We’ve made it to chapter 8 in Daniel, but I must warn you – things do not get better any time soon. This chapter recounts a second terrifying vision that Daniel had, a vision very similar to the first vision he had in the endless chapter 7. Not only are the visions similar, the text expects us to read them in tandem. This is pretty clear from the statement in verse 1 that this vision was “after that which appeared to me at the first”: since the verse begins by dating the vision to the third year of Belshazzar and we know the first vision was in Belshazzar’s first year (7:1), this statement is otherwise redundant.
Similarities between the chapters are as follows:
- Daniel found both visions disturbing and baffling.
- An angel interpreted both visions.
- Animals represent world powers in both visions.
- The persecution of God’s people is a main topic in both visions.
- The enemy in both visions is ultimately defeated.
- Both chapters feature a glimpse of cosmic affairs.
But there are few significant differences between the chapters, too:
- Chapter 7 is in Aramaic; chapter 8 is in Hebrew.
- Daniel is asleep in Babylon for the first vision and awake in Susa for the second.
- Chapter 7’s imagery is ominous and allusive; chapter 8’s is much less so.
We’ll cover the second two differences as we go, but let me take a minute to consider the first—that is, the switch from Aramaic back to Hebrew. You’ll remember (and if not, you can refresh your memory here) that Daniel is written in 2 languages—Hebrew (ch. 1, 8–12) and Aramaic (chs. 2–7). You’ll also surely remember (same drill: see here) that the Aramaic forms a chiasm. But why does the language switch back to Hebrew here? We aren’t sure why the language shifted to Aramaic in the first place in chapter 2, but at least the immediate context there provided an appropriate framework for the shift (“Then the Chaldeans said to the king in Aramaic…” Dan 2:4 ESV). Here in chapter 8, we don’t get any obvious help from the context.
It is possible that the shift coincides with another major difference between the two visions—that is, a shift in scope and focus that will carry through the rest of the book. Chapter 7 took a wider-angle view of history—portraying the totality of world history through its four ghastly beasts—but the vision in chapter 8 has only two beasts. Chapter 7 and the Aramaic chiasm it closes focused on the Jews’ exilic experiences to highlight the universal rule of Israel’s God. In the rest of the book, however, the focus is on a time in the Jews’ future when they were back in their land and a vicious enemy tried to wipe them off the face of the earth.
We know the language changes in chapter 8, and when we consider the full-book context, we also know that the scope and focus change here, too. Perhaps the two things are related. Perhaps the shift to tumultuous future events in the land of Israel inspired the shift back to Hebrew, the language of the Jews, even though Aramaic was still the lingua franca of the Jews’ wider world. In this case, the book uses different languages to reinforce different emphases—Aramaic when the emphasis is God’s universal sovereignty and Hebrew when the emphasis is God’s involvement with his unique people.