Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (20): The Adventist Approach to Daniel IV

The little horn power of Daniel 7, however, is not separate from the fourth beast. It arises directly from among the ten horns that are part of the fourth beast (Dan 7:7: “It had ten horns”). This point is underlined again in Dan 7:19-20, where Daniel says, “Then I wanted to know the true meaning of the fourth beast, . . I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up. . .” But while rooted in the fourth beast, the little horn comes up after the ten horns which themselves come up after the fourth kingdom is established (Dan 7:24). So there is a sequencing taking place in relation to the imagery of the fourth beast. Since the little horn arises after the fourth kingdom and in the context of the ten horns it would seem to be operating in the time of the divided kingdom of Daniel 2. Just as the mixed kingdom of iron and clay was connected to the fourth by the image of iron (Dan 2:41-42), so the little horn is connected to the fourth kingdom, having grown from its symbolic head (Dan 7:8).

Doukhan brings out further parallels between the little horn of Daniel 7 and the clay of Daniel 2. Clay is quite different from the series of metals (Dan 2:32), the little horn is explicitly different (Dan 7:24) from the kingdoms that preceded it. Both have human features. The little horn is singled out because it has human eyes and a talking mouth (7:8), the clay is an allusion to the creation of Adam. In Daniel reference to human nature can be understood to portray the religious character of a person or institution (compare 7:4 with 4:16,34,36). The religious character of the little horn becomes explicit in the explanation (Dan 7: 21,25). While both entities are religious in character, they are also able to adapt to the world of politics. The clay is mixed with the iron (Dan 2:41-43) and the little horn is a horn (symbol of political power) and grows out of the fourth kingdom (7:7-8). So the little horn would seem to be portraying the same ambiguous power that was represented by the clay in chapter 2.

The description of the little horn exhibits the following characteristics and actions. 1) It speaks boastfully (Dan 7:8, 20), 2) it wages war against the saints and defeats them (7:21), 3) it is different in character from the earlier kings, which were political in nature (7:24). 4) The boastful speaking is interpreted in verse 25 as speaking “against the Most High.” 5) The war against the saints is redefined as “oppressing the saints” (7:25). 6) He will “try to change the set times and the laws,” something only God is supposed to do (Dan 2:21), and 7) the period during which he will dominate the saints is said to last for “a time, times and half a time” (7:25). To use the language of John J. Collins, the offenses of the little horn are “blasphemy, violence, and religious innovation.” There has been a long-standing consensus within Adventist scholarship that the four major kingdoms of Daniel 2 and 7 represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. There has been a similar consensus that the little horn power of Daniel represents the medieval papacy, which was different in character from the secular powers of the earth, persecuted the saints, made changes in the ten commandments, particularly the Sabbath, and dominated Western Europe for more than a thousand years.

The two new elements of the chapter are tied together in 7:8-11 and 21-22. It is interesting to note that the vision of 7:2-14 is divided into three parts by the stylistic expression, “In my vision at night I looked”, found in verses 2, 7 and 13. Surprisingly, this arrangement ties the fourth kingdom more closely to the heavenly court scene than to the three kingdoms that precede it in verses 4-6. The immediate context of the seating of the heavenly judgment in 7:9-14 is the little horn’s boastful speaking in verse 8. The absence in verse 9 of the typical sequencing term (“behold”) found seven times in the vision (Dan 7:5,6,7,8 [twice], 13) is further evidence that the judgment begins at precisely that point in history where the little horn is doing its human thing and speaking boastfully (elaborated in 7:21,25).

A portion of the vision formula of 2, 7 and 13 is also found at the conclusion of verse 11, further tying the descriptions of verses 7 and 8 with the opening of the judgment in 9 and 10. The allusion to the destruction of the beast that carried the little horn in verse 11 implies that the judgment comes into session to deal with the actions of that beast, and of the ten horns and the little horn that followed it in the course of history. This implication is confirmed in Dan 7:21-22. The time, times and half a time in which the saints are oppressed lasts “until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High” (7:22). So the judgment comes at the end of the little horn’s time of oppressing the saints. The end result of that judgment is “His power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His (the son of man of 7:13-14) kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him” (Dan 7:26-27).

So the vision of Daniel 7 is not so much adding new elements to the earlier vision as it is elaborating on the later stages of it, the times after the fourth kingdom and before the setting up of God’s eternal kingdom. During the time of the divided kingdom of iron and clay, an oppressive power, described as a little horn on the beast of the fourth kingdom, will arise and oppress the people of God, just as Babylon was doing in Daniel’s day. Daniel 7 also adds that ushering in the stone kingdom will be a heavenly tribunal in which the actions of all the oppressive powers of history will be brought to an end and the people of God will join God’s representative, the son of man, in an everlasting kingdom where all obey the Most High God.

In Daniel 2 and 7, therefore, we have a pair of apocalyptic prophecies which review the same basic historical sequence, running from the time of the respective prophets until the establishment of God’s kingdom at the end of history. The exegesis is relatively straightforward, when the two visions are viewed together. The only reason to question elements of this scenario are if these prophecies were not written ahead of events, but were the result of pious history after the fact, written around 165 BC. So for Adventist scholarship, the decisive issue with regard to the hermeneutics of the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel is the time when the book was written. For those who believe that Daniel was a genuine prophecy of the sixth century BC, the process is straightforward. First, give careful attention to what the text is actually saying and what it is not saying. Second, give careful attention to the clear witness of history, and align the text with that history to the best of one’s ability.

2 thoughts on “Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (20): The Adventist Approach to Daniel IV

  1. Observations on Daniel 7

    I read your article and found it with a lot of excellent information. I will like to share with you my understanding on this topic. After praying to the Lord in my room this is how He in his graciousness allowed me to understand the little horn section of Daniel 7. The last ruler of the Papal States was Pope Pius IX. When you look at history this ruler made significant changes to their capabilities by defining papal infallibility among other doctrines. That is why Pope Pius IX can be the first horn of the fourth beast of Daniel 7. Can you do the exercise and find out who could be the little horn based on this information? He should be the number eleven and 3 were plucked in front of him.

    The return of our Lord Jesus is near. We must prepare our Churches to be ready for the process that needs to go thru before the glorious return of our Lord with the clouds of heaven as explained on the Bible. There is going to be a great tribulation as explained on Matthew 24 by the words of our Lord Jesus Christ directly. Let’s pray our God bless us and guide us to do the right steps in His will during these final times.

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      I think your observation is useful from a devotional perspective, but exegetically it would be a hard sell. But if God is encouraging you to pursue the idea, you should do so and see if you can change the above perception.


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