. Hence we see how it concerns us; it was not teaching for any single age, but it extends to us, and ought to flourish till the end of the world. He repeats the same thing by adding — he explained the sense of the words. For those who separate these two clauses, seem to stumble on plain ground. 22     The phrase in the Latin text is a proverb: nodum quaerere in scyrpo The French is correct in its interpretation: chercher de la difficulte ou il ny en a point. Both Ennius and Terence use the proverb. — Ed Daniel then spoke and said — This has no reference to words, but to writing; as if the Prophet had said, I have discharged my duty; since he knew that what we shall afterwards see concerning the four monarchies was not divinely entrusted to him for the sake of suppressing anything made known, but he rather felt himself a chosen instrument of God, who was thus suggesting to the faithful material for trust and endurance. He spoke, therefore, and explained; that is, when he desired to promulgate this oracle, he bore witness to there being no difference between himself and God’s Church in this announcement; but as he had been an elect and ordained teacher, so he delivered what he had received, through his hands, Hence Daniel not only commends his own faith, but excites all the pious to anxiety and attention, lest they should despise what God had pronounced through his mouth.

He repeats again, He saw in his vision during the night. Again, I say, Daniel affirms that he brought forward nothing but what God had authoritatively delivered to him. For we know that in the Church all human traditions ought to be treated as worthless, since all men’s wisdom is vanity and lies. As God alone deserves to be listened to by the faithful, so Daniel here asserts that he offers nothing of his own by dreaming: in the ordinary way, but, that the vision is sure, and such as cannot deceive the pious.

He afterwards adds, Behold! the four winds of heaven fought in a great sea. I much prefer this rendering. Interpreters differ respecting the winds, but the genuine sense appears to be this; Daniel assumes a simile universally known, for on solid ground any such turbulent concussion is seldom heard of as at sea, when any mighty tempest arises. Without doubt, he here proposes the image of a raging sea to warn the faithful against dreadful commotion at hand, just as, if the sea were agitated with storms and raging with tempests on all sides. This is the meaning of the phrase. Hence he names four winds, to show the faithful how the motion which should shatter the globe should not be single and simple, but that various storms should arise together on all sides — exactly as it happens. We may’ sometimes see the earth moved just as if a tempest were, tossing about the sea in all directions, but the motion will yet be single. But God wished to show his Prophet not only a simple concussion, but many and different ones, just as if all the winds were to, meet in one general conflict. Philosophers, indeed, enumerate more winds than four when they desire to treat of the number with precision, but it is the common phrase to speak of four winds blowing from the four quarters or regions of the globe. The sense, however, is clear and by no means forced — the world being like a troubled sea, not agitated by a single storm or wind, but by different conflicting blast., as if the whole heavens conspired to stir up commotion’s. This vision at the first glance was very bitter to the faithful, because they counted the years prescribed to them by Jeremiah; the seventieth year was now at hand, and God had then promised them an end of their troubles. Now God announces that they must not indulge in the hope of rest and joy, but rather prepare themselves for sustaining the rush of the fiercest winds, as the world would be everywhere agitated by different storms. They might perhaps suspect God of not performing his promises, but this ought, to be sufficient for appeasing their minds and propping them up with the hope of redemption, when they saw nothing happen either rashly or by chance. Again God came to meet their temptations lest their courage should fail, by teaching them that the method of their redemption was not quite so easy as they had previously conceived from former predictions. God indeed had not changed his plans, for although a long period had elapsed since he spoke by Isaiah and the other prophets, yet he wished to prepare the Jews against delay, lest it should break down the courage which would be required to meet such great afflictions. But when redemption really approached, then God explained its method more fully and familiarly, and showed how great and severe were the remaining struggles. Hence the faithful, instructed by such prophecies, would contend strenuously and yet proceed constantly in their course of faith and patience. It now follows, —

After Daniel had beheld these great commotions which were shaking the earth in different parts, another vision was offered to him. What has already been said concerning the troubled sea and the conflict of the winds, is extended to the four monarchies, concerning which we shall now treat. A certain preparation is intended when God offers to the eyes of his Prophet a turbulent sea produced by the conflict of the winds. Just as if he should say — after these troubles others shall spring up; thus men will wait for peace and tranquillity in vain, for they must suffer under fresh agitation’s. Now, the kind of trouble is expressed, by the words, four beasts proceed out of the sea. Hence that concussion, those storms, and that confused disturbance of the whole world through one kingdom succeeding to another. It can scarcely happen that any kingdom can perish without involving others in its ruin. A single edifice can scarcely fall without the crash being heard far and wide, and the earth seeming to gape at its overthrow. Then, what must happen when the most powerful monarchies so suddenly perish? Hence in this verse Daniel shows how the world is like a troubled sea, since violent changes among its empires were then at hand. The comparison of empires to beasts is easily explained. We know how God’s glory and power are resplendent in all kingdoms, if they are rightly conducted after the law of equity. But since we often see the truth of what was said to Alexander, — The greatest kingdoms are the greatest robberies, and very few absorb the whole power in a great empire, and exercise a cruel and excessive tyranny. Here the Prophet compares empires to great and savage beasts, of which he will afterwards treat. Now we understand the meaning of the words: and we may learn this lesson from what usually happens in the empires of the world; in themselves, as I have said, they are most beautiful reflections of the divine wisdom, virtue, and justice, although those who obtain supreme sway very rarely acknowledge themselves divinely created for the discharge of their office. As, therefore, kings are mostly tyrants, full of cruelty and barbarity, and forgetful of humanity, the Prophet marks this vice as springing from themselves and not from the sacred ordinance of God. Let us proceed, —

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