is the revelation of
in which God is
God’s Kingdom in Exile (ch. 1)
The beginning of the book is similar to a dystopian novel: it begins with teenagers, in their most formative years, being brainwashed by a godless system and society. Nonetheless, Daniel’s steadfastness in prayer is a bulwark to his faith (6:10), and he and his friends live on in exile, not without pain, but without stain.
In their first examination, they were found “ten times better” than the pagan magicians of Babylon (1:20). Not only in his spiritual life, but in his intellectual life, his social life, and his work life, “they could find no charge or fault.” (6:4) Joseph Parker said in a sermon on Daniel, “Men are influential not according to their numbers, but according to their convictions.”1 Daniel was thus enabled to influence several pagan kings and kingdoms, even as a minority in exile.
Jesus came to his own, and his own didn’t receive him. Until the ushering of a new era, exile is the natural state of righteousness on this earth. Other religions may come with political theories; the kingdom of Christ is not of this world (John 18:36-7), and comes not with observation (Luke 17:20-21).
Revelations and Revelation (ch. 2)
The key confession of Daniel’s prophecy is that of Nebuchadnezzar, the pagan Babylonian king: “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery” (2:47). For Nebuchadnezzar, divine revelation is evidence of the superiority of Israel’s God.
Daniel’s tale mirrors that of Joseph quite closely. In Daniel’s case, God’s revelation saved him from death and brought him an exalted position. Revelation is heavenly; it comes from another realm. God is able to reveal even another’s dreams, if it serves providence. Every secret bows to God’s kingdom.
He Is God of Gods (ch. 3, 6)
The Lord’s supremacy over other gods is demonstrated in his deliverance of his people. Daniel and his friends are not persecuted because of cultural insensitivity, or issues of religious form, but specifically because they were public proclaimers of the God of Daniel. God delivers them both because he cares about them and because they are proclaimers of his glory.
In ch. 2, God shows mercy to Daniel and his friends (2:18) by revealing the king’s dream; in ch. 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego rejected the Babylonian gods with impunity; their God was with them in the furnace. Likewise, in ch. 6, Daniel prays to his own God rather than Babylon’s; again he is punished, but with God as his defender. God’s deliverance reinforces the point that, even in exile, even among lawlessness and corrupt kingdom, God holds sway.
He Is Lord of Kings (ch. 4-5)
God’s supremacy over human kings and kingdoms is demonstrated in almost every passage of Daniel. God’s sovereignty does not mean that he cannot be rejected in working his will, but that he is not constrained in working his counsel. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19).
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in ch. 2 illustrates the supremacy of God’s kingdom.
The shaming of Nebuchadnezzar (ch. 4) and the “writing on the wall” of Belshazzar (ch. 5) teach the same lesson: “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (4:25, 32).
He Is Revealer of Mysteries (ch. 7-12)
Daniel’s Second Vision
The apocalyptic section of Daniel consists primarily of three visions. The first vision (ch. 7) is about four beasts, and it is the most uncontroversial of his visions, since it can be connected to Daniel’s first vision in ch. 2. One of Daniel’s guides explains that the beasts symbolize “kings” (7:17), and Bible interpreters have further identified these as four kingdoms: Neo-Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman. Again, this prophetic vision concludes with a statement of God’s supremacy over all kingdoms (7:14, 18, 27).
The vision is interrupted, too, by a vision of “one like a son of man” (7:13). “And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (7:14). Jesus identifies himself as this figure before the high priest at his trial (Mark 14:62). (See the motif study on “The Son of Man.”)
Daniel’s Third Vision
Daniel’s third vision (ch. 8) involves a ram and a goat, symbolizing the Medo-Persian and Greek kingdoms (8:20-21). Like Daniel’s second vision, it includes some very clear interpretive guidelines (8:15-26).
In ch. 9, Daniel repents on behalf of his people. His fasting and repentance is intimately connected to his prophetic understanding of current events, based on the words of Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11-12, 29:10). Although God had even orchestrated the timing, he wanted Daniel to cry out on behalf of his people. What an encouraging thought about prayer!
When Gabriel answers Daniel’s prayer, he tells him, “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place” (9:24). Based on the work of Sir Robert Anderson in the 19th century, this is believed to date from Artaxerxes’ decree to rebuild Jerusalem in 445 B.C., to Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
Daniel’s Fourth Vision
Daniel’s fourth vision begins with a terrifying vision of Christ (ch. 10). Matthew Henry writes of this vision, “Let us admire his condescension for us and our salvation. The greatest and best of men cannot bear the full discoveries of the Divine glory; but glorified saints see Christ as he is, and can bear the sight.”2
Daniel’s fourth and last apocalyptic vision (ch. 10-12) is more intricate and controversial than those that precede it, in particular in ch. 11, which deals with the kings of the south and the north. Unlike his other visions, Daniel’s guide doesn’t give him much guidance in understanding this vision (see 12:9).
The vision of the Daniel 11 deals with either Antiochus Epiphanes, who defiled the temple during the Maccabean period; or the Antichrist who has yet to come; or both. This debate extends back many centuries. This is probably the most detailed prophecy in the entire Old Testament, to the extent that secular scholarship (since the third century A.D.) seeks to place the dating of Daniel after the events he described concerning Antiochus Epiphanes (known as the “Maccabean thesis”). It is interesting that Nonetheless, as Daniel’s guide says, “The words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end” (12:9).
For thoughts on success in exile, read The Daniel Files by Winkie Pratney.
David Cross usefully relates Daniel 1-6 to tentmaking missions in his book, Work of Influence.
Irving Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament has helpful charts on the prophetic sections of Daniel, although several resources should be consulted, since theologians are not unanimous on some points.
1 Ezekiel and Daniel. Volume 19 of The People’s Bible. Kindle edition. Location 3863.
2 Matthew Henry on Daniel 10.