A young adult shared with me last week: “I’m surprised as I study the book of Daniel, how relevant it is to my everyday life. I’ve always thought it was just about scary beasts and dates and prophecies. I’m really enjoying it.”
Is she right? Is there more to the book of Daniel than just complicated prophecies? Can I find a merciful and gracious God there? Valid questions. What questions do you have? And why? If they were answered, what difference would it make?
What Paul states is instructive at this point: “All Scripture is God-breathed, and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). So if reading Daniel ticks one of those boxes, we are on the right track. When Jesus endorsed the book of Daniel (Matthew 24:15), He did so in an end-of-the-world context—amidst great religious, social and political upheaval. But that begs the question: did Jesus and the prophets (including Daniel) give us this information to scare us or to give us hope and courage? It has to be the latter if Jesus is consistent with the reason for His first coming—to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28) and to give us life in all its fullness (John 10:10). So scaring us into being good does not fit there at all.
What we find throughout the book of Daniel are many indications that God is there to deliver and support His people. And beyond that, it addresses such issues as the importance of our identity, how to maintain faith in the most impossible of situations, how to react to situations of cynical peer pressure and professional jealousy. It reveals that the reign of corruption and oppression will one day cease and how God looks after His people during all of those situations. So the book contains much more than just number crunching and time charts.
The evidence that God looks after and supports His people is found in the stories told in the first half of the book. When Daniel and many of his contemporaries were herded off into exile, they left behind all their families, neighbourhoods, social and spiritual support systems, and all their dreams. Their world had collapsed around them. There was nothing left, and no reason to maintain faith in a God who seemed to have deserted them. The popular thinking of the age was that nations were successful in war when their god prevailed over their enemies’ gods. So with the fall of Jerusalem, it is no surprise that most of Daniel’s colleagues buckled under the crisis and became compliant in their captors’ hands. But Daniel and three of his friends clung to God regardless. We know their names, but we have no idea who the others were. In staying true to God, the identity of Daniel and his three friends was preserved in history. They recognised that God stays by His people in the worst of circumstances, when all else is lost. And in so doing they kept their identities.
The forgotten dream (chapter 2) illustrates the principle that, when faced with impossible situations, God can step in and provide the answers to the most perplexing difficulties. He actually stands by His people during fiery trials, even when they are unaware of His presence (chapter 3). This reminds me of what some of my church members experienced nearly 40 years ago. There were four of them in a yacht that hit stormy seas, and it was so bad, they had to get into a life-raft. They floated for days until eventually rescued by a merchant ship that had been diverted to rescue them. The captain, in welcoming them aboard, asked them where the fifth person was. He had counted five in the raft, and was surprised when only four clambered aboard.
When Nebuchadnezzar was full of pride over the Babylon he had built (chapter 4), he was reduced to a grazing beast. God does have a way to humble us when we become too full of ourselves. But by the same token, he also has a way of picking us up out of the mud and restoring us to something honourable. Yet when his grandson Belshazzar refused to learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s mistakes, he had to face his own consequences (chapter 5).
God also came through for the aged prophet on a cold, dark and dangerous night (with lions, chapter 6). It is interesting that the influence of Daniel’s faithfulness greatly impacted all the political leaders he worked with. I guess that means we need to recognise that our influence in the workplace has far greater effect than we could ever imagine. It is not our words that people notice as much as our lives.
"What we find throughout the book of Daniel are many indications that God is there to deliver and support His people."
The rest of the book seems to focus exclusively on nations and prophecies, but there is a back story attached to each of them. They also reflect themes from the narratives. The dream of the four beasts (chapter 7) parallels Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the image made from four different metals. Both affirm that God has it all figured out, and that the end game is the destruction of all humanly contrived forms of corruption and oppression. This is crucial. Evil and suffering are not permitted to carry on, unchecked, forever. To borrow a metaphor from chapter 5, the writing is on the wall for the powers of evil. Their doom is signed and sealed, and one day they will be dealt their death blow.
Chapters 8 and 9 form a unit with chapter 7. These visions are related to each other, all pointing to the end of evil, and affirming that Jesus is the key to victory over evil. Chapter 9 specifies the time and circumstances of Jesus’ scheduled arrival on planet Earth to break the stranglehold of evil by His own death. It is that hope that kept faith alive for the Israelites in the centuries before the incarnation. So the wise men from the East made their arduous months-long trek across the desert following a star, having read of its significance in the Jewish holy writings. The aged prophets, Anna and Simeon, recognised the specialness of the Baby they saw in the temple, and the writers of the New Testament all referred to the expectation of the appointed time that a Deliverer would come. Many prophets predicted aspects of the first coming of Jesus, but it was only Daniel who specified the time.
The final three chapters of the book also form a unit. Their specificity has made many Bible scholars conclude that these prophecies (chapter 11 especially) must have been written after the fact—they are so precise. But it is that specificity that can assure us that the content of this book has very impressive credentials. We can trust that God knows what He is talking about; He does know the end from the beginning, and very soon He will pull the plug on all evil, “For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves” (Daniel 6:26, 27).
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
Dr David Tasker is a senior lecturer at Avondale Seminary.