Throughout November we will be reading the book of Daniel together as a church family. Here’s a helpful introduction to get you started!
The book of Daniel tells the story of a young Israelite captured during a siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (605-562 BC). It’s more than likely written by Daniel himself, who in many ways resembles another ‘Joseph’ with his ability to interpret dreams and visions as well as his rise to prominence within the Babylonian court. It’s both fascinating and complex, a mix of story and apocalyptic writing with visions of statues being demolished and beasts contending with one another. We won’t understand everything in this book – many have tried to explain and ascribe Daniel’s visions to specific events in history, but it may be less important to fully understand every detail and more important to grasp a fresh vision of the One who reigns over all from the beginning to the end!
Sinclair Ferguson provides this helpful overview of the structure:
“Daniel divides into two sections and is written in two languages (Hebrew 1:1-2:4a + 8:1-12:13 and its related language Aramaic 2:4b-7:28). This has the effect of linking the two sections while also hinting that chs. 2-7 contain the heart of the book. Chapters 1-6 are biographical; chs 7-12 are apocalyptic… Ch. 1 serves as an explanatory introduction, while chs. 8-12 expand on the pattern of world history already set forth earlier in the book. Within the central section (chs. 2-7) a further pattern, common in OT narrative can be detected. Chs. 2 and 7 present visions of four world kingdoms set over against the kingdom of God; chs. 3 and 6 are narratives of miraculous divine deliverances; chs. 4 and 5 describe God’s judgment on world leaders. Thus, the motifs employed in chs 2,3 & 4 reappear in reverse order in chs. 5,6 & 7. The effect is that of a narrative mirroring intended to heighten certain expectations in the reader.”
Daniel reflects the period of the Israelites in exile, first under the Babylonians and then under the Persians. Scholars also believe Daniel 11:21-35 anticipates future persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 BC), a Greek ruler of the Seleucid empire. Nicknamed the “madman”, he is infamous for his brutal persecution of the Jews (Heb 11:37,38 may reflect this time period), which included outlawing worship of Yahweh, temple practices and offerings and circumcision. He was determined to eliminate all Jewish culture and he even went so far as desecrating the temple by setting up a statue to Zeus and sacrificing a pig on the altar (Dan 11:31). He is the archetypal anti-Christ. His persecution resulted in the deaths of thousands of Jews and eventually precipitated the Maccabean revolt in 166 BC which saw him vanquished.
The author’s main purpose then is to show how to live a faithful life devoted to God in the face of opposition and persecution. It is meant to inspire hope in the face of hostility, and for that reason, it’s message was and is applicable throughout the ages until Christ returns. One of the recurring themes which undergirds this hope is that God is sovereign over the nations. He raises up kings and deposes kings. He is sovereign over all human affairs and works all things for his purposes which culminate in him establishing his kingdom over all. Daniel could be seen as a type of Christ, full of wisdom and wholly devoted to God, who resists temptation and refuses to worship anyone other than the one true God. Of course he simply foreshadows the perfectly devoted one, Jesus Christ, who will ultimately conquer not just God’s enemies but death itself and in giving his life as a sacrifice for sins, he provides all who believe in him the blessed assurance of eternal rest & peace.
So, rather than getting bogged down in trying to interpret which beast represents which earthly kingdom, read with the knowledge and assurance that “The Ancient of Days” sits on the everlasting throne and one like the son of man conquered and to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him and his dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away” (Dan 7).
If you’d like to view a very helpful video summary of Daniel, check this out from our friends at the Bible Project…
Please join us on Nov 30th in the church building and share how you have encountered Christ and be edified as we gather to exalt our conquering King Jesus.