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Lion Explanation

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Lion Explaintion

Daniel 7:4 - The first was like a lion and had eagle's wings. I watched until its wings were torn off. And it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man's heart was given to it.

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Thlion of Daniel 7 was no ordinary lion because it had the wings of an eagle on its back. Real lions, of course, do not have eagles' wings, so clearly this is a symbol of some type. The four beasts of Daniel 7 parallel the four kingdoms of Daniel 2 (it even ends essentially the same way with God's kingdom being set up), so it is logical that the first beast Daniel saw, the lion, corresponds to the head of gold on the image in Daniel 2, which we are told represented Nebuchadnezzar. We are also told that each metal represented a kingdom. Therefore, the lion Daniel saw represented both Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon.


Why Are There Eagles' Wings On the Back of this Lion?

There are several reasons why the eagles' wings appear on the back of the lion. To understand these reasons, it is worthwhile to do a bit of study of the symbolism involved.

An eagle is a raptor, a predatory bird, that will attack suddenly from the air. Though their prey is often on the ground (rodents on the ground are often subjected to their attacks), raptors sometimes attack other birds in flight, perhaps killing them in the process. In addition, eagles in particular tend to spend a lot of time soaring high in the sky, gaining lift from rising thermal currents of air that can carry them upwards with very little effort. Such birds can often rise far above other birds and, with their very good eyesight, can easily spot an attack opportunity from far away. The wings on the lion, therefore, represent that this animal easily spotted an attack opportunity and took advantage of it.

In Daniel and Revelation, winds can represent a commotion among the nations of the world through warfare, shown as a striving of the four winds upon the waters:

Daniel 7:2 - Daniel spoke and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea.

Thermal updrafts are winds in motion in an upward direction, so this shows that the Babylonians were able to "ride" the commotion among the nations of the world and rise above the rest of them through warfare so as to be able to gain control of them. 

The eagles' wings represent Babylon soaring above the other nations and because of this, it would be able to attack at will wherever it spotted an opportunity. Of course, that cannot be literal because nations do not literally soar into the air like a bird. To correctly understand what this means, it is well to remember that the angel explained to Daniel that the beasts are four kings, so one beast should correspond with one king. Therefore, we can know that the characteristic of soaring into the air applied to the leader of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. This represents that the leader of Babylon was a smarter man than his contemporaries, and as a result, he would be ahead of their game, whatever it was, and would win military victories against them where others would be more likely to fail. He would be more successful in taking advantage of opportunities provided by the unrest among the nations around him than anyone else, which would allow him to rise above the opposition (certainly eagle-like for this reason).

We do know from history that Babylon was very successful in creating and expanding its kingdom. Much of this was owed to the military genius of Nebuchadnezzar. He knew a good attack opportunity when he saw one and moved to take advantage of it wherever possible. He suffered few setbacks in his military campaigns.

The eagles' wings also represent that God was involved in directing the affairs of the nations. God controlled events so as to make Babylon a kingdom and says that he gave the kingdom of Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar. Here is one evidence that God controls events in the nations:

Exodus 19:4 says, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”

God directly involved himself in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt because it was his power and action that brought them freedom from the Egyptians. The direct action of God created the nation of Israel. In Exodus 19:4 the eagles' wings symbolizes the direct involvement of God in the affairs of Egypt so as to create the nation of Israel. In like manner in Daniel 7, eagles’ wings can symbolize God ’s direct involvement in bringing about the Babylonian Kingdom, which God gave to Nebuchadnezzar (630-561 BC). Years before the vision occurred that is recorded in Daniel 7, Daniel had said this directly to Nebuchadnezzar when he was given the dream of the image recorded in Daniel 2. Here is what Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar then:

Dan 2:37 You, O king, are a king of kings: for the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory.

In the vision recorded in Daniel 7, as Daniel watched the lion, he said that the wings of the lion were torn off (literally, plucked off), and it was made to stand up on its hind legs like a man and the heart of a man was given to it. If the wings on the lion represent that God had given the kingdom to Nebuchadnezzar, then their removal implies that God no longer approved of the kingdom of Babylon and would remove his protection of the kingdom. Of course, once that happens, it is only a matter of time before it will either fall apart or be conquered by another. No kingdom can stand without God's approval.

Making the lion stand up on its hind legs and giving it the heart of a man suggests that the ruler of Babylon would someday change from being a fierce, courageous power to become a fearful man. Belshazzar certainly must have experienced great fear when he learned that his kingdom was taken from him and given to another (see Daniel 5). As the warning was being given by Daniel, the Medes and Persians were already outside the gates of Babylon and entered the city later that night. Belshazzar was killed. He had reason to be afraid!

About 20 years before Daniel arrived in Babylon (which is in what is now Iraq), the city of Babylon was originally part of the Assyrian empire, but it eventually rebelled against Assyria and then turned and engulfed it.  Babylon simply took over Assyria and there was only one kingdom that remained afterwards which never split into smaller parts.  Consequently, it is represented by a lion with one head and no horns, indicating it remained as one kingdom until its end.

The lion could not represent Assyria, which no longer existed.  The vision concerned kingdoms beginning at the time of Daniel, not before, so Assyria could not be represented by any of these beasts. Prophetic beasts in Daniel always begin with the time of the prophet and move forward from there.

Why a lion to Represent Babylon?

In the rules of interpretation for Daniel and Revelation, there is a rule called the Characteristics Principle.  This rule says that things on a beast other than its body, heads, and horns (which are used primarily to indicate the passage of time and are therefore Primary Characteristics), indicate behaviors of the kingdoms, how they would act, or how they would do certain things. 

Things attached to beasts, such as wings on the back, usually indicate behaviors of the kingdom represented by the body of a beast. If a beast has multiple heads or multiple horns and there are extra things attached to either the heads or the horns, these indicate behaviors of the kingdoms represented by the respective body parts. For example, the sea beast of Revelation 13 had crowns attached to the 10 horns. The crowns tell us that the powers represented by the horns are kings (because crowns symbolize kings - kings wear crowns), meaning that the 10 horns will behave as kings. The crowns would apply only to the horns and not to the seven heads or the body of the sea beast. In Revelation 17, instead of putting crowns upon the 10 horns, it directly tells us they are kings. Consequently, crowns are not needed because it is explained in the text.  

The same method of interpretation should be used for the colors of a beast, the type of beast it is (such as a lion or bear), or whether it has the body parts of another beast included with it (such as the feet of a bear on the leopard-like beast of Revelation 13). These things indicate behaviors of the kingdom these things are part of and so should tell us something about how they would act or do certain things.

So, back to the question at hand: why is a lion used to represent Babylon?  Possible answers are that a lion is dangerous and kills and devours those it pursues.  It is a predator, so a lion to symbolize Babylon is fitting because it did go out and conquer others around it in a manner analogous to that which a predator does. But, why symbolize Babylon with a lion as opposed to use of say, a poisonous snake? A poisonous snake certainly is a predator for it actively seeks out prey for its next meal and poisons its prey to death. That makes it just as predatory as a lion or leopard.

Let us examine a lions methods of attack to better understand this. A lion's method of attack are that it stalks it's prey, chases it down, uses its claws to grasp and control the prey in order to bring it down to the ground, and finally suffocates it's prey by crushing the windpipe of the prey by biting into the exposed throat so that the prey cannot get any air. It literally suffocates to death   Sometimes instead of biting into the throat of an animal, a lion will bite the back of the neck, thereby breaking the neck of the prey which kills the prey.  In either case, after killing the prey, the lion will then usually tear the prey to shreds and devour it.  What is also interesting is that it is the female lions that normally do the hunting.  The males get their share as members of the pride of lions but rarely hunt.  It is unknown whether the lion Daniel saw was male or female as no gender was indicated.  However, most of the lions found as relief on the walls of Babylon were males. In addition, the lion was to also represent the king as each beast represented a king, a male, so it logical that Daniel was almost certainly shown a male lion.

The Babylonians, under Nebuchadnezzar, certainly could be said to be lion like.  He followed a scorched earth policy of warfare (he destroyed everything, including crops), and certainly won very decisive victories.  He normally left no doubt who the victor was when he finished with a battle.  By following a scorched earth policy, he did something lion like: he tore everything apart. By destroying the crops of those he attacked, he gave them no choice but to submit to him or die.

When he attacked the Philistines, he reduced their cities to rubble, and went for their seaport, Ashkelon.  Reducing their cities to rubble is comparable to a lion tearing up its prey and devouring it after it has been killed. Ashkelon would have been their economic lifeblood (could one say it was their economic "air supply" perhaps?) because that gave them access to their trade routes. The Philistines were members of the sea peoples in that region. In this way, it is comparable to a lion going for the throat of its prey. Or, you could say that he broke their economic "backbone" just as a lion may sometimes break the neck of its prey to kill it. They literally could not move.

Because of it's great size and strength, the lion is called the king of beasts. Nebuchadnezzar was generally unstoppable by anyone in that region, so he certainly had the size and strength, comparable to a lion.

The winged lion was certainly a fitting symbol of the kingdom of Babylon in other ways.  If the four wings on the leopard represented very rapid conquest, then it stands to reason that two wings also represent rapid conquest, though fewer wings would suggest that the conquest would not be as fast as the leopard (Greece).  Babylon did conquer a large territory quite rapidly as the wings suggest.  Winged lion images have been found on the walls around the palace in the city of Nineveh, which was the capital of the Assyrian kingdom that Babylon was originally part of and eventually rebelled against and took over.  At least a few such lion reliefs have also been found on walls in Babylon, though most found there have no wings.

Note that after the lion came up out of the waters, it then walked upon the earth. Walking upon the earth symbolizes that once the Babylonians established a stable form of government over the nations they ruled, then it was able to control its territory with relative ease until God gave the kingdom to another. Note that other beasts did this also. The ram of Daniel 8, for example, was said to be beside the waters of a river in that region, which suggests the Persians arose out of the chaos and strife in that area, but once they were established, they did not have to continue to remain in the waters. By coming up onto the earth, it shows that the strife period where there is a struggle against the nations, multitudes, peoples, and languages around them was largely over. They were established.

Nebuchadnezzar was a very able general.  He had good success in his conquests, but his descendants were not as skilled as he.  Consequently, they did not have the military successes he had and became less aggressive.  The wings being plucked from the lion certainly suggest that they would not be as smart as he in military matters. Eventually Babylon was conquered by the Medes and Persians.


Nebuchadnezzar built Babylon into a powerful kingdom, but benefitted from the work of his father, Nabopolassar, who gained independence for Babylon from the Assyrians with the help of the Medes in 626 BC. This freed Babylon after 200 years of being subjected to the Assyrians. He destroyed the remnants of the Assyrian Empire by 609 BC. He carried out a war against Egypt from 610 to 605 BC and died soon after this war was finished. His oldest son, Nebuchadnezzar took over the Babylonian throne and went on to build up the kingdom much more than it had been before. Most of his efforts were directed westward.

Nebuchadnezzar apparently died in October of 562 BC and was succeeded on the throne by his son Awil-Marduk, who ruled only about 2 years. Amel-Marduk was succeeded by Neriglissar (559-555 BC), who was succeeded by Nabonidus (555-539 BC).

Nabonidus came to the Babylonian throne in 555 BC (some report 556 BC) by deposing the previous king, Neriglissar. At some point during Nabonidus' rule, he moved to the city of Tayma, which was near an area where the Babylonians had, according to one source the author found, managed to gain control of some rather lucrative Arabic trade routes. Consequently, it is possible that he moved there for business reasons, though some sources report that he moved there to promote the worship of the moon god Sin. The real reason probably is unknown at present, but it is a fact that the Babylonians were very active in business, so it is not unreasonable that Nabonidus may have moved there to promote and protect valuable trade routes for his kingdom. And, who can argue against the idea that perhaps he went there for both reasons? We cannot talk to him now to find out exactly what hes reasons were, so we can only speculate based on the little bit of information that archeology has been able to put together. While he was absent from Babylon, he left his son Belshazzar in charge as coregent of the kingdom. From the account in the book of Daniel, it appears that the son seems to have had more interest in partying than in taking care of his duties. 

Nabonidus ruled Babylon until it fell to the Medes and Persians.

After the battle of Opis at which the Babylonian army was defeated, Nabonidus, apparently yet unaware that Babylon had been captured, returned to Babylon. Upon his return, he was captured by the Medes and Persians. Later, he was exiled from Babylon. It appears that the Medes and Persians were a bit leniant with him because many kings under similar circumstances would have been killed rather than exiled. Some have suggested that he was killed after capture, but apparently the historical evidence today is that he was exiled.

The year of the fall of Babylon seems to be somewhat in dispute among some authorities. The Encyclopedia Britannica 2008 Ultimate Reference Suite reports that the fall of Babylon occurred in the year 539 BC ("Nabonidus." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite.  Chicago:Encyclopædia Britannica, 2007) . Some other sources report 538 BC. The author of this web site is unsure which year is right, but the Encyclopedia Britannica is considered by most to be a very reliable source, so it is likely that their year is accurate.

According to some sources, when the Medes and Persians laid siege to Babylon, they conquered Babylon rather easily because they diverted the river running through the city and sneaked in at night under the iron gates that were over the Euphrates River. Once inside the area between the two halves of the city (one half was the main section of the city, with gates in the city walls controlling access to it, while the other half sat across the river and was a religious center), the gates into the main section of the city had been left open. Consequently, the Medes and Persians were able to easily gain access to the main part of the city and conquered it. The Babylonians were so sure the gates over the river and inner gates controlling access into the main part of the city would protect them that they did not carefully guard against the threat outside their gates. This was a mistake that cost Belshazzar his life, as recorded in Daniel 5 and history.

There is a prophecy about this in the book of Isaiah, which said this:

Isa 45:1 Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the armor of kings, to open before him the two-leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut;
Isa 45:2 I will go before you, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of bronze, and cut asunder the bars of iron:
Isa 45:3 And I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the LORD, who call you by your name, am the God of Israel.
Isa 45:4 For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel my elect, I have even called you by your name: I have named you, though you have not known me.
Isa 45:5 I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God besides me: I girded you, though you have not known me:

Isaiah's work as a prophet extended from about 740 to 701 BC, so it is impossible for him to have written this prophecy after the fact in 539 BC. Consider the implications of that if you do not believe God can predict the future.

Some sources report that the Medes and Persians were aware of the fact that the Babylonians had some years before been building bridges between the two halves of Babylon on both sides of the river and had temporarily diverted the river into another area so that the bridges could be built. The Median and Persian army went upriver from Babylon, found the location where this was done, and diverted the river at night. This allowed them access between the two halves of the city. The Babylonians apparently were so confident that the Medes and Persians could not gain access to that part of the city that they left the gates open into the city itself and the Median and Persian army was able to walk in and easily took the city. Some of this history is reported in an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia

Some historical sources report that the Medes and Persians were welcomed into the city when they arrived, though that probably is the victor's story. The winners of wars usually get to write the history! 

What is known from history outside the Bible is that Nabonidus sent his son Belshazzar as chief general to do battle against the Medes and Persians in response to their invasion of the land ruled by Babylon, but he was defeated at the battle of Opis. It was evidently a minor defeat and more battles from the Medes and Persians were expected by the Babylonians. The Medes and Persians, however, were a cunning bunch, and sent a division of their army to Babylon undetected and were able to capture it. Of course, once the main Babylonian army learned of this, they were put into a difficult situation because their king was captured, his coregent son was dead, and their capital city was under the control of the Medes and Persians. Why do further battle? It appears that they eventually negotiated a surrender of some sort to the Medes and Persians and the war was over.

According to Wikipedia, Babylon was used by the Medes and Persians as their seat of government for about 2 centuries until Alexander the Great took it over in 331 BC. After he died, there were wars that went on for several decades among the generals who eventually took over his kingdom. As a result, Babylon was mostly abandoned. In 275 BC the majority of the remaining residents were deported to Seleucia. By 141 BC, when the Parthian Empire took over Babylon, it was essentially empty and abandoned. A few maintained residence there, which continued for centuries, but it never was a city of prominence again. As God said through the prophet Jeremiah, Babylon would become desolate and remain that way forever. To this day, that remains true. Saddam Houssein, former ruler of Iraq, tried to change that by rebuilding Babylon, but he failed because he was stopped by war. Now that he is dead, he cannot resume his rebuilding efforts. God's word will remain true to the end.

Click here for Wikipedia information about Babylon

Click here for Wikipedia information about Nebuchadnezar

Click here for useful dates relating to Babylon and Persia (and some other useful dates)

Click here for a good description of Babylon's military campaigns against Judah and Philistia

Click here for the home page of the web site on the campaigns against Judah and Philistia, in case the link above does not work

Click here for some interesting information about Babylon.

Click here for more interesting information about Babylon. (click on "Articles", then click on "Bible Insights", then click on "Archeology Confirms the Bible", then click on "Babylon and the Bible")