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Daniel 9-12

Lawrence Boadt provides so much helpful perspective on Daniel that I want to be sure to share it all with you. Here is the rest of what he has to say before we move on to our next book of the Bible….

The clear purpose of these visions is to predict in a veiled fashion the end of the kingdom of Antiochus Epiphanes and his persecution. This makes it highly probable that the author of chapters 7-12 was living through this terrible time and wrote these visions to give strength to Jews suffering for their faith with the promise that God would end both the persecutor and his persecution shortly. The author actually predicts the death of Antiochus in a great battle with Egypt (Dn 11:40-45). But since this was not the way the king actually died—he perished defending his empire in the east—we can suggest that at least this part of the book was completed by 164, the year before he died.

Today the consensus of scholars understands the whole book to be put together by an author and editor who first collected traditional stories in chapters 1-6 about the boy-hero Daniel showing his courage during the persecutions of exile and then added to them the visions of chapters 7-12 that predicted the coming end of Antiochus Epiphanes and his persecution. This kind of writing is called a vaticinium ex eventu, a “prediction after the fact,” in which an author creates a character of long ago and puts into his mouth as predictions all the important events that have already happened right up to the author’s own time and place. The language is often coded with symbolic animals and colors and dates to protect its message from the persecuting authorities. And its focus is not predicting the future, but giving some meaning to present happenings by explaining the  past events that led up to this terrible situation, and showing that all along God has permitted everything that takes place and is planning to act soon again to rescue his people.

To achieve such an important purpose, the authors mixed historical facts with older religious traditions and even pagan myths. Daniel is already known to the prophet Ezekiel during the exile (Ez 14) as an ancient figure of great holiness and wisdom, and not as a young captive of the Babylonians the way the stories portray him. Still earlier, a wise king, Daniel, forms part of The Tale of Aqhat in the Ugaritic literature of the thireteenth century B. C. (see ANET 149-155). Another religious theme accuses pagan kings of being arrogant and proud, rebelling against God. This echoes the oracles against nations found in the major prophets which often employ images of cosmic destruction or the motif of Yahweh as a divine warrior who comes to destroy Israel’s enemies.

Although the book of Daniel is not intended to be primarily an historical record, it does reflect the general course of events in the post-exilic period from the time of Nebuchadnezzar down to the Maccabees, a period of nearly four hundred years. Its whole purpose is to interpret that history without being wedded to the details. The authors were intensely interested in what was happening and what God would do about it. They were convinced that God really does act at every moment even when it may seem that he has abandoned his people. They also tried to answer why Israel suffered, and why God allowed people to be martyred for following his law. These were pressing problems at the time of the Maccabees, and the authors used all the skill at their command to create an answer, combining wisdom, prophecy and the new form of apocalyptic. They needed to convince a despairing people of the mercy of God and so they even left the court tales of chapters 1-6 in Aramaic, the language of the Babylonian court, for the sake of realism. Aside from a few chapters in Ezra, Daniel is the only Old Testament book with Aramaic in it.

The Lasting Significance of Daniel

The Book of Daniel is one of the latest books of the Old Testament and has played an important place in later interpretation of the Bible especially in Christian circles. Some of its more notable aspects can be listed:

(1)  It has many connections to the wisdom tradition. Not only was the chief character based on a legendary wise man of old, but he acts with superb prudence and insight in every situation. Daniel’s ability to interpret dreams and see through deceit expresses the Jewish concern for the wise practice of their religion over against the evil and stupid conduct of pagan nations who persecute them. These concerns also explain why the model stories of Susanna, Bel and the dragon were added to the Hebrew original.
(2)  Daniel and his friends frequently pray and fast, they show complete integrity and courage before the threat of death, and they study the law to learn right behavior. They are the ideal examples of good piety for the post-exilic period.
(3)  The book contains the first explicit teaching about a divine promise that the just person will rise after death to a life of happiness with God (Dn 12:2). This teaching is echoed in the later book of 2 Maccabees and becomes a regular part of the faith of the Pharisee party in Judah at the time of Jesus.
(4)  The book also projects a coming kingdom of God that will be brought about by a heavenly yet human figure, the Son of Man (chapter 7). It is not quite the same as the older idea of a messiah, an anointed king like the kings of old, which was to be found in Isaiah 7-11, Ezekiel 33-48 and Zechariah. But this Son of Man is clearly a messianic figure of salvation who will rule over Israel. Jesus himself used this term to describe his mission, and the early Church understood it to mean that Jesus was the eschatological Savior whose victory and the fulfillment of his mission would be known only after his own death and resurrection.
(5)  Finally, Daniel reveals a new type of literary thought for Israel—especially in the four visions of chapters 7-12. Since prophets had ceased centuries earlier, apocalyptic continues the work of prophecy in a new form. It accents God as master of all events with a care and plan for the world that he reveals through special agents, such as angels, or through special visions or dreams. Unlike prophecy, however, the language is usually symbolic and often obscure, and it does not expect political changes or reform to come from human conversion but from a direct intervention in power from God on behalf of the good and upright.

The verses that stood out to me most from these chapters were these:

At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved. (Daniel 9:23)

Do not fear, greatly beloved, you are safe. Be strong and courageous! (Daniel 10:19)

How would you feel if an angel came and spoke these words to you? We need to remember always that God has expressed his love to us and for us, personally and individually, in his Son, Jesus Christ. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8) Thus, it would not hurt for us to spend some time today, and every day, imagining God speaking these words from Daniel to us. We are his beloved children.


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