It’s about scale, about the kingdoms and evil of this world having more grip, for a longer period, and with more power, than we could imagine. But also it’s point is to emphasise the larger scale of hope. That God’s presence and his plan, the now and the future, are stronger.
It’s set when things were about as bad as they could be for Israel. Daniel is a talented Israelite marked for success in Babylon, who have destroyed and pillaged Jerusalem’s temple. The assumption is that he will lose his Jewish identity and faith, as a symbol of it being vanquished in general.
So he and his other Jewish friends don’t, a model of encouragement and God’s protection. In three stories the theme recurs in the book: his refusal to eat unclean food in the palace, the fiery furnace and the lions den. God is present honouring those choices. In the fiery furnace, God walks around in human form, a striking incarnation.
There is also the battle of earthly Kings and God. Nebuchadnezzar is depicted as a gleefully impossible narcissist until the fiery furnace experience, and then a dream and it’s fulfillment of his complete madness so he became like a beast. He accepts God’s dominion and praises God.
His son sees the writing on the wall (“your days are numbered”) at a feast devoted to desecrating the artefacts plundered from the temple, but will not acknowledge God and is assassinated that night.
So there are concrete stories of God’s presence and dominion despite Israel’s low state in the book. But dreams and visions weave through too. And they are bleak as well as exalting. The hard times of evil kingdoms will last much longer than the exile, and be far worse than Babylon.
BUT God’s victory will be total, and a “son of man” will be present with us, and then prove to be God, leading the way to glorious resurrection of the dead for all God’s people to be with God of forever.
God promises to be present now and in the future and forever, as he has been in the past; despite things seeming impossible and getting dramatically worse.
This prophetic book is not at all about Israel’s sin. It has inspiring examples of people trusting in God, and of kingly pride being broken. It’s full of promises that the oppressive rule of powerful nations and men are no match for God. It’s one of the most deeply weird, in the reading, but the most optimistic of the prophets.
I’m summarising it a long time after I read it. The are no biographical notes at all, it records simply my impressions of what the book tells me about God without relating it to my life at all. It was 2016, second year of working at Fredon constructions. Good money, secure job. Boring 9-5.
2020, two redundancies, drought, fires and global pandemic since then, I’m feeling it a lot more. I liked how I summarised it in chapter 12. Daniel just wanted Jerusalem and the temple back, but has to struggle with how inadequate that dream was andhow much worse the world could be even if it came true. But also how much bigger God’s plans and love are. I clinging to that promise right now.
God is stronger.
Events in Daniels life
1 During exile, Daniel is a jew in Babylon, in service of the King. He refuses the food on religious grounds, living on water and veggies
2. Daniel interprets the king’s dream, a career masterstroke on many levels by God
3 The burning fiery furnace – the Jewish men didn’t know God would save them, they just knew bowing to another God was wrong
4 written by the King, about his madness and hearing God’s voice.
5 the next King has words from God written on a wall at a feast, aging Daniel is bought in to read them: “your days are numbered”
6 Another King, another salvation, from the lions den
Daniel’s dreams and visions
7 Daniel has a stunning dream of the son of man and the final destruction of the evil one. He finds it disturbing
8 A vision of empires rising and falling, a long term thing that still teaches us to trust that God is in control
9 Daniel reads Jeremiah and prays movingly for return from exile, but is disturbed by a larger, confusing vision of God’s plans
10 Daniel has a gleaming vision of God in the form of a man, again talk of future politics
11 a vision of the future persecution of the Jews by two rival Kings.
12 A truly stunning conclusion to the vision of these three chapters, predicting the return from exile but also the larger heavenly plan of God to resurrect the dead to be with him forever. A revolutionary concept in old testament writing.