Daniel’s vision of the beasts out of the sea. After Egypt and Assyria had finished their respective periods of dominance, and toward the close of the Babylonian Empire, Jehovah God gave Daniel a vision of “four huge beasts” coming up out of the vast sea. (Da 7:1-3) Isaiah 57:20 likens persons alienated from God to the sea, saying: “But the wicked are like the sea that is being tossed, when it is unable to calm down, the waters of which keep tossing up seaweed and mire.”—See also Re 17:15.
Bible commentators regularly link this vision with that of the colossal image in the second chapter of Daniel. As a comparison of chapters 2 and 7 shows, there are definite similarities. The colossal image had four principal parts or sections, to compare with the four beasts. The metals of the image began with the most precious, gold, and became successively inferior, while the beasts began with the majestic lion. In both visions the fourth part, or “kingdom,” receives particular consideration, shows the greatest complexity of form, introduces new elements, and continues down till the time when divine judgment is executed upon it for standing in opposition to God’s rule.
Briefly the four beasts were: a lion, first having eagle’s wings, then losing them and taking on human qualities; a bear (a less majestic and more ponderous creature than the lion), devouring much flesh; a leopard with four wings (adding to its great speed) and four heads; and a fourth wild beast not corresponding to any actual animal, unusually strong, with large iron teeth, ten horns, and another horn developing with eyes and “a mouth speaking grandiose things.” Much of the chapter relates to the fourth beast and its unusual horn. While each beast was “different from the others,” this was especially true of the fourth one.—Da 7:3-8, 11, 12, 15-26.
In the last quarter of the seventh century B.C.E., Babylon became the dominant power in the Middle East. The Babylonian kingdom swiftly extended its domain over Syria and Palestine, overthrowing the kingdom of Judah with its line of Davidic rulers who sat on the glorious throne of Jehovah in Jerusalem. (1Ch 29:23) It may be observed that, when warning Judah of its impending fall to Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah likened the future conqueror to ‘a lion going up out of a thicket.’ (Jer 4:5-7; compare 50:17.) After the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah said that Babylon’s forces had been “swifter than the eagles” in their pursuit of the Judeans. (La 4:19) History shows that Babylon’s expansion, at one time reaching as far as Egypt, before long came to a halt, and in the latter part of the empire, Babylon’s rulers showed little of the earlier aggressiveness.
Babylon fell to the Medo-Persian kingdom, with its heartland in the hills to the east of the plains of Mesopotamia. The Medo-Persian Empire was quite different from the Semitic Babylonian Empire, being the first Japhetic (or Aryan) power to gain the dominant position in the Middle East. The Jews, though allowed to return to Judah, continued as a subject people under the Medo-Persian yoke. (Ne 9:36, 37) This empire showed an even greater appetite for territory than had the Babylonian, extending its domain from “India to Ethiopia.”—Es 1:1.