Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

Skeptical Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 7

First post in this series can be found here.
This article is not my own, but was originally posted by Darwin’s Beagle. The author has given permission for the article to be reposted here.

Chapter 7 of the book of Daniel concerns Daniel’s second prophetic vision. This prophecy is another that extreme bible believers promote as evidence of prophetic fulfillment. Is it? I don’t think so. Here is a summary and an analysis. Judge for yourself.

7.1 Summary of Chapter 7
The narrative of Daniel flashes back to the first year of the reign of Belshazzar, king of Babylon. It relates a vision that Daniel had in which he sees four beasts arise from the sea.

The first beast is like a lion, but has wings. The wings get plucked and the beast is lifted off the earth. A second beast comes up. It is like a bear and has three ribs in its mouth. It is told to Arise, devour much flesh”. The third beast to arise is like a leopard. It had four wings and four heads and “dominion was given to it”.

The fourth beast was “dreadful, terrible, and strong exceedingly”. It had iron teeth and ten horns. While Daniel was looking at the beast he noticed that a small horn grew out from the other 10. It knocked out three of the horns and grew big. This horn had eyes like a man and a mouth that spoke. The horn spoke “great things”.

Listening to the horn was the “Ancient of days”. He had white robes, hair like pure wool and “his throne was like a fiery flame and his wheels as burning fire”. The Ancient was served by over 100,000,000. He issues his judgment concerning the haughty speech that the fourth beast had made. The words he says causes the beast to be destroyed.

Then one “like the Son of Man” (KJV) comes down with the clouds of heaven and is brought to the Ancient. He is given an everlasting kingdom such that “all people, nations, and languages, should serve him.”

Daniel is confused by the vision so he asks one of the servants attending the Ancient to explain it to him, especially the meaning of the fourth beast. This person tells Daniel that the beasts represent four great kings and their kingdoms. The last beast is one that will arise later and dominate the whole world. There will be 10 kings in this kingdom. An eleventh will arise and subdue three of the others. This king will be arrogant, speaking words against God. He will fight against the saints themselves. He will try to change God’s laws. He will be victorious over the saints for a while but will eventually be destroyed. After that God’s everlasting kingdom will prevail.

Daniel is troubled by his vision, but he keeps it to himself.

7.2 Analysis
7.2.1 The four kingdoms
This is the second prophetic vision and is subject to much controversy as to its meaning. I think it is obvious that the four kingdoms mentioned in this prophetic vision are the same four kingdoms as in the first prophetic vision. If that is so, then identifying Rome as the fourth kingdom in the first vision becomes harder. The description of this kingdom in this vision does not fit that of Rome, but it does do a pretty good job of fitting Alexander’s. More on that below.

There is not much of a controversy on the first kingdom representing Nebuchadrezzar’s Babylon. There is some controversy on the identity of the second kingdom, however. There is not much information given and what is given doesn’t fit any kingdom particularly well. However, considering the author of Daniel’s confusion concerning the Median empire, I think it is reasonable to assume that any symbolic details he may give to identify it would be unlikely to be verified by actual historical information.

There is outright disagreement as to the identity of the 3rd kingdom, the one symbolized as a leopard with four heads and four wings. Extreme bible-believers say it represents Alexander and the four heads and four wings represent the four generals that split Alexander’s kingdom after he died. However, as we will soon see in the King of the North/King of the South prophecy, the author of Daniel thought that Persia had four kings before it was taken over by Alexander (in actuality it had nine, but since the bible only mentions four of them, the author of Daniel assumed there were four). The consensus among scholars who are not extreme bible-believers is that the third empire is the Persian empire.

Extreme bible-believers see the fourth kingdom as something that is yet to happen [some Christians believe the fourth kingdom was Rome — Nate]. However it bears some striking resemblances to Alexander’s kingdom which would be of utmost significance to devout Jews of the Maccabean times. Under this scenario the fourth beast is the Seleucid empire that resulted from the break up of Alexander’s kingdom. It was this empire that ruled Judah during the Maccabean times.

The 10 horns represent the kings as follows: (1) Seleucus I (2) Antiochus I (3) Antiochus II (4) Seleucus II (5) Seleucus III (6) Antiochus III (7) Seleucus IV (8, 9, and 10) Demetrius, Heliodorus, and Seleucus IV’s infant son.

Demetrius, Heliodorus, Seleucus IV’s infant son are not usually listed as kings, but they were significant figures in intrigue of the day. Seleucus IV was king, but his coffers were running low. He sent out his finance minister Heliodorus to seize money from the temple treasury in Jerusalem. Heliodorus had designs on the throne himself and conspired with Seleucus IV’s eldest son, Demetrius. He poisoned Seleucus IV. Next in line would have been Demetrius. However, Antiochus IV (Antiochus Epiphanes) conspired to have Demetrius sent away to Rome. He also successfully plotted the death of Heliodorus and Seleucus IV’s infant son, leaving no heir to the throne. This left the path open for Antiochus IV to gain control of the Seleucid empire.

So Antiochus IV would be the little horn that displaces the other three. How well does he fit the role?

From a pious Jew’s point of view, Antiochus was arrogant speaking against God. He tried to Hellenize the area. He even established an altar to Zeus inside the temple at Jerusalem.

He fought against the “saints” themselves. He persecuted the Jews mercilessly. He killed the most respected priest, Onais, and would even put to death Jewish mothers and their children if the children were found to be circumcised.

He changed God’s laws. He forbade the daily sacrifices. He forbade the reading of the Torah. He banned circumcision. In short, he tried to change the religious practices from Jewish to Greek.

Finally, he was successful for a time. Thus, Antiochus fits the description of the “little horn” very well indeed. Additional support for this interpretation will be forthcoming in the goat and the ram prophecy in which there is a more clear reference to Antiochus as the “little horn”.

7.2.2 The Ancient of Days and The Son of Man
There is no doubt or controversy that the “Ancient of Days” is a symbolic representation for God. But what about “the Son of Man”? Extreme bible-believers say this is a direct reference to Jesus Christ. The New Testament certainly uses this terminology to refer to Jesus (85 times by my count). The Old Testament uses the phrase 102 times (by my count), not counting this particular reference. 90 times the phrase is used to refer to the prophet Ezekiel, 1 time it refers to the prophet Daniel, and the rest seem to mean regular people or rulers whose powers do not match that of the Lord’s. This one usage is the only Old Testament reference to the Son of Man that may apply to a Messiah. But does it?

The first thing to note is the phrase is interpreted incorrectly in the King James Version as “THE son of man”. In other translations (NIV, NASB, AMP, ESV, CEV, ASV, RSV, YLT, and DARBY) it is interpreted as “A son of man” or even more simply (NLT) as “A man”. Thus, the phrase, like others in the book, refers not to a particular person but to someone in general. In fact, the angel who interprets the vision for Daniel says that it will be the “saints” that will rule after the downfall of the “little horn”. This “son of man” is going to be an agent for the saints. It does not refer to anyone in particular.

Links to the other articles


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