All right. It’s time. We’ve been merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily making our way through the first half of Daniel, loving such well-told stories as the fiery furnace and the lions’ den. But the current changes when we arrive at chapter 7, and we’ll be paddling through some challenging waters from now until the end of the book.
The change is one of genre. The first half of the book is narrative—that is, a collection of stories about Daniel and his three friends as they navigated service in the Babylonian court. The second half of the book is apocalyptic, which is not a genre you’re likely to find on the shelf at the local library. You’ll find it scattered around a bit in the Bible—Revelation, the second half of Zechariah, Isaiah 24–27, and, of course, Daniel 7–12.
But you should not think this is all there is. There are oodles of apocalyptic stories/books that never made it into the Protestant canon of the Bible. Why that is (and why I specify the Protestant Bible) is for another time. The point is, there’s enough of this literature “out there” for us to have a good idea what the genre is and how we—so far removed from the people that wrote it and the culture that read it—should read it.
I say this because lots and lots of people have read the apocalyptic literature of the Bible without a clue about how the genre works. That’s like reading “The Onion” as if it were news, or the weather forecast as if it were fiction (oh, wait…). Why does this matter, you ask? Didn’t God say what He meant? Aren’t the words on the page true?
It matters because if you don’t read according to genre, you think that about the time the world ends, eagles talk (Rev 8:13), scorpion-tailed locusts wear armor (Rev 9:7–10), and Jesus has a sword in his mouth (Rev 1:16). It matters because if you don’t read according to genre, you say things like “Jesus is coming back on Sept. 6, 1994…no, wait, I mean May 21, 2011…oh, oops, I mean Oct. 21, 2011…oh, never mind…” It matters because if you don’t read according to genre, you miss the meaning and the contemporary significance. It matters because if you don’t read according to genre, you terrorize people into praying a prayer simply to avoid hellfire (and those nasty locusts beforehand).
Apocalyptic literature was actually written to encourage people—not traumatize, mislead, or terrorize. If you’re up to the challenge (or you need to be de-traumatized), come back in a couple weeks and we’ll take a look at what, exactly, this genre was (and wasn’t).