Crushing the little horn- Friday, 34th Week in ordinary time – Daniel 7: 2-14

Daniel’s vision of the Four beasts – woodcut by Hans Holbein the Younger

Crushing the little horn- Friday, 34th Week in ordinary time – Daniel 7: 2-14

Chapters one to six of the book of Daniel contained six stories of faithfulness.  Chapters’ seven to twelve contains four visions that Daniel saw.  These visions pertain to the religious crisis that the Jews were undergoing in the second century under Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  

The setting of the visions is still Babylon where Daniel is now an official, though advanced in age.  Daniel is still the hero of this section as he was in the last section but there are differences in the two sections.

In the previous stories Daniel is the interpreter of visions, now he is the recipient of the dreams; he now narrates them. In the stories Daniel is spoken of in the third person, here Daniel narrates the visions in the first person. In both the sections the message is the same; it is an encouragement to the Jews of the Maccabean age to remain loyal to their religion however the form of the message is communicated differently.

The forms used in this section are not stories, but visions; the form is apocalyptic. The author looks forward to the end of the present age.  Apocalyptic thought is always eschatological.  The eyes of Apocalyptist are focused on some future period of time when God will break into this world of time and space to bring the entire present world system to a final judgment.  Apocalyptic thought is also dualistic; it believes in the existence of two supernatural powers (God and Satan), two worlds (heaven and hell) and two ages.

The vision of today has “the great sea”, a reference to the ocean which according to ancient mythology goes all around and even underneath the earth. It is the opposite of the heaven above and therefore by analogy the sea came to symbolize the nations of the earth.

The beast from the sea is indicative of the kingdoms emerging one after another.  Verses four to eight identifies the four beasts that are different from each other. The first beast (vs. 4) the lion eagle or winged lion represented the Babylonian empire.  We see this symbol carved on Mesopotamia temples and palaces. “Its wings were plucked off” indicated a probable weakening of Babylonian empire.

The second beast (vs. 5) represented Median Empire, a ferocious empire indicated by the “three ribs in its mouth”. The third beats (vs. 6) was a four winged, four headed leopard signifying the Persian Empire.  This animal is mentioned in the Old Testament. The four heads are indicative of the four Persian kings, Cyrus, Xeres, Darius and Artaxerxes

The fourth beast (v 7-8), a beast unidentifiable with ten horns plus ten iron teeth was indicative of Alexander’s successors and the Greek empire. This beast was different because while the previous empires did not suppress the Jewish religion, the Greeks did.  Therefore, the beast is described as devouring and crushing.  The four horns are representative of the four kings or dynasties.

The “Little horn” is a contemptuous reference to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, It was he who supplanted others to seize the throne and in his arrogance defied the God of Isaiah. Daniel turned his eyes from the horrible figures of the sea below to the blessed figures of heaven for he sees judgment being passed on the fourth beast; the Greek Empire.

The judge was one “Ancient of Days” who sat on his judgment seat.  He represented Yahweh.  The idea of Yahweh sitting on a throne was familiar to a Jewish audience. Around the judge were members of the divine court seated on their thrones. In front of the judge were the heavenly attendants who carry out the judgments. Record books have the good and bad deeds of the four empires.  These books are now opened.

Blasphemies uttered by little horn (Antiochus IV Epiphanes) have brought about the destruction of the fourth beast (the Greek empire).The earthly kingdoms having been judged and now the eternal kingdom begins.  The figure that symbolizes the new age is in human form “one like a son of man” who comes from heaven unlike the beast who came from the sea.

The one who comes is a heavenly being.  In Apocalyptic language men are symbolized as beasts and heavenly beings as men. it is the saints who are to possess the kingdom. They are “Presented before” the ancient of days reflective of oriental custom according to which the heir to the throne is led for his investiture as a king.  It is clear that he is subordinate to the ‘ancient of days’ to which he is presented and receives a kingdom. As king he is given dominion and glory that is universal and eternal.

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