The first six chapters of this book were historical; and now we enter upon the last six, which are prophetical. Herein are many things that are indeed dark and hard to be understood, but there are also many things which are plain and profitable.
Daniel had interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and now he himself is honored with similar Divine discoveries; he had dreams and visions upon his bed when he was asleep. And when he was awake, he wrote down the dream for the benefit of his Jewish brethren. Many of them had misunderstood and misinterpreted some of the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel; and they flattered themselves with hopes that after their return to their own land, they would enjoy a complete and uninterrupted tranquility. But in order that they might not so deceive themselves, thereby making their calamities doubly grievous because of disappointment; God, by His prophet, lets them know that they shall have tribulation. The promises of their prosperity, which they were placing all their confidence in, were to be accomplished in the spiritual blessings of the Kingdom of grace. Similarly, Christ has told His disciples that they must expect persecution, and the promises that they depend upon will be fully accomplished in the eternal blessings of the heavenly Kingdom of glory.
Daniel’s vision foretells the changing of hands in those governments which the Jews were to be under for the next few centuries. In his dream, the prophet observed the four winds striving upon the great sea. This represents the contests among princes for power, and the shakings of their respective nations by these contests; for these mighty kingdoms which Daniel was about to prophetically see would be born of such struggles. But then he saw four great beasts come up from the depths of the troubled waters. The successive monarchs and monarchies are represented by beasts, because it is too often by brutish rage and tyranny that they are raised and supported.
These beasts were different from one another; their different shapes denoted the different geniuses and complexions of the nations that they represented. The first beast was like a lion. This was Babylon – fierce and strong – whose kings enjoyed absolute power. This lion had eagle’s wings, with which to fly upon the prey – denoting the wonderful speed with which Nebuchadnezzar made conquest of other realms. But Daniel soon sees the wings plucked off; a full stop was thus put to the career of Babylon’s victorious arms. The second beast was like a bear, which stood for the Persian monarchy. They were less strong than the Babylonians, but no less ravenous! This bear rose up against the lion, and soon mastered it; and Persia and Media proceeded to set up a joint-government. This bear had three ribs in its mouth, between its teeth. These ribs were the remains of those nations which it had devoured; and yet they were an indication that although it had devoured much, it could not devour and conquer all. The third beast was like a leopard. This represented the government of the Greeks, founded by Alexander the Great, who was active, crafty, and cruel like a leopard. He had four wings of a bird. The lion only had two wings, but the leopard had four; for although Nebuchadnezzar made great progress in his conquests, Alexander made much greater. In six years’ time, he gained the whole empire of Persia, and also a great part of Asia, in addition to making himself master of Syria, Egypt, India, and other nations. The leopard had four heads; for after Alexander’s death, his kingdom was divided among his four chief captains.
The fourth and last beast was more fierce, formidable, and mischievous than any of the former three – and unlike any of the others. Commentators are not totally agreed concerning the identity of this beast. Some understand it to be the great and glorious Roman Empire; while others take it to be the kingdom of Syria, which arose to prominence after Alexander’s death, and was one of the four divisions of his kingdom.
Whether we understand the fourth beast to signify the Syrian empire or the Roman, the Lord took care to comfort His people in reference to the persecutions that they were likely to sustain – as well as from all their proud enemies in every age. There is indeed a judgment to come, and God Himself – the “Ancient of days” – is the Judge. The proud and cruel enemies of Christ’s Church will certainly be reckoned with and brought down in due time. And the Kingdom of the Messiah shall be set up – and kept up – in the world, despite all the opposition of the powers of darkness! All people and nations shall fear Him and be brought under His jurisdiction – either as His willing subjects or as His conquered captives, to be either ruled or overruled by Him. The nations and governments that serve the devil may speak blasphemous things against the Lord and persecute His people, and they may even seem to do so with great success for a time. But one way or another, the kingdoms of the world shall all become Christ’s, forever and ever!
Thank You, Lord, for the assurance that although the heathen may rage and fret for as long as they please, yet Christ our King still reigns in Zion! Amen.
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