This article is part of the Why Study the Book? series.
Who’s Story Is This?
The book of Daniel is a favorite for Sunday school teachers and students alike. And for good reason. It has all the makings of a great story—memorable characters, cliff-hanger drama, and science-fiction-like visions. It’s like Harry Potter meets Lord of the Rings with a dash of Star Wars thrown in!
Yet therein lies a potential danger. Because the human actors and events are so fascinating, we are tempted when studying this book to fix our gaze on the human plane. But when this happens we can inadvertently lose sight of the fact that this book is ultimately not about Daniel or his three friends, but about God and his victory in the world.
Sure, the book of Daniel tells Daniel’s story—and a fascinating and instructive story it is. But the main purpose of Daniel is to reveal to us who God is—his character, his purposes, his way of working in the world for the good of his people. The main lesson of Daniel, then, is not, as is often assumed (and taught!)—dare to be a Daniel! Rather, the main point is this—dare to trust in Daniel’s God!
The story of Daniel is about the story of God—and his victory in the world. For God is the sovereign Lord of history, the one who establishes kingdoms and brings them down. From the opening chapter and the story of Daniel’s exile to Babylon, to the closing chapter and its vision of the future, we see how God achieves his victory in the world.
Placing It in the Larger Story
The book of Daniel records the events of Daniel’s life and the visions he saw from the time of his exile in 605 (Dan. 1:1) until the third year of King Cyrus in 536 (Dan. 10:1). Sweeping in scope, the book deals with the rise and fall of various world empires.
But these historical events are seen through the lens of God’s sovereign control of things, and thus serve a pastoral purpose to encourage the Jewish people during a critical time in their history.
The Jews were in exile, suffering at the hands of pagan rulers who cared little for God or his people. They had every reason, then, to wonder whether God was in control, and whether he would right the situation—for his own glory and the good of his covenant people.
For God is the sovereign Lord of history, the one who establishes kingdoms and brings them down.
Glimpses of God
Daniel is a book designed to show the victory of God. But it begins in a counterintuitive way: with Daniel and his friends being hauled off into Babylonian captivity and exile!
And yet this is the gospel story—defeat is the path to victory. Before Jesus wears the crown, he bears the cross. The Son of God, the Davidic Messiah, is first the Son of Man, the Suffering Servant who must trod the lonely path of humility and suffering and even death. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). So, too, this is the way of the gospel in our lives: we share in Christ’s suffering, “becoming like him in his death,” before we attain to “the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:11).
Christ and Culture
Perhaps no book in the Old Testament presents us with more fodder for thinking about the relationship between Christian presence in the world, or what has classically been referred to as the relationship between Christ and culture.
Daniel and his three friends display a readiness to engage in the culture and customs of the Babylonians, and yet this clearly has limits. Daniel does not simply accommodate to the host culture of the Babylonians.
At the same time, he shows a high degree of acculturation: acquiring both learning and skill in “all literature and wisdom” of the Babylonians (Dan. 1:17).
This provides us with a good case study for thinking about the challenge of being in the world, but not of the world (John 17:15–16)—something every faithful Christian must grapple with.
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The best answers to that question will come when we understand why God gave us this book.