The Symbolical Beasts
Daniel 7:4-28
The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth…

Let us first attend to the place from which these beasts seemed to issue. It appeared to the prophet that they came up from the sea. We are not to interpret this literally. The sea, here, represents or symbolises something else, and, in a subsequent verse, we are told that it signifies the earth. "These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth." Now the word earth is often to be understood, not of this material globe, but of its inhabitants, as in that passage of Jeremiah, "O earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord." And that in Psalms, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all the earth; make a loud noise, and rejoice and sing praise." In this passage it is also to be understood of the inhabitants of the earth, or human society. When, therefore, these kings are said to rise out of the earth, this signifies that they would rise up out of the social state. But these beasts did not simply come out of the sea, when they rose out of it the sea was in a very marked condition. The four winds were striving upon it. Since the sea is the emblem of society, the sea, with the four winds striving thereon, is to be understood of society in a state of very great and violent commotion. Now, whereas the sea is represented as being in this state, when the several beasts came out of it, this clearly intimates that these kingdoms would arise amid great commotions, and that, compared with what was to follow, society might be said to continue in this state, and the earth to have no rest, until this extensive prophecy was fulfilled. In particular, we find the great empires, here predicted, rising to ascendancy amid the hurricanes of civil commotion, and convulsing the world by the shock of their fall. The four beasts which came up out of the sea signified four kings. "These four beasts are four kings that shall arise out of the earth." In this passage the word king is of equal significance with the word kingdom. This is evident from verse 22, "The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms." Here the fourth beast is called the fourth kingdom, which undoubtedly implies that the three preceding beasts were three kingdoms. Whereas these kingdoms are symbolised by beasts, this was probably intended to describe the qualities by which they would be distinguished. It seems to intimate that all these governments, as to their principles and aims, who would be more characterised by what was common to man with the inferior creation than by those principles which connect, and ally, and link him to creatures holding a higher place in the ascending scale of existence. They are not simply represented by beasts, but by beasts of prey, by the lion, and the bear, and the leopard, and another beast which was dreadful, and terrible, and strong exceedingly. Now beasts of prey are principally distinguished from ethers by two things, they are strong and fierce, they take by violence and use with cruelty. And do not these symbols prove their own divinity? For what has been the character of all the great monarchies since the time of Daniel, as developed in their public character? May not a great part of their history be summed up in this, that they were strong and fierce, that they acquired dominion by violence, and used it in oppression? When brought to the test have not all governments accounted might to be right? Have not nations, up to this date, been known to one another principally as military establishments? Is not the history of empires a history of wars, murders, rapine, and desolation? If there be any variation in these murderous annals, it is when force gives place to policy and intrigue; it is, however, the wild beast still, though crouching in concealment, in order that he may spring unexpectedly upon his unprepared victim. Violence and fraud have been characteristic of every government that has risen hitherto upon the earth, even when individual rulers were personally of good character, and arts, commerce, and science were encouraged. There never was an instance of a government acting steadily on the great principles of truth and holiness. These beasts were four in number, and represented four kingdoms that were to arise upon the earth. That these were the Babylonian, Persian, Grecian, and Roman empires is evident from a variety of considerations. In the first place, the symbols, here employed, will be found inapplicable to any other connected chain of history. An individual king may be found to whom some of the symbols apply, but a succession of four monarchies rising after one another will nowhere be found to which these words can with any plausibility be referred. In the second place, the application of the symbols to these four empires is so easy and natural as to show that the former were designedly employed to represent the latter. In the third place, this will appear from a comparison of the seventh with the second chapter of Daniel. These two chapters evidently refer to the same subject. Four kingdoms are symbolised in the second chapter, four kingdoms are symbolised in the seventh. In both chapters these kingdoms are represented as extending down to the period when God would erect His kingdom on the earth. In the second chapter the fourth kingdom is represented as being one of irresistible strength. In the seventh chapter it is described as being dreadful, and terrible, and strong exceedingly. The fourth kingdom, in the second chapter, is represented in its latter stages by ten toes. In the seventh chapter its last form is symbolised by ten horns. There cannot remain, on any mind capable of weighing evidence, the faintest doubt that the second and the seventh chapters relate to the same subject. This being ascertained, it is easy to prove, from the second chapter, that the four kingdoms must be understood of the Babylonian, Persian, Grecian, and Roman empires. In the second chapter the head of gold denoted the first monarchy; but Daniel said unto Nebuchadnezzar, "Thou art this head of gold"; the Babylonian empire was, therefore, the first of these kingdoms. Now, in the second chapter, the four empires are symbolised by one image. They must, therefore, have come after one another in the order of immediate succession. The other three kingdoms, then, must signify the three great empires which immediately succeeded that of Babylon. But it is matter of undeniable and immutable fact that the empire of Babylon was succeeded by those of Persia, Greece, and Rome; the Babylonian having been overthrown by the Persian, the Persian being overthrown by the Grecian, and the Grecian being overthrown by the Roman. Notwithstanding of certain minor exceptions that have been stated against it, we regard this theory as one at which we have arrived by the sound and simple exposition of the sacred text itself, and which has been tested by time and proved to be genuine. But while the fate of empires is concealed from man, it is naked and open to the eyes of God. Kingdoms rise and fall by Divine ordination: "Surely their days are determined, the number of their months is with God, he hath appointed them a bound which they cannot pass." And, from the book of His immutable decrees, it is easy for Him to transcribe any page of the future with as much exactness as the historian can describe transactions that are past. But why, it may be asked, are only these four empires pointed out the prophecy? Why does the Holy Seer confine His revelations to this limited district of the world? Beyond it were myriads of the human race, and old and mighty dynasties, were then existing, elsewhere, or were afterwards to arise. Why in this symbolical representation of empire are not India and China included? Why are the two great continents of Africa and America wholly omitted? For this limitation we may venture to assign two reasons, not indeed drawn by exposition from the Scriptures, but drawn by exposition from the oracles of Providence. From what we see of His actual doings by means of these empires, we are perfectly safe in asserting that they occupy the sole place in these predictions on two accounts:

1. Because they were to exercise the greatest influence upon the church during the period to which this prophecy refers.

2. Because through them God intended to civilize and Christianize the whole earth. It is a fact which will not be denied that these empires have had the principal effect upon the church for good or for evil In the days of Daniel, the church existed only within the limits of the Chaldean empire. Afterwards, we find it within the Persian empire. Then we find it principally connected with the Grecian monarchy, favoured by the great Alexander, and persecuted by more than one of his successors. In the latter days of the Jewish dispensation, we find the Old Testament church connected with the empire of Rome. It was by Rome that Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Jews driven into exile. The place of their dispersion, and the scone of their sufferings, during a period of nearly eighteen centuries, has been almost exclusively within the limits of the four prophetic monarchies. Within this district the Son of God became incarnate and was crucified. Here the fires of persecution blazed most fiercely against His devoted witnesses. Here the great apostacy from the truth was generated. This district was the battle-field between Christ and anti-Christ during many generations. It is the centre still of all the contests between light and darkness, between God and Satan. It is thus a fact that these four empires have had most effect upon the church for good or for evil; and, therefore, we seem warranted in concluding that they alone are mentioned in these predictions, because of the influential connection in which they were to stand to the church. And it is not less true that these four empires have had the principal effect in the Christianization and civilization of the other districts of the world. Beyond the limits of these monarchies, the four winds have striven on the great sea. There have been wars, and changes, and conquests, but, unless we greatly mistake the matter, there is a very marked difference between the political commotions and changes which took place within the territorial limits of the four empires and those which occurred elsewhere. Beyond this district, we will see one great conqueror after another sweeping over the earth in the same murderous career. But we see no permanent current of civilization following these commotions. We see no advancement amid all these changes. We see the nations living in the same barbarous, or semi-civilized, condition in which they were in the times of Daniel. But the commotions which have occurred within the limits of the four monarchies have had a civilizing tendency in the issue. Not to ascend higher, wherever the Romans carried their arms, they carried their noble literature, and left a seed of it behind. Their later conquests were preparatory to the dissemination of the gospel; and to the fourth empire, as the Divine instrument, may be traced the whole of European civilization. Look beyond the limits of these four empires, and wherever we see civilization it will be found to have come from them. Civilization and religion went from them to America, to Greenland, Australia, the isles of the Pacific, and to many spots in Africa. And there can now be little doubt that by means of the fourth empire, in its last form, and of the church within it, God intended to originate those movements which shall result in the Christianization of the world. How thankful should we be unto God that we have been born within the limits of these four monarchies, not merely because the currents of civilization flow there, but because of the streams of life by which they are watered and fertilized. How great and glorious does God appear in connection with this prophecy! How low should we lie in the dust before Him, under a profound feeling of the nothingness of our intellects, when we see His omniscient eye piercing the vista of ages and generations, and unfolding the end from the beginning! When we survey the long and dreary domination of the four predicted beasts, we are apt to be seized with a feeling of despondency. Why has wickedness been permitted to exult so long? But when we remember that the Lord reigneth, and that the past stages of the world are merely preparatory to its future glory, a prospect opens on our view delightful beyond all description. If rays of the Divine glory are seen sparkling out amid the eras that are past, we are prepared for the announcement that, when the work is completed, "the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea."

(W. White.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it.

WEB: The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I saw until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made to stand on two feet as a man; and a man's heart was given to it.

The Four Beasts
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