Relevant Biblical Passages: Daniel 2 and 7
Daniel’s Visions on the Succession of the Kingdoms. The basic pattern for the historicist perspective on apocalyptic is set by the visions of Daniel, especially those of the “image” in Daniel 2 and the “beasts” in Daniel 7. Whatever dates or applications one assigns to the parts of the image in chapter 2 and the beasts in chapter 7, they clearly follow in historical succession, and both visions climax with the establishment of God’s kingdom. The following questions are worth exploring:
1. Identity of the kingdoms: The traditional Protestant interpretation of the four kingdoms is Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. How many of those kingdoms are explicitly identified in Daniel 2? In Daniel 7?
2. Universal message and application: Rather than localizing the message to Europe and the Middle East, what universal message would still be clear in these two chapters if one reads them with no history books in sight and without names attached?
3. Time: What time indications are given in the chapters themselves? Both visions end with God’s rule established. Is there any indication within these chapters themselves of how long it might be before that event might take place?
4. The conflict between good and evil: The conflict motif is more dominant in chapter 7 than in chapter 2. But if one were to read these chapters (especially chapter 7), purely for the purpose of defining the issues in the great struggle between good and evil, what issues emerge in the match-up between God and God’s enemies?
5. Threats and assurances: It is clear that the beasts are the major players in chapter 7. But what role do ordinary humans fill in these chapters? Are they at risk? Are they being “pressed” by God or by the beasts? Where would these chapters fit: in a book of consolation, or in a book of warning, or could it be both?
6. Fixed or conditional: There seem to be no explicit pointers to “conditionality” in these chapters. They would appear to be fixed. But are their hints in these chapters that would explain why believers have reinterpreted and reapplied them with the passage of time? The history of the interpretation of the Daniel confirms the playful quip by Ernst Kaesemann: “Apocalyptic is unbeatable because it is reheatable.”
Notes on Interpretation: Fourth Kingdom: Greece or Rome? Most scholars agree that 2 Esdras (IV Ezra) 12:11-12, written about 90 CE, confirms that Daniel’s fourth kingdom had earlier been interpreted as Greece, but came to be seen as Rome as Rome rose in prominence: “The eagle which you saw coming up from the sea is the fourth kingdom which appeared in a vision to your brother Daniel. (12) But it was not explained to him as I now explain or have explained it to you” (RSV).
Notes on Interpretation: The Little Horns: Both the little horn in Daniel 7 and the one in Daniel 8 are evil characters, beating up the saints and mutilating the truth. The little horn in Daniel 7 emerges from among the 10 horns, displacing 3 of them; the little horn in Daniel 8 emerges from one of the 4 horns or (or from one of the 4 winds; the Hebrew is ambiguous). Since the Bible itself does not explicitly identify either of the little horns, interpretations vary according to the presuppositions brought to the text. Consistent Historicists see both little horns (in 7 and in 8) as referring to papal Rome; consistent Preterists see both little horns as referring to Antiochus; dispensationalist Futurists see the little horn in 7 as referring to the future Roman antichrist, but interpret the little horn in 8 as referring to Antiochus. Idealists can interpret both horns as symbolizing any of God’s enemies.
For a survey of the history of the interpretation of Daniel, see “History of the Interpretation of Daniel,” in The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 4: Isaiah to Malachi, 39-78.
Commentaries: In addition to the SDA Bible Commentary (best for giving the historicist interpretation), the following are often helpful for providing a variety of perspectives on Daniel:
Baldwin, Joyce G. [evangelical-idealist]
1978 Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary. (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries). Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity.
Goldingay, John E. [evangelical-idealist (2nd-century date)]
1989 Daniel. (Word Biblical Commentary). Dallas: Word.
Towner, W. Sibley [preterist-idealist]
1984 Daniel. (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching). Atlanta: John Knox.
Wood, Leon [dispensationalist-futurist]
1973 A Commentary on Daniel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.