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Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Daniel 2)

Overview

Bible Passage:

Read the prophecy in Daniel 2:26-49.

Theme:

Realms that rule over God's people until Jesus sets up His everlasting kingdom.

Overview:

Daniel's first vision (Dan. 2:19) about Nebuchadnezzar's dream of an image is one of the most famous prophecies in the Bible. Its basic interpretation is widely agreed upon by Bible scholars. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, received a dream about a great image made up of several different substances. When God revealed the interpretation, a prophecy unfolded that straightforwardly outlines the powers that would rule over His Organized Church from that day until the end of time. The final ruling realm is called an eternal kingdom, never to change hands again. This prophecy, with its straightforward interpretation, forms a solid foundation upon which additional prophecies are expanded.

Main Starting Points:

  • The interpretation of the first symbol is given us by the Angel. The head of gold, the first kingdom, is Babylon (v. 37-38).
  • We know each section of the image represents a kingdom (v. 39-40), which is also referred to as a realm (Dan. 1:20, 6:3, 9:1, 11:2).
  • There will only be four realms from Babylon until God's everlasting kingdom (v. 38-44).
  • There are only 4 earthly realms described in the prophecy because they are the realms that had control over the area where the large part of God's people dwelt. There are many other great empires that are not mentioned as one of these 4 earthly realms, such as the Ottomans, Chinese Han Dynasty and Mongols, though some of these may have other prophetic roles.
  • We know from history and other Bible verses the clear identity of the four realms.

Chart:

Daniel 2 Prophecy Chart

Verse-By-Verse


Realm #1. Head of Gold = Babylon (609BC to 539BC)

"...Thou art this head of gold" (Daniel 2:38)

God revealed to Nebuchadnezzar that he (Babylon) was the head of Gold, and the first and most superior of the earthly realms (Dan. 2:38-40). A Babylon alliance conquered the Assyrian capital of Ninevah in 612 BC and Babylon took Israel captive in 609 BC. The Babylonian Empire, also called the Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean Empire, was a magnificent and mighty empire.

Isaiah referred to Babylon as the "golden city." "That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased!" (Isaiah 14:4).

70 Years of Babylonian rule: Judah was told they and the surrounding nations would serve the king of Babylon for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:8-14, 29:10, 2 Chronicle 36:21). This occurred from 609 to 539 BC.

"And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations" (Jeremiah 25:11-12).

Map of the Median Empire, Egypt, Lydian Empire and Neo-Babylonian Empire in the 6th century BC.
Map of the Neo-Babylonian Empire as of 540 BC

Realm #2. Breast & Arms of Silver = Medo Persia (539BC to 331 BC)

"And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee..." (Dan. 2:39).

From history and other Bible texts (Dan. 5:24-31, 8:20, 11:2), the kingdoms that followed Babylon can easily be determined. Medo-Persia was the next realm, conquering Babylon in 539 BC when the armies of Cyrus the great, attacked the seemingly impregnable city. Just moments before the attack, the Babylonian king Belshazzar, during a drunken party, saw the unseen hand write those terrifying words "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin" on the wall. Daniel, called to interpret the writing, said "Mene; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Tekel; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. Peres; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians" (Dan. 5:25). Shortly after, the armies of Cyrus marched into the heart of the unguarded city, having turned the Euphrates out of its channel. That very night Belshazzar was slain and the Persians took the city.

Cyrus was predicted by name 150 years earlier in Isaiah 44:28 and Isaiah 45:1.

Inferior:

This second kingdom is described as inferior to the first. This is represented by the substances used in the image. The substances are given in descending order of value (Gold, Silver, Brass, Iron) and ascending order of strength.

A map of the Achaemenid/Persian empire at its greatest extent, during the reign of Darius I around 500 BCE.
Map of the Persian Empire

Realm #3. Thighs of Brass = Greece (331BC to 168BC)

The third realm, Greece, conquered the Medes and Persians at the Battle of Arbela in 331 BC. History shows it, but the angel also revealed to Daniel that Greece would succeed Medo Persia (Daniel 8:20-21, 11:2). Greece's famous young leader, Alexander the Great began to rule when he was only 20 years old. However, by the time he was 25 he had conquered much of the Eastern world. His amazing feats are exemplified by the battle of Arbela, where he defeated Darius' 600,000 strong army, with a force of less than 50,000 men.

Extent of the empire of Alexander the Great
Map of the Divisions of Greece

Realm #4. Legs of Iron = Rome (168 BC to Second Coming)

The fourth realm, Rome, is the last earthly realm. Roman armies defeated the Macedonian army at Cynoscephalae in 196 BC, and crushed the Macedonian forces in the Battle of Pydna in 168 BC.

The substances indicate an ascending order of strength (iron is the strongest), with the fourth being described as "strong as iron" (Dan. 2:40) and breaking and bruising. The beast in Daniel 7:7,19 has teeth of iron that devoured and brake in pieces and it is described as "exceedingly strong".

Map of the Expansion of the Roman Empire
Territorial extension and provincial division of the Roman Empire under Trajan (117 AD) on a political map of 2013
Map of the boundaries of the western and eastern Roman empires after the death of Theodosius I, in 395 AD

Feet & Toes = Divided Rome (Nations of Europe) (486 AD to Second Coming)

The legs of iron become a mixture of iron and clay in the image's feet. The ten toes symbolize a division. The iron of the Roman Empire did not entirely fade, but it divided into decentralized kingdoms (toes) that were still somewhat linked together. This process occurred gradually during the 2nd through 5th centuries AD, when Germanic tribes migrated into the empire on mass scales. Many factors contributed to what is called "The Fall of Rome," but ultimately the empire could not absorb the changes and keep direct control over its many territories. Central rule disappeared by 486 AD. The iron reaches down to the end of time. There is only one power, Rome, that not only conquered Greece, but changes its form of government to a divided realm AND extends to the second coming.

Map of Roman realm around 500 AD
"Mingle themselves with the seed of men"
The prophecy refers to attempts to reunite the realm through political marriages (Dan. 2:41-43). This can especially be seen during the era from the 1200s on. The Habsburgs were a famous European family that built their territory through strategic marriages (verse 43). Though succeeding in ruling approximately half of Europe, they never were able to reunite the Roman Empire under one emperor.

"Habsburg (in English-speaking countries sometimes spelled Hapsburg, but never so in official use) was an important ruling house of Europe and is most well known to be the ruling House of Austria (and the Austrian Empire) for over six centuries. Through marriage, the family ruled approximately half of Europe. They were Holy Roman Emperors and one of the most powerful families in Europe." ("Habsburg", New World Encyclopedia, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Habsburg)

"The Habsburg marriages of 1477 and 1496 give rise to a much quoted line of Latin poetry: Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube (Let others make war; you, fortunate Austria, marry). The first marriage is the achievement of Frederick III, elected Holy Roman emperor in 1440. His long reign, to 1493, is a troubled one for Austria and the Habsburgs. But the turning point is his perception that the wealth of Burgundy (whose ruler Charles the Bold has no male heir) could be linked to the imperial dignity (held by the Habsburgs) to the mutual advantage of both houses - a perception so sound that the imperial crown becomes, in succeeding generations, a Habsburg inheritance." ("History of the Habsburgs", History World, http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?ParagraphID=ins#ixzz1ks1cI9KP)

"Habsburg domination of Europe resulted from the shrewd marriage policy of Maximilian I (1459-1519), whose own marriage gained The Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Burgundy and that of his son, Philip, which brought Castile, Aragon, and the Spanish New World possessions as well as Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia. Habsburgs also ruled Hungary and Bohemia from 1526 to 1918." ("Habsburg", A Dictionary of World History, http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Habsburg.aspx#3)

Central Influences keep it a single realm:

This divided realm would still be strong (iron) and though central rule ended, there would still be certain unifying or central influences for the tribes and nations. Political powers that reached across borders, such as the papacy and house of Habsburg, would link countries together. Many determined and famous historical figures unsuccessfully attempted to reunite the realm as one political unit under one leader again. These included Justinian, Charlemagne, Charles V, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin.

The 4th Realm extends to the second coming:

The divided kingdoms would eventually became the nations of Europe that we see today, along with their territorial expansions. The realm, though divided politically, is still treated as a single realm in subsequent prophecies in Daniel and Revelation. The prophecies are clear that this 4th realm continues until the second coming of Christ.

Map of Colonial Expansion 1400 - 1600 AD
Map of European Empires and Trade c. 1770
Clay = Church
The substances (gold, silver, brass and iron) have provided insight into the value, strength and character of the kingdoms. A new substance, clay, now provides additional information about the nature of the fourth kingdom after it divides. The clay appears during the time of Divided Rome (toes) and mixes with the nations.

We know from other prophecies that the 4th realm is different from the others because it becomes a religious-political power. In other words, the church mixes with politics.

In the Bible, God's people are likened to clay, which emphasize that He formed them and continues to form them (Is 45:9). Let's look at the following examples:

"O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel" (Jeremiah 18:6).

"But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand" (Isaiah 64:8).


God's people are represented by the clay. That was Israel in these verses, and today it is the church. The clay would become intertwined with the iron, or the church (clay) and state (iron of Rome) would become intertwined. The church would become politically involved. (Note: Iron is associated with ruling power in Psalm 2:9 and Revelation 2:27).

The clay is also described as miry (Hebrew "tin" - sticky dirt to be swept away, clay, dirt, mire) (English "mire" = swampy, muddy, bog), indicating that the church is not pure.

We know from other prophecies that the middle ages and the time of the end are fraught with religious-political partnerships that persecute and obscure truth. When imperial Rome collapsed and the realm morphed into a divided realm, the church in Rome became powerful ecclesiastically and politically. It did become very mixed with politics for hundreds of years. Revelation also reveals that protestantism loses its purity and becomes mixed with politics during the time of the end.

Realm #5. The Stone = Christ's Kingdom (Second Coming to Eternity)

Without Hands


The next realm is the fifth and final realm. This realm is different from the others. It is made without hands. The following verses provide insight into what it means to be made without hands.

"But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building" (Hebrews 9:11).

"A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man" (Hebrews 8:2).

"We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands" (Mark 14:58).

"In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ" (Colossians 2:11).

"And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand" (Daniel 8:25).


The establishement of this kingdom is God's doing, not man's.
In the Days of these Kings
This final kingdom is setup "in the days of these kings" (divided Rome). This is a time future to the apostles. It is the very time in which we are currently living.

Jesus also related this future kingdom via a parable:

"And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. 12 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return" (Luke 19:11-12).

The kingdom wouldn't appear, or be setup, until Jesus receives it and returns. Notice that Jesus has to receive this kingdom.

"He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:32-33). Jesus is given the kingdom by God the Father.

The time and circumstances when Jesus is given the kingdom is revealed in other prophecies:

"10 A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened... 13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed" (Daniel 7:10,13-14).

Jesus is given the kingdom after a court scene where books are opened and a deliberation occurs.

"And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15).

There is a judgment (Dan. 7) and an announcement. This occurs during the 7th time period of Revelation, which is the last period occurring right before the second coming.
Sets Up Kingdom
After Jesus receives the kingdom it can be setup or established.
  • Kingdom of Grace

    "20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. 22 And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. 23 And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them. 24 For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. (Luke 17:20-24). This kingdom is invisible, because it is within people. But, later "in his day" (the day of the Lord), Jesus will be revealed visibly throughout the heavens.

    "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16).

    Here is a throne, so there must be a kingdom. We refer to this kingdom as the "Kingdom of Grace". It is already present.

    "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence" John 18:36.

    In the kingdom in this verse, Jesus has a kingdom, but He is delivered to the Jews and the Romans continue to rule for many years. On the other hand, in Daniel 2 the succession of kingdoms is ended.

    See also Matthew 4:17 (kingdom of heaven is at hand),

  • Kingdom of Glory

    "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats" (Matthew 25:31-32).

    This kingdom is established when Jesus returns to earth with all the angels. This is referring to the second coming which we refer to as the "Kingdom of Glory". This is a future and visible event.

    This kingdom in Daniel is setup "in the days of these kings" (after 486 AD), so it cannot be the kingdom of grace.

Stand for ever & Never be destroyed

It will not end (Luke 1:32-33, Rev. 11:15, Dan. 7:13-14). Why did all the earthly kingdoms lose power? "The throne is established by righteousness" (Proverbs 16:12), "righteousness exalteth a nation" (Proverbs 14:34) and "mercy and truth preserve the king" (Proverbs 20:28). Rulers that do not follow God's law, lose power. God takes responsibility for all the transitions in power. "And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding" (Daniel 2:21). "Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory" (Daniel 2:37).

God's kingdom lasts forever because it is righteous.
Breaks all earthly kingdoms
1 Cor. 15:22-28 (puts all enemies under his feet)

Rev 20:7-9 (wicked destroyed after 1000 years)

Rev 20:14 (death is destroyed at the end of 1000 years)

"And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Mt. 21:44).
Great Mountain
Mountain = Kingdom (Dan. 2:44)

"24 And I will render unto Babylon and to all the inhabitants of Chaldea all their evil that they have done in Zion in your sight, saith the LORD. 25 Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the LORD, which destroyest all the earth: and I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee a burnt mountain" (Jeremiah 51:24-25).

"3 Thus saith the LORD; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the LORD of hosts the holy mountain" (Zechariah 8:3).

"9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. 10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space" (Rev. 17:9-10).


The "great mountain" (v. 35) that fills the whole earth represents Christ's kingdom with His people that fill the entire planet, emphasizing the demise of ALL earthly powers and their associated corruption, unfair practices, greed and suppression.
Summary
  • The kingdom is setup in the days of divided Rome (after 486 AD).
  • The kingdom begins with a stone. The stone equals Christ (Matt 21:42-43) (Is. 8:14,15; 28:16; Ps. 118:22-23; Lk 20:18; Mt. 21:44). He established the kingdom of grace at the cross. Because of the success of that kingdom, He is able to receive the kingdom of glory in the end. "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." (Matt. 6:10)
  • The kingdom is given to Jesus (Luk 1:32-33, Rev. 11:15).
  • The kingdom is given to Jesus during the 7th period near the end of time (Rev. 11:15).
  • The kingdom is established (setup) at the second coming (Matt. 25:31-32). The plagues culminate in the 7th plague, during which Jesus returns to earth and the wicked are destroyed. This is when the stone strikes the image and it crumbles. The material is consumed at the end of the 1000 years, when the dust is blown away as if it never was. Then the earth is recreated and the saints fill it.
  • The kingdom will not end (Luke 1:32-33, Rev. 11:15).

Other Interpretations of Daniel 2

Almost all scholars down through history have agreed upon the basic interpretation (Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome) of this prophecy. In more recent years, there have been more efforts to disassociate Rome from the fourth kingdom.

One pinterpretation is that the Medo-Persian empire was actually two successive empires instead of a joint empire. This theory lists the four kingdoms as (1) Babylon, (2) Media, (3) Persia and (4) Greece. This allows the little horn of Daniel 7 and 8 to be applied to the king Antiochus Epiphanes of the late Grecian empire. This interpreation presents a number of difficulties. One problem is that the Medes and Persians had already formed a confederated government prior to Cyrus' conquest of Babylon in 539 BC. Other problems are encountered when trying to match the unique identifying symbols of the 4th kingdom to Greece.

Another interpretation is that the 4th realm is Islam. One reason it has been put forth as a replacement, is because countries under the caliphates have taken over the former territory of Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece. Plus, prophecies in Daniel often mention countries in the middle east, especially Israel, and the idea is that prophecy would stay focused on that area. Following are reaons why Rome makes sense over Islam as the fourth kingdom:
  • The fourth kingdom extends from the time of overthrowing Greece until the end of time when the stone destroys all earthly kingdoms (Christ's second coming). Only Rome fits this description. Islam did not appear on the scene until the 6th century AD.

  • The Bible names the four realms. Babylon is named in Daniel chapter 2. Medo-Persia and Greece are named in Daniel 8, and the New Testament names Rome (Luke 2:1). These are the kingdoms named as ruling over God's people.

  • Rome is linked to Daniel's prophecies by Jesus, who connected the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies to Daniel 9 (Luke 21:20-21, Matt. 24:15).

  • Other prophecies in Daniel enlarge upon the events occuring during the 4th realm. The parallel nature of Daniel's prophecies reveal characteristics of the 4th realm that can only be fulfilled by Rome.

  • God has always chosen a group of people on earth to disseminate information to the world (Organized Church). According to the Bible, this chosen people was Israel (descendents of Jacob) for hundreds of years. When Israel rejected prophet after prophet, disobeyed God's commandments, and finally killed the Son of God, they forfeited their position. Though individual Jews may still be saved, the Jewish nation is no longer God's chosen earthly organization to spread the gospel. The New Testaments outlines how God's new group of truth disseminators became the Christian church. The Bible also details that Christians would still be called "Israel" and that those who believe in Christ are considered Abraham's true children. This shift of Israel's identity consisting of a nation to one that consists of believers in Christ must also be made in prophecies that use symbolism and correspond to the same timeframe. Avoiding this shift in the identity of Israel causes a number of prophecy misinterpretations today. The spread of the gospel is no longer tied to the physical nation of Israel or centered in that part of the geographic world.

  • Prophecies are concerned with events that affect God's people and powers who rule over God's people. The Organized Church of Christ in large part moved from the middle east up to Asia minor and then Europe. Prophecy is linked to the kingdom that rules over these areas. Note that God's people dwell throughout the earth on every continent and every country.

  • After Rome divided into two kingdoms in the 4th century AD, the eastern kingdom developed into a separate kingdom with different language and culture. By the end of the 7th century any authority and governmental ties it had in the west were completely severed. The eastern kindgom was not Roman, but a Greek kingdom that came to be called the Byzantine Empire. Prophecies follow the western division of Rome, which continued in a divided/decentralized form (10 toes - Dan. 2, 10 horns - Dan. 7).

Matching up the Vision with the Corresponding Interpretation by Daniel

Vision Interpretation
31 Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. 32 This image's head was of fine gold, 36 This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king.
37 Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory.
38 And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold."
his breast and his arms of silver, 39 And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee,
his belly and his thighs of brass, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.
33 His legs of iron, 40 And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.
his feet part of iron and part of clay. 41 And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay.
42 And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken.
43 And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay."
34 Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. 35 Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, 44 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces
and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and consume all these kingdoms,
and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. and it shall stand for ever.
45 Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.

Time Line

Prophecy timeline of Nebuchadnezzar's Image in Daniel 2
(click on image to enlarge)

Additional Resources:

World Empires (Dan. 2) (interactive presentation)

Continue to the next study: The Four Beasts (Dan. 7)