Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (19): The Adventist Approach to Daniel III

Daniel 7 marks some important transitions within the book. It is tied to the narratives that precede by the use of the Aramaic language (Hebrew is used in chapters 8-12). It is tied to chapter 2 by the vision formula and other connections we will note below. At the same time, Daniel 7 is tied to the visions in the following chapters by its subject matter and by close parallels with chapter 8. So Daniel 7 is in many ways the center point of the book of Daniel.

As was the case with Daniel 2, the apocalyptic prophecy of Dan 7 is divided into two parts; a description of the vision, in which the prophet can be transported through time and space (Dan 7:2-14), and an explanation of the vision, given in the language, time and place of the prophet (Dan 7:15-27). In Daniel 2 the prophet is Nebuchadnezzar and the explanation is given by Daniel himself. In Daniel 7, Daniel is the prophet and the explanation is given by an angelic attendant in the vision.

It may, at first, seem unfortunate that the vision of Daniel 7 and its interpretation fails to name any of the kingdoms symbolized in the chapter. This is in contrast to what happens in the visions of Daniel 2 (“You are the head of gold”– 2:38) and Daniel 8 (The “ram represents the kings of Media and Persia, . . . the goat is the king of Greece”– 8:20-21). The most natural explanation is that the reader is expected to see that the vision of Daniel 7 is simply restating and expanding on the earlier vision, but this time couched in the language of the Torah, rather than pagan symbolism. The vision of Daniel 8, on the other hand, introduces new material and requires specific re-identification. This explanation is confirmed by the many parallels between Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 and the earlier one given to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2.

Both passages deal with four kingdoms (Dan 2:37-40; 7:17). The four animals in Dan 7 parallel the four metals of the great statue that Nebuchadnezzar saw (Dan 7:3-7, cf. 2:31-33). Both visions concern four items, many of which are numbered, “first,” “fourth,” etc. (Dan 2:39-40; 7:4,5,7) In both visions, special authority is given to the third kingdom (Dan 2:39; 7:6). In both visions, the fourth element is numbered (2:40; 7:7), involves iron, and uses the language of crushing. In Dan 7:23 (NRSV), “There shall be a fourth kingdom on earth.” Neither of the fourth kingdoms are identified by name, but the early church fathers identified the fourth kingdom with Rome. In both visions, the figure of the fourth kingdom is followed by symbols of division (2:43; 7:24). It would seem pointless, therefore, to interpret the fourth kingdom of Daniel 7 as somehow different from the fourth kingdom of Daniel 2. Both visions cover a period that leads to the final establishment of God’s kingdom. The vision of Dan 7, therefore, concerns the same four kingdoms symbolized by metals in Dan 2. The God who gave these visions was apparently using the principle of recapitulation to convey His revelations more clearly.

On the other hand, a new element in this vision is the little horn power that plucks up three horns and speaks boastful things (Dan 7:8). An additional new element is the heavenly judgment scene (7:9-14), with its books, its Ancient of Days and its son of man. The vision of Daniel 2 is essentially repeated but with two additional elements. In comparing the two visions we are moving from the simple to the complex and from the clear to the somewhat less clear. So in interpreting Daniel 7 we must not forget the things we have learned from Daniel 2. The pattern of apocalyptic, historical sequences continues to be followed. Note the following chart:

Daniel 2                   Daniel 7
Gold                          Lion
Silver                         Bear
Bronze                      Leopard
Iron                           Iron
feet and toes           horns
       –                          Little horn
       –                          Judgment
God’s Kingdom       God’s Kingdom

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