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Daniel 7:1–3;15-18

Daniel 7:1–3;15-18 (NASB95)

1In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel saw a dream and visions in his mind as he lay on his bed; then he wrote the dream down and related the following summary of it. 2Daniel said, “I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another…”

15“As for me, Daniel, my spirit was distressed within me, and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. 16I approached one of those who were standing by and began asking him the exact meaning of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things:

17“‘These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth. 18But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.’”

Daniel is a difficult book for modern readers. The language is tricky, leading to conflicting translations; the genre of the book, early Jewish apocalyptic literature, is an ancient genre with no modern equivalent; and the nature of that genre is to be intentionally vague, overly symbolic, and deeply seated in a thorough knowledge of the Torah and of Jewish culture. That may be one of the reasons the Lectionary cuts Daniel’s vision down so severely.

Modern Christians generally have little to no interaction with Jewish Apocalypse apart from Daniel, Revelation, and arguable portions of Isaiah. Muddying the waters further is that many American Christians in particular have had their reading of these texts stuffed into an interpretive lens they were never meant to fit; one which is chiefly concerned with telling the future, and figuring out who the secret bad guys are. Neither of those concerns are central to either Daniel or John the Revelator, or indeed, any known examples of Jewish Apocalypse.

Jewish Apocalyptic Literature is chiefly concerned with putting the challenging times faced by the people of God in their cosmic context. These writings seek to answer the question, “where was God when the world was burning?” The Jewish authors of these texts witnessed generation after generation of wicked empires rising, falling, and being replaced with new empires more wicked than the last.

First Daniel sees a lion with eagle’s wings, characterized by human wisdom rising up to take dominion over the earth. The image is evocative of the winged feline guardian statues topped with human heads common in Mesopotamian royal and sacred architecture. Jews rarely acknowledged any difference between the Assyrians and the Babylonians, as indeed, by the middle of the last millennium B.C. there was little difference to be seen other than where the throne happened to be.