Posts tagged Daniel
Joseph, Daniel, and the New Exodus

The story of God and his people involves historical progression that unfold over time.[1] It has been said that the entire Old Testament corpus is pregnant with the message of the Christ. The seed of the gospel was planted in Gen 3:15, then grew in scope, promise, expectation, and clarity throughout the rest of the Old Testament. For this reason, Mark Dever titles his two volume biblical theology of the Bible on the OT and NT Promises Made and Promises Kept respectively. Dever comments that the “God of Scripture has revealed himself and his saving purposes in a progressive way by stages.”[2] When they speak of progression it is in reference to the fact that God’s plan is developing; unfolding from one epoch to the next (e.g. Abraham to David, David to exile, and exile to the Messiah cf. Mt 1:17). Therefore, we would do well to approach the Scriptures with the presupposition that the progressive narrative flow of the Old Testament must lead to its terminal telos: Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 5:39).

The biblical authors were so steeped in the Scriptures that in virtually everything they wrote one can easily observe the thumb print of the entire biblical tradition underneath. Pennington posits that if we have eyes to see “we can note the way in which the texts of the Bible pervasively pick up and embed earlier texts into later ones.”[3] For example, Ezekiel mentions Noah, Daniel, and Job (Ezek 14:14); Daniel references Jeremiah’s prophecy (Dan 9:2). This was not strictly an OT practice, as there are 343 OT quotations in the NT, as well as over 2,309 allusions and verbal parallels (though allusions are more easily debated).[4] These implicit verbal or thematic echoes to other passages are called intertextual allusions—when an “earlier text is taken up, transplanted, and transformed in a later text.”[5]

Intertextuality is a way for the biblical authors to subtly (or sometimes explicitly) cross-reference other passages or themes in Scripture in order to infuse their own writing with the contours, trajectories, and textures of the initial passage. Not only this, but since these biblical authors did not write merely from their own minds or personal interpretations, but wrote and spoke “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Pet 1:20) God gathers “together the various partial and progressive communicative acts and purposes of the human authors into one ‘great canonical Design.’”[6] Finally, since God’s revelation is progressive, understanding intertextuality assists us in determining how a particular concept fits in God’s unfolding plan—what Gentry and Wellum have called the “epochal horizon.” They explain that “intertextual connections were developed so that we could understand better the interrelations between earlier and later revelation.”[7]


I believe that the narrative of Daniel 2 mimetically patterns Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream in order to set the stage for the new exodus promised in the prophets (cf. Jer 16; 30–33; Is 9; 52), which is both realized and inaugurated at the birth of Christ (Mt 2).[8] Allow me to explain.

There is a myriad of intertextual connections in the may that Daniel mimetically patterns his narrative after Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream. Both were taken from their homes by force at a young age (Gen 39:1; Dan 1:3). Both are said to be handsome in appearance (Gen 41:39; Dan 1:4). Both are called wise men (Gen 41:39; Dan 1:4). Both served in the royal court (Gen 41:40; Dan 1:5). Both are given new names (Gen 41:45; Dan 1:7). Both interact with the “captain of the king’s guard” (Gen 39:1; Dan 2:14). After the professionals had failed, both were given divine wisdom from God in order to interpret the dream(s) of a king (Gen 41:16; Dan 2:48). As a result, both were promoted to positions of power (Gen 41:40; Dan 2:48). Montgomery writes:

Daniel gives all the glory to God in response to the king’s inquiry as to his ability, after Joseph’s example, Gen. 41:8, and denies the power of human wisdom in the premises, as equally, v. 30, any virtue of his own. The humility of Joseph and [Daniel] is capitally depicted as sprung from reverence before God without fear of man, although courtesy to the latter is not ignored.[9]

Lest one accuse me of artificially manufacturing these intertextual connection, I have set the passages from Genesis and Daniel side-by-side in the table below and emboldened the similarities.

Genesis 41:7–8 Daniel 2:1–3, 10
“And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.” Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him. Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. And the king said to them, ‘I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.’ …The Chaldeans answered the king and said, ’There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean.’”

One can observe the fact that accounts depict a king awoken from a dream, which resulted in a “troubled spirit.” Both kings called for their professional diviners to interpret the meaning of the dream; but to no avail. Both kings exhibit a heightened sense of dismay when they realize that all their servants are incapable of making clear the meaning of the dream.

Daniel and the New Exodus

With all of the points of connection between Daniel and Joseph, the most important similitude with regards to the thesis of this post is Dumbrell’s observation that “both operated in an Israel that stood before an exodus.”[10] God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah saying that “the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt’” (Jer 16:14). In essence, God informs Israel that when they remember his saving acts in the future, he will no longer be remembered by the exodus out of Egypt. Rather, his people will point to the new exodus (out of exile), when he will “bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers” (Jer 16:15). The second exodus, when the Lord will restore Israel will be far greater than the first one.

Isaiah also speaks of new exodus. In his final prophesy about Judah (Isaiah 9:1–4), Isaiah speaks of the end to the “gloom of anguish” (cf. Is 8:22; 9:1). In the “former time” God sent his people into exile. But “in the latter time” he will eliminate the darkness with the light of hope. What is this hope? Smith answers: “The first paragraph in this section introduces a future righteous Davidic king who will bring a period of light and peace to God’s people.”[11] While Israel experiences a partial fulfillment of this when they returned to the land God promised them, the prophecy indicates that what happens in Isaiah’s own day was going to be the pattern of the new exodus when the Messiah would come and bring his people into a new and better land of promise. Childs comments, “…Isaiah used the imagery of a new exodus to present the coming of a new eschatological age that would occur simultaneously with the deliverance of Israel from Babylon.”[12]

Joseph, Daniel, and Jesus

In his book, Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, Jonathan Pennington argues that authors of the Gospels shaped their accounts in the narrative form of most of the Jewish Scriptures with the intention of “clearly mimicking these stories, intertextually and figurally explaining the events of Jesus’s life as the goal and telos of the story of God.”[13] Matthew mimics the Joseph/Daniel “promised shaped paradigm” to put Christ forth as the fulfillment of all the types before him. Though there are many passages in Daniel’s narrative that shadow Joseph’s story, this one in particular illustrates Matthew’s parallel account. I have added a column to the previous table to demonstrate the parallels between the three narratives. Again, I have emboldened the similarities.

Genesis 41:7–8 Daniel 2:1–3, 10 Matthew 2:3–4
“And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.” Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him. Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. And the king said to them, ‘I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.’ …The Chaldeans answered the king and said, ’There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean.’” “[Magicians] from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.”

All three accounts depict a king receiving a divine message (two receive a dream, one a star), which result in the kings being “troubled.”[14] While they all call for their professionals to interpret the meaning of the sign, the outcomes are varied. In the first two narratives, the kings call for their pagan magicians and wise men who are impotent in divining this mystery.[15] In the third narrative, the king calls on the chief priests and scribes of Israel, who, through God’s revelation, are able to explain the meaning to him. You will notice that there is both continuity and discontinuity in the three accounts.[16]

Because some Hebrew manuscripts treat the second psalm (which lacks a heading) as a continuation of the first,[17] many commentators believe that Psalm 1–the two ways to live–should be coupled with the psalm that proceeds it. The second psalm is typically categorized as a royal psalm; used at the coronation of a new king. This idea is only corroborated by the fact that Psalm 2:7 is quoted four times in the NT to describe Christ’s coronation following his resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:4; Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5). After the installation of Yahweh’s everlasting king God says that he will break all hostile nations with a rod of iron and “dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:8–9). The fate of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is relayed in the language of Psalm 1:4 and Psalm 2:8–9 (i.e., the description of the fate of the wicked): “Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found” (Dan 2:35, emphasis added).

As I said, the biblical authors often utilize intertextual allusions in order to infuse their own writing with the contours, trajectories, and textures of the initial passage. I believe Daniel evokes the same narrative points of the Joseph story to hint at the pattern of deliverance. When someone starts a story with “Once upon a time” we expect them to end it with “They lived happily ever after.” In the same way the Joseph narrative sets up the exodus, the Daniel narrative sets up the new exodus, which is inaugurated at the incarnation. The fate of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue depicts the eschatological future of all who oppose Yahweh’s king.

  1. See Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, Kindle Edition (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), Kindle Locations 422–4.  ↩

  2. Mark Dever, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made, Kindle Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 12.  ↩

  3. Jonathan T. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 115–6.  ↩

  4. See Walter A. Elwell, ed., “Old Testament in the New Testament, the” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich. : Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K: Baker Academic, 2001).  ↩

  5. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely, 116.  ↩

  6. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge, Kindle Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 314.  ↩

  7. Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, Kindle Locations 4804–6.  ↩

  8. By mimesis I mean an author’s premeditated emulation of the actions or behavior of either a person or group of people to showcase a similar pattern or outcome in a new context.  ↩

  9. James A. Montgomery, Daniel: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, ICC (N.Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1927), 162.  ↩

  10. William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 391.  ↩

  11. Gary Smith, The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1–39, Vol. 15A (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2007), 235  ↩

  12. Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 479.  ↩

  13. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely, 247 emphasis added.  ↩

  14. To further substantiate this claim, note that the only time you see the word “μάγος” (wise men/magi) in the LXX is in Daniel 2—where the Babylonian king calls his magicians (and others) to interpret the dream. Daniel paints a scene of a king from the East attempting to use his impotent magi to interpret a dream that involves a mystery hidden by God, which was subsequently revealed to Daniel. Matthew reports of men from the East (Babylon?) who followed a star, more specifically his star (cf. Gen 49:10; Num 24:17), in order to come and worship him. Those who were once ignorant of God, now recognize his star and came to worship him, while God’s people were greatly troubled.  ↩

  15. For an excellent treatment of the biblical concept of mystery see G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd, Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014).  ↩

  16. While this is certainly a more tenuos connection, it could be argued that Matthew inverts the Daniellic temporal formula to make another connection. “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon *came to Jerusalem and besieged it*” (Daniel 1:1). “In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him” (Daniel 2:1). “In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first” (Daniel 8:1). Chapters 1 and 2 of Daniel follow a near-identical pattern. After the Aramaic section of Daniel (chapters 3–7), Daniel returns to using Hebrew in chapter 8, which begins with the same pattern of chapters 1–2—interestingly, the opening line of Daniel chs. 3–4, 7 mimics the introductory formula of chs. 1–2, 8 in the LXX. James M. Hamilton Jr, With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 65 lays out the basic formula used in the openings of chs. 1, 2, and 8 as: in year –> number –> of the kingdom –> to [king’s name] –> king of [place]. This formula operates as a structural transition that signifies the start of a new literary unit. Considering the lack of spacing and vowels in the originals, authors would often use literary devices to signify the end of a section or the beginning of a new one: discourse markers. Notice the way Matthew begins the second chapter of his gospel: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king…“ (Matthew 2:1, ESV). Matthew inverts the Danielic-formula to reveal the True king (Daniel 2:47)—[king’s name] –> king of [place]–> in year –> number –> of the kingdom. He uses Herod, the ”king", as a temporal marker to announce the birth of Jesus, the King of kings, in his kingdom, Bethlehem of Judea (Mic 5:2).  ↩

  17. See Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72 (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2009), 66 n. 2.  ↩

Darius and the Lions' Den

The account of Daniel 6 has been long labelled “Daniel and the lions’ den.” But what if, in actuality, this narrative has little to do with Daniel?

B.B. Warfield famously quipped:

The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted: the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what is in it but was only dimly or not at all perceived before.[1]

By this Warfield encourages us to read backwards: to use the lenses of the New Testament as spectacles through which we read the Old Testament. Again, the New Testament does not add anything to the Old Testament that was not intrinsically present beforehand. Rather, it illuminates and makes plain a layer of meaning that was previously obfuscated because the mystery, i.e., Christ, had not yet been revealed (Col 1:26).

Daniel 6

Daniel, a godly young man[2], faithfully served his king to the point that his honest, hard work was being recognized—he was going to get promoted. His fellow satraps, however, grew jealous that Daniel was quickly becoming the king’s favorite. They wanted to depose him by exposing his faults. Unfortunately, they could find nothing. They conspired to trap him, and knew the only way to do so was to tread on Daniel’s religion. They tricked the king into signing a law that forbade prayer to anyone other than him for an extended period of time. Daniel, after realizing this had happened, went to his home to showcase his civil disobedience by opening his windows and praying so that all could see.[3] He was found out, and sentenced to death by lion.[4] To the dismay of the king, Daniel was thrown in the lions’ den. The king came to check on Daniel the next morning. To his surprise, Daniel was unharmed; an angel closed the lions’ mouths. The evil satraps were then judged, and Daniel “prospered” (v. 28) during the reign of Darius.

The end.

At this point, we ask questions like: What is your “den of lions”? Is it your boss/coworkers? Are you putting your faith in God to rescue you and deliver you? Truthfully, I am not trying to pooh-pooh moral, practical, and relevant applications of this text. What I would prefer, however, is a better reading of the text that leads to the next level of application.

Reading Backwards

Before we begin to read backwards, I do want to point something out. After analyzing the narrative, I would suggest that the main character in this story (outside of God) is not Daniel, but Darius. Daniel’s fate is tied to the law of the Medes and Persians, and the climax of this narrative is whether Darius would rescind his unjust injunction. Does this seem like a stretch? I don’t think so. How do you determine the main character in a movie? It’s the character the camera follows in the apex of the crisis. After Daniel is thrown in the lions’ den, the author follows Darius home recording his emotional constitution, thereby choosing not to depict this supernatural deliverance—creating a disparity between Daniel 6 and its chiastic twin, Daniel 3 (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s deliverance in the fiery furnace). Therefore, we can confidently state that Darius—not Daniel—is the main character of this scene.

So what? How does that change anything when it comes to our reading of the text? Paul alludes to being rescued from the lion’s mouth in 2 Timothy 4:17–18. After informing Timothy that he had been abandoned and harmed, he gives thanks to the Lord who stood by him and strengthened him, with the end that he was “rescued from the lion’s mouth” (2 Timothy 4:17). Though this was the result of God’s saving effort, Paul does not present this as the purpose of God’s saving effort. Paul says that the Lord stood by him and strengthened him, but he adds this purpose clause: “so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Timothy 4:17, emphasis added).

Along with the greeting, final instructions are often seen as the crust of the epistles. We typically glaze over them: “Grace and peace, yeah, we get it Paul. I know, you want to say hi to some friends, ask for a favor, and end with a benediction.” But I believe that Paul’s usage of this metaphor gives us insight into the true purpose of Daniel’s salvation from the lion’s mouth. Paul says that although he was persecuted and abandoned by all, the Lord stood with him and rescued him from the lion’s mouth, with the intent that the message of the gospel would be proclaimed to Gentiles.

When we bring Paul’s purpose clause back to Daniel our angle shifts. It evolves from “God delivers his faithful servant who refused to commit idolatry” (which is true!), to “Darius the Mede (a gentile), king of the known world, witnesses the saving power of our God, and then from his own hand proclaims it ‘to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth.’” (Daniel 6:25)

Now the application questions break free from our personal solar system, where we are the sun and moon, and the gravitational pull is our joy alone. How can we suffer in a way that magnifies God’s name, and makes him known to those around us? Knowing that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him—that means his glory and our joy—how does this change the way you see your past/present trials? How can we break free from the cycle of Darius, Herod, and Pilate of seeking the approval of men over God?

After the resurrection, Jesus walked alongside the road to Emmaus and taught two of his disciples how to do exactly this: reading backwards (Luke 24:13–31).[5] The reality is that we are just scratching the surface.[6] With the light of the New Testament, we can walk through the once “dimly lit chamber” and look behind the armoire, under the bed, and on top of the dresser.

  1. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfied, Biblical Doctrines (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 141–2.  ↩

  2. Though in reality, he was likely in his late eighties when this account took place.  ↩

  3. Daniel is oft cited as the paragon of civil disobedience. It is noted that his act was civil (both in scope and method) and public (he opened his windows). Despite the frequency of this claim, however, Daniel did not open his windows to showcase his civil disobedience. The text points out that he is doing what he has always done (v. 10). That it becomes a matter of civil disobedience is the satraps’ issue, not his. We know that by this time, some of the Jews in exile had been permitted to return to their homeland under the leadership of Zerubbabel. Daniel longed to dwell in the Lord’s land, with the Lord’s people, and he opened his window “toward Jerusalem” to look out to the holy city (cf. 1 Kings 8:46–48).  ↩

  4. It is my contention, as well as a great deal of other commentators, that this incident with Daniel and the lions was an ordeal, and not an execution. An execution is an immediate death sentence of a condemned person. An ordeal, on the other hand, is a fatalistic test of sorts to determine culpability. Longman reminds us that there was a biblically sanctioned ordeal set forth in Numbers to determine whether a woman suspected of adultery was guilty (Num 5:11–31). An individual suspected of a crime is thrown into a river. If he or she dies, they are guilty. But if they survive, they are innocent and set free. One proof that this was not an execution: executions do not have time limits. Another proof is the language Daniel uses when Darius comes to ascertain the state of his friend. Daniel reports that the angel stopped the lions’ mouths “because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm” (Daniel 6:22, ESV). He attributes the fact that he is unharmed as a proof of his innocence. And lastly, this explains why the satraps and their families were subsequently tossed to the lions: to ascertain their guilt. The glorious irony of it all, this law of the Medes and Persians “which cannot be revoked” (v. 8, 12) fails, and God’s law prevails. In Deuteronomy, God’s law states that if someone brings a false charge against a person, and his or her testimony is found to be false, then the punishment pronounced on the innocent party is carried out on the false witness (Deuteronomy 19:18–19). In Daniel 6, the instrument of ordeal assigned for Daniel was turned against those who first set out to trap him. As the law of the Medes and Persians flounders in impotence, God’s law is fulfilled.  ↩

  5. For more on reading backwards, I would highly recommend Hays’ book, Richard Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2014).  ↩

  6. Daniel being thrown into the pit of lions evokes the account of Joseph being tossed into a pit (Gen 37:24). The irony of Daniel’s accusers suffering the instrument of torture they had intended for him mirrors the story of Haman being hung by the gallows he had constructed for Mordecai. Daniel laying with lions unharmed illustrates “My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts— the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords…They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my way, but they have fallen into it themselves” (Psalm 57:4–6, ESV). Daniel laid unharmed by these wild beasts, and Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him” (Mark 1:13, ESV emphasis added). The satraps and officials plotted against Daniel, though he was said to be innocent. The pharisees and sadducees plotted against Jesus. Pilate, like Darius, sentenced an innocent man to death through much consternation. Before he was arrested, Daniel spent his time praying in an upper room (Daniel 6:10). On the night before Jesus was arrested, he, too, went into an upper room to have the Passover with his disciples (Mark 14:15). Daniel is said to have been placed in a pit, which was subsequently sealed by a stone: “And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den” (Daniel 6:17, ESV). So, too, the Son of man, after his death was placed in a tomb and it was secured by “sealing the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:66, ESV) . In Daniel 6:19, Darius is said to have made haste to this sealed tomb at the break of day. In Matthew 28:1, at “dawn of the first day” the two Marys made haste to “see the tomb.” Finally, notice that when Darius addresses Daniel, there is no mention of a stone. It appears as though, the angel rolled the stone away. We know Jesus’ stone was rolled away, serving as a symbol that communicates the reality that the grave could not hold him. The fundamental difference in the two accounts: Jesus really did die and was raised, whereas for Daniel an angel shut the lions’ mouths and when he emerged from the den “no kind of hurt was found upon him, because he had trusted in his God” (Dan. 6:23). Jesus trusted God, too, but he was bruised and pierced for our transgressions, and God’s victory over his wounds and death was all the more overwhelming.  ↩

A Word to the Church Concerning Apocalyptic Literature

For the last three months I have been poured over my desk doing research and writing for our sermon series in Daniel at the People of Mars Hill church. Delving into the riches of the first six chapters of Daniel’s book has led to a fruitful harvest. We witnessed the Lord’s mighty hand in setting up, humbling, and deposing kings. We noted his faithfulness to his promises, in preserving a remnant in the midst of exile, delivering them time and time again from the pagan kings of Babel.[1] We mentioned the deep irony of the Babylonian name given to Daniel, Belteshazzar, which literally means “Bel protects his life” (Bel being one of the primary Babylonian gods), and the fact that he outlived the entire Babylonian empire into the Medo-Persian era. But now we move to chapter seven, which marks the transition between genres, i.e., narrative to apocalyptic.[2]

In chapter seven, Daniel transitions from what was to what will be. He begins to paint a phantasmal picture with his words describing a great sea, ghastly beasts likened to lions, bears, leopards, and even one so terrible that “it defies any zoological category.”[3] Daniel reports: “I saw in my vision of the night” (v. 2); “I watched” (vv. 4, 9, 11); “I looked” (v. 6); “I was watching” (vv. 13, 21). Most assuredly, Scripture is meant to be read, understood, and applied. But clearly, here, we can witness that Daniel’s intention is to recreate what he experienced with bold descriptions and rich imagery. He appeals to our senses to assist us in sharing some of the anxiety and trepidation he experienced. G.K. Chesterton once wrote in a children’s picture book, “But don’t believe in anything that can’t be told in colored pictures!”

Many, for a myriad of reasons, anxiously obsess over these seemingly esoteric texts. There are a great deal of people who believe that the book of Daniel will help us predict the end of the world. Such efforts have been met with a great deal of disappointments. These failed attempts to use Daniel and other apocalyptic texts to web current events have painted Daniel in an unfavorable light, subsequently leading to a pastoral aversion to preaching the book—or at least the last six chapters. Sibley Towner states the issue bluntly, “Why should preachers risk taking into their pulpits the time bombs that tick away in the Book of Daniel?”[4] The spectrum of enjoyment of eschatological discussions is similar to the temperature range of a hot pocket: volcanic heat and frozen tundra. In this short post, I hope to nudge both sides back to the middle.

Recently, I began reading a book that depicted a story of a single father, whose wife had died in labor, raising his six year old daughter on his own. He noticed she was having great difficulty with her sight. Doctors determined that her vision was deteriorating, and informed her father that his daughter would soon be blind. While many pitied his situation—and her condition—he did not allow her to feel downcast or second-rate. However, after realizing he would not live forever, he began to worry about her wellbeing after he died. He labored every evening to replicate a scaled model of their village in wood. It took him years to whittle out this mini-city. Once completed, he began to work diligently with his daughter every night: guiding her hands over the buildings, walking her fingers down the streets.

Every day, he would have his daughter follow him on his walk to work, gripping his back belt loop with her finger. He would call out to her the names of streets, shops, etc., making her sensible to the realities that correspond to the replica city. One day after work, he asked his daughter if she knew where they were. She replied, “I think so.” He picked her up, spun her around three times, and informed her she would be leading them home that evening. The thought was, one day he would not be there to help her, and he did not want her to feel helpless and lost.

I fear this is how many see apocalyptic literature: God carefully laying out for us how the future will unfold, so that we will be able to find our way home. This, however, is a tragic view, for it overlooks the promise that God will never leave us; he has promised to be with us always; he has given us the Spirit to lead us and guide us. We will never have to “find our way home,” because in a sense, we are already home (Eph 2:6, 19). No one can ever pluck us from his hand, and he who began a good work in us is faithful to bring us to completion.

What, then, is God’s intent in disclosing these things to us?

  1. He reveals to us the end before it happens so that we will trust and believe that all things are in his hands; he is never caught off guard or surprised by anything.
  2. He has perfectly, and meticulously ordained all things to accomplish his purposes: his maximal glory and our maximal joy.
  3. He reveals these things to us so that we will be ready and “long for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
  4. He reveals these things to us to set before us the promises of a better world, which helps us to persevere in the here and now.

Much time, energy, ink, consternation, and anxiety has been spent trying to ascertain the identity of certain beasts, horns, etc. And it must be said that desiring to know more about these images is not something to be avoided necessarily, as even Daniel had a special interest in these things (Daniel 7:19–20). God does not, however, disclose what will be to give us a biblical decoder ring for the news. In Daniel 7 (and passages of that ilk), God not only reveals to us the future, he reveals to us himself. So take off your tinfoil hats, share your armageddon rations, and put on Christ (Romans 13:14). Remember, if you find yourself concerned, uneasy, apprehensive, fearful, perturbed, troubled, bothered, disturbed, distressed, disquieted, fretful, agitated, nervous, edgy, antsy, unquieted, tense, overwrought, worked up, keyed up, jumpy, worried sick, with your stomach in knots while reading passages like Daniel 7, you are doing it incorrectly. It is no accident that the scenes involving four beasts follows a mighty act of God delivering Daniel from the lions’ mouths.

  1. The reference to “the land of Shinar” (Daniel 1:2) recalls Gen 11:2 and the tower of Babel. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, echoed the hubris of Babel when the impetus for his construction of a statue mirrored the motivation of the people of Babel in building the tower, which was to “make a name for [them]selves” (Genesis 11:4). In Babel, the core intention was to construct a city with the humanistic dream of one world, one common set of social values, and one language. They attempted to do so without thought to their Creator (Romans 1:21). Now, in the land of Shinar (Babylon), we witness this same desire taking shape to use one language, one social policy, one common bond of education, etc. to homogenize the populace through cultural subjection—there is nothing new under the sun. Lastly, as Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Leicester, England : Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2003), 213 reminds us, “Just as Babylon was born in linguistic confusion (Gen 11:1–9), so it ends in the same way (Dan 5). Its fate is written on the wall for profaning the sacred, and no-one can understand the message except Daniel.”  ↩

  2. While there are many definitions of apocalyptic literature, what I have in mind when I use the term is very close to Roger Beckwith’s definition in Roger T. Beckwith, Calendar and Chronology, Jewish and Christian: Biblical, Intertestamental and Patristic Studies (Boston: Brill Academic Pub, 2001), 345: “[A]pocalyptic is literature akin to prophecy, concentrating on one aspect of prophecy, the revealing of secrets, and setting forth great secrets revealed by God to a favoured saint or prophet, whether about his purpose for the future, about the constitution of nature or about the unseen world, the mode of the revelation being sometimes highly symbolical but sometimes literal and unusually detailed.”  ↩

  3. James A. Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel, International Critical Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1927), 282.  ↩

  4. Sibley W. Towner, Daniel (Atlanta: John Knox, 1984), 1–2.  ↩