Tag Archives: Daniel 2

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (18): The Adventist Approach to Daniel II

Continuing our look at Daniel 2. . .

“Next (“another”), a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth” (2:39). Daniel’s explanation again uses an Aramaic term of sequencing, this time making it clear that the third kingdom corresponds to the third metal on the statue, bronze. In Daniel 8, the kingdom that replaces Medo-Persia is Greece.

“Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron–for iron breaks and smashes everything–and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others” (2:40). The “finally” here is supplied by the translators of the NIV. The Aramaic term is the simple conjunctive. But “finally” is not an inappropriate translation, as the movement to the fourth and final kingdom in the series is explicit in the passage. The association of this fourth kingdom with iron also makes the correlation between the metals on the statue and the sequence of historical kingdoms clear.

The move to the fifth stage of iron and clay again lacks a sequencing term, but by this stage in the vision the progression is clear enough without continual repetition. The vision portrays a series of historical stages beginning with the time of the “prophet” Nebuchadnezzar. “Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay” (2:41). Interestingly, the transition to the fifth stage differs from the others in that the fourth kingdom is not replaced by a more powerful one, but seems to disintegrate into a divided and weakened condition.

The mention of clay at this point in the vision is rather startling. Doukhan notes that clay is an unexpected material after the metals, indicating a power or powers of a different nature than those that came before. He sees the clay as pointing to a religious connotation in contrast to the political nature of the metallic kingdoms. The clay here may reflect an allusion to Adam, the human creature who was made from clay (Gen 2:7; 3:19). Adam owed his existence to the divine potter (Isa 64:8; Jer 18:6ff.). Doukhan believes that this is foretaste of the appearance of the human-featured little horn in Dan 7:8 and 25.

The climax of the vision and its interpretation comes in Dan 2:44, “In the time of those kings (literally “in the days of those kings”), the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. . . .” “In the days of those kings” can be understood in two ways. Since the kingdom of iron and clay is referred to in the singular (2:41-42), the plural of verse 44 could be understood to refer to all four of the kingdoms together. This would imply that the course of history will continue unbroken until the coming of the divine kingdom represented by the stone. The spirit of the earlier kingdoms lives on in the later ones. More likely the “kings” refer to pieces of the divided kingdom of iron and clay. In this case, it would be clear that the coming of the stone kingdom is after the reign of the four major kingdoms and during the time of division between strong and weak. The coming of the stone kingdom is the final event of the vision, the one that brings the whole course of history to an end.

The vision of Daniel 2, then, is an apocalyptic prophecy with a clear historical sequence running from the time of the prophet down to the end of earth’s history, the establishment of the kingdom of God. The explanation, grounded in the language, time and place of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, clearly marks out the sequence of events that moves the reader from the time when the prophecy was given to the time when history comes to its end. In Daniel 2, therefore, the basic characteristics of historical apocalyptic are firmly and exegetically set in place.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (17): The Adventist Approach to Daniel

Any exegetical defense of historicism must begin with the clearest biblical example, found in Daniel chapter 2. While the text is quite familiar to Adventists, it bears another look, for it is foundational to an understanding of apocalyptic prophecy. The story of Daniel 2 clearly fits the definition of apocalyptic literature generally accepted today, and is of the historical sub-category. It contains a revelation delivered in a narrative framework, and that revelation is given directly by God (an otherworldly being) to Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, the human recipients. The vision and its interpretation disclose a transcendent temporal reality regarding eschatological salvation, and reveal the spatial reality of God’s will and purposes in the supernatural world.

Unless one approaches Daniel 2 with the assumption that it is outlining history after the fact, it seems clear that Nebuchadnezzar’s vision portrays a chain of empires, beginning with the time of the prophet, and running the course of history all the way to its eschatological climax.

The story of Daniel 2 begins with a sleepless night for King Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2:1). He was worried about the future and God gives him dreams which unpack that future (Dan 2:29). After futile attempts to get help from his closest advisors, Nebuchadnezzar turns to Daniel, the Hebrew prophet. Daniel testifies that the future is unknown to human beings, no matter how intelligent nor how connected to the occult (Dan 2:27– these same wise men are forced to agree, 2:10-11). There is a God in heaven, however, who is fully able to reveal what will happen in days to come, including the final events of history (“at the end of days,” Dan 2:28).

The dream is about a large statue, an idol, made from a succession of metals, declining in value (from gold to iron) but increasing in strength as you move from the head to the foot of the image (2:31-33). The feet of the statue are made of a mixture of iron and clay (2:33). At the end of the dream a supernatural rock smashes into the feet of the image, breaking the whole image to pieces (2:34). The pieces are then swept away by the wind, while the rock grows into a mountain that fills the whole earth (2:35).

While the vision of the statue carries Nebuchadnezzar to end of earth’s history, however, the explanation of the vision by Daniel is firmly grounded in the time and place of Nebuchadnezzar. All expressions are appropriate to a conversation being held in a king’s palace around 600 BC. The interpretation begins with a straightforward, unambiguous assertion, “You are that head of gold” (Dan 2:38). The interpretation grounds the beginning of that prophecy in the situation of Nebuchadnezzar’s time and place. That the head of gold is not limited to Nebuchadnezzar personally, but represents his whole kingdom becomes clear in that all the succeeding metals represent whole kingdoms, not just a series of kings. Nebuchadnezzar is addressed as the representative of his kingdom. The comment that the fourth kingdom will be “strong as iron” suggests that the various metals were designed to portray specific characteristics of each of the kingdoms.

The next stage in the prophecy is also clear. “After you, another kingdom will arise, inferior to yours” (2:39). This second kingdom clearly comes on the stage after the time of Nebuchadnezzar. While the text does not explicitly state that this kingdom is represented by the silver of the statue, the inferior nature of the kingdom is appropriate to such a movement. The transition between Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom and the following one is marked by the story in Daniel 5. Babylon is followed by Medo-Persia.

To be continued.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (6): Hermeneutical Keys

There are a number of hermeneutical keys that are suggested by a comparison of Daniel 2 and Daniel 7.

1) God speaks to each of His human emissaries in the context of their own time, place, and circumstances. He speaks in language they can understand and appreciate, even when He speaks in apocalyptic terms. He uses the language of the prophet’s past to paint a picture of the prophet’s future. God meets people where they are. This has hermeneutical implications. It means that in our study of apocalyptic literature, it is imperative that we seek to understand it in terms of the original time, place, language, and circumstances, as well as the content of the whole of Scripture. We should not expect to find God’s meaning for the text in some context outside that of the original revelation. God’s meaning for today will not contradict the message that He placed in the vision in the first place.

2) The purpose of apocalyptic visions is not simply to satisfy human curiosity about the future (although that may have played a role in the first instance, according to Dan 2:29). It is a message about the character and the workings of God. God is not only communicating something about the future course of history, He is revealing Himself as the One who is in control of that history. To study apocalyptic only as a key to unlock the future is to miss its message about a God who seeks to be known by His people. From a Christian perspective, apocalyptic is never rightly understood unless its central focus is on the “son of man,” Jesus Christ.

3) Apocalyptic is people-oriented. In conforming to the principle of “God meets people where they are,” it is evident that the purpose of apocalyptic is to comfort and instruct the people of God on earth. God offers a powerful message of both hope and warning to the original recipients of each message, and that message of hope and warning has a repeated application to every reader of these visions throughout history. Whether or not the forecast of history has always been rightly understood, God’s appeal to the human recipients of His revelation is ever fresh.

4) While in Daniel 2 and 7 the issue of God’s control over history is front row and center, it is important to see how that control is exercised in the larger sweep of the Bible. As a God of love, God initiates, encourages and respects the freedom of His creatures. The cross demonstrates that God does not exercise control through overwhelming power and dominance, but through demonstration of His character and persuasion. In Daniel 7 human exercise of power is portrayed in terms of vicious, carnivorous beasts that trample and destroy. In contrast, God rules by kindness (Rom 2:4) and self-sacrifice (Rev 5:6). God prefers to exercise His authority with gentleness and patience rather than intimidation and force.

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (5): Visions Meet People Where They Are

The crucial question for prophetic interpretation is whether the general biblical principle of “God meets people where they are” is applicable to apocalyptic prophecies such as Daniel and Revelation. If so, how does it affect our interpretation of these prophecies? I believe it will be helpful to our purpose to notice that God at times even adjusted the form of apocalyptic visions in order to more effectively communicate to the inspired prophet. The most striking example is in the book of Daniel. There visions of similar content were given to two people from completely different backgrounds.

Many Adventists have tended to distinguish between the visionary experiences of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel. They say that the pagan king had a dream in Daniel 2 but that Daniel himself had a vision in Daniel 7. This distinction is not, however, warranted by the biblical text. Unusual wording in two passages, Dan 2:28 and 7:1, while often overlooked by commentators as of little interest, reveals that the experience of the two “prophets” was the same. In Dan 2:28 Nebuchadnezzar is told, “Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you lay on your bed are these” (NIV). In Dan 7:1 we are told, “Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed (NIV).” The underlying Aramaic is essentially identical with that of Dan 2:28. In both cases, God chose to reveal Himself in visionary form, He was in full control of the revelation.

Not only is the mode of revelation essentially the same, but the content of the two visions, when interpreted, is essentially the same. In Dan 2 the vision begins with the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar (Babylon), traces three kingdoms that will follow, and eventuates in the kingdom that the God of heaven will set up and which will never be destroyed (Dan 2:36-45). In Dan 7 we again have a series of four kingdoms, with the first representing Babylon (Dan 7:4,17), and again the interpretation eventuates in the everlasting kingdom of the Most High (Dan 7:26-27). To Nebuchadnezzar, the heathen king, God portrays the future world empires by means of an idol. The term translated “statue” or “image” is frequently used in connection with idolatry in the Old Testament (2 Kings 11:18; 2 Chron 23:17; Amos 5:26, etc.). That this meaning is to be understood here is clear from Daniel 3. There Nebuchadnezzar recognized exactly what to do with such an object! Nebuchadnezzar could appreciate God’s use of this cultural concept, since he saw the nations of the world as bright and shining counterparts of the gods that they worshiped.

God here chooses to use cultural expressions with which Nebuchadnezzar was familiar, and those concepts lent themselves to the point God was trying to make to him. God’s point in the vision was that He was the source of Nebuchadnezzar’s power and position (Dan 2:37-38), that He is in full control of all kingdoms of the earth (and their gods) and places them under the control of whomever He wishes (Dan 4:17). But Nebuchadnezzar was not to understand this point until his second vision (4:5, 34-37). In chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar accepts that God is a revealer of mysteries (Dan 2:47), but his reworking of the idol into one totally of gold shows his unwillingness to submit to God’s control of history at this point in time.

For Daniel, on the other hand, the nations of the world were like vicious, ravenous beasts who were hurting his people (chapter 7). God again draws on the prophet’s knowledge and setting as He shapes the vision He gives to Daniel. This time, instead of symbolism drawn from the Babylonian world, He shapes the vision as a midrash on the creation story of Genesis chapters 1 and 2. God describes Daniel’s future in terms of a new creation.

“Daniel said, ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea’”(Dan 7:2). The concept of winds stirring up the sea is reminiscent of Gen 1:2, where the wind/spirit moves upon the waters of the great deep. As in the original creation, beasts then appear (Dan 7:3ff., cf. Gen 1:24-25; 2:19). In each story the appearance of the beasts is followed by the appearance of a “son of man,” who is given dominion over the beasts (Gen 1:26-28; 2:19-20, cf. Dan 7:13-14). What we have in this vision is an early example of “second Adam” typology, in which an end-time Adam figure takes possession of God’s kingdom in behalf of His people (Dan 7:13-14, cf. 7:27).

What message was God seeking to communicate to Daniel and his fellow exiles in Babylon? I believe it was the same basic message that God sought to communicate to Nebuchadnezzar. God is the One who is in control of history and of all the affairs of nations. To Daniel and his fellow exiles, things seemed out of control. The Godless nations flaunted their dominion (see Dan 7:6,12, which use the same word for “dominion” as Dan 7:14, 26-27) like carnivorous beasts ravaging a flock. To Daniel in Babylon, the message of Dan 7 was a great comfort: just as Adam had dominion over the beasts in the Garden of Eden, so the Son of Man, when he comes, will have dominion over these nations that are hurting your people. God is in control even when things seem out of control. He is the one who sets up kings and removes them.

Circumstances and the Bible, Part 2

Continuing a series on the Bible, ordination, and the upcoming General Conference in San Antonio.

In Daniel 2 and 7 we see God Himself making the kind of adjustment Israelites and the Church had to make in the previous blog. In both chapters a human being sees a vision of the future that involves four kingdoms followed by the kingdom of God. But to the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar this vision comes in the form of an idol (tselêm– Dan 2:31-33; 3:1-6). This is startling for God to do, but it makes perfect sense for communication. After all, for Nebuchadnezzar the great kingdoms of the world were beautiful, shining examples of the gods they worshiped. But when God gives essentially the same vision to Daniel, the Hebrew prophet, He shapes the vision as a replay of the story of creation. There is a stormy sea (Dan 7:2), then animals appear (7:3-8), then comes a son of man who is given dominion over the animals (7:13-14). Just as Adam had dominion over the animals at creation (Gen 1:26-28; 2:20), God’s second Adam, the son of man, would have dominion over the kingdoms that were hurting Daniel’s people. Circumstances alter cases. What is unique here is that God himself is the one doing the contextualizing. You can’t blame the change on the human author of the text.

These passages call to mind parallel principles to that expressed in the proverb “circumstances alter cases.” One of these is “God meets people where they are” and the other is “there is more than one right way to think.” When you think of the four gospels, it would be foolish to ask the question, “Which gospel writer was right, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John?” They were all inspired and they were all right. Yet each gives a unique and different picture of Jesus. There is more than one right way to think. Is Jesus divine or is He human? Wrong question! There is more than one right way to think about Jesus. That doesn’t mean that all ways of thinking are right. But truth must not be limited to one form of expression. Circumstances do not alter all cases, but absolutizing revelation in many circumstances undermines the very principle that is driving the text.

To be continued. . .