on Daniel 7 :4
The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings - Bp. Newton well remarks, that these great beasts, as explained by the angel, Daniel 7:17, are kingdoms. They arise out of a stormy and tempestuous sea; that is, out of the wars and commotions of the world; and they are called great in comparison of other states and kingdoms, and are denominated beasts for their tyrannical and cruel oppression.
These four beasts are indeed monstrous productions; a lion with eagle's wings; a bear with three ribs in its mouth; a leopard with four wings, and four heads; and a beast with ten horns. But such emblems and hieroglyphics were usual among the eastern nations, as may be seen in the monuments of antiquity. A winged lion, and such like fictitious animals, may be seen in many parts of the ruins of Persepolis. Horns are attributed to beasts which naturally have none, being used in hieroglyphic writings for symbols of strength and power. And such figures are supposed to be the symbols of different nations; and are not more strange than many that are still used in heraldry. I believe the science of heraldry arose out of the knowledge gained from the symbols used in the Sacred Writings, and the little acquaintance anciently obtained of the meaning of some of the Egyptian hieroglyphics. Hence our wiverons, griffins, unicorns, with a congeries of natural and unnatural things, split eagles, two-headed swans, etc., etc., etc.
The beast like a lion is the kingdom of the Babylonians; and the king of Babylon is compared to a lion, Jeremiah 4:7; Isaiah 5:29; and is said to fly as an eagle, Jeremiah 48:40; Ezekiel 17:3, Ezekiel 17:7. The lion is considered the king of the beasts, and the eagle the king of the birds; and therefore the kingdom of Babylon, which was signified by the golden head of the great image, was the first and noblest of all the kingdoms; and was the greatest then in being. The wings of the eagle denote the rapidity with which the lion - Nebuchadnezzar, made his conquests; for in a few years, by his own arms, he brought his empire to such an extent, and raised it to such a degree of eminence, as was truly surprising; and all tended to show with what propriety this eagle-winged lion is here made his emblem.
The wings thereof were plucked - Lydia, Media, and Persia, which had been provinces of the Babylonish empire, cast off the yoke, and put themselves under kings of their own. Besides, the rapidity of its conquests was stopped by its wars with the Medes and Persians; by whom it was at last conquered, and divided between Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian.
And it was lifted up from the earth - That is, the wings were plucked, rendered unfit for farther flight, by which it had before been lifted up from the earth; making its conquests almost with the rapidity of an eagle's flight. In what a short time did Nebuchadnezzar, who is here chiefly intended, conquer Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, Egypt, Arabia, etc.! But on his death the wings were plucked; and no farther extension of the empire took place under Evil-merodach or Belshazzar, till it was lost by the latter, and became divided as we have seen above.
And made stand upon the feet as a man - This I think refers to the taming of Nebuchadnezzar's pride. He had acted like a fierce and ravening lion. God struck him with insanity; he then lived the life of a beast, and had a beast's heart-disposition, and habits. At last God restored him.
And a man's heart was given to it - He became humane, humble, and pious; and in this state he appears to have died.
on Daniel 7 :4
The first was like a lion - It is to be assumed, in explaining and applying these symbols, that they are significant - that is, that there was some adaptedness or propriety in using these symbols to denote the kingdoms referred to; or that in each case there was a reason why the particular animal was selected for a symbol rather than one of the others; that is, there was something in the lion that was better fitted to symbolize the kingdom referred to than there was in the bear or the leopard, and this was the reason why this particular symbol was chosen in the case. It is to be further assumed that all the characteristics in the symbol were significant, and we are to expect to find them all in the kingdom which they were designed to represent; nor can the symbol be fairly applied to any kingdom, unless something shall be found in its character or history that shall correspond alike to the particular circumstances referred to in the symbol, and to the grouping or succession. In regard to the first beast, there were five things that entered into the symbol, all of which it is to be presumed were significant: the lion, the eagle's wings - the fact that the wings were plucked - the fact that the beast was lifted up so as to stand up as a man - and the fact that the heart of a man was given to it. It is proper to consider these in their order, and then to inquire whether they found a fulfillment in any known state of things.
(a) The animal that was seen: "the lion." The lion, "the king of beasts," is the symbol of strength and courage, and becomes the proper emblem of a king - as when the Mussulmans call Ali, Mahomet's son-in-law, "The Lion of God, always victorious." Thus it is often used in the Scriptures. Genesis 49:9, "Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?" The warlike character, the conquest, the supremacy of that tribe are here undoubtedly denoted. So in Ezekiel 19:2-3. "What is thy mother? A lioness: she lay down among lions, she nourished her whelps among young lions." Here is an allusion, says Grotius, to Genesis 49:9. Judea was among the nations like a lioness among the beasts of the forest; she had strength and sovereignty. The lion is an emblem of a hero: 2 Samuel 23:20, "He slew two lion-like men of Moab." Compare Gesenius zu Isa. i. 851. So Hercules and Achilles are called by Homer θυμολέοντα thumoleonta, or λεοντόθυμον leontothumon - lion-hearted - Iliad e 639, ee 228, Odyssey l 766. See the character, the intrepidity, and the habits of the lion fully illustrated in Bochart, Hieroz. lib. iii. c. 2, pp. 723-745 - Credner, der prophet Joel, s. 100. f. Compare also the following places in Scripture: Psalm 7:2; Psalm 22:21; Psalm 57:4; Psalm 58:6; Psalm 74:4; 1 Samuel 17:37; Job 4:10; Jeremiah 4:7; Jeremiah 49:19; Joel 1:6; Isaiah 29:1-2. The proper notion here, so far as the emblem of a lion is concerned, is that of a king or kingdom that would be distinguished for power, conquest, dominion; that would be in relation to other kings and kingdoms as the lion is among the beasts of the forest - keeping them in awe, and maintaining dominion over them - marching where he pleases, with none to cope with him or to resist him.
(b) The eagle's wings: "and had eagle's wings." Here appears one peculiarity of the emblem - the union of things which are not found joined together in nature - the representation of things or qualities which no one animal would represent. The lion would denote one thing, or one quality in the kingdom referred to - power, dominion, sovereignty - but there would be some characteristic in that king or kingdom which nothing in the lion would properly represent, and which could be symbolized only by attaching to him qualities to be found in some other animal. The lion, distinguished for his power, his dominion, his keeping other animals in awe - his spring, and the severity of his blow - is not remarkable for his speed, nor for going forth to conquest. He does not range far to accomplish his purpose, nor are his movements eminent for fleetness. Hence, there were attached to the lion the wings of an eagle. The proper notion, therefore, of this symbol, would be that of a dominion or conquest rapidly secured, as if a lion, the king of beasts, should move, not as he commonly does, with a spring or bound, confining himself to a certain space or range, but should move as the eagle does, with rapid and prolonged flight, extending his conquests afar. The meaning of the symbol may be seen by comparing this passage with Isaiah 46:11, where Cyrus is compared to "a ravenous bird" - "calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsels from a far country." The eagle is an emblem of swiftness: Jeremiah 4:13, "His horses are swifter than eagles;" Jeremiah 48:40, "Behold, he shall fly as an eagle, and shall spread his wings over Moab." See also Jeremiah 49:22; Lamentations 4:19; Habakkuk 1:8.
(c) The clipping of the wings: "I beheld until the wings thereof were plucked" The word used (מרט meraṭ) means, to pluck or pull, as to pull out the beard (compare Nehemiah 13:25; Isaiah 50:6), and would here be properly applied to some process of pulling out the feathers or quills from the wings of the eagle. The obvious and proper meaning of this symbol is, that there was some check put to the progress of the conqueror - as there would be to an eagle by plucking off the feathers from his wings; that is, the rapidity of his conquests would cease. The prophet says, that he looked on until this was done, implying that it was not accomplished at once, but leaving the impression that these conquests were extended far. They were, however, checked, and we see the lion again without the wings; the sovereign who has ceased to spread his triumphs over the earth.
(d) The lifting up from the earth: "and it was lifted up from the earth, and made to stand upon the feet as a man." That is, the lion, with the wings thus plucked off, was made to stand upright on his hind feet - an unusual position, but the meaning of the symbol is not difficult. It was still the lion - the monarch - but changed as if the lion was changed to a man; that is, as if the ferocity, and the power, and the energy of the lion had given place to the comparative weakness of a man. There would be as much difference in the case referred to as there would be if a lion so fierce and powerful should be made so far to change his nature as to stand upright, and to walk as a man. This would evidently denote some remarkable change - something that would be unusual - something where there would be a diminution of ferocity, and yet perhaps a change to comparative weakness - as a man is feebler than a lion.
(e) The giving to it of a man's heart: "and a man heart was given to it." The word heart in the Scriptures often has a closer relation to the intellect or the understanding than it new has commonly with us; and here perhaps it is a general term to denote something like human nature - that is, there would be as great a change in the case as if the nature of the lion should be transformed to that of a man; or, the meaning may be, that this mighty empire, carrying its arms with the rapidity of an eagle, and the fierceness of a lion, through the world, would be checked in its career; its ferocity would be tamed, and it would be characterized by comparative moderation and humanity. In Daniel 4:16, it is said of Nebuchadnezzar, "Let his heart be changed from man's, and let a beast's heart be given unto him;" here, if the symbol refers to him, it does not refer to that scene of humiliation when he was compelled to eat grass like a beast, but to the fact that he was brought to look at things as a man should do; he ceased to act like a ravenous beast, and was led to calm reflection, and to think and speak like a man - a rational being. Or, if it refers to the empire of Babylon, instead of the monarch, it would mean that a change had come over the nation under the succession of princes, so that the fierceness and ferocity of the first princes of the empire had ceased, and the nation had not only closed its conquests, but had actually become, to some extent, moderate and rational.
Now, in regard to the application of this symbol, there can be but little difficulty, and there is almost no difference of opinion among expositors. All, or nearly all, agree that it refers to the kingdom of Babylon, of which Nebuchadnezzar was the head, and to the gradual diminution of the ferocity of conquest under a succession of comparatively weak princes. Whatever view may be taken of the book of Daniel whether it be regarded as inspired prophecy composed by Daniel himself, and written at the time when it professes to have been, or whether it be supposed to have been written long after his time by some one who forged it in his name, there can be no doubt that it relates to the head of the Babylonian empire, or to that which the "head of gold," in the image referred to in Daniel 2, represents. The circumstances all so well agree with that application, that, although in the explication of the dream Daniel 7:16-27 this part of it is not explained - for the perplexity of Daniel related particularly to the fourth beast Daniel 7:19, yet there can be no reasonable doubt as to what was intended. For
(a) the lion - the king of beasts - would accurately symbolize that kingdom in the days of Nebuchadnezzar - a kingdom occupying the same position among other kingdoms which the lion does among other beasts, and well represented in its power and ferocity by the lion. See the character and position of this kingdom fully illustrated in the notes at Daniel 2:37-38.
(b) The eagle's wings would accurately denote the rapid conquests of that kingdom - its leaving, as it were, its own native domain, and flying abroad. The lion alone would have represented the character of the kingdom considered as already having spread itself, or as being at the head of other kingdoms; the wings of the eagle, the rapidity with which the arms of the Babylonians were carried into Palestine, Egypt, Assyria, etc. It is true that this symbol alone would not designate Babylon anymore than it would the conquests of Cyrus, or Alexander, or Caesar, but it is to be taken in the connection in which it is here found, and no one can doubt that it has a striking applicability to Babylon.
(c) The clipping or plucking of these wings would denote the cessation of conquest - as if it would extend no farther; that is, we see a nation once distinguished for the invasion of other nations now ceasing its conquests; and remarkable, not for its victories, but as standing at the head of all other nations, as the lion stands among the beasts of the forest. All who are acquainted with history know that, after the conquests of that kingdom under Nebuchadnezzar, it ceased characteristically to be a kingdom distinguished for conquest, but that, though under his successors, it held a pre-eminence or headship among the nations, yet its victories were extended no further. The successors of Nebuchadnezzar were comparatively weak and indolent princes - as if the wings of the monster had been plucked.
(d) The rising up of the lion on the feet, and standing on the feet as a man, would denote, not inappropriately, the change of the kingdom under the successors of Nebuchadnezzar. See above in the explanation of the symbol.
(e) The giving of a man's heart to it would not be inapplicable to the change produced in the empire after the time of Nebuchadnezzar, and under a succession of comparatively weak and inefficient princes. Instead of the heart of the lion - of being "lion-hearted" - it had the heart of a man; that is, the character of wildness and fierceness denoted by an untamed beast was succeeded by what would be better represented by a human being. It is not the character of the lion changed to that of the bear, or the panther, or the leopard; nor is it man considered as a warrior or conqueror, but man as he is distinguished from the wild and ferocious beast of the desert. The change in the character of the empire, until it ceased under the feeble reign of Belshazzar; would be well denoted by this symbol.
on Daniel 7 :4