12: Daniel 7

Who Is My Judge?

There is a clue to the theme of the Book of Daniel that is found in the name of the author: “Daniel.” It means, “God is my judge.”1 On this basis then, the message of the book is about judgment.

What is meant here by “judgment?”

A parable by Jesus helps us understand ancient Middle Eastern concepts of judgment and litigation.

“In a certain town there was a judge … And there was a widow in that town who kept pleading with him. Grant me justice against my adversary. … Finally he agreed. I will see that she gets justice (Luke 18:2-5)!”

This widow wanted legal intervention for her protection. Admittedly, in this story, she had to “nag” the judge. But my point is that that is what judges did in the land of the Bible. They intervened on behalf of the disadvantaged.

In Daniel 7, God is portrayed as the One who will intervene on behalf of His people of those days and for His people in the end-time. God is the deliverer, despite all appearances to the contrary.

The Occasion
Having recorded autobiographical incidents (in the previous 6 chapters of his prophecy) until the fall of Babylon and the establishment of a new order, Daniel now records a dream which he had had before Babylon fell.

The Dream
1. The creatures2
“I saw the four winds churning up the great sea.3 Four beasts, each different from the others, arose from the sea: a winged lion, a bear-like beast, another like a leopard and a fourth with ten horns.”

2. Another horn
“While I was thinking about the [ten] horns, before me was another and little horn, which arose among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. It had eyes like human eyes and a mouth talking boastfully.”

3. The court sits
“Thrones4 were positioned, and the Ancient of Days took his seat in the presence of millions. The court was seated, and the books were opened.”

(Daniel’s fascination continues for another reason.)

“I kept watching because of that horn’s boasting, and until the beast was slain and incinerated.”

4. The one like the son of man
“Then before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days, was led into his presence and given authority, glory and sovereign power. Everyone worshiped him. His kingdom is both enduring and everlasting.”

Daniel’s request for meaning
“Because I was disturbed by the visions, I approached one of those standing there and asked him the truth about all this.”

The answer in brief
“The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth. But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever (Daniel 7:16-18).”

The symbols in Israelite history
The Prophet Amos, about the middle of the 8th century B.C. had forewarned: “It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, or entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him (Amos 5:19).” Around the same time Hosea had written: “I will come upon them like a lion, like a leopard I will lurk by the path. Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open (Hosea 13:7-8).” Because of unfaithfulness to God, the northern Kingdom was attacked and exiled by the Assyrians.

Now, in vision about 200 years later, the prophet Daniel foresees his country and countrymen pillaged by lion, bear, and leopard, symbolizing foreign forces. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the conquest of earthly kingdoms by God’s Kingdom, this dream climaxes with God’s intervention to rescue His people from a series of aggressors.

More questions and observations
“I inquired about that fourth beast and its horns. Oh. I remember that it had bronze claws. While I watched, the 11th horn was warring against the saints and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in their favor, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.”

The extended answer
The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom, different from the others. It will devour, trample and crush the whole earth. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom.

“Then another, and different, king will arise, subduing three kings, speaking against the Most High, oppressing his saints and trying to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time, but the court will sit, and his power will be removed and destroyed forever. Then … the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to … the people of the Most High. His kingdom is everlasting; all rulers will worship and obey him.”

The fulfillment — in history?
The wild animals represented kingdoms. However, notice that “the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever.”

The sequence already established in chapter 2 (See my footnote no. 5 there) offers this explanation:

  • The lion was a symbol of Babylon (conquered by Medo-Persia, 539 B.C.)
  • The bear was a symbol of Medo-Persia (conquered by Greece, 334-331 B.C.)
  • The leopard was a symbol of Greece (conquered by Rome 168 – 146 B.C.)
  • The hybrid oddity was a symbol of Rome

Subsequent to its conquest of Greece, Rome underwent two phases.
The first was Imperial Rome, the Rome of dictator and emperor. Then Imperial Rome with its capital in the city of Rome was divided into two empires, the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire. This latter empire became the Byzantine Empire which lasted until A.D., 1453 when its capital city, formerly known as Byzantium but then known as Constantinople, fell to the Turks.

“The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom.” Successive invasions of the Western Roman Empire resulted in its replacement by a large number of separate and independent states.5

And secondly, in the West, more than anything, the Church was the empire’s real heir … The papacy continued to be based in Rome and to exert enormous authority over most of Europe, keeping alive … many of the ideas of the Roman world …6

Features of the 11th king
There are interpreters who maintain that the 11th horn represents the ecclesiastical successor to Imperial Rome: the Papacy. Here are some matters to consider, pro and con.

1. “He will subdue three kings (Daniel 7:24).” Just as the Roman Empire was not divided into exactly ten kingdoms, so “the conquest of three kings” implies the downfall of a small number of kingdoms (not necessarily exactly three) that were a problem to this 11th king.

2. An 18th century Roman Catholic cleric wrote as follows.
The Pope is of so great dignity … that he is … as it were God … The Pope is … sole sovereign of the faithful of Christ … having plenitude of power … also of the heavenly kingdom. … The Pope is of so great authority and power that he can modify, explain, or interpret even divine laws. …7

However, it should be noted that the interpreting angel said that the power represented by the 11th horn “will speak words against the Most High (Daniel 7:25a).” In this quotation, and there are more like it, the Pope is not seen as opposed to God but as God’s supreme representative. If an institution or individual ever actually speaks against God, that will be the anti-Christ par excellence.

3. “He will oppress God’s saints and try to change the set times and the laws (Daniel 7:25b).”

In ch. 2:21 Daniel recognizes God as having the prerogative to change times. For the little horn to endeavor to change times would indicate a deliberate attempt to exercise the prerogative of God in shaping the course of human history.

Because human law is changed at will by those in authority, it is evident that divine law is referred to here.

At Sinai, God legislated rest for a people whom he had redeemed “out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage (Exodus 20:2).”

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy,” He had said. Also, “the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God (Exodus 20:8, 10).” And, when on Earth, Jesus Christ informed His disciples that He, Himself, was lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5).

Even so, many consider Paul’s Sunday meeting with the believers at Troas (Acts 20:7) as a forerunner of the abandonment of the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath and its replacement with Sunday sacredness. It is an historical fact that the Roman Catholic Church has been in the forefront of the move to replace the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath with the observance of Sunday. It sees the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great’s 4th century legislation of Sunday as a day of rest for all citizens as more than fortuitous.8  However, Constantine, rather than granting religious freedom to Christians in his empire, had imposed the religious practice of some on all, Christian and non-Christian. And, unfortunately, the Church, not content with Sunday as a civil institution, has surrounded the day with religious ornament and the appearance of Divine and Scriptural approval. This Church has even persecuted those who have dissented from her teachings. But, having said that, we must recognize the persecution of Catholics at times by dissenters.9

For that reason, it makes one wonder if the little horn is intended not only to symbolize a powerful and threatening entity, but also a kind of Christianity that would emulate the worst of characteristics: worldly behavior in the name of God.

4. The saints will be handed over to him for “a time, times and half a time,” in other words “one year, two years and half a year,” i.e. 3½ years. As with Revelation 11:3, to urge this as the period from A.D. 538-1798 (1260 years), as some do, is to miss the mark.

In Revelation 11 the period during which the two witnesses prophesy lasts “1260 days.” Here, in Daniel 7, the saints are handed over “for a time, times and half a time” until the Ancient of Days comes and pronounces judgment in their favor. This symbolic period of time must then represent the time from which the persecution begins until it ends with the judicial intervention by the Ancient of days.

What is the situation at the present?
The Catholic Church, identified by historians as the heir to the Western Roman Empire, has recently published these honest and irenic statements.10

In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. … In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were [not] necessary for public order … It is necessary to work for their abolition.

In fact, “in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church — for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame.”

“Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church … Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communions as means of salvation … All these blessings … are themselves calls to ‘Catholic unity.’”

What, then, does the future hold? All Christians can rest assured that when the prophesied final persecution does occur, God will intervene, rescue His people and give the kingdom to “the saints” (to employ Daniel’s expression).

Because doctrine does influence the course of a church’s history, it behooves all of us who call ourselves “Christian” to ensure that the truth as it is in Jesus is the “truth” that we believe, teach and practise.

So, “the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints and the time came when they possessed the kingdom (Daniel 7:22).”

When David, as a dependable shepherd defended his father’s flock from a lion and a bear, and later as a young warrior, saved his people from the Philistines (1 Samuel 17:33-37), he illustrated what the One like the son of man will do for His Father’s flock, even His own covenant people.

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).” Yes, the time will come when “the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it … for ever and ever.”

Far from being about a judgment of God’s people to be feared, Daniel chapter 7 is about His intervention and His saving them from their oppressors.

Endnotes

  1. Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1979), art. “Daniel”
  2. I have deliberately inserted headings to show that Daniel’s record in this chapter is not only of the vision but of his concerns, questions and their answers.
  3. The ancient name for The Mediterranean Sea. See Numbers 34:6 and the other usages of this term in the Old Testament.
  4. Rather than the ornate cushions of desert tribal chiefs in council, these were ornate thrones indicating the high rank of the person seated on them. According to the SDABC, the translation “cast down,” as in the KJV, seems to have been based on an interpretation that regarded the thrones as belonging to the beasts.
  5. See Nichol, Francis D., ed.,  Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 4 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978) on Daniel 7:7
  6. See Microsoft ® Encarta ® 99 Encyclopedia, art. “The Roman Empire” – The Roman Inheritance
    See also Harnack, Adolf, What Is Christianity? (New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1903), 269-270, quoted in SDABC, Vol 4, 846.
  7. Translated from Lucius Ferraris, “Papa II,” Prompta Bibliotheca, Vol. VI, pp. 25–29 in Nichol, op. cit.
  8. See the Apostolic Letter “Dies Domini” of John Paul II, May 31, 1998, article 64.
  9. Margaret Clitherow’s treatment by Protestants is a poignant example. See also Dr. David J. B. Trim: “Tumults, Riots and Seditions” in “Liberty” magazine online.
  10. Articles 2298, 817, 819 from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for Australia – © 1995 St Pauls Publications, Strathfield  NSW Australia/Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Used with permission.

© 2010, Angus McPhee