Daniel 7 – Apocalyptic Vision #1
Daniel 7 is all about the rise of four mighty empires: Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome. The vision shifts in verse 9, where Daniel sees “the thrones cast down, and the Ancient of Days…” come to take his place as the leader of the nations of the earth in this chapter. Most biblical commentators and scholars identify this person with God, but, as we shall see, the Prophet Joseph Smith identified the Ancient of Days as Adam, the primal parent of our race. The kingdom is eventually given to the those that are faithful to God. The moral of this apocalyptic vision is that trust and faith in God will eventually come to fruition, but for now, the kingdoms of this world are not friendly to followers of God.
The beasts of Daniel 7
The LDS Institute Manual has this to say about the beasts in this chapter:
Daniel 7:4-8– What Is the Connection between the Four Beasts and Historical Events?
As mentioned in Daniel 7:17, the four beasts represented “four kings [or kingdoms] which shall arise out of the earth.” The first, which was like a lion with eagles’ wings, represented the Babylonian kingdom under Nebuchadnezzar. The lion and eagle are both supreme among beasts of their class. The head of gold in the dream of chapter 2 can be similarly compared…
The second beast (see Daniel 7:2) represented the Median-Persian Empire, as did the breast and arms of silver in the image of chapter 2… The third kingdom corresponded to the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great…The fourth beast was not likened to an animal. It was, however, very strong and dreadful and broke into pieces the remains of the former kingdoms. It represented the Roman Empire and the forces of evil that were manifest through that empire. The ten horns are the kingdoms into which the Roman Empire was afterwards divided. They are similar to the ten toes of the great image described in Daniel 2. (See also Daniel 7:23–24.)
This commentary is in disagreement with some of the other scholars that I have consulted as I have studied the book of Daniel. Others indicate that this fourth kingdom or empire represents the Greeks, whose ten horns represent the 10 rulers that succeeded Alexander the Great. The little horn is Antiochus Epiphanes, who gained the throne by uprooting all others. Either way, these beasts represent the empires of men, as they strive for supremacy in a fallen world. When viewed as a whole, one of the main messages of Daniel is that the kingdoms of men are only temporary, and the kingdom of God will one day maintain eternal supremacy on the earth. This message to the Jewish people, whenever it was originally given, is to encourage them to be faithful to God, to know that the situation that they are currently in is only a temporary one (at least from God’s perspective), and that they can be a citizen of a foreign power and still maintain a faith in God, even if they are cut off from their homeland.
Daniel 7:9 The Ancient of Days
Most commentators say that this individual is God. We get a different perspective from the Prophet Joseph Smith regarding this person “The Ancient of Days” when he said:
“Daniel in his seventh chapter speaks of the Ancient of Days; he means the oldest man, our Father Adam, Michael, he will call his children together and hold a council with them to prepare them for the coming of the Son of Man. He (Adam) is the father of the human family, and presides over the spirits of all men, and all that have had the keys must stand before him in this grand council. This may take place before some of us leave this stage of action. The Son of Man stands before him, and there is given him glory and dominion. Adam delivers up his stewardship to Christ, that which was delivered to him as holding the keys of the universe, but retains his standing as head of the human family.” 1
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained the teachings of Daniel about the great priesthood gathering to be held at Adam-ondi-Ahman: “Daniel speaks of the coming of Christ, and that day is near at hand. There will be a great gathering in the Valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman; there will be a great council held. The Ancient of Days, who is Adam, will sit. The judgment—not the final judgment—will be held, where the righteous who have held keys will make their reports and deliver up their keys and ministry. Christ will come, and Adam will make his report. At this council Christ will be received and acknowledged as the rightful ruler of the earth. Satan will be replaced. Following this event every government in the world … will have to become part of the government of God. Then righteous rule will be established. The earth will be cleansed; the wicked will be destroyed; and the reign of peace will be ushered in.” 2
And 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. (Daniel 7:24) Much ink has been spilled regarding this verse of scripture. I leave it for the reader to decide what to do with this verse!
Regarding the ten toes of the statue from a previous chapter, we find the following from Orson Pratt:
“The feet and toes were governments more modern to grow out of the iron kingdom Roman Empire, after it should lose its strength. These are represented by the ten toes or ten kingdoms which should be partly strong and partly broken. They should not have the strength of the legs of iron, but they should be mixed with miry clay, indicating both strength and weakness.” 3
The Institute Manual offers the following:
Though each of these beasts may be said to represent the worldly kingdoms mentioned, the representation probably was not just of their political dominion, but also of the evils upheld and perpetrated upon the world by their rule. The vision should not be thought of as wholly political, either, particularly in view of the “little horn” (v. 8). This symbol cannot be positively identified with any specific individual or kingdom of the world, but seems to be similar to the “beast [rising] out of the sea” that John saw (Revelation 13:1), which also made “war with the saints” (Revelation 13:7) as did this form (see Daniel 7:21–22, 25). The little horn represented a notable anti-Christ power that was to be raised up after the time of the Roman Empire, and it was to be different from the other ten kingdoms mentioned after the Roman kingdom. Daniel said that this horn would have power to make war with and hinder the Saints until the time of Christ’s Second Coming (see Daniel 7:20–27).
So we note here that the institute manual does not identify the “little horn” in Daniel 7 to any specific individual. From a reading of chapter 7 alone, I can see why. But when we look at the events ascribed to the little horn in Daniel 8:9-27, it would seem to fit Antiochus Epiphanes. In Daniel 8 we read,
And out of one of them (The Goat, which is Greece – see Daniel 8:21) came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land. And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them. Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down. (Daniel 8:9-11)
Antiochus shall be broken without hand? Daniel 8:25
This is a very general prophecy… “broken without hand” seems to suggest that God brings him down.
The saints are the Jews that are godly and the prince of princes is God, to whom Antiochus’ self-deification was an affront, and by whom he was broken. See 2 Maccabees 9:1-5, 9-10 which says,
“At that time Antiochus returned with dishonour out of Persia. For he had entered into the city called Persepolis, and attempted to rob the temple, and to oppress the city: but the multitude running together to arms, put them to flight: and so it fell out that Antiochus being put to flight returned with disgrace. Now when he was come about Ecbatana, he received the news of what had happened to Nicanor and Timotheus. And swelling with anger he thought to revenge upon the Jews the injury done by them that had put him to flight. And therefore he commanded his chariot to be driven, without stopping in his journey, the judgment of heaven urging him forward, because he had spoken so proudly, that he would come to Jerusalem, and make it a common burying place of the Jews. But the Lord the God of Israel, that seeth all things, struck him with an incurable and an invisible plague. For as soon as he had ended these words, a dreadful pain in his bowels came upon him, and bitter torments of the inner parts… So that worms swarmed out of the body of this man, and whilst he lived in sorrow and pain, his flesh fell off, and the filthiness of his smell was noisome to the army. And the man that thought a little before he could reach to the stars of heaven, no man could endure to carry, for the intolerable stench.”
When Daniel 7-8 are read in concert with Maccabees, it would seem that this little horn that causes so many problems for the Jews in these apocalyptic passages in Daniel would be Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Problems with Daniel 7
Most biblical scholars appraise the book quite differently. As Kenton Sparks stated:
They are certain that Daniel’s four kingdoms are Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece, and they further aver that his apocalypses were actually composed by an anonymous author during the Greek period, when the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes ruled Palestine (175-164 BCE). If they are correct, then the visions of Daniel are ex eventu prophecies, (prophecies that are written after the fact) since they did not predict the historical events that transpired during the four kingdoms in question. Daniel would then be similar to other Near Eastern ex eventu apocalypses, such as the Uruk prophecy… The rationale for his scholarly consensus is as follows.
Daniel’s four visions (chapters 7,8,9, 10-12) presuppose a sequence of four political kingdoms, which the book identifies as Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece. The first three kingdoms are represented as a sequence of kings that includes Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar of Babylon, Darius the Mede, and Cyrus of Persia. The Greeks are explicitly named as the last kingdom in the angelic interpretation of chapter 8 (see 8:21-22), as identification that is made yet clearer by the detailed description of this last kingdom as a “shaggy goat,” whose large horn was broken off and sprouted four smaller horns. This description is a transparent allusion to the kingdom of Alexander the Great, which was divided among his four generals after his death. The vision goes on to report that one of these little horns would abolish the daily sacrifice and desecrate the temple of the Jews, transparent allusions to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who suppressed traditional Jewish practices and then desecrated the temple in 167 BCE (see 1 Maccabees 1)
As for the prophecies themselves, scholars have noticed that each of Daniel’s apocalyptic predictions is amazingly accurate and precise, so accurate that they suspect the prophecies were written after the described events had occurred. Scholars suspect this not only because so many of the predictions are right but also because, more importantly, at a certain point each of them goes awry. For example, in his first vision in chapter 7, the author predicted that God’s eschatological kingdom would arrive three and one half years (“a time, times, and half a time”) after Antiochus suppressed traditional Jewish practices in 167 BCE, but we can see that this grand kingdom did not materialize. Similarly, in the second vision of Daniel 8, the author predicted that the temple would be reconsecrated 2,300 days after Antiochus desecrated it in 167 BCE, but this actually required only three years. Then in the fourth and last vision of chapters 10-12, it is predicted that the king who persecuted the Jews (ie., Antiochus) would be defeated and killed by the Egyptian Ptolemies in the land of Israel, after which the eschaton would occur (see Dan. 12:1-4). However, although Jewish sources provide three different accounts of Antiochus’s death, all of them agree that he died in Persia, not in Palestine as the prophecy demands (cf. 1 Macc. 6:1-17; 2 Macc. 1:14-16; 9:1-29). And, of course, we are still waiting for the full-blown eschatological kingdom predicted by the prophecy. Scholars believe that this evidence makes it very easy to date Daniel’s apocalypses. One merely follows the amazingly accurate prophecies until they fail. Because the predictions of the Jewish persecution in 167 BCE are correct, and because the final destiny of Antiochus in 164 BCE is not, it follows that the visions and their interpretations can be dated sometime between 167 and 164 BCE. From this we may conclude that the author of Daniel’s apocalypses fully expected that the kingdom of God would appear during the Greek era. But indeed, it did not. We may also note that the date that critical scholars assign to Daniel’s visions is quite different from their ostensible and traditional date, which is during the sixth-century reign of Cyrus of Persia. 4
- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 157.
- Doctrines of Salvation, 3:13–14; see also D&C 78:15–16; 107:53–57; 116; Smith, Teachings, pp. 122, 158.
- Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 18:337.
- Kenton Sparks, God’s Word in Human Words, Baker Academic, 2008, p. 116-118.