The first beast was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it (Daniel 7:4).
This vision is usually taken to be a lion with eagles' wings growing out of its back. However the passage can be understood in another way. Daniel could have been saying,
I saw a lion, which had grabbed hold of the wings of an eagle. I watched until the lion tore off the eagle's wings. The eagle was then lifted up from the ground to stand like a man, and given a human heart.
If this was what Daniel saw, then the beast was a lion that was struggling with an eagle. The lion is the king of the animals and the eagle is the king of the birds, so Daniel was seeing a struggle between two immensely powerful nations. A lion is the symbol of Iran, being part of its national flag. The Asiatic lion was found in Persia until the 1930s, having originally spread there from India. A lion is strong, ferocious, brave, greedy and roars loudly (Jud 14:18; Job 10:16; Ps 17:12; 22:13; Prov 28:1). It is an appropriate symbol for Iran, or the growth of Islam that Iran spearheads. This renaissance of Islam is also described in Rev 6:2.
The animal that symbolises the United States is the bald eagle. When I first studied this vision in the early nineteen-eighties, the United States hostage crisis was underway. An attempt by the military to rescue the American hostages held in Iran ended in disaster in the desert. It seemed that the Iranian government had a strong hold over the United States. It could be said that the Iranian lion had the American eagle by the wings. At one stage during the crisis, television news items were given before a backdrop with a lion on one side and an eagle on the other. Daniel may have seen something similar. (A political commentator wrote a book called The Eagle and The Lion: The Tragedy of American-Iranian Relations.)
Now Al Qa'ida and other terrorist organisations have the United States by the wings. The United States power comes from two sources; its great wealth and military power. The military strength and economic power are the two wings that enable it to fly. During September 11 attack by Al Qa'ida, planes crashed into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. The World Trade Centre is the headquarters of several large corporations so it symbolises economic power. The Pentagon houses the Defence department, so it represents military power. Thus Al Qa'ida attacked the two wings on which the United States flies.
The attack on the World Trade Centre brought a radical change in attitudes in the United States. This was the first time in history, that it had been invaded by an external power. George Bush resolved that the United States would do whatever is necessary to prevent such an attack from ever occurring again. He began a war on terrorism that has brought a dramatic change in the way that the United States operates in the world.
Daniel saw this change of heart in the United States. The eagle was "lifted up from the ground". (This is a link with the beast that came up from the earth in Revelation 13:11.) It "stood on two feet like a man", a reference to the statue of a man that is described in Daniel 2. This statue represented the empires, from Babylon to Rome that dominated the world in Old Testament times. The statue's legs of iron represented the Roman Empire. Daniel's vision of the eagle standing like a man on two feet is a description of the United States becoming a new empire in the style of the Roman empire.
The eagle was give the "heart of a man". The United States was once a godly nation, but it has now become a centre, from which humanism is spreading through the earth. In 2001, the United States was not kept safe by God, so now it is trusting in military power to maintain its peace. The nation has a new heart, but it is not a heart for God. The heart of America is now a strong human resolve to do whatever has to be done to protect the nation. The United States confrontation with Islam has started a change from a peaceful nation to an empire that dominates the world.
Daniel's first beast might represents the struggle between the United States and the Middle East. This struggle began in 1978 with the Iranian revolution and is still going. Unfortnately the outcome is not good. Whether or not, America wins, it will be changed. The nation began with a heart towards God, but as its power is challenged, its heart will turn towards political and military power. The United States will stand on its feet, but it will stand in human strength, rather than trusting in the power of God.
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