In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream. Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. Daniel 7:1-3 (NIV).
As we begin our look at Daniel’s prophecies, we first go back in time. Daniel 6 ends with God prospering Persia through Daniel under the reign of Darius and Cyrus the Great. Yet Daniel 7 immediately takes us back a few years, back to a time when Belshazzar was still on the throne of Babylon. Recall that Belshazzar was the king who saw the mysterious writing on the wall, on the last night of his life. Today’s verses likely date to as early as 533 BC (see https://bible-studys.org/Bible%20Books/Daniel/Daniel%20Chapter%207.html). Why chapter 7 is not physically placed earlier in the book we do not know, nor does its placement change the content.
Also, in full disclosure, we’ll be relying heavily on the analysis and advice of others as we go through these next five chapters. I claim no originality on discerning what these prophecies mean: only on this blog’s interpretation of them. These posts have long referenced associated verses as outlined in my Concordia study Bible. As we go through the prophecies, these references will become even more helpful and necessary.
Daniel’s vision of the four winds of heaven likely refers to a great sea of humanity. In other places in the Bible (notably in Ezekiel and Revelation), the four winds are held back by angels. The context of those verses refers to large masses of people, perhaps whole nations or empires. Most likely, that is what Daniel saw in his vision here.
As for the four beasts, many people believe they do indeed refer to four empires, specifically two already in existence at the time (Babylon and Persia) and two yet to come (Greece and Rome). See https://lifehopeandtruth.com/prophecy/understanding-the-book-of-daniel/daniel-7/ for more in-depth explanation. This fits best with the rest of the prophecy, yet some people think it may also refer to empires even after that, specifically ones in existence at the end of time.
All of this matters because there are prophecies coming in this chapter that exist nowhere else in the Old Testament. They point directly to the Triune God, specifically to the savior, Jesus, in ways no other prophet did. It’s helpful to remember (and also lends credence to the prophecy) that all this was recorded by Daniel long before the fall of Babylon. It was after Nebuchadnezzar but many years before Media-Persia invaded.
For further reading: Psalm 4:4, Jeremiah 36:4, Ezekiel 37:9, Ezekiel 40:2, Revelation 7:1, Revelation 13:1, Daniel 7:4
Thank You Lord for the mysteries of prophecy.
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