Bible Study Helps: Daniel

This can be of help as you read and study the book of Daniel:

The last of the four so-called major prophets is quite a significant book, even though much shorter than the first three. While prophecy buffs and eschatology fans may especially pay a lot of attention to Daniel, all Christians should read, study and savour this vitally important book. It is much more than just fascinating stuff about the last days. As Wendy Widder puts it:

The book of Daniel is often read for its contribution to our understanding of end-times events, but sometimes Christians have been so obsessed with this that we have missed its main message: God is in control, no matter how things look, and his kingdom will one day fill the earth. This message grows out of the book’s primary theme: the kingdom of God — its king, its citizens, and its realization on earth. The book reveals why God is the king of all kings, and it offers perspective on how citizens of his kingdom should live while they await the full realization of God’s rule on earth.

Or as Bryan Chapell remarks:

These are incredibly important prophecies, but we can become so stressed and combative about the interpretation of particular aspects that we neglect the prophet’s central message: God will rescue his people from the miseries of their sin by the work of the Messiah. The righteous will be vindicated, evil will be destroyed, and the covenant blessings will prevail because Jesus will reign. All this occurs not because humans control their fate or deserve God’s redemption but because the God of grace uses his sovereign power to maintain his covenant promises forever. This gospel according to Daniel should give us courage against our foes, hope in our distress, and perseverance in our trials—if we will not let every prophetic mystery derail us from the main message of prevailing grace.

Getting the historical fit to a book like this is vital, so let me offer the timeline that Rodney Stortz presents (all dates are BC of course):

1010-970 King David rules over the united kingdom
970–930 King Solomon rules over the united kingdom
966 The temple of the Lord is dedicated in Jerusalem
930 The Kingdom of Israel is divided into North and South
740-681 Isaiah warns of the coming judgment against Israel
722 Fall of the Northern Kingdom (Isaiah dies – 681)
626-585 Jeremiah warns of coming judgment against Judah
606 Daniel taken captive to Babylon
597 Ezekiel taken captive to Babylon
586 Fall of the Southern Kingdom (Jeremiah dies – 585)
539 Fall of Babylon to Persians
536 Cyrus decrees that the Jews can return to Jerusalem (70 years from the taking of the first captives in 606)
530 Daniel dies
516 Temple rebuilt (70 years from its destruction in 586)

The book itself can be divided into two main sections: stories about Daniel and his companions (chs. 1-6) and visions and prophecies about the fate of the nations (chs. 7-12). The genre of the first half of the book is mainly narrative, while the genre of the second half of the book is basically apocalyptic (more on this in a moment).

As with the book of Revelation, how one interprets Daniel, especially its second half, depends heavily on what eschatological system one adheres to. A premillennial interpretation will look at the book in rather different ways than from those of another slant. That lengthy and complex discussion cannot here be entered into, but for more on various millennial options, see this two-part article:

billmuehlenberg.com/2010/11/30/on-the-millennium-part-one/
billmuehlenberg.com/2010/11/29/on-the-millennium-part-two/

Like Revelation and parts of Zechariah, and some of the other prophets, large sections of Daniel are known as apocalyptic literature. In his book on the prophets Gary Smith says this about Daniel: “In these apocalyptic scenes, heavenly messengers revealed hidden secrets about history, the final judgment, and God’s salvation of the righteous in strange and mysterious symbolic messages. The visions include dramatic presentations of great conflicts to come in the future, with vivid images of earthly events and hints of heavenly turmoil.”

Tremper Longman says this about it:

The term apocalyptic describes the type of revelation that is found in Daniel and Revelation and some portions of the Old Testament that have some or all of the same characteristics as those two books (Is. 24-27; parts of Zechariah). . . . While virtually every chapter of the Old Testament contains figurative language of one sort or another, apocalyptic literature (Daniel, Revelation, and extrabiblical apocalyptic sources) has a certain distinctive and strikingly pervasive use of figurative language.

Further, apocalyptic literature paints the world past, present, and future in highly contrastive terms. Scholars often speak of apocalyptic literature’s perspective as dualistic in terms of time, place, and ethics…

Finally, it is not hard to find those who describe apocalyptic literature as pessimistic. After all, the present is evil and the people of God are experiencing oppression and persecution. And the future is going to bring judgment and devastation. It all sounds very depressing.

Despite all the difficulties and differences in interpreting the second half of the book, a dominant message can still be found in the book. As James Montgomery Boice puts it, “The great and most important theme of Daniel is that there is but one God, who is Jehovah, and that he is sovereign over the events of history.” Or as J. Daniel Hays writes,

The central message of Daniel is unmistakable: God is sovereign and rules over all people and kingdoms even though it does not always look that way. Although the Babylonians (and then the Persians) seem to control the world, Daniel proclaims that Yahweh is still very much in control and is moving to bring history itself to his divinely directed culmination. Thus there is much more to history than is often apparent on the surface. In the meantime, the true and faithful followers of God can expect to suffer, but they can endure the suffering in the knowledge that God will ultimately bring history to a climax centered on the establishment of his kingdom.

As we read in Dan. 6: 26-27, “His kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth.” That is glorious good news, and it will sustain God’s people in the roughest of times.

Stephen Miller concurs:

Without doubt the principal theological focus of the book is the sovereignty of God. Every page reflects the author’s conviction that his God was the Lord of individuals, nations, and all of history. In the stories in chaps. 1-6. Yahweh is set forth as the God who rules over the kings and nations of the earth. . . . Daniel 7-12 sets forth God’s sovereignty over the nations and empires of the world. The Lord of history raises them up and brings them down.

Or as Longman puts it in his commentary:

God is all-powerful, and this narration and demonstration of his power has one important purpose: the encouragement of a beleaguered people. Faithful Israelites must have suffered in exile as they remembered the good relationship that they as a people had with their God in the land of Palestine. They must have suffered as they were forced to work for the good of the nation that oppressed them. And they did suffer as they found themselves in situations where they were pressed to compromise or else face dire consequences. The message of Daniel that God is all-powerful and in control in spite of present conditions intended to present a powerful encouragement to these people.

Iain Duguid also stresses this idea of encouragement, even in a time of judgment:

To live faithfully in exile, we first need to know God’s faithfulness. This is not altogether as comforting a truth as you might imagine, since the first aspect of God’s faithfulness that we see in this chapter is God’s faithfulness in judgment. Judah’s exile from the land in Daniel’s time was not merely an accident of fate or the tragic result of the expansionist policies of imperial Babylon in the late seventh century B.C. As Daniel 1:2 makes clear, the exile came upon Judah because the Lord handed King Jehoiakim over to the power of Nebuchadnezzar. God gave His people into the hand of their enemies….

Yet the recognition that their fate came from the hand of God as a faithful act of judgment was itself an encouragement to the exiles. Their future was not controlled by Babylon or its gods, but by the Lord, the God of heaven (Dan. 2:19). The one who had sent them into exile had also promised to be with them there, and ultimately to restore them from exile after a time of judgment.

Image of Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries)
Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) by Array Amazon logo

And Ernest Lucas offers some helpful application to these great themes:

Although Daniel exposes the hubris of human rulers and the divine judgment it attracts, it also states that God gives rule and dominion to humans. Daniel 4:10-12 paints a picture of the good that can be achieved by human rulers. When humans image God, they have the right to rule in his name. When they try to be God, they forfeit that right and may become “bestial.” Those who recognize God’s rule over them are in a position to allow God to rule through them.

Because God allows rulers enough freedom to become bestial, the faithful sometimes suffer. Daniel’s stories encourage the faithful to become involved in a pagan world, with the hope of some measure of success and effective witness, even if there are risks. In the visions this seems impossible. God’s sovereignty means that the faithful cannot take his response to their situation for granted. Belshazzar’s blasphemous conduct meets with swift retribution; that of the little horn is allowed much longer before being ended. The faithful may be delivered from death in a fiery furnace (ch. 3) or through death in the fires of persecution (ch. 12).

For more discussion on the book of Daniel see these two articles: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/09/11/on-the-book-of-daniel/

billmuehlenberg.com/2020/09/01/the-end-of-history/

Critical commentaries

These commentaries are more academic and scholarly in nature, and most of them represent a conservative and/or evangelical point of view.

Archer, Gleason, Daniel (EBC, 1985)
Baldwin, Joyce, Daniel (TOTC, 1978)
Davis, Dale Ralph, The Message of Daniel (BST, 2013)
Duguid, Iain, Daniel (REC, 2008)
Ferguson, Sinclair, Daniel (PC, 2002)
Goldingay, John, Daniel (WBC, 1989)
House, Paul, Daniel (TOTC, 2018)
Longman, Tremper, Daniel (NIVAC, 1999)
Lucas, Ernest, Daniel (AOTC, 2002)
Miller, Stephen, Daniel (NAC, 1994)
Wallace, R. S., The Message of Daniel (BST, 1979)
Walvoord, John, Daniel (Moody, 1971)
Widder, Wendy, Daniel (SGBC, 2016)

Devotional and expository commentaries

Boice, James Montgomery, Daniel (Baker, 1989)
Duguid, Iain, Daniel (REC, 2008)
Stortz, Rodney, Daniel (PTW, 2004)

Other studies

Chapell, Bryan, The Gospel According to Daniel (Baker, 2014)
Hamilton, James, With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology (IVP, 2014)
Longman, Tremper, How to Read Daniel (IVP, 2020)

Enjoy your reading and studying.

[1822 words]

5 Replies to “Bible Study Helps: Daniel”

  1. To me one of the central parts of understanding the implications of Daniel’s end-time prophecies is understanding that we, the church, are now the Temple. We are defined as the Temple not made with man’s hands and the Temple that Jesus showed is the key by calling His own body the Temple (John 2:21) and Paul chided people for not understanding that we are building blocks of (1 Cor 3:16, 1 Cor 6:16 etc.) and which he showed we are by describing the church as the “body of Christ” and the place where the Holy Spirit now resides etc.

    Once you understand that and that a Jewish Temple cannot now be the Holy Place of Daniel’s prophecy, because the Holy Sprint no longer resides there and animal sacrifices are no longer accepted by God (as was prophesied) because they are now an insult to what God Himself has sacrificed and so a man made Temple can no longer be sanctified by animal sacrifice and because Daniel’s prophecies are specifically descried as relating to the “last days” (Dan 12), which the Apostle John defines as the time after Jesus’ crucifixion, then you realize that the defiling of the Temple, or Holy Place, as described in Daniel is actually the defiling of the church or specifically the people in the church. This is what should give people the understanding of what “the abomination of desolation standing in the Holy place” (Mat 24:15, Mar 13:14, Luk 11:17, Mat 12:25) actually refers to i.e. it is what is prophesied to occur in Christianity (and also probably Jewish belief) during the “times of the Gentiles” whereby people who should otherwise have been saved are shown to not be saved and “that which is decreed” is poured out on them.

    We are told this occurs because some have not received the love of the truth (2 The 2:10) .

    This also links in with the time, times and half a time which links the trampling of the temple by the Gentiles (Rev 11) for forty two weeks with the “woman” being in the desert for the time, times and half a time i.e. the “times of the Gentiles” (Rev 12 and 12 x 3.5 = 42) with the end times after the Messiah is cut off in the middle of the week (i.e. half the seven = 3.5 in Dan 9) etc. etc.

    So the “times” in these prophecies is more about linking the prophecies together than describing the actual time-line because Jesus tells us that no-one knows the time, so the human timeline was not included in the prophecies but what was to occur was included because Jesus said we would be able to see the signs (Mat 24:15, Mat 24:33, Mar 13:14, Mar 13:29, Luk 21:20, Luk 21:31).

  2. Thanks for the essay – helpful and understandable as always. The timeline is excellent (once I get my head around the descending order of years).
    Bill

  3. Dear Bill, again I am slow to get to your page. What a blessing you are to bring us back to trust and obey, God is in control.
    Your measure is right on time and once again you use your vast library and your knowledge of it to confirm what we need in our hearts to hold on to.
    I pray Our Lord will bless you with longevity, sound mind until you are called home and the strength and resources to continue until then, Amen,
    Blessings
    Mark Bryant

  4. Thanks Tim. Yes I was aware of the revised version, but never grabbed it. I do have two comms in the EEC series, but for various reasons have not been all that impressed with them. Maybe the Daniel volume will be a pleasant surprise!

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