In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head on his bed: then he wrote the dream…
Four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another (ver. 3). We remark the transition here from history to prophecy; the date, the first year of Belshazzar, that is, before the fall of the first of the world-powers about to be described; the form, a dream, - before this Daniel had interpreted others' dreams, he now dreams himself; the fact that it was at once committed to writing, i.e. not set down after fulfilment; and that the prophecy is only an outline, so that we must not expect too much detail. All this in ver. 1. The nature of the prophecy rebukes dogmatism. It may be well to call attention here to the fact that all these expositions and homilies are written independently of each other; there may be, then, possibly some diversity of critical judgment; this, however, will be no disadvantage to the student. For our own homiletic purpose we treat this chapter under three sections - in the first, we have a vision of brute rule; in the second, of Divine sovereignty; in the third, of a great rebellion.
I. ITS CONDITION. "The great sea" is distinguished from all inland seas. The ocean. The image of our troubled world (Isaiah 17:12-14; Revelation 21:1). Out of the commotion and confusion of troubled peoples the four forms of brute rule arose.
II. ITS CAUSE. "The four winds of heaven strove upon the great sea." As the wind plays on ocean, so do supernatural powers (in this case evil) lash into fury the passions of a troubled world; and out of revolutionary confusion emerges oft mute despotism.
III. ITS GENERIC NATURE. "Four beasts." Four great empires. Same as described in ch. 2. Why the different form? That vision gave the external glory; this the inmost nature. They had life in them, but it was a life less than human. Man sinks below the human when the πνεῦμα is no longer animated by the Spirit of God. As with man individually, so collectively, so with nations, governments. Government is of God, but may lose the Divine in it, and so become brutal. A boast may inspire terror; but its look is not heavenward, but earthward; hears no Divine voice; has no conscious relations with God. "Four beasts," but "diverse." All brutal.
IV. SPECIFIC FORMS.
1. The lion-form. The Babylonian empire. Dominant, like the king of the forest; swift and reaching far, like the eagle. Then came deteriorations. The deteriorations developed slowly. "I continued looking" is the sense. Swift energy was crippled. Not even with the speed of a lion walking did the empire advance; but painfully, slowly, as a beast marching on hind legs alone. Then instead of the lion-heart at the centre of government, the timid heart of a man. Here we have the glory of Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon, its gradual decay under his successors, until it fell before one mightier than itself. So do governments without God go down.
2. The bear-form. The Persian empire. Less noble than the lion; fierce, heavy, slow. Of these characteristics, the most striking illustration would be the cumbrousness and slow advance of the Persian armies; e.g. the invasion of Greece by Xerxes (see the histories). Note the accessories of the symbol. Raising itself on one side, and perhaps striking out with its right forearm. This indicates the combination of Mode with Persian - the latter the stronger and more aggressive. The three ribs devoured stand for Lydia, Babylon, Egypt, subdued. "Devour much flesh" suggests the awful waste of life incident to Persian progress. How many of the two millions returned from Greece?
3. The leopard-form. The Greek empire, specially under Alexander. Characteristics: insatiable appetite for blood, swiftness, subtlety. "Four wings." "Four heads." The Greek dominion essentially one, but with four centres. Trace the analogy. Alexander's determination to conquer the world. Swift movement, equalled only by Napoleon I. The subtlety of his genius. The division of his empire into four.
4. The nameless form. The Roman empire. So terrible is this power, that no one creature can represent it, nor the combined attributes of many. The eminence and importance of this empire are apparent from:
(a) Its prominence in this chapter.
(b) Daniel's anxiety to "know the truth of the fourth beast."
(c) Its collision with the Divine kingdom.
(d) Its successive historical aspects.
(1) Its first aspect. (See ver. 7.) All this exhibits the utterly destructive energy of Rome. What it did not devour, it destroyed for destruction's sake. A contrast with the other powers. They ravaged, subdued, extorted tribute; "but their connection with the states which they subdued was loose and disjointed." Rome conquered all, kept all, assimilated all
(2) Two developments.
(a) "Ten horns. Horn is the symbol of power. The ten were on the head from the beginning, to manifest the unity of the Roman empire plus the European nations. Their development, however, was not at once.
(b) The one. Small at the beginning. Displaces a third (nearly) of existing powers. A development of the Roman domination. Eyes" for a certain intelligence. Pride and blasphemy out of its "mouth"? What can this be but the papacy?
V. ITS JUDGMENT AND OVERTHROW. Not for ever and for ever shall the brutal reign. How sublime the contrast ushered in by ver. 9! Below, the ocean, lashed by powers of evil; out of it the brutal, its last developments the worst. Now heaven opens. Thrones were set (not "cast down"). A central throne. On it the Eternal The throne the source of all splendour, the fount of energy (Revelation 4:5). Judgment proceeding. Not the last judgment. But the continuous judgment of men and nations. The Roman empire, and all that came of it doomed - annihilated. The other empires long gone, though for a while they lingered. Learn:
1. The eternal supremacy of God.
2. The righteousness of his judgments.
3. The certain doom of all that is alienated from his own Divine life.
Individuals and nations are human and. humane only as they live in him. The reign of the brutal in any form cannot be eternal. Animalism in all its ugly, cruel, sensual forms, must go down; for God in Christ "must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet." - R.
Parallel VersesKJV: In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters.