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Bear of Daniel 7 Explanation

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Bear of Daniel 7 Explanation

Interpretation Principles Used - position in succession of kingdoms and characteristics on bear.  For more information, see Rules of Interpretation of Daniel and Revelation.

Daniel 7:5 -  "And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh."

The bear represented Medo-Persia, which was a kingdom made up of Medes, who lived in the northern part of what is today Iran, and Persia, which is the southern part of Iran of today.  Elam was a third part of this kingdom, but it was only a minor player in the kingdom.  On the bear, one shoulder (or possibly one paw, depending on the interpretation of the original language) was raised up, indicating one would be dominant over the other, which turned out to be the case.  The Medes were dominant initially, but eventually the Persians came to dominate the Medes.
The 3 ribs in the bear's mouth are believed to symbolize the 3 steps of conquest that Medo-Persia did in creating an empire.  The 3 steps were the conquest of Lydia, Babylonia, and Egypt, in that order.  See ram for more historical details.  This is an example of the Characteristics Principle - the 3 ribs tell us something about what this power would do.

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Why Is a Bear Used to Represent Medo-Persia?

The use of a bear to represent Medo-Persia is another example of use of the Characteristics Principle.  Consider carefully this question: Why have a bear represent Medo-Persia?  Why not a pig?  Or how about a hippopotamus?  Not predators?  Both are dangerous.  The hippo is rated as one of the most dangerous animals in all of Africa because it kills more people than just about any other animal.  It has huge teeth and a massive mouth, so if it bites a person, it almost certainly will be fatal.  So, how about a fox?  That is a predator and would look rather cool. 

But still, there is the question.  Why use a bear?  A bear is a very intelligent predatory animal, generally keeps to itself, but if you get in his way or he thinks you are a threat to him, look out - he can be really dangerous.  A bear tends to claw and bite, particularly on the head but may do this anywhere on the body, when it attacks and may strike with its paws.  Hence, it tends to use brute force when it attacks to maim or kill.

The attack method of the bear is clearly reliant upon brute strength.  The Persians frequently did in fact use this method.  There are a number of battles known from history in which the Persians brought huge armies to fight against their enemies.  It seems that they figured sheer manpower would do the job, and it usually did.  In one battle they had against the Greeks, they claimed that they brought a million men with them for the attack.  Historians think this number was exaggerated, but the claim probably was made to suggest that they came in huge numbers prepared for battle.  So, there may be an element of truth to the claim.  This particular attack failed and they lost the battle.  But, attacking like this is similar to the way a bear will do, which simply applies brute strength to get the job done, and usually is successful.

The Characteristics Principle applies to the bear because the species itself is telling you something about its behavior, how it will do something, or what it will do.  In this case, it is telling you how it will do battle - with brute force - its method of attack.


How do I know that the bear represents Medo-Persia?  First, in history, it is clear that the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon in 539 or 538 BC, the date depending on the source you read.  The most accurate date seems to be the 539 BC date.  Second, the context of the vision is that one kingdom follows another.  Since Daniel was living under the Babylonian kingdom at the time of the vision (Dan 7:1  In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters.  Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon under his father Nabonidus), the next kingdom to take over the area was clearly Medo-Persia.

But some have argued that in the explanation part of the vision, the 4 kingdoms are 4 kings that shall arise from the earth (Dan 7:17  These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.), meaning that these 4 kingdoms are in fact yet future to the time of this vision.  This idea, while appealing to some, is incorrect.  First, the vision parallels the vision given to Nebuchadnezzar of the large statue made of different metals, in which future empires of the region were symbolized by 4 different body parts, each made of a different metal.  In this vision, Nebuchadnezzar is told that he is the head of gold, which means that vision begins with Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, not some future kingdom.  Since the vision of Daniel parallels this dream of Nebuchadnezzar, it must be that the successive kingdoms are one and the same.

Second, there is a common misunderstanding about the term "shall arise" from Daniel 7:17.  The author is not an expert in ancient languages, so take it from one who teaches ancient languages at a theological seminary.  Below is a quote from Dr. Roy Gane, a professor of ancient languages at a graduate school seminary at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA.  Here, in a personal communication with the author, is what he said about this term:

"Regarding Dan 7:17, "the earth" means just what it says because it is in the explanation part of the chapter, not in the vision part, where "sea" has the meaning of peoples, etc. As for the future tense "will/shall arise," this translates an Aramaic verb yequmun, which is in the "imperfect" tense, meaning that it is uncompleted action, whether present or future. You could translate "four kings arise out of the earth," which simply explains what Daniel saw in his vision. It is true that the vision is given during the reign of Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, but Daniel is seeing a process that is ongoing and mainly in the future, so the Aramaic imperfect tense is completely appropriate."

So, there you have it that the words in the original language support the idea that the vision is an ongoing process from and including the time of Daniel, and continues into the future.  Therefore, there is no need to look to the future of Daniel for the beginning of the 4 kingdoms.  They had already begun with Babylon.

The kingdom after Babylon was the Medo-Persians, the next after them was the Greek empire of Alexander the Great, and the final kingdom of the 4 was the Romans.

Some have suggested that the four beasts represent 4 concurrent kingdoms that existed at that time.  This seems unlikely.  The vision parallels Nebuchadnezzar's dream given him by God, in which it was explained that the kingdoms would arise in sequence, beginning with Babylon.  Another reason is that it is explained that these kingdoms are counted, something that usually means a sequence.  It does refer to the dreadful beast as the "fourth kingdom" upon the earth, so that gives a sequence number to these kingdoms.  In addition, it says that this fourth beast would "devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces" (Daniel 7:23), which rather strongly suggests that it would not allow any other of these kingdoms shown in the vision to coexist with it.  That would suggest these others came before it.

There is one good thing that can be said for the Persians.  The Persians generally treated captives better than the Assyrians before them, who were absolutely horrible (The Assyrians skinned people alive, according to one source the author read!).  But the Persians were none too nice as well for they too could be quite cruel.  Assyria certainly did not have a monopoly on cruel behavior.