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The Bible as Literature: Daniel—Stories and Visions

Chapters one through six of Daniel’s book are written about Daniel in the third person- Daniel did this, Daniel did that. Then we take an abrupt turn from chapters seven through twelve into the apocalyptic visions. Now Daniel is the speaker who refers to himself in the first person.

In the first six chapters the stories told are of Daniel and his friends and their experiences while in exile. They are prepared for State service and choose vegetables rather than the delicacy’s of the king tables. Nebuchadnezzar has a bad dream about an image of a beast. The boys are thrown into a fiery furnace, but survive by the hand of an angel. Nebuchadnezzar once again has a dream this time of ‘seven times’, a tree (his kingdom) and his going insane. Then there is Belshazzar’s feast, with the mysterious handwriting on the wall that appears. Finally there is infamous Daniel in the lion’s pit.

The stories of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar’s experiences have a common thread in that each of the stories relates in some way how these kings are really under God’s control, and their kingdoms exist only by his acquiescence. They are all doomed to fall, and the kings are to be humbled by God’s hand.

The visions that Daniel relates are about four huge and fearsome beasts, and a he-goat with broken horns, another where the messianic leader is foretold, and finally the King of the North vs. the King of the South and the earlier foreshadowed Michael stands up for his people.

In the visions, like the stories, we again see a common thread prophesying the demise of the kingdoms and kings which currently oppress the Jews. Apocalyptic texts are prophecies in which divine intervention is the only means of hope in the doom. Holding true to the pattern “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13, 14)

Comparing the stories and the visions in both we see the usage of a beast to represent kingdoms. First in the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream there is a beast depicted, and he and his kingdom is the head of the beast. Daniel in relating the meaning of the dream tells him that “…in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever”.  (Daniel 2:44) Likewise in the visions portion of Daniel, Daniel has a dream in which he see four beasts, again representing present earthly kingdoms, and they are to be overcome by God’s. “…But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. [27] And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.” (Daniel 7:26, 27)

Even the story of Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, Abed’nego, tie back to this theme of God’s theocratic kingdom overcoming that of the mortal kings and kingdom’s. In one story the boys are brought in to be trained for service to the State. Daniel and his friends refuse the food of the king’s table because it goes against their religious dietary restrictions. Instead Daniel challenges that eating vegetables for ten days would serve them better. “At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s rich food.” (Daniel 1:15) Here it doesn’t take much to see how one might suspect this story would teach the lesson that God’s way was better than that of the king’s.

Then Nebuchadnezzar erects an image of gold to have all bow down in worship to it, anyone failing to comply is to be cast into the fiery furnace per the king’s edict. Of course the Hebrew boys refuse. When brought before the king they tell him “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17, 18) Again an instance of where God’s people will not submit and he’s being place upon high, above and beyond the position of that of the present kingdom. Of course the king is even more peeved at hearing this, and orders the furnace seven times hotter than before. The boys are protected by what seems to be of the ‘sons of god’ and Nebuchadnezzar is made to eat his pride and proclaim the glory and blessing of the god of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed’nego.

Finally, there is Daniel in the lion’s pit. King Darius likes Daniel, but is tricked into writing a law that means no one can pray for 30 days. Daniel, religious as he is, cannot abide and is thrown into lion’s pit. “When he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish and said to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” (Daniel 6:20) Though this does not go directly against the king or his kingdom, it still reflects the common thread of those set out against the will of the God of Israel will not see it come to be. God’s kingdom and will is to overcome all other intentions.

From this analysis we are to see that whether it be the stories of Daniel, or the apocalyptic visions he speaks for, the result is the same—”mortal kings and kingdoms  will be supplanted by the kingdom of God ‘which shall never be destroyed.'”

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