God's in control: Daniel's message of hope

They're colorful, dramatic, and suspenseful-why wouldn't we want to investigate the writings?

Joel N. Musvosvi, Ph.D., is the dean of the seminary at the Adventist International Institute for Advanced Studies, Silang, Cavite, Philippines.

As one of the most fascinating books of the Bible, Daniel contains colorful, dramatic, and suspenseful narrations that have appealed to all generations of Bible students. The author portrays the great conflict between God and Satan, revealing its outworkings in a religiopolitical setting that spans history from the Babylonian exile to the Second Advent with a perspective larger than its own historical setting.

The faith of the four Hebrew youths speaks to God’s children in times of crisis. The story of Daniel in the lions’ den inspires faith. Nebuchadnezzar’s wanderings and rescue challenge one’s lifestyle and faith. Tremper Longman III’s observation fits well: “The first six chapters [of Daniel] are deceptively simple stories of faith under pressure.” 1 But beneath the simple narratives lies a profound message.

The last six chapters, steeped in symbolism, have beckoned the imagination of Bible students throughout history. Over the rich prophetic symbolisms, battles have been waged.

Young Daniel, taken into exile during the first siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon in 605 b.c.,2 was chosen, along with three others, for special training for royal service in Babylon. Daniel rose to be a prominent and distinguished statesman.

The nature of biblical apocalyptic

The book of Daniel plays an important role in the development of “apocalyptic literature.” D. S. Russell considers the book “the first, and greatest, of all Jewish apocalyptic writings,”3 although P. D. Hanson, on the basis of his analysis of Isaiah, argues for the presence of apocalyptic style in books written earlier than Daniel.4

The word “apocalyptic” comes from the Greek apocalypsis found in the opening verse of Revelation, and became a fitting name for the literature that shares certain special features. So while Daniel was the first biblical book to develop an extensive usage of apocalyptic features, Revelation was the first to give a name to such a genre of literature. As Tremper Longman III observes, “Apocalyptic . . .communicates an impending sense of doom, a feeling that existence might come to an end at any moment.”5 D. S. Russell defines apocalyptic as “essentially a literature of the oppressed who saw no hope for the nation simply in terms of politics or on the plane of human history. The battle they were fighting was on a spiritual level; it was to be understood not in terms of politics and economics, but rather in terms of spiritual powers in high places. And so they were compelled to look beyond history to the dramatic and miraculous intervention of God.”6

The crisis setting of Daniel

The book of Daniel was written in the setting of God’s people in crisis in Babylon. Jerusalem lay in ruins, and Judah was devastated. With the temple destroyed, why would one want to live? How could God’s people find a sense of their identity? Daniel’s book sought to bring comfort and encouragement to those in such distress. Not written primarily as a theological treatise for trained biblical specialists, Daniel seeks to speak first and foremost to the heart, not the head. And while we may tussle over and wrestle with the symbolic complexity of the document, we must not miss or overlook the simple heartwarming divine message of confident assurance and hope.

As noted, the book of Daniel divides itself into two major sections. The first section covers chapters 1 to 6; the second, chapters 7 to 12. Since the first section covers mostly historical events that had already happened by the time the writer recorded them, we may refer to it as the historical section. And since the second half comprises prophetic predictions that were yet to be fulfilled, we may refer to that section as the prophetic, or eschatological, section.

There are some distinct contrasts between the two sections. The grouping of events in the two sections does not seem to be by chance or random placement of events. In fact, it is clear that the author has not merely followed a chronological order of events. The overriding guide seems to have been stylistic and structural. The author placed in the historical section a group of events that shared certain common features, while those with a different set of features were set in the prophetic section. Once the author has established the two basic sections and grouped his material in accordance with the stylistic categorization, he then follows in each section a chronological sequence.

Sequence of events in Daniel

Daniel 5 provides an important dateline for understanding the time sequencing of the events in the book. Chapter 5 records the fall of Babylon during the days of its last king, Belshazzar, and the entry of the Medo-Persian Empire. The feast of Belshazzar recorded in chapter 5 took place in the tenth year of his reign. Keeping this dateline in mind, we notice that a number of events recorded in the prophetic section of the book (chapters 7–12) actually took place before the events recorded in chapter 5. It is noteworthy that the vision recorded in chapter 7 occurred in the first year of the reign of Belshazzar (Dan. 7:1), before the fall of Babylon, an event recorded in chapter 5.The vision of chapter 8 occurred in the third year of the reign of Belshazzar (Dan. 8:1), again before the fall of Babylon. The events of chapter 9 occurred in the first year of the reign of Darius (Dan. 9:1-2), before the episode of Daniel in the lions’ den as recorded in chapter 6. Therefore, the grouping of materials in the book has been determined by considerations other than mere chronology. And we must discover those other considerations as we seek to uncover the central plot and message of the book.

Contrasting characteristics of the two sections

Different characteristics set apart the two sections of the book. The table below outlines some of these structural and stylistic differences between the two sections.

Daniel, a master at interpreting dreams and scripts in the historical segment, experiences constant baffling by his own dreams in the eschatological section of the book. Thus the man who always stands by perplexed dreamers to bring them understanding in chapters 1 through 6 seems consistently perplexed by his own dreams and needing Gabriel, the angelic interpreter, to bring him understanding.

Interestingly, the first six chapters portray a series of crises that have already been resolved at the time of writing. The reader does not puzzle over what the outcome of the story will be; each story is complete. So, as we read the story we watch as God enters and directs the crises of His people to a victorious climax.

By contrast, the last six chapters portray a series of unfolding megadramas. As one vision leads into the next, the sense of bewilderment intensifies. After the vision of chapter 7 Daniel says, “I, Daniel, was grieved in my spirit within my body, and the visions of my head troubled me” (Dan. 7:157). In response to the vision of chapter 8 Daniel became afraid and fell on his face, and eventually fell asleep as the angel tried to help him understand (8:16–18). Later Daniel fainted and became sick as a result of the vision experience (8:27). Chapter 10 records Daniel mourning and fasting for three weeks as he contemplated the visions. In the ending of chapter 12 Daniel says, “Although I heard, I did not understand. Then I said, ‘My lord, what shall be the end of these things?’ And he said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end’ ” (12:8, 9). With no sigh of relief expressed after the second section, readers must await God’s final action.

The unity of the two sections

Because of the different characteristics of the two sections of the book, some scholars have argued for a dual authorship of the book, suggesting that the historical section (chapters 1-6) was written by one author, and the prophetic section (chapters 7–12) by another author. However, some interesting interlocks bind these two sections together and thus favor a single author. For instance, the language of the two sections is intertwined. Daniel 1:1–2:4a and 8:1–12, 13 is written in Hebrew, while Daniel 2:4b–7:28 is written in Aramaic.

We can easily notice that the language break-off point differs from the structural or stylistic sectional break-off point. The historical section begins in Hebrew and ends in Aramaic, while the eschatological section begins in Aramaic and ends in Hebrew. Why would the author of the historical section use two languages for his document, and why would the author of the eschatological section also use the same two languages in reverse order for his document? And why would these two authors have the same central character as Daniel? I believe that the two–author solution does not deal with the fundamental issues of the book. I believe the solution is to be found in the historical realities and theological design of the author. Ferch has demonstrated several uniting features that link the two parts. For example, God’s sovereignty and the arrogance of the enemy coupled with the passivism of the saints argue in favor of the unity of the book.8

The dramatic crises of the first section

Noted previously, the historical section of the book consists of six short episodes, each of which is complete in itself. Each story involves a series of events that eventually precipitate a crisis involving the remnant—God’s faithful ones. Daniel 1 introduces the crisis of lifestyle for the people of God: Will they compromise with Babylon in matters of what to eat and what to drink, or will they uphold God’s Word? Daniel 2 presents the crisis of knowledge and understanding.

In the land of Babylon knowledge and understanding were highly regarded. Will human knowledge and understanding prevail, or will the remnant honor God by turning to Him and pointing to Him as the source of knowledge and wisdom? Daniel 3 portrays the crisis of worship. Will the remnant worship the image of Babylon, or will they worship and serve God? Daniel 4 presents the crisis of sovereignty. Will Nebuchadnezzar uphold his own ability to think, to do and to be, or will he acknowledge the sovereign God? Daniel 5 relates to the crisis of insight and understanding. And Daniel 6 climaxes with the crisis of integrity. Each crisis demands a solution greater than available human resources. Each crisis brings into focus the faithful remnant, focusing attention on their God. God resolves each crisis in favor of the saints. Thus the sovereignty of God continues as the controlling and organizing theme of this book.

Daniel’s theological design

We now examine the theological structure and design of the book. Daniel stands as a beacon light in a world enshrouded in ever–deepening darkness and controlled by mindless despots and inhuman coalitions of evil. Ellen G. White states: “In the annals of human history, the growth of nations, the rise and fall of empires, appear as if dependent on the will and prowess of man . . . . But in the word of God the curtain is drawn aside, and we behold, above, behind, and through all the play and counterplay of human interest and power and passions, the agencies of the All-merciful One, silently, patiently working out the counsels of His own will.”9

The first six chapters of Daniel showcase six microcosmic dramas through which divine intervention and the vindication of the saints stand as an open testimony to the power of the God of heaven. First, they serve to introduce the prophet, Daniel, and authenticate his prophetic integrity. By presenting a series of stories in which Daniel demonstrates his personal integrity, spiritual commitment, and ability to understand mysteries, his prophetic credentials are established.10

Second, these first six chapters serve to prepare the reader for the crises of the last six chapters. Only those who have read with understanding and discernment chapters 1 through 6 can live with confidence through chapters 7 through 12. Each of the first six chapters asks, “Can we count on God in the great issues of life?” The certainty of the answer prepares the way theologically and spiritually for the larger unfolding dramas of the last six chapters. The end-time reader who must face the uncertainties of living under the threat of cosmic enemies will have six previews of God’s faithfulness to the remnant. We have a basis for assurance and confidence when we move into the larger end-time crises.

The significance and relevance of Daniel

Apocalyptic times often bring puzzlement about the suffering of the God-fearing.

The saints wonder why they are permitted to suffer; they are perplexed why God seems so distant from their pressing situation. These are not new questions in modern times—the saints in Babylon were faced with the same issues.

One of the functions of biblical apocalyptic literature is to remind the remnant of their unique and special place in God’s plan. Surrounded by the enemy, the remnant may be in danger of relegating themselves, their function, and their significance to the role of insignificant, minor players of a local drama. But the apocalyptic reminds them that they play key roles in a cosmic drama.

From its inception, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has seen itself as an apocalyptic movement, immersed in the thought patterns and worldview of an apocalyptic end-time message. We find much that affirms our identity in the apocalyptic books of the Bible. This core of self-understanding characterizes both our message and mission. When this self-understanding is removed from focus, Adventism begins to suffer from an identity crisis that threatens our unique place and destiny. Sometimes we feel that to identify ourselves as the remnant is to make claims to being better than others. But, in fact, the remnant has a prophetic role—a role that cannot be laid aside in the name of humility or modesty.

In biblical terms, being the remnant points to God’s grace, not to human achievement. The biblical concept of the remnant points to God’s doing: “Unless the Lord of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been made like Gomorrah” (Isa. 1:9). It is the Lord who establishes a remnant. As Romans 11:5, 6 expresses it, “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” And so a correct understanding of the concept of the remnant of grace does not lead to pride. It leads to humility.

The remnant in Daniel demonstrate this attitude of humble and trusting dependence on God. They do not make a parade of their status, but humbly ascribe glory and honor to the Most High. Daniel speaks to the church today, challenging the remnant to live triumphantly through God’s grace.

* Scripture quotations from the New King James
Version.

1 Tremper Longman III, The NIV Application Commentary: Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan

Publishing House, 1999), p. 19.

2 While some scholars today favor a late date for the authorship of Daniel, Arthur J. Ferch, among others, has argued convincingly for an early (exilic) date. Arthur J. Ferch, Daniel on Solid Ground, (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1988), 33–36. See also William H. Shea, The Abundant Life Bible Amplifier: Daniel 1-7 (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association,
1996), 33–49; Gerhard F. Hasel, in Symposium on Daniel (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald
Publishing Association, 1986), 84–164; Desmond Ford, Daniel (Nashville, TN.: Southern Publishing Association, 1978), 30–44.

3 D. S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964), 16.

4 P. D. Hanson. The Dawn of Apocalyptic (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975).

5 Longman III, 177.

6 Russell, 17, 18.

7 Scripture quotations from the New King James Version.

8 Ferch, 24.

9 Ellen G. White, The Story of Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1917), 499, 500.

10 See Longman III, 23.

 

 


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Joel N. Musvosvi, Ph.D., is the dean of the seminary at the Adventist International Institute for Advanced Studies, Silang, Cavite, Philippines.

February 2006

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