An extract from an earlier handout given to students of the book of Daniel at Emmanuel Training and Resources:
The (possible?) significance of the number four in Scripture
Why is the phrase “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” repeated four times in Dan 4-5? Why not three times, or seven, or ten, or twelve?
Perhaps the answer lies in the significance of the number 4 in Scripture, combined with the rhetorical purpose of Dan 2-7.
A selection of biblical references
- Four rivers flowed out of Eden (and out into the whole world?): Gen 2:10-14
- Four corners of the earth: Isa 11:12; Rev 7:1 (and four angels and four winds); 20:8
- Four winds of heaven: Jer 49:36; Ezek 37:9; Dan 7:2; Zech 2:6; Mt 24:31
- Four points of the compass: 1 Chr 9:24
- Four horns on the altar: Ex 27; 38
- Four horsemen of the apocalypse: Rev 6
- Four living creatures, with four faces, and four wheels with eyes on the rims of all four of them, going in four directions: Ezek 1; Rev 4
- Four empires: Dan 2; 7
Common theme: totality, great extent, whole world?
Note also the (possible) significance of the number forty:
- Forty days of rain during the flood (Gen 7)
- Forty years in the wilderness
- Moses on Mt Sinai for forty days and forty nights (Ex 24:18)
- Solomon ruled for forty years (2 Chr 9:30)
- Forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown (Jon 3:4)
- Jesus tempted in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights (Mt 4:2)
Common theme: transition (between successive “worlds”?)