Here we have, I. The deep impressions which these visions made upon the prophet. God in them put honour upon him, and gave him satisfaction, yet not without a great allay of pain and perplexity (Dan. 7:15): I Daniel was grieved in my spirit, in the midst of my body. The word here used for the body properly signifies a sheath or scabbard, for the body is no more to the soul; that is the weapon; it is that which we are principally to take care of. The visions of my head troubled me, an again (Dan. 7:28), my cogitations much troubled me. The manner in which these things were discovered to him quite overwhelmed him, and put his thoughts so much to the stretch that his spirits failed him, and the trance he was in tired him and made him faint. The things themselves that were discovered amazed and astonished him, and put him into a confusion, till by degrees he recollected and conquered himself, and set the comforts of the vision over against the terrors of it.
II. His earnest desire to understand the meaning of them (Dan. 7:16): I came near to one of those that stood by, to one of the angels that appeared attending the Son of man in his glory, and asked him the truth (the true intent and meaning) of all this. Note, It is a very desirable thing to take the right and full sense of what we see and hear from God; and those that would know must ask by faithful and fervent prayer and by accomplishing a diligent search.
III. The key that was given him, to let him into the understanding of this vision. The angel told him, and told him so plainly that he made him know the interpretation of the thing, and so made him somewhat more easy.
1. The great beasts are great kings and their kingdoms, great monarchs and their monarchies, which shall arise out of the earth, as those beasts did out of the sea, Dan. 7:17. They are but terraefilii—from beneath; they savour of the earth, and their foundation is in the dust; they are of the earth earthy, and they are written in the dust, and to the dust they shall return.
2. Daniel pretty well understands the first three beasts, but concerning the fourth he desires to be better informed, because it differed so much from the rest, and was exceedingly dreadful, and not only so, but very mischievous, or it devoured and broke in pieces, Dan. 7:19. Perhaps it was this that put Daniel into such a fright, and this part of the visions of his head troubled him more than any of the rest. But especially he desired to know what the little horn was, that had eyes, and a mouth that spoke very great things, and whose countenance was more fearless and formidable than that of any of his fellows, Dan. 7:20. And this he was most inquisitive about because it was this horn that made war with the saints, and prevailed against them, Dan. 7:21. While no more is intimated than that the children of men make war with one another, and prevail against one another, the prophet does not show himself so much concerned (let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth, and be dashed in pieces one against another); but when they make war with the saints, when the precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, are broken as earthen pitchers, it is time to ask, “What is the meaning of this? Will the Lord cast off his people? Will he suffer their enemies to trample upon them and triumph over them? What is this same horn that shall prevail so far against the saints?” To this his interpreter answers (Dan. 7:23-25) that this fourth beast is a fourth kingdom, that shall devour the whole earth, or (as it may be read) the whole land. That the ten horns are ten kings, and the little horn is another king that shall subdue three kings, and shall be very abusive to God and his people, shall act, (1.) Very impiously towards God. He shall speak great words against the Most High, setting him, and his authority and justice, at defiance. (2.) Very imperiously towards the people of God. He shall wear out the saints of the Most High; he will not cut them off at once, but wear them out by long oppressions and a constant course of hardships put upon them, ruining their estates and weakening their families. The design of Satan has been to wear out the saints of the Most High, that they may be no more in remembrance; but the attempt is vain, for while the world stands God will have a church in it. He shall think to change times and laws, to abolish all the ordinances and institutions of religion, and to bring every body to say and do just as he would have them. He shall trample upon laws and customs, human and divine. Diruit, aedificut, mutat quadrata rotundis—He pulls down, he builds, he changes square into round, as if he meant to alter even the ordinances of heaven themselves. And in these daring attempts he shall for a time prosper and have success; they shall be given into his hand until time, times, and half a time (that is, for three years and a half), that famous prophetical measure of time which we meet with in the Revelation, which is sometimes called forty-two months, sometimes 1260 days, which come all to one. But at the end of that time the judgment shall sit and take away his dominion (Dan. 7:26), which he expounds (Dan. 7:11) of the beast being slain and his body destroyed. And (as Mr. Mede reads Dan. 7:12) as to the rest of the beast, the ten horns, especially the little ruffling horn (as he calls it), they had their dominion taken away. Now the question is, Who is this enemy, whose rise, reign, and ruin, are foretold? Interpreters are not agreed. Some will have the fourth kingdom to be that of the Seleucidae, and the little horn to be Antiochus, and show the accomplishment of all this in the history of the Maccabees; so Junius, Piscator, Polanus, Broughton, and many others: but others will have the fourth kingdom to be that of the Romans, and the little horn to be Julius Caesar, and the succeeding emperors (says Calvin), the antichrist, the papal kingdom (says Mr. Joseph Mede), that wicked one, which, as this little horn, is to be consumed by the brightness of Christ’s second coming. The pope assumes a power to change times and laws, potestas autokratorike—an absolute and despotic power, as he calls it. Others make the little horn to be the Turkish empire; so Luther, Vatablus, and others. Now I cannot prove either side to be wrong; and therefore, since prophecies sometimes have many fulfillings, and we ought to give scripture its full latitude (in this as in many other controversies), I am willing to allow that they are both in the right, and that this prophecy has primary reference to the Syrian empire, and was intended for the encouragement of the Jews who suffered under Antiochus, that they might see even these melancholy times foretold, but might foresee a glorious issue of them at last, and the final overthrow of their proud oppressors; and, which is best of all, might foresee, not long after, the setting up of the kingdom of the Messiah in the world, with the hopes of which it was usual with the former prophets to comfort the people of God in their distresses. But yet it has a further reference, and foretels the like persecuting power and rage in Rome heathen, and no less in Rome papal, against the Christian religion, that was in Antiochus against the pious Jews and their religion. And St. John, in his visions and prophecies, which point primarily at Rome, has plain reference, in many particulars, to these visions of Daniel.
3. He has a joyful prospect given him of the prevalency of God’s kingdom among men, and its victory over all opposition at last. And it is very observable that in the midst of the predictions of the force and fury of the enemies this is brought in abruptly (Dan. 7:18, 22), before it comes, in the course of the vision, to be interpreted, Dan. 7:26, 27. And this also refers, (1.) To the prosperous days of the Jewish church, after it had weathered the storm under Antiochus, and the power which the Maccabees obtained over their enemies. (2.) To the setting up of the kingdom of the Messiah in the world by the preaching of his gospel. For judgment Christ comes into this world, to rule by his Spirit, and to make all his saints kings and priests to their God. (3.) To the second coming of Jesus Christ, when the saints shall judge the world, shall sit down with him on his throne and triumph in the complete downfall of the devil’s kingdom. Let us see what is here foretold. [1.] The Ancient of days shall come, Dan. 7:22. God shall judge the world by his Son, to whom he has committed all judgment, and, as an earnest of that, he comes for the deliverance of his oppressed people, comes for the setting up of his kingdom in the world. [2.] The judgment shall sit, Dan. 7:26. God will make it appear that he judges in the earth, and will, both in wisdom and in equity, plead his people’s righteous cause. At the great day he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained. [3.] The dominion of the enemy shall be taken away, Dan. 7:26. All Christ’s enemies shall be made his footstool, and shall be consumed and destroyed to the end: these were the apostle uses concerning the man of sin, 2 Thess. 2:8. He shall be consumed with the spirit of Christ’s mouth and destroyed with the brightness of his coming. [4.] Judgment is given to the saints of the Most High. The apostles are entrusted with the preaching of a gospel by which the world shall be judged. All the saints by their faith and obedience condemn an unbelieving disobedient world; in Christ their head they shall judge the world, shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel, Matt. 19:28. See what reason we have to honour those that fear the Lord; how mean and despicable soever the saints now appear in the eye of the world, and how much contempt soever is poured upon them; they are the saints of the Most High; they are near and dear to God, and he owns them for his, and judgment is given to them. [5.] That which is most insisted upon is that the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, Dan. 7:18. And again (Dan. 7:22), The time came that the saints possessed the kingdom. And again (Dan. 7:27), The kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heavens, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High. Far be it from us to infer hence that dominion is founded on grace, or that this will warrant any, under pretence of saintship, to usurp kingship. No; Christ’s kingdom is not of this world; but this intimates the spiritual dominion of the saints over their own lusts and corruptions, their victories over Satan and his temptations, and the triumphs of the martyrs over death and its terrors. It likewise promises that the gospel kingdom shall be set up, a kingdom of grace, the privileges and comforts of which now, under the heavens, shall be the earnest and first-fruits of the kingdom of glory in the heavens. When the empire became Christian, and princes used their power for the defence and advancement of Christianity, then the saints possessed the kingdom. The saints rule by the Spirit’s ruling in them (and this is the victory overcoming the world, even their faith) and by making the kingdoms of this world to become Christ’s kingdom. But the full accomplishment of this will be in the everlasting happiness of the saints, the kingdom that cannot be moved, which we, according to his promise, look for (that is the greatness of the kingdom), the crown of glory that fades not away—that is the everlasting kingdom. See what an emphasis is laid upon this (Dan. 7:18): The saints shall possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever; and the reason is because he whose saints they are is the Most High and his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, Dan. 7:27. He is so, and therefore theirs shall be so. Because I live, you shall live also, John 14:19. His kingdom is theirs; they reckon themselves exalted in his exaltation, and desire no greater honour and satisfaction to themselves than that all dominions should serve and obey him, as they shall do, Dan. 7:27. They shall either be brought into subjection to his golden sceptre or brought to destruction by his iron rod.
Daniel, in the close, when he ends that matter, tells us what impressions this vision made upon him; it overwhelmed his spirits to such a degree that his countenance was changed, and it made him look pale; but he kept the matter in his heart. Note, The heart must be the treasury and store-house of divine things; there we must hide God’s word, as the Virgin Mary kept the sayings of Christ, Luke 2:51. Daniel kept the matter in his heart, with a design, not to keep it from the church, but to keep it for the church, that what he had received from the Lord he might fully and faithfully deliver to the people. Note, It concerns God’s prophets and ministers to treasure up the things of God in their minds, and there to digest them well. If we would have God’s word ready in our mouths when we have occasion for it, we must keep it in our hearts at all times.