Exposition of Daniel 9:1-6 The context of Daniel’s prayer

Daniel 9:1-6 

1 In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom — 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:

“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

Daniel follows his normal practice of connecting to historical events by providing a date tied to the name of a ruler (verse 1). NIV is almost alone in giving the ruler’s name as Darius son of Xerxes, where the italicized word is the Greek for the name Ahasuerus. Both Xerxes (Greek) and Ahasuerus (Hebrew) are transliterations [spelling in another language] of a throne-name similar to “Pharaoh” or “Caesar.”[1] In another 2500 years our word “President” will similarly need explanation.

Although the matter is disputed, we identify this ruler, “Darius son of Ahasuerus” (ESV),  as Cyrus the Great, also known as Darius the Mede (Daniel 5:31) and Cyrus the Persian; Cyrus’s mother was Median and his father was Persian; because he was a great success, everyone claimed him! The first year of his reign was 539-538 B.C., at which time Daniel was likely more than eighty years old.

God keeps his word — all of his word

It is important to realize that the issues presented in Daniel 9 did not begin with Daniel or even with the deportation of Judah to Babylonian captivity. By studying the words given by Yahweh to Jeremiah the prophet, whose messages Daniel heard while living in Jerusalem, Daniel uncovers a fraction of the history leading to his people’s captivity in Babylon.

In verse 2, Daniel understands from Jeremiah’s prophecies (Jeremiah 25:11-12) that “the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” Other Scriptures, such as Dan. 9:11b and 9:13, inform us that the reason for this number 70 was that God’s people had failed to obey the Law of Moses. In particular, 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 relate the captivity years to “sabbatical years” (NET).  What does that mean? To answer this question we must return to Mount Sinai where the exodus generation was being instructed how to behave in the land God had promised but not yet given to them, the land of Canaan.

At Sinai, Yahweh told Moses that “the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord” (Leviticus 25:2). Every seventh year in the land, the people could not sow their fields or prune their vines. They would live on the bounty granted in the previous year to let the land rest during the seventh year. Further, the people were required to count off “seven sabbath years — seven times seven years — so that the seven sabbath years amount to forty-nine years” (Lev. 25:8). That forty-ninth year was a sabbath year, and was followed by the Jubilee Year when slaves were freed, debts forgiven, and land returned to those who received it from Yahweh as their inheritance in Canaan.

Eventually, the people neglected these sabbath years and often failed to observe them. That was a grave mistake that brought severe consequences. As Harold Hoehner, a New Testament scholar and historian, puts it, “Each year of captivity represented one seven-year cycle in which the seventh or Sabbath year had not been observed.”[2] Yahweh keeps track of everything going on with his people, and with everyone else as well.

In the first instance, those seventy ignored sabbath years determined the length of the captivity in Babylon and the desolation of Jerusalem. But that is not the full story! In Leviticus 26, Yahweh warns the people that if they ignore his blessings and disobey him, the result will be: “I will punish you for your sins seven times over” (Lev. 26:18). To reinforce the point, he repeats this seven-fold enhancement of punishment two more times (Lev. 26:21, 28). Yahweh also promises that the land will certainly gets its prescribed sabbath rest during their absence in the land of their enemies (Lev. 26:34-35)!

Now we do the math. Seventy years of punishment for missed sabbath years times an enhancement factor of seven yields 490 years (70 x 7 = 490). In his prayer Daniel expresses concern about relief at the end of seventy calendar years of captivity, but Gabriel’s answer spans all 490 years of additional punishment that is due because of the enhancement.

Here is a key idea for using the above information in the interpretation of chapter 9: Yahweh will apply those 490 years of punishment in whatever way pleases him. He is not bound by the common but misguided expectation that he will start the clock at 0 and let it run continuously to reach 490 years. Later we will learn how Yahweh will distribute the punishment.

Daniel’s prayer — A necessary confession of rebellion

Certainly Daniel’s prayer is profound and theologically significant. But, since God has already revealed that the captivity in Babylon would last seventy years, why does he think it necessary to pray for an end to God’s anger against his people? The answer lies in Lev. 26:40-42, verses that record Yahweh’s promise to respond to the confession of sin and demonstration of humility by the people in Babylonian captivity. Perhaps it was Daniel’s earnest attention to these issues of confession and humility that satisfied what God had stated in Leviticus 26. In other words, Daniel carefully considered what Yahweh had said and acted accordingly.

ESV skillfully presents Daniel’s description of Yahweh: “the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (verse 4). Note the sequence covenant-love-love-commandments; this type of A-B-B-A structure is common in the Old Testament. God’s covenants usually include both blessing sections and cursing sections, corresponding to his people’s obedience or disobedience, respectively. People today are often drawn to emphasize God’s love and to downplay his commandments. That emphasis can put us just one step away from thinking that we can risk a little disobedience since God loves us. That is exactly how God’s people ignored many sabbath years and wound up in Babylon!

The Hebrew verbs in verse 4 are significant. The first verb (translated by “prayed”) stresses the function of intercession, in which Daniel takes on the role of advocacy on behalf of God’s people and his desolated holy place, including both the temple and Jerusalem. This is not a prayer about relative trivia; it addresses subjects worthy of attention from the ruler of heaven and earth. As believers, we too are worthy of his attention, a fact that is a result of his mercy and kindness.

The second verb (translated as “confessed”) stresses acknowledgement — a fascinating, double-edged verb that, when it concerns Yahweh, amounts to praise, and, when it concerns Daniel and the people, amounts to confession.  When we properly acknowledge God, we are praising him for who he is and what he does. When we acknowledge our own condition, we must confess that God is not finished with us, and — worse — that our hearts are sometimes in rebellion against him.

Verse 9b is stated a bit better by the ESV: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” Note particularly the italicized portion. Yahweh always upholds his side of the relationship, and he always extends loyal love toward those who are loyal to him and obedient. The fact that the Jews suffer in Babylon is not the result of any failure on Yahweh’s part to keep the covenant; their condition flows directly from their disloyal worship of idols and their failure to carry out their role under the covenant.

Verses 4-6 name many types of sin and make the point that Yahweh had repeatedly warned his people through the prophets, but they did not listen. Those who fail to listen to God are cruising toward the rocks.

Copyright © 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] According to Goldingay, Daniel, 239, the name Ahasuerus is the Hebrew spelling of an Old Persian throne-name likely meaning “hero among rulers.”

[2] Harold Hoehner, “Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (January–March 1975) 49.

Exposition of Daniel 8:19-27 Fall of the Last Evil King

Daniel 8:19-27

19 He said: “I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end. 20 The two-horned ram that you saw represents the kings of Media and Persia. 21 The shaggy goat is the king of Greece, and the large horn between its eyes is the first king. 22 The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power. 23 ”In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a fierce-looking king, a master of intrigue, will arise. 24 He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy those who are mighty, the holy people. 25 He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power. 26 ”The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.”

27 I, Daniel, was worn out. I lay exhausted for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding.

As the angel Gabriel continues his explanation of the vision, verse 19 takes up the story where verse 17 left off. What he sees is a steady stream of Gentile oppressors for Israel, ending with the worst of all, the Antichrist. Note carefully the phrases “later in the time of wrath … the appointed time of the end” (verse 19). Miller explains that the first half of this quotation may also be translated “in the latter part of the time of wrath” (emphasis added).[1] The term translated “later part” will recur in verse 23.

Looking at matters from our own position in history, we find that Gabriel identifies three kingdoms long past (Medo-Persia, Greece, and the four kingdoms that emerged after Alexander) and one that will rise in our future, in the latter part of the time of wrath. The accuracy of the prophecy about the kingdoms in our past gives us complete confidence in what Gabriel says about the evil ruler to come, someone also known as the Antichrist or “the beast” (Rev. 13:2).

It is certainly wise to ask what ends at “the appointed time of the end” (verse 19). Wood explains the answer with skill: “The long period known as the times of the Gentiles (when Gentiles are dominant over Palestine, Luke 21:24) will be brought to a conclusion. The period began with the Judean captivity to Babylonia, since which time God’s people have never enjoyed a period of true autonomy over their land, and will end only with the Antichrist’s dethronement.”[2]

The NET Bible’s translation of verse 23 is probably preferable: “Toward the end of their rule, when rebellious acts are complete, a rash and deceitful king will arise.” In relation to the italicized phrase, the NET Bible Notes say, “The filling up of transgressions is a familiar OT expression (cf. Gen 15:16) and fits this context well.”[3] The idea to take away is that at the moment when rebellion against God is at its peak, the Antichrist will make his move toward supreme political power.

In verse 24 we are told that the fierce-looking king achieved great strength “but not by his own power.” There can be little doubt that the source of his power is none other than Satan (Rev. 12:9; 13:2; 2 Thess. 2:9).

At this point it is appropriate to say that we are interpreting this set of verses as if their chief referent were the Antichrist (following Wood) rather than Antiochus IV Epiphanes (following Miller). For example, verse 24 speaks of this evil ruler as causing “astounding devastation.” It is hard for us to see how a regional ruler, even one as bloody as Antiochus, can be said to have caused destruction that far surpassed rulers who came before him and those who came after. When the Roman general Titus led four legions against Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the temple was destroyed, its articles taken away, and over a million Jews died while almost 100,000 were sold into slavery.[4] Antiochus was an evil, boastful man, but he is just a shadow of what the Antichrist will be.

Verse 25 is important because it talks in summary about both the evil king’s methods and his eventual destruction. Since NIV omits translation of two phrases, we will consider the ESV instead: “By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall become great. Without warning he shall destroy many. And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken– but by no human hand.” From verse 25 we may conclude several things:

  • Deceit will play a major role in his rule.
  • He will have a high opinion of himself and behave arrogantly.
  • Many will die “without warning” (NIV: “when they feel secure”; NET: “unaware of his schemes”; CEB: “in a time of peace”).
  • He will oppose “the Prince of princes” [probably a reference to Jesus the Messiah as Lord of lords and King of kings].
  • He will be shattered by divine power.

For those who are historically aware, the closest modern equivalent might be Adolph Hitler, especially when we consider his deceit-filled rise to power, his arrogance and his earnest effort to exterminate the Jews. The coming evil king will make Hitler look like an amateur before God strikes him down.

Gabriel concludes (verse 26) by reaffirming the validity of “the vision of evenings and mornings” (verse 14), yet he orders the vision sealed up for preservation since it concerns the distant future. It makes sense that proclamation of the vision among the Jews would only create problems in light of the fact that the vision appalled Daniel, who actually saw it and heard the interpretation; he found the matter “beyond understanding” (verse 27).

Copyright © 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Miller, Daniel, 233.

[2] Wood, Daniel, 223.

[3] NET Bible Notes for Daniel 8:23.

[4] Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, VI.9.3.

Exposition of Daniel 8:9-18 An ancient sketch of the Antichrist

Daniel 8:9-18

9 Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land. 10 It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. 11 It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the LORD; it took away the daily sacrifice from the LORD, and his sanctuary was thrown down. 12 Because of rebellion, the LORD’s people and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.

13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled — the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the LORD’s people?” 14 He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.”

15 While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there before me stood one who looked like a man. 16 And I heard a man’s voice from the Ulai calling, “Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.” 17 As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. “Son of man,” he said to me, “understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.” 18 While he was speaking to me, I was in a deep sleep, with my face to the ground. Then he touched me and raised me to my feet.

When we considered verse 8, we concluded that the four horns were Alexander’s generals, who inherited the four parts of his kingdom. In verse 9, our attention narrows to one of the four horns, Seleucus (312-280 B.C., reign), who ruled the area of Syria, Babylon and India. As the dynasty continued, the kingship eventually came to Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 B.C., reign). He is considered by scholars to be “another horn, which started small and grew in power” (verse 9). Examining his image on his coinage would reveal in detail the strong resemblance of this coin to one depicting Alexander the Great. That should give you a clue about Antiochus IV.

That strange epithet “Epiphanes” means manifest or manifestation in Greek.  The inscription on the back of the coin reads “King Antiochus, God Manifest, Victor.” Not too shy, is he? The Greek historian Polybius, a contemporary of Antiochus Epiphanes, said that the king had gained the different surname Epimanes {“the Madman”] by his conduct.[2] His conduct may have been strange, but his power expanded greatly, including toward “the Beautiful Land” (verse 9b), an epithet referring to Palestine.

Antiochus Epiphanes is brought to Daniel’s attention — though not by name — because he treated the inhabitants of Palestine so severely and desecrated the temple. In addition, his conduct previews what the Antichrist will do in the last days. Wood explains:

Antiochus Epiphanes is sometimes called the antichrist of the Old Testament; that is, the one who brought suffering to the Jews in his day, in the pattern of what the real Antichrist will do during the Great Tribulation (compare 7:24-26 and 9:27 with 8:10-13). From what Antiochus did to Jews in his day, therefore, one may know the general pattern of what the Antichrist will do to them in the future.[3]

Two examples will show the savage, defiant nature of Antiochus Epiphanes. Two ancient Jewish historical works, 1 and 2 Maccabees, “are considered to contain generally reliable history.”[4] They allege that in 169 B.C., the king ordered an attack on Jerusalem that resulted in 80,000 deaths, including even infants. Miller also says, “In December 167 B.C. Antiochus committed his crowning act of sacrilege against the Jewish religion by erecting an altar to Zeus in the temple precincts and offering swine on it.”[5]

The term “the commander of the armies of the LORD” (verse 11) is NIV’s clarifying expansion of a two-word Hebrew phrase meaning “commander of the army.” We consider this term to be a reference to the Messiah; the phrase is a close match to the title found in Joshua 5:14, when Joshua met the commander of Yahweh’s army before the walls of Jericho. Jesus the Messiah is also pictured in this role in Rev. 19:11-16.  The acts of Antiochus in killing some of God’s people was considered the killing of part of God’s army.

Verses 11–12 contain a litany of defeat in which worship of Yahweh is overthrown and his truth is treated with contempt. We are told all this occurs “because of rebellion” (verse 12), and we agree with Miller about the cause: “The books of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees report that many in Israel were not faithful to their God and even adopted the idolatrous Greek religion (cf. 1 Macc. 1:11-15, 43).”[6] It is important to realize that Antiochus was able to do these things because God allowed his defiance to manifest itself for a certain period of time. The same pattern will recur for the Antichrist.

It is fascinating to find that angels share our curiosity about things to come (verse 13) and wonder how long the tragic events would be allowed to go on. The answer is provided in terms of “evenings and mornings” (verse 14), a unit that has proven controversial. Because two sacrifices occurred at the temple in a day, morning and evening, some think the period will be 1,150 days. However, no mention of sacrifices occurs in verse 14, and the phrase is literally “evening morning,” similar to Genesis chapter 1. For these and other reasons, we agree with Miller[7] and Wood[8] in saying the verse’s explicit reference to “2,300” refers to 2,300 days, or about 6 years and 4 months. The end point appears to fall on December 14, 164 B.C., when the temple was cleansed and rededicated.

We will have more to say about the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in relation to verse 25 below, but we can tell you now that his career did not take him to the same spiritual destination as Nebuchadnezzar.

Verses 15-18 are transitional in that they begin with Daniel trying to understand the vision and end with Daniel waiting to hear a heaven-sent explanation (given in verses 19-26). However, certain details are elusive, perhaps because the intent of the encounter is to provide the explanation of the vision rather than to dissect an overwhelming experience.

Three figures are present: Daniel, the angel Gabriel and “one who looked like a man” (verse 15). With Miller, we conclude that this last figure “is best understood to be God himself.”[9] It is his voice that echoes off the walls of the Ulai canal to command Gabriel to provide the meaning of the vision to Daniel (verse 16).

In verses 17-18, it is easy to focus on the wrong thing: Daniel’s condition. Far more important is Gabriel’s statement that “the vision concerns the time of the end” (verse 17). Scholars differ over the referent of the two-word Hebrew phrase translated “time of the end.” Some think it refers to the end of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Others think it refers to the Antichrist’s reign of terror just prior to Christ’s second coming. A final group thinks it applies to both.

We adopt the view that the vision mainly relates to the period of profound trouble — still future to us today — during which the Antichrist occupies center stage. The similarity of the vision to events during the reign of Antiochus IV illustrates the kind of measures the Antichrist will take, but only in the way that a sketch of a criminal fugitive suggests the true face of the criminal.

We adopt that view for several reasons:

  1. The two-word Hebrew phrase translated “time of the end” (verse 17) occurs four other times in Daniel (11:35, 40; 12:4, 9), and all of them relate to the time just prior to Christ’s return.
  2. Wood rightly asks what really ends when Antiochus IV falls: “This did not bring an end to Jewish suffering. No day of blessedness [such as the Millennium predicted by the prophets] then set in.”[10]
  3. The similarity of the vision in Daniel 7 to the one in Daniel 2 makes a decisive difference. The stone that shattered the image in chapter 2 quickly becomes a world-spanning, eternal kingdom (Daniel 2:44). No such kingdom arises after the fall of Antiochus IV.

More support will be presented in a post to come.

Copyright © 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[2] Polybius, The Histories, Book XXVI, line 1.1.

[3] Wood, Daniel, 212.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 226, footnote 26.

[5] Miller, Daniel, 226.

[6] Miller, Daniel, 227.

[7] Miller, Daniel 229.

[8] Wood, Daniel, 218.

[9] Miller, Daniel, 231.

[10] Wood, Daniel, 222–3.

Exposition of Daniel 8:1-8 How ancient events forecast our future

Daniel 8:1-8

1 In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, I, Daniel, had a vision, after the one that had already appeared to me. 2 In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam; in the vision I was beside the Ulai Canal. 3 I looked up, and there before me was a ram with two horns, standing beside the canal, and the horns were long. One of the horns was longer than the other but grew up later. 4 I watched the ram as it charged toward the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against it, and none could rescue from its power. It did as it pleased and became great.

5 As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between its eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. 6 It came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at it in great rage. 7 I saw it attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering its two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against it; the goat knocked it to the ground and trampled on it, and none could rescue the ram from its power. 8 The goat became very great, but at the height of its power the large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven.

As we have said previously, the Bible is firmly anchored in history, and yet this history is presented along with its theological implications so that we can understand how our God influences history in both subtle and direct ways. Such is the case in Daniel 8. The revelations given to Daniel in “the third year of Belshazzar’s reign” (551 B.C.) informed him of international developments extending to at least 150 B.C., some 400 years later. That period would end with terrible persecution of God’s people.

While the then-future developments from 551 B.C. to 150 B.C. were certainly of interest to Daniel because of their effect on his people, that is not the main reason the prophetic visions were given. The angel ordered to explain the visions to Daniel said, “Understand that the vision concerns the time of the end” (verse 17). In other words, the events that developed through God’s intervention in the centuries just after Daniel’s time have direct bearing on how things will happen in “the time of the end” still in our future. For this reason, Jesus warned his disciples, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44).

In case we have not been clear, you may live through the still-future events that will resemble the now-past events shown to Daniel. Not because we say so but because Jesus warnned us to stay ready.

Alexander the Great crushes Medo-Persia

As the vision begins (verse 2), Daniel sees himself in Susa, a fortified city located 230 miles east of Babylon and 120 miles north of the Persian Gulf.[1] Susa has an interesting history[2], but we must ask ourselves why Daniel sees himself in a location other than Babylon; commentators essentially ignore the question. Our own theory is that the imagined transfer of Daniel to another place and time is symbolic of the transfer of the events revealed to Daniel to another place and time. What that means is that Daniel is shown events that will unfold over the next 400 years, but those events have implications that must be transferred to the “time of the end.” Examples will be provided below.

Daniel sees a ram with two long horns (verse 3), which we will soon find to represent “the kings of Media and Persia” (verse 20). One horn was longer but grew that way later; Media was initially dominant in the relationship — such as in 539 B.C. when Babylon fell and Darius the Mede took over — but later Persia became the larger and more prominent. The Persian Empire, sometimes called the Achaemenid Empire, existed from 550 B.C. to 330 B.C., a period of 320 years. During that time the Persian armies rolled over their enemies, from India to Greece and from (modern) Turkey to Egypt (verse 4). But these developments were not known in 551 B.C. when Daniel received this vision!

Daniel had not yet digested the vision of the ram when a male goat with a single prominent horn approached swiftly from the west (verse 5). We learn in verse 21 that the goat represents Greece, and the prominent horn is its first king, Alexander the Great, ruling from 336 B.C. to 323 B.C. For a time he simultaneously held the titles King of Macedonia, Pharaoh of Egypt, and King of Persia. Even though the Persian armies always outnumbered Alexander’s forces by a wide margin, he crushed the Persians in every battle. Daniel says, “None could rescue the ram [Persians and Medes] from its power” (verse 7).

Alexander unexpectedly died at the age of 32 in 323 B.C. in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar; “At the height of its power the large horn was broken off” (verse 8). Four of Alexander’s generals divided the vast empire. Chisholm explains: “Cassander ruled Macedonia, Lysimachus controlled Thrace and Asia Minor, Selucus was in charge of Syria, and Ptolemy took Egypt. This geographical diversity explains why the four horns are described as growing toward the four winds of heaven (v. 8b).”[3] Remember that none of this was known in 551 B.C. when Daniel saw the vision.

At this point in his life Daniel has seen Yahweh fulfill every element of the detailed dream given to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4), including Nebuchadnezzar’s highly unlikely humbling and restoration to power. He knows that Yahweh has all kingdoms in his hands and can turn them as he wishes. The real question raised by these visions in chapter 8, which we know were fulfilled in detail, is this: Will we live our lives in full expectation that Yahweh will bring to pass those visions whose fulfillment still lies in our future? Best decide your answer now because what comes next maps from the past into our unknown future.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Wood, Daniel, 207.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 221, explains that the famous legal Code of Hammurabi was discovered in the ruins of Susa in 1901. Esther later served as queen in Susa in a palace that has been fully excavated.

[3] Chisholm, Handbook of the Prophets, 311.

Exposition of Daniel 7:15-28 Resolving Daniel’s inner turmoil

Daniel 7:15–28

15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.

“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever — yes, for ever and ever.’

19 “Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws — the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. 20 I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell–the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. 21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.

23 “He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.

26 “’But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. 27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’

28 “This is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”

If we had seen the visions that Daniel saw, we might have felt the same distress or even worse! He had enough experience with visions to feel the threat level, and the need for reliable interpretation was clear. To get information about “all this,” he approaches one standing before the Ancient of Days (verse 16).

The interpreting angel immediately defines the four beasts as four “kings” (verse 17), but he also says that the fourth beast represents a “kingdom” (verse 23), showing “how interchangeable the two ideas are in the vision.”[1] Verses 17 and 18 serve as a very compressed summary of the action, but two points receive stress: (1) “the holy people of the Most High” are the ones who finally receive the kingdom, and (2) their possession of the kingdom is permanent in the extreme.

That second point is expressed by an Aramaic sequence that Miller translates as “forever — yes for ever and ever.”[2] The phrase contains three instances of the Aramaic noun meaning “remote time, eternity.”[3] The interpreting angel wanted to contrast the eternality of God’s kingdom with the transitory nature of the human kingdoms that preceded it.

Because the fourth king/kingdom is so hideous and powerful, Daniel is concerned to know more about it (verse 19). For this reason, many new details emerge in verses 20–26 concerning the revived Roman Empire, over which the Antichrist — “the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully” (verse 20) — will rule. Most disturbing is that the Antichrist will wage war against the holy people and defeat them until the judgment of the Most High ends his reign of terror (verses 21–22).

The angelic interpreter then reveals even more to Daniel. The empire of the fourth beast will conquer the entire earth (verse 23). The ten horns are ten contemporaneous kings, and the Antichrist will emerge as another king by defeating three of the ten (verse 24). The Antichrist will speak against the Most High and persecute his people (verse 25). That much is clear, but the second half of verse 25 is difficult. There are two views:

  1. The Antichrist will try to change “set times and the laws” that are likely related to religious freedom (verse 25). The holy people — meaning those who belong to God — will be in his hand “for a time, times and half a time” (verse 25b). Perhaps an apt analogy is to think of how Jesus was treated after he surrendered to the forces sent to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18–19). The enigmatic phrase “for a time, times and half a time” (verse 25b) is thought by Miller to mean 3½ years[4] and Wood[5] agrees.
  2. The Antichrist will try to change “the regular timings of the cosmos,”[6] which will be in his hand for an undetermined period of time that is ultimately cut short. Goldingay says, “‘A period, periods and half a period’ is not a cryptic way of saying 3½ years … . Nor is ‘a period, periods and half a period’ simply a convoluted way of saying 3½ periods.”[7]

Though the former view is quite popular — and can be supported by making additional assumptions — it is hard to decide which view is correct. In either case, the people of God who live under the rule of the Antichrist are in for a terrible experience.

When the angel says “the court will sit” (verse 26), he is looking back to verses 9–10. Based on the facts, the Ancient of Days will forever take away the world-spanning sovereignty exercised by the fourth beast. All such sovereignty will become the inheritance of “the holy people of the Most High” (verse 27). It is the Messiah to whom all sovereignty is given, and “all rulers will worship and obey him” (verse 27). The worship and obedience of those rulers may, in some cases, be grudging, but they will give the Messiah such worship and obedience or die, as Psalm 2 makes clear.

These visions took quite a toll on Daniel, and, if we understood them fully, we would take our loyalty to Christ all the more seriously. It is only God’s kindness toward us in Christ that will bring us through the coming cataclysm to our inheritance.

[It is important to realize that Revelation 13 and particularly Revelation 17 contain visions that overlap those revealed in Daniel 7. Tracing all the connections is quite instructive but lies beyond the scope of this study.]

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Wood, Daniel, 196.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 211.

[3] HALOT, ʻālam, remote time, q.v.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 215.

[5] Wood, Daniel, 201.

[6] HALOT, ziman, a fixed time, q.v.

[7] Goldingay, Daniel, 181.

Exposition of Daniel 7:9–14 The final end of beast-like human kingdoms

Daniel 7:9-14

9 “As I looked,

“thrones were set in place,

and the Ancient of Days took his seat.

His clothing was as white as snow;

the hair of his head was white like wool.

His throne was flaming with fire,

and its wheels were all ablaze.

10 A river of fire was flowing,

coming out from before him.

Thousands upon thousands attended him;

ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.

The court was seated,

and the books were opened.

11 “Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

Today’s section of Daniel 7 must surely rank near the top of all revelations contained in God’s holy and infallible Word. In it we learn that final authority does not rest in the brutal competition for power among turbulent humanity; final authority comes from heaven and has been given to the son of man. The one whose dominion is everlasting is none other than Jesus the Messiah, the one who died for us and rose again to rule forever. This revelation further explains the meaning of the rock in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2) that strikes the image and shatters all the kingdoms into dust that blows away. Each vision in the book adds to those which have gone before.

While the little horn shouts blasphemies, Daniel continues watching. What unfolds before him is nothing less than the final judgment of the beasts and the enthronement of the final ruler, the man from heaven. Having seen symbolic events about the earth, Daniel now sees symbolic events about heaven, the place where final decisions are made.

The vision Daniel describes in verses 9–14 does not overflow with elaborate details as it seeks to express a reality no man has ever seen. The Ancient of Days assumes the role of judge, seated on his throne (verse 9). That his judgment must be feared is symbolized by the fire that flows from his throne (verse 10a), not to mention the fact that his throne itself is flaming fire (verse 9). Wood explains the phrase “the court was seated” (verse 10b) by saying, “This reads, literally, ‘the judgment sat.” This is simply to say that the situation was ready for the business at hand.”[1]

But, the judgment rendered by the Ancient of Days is not whimsical; it is based on the deeds and words of each person, that is, on actual fact. (Rev. 20:12). That is the meaning of the phrase “the books were opened” (verse 10b). Miller adds: “Of course, one’s eternal destiny will be determined by whether one’s name is written in ‘the book of life’ (cf. Dan. 12:1; Rev. 20:12, 15). After this is established, the reward of the believer or the degree of punishment for the lost will be fixed by what is inscribed in the record books.”[2]

In context, both Daniel and the vast throng before the throne wait to see the judgment executed upon the fourth beast, and particularly upon the little horn, who was still speaking “boastful words” (verse 11a). This beast of such terrifying power is “slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire” (verse 11b). The ease with which the earth’s greatest and most evil empire is killed and eternally punished should send a chill down the spine of all who would oppose Yahweh and his anointed king (Psalms 2:2). For a time the Antichrist will raise his voice against God, but, at the appropriate time, that voice will be stilled in the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20).

The fate of the fourth beast has been revealed first because of its extreme significance. The revived Roman Empire, under the defiant rule of the Antichrist, brings opposition to God to the highest intensity in all human history. Daniel also speaks briefly about the other beasts in verse 12. Like the rising and falling waves in the sea-metaphor of verse 2, these three beasts (kingdoms) rose and fell in sequence, with the power and resources of one falling into the hands of the next. Wood explains, “The empires prior to the [revived] Roman continued to exist in their respective successors, in that their people and culture were absorbed into them.”[3]

The human kingdom Yahweh intended

As momentous as these events will be, it is ironic that Daniel has yet to recount his most important vision, the enthronement of the son of man and the establishment of his everlasting kingdom. Verses 13 and 14 are among the most important verses in the Bible. Here we find the phrase “son of man,” a title Jesus frequently applied to himself. One of the most telling instances occurs when Jesus was interrogated by the high priest before his crucifixion:

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61–62)

The high priest understood these claims and their connection to Daniel 7; he immediately called this statement blasphemy and led the group in condemning Jesus to death (Mark 14:63–64).

Both Jewish and Christian interpreters have historically understood the phrase “son of man” (verse 13) to be a reference to the Messiah, but some have recently said that it is a reference to the archangel Michael or to the Jewish people. However, verse 14 makes it clear that the “son of man” is to be worshipped by all peoples, and the Bible consistently teaches that only God is to be worshipped (Rev. 19:10).[4] Old Testament scholar Joyce Baldwin rightly says, “The son of man is not only king but God, though, as is characteristic of apocalyptic style, this is conveyed in veiled terms.”[5] Further, when Jesus applied the term to himself, his claim was understood by the high priest to be an assertion that he was both Messiah and God.

We are told in verse 14: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Against those who might claim this kingdom is merely spiritual, Miller says: “All of the other kingdoms described in this chapter are real, earthly empires; and it is best to see this kingdom as real and earthly as well. … Though his rule on earth will last one thousand years (Rev. 20:4–6), Christ’s sovereignty will not end after the millennium but will continue throughout eternity.”[6] The continuation will occur in the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21–22).

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Use

[1] Leon J. Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998) 189.

[2] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1994) 205.

[3] Wood, Daniel, 191.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 208.

[5] Joyce Baldwin, Daniel, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1978) 154.

[6] Miller, Daniel, 210.

Exposition of Daniel 7:1–8 Understanding the second half of Daniel and The vision of four grotesque beasts

Daniel 7:1–8

1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.
2 Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. 3 Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.
4 “The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it.
5 “And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’
6 “After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule.
7 “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast — terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.
8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.”

As stated in the Introduction, the Book of Daniel divides into two parts: Part One: The ministry of Daniel in Babylon (1:1–6:28), Part Two: The visions of Daniel in Babylon (7:1–12:13). Part one was largely historical in nature, though two dreams by Nebuchadnezzar eventually led the king to faith in Yahweh, the Lord of history. Part two contains four visions given to Daniel to demonstrate Yahweh’s mastery of the future as well as the past. These visions are apocalyptic in nature; that is, they are prophecies expressed in language that is highly symbolic and powerfully expressive.

The key thing about apocalyptic literature is that it shapes our present behavior by showing us how our behavior will affect our long-term future. For example, we are willing to suffer in likeness to Jesus because we will share in his triumph and live with him in the new heaven and new earth to come.

Though English versions of the Bible obscure the fact, the underlying languages of Daniel move from Hebrew (1:1–2:4a) to Imperial Aramaic (2:4b–7:28) and back to Hebrew (8:1–12:13). It is difficult to know what to make of this division. Perhaps the Aramaic section represents the period in which the nation of Judah spent in captivity under powers whose official language was Aramaic. On a wider canvas, God’s covenant with Abraham, empowered by the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, will reach its consummation in the eternal kingdom promised by God. In this view, the Aramaic section is symbolic of the period of Gentile domination, which will come to a sudden and final end when the Messiah returns to rule.

The vision of four grotesque beasts

Daniel’s first vision came in the initial year of Belshazzar (553 B.C.), according to verse 1. In verse 2, we encounter the first symbol: “the great sea.” When the vision is interpreted, in verse 17, we will find that the great sea refers to the earth as the home of humanity, and the tossing waves of the sea symbolize how human kingdoms are thrown up and then fall away. If you have never seen such surging waves, YouTube offers some scary examples.

Not only are these human kingdoms, represented by the different beasts, stormy and transitory, they are also grotesque. Many scholars have noted the similarity of the first dream of Nebuchadnezzar (chapter 2) to the first vision seen by Daniel. Wood suggests that the normal human shape seen by Nebuchadnezzar, with different metals representing the intrinsic value of each empire (2:32–35), represents a human viewpoint while the monstrous beasts seen by Daniel give us the divine viewpoint of the same kingdoms. If so, God does not have a high opinion of either the great nations or world-spanning corporations that dominate our age.

The most common word in our first text (Dan. 7:1–8) is an Aramaic verb that means “[I was] looking” (5 occurrences), and, with equal frequency, an interjection meaning “Look!” So, we can say that Daniel was a passive observer of a shocking series of visions that were suddenly presented to him. By the end of the chapter, we will find that Daniel is rocked to his core by what he has seen. Word frequency is one means of discovering what an author emphasizes, but the tendency of English versions to vary vocabulary makes using this tool more difficult.

Winged lions are among the symbols found in the ruins of Babylon , so it is not surprising that the majority of scholars believe the first beast is Babylon and specifically refers to Nebuchadnezzar. Miller notes that Nebuchadnezzar is symbolized in Jeremiah as a lion (Jer. 4:7 and 50:17) as well as an eagle (Jer. 49:22). In figurative terms, verse 4 represents Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation as well as his restoration to rationality.

Next, a bear appears before Daniel (verse 5), but it has one side raised higher than the other — perhaps symbolizing the eventual dominance of Persia over Media in their joint empire. The three bones in the mouth of this predator are thought to symbolize the conquest of Babylon (539 B.C.), Lydia (546 B.C.) and Egypt (525 B.C.). At its zenith, the Medo-Persian empire more than doubled the territory held by Babylon or Assyria and stretched from Egypt to what is now India.

The phrase “after that” (verse 6a) seems trivial, but the reader should consider that in a book filled with prophecies from God, the exact meaning of phrases affecting the timing of events becomes crucial. When Daniel first wrote down his account of the dream, these events lay in his future. But the events lie in our past, and we can easily see that the third beast — representing Greece under Alexander the Great and his successors — immediately supplanted the second beast (Persia) without any gap in between. How this came about will be explained when we encounter Daniel’s next vision in chapter 8.

The actual explanation of how Greece conquered Persia has little to do with Alexander the Great or the innovations in military technology implemented by his army. Instead, “it [i.e. the third beast] was given authority to rule [by God]” (verse 6b). This type of passive-voice construction occurs often in the Bible as an indirect means of signaling God’s action while not naming him. For this reason, the grammatical form is called the “divine passive.”

The description of the third beast uses the number four twice: “four wings” and “four heads” (verse 6). Wood explains, “Since ‘heads’ in Scripture normally represent persons or governments, it is logical further to expect this development to concern some form of fourfold division of government; and that is exactly what did occur after Alexander’s death.” Four of Alexander’s generals divided the vast empire.

The fourth beast that suddenly appeared was unlike all the others, and Daniel does not liken it to any earthly animal. Instead, he emphasizes its exceptional strength, making it “terrifying and frightening” (verse 7) as it devoured its victims with “large iron teeth.”We must now look back to the terrifying image seen by Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:31–45), where the legs of the image were made of iron and the feet were a mixture of iron and clay (2:33). The chronology of this image started with the head (Nebuchadnezzar) and ended with the iron legs — symbolizing Rome — followed by the mixed iron and clay in the feet and toes. The Iron and clay feet and toes are somehow related to the iron legs but also somehow different. Since the iron/clay feet and toes come last in the image, they must also be chronologically last. We said this meant that the Roman Empire would come in two distinct phases, one already past and one yet to come (from our perspective).

Since the vision we are following in Daniel 7 parallels the image in Daniel 2, we should be sensitive to any possible point at which this final empire divides into two phases. We suggest that the words “It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns” (verse 7b) start the description of the second phase of Roman dominance (yet future). The first reason supporting this interpretation is simple: Historic Rome never had ten kings, and verse 24 tells us the ten horns represent ten kings.

A second reason is equally compelling: We will see that this final Roman Empire is destroyed by the return of the Messiah to rule forever, and that did not occur with the historic Roman Empire. So, just as Nebuchadnezzar’s terrifying dream-image shattered when the stone struck the image on its iron and clay feet (Dan. 2:34), so this ten-horned beast will be destroyed by God.

Verse 8 begins to relate the role of the “little horn,” a powerful and blasphemous figure whose rule will be described later. If, for now, you imagine him to be the Antichrist, you will not be disappointed.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.