A nerdy friend once suggested I get a tattoo (wait, would this disqualify him from being nerdy?) that says “I heart Daniel,” and, from the trenches of commentary writing, I have to say Daniel is the man who gets most of my time these days. Though, let’s be clear: I’m not writing a commentary about Daniel the man. The book isn’t about him. It’s about God. And while there’s plenty to be said about Daniel as a model of faithfulness, if that’s all we take away from the book, we’ve missed the point.
We’re in Daniel 7, and it’s a remarkable chapter for many reasons. It stands as the heart of the book, the chapter that holds the entire thing together. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Understanding what makes Daniel 7 remarkable begins with knowing what makes it stand out in the book. Daniel 7 is unique for several reasons. The first we’ve already talked about: the shift from easy-breezy narrative to wild and wacky apocalyptic, an unsettling world we’ll live in for the rest of the book. A second notable feature of the chapter you may miss if you (1) don’t read the entire book in one sitting and/or (2) are not a grammar nut: the grammar shifts from third-person (Daniel is “he/him” in chs. 1-6) to first-person (Daniel is “I/me” in chs. 7-12). A third aspect of the chapter is that it marks the shift from stories about Jews in exile (chs. 1-6) to visions about the Jews’ future back in the land (chs. 7-12).
All these changes in chapter 7 (genre, grammar, perspective) have made lots of people want to divide the book neatly in half: the first half is third-person narrative stories set in exile, and the second half is first-person apocalyptic visions about the Jews’ future.
It would be nice if things were this easy. 🙂 Chapter 7 may be part of the first-person-apocalyptic-visions-about-Jews-back-in-the-land half of the book (chs. 7-12), but it’s also tied to the first half of the book such that you can’t simply split the book between chapters 6 and 7. Here’s how chapter 7 is tied to the first half of the book, particularly, chapters 2-6:
- Language: Chapter 7 is in Aramaic, like chapters 2-6. Chapters 8-12 switch back to Hebrew (like ch. 1)
- Structure: Chapter 7 is part of the (Aramaic) chiasm of chapters 2-7. Chapter 7 relates to chapter 2 (and chs. 3 & 6 are related, and chs. 4 & 5 form the heart of the chiasm. You remember all this, don’t you?)
- Contents: Chapter 7 takes another look at the four empires we first met in chapter 2 . Nearly every commentator I know reads the two chapters as complementary.
So, you can see we have a problem. Or, rather, a “problem.” You simply can’t divide this book. Chapter 7 won’t let you. It is the hinge on which the book turns, and its message of hope puts everything that follows in perspective…something we are wont to lose, often.
Ah, chiastic structure! What a joy to come across an old friend again!