Daniel 7:3 tells us, “And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.” (ESV) This scene is the result of what we discussed in verse two where the four winds were stirring the great sea. The beasts described as being different from one another does not only refer to their nation of origin but more importantly their actions. In Daniel’s time, wild beasts would strike terror into the minds of the individual who often had no protection from such animals. I dare say, if we saw such beasts without the guard rails and fences that protect us from them today, we would be terrified too. But there is a particular terror that we should note in the symbolic and supernatural descriptions of these beasts. Therefore, as you read each description of the beasts try and view them in the light of them being terrifying to you as they would have been to Daniel. As you read Daniel you will notice the different degrees of terror that occur in our writer’s mind, especially as he reaches the fourth beast. We should try to approach Daniel in the same way so we can fully understand the narrative. Verse three is simply telling us that, by God’s authority, these four great beasts emerged out of the Gentile nations.

Now we are about to be introduced to the first beast.

Daniel 7:4 reads, “The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it.” (NASB)

There is little dispute, even amongst liberal and conservative interpreters, that the description of the first beast is of none other than Babylon. As chapter seven is a parallel of chapter two there is also no doubt that this specifically refers to the time of Nebuchadnezzar. Lions in antiquity have long been associated with Chaldean history. The Ishtar Gate was the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon. It was constructed in about 575 BC by Nebuchadnezzar on the north side of the city. Dedicated to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, the gate was constructed using a rare blue stone called lapis lazuli with alternating rows of dragons and aurochs. Through the gate ran the Processional Way, which was lined with walls covered in approximately 120 lions on glazed bricks.

The reference to the lion having eagle’s wings is obviously metaphorical. As the center for pagan worship, the Babylonians worshipped many gods. If the lion was meant to refer to the god Ishtar, the eagle represented a sun god. Notwithstanding these points is the fact that the prophet Ezekiel referenced Babylon as an eagle in Ezekiel 17:3,7 (cf. Jeremiah 4:7,13). The points that Ezekiel made give clear and unambiguous reference to Nebuchadnezzar as being a swift conqueror of nations.

The dialog changes as we notice Daniel says he “kept looking” as the lion’s wings were plucked. It was then lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man and a human mind was given it. One must remember that Nebuchadnezzar’s fall from power (which resulted in him becoming like a beast for seven times before being restored to his throne) was witnessed by Daniel. He saw it and wrote about it. Many have concluded that the reference to the clipped wings (etc.) is speaking of that episode in Nebuchadnezzar’s life. That, indeed, may well be the case and it certainly can be considered a possibility in terms of it referring to this lion with plucked wings being lifted and given a human mind. Nebuchadnezzar had lost his until God chose to restore it. So, this could well be a picture of Nebuchadnezzar who was one, if not the, most powerful ruler of a Gentile nation. One other theory is that Daniel already knew what had happened to Nebuchadnezzar when he had his dream. This has created the thought with some that after the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon was never the same. That is indeed true. Several kings followed Nebuchadnezzar, but none had his success.  So, in that way, those of this theory suggest Babylon lost much of its power. This theory does not, however, answer the point as to the human mind being given to the lion.