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In our study of Daniel chapter seven, we look at Daniel's dream of four beasts and their taming at the hands of God. We will see how this prophetic dream has been mostly fulfilled but the completion will come at the return of Jesus Christ.
"In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream." NIV translation
In chapter 6, we saw that Darius the Mede had defeated Babylon but, here, Daniel takes us back to a dream that he had prior to the fall of Babylon. We are told that this dream happened during the first year of the reign of Belshazzar the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar.
"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.'" NIV translation
We are introduced to what is the first of three separate visions that he has in this dream. We notice that the vision happened at night while he was sleeping and that speaks to the fact that God is revealing something to him that he was not even seeking.
The "great sea" is the Mediterranean Sea and, throughout the Bible, seas are used as a symbol of Gentile nations.
The word wind, here, is ruach in the Hebrew and the "four winds of heaven" speaks of the Spirit of God. When you get the four winds acting at the same time, a whirlwind is created and it is a demonstration of the power of God. We see, here, that the power of God is working on the Gentile nations and four beasts are called out of them. Throughout the Bible, beasts are symbols of men that are controlled by the natural (flesh) and have no understanding of the spiritual things of God. The beasts are also associated with kingdoms as there were no democracies and so a kingdom took on the character of its leader.
"'The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. 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.'" NIV translation
The first beast is a winged lion and a lion was the symbol of the Babylonian kingdom. The wings speak of speed and the Babylonians had the ability to quickly move their army. The wings were torn off speaks of the fall of Babylon which we saw happened in chapter 5 when Darius conquered the city. The final part of the verse speaks of the restoration of King Nebuchadnezzar from his insanity where he went out into the wilderness and lived like an animal (see chapter 4).
This first beast corresponds to the head of gold on the statue of Nebuchadnezzar's dream (see chapter 2).