Tag Archives: Daniel 7

Interpreting Biblical Apocalyptic (20): The Adventist Approach to Daniel IV

The little horn power of Daniel 7, however, is not separate from the fourth beast. It arises directly from among the ten horns that are part of the fourth beast (Dan 7:7: “It had ten horns”). This point is underlined again in Dan 7:19-20, where Daniel says, “Then I wanted to know the true meaning of the fourth beast, . . I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up. . .” But while rooted in the fourth beast, the little horn comes up after the ten horns which themselves come up after the fourth kingdom is established (Dan 7:24). So there is a sequencing taking place in relation to the imagery of the fourth beast. Since the little horn arises after the fourth kingdom and in the context of the ten horns it would seem to be operating in the time of the divided kingdom of Daniel 2. Just as the mixed kingdom of iron and clay was connected to the fourth by the image of iron (Dan 2:41-42), so the little horn is connected to the fourth kingdom, having grown from its symbolic head (Dan 7:8).

Doukhan brings out further parallels between the little horn of Daniel 7 and the clay of Daniel 2. Clay is quite different from the series of metals (Dan 2:32), the little horn is explicitly different (Dan 7:24) from the kingdoms that preceded it. Both have human features. The little horn is singled out because it has human eyes and a talking mouth (7:8), the clay is an allusion to the creation of Adam. In Daniel reference to human nature can be understood to portray the religious character of a person or institution (compare 7:4 with 4:16,34,36). The religious character of the little horn becomes explicit in the explanation (Dan 7: 21,25). While both entities are religious in character, they are also able to adapt to the world of politics. The clay is mixed with the iron (Dan 2:41-43) and the little horn is a horn (symbol of political power) and grows out of the fourth kingdom (7:7-8). So the little horn would seem to be portraying the same ambiguous power that was represented by the clay in chapter 2.

The description of the little horn exhibits the following characteristics and actions. 1) It speaks boastfully (Dan 7:8, 20), 2) it wages war against the saints and defeats them (7:21), 3) it is different in character from the earlier kings, which were political in nature (7:24). 4) The boastful speaking is interpreted in verse 25 as speaking “against the Most High.” 5) The war against the saints is redefined as “oppressing the saints” (7:25). 6) He will “try to change the set times and the laws,” something only God is supposed to do (Dan 2:21), and 7) the period during which he will dominate the saints is said to last for “a time, times and half a time” (7:25). To use the language of John J. Collins, the offenses of the little horn are “blasphemy, violence, and religious innovation.” There has been a long-standing consensus within Adventist scholarship that the four major kingdoms of Daniel 2 and 7 represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. There has been a similar consensus that the little horn power of Daniel represents the medieval papacy, which was different in character from the secular powers of the earth, persecuted the saints, made changes in the ten commandments, particularly the Sabbath, and dominated Western Europe for more than a thousand years.

The two new elements of the chapter are tied together in 7:8-11 and 21-22. It is interesting to note that the vision of 7:2-14 is divided into three parts by the stylistic expression, “In my vision at night I looked”, found in verses 2, 7 and 13. Surprisingly, this arrangement ties the fourth kingdom more closely to the heavenly court scene than to the three kingdoms that precede it in verses 4-6. The immediate context of the seating of the heavenly judgment in 7:9-14 is the little horn’s boastful speaking in verse 8. The absence in verse 9 of the typical sequencing term (“behold”) found seven times in the vision (Dan 7:5,6,7,8 [twice], 13) is further evidence that the judgment begins at precisely that point in history where the little horn is doing its human thing and speaking boastfully (elaborated in 7:21,25).

A portion of the vision formula of 2, 7 and 13 is also found at the conclusion of verse 11, further tying the descriptions of verses 7 and 8 with the opening of the judgment in 9 and 10. The allusion to the destruction of the beast that carried the little horn in verse 11 implies that the judgment comes into session to deal with the actions of that beast, and of the ten horns and the little horn that followed it in the course of history. This implication is confirmed in Dan 7:21-22. The time, times and half a time in which the saints are oppressed lasts “until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High” (7:22). So the judgment comes at the end of the little horn’s time of oppressing the saints. The end result of that judgment is “His power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His (the son of man of 7:13-14) kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him” (Dan 7:26-27).

So the vision of Daniel 7 is not so much adding new elements to the earlier vision as it is elaborating on the later stages of it, the times after the fourth kingdom and before the setting up of God’s eternal kingdom. During the time of the divided kingdom of iron and clay, an oppressive power, described as a little horn on the beast of the fourth kingdom, will arise and oppress the people of God, just as Babylon was doing in Daniel’s day. Daniel 7 also adds that ushering in the stone kingdom will be a heavenly tribunal in which the actions of all the oppressive powers of history will be brought to an end and the people of God will join God’s representative, the son of man, in an everlasting kingdom where all obey the Most High God.

In Daniel 2 and 7, therefore, we have a pair of apocalyptic prophecies which review the same basic historical sequence, running from the time of the respective prophets until the establishment of God’s kingdom at the end of history. The exegesis is relatively straightforward, when the two visions are viewed together. The only reason to question elements of this scenario are if these prophecies were not written ahead of events, but were the result of pious history after the fact, written around 165 BC. So for Adventist scholarship, the decisive issue with regard to the hermeneutics of the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel is the time when the book was written. For those who believe that Daniel was a genuine prophecy of the sixth century BC, the process is straightforward. First, give careful attention to what the text is actually saying and what it is not saying. Second, give careful attention to the clear witness of history, and align the text with that history to the best of one’s ability.

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

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. . .