The First Beast of Daniel:

A Lion with a Head of Gold

Dani'el 2:37-38 and 7:2-4

   DIG: What two ways is Babylon pictured in this section? Who were the four great beasts out of the sea? What made this lion different from other lions? When its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it, what did that represent?

    King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was troubled. He had a dream that he could not interpret. He called in the famous wise men of Babylon and even they could not interpret his troubling dream. The king was so angry that he was about to execute them all when the commander of his guard met Dani'el, who said that he could interpret the king’s dream. Dani'el told the king that he had seen a large statue, an enormous dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold (Dani'el 2:31-32a).

    Daniel interpreted the meaning of the head of gold as being King Nebuchadnezzar himself, the head of the Babylonian Empire, or the first Gentile Empire. When he destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple in 586 BC, the Times of the Gentiles began. As a result, Babylon was the first of four Gentile empires to dominate Jerusalem.

    Interpreting the king’s dream, Dani'el said to him: You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory. Then Daniel pointed out the extent of his rule when he said: In your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are the head of gold (2:37-38). God had given King Nebuchadnezzar authority over the whole entire earth, a universal reign and a universal authority. He was an absolute monarch and was above the law. The fact that he did not proceed to gain the universal reign is beside the point. If he had wanted to he could have conquered the whole inhabited world with guaranteed success because that was the power that ADONAI had given him. Two contemporary prophets of Dan'iel said the same thing (Jeremiah 27:5-8; Ezeki'el 26:7-14).

    God had given King Nebuchadnezzar authority over the whole earth. He chose not to extend it that far but he could have. Dani'el affirmed his absolute authority when he said: O King, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. Because of the high position he gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted humbled, he humbled (Dani'el 5:18-19).

    Many years later, Dani'el had his first vision during the first year of King Belshazzar’s reign. It was 553 BC, or fourteen years before the fall of Babylon (Dani'el 7:1). Nebuchadnezzar had been dead for nine years. After him, three kings followed in quick succession before King Nabonidus assumed the throne. Three years later Nabonidus made his son Belshazzar his coregent. Thus, Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon before the Medes and the Persians overthrew the Babylonians and came to power.

    Dani'el said: In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds, emphasizing God’s sovereignty and the LORD's providence, of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts came up out of the great sea (7:2-3). Whenever the word sea is used symbolically in Scripture, it always refers to the Gentile nations (Is 17:12-13; Mt 13:47-50; Rev 13:1 and Ezk 26:3). So these four great kingdoms would be Gentile kingdoms, and each kingdom would be distinct from the others. God, in His sovereign will, was allowing this to happen for His own purposes and glory.

    The first beast, like the head of gold, represented the Babylonian Empire. The first Gentile kingdom was like a lion. The lion is the king of the beasts and it was used as a symbol of Babylon (Jeremiah 4:7, 49:19, 50:17 and 44). What makes this lion different from other lions was that it had the wings of an eagle. The eagle is the king of the birds and it was also used as a symbol of Babylon (Jeremiah 48:40, 49:22; Ezekiel 17:3). Therefore, the lion and the eagle were both used by Jeremiah to describe Nebuchadnezzar. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it (Daniel 7:4). This is a description of the proud and self-sufficient King Nebuchadnezzar being reduced to a field animal to realize his dependence on God (Dani'el 4:1-37). But it also represents both Nebuchadnezzar and his empire, for as near as a man could become a beast, he became one. And as much as a beast can become a man, Babylon lost its beast-like nature and its animalistic characteristics and became more humane. This summarizes the experience of Babylon changing from the lust of conquest to the building of culture.

 

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