The vision of the fourth beast with the arrogant “little horn” is interpreted for Daniel by an angelic being – Daniel 7:15-28.
Daniel received his vision of four beasts “ascending from the sea” which concluded with a judgment scene. In it, the figure “like a Son of Man” approached the “Ancient of Days” to receive “dominion.” The vision left Daniel confused and troubled; however, one of the beings that was present, presumably an angel, provided him with the interpretation of the vision.
In the vision, the “Son of Man” received everlasting dominion over all the nations. In the interpretation, the “saints of the Most-High” received sovereignty and “possessed the kingdom.” Apparently, the “Son of Man” represented the people of God.
- (Daniel 7:15-18) – “The spirit of, me, Daniel, was grieved in the midst of the sheath, and the visions of my head terrified me. I drew near to one of them who stood by and made exact inquiry of him concerning all this, so he told me, and the interpretation of the things made he known to me. These great beasts, which are four, are four kings who shall arise out of the earth; but the saints of the Highest shall receive the kingdom, and shall possess the kingdom for the age, yea, for the age of ages.”
The four “beasts” represent four kings and their respective kingdoms. In the vision, the “beasts” were ascending “from the sea.” In the interpretation, the “kings” ascend “from the earth.” Thus, the interpretation moves out of the symbolical world and into the historical. The “earth” represents the peoples from which the kingdoms originated.
The Aramaic verb rendered “arise” in verse 17 is the same verb from the earlier declaration by Daniel – God “removes and raises up kings.” It is used repeatedly in chapter 3 for each time the text states that Nebuchadnezzar “set up” his idolatrous image. The passage does not state who or what “set up” these four kingdoms; however, implicit in the passage is that they rise in opposition to the sovereignty of God.
- (Daniel 7:19-23) – “Then desired I to be sure concerning the fourth beast, which was diverse from all of them, exceeding terrible, whose teeth were iron, and his claws of bronze, he devoured, brake in pieces, and the residue with his feet he trampled down; also concerning the ten horns, which were in his head, and the other, which came up and there fell from among them that were before it three, and this horn which had eyes and a mouth speaking great things, and his look was prouder than his fellows: I continued looking, when this horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them: until the Ancient of Days came, and justice was granted to the saints of the Highest, and the time arrived that the saints should possess the kingdom. Thus, he said, the fourth beast is a fourth kingdom which shall be in the earth, which shall be diverse from all the kingdoms, and shall devour all the earth, and shall trample it down and break it in pieces.”
Each “beast” represents a “king” and its “kingdom.” Collectively, the four “beasts” are contrasted with the “saints of the most-high” destined to receive the “everlasting kingdom.”
But the interpretation is focused on the fourth “beast,” especially its “little horn” with the mouth “speaking great things.” It appeared “stouter than its fellows,” that is, the “ten horns” of the fourth “beast,” and it became more prominent than the others. It then made “war with the saints and prevailed against them.” Thus, before receiving the kingdom, the “saints” must endure an assault by the “little horn.”
This corresponds to the description of the fourth beast that “trampled the remnant with its feet,” the “remnant” being identical with the “saints.” This understanding is confirmed in the next paragraph, when the horn “spoke words against the Most-High and wore out his saints.”
- (Daniel 7:24-28) – “And the ten horns of that kingdom are ten kings who will arise, and another will arise after them. And he will be diverse from the former ones, and three kings will he cast down; and words against the Most High will he speak, and the saints of the Highest will he afflict, and will hope to change times and law, and they will be given into his hand for a season and seasons and the dividing of a season, but judgment will take its seat, and his dominion will they take away to destroy and make disappear unto an end. And the kingdom, and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under all the heavens shall be given to the people of the saints of the Highest, his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions to him will render service, and show themselves obedient. Hitherto is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, greatly did my thoughts terrify me, and my bright looks were changed upon me, but the matter in mine own heart I kept.”
The “little horn” symbolized the malevolent king who attempted to destroy the “saints,” and he prevailed over them, “until the Ancient of Days arrives, and justice was granted for the saints.” Only when God intervened did the “saints” receive the kingdom.
In the vision, the “ten horns” represented ten kings. The “little horn” was distinct from them and rose to prominence after three of the “horns” have been “removed.” The “little horn” then spoke “words against the Most-High and wore out the saints.” This expands on the earlier description of its mouth “speaking great things,” which suggests royal edicts intended to harm the “saints.” Furthermore, it attempted to “change times and the law”; it trespassed on divine territory. As Daniel previously declared, God alone “changes times and seasons” – (Daniel 2:21).
“Times” is a generic term and may refer to time delimited in several ways – weeks, months, years – (Aramaic, zeman). The Septuagint Greek version translates the word with kairos, meaning, “season, set time.” Most likely, in view, are the annual feasts and rituals from the Levitical regulations, which the “little horn” attempted to change – (Leviticus 23:1-4).
The “war” against the saints would last for a “time, times, and a dividing of time.” The Aramaic text is not precise, and reads, time (singular), times (plural), and part of a time.” The last clause can mean any portion of a full “time,” however long or short.
The preceding beastly regimes “were given a lengthening of life for a season and a time.” Since the same temporal terms are applied to the first three kingdoms, and since each endured for a different length of time, the “season and time” does not represent a literal number. Each realm was “given” dominion and life by God, the one who changes “times and seasons” – (Daniel 2:21).
The period of a “time, times and part of a time” was not the duration of the reign of the “little horn”; instead, it defined the period during which it “spoke words against the Most-High,” waged war against the “saints,” and attempted to “change times and the law.” That things were “given into his hand” signified that God remained in control. The period of suffering would come to an end at the appointed time. In contrast, the victory of the saints would endure forever. The “little horn” would lose its dominion and be “consumed and destroyed.”
The time of the oppression of the “saints” was part of the process necessary for establishing the kingdom of God, otherwise, why would God “give” persecuting power to a malevolent ruler?
The “kingdom and dominion” were given to the “people of the saints.” In the vision, the kingdom was given to the one “like a son of man,” but in the interpretation, to the “saints.” Once again, the “son of man” represented the “saints.” In verse 27, the plural pronoun gives way to a singular. It is “his kingdom” and “all dominions will serve him”. The singular pronouns refer to the “son of man.”
The chapter concludes with Daniel troubled and terrified by his vision, indicating that he did not understand it. But he kept the matter in his heart. This sets the stage for further illumination, which is provided by the next vision.