A helpful question to ask in the reading of any part of Scripture is “What is this passage telling me about God?”
As I read Daniel, two characteristics of God stood out: The Sovereign Lord, The Triumphant Lord
Some TIPS on How to Read the Book of Daniel
The book of Daniel is well known for being the home of three favourite Bible stories for kids: Daniel and the lions’ den, the three friends in the fiery furnace and the writing on the wall.
Those of us who grew up in church will at some point probably have either acted out these stories or created art works depicting poor Daniel thrown into the lions’ den.
But Daniel is also home to some super-weird visions – depicting of creatures and scenes so weird that the closest things we as people in the 21st century can relate them to as sci-fi movies or books.
MOST people find the actions-packed stories in the first half of Daniel fairly easy reading. But, when it comes to the second half (chapter 7 onwards), they find that the style of writing is so different from what they are used to that they struggle just to make sense of the text. Why does the book of Daniel contain such strange literature? How does the second half of Daniel relate to the first? Or are the two parts even related at all?
To help you make sense of the book of Daniel as a whole, we’ve prepared three “big-picture” questions for you to ask as you read. As you work through the book with these questions in mind, we hope you’ll find that you’re able to pick up on the dominant themes of Daniel and make sense of it as a whole.
Here are the questions:
- Who is in control of the world? Who has the power over every human kingdom and authority?
- How then should God’s people conduct themselves in a pagan society (a society that does not honour God)?
- What then should the attitude of God’s people be when they face trials and troubles of various kinds?
The second part of the book of Daniel is written in a style of writing known as “apocalyptic”. “Apocalyptic” literally means to reveal or uncover, like the way the stage at a theatre is uncovered as the curtain goes up at the start of a drama. Apocalyptic literature is written to reveal the way in which God’s purposes are being accomplished in history, where judgement is brought on the wicked and salvation is brought to God’s people.
This is not a very common type of literature today, so here are three top tips to help you find your way through the text:
- The impressions created by the scenes described are as important as the details of the visions. Take time to dwell on the wonder of what you are reading and to be awed by the visions.
- Don’t be stressed if things seem to be impossible to our scientific understanding of the world. Just like in other part of the Bible that use metaphor to convey meaning (such as Isa. 55:12, where the hills are said to sing and the trees to clap their hands), apocalyptic literature uses many symbols to communicate its message and thus should not be interpreted literally.
- In the genre of apocalyptic writings, symbols often have standard meanings. Thus it can be helpful to check a commentary on Daniel to learn about these symbols. If however you are reading Daniel for the first time (or the first few times), it’s probably best to read it without a commentary so that you don’t get too caught in the details and end up missing the big picture of the book.
THE SOVEREIGN LORD
The first was of a God who is in ABSOLUTE CONTROL. To Daniel and his three companions it meant that when they were taken from their own country to live in a pagan land, they were able to continue obeying God, without fear of what their captors would do to them. Their concern was not to save their lives; rather, they were concerned to honour and obey the one true God. They knew that no evil would befall them that had not been decreed by God and so were strengthened to live distinctive lives amongst of a people that did not honour God.
But, what does this vision of a Sovereign Lord mean to us as God’s people today?
While it is not as explicit as King Nebuchadnezzar in setting up a golden image to be worshipped, the people around us constantly call us to be like them in finding fulfillment and satisfaction in created things: money, possesions, power, leisure, relationships, prestige, material comfort, acceptance etc, such that we devote most of our thoughts, time and energy into chasing after these things.
How will we choose which country and neighbourhood to live in and what job to do? Will it be on basis of what God considers important: the extension of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ through the growth of his church?
The greatest antidote to the fear of man expressed in the temptations above is a healthy fear of God. It puts our problems and dilemmas in perspective and reminds us who we are – beings created to know and worship the living God.
THE TRIUMPHANT LORD
The second characteristics is of a God who has complete and triumphant victory over all who oppose Him. In chapter 7, this is a highlighted in the description of one like a Son of Man, to whom all authority is given and whose kingdom lasts forever. What effect would this vision of God, have produced in the God-fearing Israelites of Daniel’s day? On the one hand, the thought of such suffering and destruction would probably have caused them much distress and fear. Indeed, this was Daniel’s own reaction as he received the visions (e.g. 7:28, 8:27). It is striking that in these visions God is always triumphant.
How can this understanding of who God is help us today then?
As you grow in maturity as a Christians, and your life, speech and the things that you treasure become less like those of the world, do not expect to become more popular. For some of God’s people it will be outright persecution, for others it will be the rejection or constant opposition of family, etc.
Why should we keep going on doing what the world considers foolishness when it seems like those who oppose God are succeeding and thriving?
Daniel helps us greatly in this by revealing the end to us.
This certainty that God would triumph and his people would stand firm would have brought much comfort and strength to go on living in obedience to God.