Relevant Verses: Luke 24:13–27; Acts 8:26–40
Theme: Understanding the book of Daniel.
Leading Question: How does the book of Daniel make you think in new ways about God and your place in a world ruled by corrupt superpowers?
Bryan Chapell, in his book, The Gospel According to Daniel: A Christ-Centered Approach, explains that “Christ’s grace does not wait until the last chapters of Matthew to make its appearance.” Throughout the book of Daniel, Chapell says, we see God’s faithfulness and power to redeem His people, overcome their enemies, and plan their future. We will not see these Gospel truths clearly if we fall into the common but errant approach of making the book of Daniel solely the subject of our end-time debates.
When we read Daniel chapters 1–6, which are largely stories of Daniel’s life in Babylonian captivity and learn of his courage and faithfulness we are easily tempted to make him the primary hero of the text. In doing so we neglect Daniel’s own message: God is the Sovereign in a world ruled by human superpowers.
The second half of the book, chapters 7–12, which contains prophetic content, can make us susceptible to the error of making Daniel primarily the subject of our debates about eschatology or the end times. These chapters tell of the succession of vast empires and speak about the future of the people of God in visions that are hard to understand. However important the prophecies, we should not become so stressed and combative about the interpretation of particular aspects that we neglect the central message: God will rescue His people by the work of a Messiah. The righteous will be vindicated, evil will be destroyed, and the covenant blessings will prevail because the Messiah will reign. This is the Gospel according to Daniel that should give us courage against our foes, hope in our distress, and perseverance in our trials.
Question: Amid struggles and trials, how can we keep Christ at the center of our lives?
Daniel’s origin and family are not mentioned in the Bible, but the year 622 B.C.E. as the year of great spiritual revival in the history of Israel provides a good background to understand something about Daniel living in exile in Babylon. The revival was prompted by the religious reform led by the young king Josiah when the scroll of Moses was found in the temple in Jerusalem. 2 Chronicles 34:19-21 says that “When the king heard the reading of the words of the law, he tore his robes and he gave the following orders to … his servants: ‘Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found.’” At the order of the king, the feast of Passover was celebrated, and 2 Chronicles 35:18 says that since the time of the Prophet Samuel the Passover was not “observed like this in Israel.” As some of the most salient features of Josiah’s reform relate to instructions and laws that are unique to DeuteronomyThe unique Deuteronomic precepts that are undertaken by Josiah in the description of his cultic reform are: a) destroying the cult of “the host of heaven” (2 Kings 23:4–5, 11, with reference to Deut 4:19; 17:2–3); b) removal of the cultic personnel known as “kedeshim” (2 Kings 23:7, with reference to Deut 23:18); c) destruction of the cultic “high places” located outside of God’s chosen place, i.e. Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:8, 15, with reference to Deut 12:2, 4–5); d) celebration of a national Passover specifically in Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:21–23, with reference to Deut 16:5–6)., commentators and scholars from medieval times to the present have identified the scroll of Moses referred to in the Josiah story with the book of Deuteronomy, or at least a form of it.
In 609 B.C.E., king Josiah lost his life in on the plains of Megiddo in an attempt to stop Pharaoh Necho II from joining the Assyrians in their battle against the surging Neo-Babylonians. The prophet Jeremiah composed a lament for the dead Judean king (2 Chronicles 35:25). The religious reform was soon forgotten by the following kings and instability and fear spread in the land. Judah became a vassal state to Egypt. A few years later, in 605 B.C.E., Nebuchadnezzar II defeated Necho II in the battle of Charchemish. Nebuchadnezzar’s army invaded Judah, forced king Jehoiakim into submission, and deported the first group of people, mainly nobles and elites of Jerusalem and Judah. During this invasion, it is believed that Daniel and his friends were taken into exile to Babylon.
Walking almost nine hundred miles from Jerusalem to Babylon, Daniel surely would have pondered such questions: What happened to my people, the people chosen by God? What will happen to me? What will happen to this world? The stories and visions in the book of Daniel tell that God didn’t leave Daniel in darkness as to what happens to his people and to the world. As Judah’s kingdom came to an end, so will Babylon one day come to an end, and God will establish his kingdom. Beyond the gloom and darkness there is hope.
Question: How do you deal with the tensions and tragedies happening in our fast-changing world?
There is little point in reading the book of Daniel without understanding. In scholarly terms, this is called “hermeneutics,” a way of interpreting and understanding the text. To understand the book of Daniel, interpretation is dependent on recognizing its literary styles of writing. The first part (chapters 1–6) is written in story form telling the life of Daniel and his friends in the royal courts of Babylon, and the second part (chapters 7–12) is about prophecies about world empires in apocalyptic literature. The stories are fairly easy to follow. However, apocalyptic literature must be approached in a different way. Apocalyptic writings were written during times of intense persecution and crisis. “It is essentially a literature of the oppressed who saw no hope for the nation simply in terms of politics or on the plane of human history” (D. S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic, p. 17). Apocalyptic literature is full of symbolism and allusions. The object of apocalyptic texts in general is to square the righteousness of God with the suffering condition of His righteous servants on earth.
Although the genre of literature shifts dramatically between Daniel 6 and 7, numerous aspects unite the book and suggest possible ways of viewing its structure. If one reads the text in the original languages, one is struck by the fact that part of the book of Daniel is written in Hebrew and part in Aramaic, the official court language of the Babylonians.
Linguistically, the breakdown of the book of Daniel is as follows:
Daniel 1:1–2:4a Hebrew
Daniel 2:4b–7:28 Aramaic
Daniel 8:1–12:13 Hebrew
Within the Aramaic section, Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of four world empires in Daniel 2 is paralleled by Daniel’s vision of four world empires, suggesting a structural connection between the two chapters. The Aramaic section is structured in a clear chiastic fashion (a concentric literary structure in which the main point of a passage is placed in the center and framed by parallel elements on either side in “ABBA” fashion). Chapter 1 stands by itself as an introductory unit to the whole book, and the rest of the chapters are structured in such a way that chapter 7 functions as the center and hinge that holds the two parts together.
Chapters 2–7 A1 Four empires and God’s coming kingdom (ch. 2) B1 Trial by fire and God’s deliverance (ch. 3) C1 A king warned, chastised, and delivered (ch. 4) C2 Daniel warned, defiant, and deposed (ch. 5) B2 Trial in the lions' den and God’s deliverance (ch. 6) A2 Four empires and God’s everlasting kingdom (ch. 7)
Chapters 7–12 A1 Coming of the One “like a son of man” (ch. 7) B1 Clash of east and west (ch. 8) C1 Revelation of the “anointed One” (ch. 9) C2 Vision of a Divine Being (ch. 10) B2 Clash of north and south (ch. 11) A2 The rise of Michael (ch. 12)
Zdravko Stefanivic notes that the structure of a text is a vehicle to its meaning. Each of the structural outlines above complement each other in communicating the overall message of the book of Daniel. (Daniel: Wisdom to the Wise, p. 29). While earthly monarchs fight to establish their power in the world, God is the true King, “His kingdom will not be destroyed, His dominion will never end. He rescues and saves; He performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth” (Dan 6:26b–27a).
Questions: What do we do with the parts of Scripture that are not clear? What methods should we use in understanding the Bible? Why has the book of Daniel so often become the happy-hunting ground of cranks with weird theories?
Question: How does the book of Daniel speak best to “the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27)?