The book of Daniel is a part of a Bible that is both familiar and strange. Since we were children we have heard the stories of Daniel and his friends, the fiery furnace, the handwriting on the wall, and Daniel in the lions den. These tales are well-known in our culture. However, there are sections of the book of Daniel that are bizarre and seemingly difficult to understand. Who are the kings of the North and South? What is the meaning of the boastful horn and the series of weeks? What are the empires represented by the statue and the beasts? These are texts that raise as many questions as there are interpretations.
One of the reasons that Daniel is so unusual is that it comes to us as a tale of two ages. The events in the stories that take place during Daniels lifetime are based in the 6th century B.C. during the Babylonian Exile of Judah. Daniels visions concern events into the 2nd century B.C.
Daniel the Wise Man
Daniel is a Judean nobleman. He is devout. He is appointed an official and governor under the empires that rule his homeland. He is an interpreter of dreams, a visionary and a witness to great events. He is mentioned in Ezekiel 28:3 (14:14, 20) as a wise man.
We can compare Daniel to Joseph in Genesis 41. Daniel isnt really a prophet, Hes a wise man. He is a righteous role model. Daniel, like John the Apostle, has a vision. Something is revealed to him and it informs Gods people of the truth in the midst of persecution.
Daniel also has adventures in the first six chapters. The last six chapter are mainly visions. Daniel is an everyman, or rather an ideal man. He is the ideal son of Israel in a hostile environment. He endures and he prevails because he is wise, because he has character and integrity (and thus God blesses him), and he has perspective.
Daniel is caught up in the great events of history in his own time, but his message isnt just for his own age. It is for all ages in a timeless sense, but Daniels visions are also specifically for another age of struggling children of Israel.
Who Is Who in Daniel?
Daniels cast of characters set up the challenge between Gods people and the outsiders who oppose and challenge Gods rule. Our heroes include Daniel and his companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (better known as Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego), and finally there is a mysterious divine presence who appears to represent God. He is present in the fiery furnace. He comes as the angel Gabriel. He is the son of man who appears to Daniel and gives him a vision of the future.
On the other hand, there are the mighty kings who presume to have all the authority. Some of them, Nebuchadnezzar and Darius the Mede, learn the God is sovereign over all. Others, like Belshazzar, do not. There is a mysterious evil king alluded to in the visions. This evil king will come in Daniels future and do far worse that any king before him. But can he resist the power of God? The message of Daniel is that God and his kingdom will ultimately rule over all.
The Two Ages
There are parallels between the 6th century and the 2 century B.C. During the 6th century, Judah was conquered by the world super-power, Babylon, and their identity as Gods people was thrown into crisis. They were taken captive and the temple was destroyed.
The implications of this are huge. They lost their connection to the land and their faith. How can they offer sacrifices in the way God ordained (see Deuteronomy) when the temple is destroyed? Are the gods of Babylon more powerful than God himself?
In the second century B.C., an outside force also created crisis for Gods people. When Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the temple during his conquest of Egypt, the people of God must have wondered if history was repeating.
A Tale of Three Ages?
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