Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream. Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.
“I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this. “So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things:‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’ (NIV)
In movies, you know that when there is rain or snow in the script, some big emotional upheaval (read plot twist) is about to happen. The rain is an archetype that signals a sense of dread or anticipation. Same thing with the sea in the Bible and other ancient Near Eastern texts. It signifies chaos and the “unchartedness” of life. So Daniel, of the Lion’s Den fame, has a scary dream. It has monsters that come up out of the sea. That signals something big. Those monsters come out strong. Monsters signify danger in every culture. They look different, culture to culture, but are always dangerous.
So what kind of danger comes from these terrible beasts that come up from the underworld out of the chaos of the sea? (If you want to know the specifics of the beasts’ descriptions, you can find it in Daniel 7:4-14, the verses the lectionary leaves out. They are truly terrifying, fitting for the worst Hollywood could throw into any horror flick.) The explanation is given at the end of our text. They are the earthly rulers that will cause devastation for the people of this world. They might look like strength. You might be tempted to put your trust in them because of that appearance of power. But the fact is, their power will not be used for the good of all. They will end up being scary for a time. They will cause pain and suffering, but they will not have ultimate power. God’s reign will prevail in the end.
Who are these monsters referring to? Some biblical historians expect that they are four particular powers of Daniel’s day: the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians and the Greeks. Others have speculated that the Roman Empire is represented by the final/fourth beast, the worst of them all. Others are looking to some future earthly rulers that will rise at the eventual end of time. My take is a hybrid of that. I believe the author of Daniel had particular world-super powers in mind from his own day. The fact that the came from the ‘four winds’ indicates that they represent all earthly powers.
This passage is a word of warning to political leaders everywhere and of all time. “Don’t get attached to your power. It won’t last.” It is also is a word of warning to citizens everywhere. Don’t put your trust in your worldly powers. They won’t last and they don’t have the power to give you what you really need. They might pretend to keep you secure. On a surface level they may be able to do that for a bit, but it is only temporary. You are only secure when you trust in God.
Blessings to you,
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.