THE HISTORIC PROPHECY OF DANIEL 7
FOUR GREAT UNIVERSAL EMPIRES
So important is it that we understand the events leading on to the end, that repeatedly the "sure word of prophecy" outlines the course of this world's history, and sets up waymarks along the highway to the everlasting kingdom.
In the light of prophecy we see the hand of God guiding and overruling through all history, shaping events for the carrying out of His purpose to end the reign of sin and to bring in the reign of eternal righteousness. His prophetic word foretells events of history, that we may know that He is the living God over all, and that we may understand that the divine purpose will surely be fulfilled. Above a wicked world there is a God in heaven, waiting only the appointed time for the accomplishment of His purposes.
"I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.... I have spoken it, I also will bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.... My salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion." Isa. 46:9-13.
In the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, recorded in the second chapter of Daniel, the Lord revealed in brief but graphic outline the course of history from the days of Babylon to the end of the world. The four great universal monarchies,—Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome—were represented by the various parts of the metallic image. That prophecy described particularly the division of the Roman Empire into the kingdoms of western Europe. "In the days of these kings," declared the word of the Lord, the God of heaven was to set up His kingdom, bringing an end to all earthly powers.
In the seventh chapter we are taken over the same course of history, in Daniel's vision of the four beasts. Here also chief attention is devoted to the fourth great kingdom; and especially to its divided state; for the events taking place at this time are of the deepest eternal interest to all men.
In this vision Daniel saw four universal empires represented by great beasts. One after another the symbolic beasts arose, did their work, and gave place to the next scenes in the history. The angel clearly explained to Daniel the meaning of the vision:
"These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever."
Of necessity, then, it is a repetition of the story of the four universal monarchies dealt with in the second chapter, and ending with the setting up of the everlasting kingdom.
Let us place the view given the prophet in vision alongside the record of history.
First, however, a word as to the manner in which the great beasts appeared to the prophet:
"I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another."
Again and again, in the figurative language of Scripture, winds are used as the symbol for wars; and the sea, or waters, for nations or peoples. (See Jer. 25:31-33; Rev. 17:15.) The prophet saw the clashing of the nations in war, and out of these conflicts arose the kingdoms described in the prophecy.
Note the prophetic picture of the prophecy and the corresponding representation in history.
Prophecy.—"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."
History.—As the lion is king of beasts, it was a fitting symbol of Babylon, "the glory of kingdoms." Isa. 13:19. The eagle's wings suggest rapidity of movement and far-reaching conquest. The prophet Habakkuk said of it, "Their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle." This was the characteristic of Babylon under the earlier kings, but especially under Nebuchadnezzar. Berosus, the ancient Chaldean historian, wrote of him:
"This Babylonian king conquered Egypt, and Syria, and Phenicia, and Arabia; and exceeded in his exploits all that had reigned before him in Babylon." (See Flavius Josephus "Against Apion," book 1, par. 19.)
But now, at the time of Daniel's vision, degeneracy had come; the empire was tottering. The lion heart was gone, the eagle's wings were plucked, and within three years from the time the vision was given, Babylon was overthrown.
As the dominion passed from Babylon to the next great power, the prophet says:
Prophecy.—"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."
History.—The Medes and Persians overthrew Babylon. Medo-Persia was a dual kingdom, lifting itself up on one side, first the Median branch the stronger, then the Persian, under Cyrus and his successors, rising higher. This two-sided characteristic, noted as a distinguishing mark in the prophecy, was emphasized by the ancient writers also. Æschylus, the Greek poet, who lived in the time of Persia, wrote:
"Asia's brave host,
A Mede first led. The virtues of his son
Fixed firm the empire....
... Cyrus third, by fortune graced,
Adorned the throne."
The word spoken in the vision, "Arise, devour much flesh," describes the history from the time when the Persian side rose uppermost. Rawlinson says, "Cyrus proceeded with scarcely a pause on a long career of conquest."
An alliance against Persia was formed by Lydia, Egypt, and Babylon (Herodotus 1:77); and as these three great provinces were subdued, they may well be represented by the three ribs in the mouth of the Medo-Persian bear.
Yet another kingdom was to follow, and strikingly the symbol pictures the characteristics of the Greek conquest.
Prophecy.—"After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; and the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it."
History.—The third kingdom was Grecia. Under Alexander the Great, the Greeks swept into Asia with the quickness of the leopard's spring. And the four wings on the leopard must represent astonishing fleetness. Plutarch speaks of the "incredible swiftness" of Alexander's conquests. Appian wrote:
"The empire of Alexander was splendid in its magnitude, in its armies, in the success and rapidity of its conquests, and it wanted little of being boundless and unexampled, yet in its shortness of duration it was like a brilliant flash of lightning. Although broken into several satrapies, even the parts were splendid."—"History of Rome," preface, par. 10.
Thus the ancient Roman writer pictured the career of Grecia just as represented by the prophetic symbol—the fleetness, the great dominion given it, the division of the empire into satrapies, as suggested by the four heads of the leopard. Out of the conflicts following Alexander's death, there came the fourfold headship of the empire. Rawlinson says, "A quadripartite division of Alexander's domain was recognized." (See "Sixth Monarchy," chap. 3.) The real situation is best represented, as Dr. Albert Barnes says, by "one animal with four heads," just as the prophetic symbol described it centuries before.
Thus the course of empire followed the outline of the "sure word of prophecy" from age to age.
"Armies were ranged in battle's dread array:
They fought—their glory withered in its bud;
They perished—with them ceased their tyrants' sway;
New wars, new heroes came—their story passed away."
There was to be no abiding kingdom till the time came for God's glorious kingdom to be set up.
As the prophet watched the moving panorama of history, foretold in symbols, he said:
Prophecy.—"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. 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 a man, and a mouth speaking great things."
History.—As the iron of the image of Nebuchadnezzar's dream fitly represented the "iron monarchy of Rome," so here the dreadful beast, with its iron teeth, can be none other than Rome, which followed Grecia in world dominion. It was the most powerful, the most dominating, of all the beasts in the prophetic series. A Roman Catholic writer, Cardinal Manning, compresses into a paragraph the correspondence of history to the likeness of the prophecy:
"The legions of Rome occupied the circumference of the world. The military roads which sprang from Rome traversed all the earth; the whole world was, as it were, held in peace and in tranquillity by the universal presence of this mighty heathen empire. It was 'exceedingly terrible,' according to the prophecies of Daniel; it was as it were of iron, beating down and subduing the nations."—"The Temporal Power of the Pope" (London, 1862), p. 122.
Thus far every symbol of the prophet's vision finds its exact and clear counterpart in history. A writer living in the third century, in the days of imperial Rome, rejoiced to see how exactly the prophecy was being fulfilled. Hippolytus (counted a saint by the Catholic Church) wrote:
"Rejoice, blessed Daniel! thou hast not been in error! All these things have come to pass. After this again thou hast told us of the beast, dreadful and terrible. It has iron teeth and claws of brass; it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it. Already the iron rules; already it subdues and breaks all in pieces; already it brings all the unwilling into subjection; already we see these things ourselves. Now we glorify God, being instructed by thee."—"Treatise on Christ and Antichrist," sec. 33.
Now the prophetic outline comes to the time of the division of the Roman Empire, introducing events of deepest personal interest to us today.
The Fourth Kingdom and the "Little Horn"
It was the fourth great monarchy, Imperial Rome, and the events to follow it, that engaged the anxious inquiry of the prophet. He says:
"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; and of the ten horns that were in his head, and of the other which came up, and before whom three fell; even of that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows. I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom."
The prophet wanted to know the truth about it; and the angel told him the truth. First, the angel 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."
The fourth kingdom, as we have seen, was Rome. As Cardinal Manning said of the empire, "It was 'exceeding terrible,' according to the prophecies of Daniel; it was as it were of iron, breaking down and subduing the nations."
Of the ten horns that arose out of this fourth great empire, the angel said:
"The ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings."
We look to the history of the Roman Empire, and what do we see?—Just the picture of the prophecy. We see the original Roman Empire of the West divided into lesser kingdoms. We see the barbarian peoples of the North sweeping down upon the empire, breaking it up, and establishing within its boundaries the various kingdoms that are to this day represented by the kingdoms of western Europe.
And as we watch the history at this point, we surely see "another little horn," another land of power, rising among the horns representing the kingdoms of divided Rome—a kingdom, yet a kingdom "diverse" from the others. The work of this power riveted the attention of the prophet; and it is of the greatest importance that we also should watch closely to catch the lesson of the divine prophecy.
Prophetic and Historic Pictures of the "Little Horn"
This is plainly the picture presented by the prophet, as we look again, observing details more closely.
The prophet beheld the division of the Roman Empire into lesser kingdoms. Then, springing up among these kingdoms, he saw the little-horn power subduing three of the ten kingdoms, speaking great words, and making war with the saints of God. It was to be a religious power, then, ruling among the kings of the earth, and asserting religious dominion over the faith and consciences of men. "The same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them."
We look to history, and this is what plainly appears:
We see, as described in the prophecy, a time when ten contemporaneous kingdoms filled the territory of the original Western Empire. Just there we see an ecclesiastical kingly power rise to religious supremacy—the Roman Papacy. We see, through its influence, three of the ten kingdoms overthrown, "plucked up by the roots"—three Arian or heretical kingdoms. And as we watch the history, we find this power making "war with the saints" and prevailing against them through long ages.
A Roman Catholic writer describes it in a paragraph:
"Long ages ago, when Rome through the neglect of the Western emperors was left to the mercy of the barbarous hordes, the Romans turned to one figure for aid and protection, and asked him to rule them; and thus, in this simple manner, the best title of all to kingly right, commenced the temporal sovereignty of the popes. And meekly stepping to the throne of Cæsar, the vicar of Christ took up the scepter to which the emperors and kings of Europe were to bow in reverence through so many ages."—Rev. James P. Conroy, in American Catholic Quarterly Review, April, 1911.
Yet again we look at the picture presented in prophecy. Then we turn to history; and precisely where and when the prophet saw the "little horn" coming up, we see the Roman Papacy rising to supremacy. We see this ecclesiastical power wielding a kingly scepter among the kingdoms of divided Rome, exalting itself above them, with a look "more stout than his fellows." We hear it speaking great words, and we see it carrying on warfare against the saints.
Clearly, there was no other power in history, rising at that time and in that place, which suggests the slightest correspondence to the prophecy. In every detail the Roman Papacy does correspond to it.
The prophetic outline has brought us to the rise of the great apostasy, so fully dealt with in the New Testament prophecy; but there are further specifications in this prophecy of the seventh of Daniel which demand brief study.