The book of Daniel is in an odd predicament. It contains at least two of the most well-known stories within the Bible (the fiery furnace and the lion’s den), but it also contains some of the most confusing apocalyptic imagery, only rivaled by Revelation. Thus, if you grew up in church, you are certainly familiar Daniel the prophet but likely remain estranged from the book which bears his name. This is unfortunate because the book of Daniel has much to teach us, to rebuke us, to correct us, and to train us in righteousness.
The book contains two distinct halves, chapters 1-6 and 7-12. The first half is primarily narrative, providing stories of Daniel and his friends remaining faithful during their new lives as exiles serving in the palace of the king of Babylon. Throughout these chapters, we are able to reflect upon the sovereignty and providence of God, as well as how to stand for truth in the midst of a godless society. We are borrowing this section’s subtitle from 1 Peter 2:17, which tells us, “Fear God. Honor the emperor.” Daniel and his friends embody Peter’s words. We never see them attempting to overthrow their new pagan king; instead, they give him his due honor. However, they do not fear the king, only God. For example, when the king commands worship to be made to his statute, the three friends do not rebel, but they also refuse to comply, regardless of the consequences.
The second half is primarily a compilation of the various visions that Daniel received. As we see of John’s visions in Revelation, much of the imagery is rather cryptic and even terrifying for Daniel. Much will be said over how to interpret these chapters as we come to them (as well as whenever we receive a taste of them in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2); however, they are often explicitly said to describe the future of kingdoms beyond Daniel’s own lifetime.
For all of the dark and frightening points in the book of Daniel, I believe that its fundamental message is one of hope. In the first half, we see the hope that God will protect and strengthen His people, even as He is severely disciplining them in the foreign land of Babylon. In the second half, we see the hope that, as one hymn says, “though nations rage, kingdoms rise and fall, there is still one King, reigning over all.”
Therefore, and especially since Peter also calls us “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), Daniel should ultimately be a book of encouragement to God’s people that God’s kingdom will prevail over all the kingdoms of the earth, no matter how mighty they appear. As with Daniel and his friends, our present circumstances may not always be triumphant, yet we can trust that we belong to the eternal kingdom that will fill earth and shatter all others into nothing more than chaff that the wind drives away.