Daniel was overwhelmed by a dream about four beasts. This happened before the event described in chs. 5 and 6; it occurred at the beginning of Belshazzar's reign in Babylon. The exact date is unknown.
Daniel wrote an account of the dream in the first person. Much like Ezekiel's vision (Eze 1:1-5), a storm was involved but the four beasts were different. The first was a lion with eagle wings, which were quickly torn off. The lion took on some human features. The second looked like a bear whose mouth gripped three ribs. The third was like a leopard with four wings and four heads. The last beast was a monster with large iron teeth and ten horns. Soon a smaller, eleventh horn with a human mouth and eyes came up among the other horns.
The most remarkable sequel of the dream was the arrival of the Ancient of Days. Daniel was so uplifted by this vision he wrote this section as a hymn of praise. The description is much like Ezekiel's portrayal of One on a throne (1:25-28) and that of the apostle John (Rev 1:12-17). In Daniel's dream, the throne is in a court of justice.
A son of man appeared from the clouds and was installed by the Ancient of Days as the authentic and eternal world ruler. He was worshiped by all people of the world.
Daniel was still puzzled about the four beasts and sought an explanation. A heavenly being told him that they represented four kingdoms that were different from the one belonging to the saints (true worshipers of God). Their kingdoms would be the everlasting kingdom of the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man.
The significance of the monster was still a mystery to Daniel, for its eleven horns fought against the saints. Then he saw the Ancient of Days punish the horns and give victory to the saints. This horrible beast was a future kingdom with a succession of ten rulers. The final ruler was the boastful little horn who would violently fight against the Most High and oppress the saints. His period of power, time, times and half a time, add up to three and a half years.
The vicious tyrant would be brought before the heavenly court, convicted and destroyed. In his place God would provide an eternal kingdom for his saints. The rulers of that kingdom would always worship God. In the final showdown between evil and righteousness, God and his people would win. Thus Daniel received a theology of hope that sustained his troubled soul.
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