As I began studying the book of Daniel, I realised the importance of ‘symbols’ in the bible.

They’re strange images, objects, numbers, and things like animals that make no sense if you take them in a literal sense.

But if you appreciate what they are symbolising and meaning something else, it begins to make sense.

In Daniel, you have a strange-looking statue with different metals in chapter two, and then weird animals in chapters seven and eight.

These prophecies and messages from God are not telling us to watch out for these actual things. So, a golden head on a stature, or a strange lion with multiple wings.

They represent something else. They are a symbol for another meaning.

Why Symbols Are Used

If you like things black and white, you might ask why God doesn’t just say things more plainly.

Good question – I’ve come to appreciate two reasons why this might be the case:

1. Protection of His Word

For the bible to have been written and handed down throughout the centuries, it has needed almost a mysterious element that doesn’t make immediate sense.

That way, people can’t try and eliminate God’s Word after taking any offence. It has remained intact, by God’s protection.

2. Provision of His Revelation

Those who genuinely seek God’s ways can easily decode the symbols and understand the true meaning.

It’s not supposed to be rocket science – the Holy Spirit will lead a humble-seeking heart into truth.

Once the willingness is there to see what the symbols are meaning, it suddenly becomes plainer.

Therefore, you will find that this principle of using symbols to mean something else is littered throughout the bible. Even Jesus Himself used parables and stories with a hidden meaning.

The Symbols Check List

Here then is a Symbols Check List that I’ve come up with to help de-code these, with three columns.

Firstly, the actual symbol itself like a beast or animal. Secondly, what this is supposed to symbolise and mean, for example, a kingdom.

And thirdly, where this symbol and interpretation of this is in the Bible, as often the Bible interprets itself at some point.

 Symbol  Meaning  Scripture

A heavenly created beings that are also sent as messengers and helpers to God’s people. (Gabriel is the only one of a few mentioned by name).

Heb 1:14, Luke 1:19, Dan 8:16 & 9:21


 A kingdom, government, nation, or political power

 Daniel 7:3 & 17 & 23, Revelation 13:1-4, Jer 4:7 & 50:17 and 43/44


People individually (and in God’s kingdom) that are mouldable by God

Job 33:6, Psalm 40:2, Isaiah 64:8


A year in real-time (according to the Jewish calendar).

Ezek 4:6, Num 14:34, Dan 9:24  – supported by theologians like Augustine, Tychonius, Andreas, Ambrosius, Ansbertus, and Berengaud.

Head A kingdom, rulers, governments, or divison Dan 7:6 and 8:8, 22, Rev 12:3 & 13:1 & 17:3, 7 & 17:9-10


Power and strength, king or kingdom

Deut 33:17, Zech 1:18 & 19, Psalm 89:17 & 24, Dan 8:22

Host  God's people and angelic beings  


Political or religious-state powers

Isaiah 2:2-3, Jer 17:3, Jer 31:23, 51, 24:25, Exek 17:22-23, Dan 2:35, 44-45


Jesus and His Kingdom

Isaiah 2:2-3, Jer 17:3, Jer 31:23, 51, 24:25, Exek 17:22-23, Dan 2:35, 44-45

Stars  The Righteous people of God Genesis 15:5 & 26:4 & 37:9, Exodus 32:13, Daniel 12:3, Revelation 12:1 

Strife, commotion, war, and unrest

Jer 25:31-33, 49:36-37, Jer 4:11-13, Zech 7:14, Dan 7:2 and 11:40, Rev 7:1-2


Speed and swiftness

Hab 1:6-8, Jer 4:13, Exod 19:4


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