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DANIEL'S FOUR BEASTS
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In Daniel's chapter 7 dream we find: Daniel 7:3  And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another.

Daniel 7:4  The first [was] like a lion, and had eagle's wings...
Daniel 7:5  And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear...
Daniel 7:6  After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard...
Daniel 7:7  After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly...

In the verse below we learn that in the figurative language of a vision or dream in prophecy, a "beast" is a kingdom or empire.   

Daniel 7:23 Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces.

BEAST = KINGDOM

There is a broad agreement among Jewish and Christian scholars that the kingdoms represented by Daniel's lion, bear and leopard, are the successive ancient kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece, followed by the fourth "terrible" beast, that is understood to be the Roman Empire.

This conclusion is reached within the traditional continuous-historic context of prophecy.  This is simply the view that bible prophecy is fulfilled steadily, as the era about which it is written gradually unfolds.  This is the context in which virtually all Christians and Jews understand Old Testament prophecy.

Below are maps of these successive kingdoms.  Each  of Daniel's beasts conquered the whole known world in it's turn.

Daniel 7:4  The first [was] like a lion, and had eagle's wings...
lion - Babylon


Daniel 7:5  And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear...
bear - Medo-Persia


Daniel 7:6  After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard...
leopard - Greece


This is a link to a map of the way the leopard was eventually divided among Alexander's four generals (four heads).  

Daniel 7:7  After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly...
fourth "dreadful" - The Roman Empire


For smaller size maps to put into chat forums please click here.

(link to next page the leopard-bear-lion "beast")

 
Daniel 7:17 (link to this spot)  

A brief study of Daniel 7:17.

(KJV) Daniel 7:17 These great beasts, which are four, [are] four kings, [which] shall arise out of the earth.

In Internet travels I have had folks try to suggest that a beast is defined in Daniel as a kingdom, or a king, in an effort to advance their belief in John Darby's "The" "Antichrist" is the beast of Revelation 13, actually switching the identity between verse 1 and 5.  And looking at the KJV verse above does give one pause.

The verses before Daniel 7:17 describe in great detail the beasts that are kingdoms, and pick back up with that definition two verses later in verse 7:19 Then I would know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others,...
Daniel 7:23  Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth...

In 7:17 perhaps the KJV helper word "[are]" isn't a help at all.

When we look to various Bible versions we can see the confusion:

This one (new age) may be even more misleading, indicating an outright switch in definition.
(NASB) Daniel 7:17 "These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth."
(How do kings arise from the earth?  Kingdoms do.)

These guys just gave it up and left the confusion out:
(CEV) Daniel 7:17 "The four beasts are four earthly kingdoms."

These guys too:
(TEV) Daniel 7:17 He said, "These four huge beasts are four empires which will arise on earth."

Tanach
Daniel 7:17. [He said] "These huge beasts, which are four, are four kingdoms, which will arise from the earth."  http://www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?AID=16490

...fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom...

Strong's:
kingdom
Old Testament Hebrew Definition:
04437 malkuw (Aramaic) {mal-koo'}
corresponding to 04438; TWOT - 2829c; n f
AV - kingdom 49, reign 4, realm 3, kingly 1; 57
1) royalty, reign, kingdom
1a) royalty, kingship, kingly authority
1b) kingdom
1c) realm (of territory)
1d) reign (of time)

...these great beasts which are four [are] four kings...

kings
Old Testament Hebrew Definition:
04430 melek (Aramaic) {meh'-lek}
corresponding to 04428; TWOT - 2829a; n m
AV - king 179, royal 1; 180
1) king

Since God isn't the author of confusion, and in an effort to preserve the verse, perhaps the KJV would have served us better with a different helper word like:

(KJV) Daniel 7:17 These great beasts, which are four, {of} four kings, [which] shall arise out of the earth.

With the verse thus understood we may conclude:

Beasts: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome (virtually all Christians and Jews agree)

Of Kings:  Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, and perhaps Ceasar Augustus (or Trajan, etc. take your pick).

Which is also a reasonable conclusion when the "helper" word is left out:

(KJV) Daniel 7:17 These great beasts, which are four, four kings, shall arise out of the earth.

Kindgoms do indeed arise out of the earth, as they are physically built from the foundations of walls up, and always with a king in charge of doing it.