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Daniel 7: A New Perspective (Parts VI & VII)

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Daniel Chapter 7: A New Perspective  

(Parts VI & VII)










The Fourth Beast


The last beast Daniel sees stepping out of the turbulent political waters is a beast, which defies familiar descriptions. It is the fourth beast, which gets extended coverage in this vision, and it is the same beast which gets mentioned extensively in the other chapters in Daniel (i.e., 8, 9 and 11, and 12) and also in end-time prophecies in the New Testament. Therefore, we need to give more time discussing the political force represented by the fourth beast.


   7 Then in my vision that night, I saw a fourth beast, terrifying, dreadful, and very strong. It devoured and      crushed its victims with huge iron teeth and trampled what was left beneath its feet. It was different from any of the other beasts, and it had ten horns. 8 As I was looking at the horns, suddenly another small horn appeared among them. Three of the first horns were wrenched out, roots and all, to make room for it. This little horn had eyes like human eyes and a mouth that was boasting arrogantly. (Dan. 8: 7-8)



Ø  Sequence: The political force represented by the monstrous beast, compared to other three, arrives last. It is a recent phenomenon on the political stage. It has to make itself known to the people, by persuasion, positive deeds, or force.  


Ø  Symbolism: The fourth beast is unlike any earthly beast; it is other worldly in its features. It is something that belongs to mythology. But the prophet is depicting a political reality through the ghastly features of the fourth beast. The symbolism inherent in the overall image of the fourth beast is to creat an image of a political entity that will be unusual, overbearing, terror-instilling, and destructive in its effects.  


Ø  Special features: To decode the features of the fourth beast we cannot resort to dictionaries or common usage for help as this beast is very uncommon. This monster is a creation of a visionary experience; it is a special effect creation of God’s Spirit. And God’s Spirit intends to communicate a certain political message through the unusual appearances of the fourth beast. Each unusual feature of the monster beast is laden with deep imagery worthy of careful decoding, close reading. To do this, first it requires that we have to identify the prominent features of the beast and then follow that with decoding. Since this not a natural beast dictionaries and common cultural usage are little help. What matters actually are its special effect features taken individually and collectively. For this we have to rely primarily on the Bible.


The fourth beast has unnatural and unprecedented features; it has strong mouth and teeth, claws and feet, and ten horns. It can be easily imagined to be huge in size with hard scales covered body which probably makes this beast invincible vis-à-vis the other formidable beasts (i.e., lion, bear, and tiger) on the political stage.  


The vision emphasizes the uniqueness of the fourth beast, contrasting its terrifying appearance to the natural look of the earlier three beasts. The Holy Spirit message is that what the fourth beast represents is not something ordinary, but something unique, unusual. Since the fourth beast dominates through brute force, it inspires terror, instead of awe. It suppresses its opponents, instead of working with them. It destroys, instead of building up and developing the nation. 


Special attention is given to the beast's unusual  multiple horns. The beast has ten horns, and strangely enough the horns have a life of their own as they vie with each other for prominence, which is strange but of immense political-prophetic meaning. The multiple horns suggest that the fourth beast will be a political force with several strongmen. Among these "horns" eventually a struggle for the upper hand develops leading to the overthrow or replacement of a few of some of the most prominent "horns".  Such competitive activity among the leaders  indicates that the fourth beast as a political force will suffer from serious internal instability, some sort of power struggle.



Interpretation of the Fourth Beast


The notable features of the fourth beast -- its powerful teeth, feet, and multiple horns -- all are dedicated to conquer, suppress, and destroy. Its teeth shred into pieces; it easily crushes all under its feet. It destroys in unprecedented and horrifying manner. The multiple horns fight with each other for the upper place. 


Various options are open for our consideration in order to translate the fourth beast in terms of modern politics, Since the fourth beast is nameless (i.e., for example, not an elephant or a crocodile, etc.), it makes the interpretation open to various possibilities. But certain things we know about the beast:


First, the beast is hideous in appearance; hence terror inspiring. It is unseen and uncommon.


Second, its immense powers are its tearing teeth and crushing feet. Hence, it is brutal and dreadful. Whatever survives its destruction, it tramples under its feet (i.e., suppresses or oppresses).


Third, the beast has multiple horns which strangely have a life of their own and virtually war against each other. Hence, the political force the fourth represent will be beset by power struggle among its main leaders (i.e., horns).


Fourth, out of an apparent power struggle among the horns, an insignificant looking horn emerges victorious. This “little horn” is endowed with unique intelligence and brash arrogance. It is this victorious “little horn” which receives attention in Daniel Chapters 8 and 11.


In short, of all the political animals appearing and acting out on the turbulent sea of popular revolt, the fourth beast is unique in its features and actions. Since Daniel’s visions pertain to what will happen in the last days, in the days just before the kingdom of God appears on earth, the this vision need be interpreted in terms of conditions that prevail in times like ours. This is the necessity that we must interpret the fourth beast imagery in terms of modern day politics.  Then the question becomes which of all the of all the modern-day political forces or movements -- which appear under revolutionary conditions -- answer best to the political meaning suggested by the unique the features of the fourth beast.



Deciphering the Fourth Beast


As an image of a political force, the fourth beast inspires terror, has the capacity to kill and suppress, and also it exhibits a power struggle among its horns (i.e., major power brokers). Hence, the question: What modern-day political entity comports with the image depicted by the beast’s features? Identifying the modern equivalent of the fourth beast is important. After all, it is this political force which will overcome all the other beasts and dominate until the appearance of the kingdom of God. The persecution of the church we customarily associate with the events of the last days is carried out by the fourth beast. But which modern-day political force bears the closest similarity to the fourth beast whose imagery is as outlined here?


First, this political force must possess formidable power, beyond any comparison to what the other three political beasts possess.


Second, its political force is expressed through a select body (i.e., the ten horns).


Third, this political force will instill dread and horror, and acts ruthlessly.


Fourth, this political force is susceptible to power struggle. There is a joking for power among the ten horns, which means the leaders in this political organization will squabble and conspire for dominance.



Basically the imagery of the fourth beast implies a political force:

  • armed to its teeth (literally and figuratively),
  • ruthless and fearsome,
  • a cause of wide destruction,
  • able to overcome all its opponents,
  • persecute God’s people,
  • consists of several leaders,
  • the leaders engage in power struggle, and
  • they dominate politics mainly through terror and brute force.



If we limit our search to modern times, there are several candidates from modern-day politics which can fit this billing. These must be particularly those which do combine politics with terror and force of arms.  Modern-day political forces which can meet these criteria can include totalitarian or dictatorial regimes. These can include regimes based on extreme ideologies such as Nazism, Fascism, or communism, etc. Equally, military juntas, much known for their brutality, repressive dictatorial powers, can meet the vision's criteria easily.[1] Whenever a totalitarian political party or the military takes power in a country much repression, persecution, and destruction ensues.      


Whenever a militarized party or the military takes political power, politics assumes abnormal features and becomes a ghastly devouring beast.  Militarized rulers suppress political and civic organizations, muzzle the media, suspend civil liberties, and crush opponents without mercy. The devastation they leave in their wake is usually massive. Whenever the military which has been designed to have a dreadful effect on its outside enemies, turns its might against its own citizens, the sight becomes terrible. As the military becomes part of politics, politics gets skewed. Because of its authoritarian streak (i.e., iron discipline and unbending will), the military finds it very natural for it to break up other organizations and subdue them. As history attests, some of the first edicts a military government issues is to ban other political parties, suppress the people’s right of assembly and freedom speech and press, throw into prisons or kill.





The Power Struggle among the Ten Horns


  "It [the fourth beast] was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns." (Dan 7:7)


The fact that the fourth beast has ten horns is something to take note of for its symbolic implications. Based on Scriptural symbolism, the number ten represents the idea of a large number, even the point of being too many.[2] The Holy Spirit uses ten for the count of horns as to say, “What numerous leaders active in this organization!”  


What this means is that the political force symbolized by the fourth beast -- will contend for power through several leaders (i.e., ten horns) as they work together to overcome the other three beasts. This suggests that no single man will initially dominate this political force, but that a group of officers will assume power collectively.  


This understanding that the fourth political force will have a multi-member leadership structure agrees with reality regarding the military taking power in the shape of a junta or a revolutionary command council.[3] The junta or command council becomes the governing and political arm of the military. Hence, the several officers which make up the junta or command council, in figurative language, represent the ten horns, while the dreadful fourth beast is emblematic of the military now engaged in destructive politics.


Daniel reminds us that the ten horns (i.e., the junta or military command council) will not be unified. Soon among them ensues a power struggle. From the power struggle will finally emerge one council member (i.e., little horn) as a strongman and will dominate his colleagues. It is this new leader which emerges victorious from the power struggle which takes center stage in destruction that follows to hit the land and church. Daniel describes the emergent leader, as the “little horn” to suggest that the person is insignificant or despicable.[4] This officer turns out to be exceptionally haughty, destructive, and impious.


"While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts.” (Dan. 7:8)


This activity witnessed in the fourth beast, when taken in modern-day political terms, bears strong resemblance to the political experiences of many third world nations. In many of them a revolutionary (or, liberation) party or the military has assumed power, eventually to manifest a deadly power struggle (purge) among the leaders of the movement.  Their unified central command (i.e., collective leadership or junta) eventually develops an internal power struggle to result in a fallout among the comrades-in-arms.[5] After a period internal squabbles and purges, subsequently  emerge one who will assume total power. This person may not necessarily be the senior member of the council. He can be a junior member of the council. Someone who knows how to play the power game adroitly and is ruthless to eliminate his rivals usually emerges as head. Daniel’s vision dictates that in the case of the fourth beast it will be an obscure person who will win in the power struggle. That means an obscure and little-respected junior officer will overthrow his senior predecessors to assume total power in the “ten horns” council. For the “little horn” to maneuver himself to the pinnacle of power within a junta invariably demands of him extreme cunning, a sense of timing, and to unhesitating courage to strike with ruthlessness.[6]


"8 As I was looking at the horns, suddenly another small horn appeared among them. Three of the first horns were wrenched out, roots and all, to make room for it. This little horn had eyes like human eyes and a mouth that was boasting arrogantly."


Second, the fact that the dictator (i.e., little horn) is said to have eyes like human eyes conveys the message that this leader will possess unusual intelligence. At least, the dictator knows how to view and understand power, scheme adroitly to acquire power, and then retain power successfully. All this implies that the "junior officer" (i.e., little horn) is a master tactician, one who is well-skilled to outmaneuver all his rivals.


One additional character of the despicable horn is that his arrogance. The man directly defies God by unleashing persecution against God’s church. That means humility or religiosity is not part of the virtues of this dictator.


"I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom.” (Dan 7: 21 - 22)


In short, the dictator will become openly and vehemently antagonistic to God. He will cause the persecution of the saints. Such an action makes the possibility that he and the junta he lead likely espouse an atheistic ideology.[7]


At this point the implication of the vision about the fourth beast is clear. The hideous fourth beast will likely be a military or quasi-military organization. Hence, the military give rise to a derivative multi-member political unit, something like a junta or a revolutionary council. Subsequently, the ruling council will be racked by a power struggle from which will emerge a strongman described as despicable, cunning, arrogant and impious. This dictator will be the face of the terror and destructiveness of the fourth beast.


The fourth beast as a political actor will succeed in subduing the other three political forces, destroying the land economically, and persecuting the church. The fourth beast will reign supreme in the land until God intervenes to judge it. As Daniel tells us, God would orchestrate events that would destroy the fourth beast utterly. The fourth beast will be consumed by God’s fire of judgment. The fourth beast does not survive. However, the other three beasts are not utterly destroyed, but allowed to continue (i.e., live) for a little while more (vv. 11-12).


[To be continued]



End Notes

[1] In a revolutionary condition, where there is much turbulence and uncertainty, an organization with an iron-will and iron-discipline emerges victorious over its other political rivals. This often happens if the group operates with arms or has an armed wing. Such organizations are ruthless in their operations showing little tolerance to opposition within their ranks, in relation to their political rivals, or in society in general. A fascist, Nazi, or communist party can fit this bill. In many developing countries (in Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, and Sub-Sahara Africa) the military in a form of a junta has also played this role whenever it engaged in political power grab.


[2] The figurative meaning of ten, according to Scripture, is to mean too many to count, or very numerous. (See for example, Gen. 31: 41; Num. 14:22; Neh. 4:12; Job. 19:3; Eccl. 7:19; Zech. 8:23; Rev. 2:10, etc.)


[3] Sometimes the military prefers to operate behind the political scene using civilian politicians, but in many other cases the military sets up a junta to directly run the politics.


[4] Here I am assuming that the leader described here and in Daniel Chapter 11, vv. 21-27 and again in vv. 37-39 are one and the same.


[5] Usually factions develop within the junta — due to differences in ideology, strategy, or personality. The military is not a democratic institution; hence juntas lack the institutional culture of accommodating alternative viewpoints and tolerating dissenters. Within juntas political debates and competing visions become deadly games, turning every possible opposing viewpoint into a life-and-death struggle. Bloody purges become the order of the day as series of power struggles rock the junta.


[6] See also Daniel 8:23-25; 11:21-23.


[7] That the end-time dictator would be atheistic and militaristic is indicated by the words of Daniel Chapter 11: 36-39. What is equally interesting in his ideology is that its political beliefs are not indigenous, but of foreign origin or import. That means that this leader converts over to a foreign ideology in order to consolidate power. For further details on this please see my commentary on Daniel 8, a separate work.



 Glory be to God




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