Last night was National Turn-Back-the-Clock night, which is widely embraced by most people I know (so long as they don’t have small children at home). Hooray for an extra hour to do something (Read: sleep!)! What I can’t figure out is how, with that extra hour of sleep, I ended up yawning my way through church this morning. It was not my pastor’s fault.
Speaking of turning back the clock, that’s exactly what happens in Daniel 7 (and 8), but nobody gets an extra hour of sleep out of it. In fact, I think Daniel lost sleep over it…
I’ve mentioned before that chapters 7 and 8 move us back in time—a dozen or more years, to be exact (now that would be some good extra sleep!). Chapter 6 (lions’ den) ended during the reign of Darius, which is sometime after the fall of Babylon in 539. Daniel’s visions in chapters 7 and 8 both occur early in the reign of Belshazzar.
Sidenote: If the kings in Daniel are starting to blur for you, let me review:
- Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (chs. 1–4)
- Belshazzar of Babylon (ch. 5)
- Darius the Mede (ch. 6)
- Belshazzar of Babylon (chs. 7–8)
- Darius the Mede (ch. 9)
- Cyrus the Persian (chs. 10–12)
In a book that cares a lot about dates (see here), it’s smart to wonder why the chronology is disrupted like this. Why didn’t somebody put chapters 7–8 with chapter 5, so all the Belshazzar chapters would be together? The best answer is probably that the chapters are grouped according to genre (narrative in 1–6 and apocalyptic in 7–12). This is logical enough, but then you might wonder why Belshazzar is mentioned at all? He doesn’t do anything in chapters 7–8 when Daniel is having his horrifying visions.
It’s true that Belshazzar doesn’t do anything in these chapters. But the mention of his name reminds us of a blasphemous, arrogant king who shook his fist at Israel’s God. He was our first encounter with such a king (Nebuchadnezzar fares much better in the narrative). But once Daniel starts having visions in the second half of the book, we will encounter more Gentile kings like Belshazzar—except they’re even worse. Belshazzar turns out to be but a “pale foreshadowing” (Lucas, 222) of these later kings.
So before we see any of Daniel’s vision, we’re already thinking about beastly, blasphemous kings. But we should also be thinking about what happens when such kings encounter Israel’s God. This second thought is what gets us through the horrors ahead.