Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
EXCURSUS E: THE FOUR KINGDOMS (Daniel 2, 7).
In the notes upon the parallel, though supplementary, vision contained in Daniel 2, 7 attention has been directed to each of the four empires which has hitherto governed the world. It has been explained in the notes that these four empires are the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Græco-Macedonian, and the Roman. The fourth empire in each case is succeeded by the kingdom of the Messiah, which in Daniel 2 is symbolised by a stone, but in Daniel 7:27 is described more clearly as the “kingdom of the people of the saints of the Most High.” This view of the four kingdoms is found in the early part of the second century A.D. maintained by the author of the epistle of Barnabas, who speaks of the ten kingdoms (Barn., Ep. iv. 4, 5) foretold by Daniel as then existing, and of the fourth beast as then reigning. The fragments of St. Hippolytus show that the same opinion prevailed in the Church a century later. The longer ecclesiastical commentaries of St. Jerome and Theodoret maintain the same opinion, which has been followed in modern times, with some modifications, by a large number of commentators.
A second view, of great antiquity, is mentioned by Porphyry, who flourished in the third century. His opinion coincided with the interpretation just mentioned up to a certain point. He made the panther, or third beast, represent Alexander the Great; but the fourth beast, according to him, meant the four successors of Alexander. He then enumerated up to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes those kings whom he conceived to have been most remarkable for persecuting God’s people in the times of the Ptolemies and Seleucidæ, and ultimately identified the little horn with Antiochus Epiphanes, in whose time he believed the Book of Daniel to have been written. This view has not been without support in recent times.
A third view, which has antiquity to support it, is due in the first instance to St. Ephraim Syrus, according to whose teaching the four kingdoms are the Babylonian, the Median, the Persian, and the Greek. He is careful, however, to point out that the fulfilment which the prophecy received in the times of the Maccabees is only typical of a further fulfilment to be expected in the last days. It exceeds the limit of a note to trace the origin of this opinion in the Syrian Church, and the development of it in modern times. It is sufficient to observe that, like Porphyry’s interpretation, it limits the horizon of the prophet chiefly to the Greek period.
This view, which, more or less modified, finds many adherents in the present day, rests upon the identification of the little horn in Daniel 7:8, with the little horn in Daniel 8:9. If Antiochus is the horn of Daniel 8, why should he not be hinted at in Daniel 7? and if so, why should not the goat (Daniel 8:5), which is known (Daniel 8:21) to be the kingdom of Greece, be identical with the fourth beast of Daniel 7? It is then argued that the period of persecution hinted at in Daniel 7:25 coincides with that which is mentioned in Daniel 9:27, being half a week, or three days and a half, and that the same measure of time occurs in Daniel 12:7. Is it possible, it is asked, that these similar measures of time represent different events? Again, it is observed that there is no interval mentioned as occurring between the last times and the times of the persecutions mentioned in Daniel 7, 8, 10-12, and also that the words in which Antiochus is predicted (Daniel 8:19) are spoken of as the “last end of indignation” and “the end.” This is stated to support the view that the predictions of Daniel are limited by the times of Antiochus.
On these grounds the persecution mentioned in Daniel 7:25 is supposed to be that of Antiochus. The Greek Empire is represented by the fourth beast, while the second and third beasts represent the Median and the Persian Empires respectively. But here the question arises, Are there any grounds for believing that Daniel intended to speak of a distinct Median Empire? The passages alleged in support are Daniel 5:28; Daniel 5:31; Daniel 6:8; Daniel 6:12; Daniel 6:15. Daniel states of Darius expressly that he was a Mede and of Median descent (Daniel 5:31; Daniel 9:1; Daniel 11:1), and, on the contrary, that Cyrus was a Persian (Daniel 6:28; Daniel 10:1). Also in Daniel 6:28 the writer appears to be contrasting Darius the Mede with Cyrus the Persian, as if each belonged to a different empire. And though the kings of Media and Persia are distinctly mentioned in Daniel 8:20, it is maintained that the unity of the Medo-Persian Empire is not established thereby, because the two horns, and not the body, of the goat are assumed to be the key of the vision. If the brief duration and slight importance of the so-called Median Empire is objected, it is replied that the importance of it to Israel was very great, for in the first year of it the exile terminated, and at that very time Darius was under the special protection of the Angel of the Lord (Daniel 11:1).
Upon this hypothesis the visions in Daniel 2, 7 are explained in the following manner:—The materials of which the feet of the image were formed corresponds to the two divisions of the Greek Empire noticed in Daniel 11, the iron representing the Ptolemies, the clay the Seleucidæ. The mixture of the iron and clay points to such attempts as are mentioned in Daniel 11:8; Daniel 11:17 to unite certain heterogeneous elements in the political world. The silver breasts and arms are the Median Empire, which was inferior to the Babylonian (Daniel 2:39). which, it is asserted, does not hold true of the Persian Empire. Then comes the Persian Empire, which, as Daniel interpreted the vision (Daniel 2:39), “bare rule over all.” Similarly, in Daniel 7, those who maintain the interpretation find no difficulty about the first beast; but the second beast is Darius the Mede; the three ribs are the three satrapies mentioned in Daniel 6:2 (St. Ephraim explains them of the Medes, the Babylonians, and the Persians). The command, “Arise, and devour much flesh,” means that the empire of Darius had a great future prospect, which he would not realise. Then the panther is Cyrus; the four wings are the Persians, Medes, Babylonians, and Egyptians; the four heads are four Persian kings, Cambyses, Smerdis, Darius Hystaspes, and the last, who is either Xerxes or Darius Codemannus. It remains that the fourth beast is the Greek Empire, the first which was of a totally distinct character from the Asiatic empires which had preceded it. The little horn is Antiochus Epiphanes, and the other ten horns are ten kings, who are not supposed to be reigning simultaneously; three of them, however, were contemporaneous with the little horn. The ten kings are assumed to be—(1) Seleucus Nicator, (2) Antiochus Soter, (3) Antiochus Theos, (4) Seleucus Callinicus, (5) Seleucus Ceraunus, (6) Antiochus the Great, (7) Seleucus Philopator, (8) Heliodorus, (9) Demetrius, (10) Ptolemy Philometor. The last three were deposed by Antiochus Epiphanes, the allusion being to Demetrius (Daniel 11:21) and to Ptolemy Philometor (Daniel 11:22-28). It is then alleged that all the events which are explicitly mentioned in Daniel 11 are figuratively expressed by the ten toes of the image and by the ten horns of the fourth beast.
In this interpretation there is much that appears plausible at first sight. It seems to make the whole plan of the book more distinct, and to introduce a symmetry and coherence among the several parts which is wanting to the interpretation given above. But though the truth is simple, everything simple is not true. Grave difficulties will be found, upon closer inspection, to underlie this hypothesis respecting the four kingdoms.
(1) What reason is there for identifying the little horn in Daniel 7:8 with the little horn in Daniel 8:9? In one case it grows up amongst ten, in the other out of four. In one case it destroys three of the other horns, in the other none. Or, to take Daniel’s own interpretation, the “kink of a fierce countenance” (Daniel 8:23) arises while the four horns are still in existence, though “in the latter time of their kingdom.” Bearing in mind that the ten toes of the image correspond to the ten horns of the fourth beast, there appears to be strong primâ facie evidence for supposing that the horizon of Daniel 8 is different from that of Daniel 2, 7, 11.
(2) Further consideration shows that Antiochus Epiphanes does not correspond with the little horn (Daniel 7), or with the king mentioned (Daniel 11:21, &c.). Antiochus is foretold (Daniel 8:9-12; Daniel 8:23-25) as “becoming great toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land, and waxing great even to the host of heaven,” &c.; but the person foretold in Daniel 7:8; Daniel 7:20; Daniel 7:25, “has a mouth speaking proud things,” &c. In no point do these two awful personages agree, except in blaspheming God and in making war against His people. They differ in many important respects.
(3) The measures of time, again, are different in each vision. Antiochus Epiphanes carries on his destructive work for 2,300 (or 1,150) days, but the Antichrist mentioned in Daniel 7:25 has the saints in his power for a “time, times, and the dividing of time.” By no possible calculation can these two measures of time be made identical. Nor can the same measure of time which occurs in Daniel 12:7 be identified either with the 1,290 days, or with the 1,335 days mentioned in Daniel 12:11-12.
(4) Further, in Daniel 8:9 “the last end of indignation” does not mean the end of all things, any more than it means the end of the captivity. It points to the persecution of Antiochus, when, for the last time in Jewish history, the innocent suffered for the guilt of the apostates. This was a persecution of which the adherence of the Jews to their religion was the cause. Politics provoked later persecutions, but in this they were involved in only a secondary manner. The plain question was, would the Jews suffer their religion to be Hellenised, or would they not? This, again, is alien to the thoughts contained in Daniel 7:21; Daniel 7:25.
(5) Nor is it clear that Daniel knew of a Median as distinct from a Persian Empire. If Darius “received the kingdom,” some superior power must have given it to him. If he was “made king,” some higher authority must have invested him with the sovereignty. Nor does history give us any reasons for supposing that there was at this time any broad national distinction between the Medes and Persians.
(6) Lastly, the empire of Alexander the Great does not correspond to the fourth empire, which is described in Daniel 2, 7. None of the elements of iron appear in it. The leading characteristic of it was not “breaking in pieces and bruising” other empires, but rather assimilation. The policy of it was to Hellenise them, to clothe their ideas in Greek forms, to unite widely separated nations which it had subdued, by treating them courteously, adopting their national customs, and by polishing the whole external with Greek culture.
Great and undoubted though the difficulties are which are contained in the interpretation given above in the Notes, they are not so great as those which are involved by the so-called “modern” interpretation just mentioned.
(1) The date of this and of the following chapter comes in chronological order after the fourth chapter. As St. Jerome has observed, “In superioribus ordo sequitur historiœ quid sub Nebuchadonosor et Balthasar, et Dario sive Cyro mirabilium signorum acciderit. In kis vero narrantur somnia quœ singulis sint visa ternporibus: quorum solus propheta conscius est, et nullam habent apud barbaras nationes signi vel revelationis magnitudinem, sed tantum scribuntur, ut apud posteros eorum quœ visa sunt memoria perseveret.”
Visions.—From this, and from the phrase “sum of the matters,” it appears that Daniel had other visions at this time. By “sum” is meant the principal parts of the vision.
Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea.(2) The great sea.—In general (e.g., Joshua 15:47), these words imply the Mediterranean. Such cannot be the meaning here, so that according to Daniel 7:17 we are justified in explaining the “sea” to mean the nations of the world, which are compared to the sea (Isaiah 27:1; Psalm 46:3). The raging of the winds from the four quarters of the sky points to the various political and social agitations which disturb the world’s history, and lead to the changes and revolutions which mark its progress as it tends towards the end.
And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another.(3) Four great beasts.—The monstrous forms of the beasts are implied, rather than the hugeness of their size. Other instances of beasts being taken as emblems of kingdoms may be found in Isaiah 27:1; Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 32:2. It must be observed that the beasts do not rise up simultaneously, but in succession to each other. In this way, and in the difference of their character, they form a parallel to the subject-matter of the vision recorded in Daniel 2.
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.(4) The first was like a lion.—The lion and the eagle are chosen as being emblems of strength and swiftness respectively. They characterise the empire of Nebuchadnezzar, and correspond to the golden head of the Colossus (Daniel 2).
The wings . . . plucked.—The eagle, deprived of its wings, loses its power of swiftness and unrestrained motion.
From the earth.—The beast was raised from being on its four feet into the position of a man, as is indicated by the words “a man’s heart.” We have not sufficient historical details respecting the last years of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign to enable us to point to the reference. It has been suggested by St. Jerome that the words refer to the madness of the king and to his subsequent recovery; but it must be borne in mind that it is the kingdom rather than the king of Babylon which is the subject of the vision.
And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh.(5) And behold another beast.—We are not told what became of the first beast. (Comp. Daniel 7:12.) The word “behold” implies that this was the next object which arrested the seer’s attention. The second beast corresponds to the silver portion of the Colossus (Daniel 2).
One side.—In explaining this very difficult phrase, it must be remembered that the two sides of the bear are parallel in meaning to the two breasts and two arms of the Colossus. It is implied, therefore, that the second kingdom consists of two parts, and the raising up of one side implies that one part of the kingdom would come into greater prominence than the other. Such was the case with the Medo-Persian Empire (comp. Daniel 8:3), in which the Persian element surpassed the Median.
Three ribs.—These cannot signify the people who constitute the second empire, but rather some kingdoms which had already been subdued by it; and by the command, “Arise and devour,” the second empire is permitted to make further conquests before its disappearance. The three ribs have been understood from the time of St. Hippolytus to mean three nations: the Babylonians, the Lydians, and the Egyptians.
After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it.(6) A leopard.—More correctly, a panther. On the great vigilance and swiftness of the panther, comp. Jeremiah 5:6; Hosea 13:7; Habakkuk 1:8. The third beast corresponds to the copper belly and thighs of the image (Daniel 2). It should be noticed that as unity characterises the first beast, and duality the second, so quadruplicity marks the third. It has four wings—wings as of a bird, not of an eagle—by which a degree of swiftness is implied inferior to that of the first beast. It has four heads, indicating four kingdoms, into which the third kingdom should develop itself. (Comp. Daniel 8:8, where the same predominance of the number “four” is to be observed.)
After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns.(7) A fourth beast.—This is so different from the preceding three, and so terrible in appearance, that Daniel can hardly find words to describe it. The distinguishing feature of it is the power which it possesses of breaking and stamping out all that it meets. In this way it corresponds to “iron that breaketh in pieces, and subdueth all things.” (Comp. Daniel 2:40.) The description of the destructive might of this beast is heightened by the mention of “iron teeth” and “brazen claws.” It should be noticed that the horns imply strength, while the ten horns correspond to the ten toes of the image.
The residue—i.e., what it did not destroy with its teeth it trampled upon and annihilated with its feet.
I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.(8) I considered.—Literally, I kept on looking. Here, for the first time in the course of the vision, there appears a change taking place in the object itself. While the three beasts had passed away unchanged in any material addition, among the ten horns of the fourth beast there was seen to grow up a “little horn.” which destroyed three of the other horns. That a man, and not a kingdom, is intended, though the man may be the representative of a kingdom, appears from the mention of “the eyes of a man,” indicating craft and cunning, and “the mouth speaking great things,” implying vain-glory and blasphemy.
I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.(9) I beheld.—Literally, I kept on looking, and suddenly seats were placed, on which the assessors of the Great Judge were to sit. These have been interpreted from Psalm 89:7 to be the angels, but a truer explanation is to be found in Matthew 19:28. It should be noticed that those who sat on the thrones are distinguished from the countless multitude mentioned in Daniel 7:10.
Ancient of days.—Literally, a very aged man. (Comp. Ezekiel 1:26-28.) The attribute of age expresses the majesty of the judge. (Comp. Psalm 55:19; Deuteronomy 33:27.) It may be remarked that notwithstanding the title “Ancient” is applied to the Deity, “Anou,” yet His titles, “generator and father of the gods,” are so completely at variance with Old Testament doctrines that it is inconceivable that Daniel should have incorporated in his vision any portions of Babylonian mythology. Similar remarks apply to Silik-moulou-khi, between whom and the Son of man (Daniel 7:13) a parallel has been pointed out. The conception of the former is completely different from what is revealed about the latter.
White as snow.—Indicating, like the “pure wool,” the purity and justice of the Judge.
Fiery flame.—Fire appears in Scripture sometimes as a metaphor for affliction or punishment (e.g., 1Corinthians 3:13, &c.), sometimes as a symbol of the chastening and punitive righteousness of God (Ezekiel 1:13-14; Ezekiel 1:27-28). Elsewhere it sets forth the fiery indignation which devours the enemies of God (Hebrews 10:27; Revelation 19:11-12). The figure of speech is here used in each of these senses. The “wheels” represent the omnipresence of Almighty God.
A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.(10) The books—i.e., the unerring record of man’s thoughts, words, and deeds, which is written in the unfailing memory of God. (Comp. Exodus 32:32; Psalm 56:8; Psalm 69:28; Isaiah 4:3; Malachi 3:16.)
I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.(11) Because of . . .—The blasphemy uttered by the little horn was the cause of the judgment, and being such, it attracted Daniel’s attention. We might have expected that the crowning scene of this vision would have been the uprooting of the little horn and the complete destruction of it, but it appears that the blaspheming spirit with which it was inspired issued from the fourth monster, which “was slain and burned.”
As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time.(12) The rest of the beasts—i.e., the three first beasts which Daniel had seen coming out of the sea. He now learns what had befallen them. Their dominions had passed away, and their lives had been prolonged up to that definite point and time which had seemed fit to God, and no further. The period of life allotted to them by God was only a little while. (On “times” and “seasons,” see Note on Daniel 2:21.)
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.(13) The Son of man.—Hence our Saviour adopts the title which designates Him as Judge (Matthew 24:27, &c.). The title implies one descended from man; but as this Person is spoken of as being “like” one of human descent, it follows that He was not merely a man. The early Jewish and Christian interpretations that this is the Messiah are confirmed by our Saviour’s solemn appropriation of the title to Himself (Matthew 24:30). In this verse the judgment is supposed to have already taken place upon earth, and the Son of man comes in the clouds to claim His kingdom.
And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.(14) Serve him.—In Biblical Chaldee this word is only used of rendering Divine service or worship. The “Son of man” is therefore here spoken of as God.
I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me.(15) Midst.—See margin. The body was regarded as the sheath of the soul.
I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things.(16) That stood by—i.e., one out of the multitudes mentioned (Daniel 7:10).
These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.(17) Four kings.—Kingdoms are frequently represented by their heads or founders; hence kings and kingdoms are occasionally used synonymously. (Comp. Daniel 8:21.)
Then I would know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet;(19) Whose teeth.—The recapitulation in this verse of what was stated in Daniel 7:7 must be noticed. The additional features mentioned here are the brazen claws. (Comp. Daniel 2:37; Daniel 4:20.)
I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them;(21) Made war.—This corresponds to “the mouth speaking great things” (Daniel 7:8; Daniel 7:20). These events occur while the saints are expecting their deliverance.
Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces.(23) The fourth kingdom.—The ten are spoken of as existing simultaneously. Of the various attempts to account for them, none have proved satisfactory. (See Excursus E.) We must wait in patient humility for the fulfilment of this part of the prophecy, noting that marks by which the little horn may be identified have been graciously revealed to us by God Himself.
And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.(25) And he shall speak.—The marks of identification of the little horn are—(1) blasphemy of God; (2) persecution and affliction of the saints; (3) attempts, apparently ineffectual (he will “think to change”), against all institutions, whether of Divine or human authority: in short, a general spirit of lawlessness and unbelief. It appears that the little horn, the Antichrist of the last days, or the beast, will be successful for a time in his blasphemies and persecutions, but in the end he will be destroyed. (See 2Thessalonians 2:8.)
Time and times and the dividing of time.—This is frequently explained to mean three years and a half. Those who adopt this explanation assume that by “times” a dual is implied, which in Chaldee is represented by the plural. They next assume that by “a time” is meant one year, resting their assumption partly on Daniel 4:16, and partly on a comparison of Daniel 12:7 with Revelation 13:5; Revelation 11:2-3. This gives a sum of three years and a half, which is interpreted either literally, or explained to mean half a sabbatical period, or half some divinely-appointed period symbolised by the number “seven.” According to the second interpretation, Daniel teaches us that the days of tribulation shall be shortened (Matthew 24:22). But it may be questioned whether “years” are intended in Daniel 4:16. Also the language in Daniel 12:7 is very obscure. A more correct view of the prediction is that the reign of Antichrist will be divided into three periods—the first long, the second longer, the third shortest of all. It also appears that the last is to be the severest time of trial. It may be remarked that in Daniel 9 the seventy weeks are divided into three periods, forming a similar series, 7 + 62 + 1 = 70.
But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.(26) The judgment.—The language is similar to that in Daniel 7:10. The destruction of the beast recorded in Daniel 7:11 is here omitted.
Unto the end.—Comp. Daniel 6:26.
And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.(27) Comp. Daniel 7:14; Daniel 7:18.
Hitherto is the end of the matter. As for me Daniel, my cogitations much troubled me, and my countenance changed in me: but I kept the matter in my heart.(28) The matter—i.e., the vision and the revelation.