Biblical Theology of Daniel


Introduction

The truth that God is the King of kings and the Lord of lords comes out loud and clear in the book of Daniel, and it comes at no better time.  For the setting of the book of Daniel was the sixth-century, a time when Israel, God’s chosen nation, was in held in captivity in Babylon.  The question on every faithful Jew, especially on the mind of the book’s human author, would be whether or not God was really in control, being that His people were now seemingly under the control of human gentile kings.  After dealing with some introductory matters, this biblical theology will divide the book of Daniel into three themes, God, Israel, and mankind in general, for it is clear that the scope of this great book extends beyond that of God’s covenantal relationship with Israel to the whole of the created universe.

Authorship

It is important to look shortly into the authorship of the book in order to help interpret the book as a whole as it will shed some light on the perspective of the human author and his experiences.  The traditional view is that Daniel wrote the book of Daniel, and this writer holds that view.[1] Daniel’s existence is affirmed by Ezekiel’s three references to Daniel in his own book (Ez. 14:14, 20; 28:3), verifying the time that Daniel lived (Ezekiel’s ministry began around 593 B.C.).[2] Even though Daniel does not speak of himself in the first person until chapter seven, his authorship is assumed and mentioned specifically in 12:4.[3] Even those against Danielian authorship grant that, “the simplest view…is that the bilingual composer passed easily from his Heb. Introduction into the Aram.”[4] Jesus himself explicitly speaks of Daniel as having predicted the abomination of desolation (Matt. 24:15), and at other times the Lord cites the prophecies of Daniel, and therefore shows the content to have originated from Daniel.[5] Also, “the literary unity of the book has been widely acknowledged by scholars of all schools of thought.”[6] The Daniel presented at the beginning of the book, is the Daniel presented at the end.  Therefore there is not enough evidence to overthrow the classical understanding of the authorship of Daniel.

Setting

The events in the book of Daniel take place during the sixth-century in Babylon, much taking place in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar who had, in the first of three major campaigns around the region of Israel, had taken some prisoners from Jerusalem, it seemed in an effort to exploit the land of its best and brightest youth to serve in his own court (Dan. 1:3-4).  One of these youths was named Daniel.  Daniel was taught the arts and sciences of Babylon along with three of his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (Dan. 1:6) and clearly distinguished himself among his peers.  Daniel’s own life and his prominence in Babylon, let alone the prophecies contained in this book would encourage the exiled Jews to hope in God, knowing that He alone is sovereign over all the nations, and that one day would come and establish His kingdom.

God

While the fall of Judah and Israel, God’s chosen people, is concurrent with the book of Daniel, the book in no way leaves God out of the picture, as if He has laid down His authority or sovereignty – on the contrary, in Daniel, God is seen to be the Absolute Sovereign over all.  And that is where we begin.

Currently The Most High God

It is this phrase, “The Most High God” that differentiates the God of Israel from the gods of the nations.  He is the “Most High God” there is none greater, none higher – he is the absolute sovereign.  And Daniel makes it clear, that even in the midst of seeming defeat, Israel’s God is still on the throne.  Even from the very beginning of the book, God’s current sovereignty is clearly seen, for Daniel writes: “The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his [Nebuchadnezzar] hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God” (Dan. 1:2).[7] When the king had a troubling dream (Dan. 2:1) and commanded that the magicians, sorcerers and the like first reveal to him the dream as well as tell him its meaning, Daniel, by the revelation of God reveals and interprets the dream for the king.  But even in the dream, God is seen to be the highest, for though the statue is beautiful, and even Nebuchadnezzar is the head of gold (Dan. 2:38), the statue will be crushed by “a stone…cut out without hands” (Dan. 2:34).  Something that was not from man, would overcome and destroy man’s kingdoms – the best that man had to offer would be turned into dust in one fell swoop.  Daniel makes it clear that it is God who has given the kingdom, power, strength, and glory to the earthly kingdom of Babylon, more specifically, to Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:37), and one day, the kingdoms of the earth will be fully subjected to the direct rule of God, to destruction, and a new kingdom.

God’s sovereignty over Nebuchadnezzar is seen in the narrative of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego (Dan. 3).  For rather than submit to the High God that was revealed to him in his dream, Nebuchadnezzar decides to build an idol, it seems, in a similar fashion to the one he saw in his dream – but with one major difference, it is made from pure gold rather than from various materials.  It seems one thing did get through to him, he was the gold head in the dream.  So Nebuchadnezzar wants to “symbolically” take over everything, and makes an image of pure gold and make everyone in his kingdom to bow down to it.  But there are three who do not, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.  They defy this human king for they serve the one true sovereign.  Enraged, Nebuchadnezzar, professing to be the sovereign one has the three thrown into a fiery furnace, but God shows Himself to be the true sovereign and Most High God, for he delivers His three loyal followers, it would seem by His own angel (Dan. 3:25, 28).  God will not submit to any human ruler, rather, He requires that human rulers submit to Him.

God’s amazing and miraculous intervention in the lives of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego caused Nebuchadnezzar to proclaim that “any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way” (Dan. 3:29).  God rules; He is the Most High God (Dan. 3:26).

But Nebuchadnezzar’s lessons on who is sovereign are not over.  Chapter four of Daniel opens up the Nebuchadnezzar himself, giving an account of the “signs and wonders” of the Most High God (Dan. 4:2).  Again Nebuchadnezzar has a dream (Dan. 4:5), and again Daniel interprets it for him (Dan. 4:19), but this time, it is not just mere facts that God will one day crush the kingdoms of the world, this time it is personal.  God will show Himself sovereign, He will show Himself the Most High God by humbling Nebuchadnezzar.  God will order the “tree,” who is Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:22), to be cut down (Daniel 4:14), that “the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:17).  God will humble this mighty ruler of man, making him as a beast (Daniel 4:23), for this ruler does not repent from his sins nor from his iniquities (Dan. 4:27) as he ought, and claims for himself that which is rightfully God’s alone.  Even in Daniel’s plea with Nebuchadnezzar, we see that God is not just a sovereign, but a righteous and compassionate one, for He does not look pleasingly on those who do not do as He requires (Dan. 6:5, 24).  It was not but a year later that the dream came to pass, Nebuchadnezzar, because of his pride, in thinking he himself was the source of his own authority and power, was stripped of his sovereignty by the One true sovereign (Dan. 4:31) and driven from men, becoming like a beast of the field (Dan. 4:32).  At the end of the appointed period of humiliation, from the very mouth of Nebuchadnezzar comes the truth that God alone is the everlasting sovereign,  whose dominion does not end, who does whatever He pleases to which no one can say, “What have You done?” (Dan. 4:34-35).  After this confession, Nebuchadnezzar was restored to his position as king – knowing that God “is able to humble those who walk in pride” (Dan. 4:37).

Belshazzar comes next in line, again showing God’s supreme sovereignty – for he, being a descendent of Nebuchadnezzar, had failed to take heed to the warning of Nebuchadnezzar’s own life experience and had not humbled his heart (Dan. 5:22).  The issue is not that Belzhazzar was king, but the issue was his own pride and self-sufficiency.  And so, Belshazzar, feeling free of care because of his own pride, would be deposed by God’s very hand, and replaced with another man.  He was killed that very night, and Darius received the kingdom (Dan. 5:30-31).

One might think that God, being so high, would interact and sovereignly move only when confronted with the most high of men.  But God’s sovereignty is not just over the big events of history, or only over the appointing of world rulers, but He is sovereign even over the small details.  For He sovereignly allowed Daniel to be viewed with favor and compassion by the commander of the court officials when he first came to Babylon (Dan. 1:9).

Always the Most High God

While the book of Daniel does focus on God’s current reign during the time of the author, it also focuses on the future and eternal reign of God.  God’s power over all the nations is seen in chapter two with the rock crushing the image, as was discussed already, and then comes to the forefront in chapter seven.  Most modern commentators agree that chapter seven is, “the most important chapter in the Book of Daniel.”[8] Chapter seven marks the literary turning point of the book from historical to visions.  Yet at the same time, the chapter is bound to those preceding historical accounts because of the use of the Aramaic language and by its own affinity with chapter two, as well as bound to the following chapters containing visions because of subject matter.  So chapter seven really joins the two parts of this amazing book together as a whole.  Chapter seven begins, setting up the time of the vision to around 553 B. C. when Daniel was about sixty-seven years old (if you put Daniel at 15 years old when taken into captivity in 605 B.C.).[9] Another feature that is brought to bear in chapter seven is the fact that after verse two, it is all in the first person (except for 10:1), emphasizing the fact that it was Daniel himself who had these visions.  Much more detail is given in regards to prediction in chapter seven and following than in the rest of the book.  For while chapter two did contain prediction regarding the four world empires, as well as the return of Christ, chapter seven and following hone in on the specifics of the events to come. The purpose of this paper is not to look into the minutia of the prophecies, but rather to give the big picture, and there is no mistaking the message of these prophetical chapters – though quite colorful and symbolic, God is the Sovereign Lord, no one has, or will overthrow Him or His rule.  He is and always will be the Most High God.

Israel

The book itself falls into a time where the anger of God was against the people of Israel, just as Moses warned the people if they forsook the Lord (Deut. 31:17).  But despite these warnings the people consistently rebelled against the Lord and so they were taken into exile.  And so this book shows Israel, and the world, that “the God of Israel was the true and living God, who possessed objective metaphysical existence, before Whom the gods of the heaven were vain, empty delusions, not having objective reality.”[10] This would serve as a great encouragement to Israel, and to Daniel himself, because their situation looked hopeless.  But God would not forsake them ultimately, for He will one day bring His kingdom; the kingdom will be given to His saints forever (Dan. 7:18). Daniel answers the people who say in Jeremiah 33:24, “The two families which the Lord chose, He has rejected them.”  God had not forgotten Israel, far from it; He was working out His plan for their good.

The book of Daniel adds to the theology of the end times, giving specifics to promises to Israel – for just as the four kingdoms of the world were actual kingdoms, the kingdom of God also will be real, and Israel will receive the promises, even though they have been unfaithful – God is faithful (as seen also in the book of Esther).[11] Daniel was written after all the major prophets, and appears in this order in the English Bible, but actually in the Hebrew Old Testament it was included in the Writings not the Prophets.  It appears this is so, because although Daniel did have a prophetic ministry, his ministry was different in character from the other major prophets and therefore was never called a prophet, but rather a seer and wise man.[12] Isaiah 46:9-10 says: “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.'” So Israel could take these things to heart, knowing the God they serve would overcome their current plight.

Also the reason for Israel’s current plight is made evident, for they had committed unfaithful deeds against God (Dan. 9:11), they were sinful, but there is hope, for even in the setting of this confession is Jeremiah’s prophecy of return (Dan. 9:2), and because of their God, their life was not over, but God had sustained them even in the midst of a conquering gentile nation. Truly, the book of Daniel would be of great encouragement to the Jews that read it, for through this book, God assured Israel that they would endure, and that the nation would continue to have a place in history – their Messiah would come – God Himself would reign.

Mankind in General

The “contest” (if it can even be called that, for there really was no contest) between God and human rulers makes it clear that all earthly kingdoms will fail, for God wins every time.  This is shown in a picturesque form in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream when the stone crushes the image (Dan. 2:44).  Though Nebuchadnezzar thought he made himself sovereign of “peoples, nations, and men of every language” (Dan. 3:29), it was in fact God who placed him in that position – and clearly therefore, God is the one who puts anyone in power.  For this is what God created man to do, as His image, to rule, to represent His rule in the world (Gen. 1:27-28).  Even gentiles, at this time, would be included in this for they too are made in God’s image – and God held them to that standard, as is clearly seen in God’s show of authority over them in the book of Daniel.

The transitory nature of man’s kings is also seen in the book, in direct contrast to the constant rule of God.  For in the book of Daniel, three “generations” of kings pass by (Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazar, Darius).  Even in the visions, the rapid succession of kingdoms is contrasted against the singular rule of God.  This beast, then that beast, then a terrible beast, but it is destroyed, and God rules.  The kings of men therefore are not worthy of trust – as Daniel shows in his episode with the lion’s den.  He placed his trust in God, not in men, and the men, who trusted in themselves, found their end, in an ironic way, exactly where they thought was going to happen to Daniel (Dan. 6:24).

But, even with all this negativity, there is a glimmer of hope, even a great burst of light in this book for mankind in general.  The language shift in Daniel indicates something quite dramatic (from 2:4b through 7:28).  This book, these prophecies were not just for Israel, but also the whole world – for God is the sovereign of the whole world, not just of Israel as was discussed earlier.  There is a stark “gentile” nature that flows out of the use of the Aramaic language, being that it was the “lingua franca”[13] of the time.  If anyone in Israel thought their Messiah was for their nation only, this book would stare them right in the face with the contrary.  It is not just Israel, it has never been, for His dominion includes all peoples, nations and languages (Dan. 7:14).  Therefore, for mankind in general, there is great hope to be found in Daniel, for there will one day be a kingdom, and one “like a son of man” will come and reign forever (Dan. 7:13-14).

Bibliography

Brown, Francis, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000.

Collins, John Joseph. Daniel : With an Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature. The Forms of the Old Testament literature, v. 20. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1984.

Elliger, Karl, and W. Rudolph, eds. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, 5th ed. New York: American Bible Society, 1997.

Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 vols. Electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1999, c1980.

Holladay, William L. A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971.

Koehler, Ludwig, and Walter Baumgartner, eds. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. 4 vols. in 1. Electronic ed. Rev. by Walter Baumgartner and Johann Jakob Stamm. Trans. and ed. by M. E. J Richardson. Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999, c1994-1996.

Leupold, H. C. Exposition of Daniel. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1969.

Merrill, Eugene H. Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman & Holman, 2006.

Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Vol. 18. 31 vols. the New American Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994.

Montgomery, James A. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1927.

New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: the Lockman Foundation, 1995.

Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament). Electronic ed. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Towner, W. Sibley. Daniel. Interpretation, A Bible commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984.

Walvoord, John F. Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation. Chicago: Moody Press, 1971.

Wood, Leon James. A Commentary on Daniel. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1973.

Young, Edward J. The Prophecy of Daniel: A Commentary. Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1949.

Zockler, Otto. Daniel. Translated by James Strong. Vol. 7. 12 vols. Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960.

Zuck, Roy B, ed. A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament. Edited by Roy B Zuck. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991.


[1] Stephen R Miller, Daniel, vol. 18, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 48.

[2] Ibid., 42.

[3] John F Walvoord, Daniel, the Key to Prophetic Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), 11.

[4] James A. Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1927), 91.

[5] Edward J Young, The Prophecy of Daniel: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1949), 20.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Emphasis added

[8] W. Sibley Towner, Daniel, Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), 91.

[9] Stephen R Miller, Daniel, vol. 18, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 194.

[10] Edward J Young, The Prophecy of Daniel: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1949), 18.

[11] John F Walvoord, Daniel, the Key to Prophetic Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), 13.

[12] Ibid., 12.

[13] Stephen R Miller, Daniel, vol. 18, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 48.

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2 Responses to Biblical Theology of Daniel

  1. jared83 says:

    I have been doing some research on Daniel for my new website: http://www.Danielinthebible.com. I found your article very interesting and helpful.

    One idea I wish you had written more on was the idea of Chapter 7 being the “most important” in Daniel. I hadn’t heard that before. Have you heard of the Chiasm Theory in Daniel’s writing? Do find it to have merit? Just wondering your thoughts… God bless.

    • nathanwells says:

      Thanks Jared,
      The “most important” phrase was a quote from a commentator. In my own words, I think chapter seven is important because it seems to be the literary turning point of the book. Just by reading Daniel a few times, chapter seven stands out as when the book “switches” from more historical account to visions.

      Normally chiasms are pretty easy to find in a text, and I personally don’t think Daniel follows any of the chiasm theories that have been proposed. Sure, there are some parallel ideas, but I wouldn’t push it farther than that.

      Hope that is helpful. It has been a while since this study, so this is just off the top of my head :)

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