“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.” — Daniel 7:19
In the vision described in this chapter, Daniel saw a number of troubling images that included violent conflict between powerful beasts. The fourth beast was particularly fearsome and aggressive. Daniel’s attempt to describe this beast brings to mind a giant machine named Bertha.
In 2013, a 9,270 foot long tunnel-boring project began under a portion of downtown Seattle, Washington. Bertha was the machine especially designed for this project. At 326 feet in length and with a weight of over 6,000 tons, Bertha was the largest tunnel-boring machine of her kind when she was moved into position. Her key feature was a cutterhead 57.5 feet in diameter with 750 teeth that performed the task of boring through solid rock and packed earth.
This amazing machine initially worked wonderfully, but when it was barely over 1,000 feet into the tunnel, boring was halted by an obstruction in Bertha’s path. This was the first of several delays. In 2019, the tunnel project was finally completed — about two years late and more than $200,000,000 over budget. Lawsuits among insurers, Bertha’s builders, contractors, and civic government were many. Though the tunnel was completed, numerous ongoing conflicts continued. Bertha herself was disassembled; most of her components were not reusable, and some have been melted down.1
Bertha had some visual similarities to the formidable “fourth beast” of Daniel’s vision — a beast described in our focus verse as being “exceeding dreadful” with teeth of iron and nails of brass. Militarily, the fourth kingdom that the beast represented was dominant; it surpassed and was different from all that were before it. Yet it was incapable of delivering a permanent, righteous, peaceful government, and eventually was destroyed.
People long for a harmonious society free of strife and turmoil, but history has proved that elected politicians, legislated policies, military might, and human philosophies cannot achieve this. Only God can provide the peace that people need and desire.
In his vision, it was undoubtedly comforting to Daniel to observe that all the kingdoms were eventually subdued by the righteous rule of the Ancient of days, and to understand that His kingdom could never be defeated. Thousands of years later, it is comforting for us to realize that one day Christ’s dominion will displace all earthly kingdoms and will end all chaos, turmoil, and strife. Until then, we need not be unduly troubled by what we observe in the world around us. Ultimately, the Son of man will prevail and rule righteously forever!
The information in verse 1 places Daniel’s vision in this chapter between the events of Daniel 4 and Daniel 5. The first part of this vision (verses 2-8) follows a pattern similar to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue with the four sections (see chapter 2). Both foretold the rise and fall of four kingdoms. In Daniel’s vision, these were portrayed by hybrid animalistic creatures that were very aggressive and not subject to any moral restraints.
As in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the pattern of succession alluded to in Daniel’s vision fits the histories of the Babylonian (lion), Median-Persian (bear), Grecian (leopard), and Roman (the fourth beast with iron teeth) empires. The lion whose wings were plucked aptly characterizes Nebuchadnezzar who was dethroned by God immediately after referring to himself as powerful and majestic (see Daniel 4:30-31). The three ribs in the bear’s mouth could represent the three empires conquered by the Medes and Persians: Lydian (Asia Minor), Babylonian, and Egyptian. The leopard with four heads would represent Alexander the Great and the four generals among whom the Greek empire was divided after his death. The “iron teeth” of the fourth beast indicated military strength, and this beast is commonly accepted by many scholars as representing the Roman Empire.
Verses 9-14 introduce a kingdom that was different from the first four in its nature and duration. The “Ancient of days” (God) placed this kingdom within the dominion of the “Son of man” (Jesus). The phrase “judgment was set” highlights the sense of a kingdom with strong moral underpinnings — it points to a legal proceeding in which a Judge presided, and a sentence was passed and then executed. Also highlighted is the point that a kingdom that was eternal and perfect replaced the kingdoms that were transitory and flawed in nature.
The second half of this chapter begins and ends with Daniel feeling troubled by what he saw (verses 15, 28). God’s detailed explanation of the meaning of the vision focused particularly on the fourth beast, whose kingdom gave rise to the troubling figure briefly described in verse 25. Daniel had been an exile from his homeland for most of his life, and had observed firsthand how the powerful vie for military and political power. The Jewish historian Josephus commented that the temporal kingdoms described in this passage are “like chariots without drivers, which are overturned; so would the world be dashed to pieces by its being carried without a Providence, and so perish and come to nought.” 2
The end of this chapter concludes the part of the Book of Daniel originally written in Aramaic, which began in Daniel 2:4. Some feel that presenting this section in a more widely used language was a purposeful targeting of a broader audience, in order to have an effect beyond the Jewish nation.
II. The prophetic history of the Gentiles
F. The dream of the four beasts (the course of Gentile world power) (7:1-28)
1. The background (7:1)
2. The vision (7:2-14)
a. The four beasts (7:2-8)
b. The Ancient of Days (7:9-12)
c. The Son of Man (7:13-14)
3. The interpretation (7:15-28)
a. The explanation of the four beasts (7:15-17)
b. The explanation of God’s kingdom (7:18)
c. The explanation of the fourth beast (7:19-28)
(1) The request (7:19-20)
(2) The judgment of the beast (7:21-22)
(3) The dominion of the beast (7:23)
(4) The subjection of the beast (7:24)
(5) The destruction of the beast (7:25-26)
(6) The promise of the eternal kingdom (7:27)
(7) The response of Daniel (7:28)
In His time, the God of Daniel will institute a righteous kingdom that will never pass away. Our confidence is in Him.
1. “Bertha (tunnel boring machine),” Wikipedia, last updated July 18, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertha_(tunnel_boring_machine).
2. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Whiston (Newcastle: L. Dinsdale, 1784) 10.11.7.279, https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2848.