Review: How to Read Daniel

How to Read Daniel (How to Read series), Tremper Longman III. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: A helpful introduction to the Old Testament book of Daniel, dealing with its original setting and context, the theme of the book, basic commentary on each story and vision, and contemporary applications.

Most of us who have read the Old Testament book of Daniel the prophet find we can make pretty good sense out of the first six chapters, which are narratives. It is the last six which are more problematic, consisting of visions with all sorts of strange beasts, divine figures coming on the clouds, and future kings.

Tremper Longman III does for Daniel what he has done in other books in his How to Read series. Without getting engaged in highly technical commentary with extensive introduction, he introduces the reader to the original setting of Daniel, and then offers a concise commentary of the book, offering the thoughtful lay reader enough to study Daniel for oneself, or with a group.

He introduces the context of Babylonian oppression of Israel including Daniel and his companions and the structure of the book, noting the chiasm of chapters 2-7, the six stories and four visions of which the book consists, and the shifts between Hebrew and Aramaic in the book. He reviews the story of Israel, exile and the succession from Babylonian to Persian, and eventually Greek empires significant to understanding the book. The author takes a more traditional position of Daniel as a sixth century BCE rather than second century BCE work, and for the real possibility of predictive prophecy.

He then works through the book chapter by chapter. He does alter the order slightly, looking first at stories of court contest in Daniel 1 and 2, and 4 and 5, and then stories of court conflict in Daniel 3 and 6. Then he moves on to the four visions in Daniel 7, 8, 9, and 10-12. Longman sees all this material held together by a primary theme “that in spite of present difficulties, God is in control, and he will have the final victory.” In each section, he shows how the material develops that theme. He also notes a secondary theme, that “God’s people can survive and even thrive in the midst of a toxic culture.” We witness this repeatedly throughout the book as people live faithfully and experience God’s provident care, whether in superior abilities to interpret dreams or deliverance from fiery furnaces and lions’ dens.

He concludes the book with discussion of what it means to live in a toxic culture where we cannot force the government to act like the church, providing a basis for a far more nuanced political theology than we customarily encounter. He also explores what it means to find comfort in God’s ultimate victory that begins with the recognition of the real existence of a battle between good and evil operating behind many of the conflicts we face in the world today. There may be real instances where we need to stand against evil, and this may even cost our lives. Likewise we need to be attentive to the war within, finding courage to stand against both external and internal evils, the systemic and the personal, in view of the victory of God portrayed in the visions.

This is a great resource for an adult ed class studying Daniel, as well as a personal devotional study. Each chapter includes a few reflection questions helping connect specific content to the larger themes of Daniel. Commentary recommendations will help the person know where to look who wants to dig deeper. This is a sound work of introduction and interpretation that I would recommend as a great first book on Daniel.

________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: With the Clouds of Heaven

With the Clouds of Heaven

With the Clouds of Heaven (New Studies in Biblical Theology), James M. Hamilton, Jr. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: A true study of the biblical theology of Daniel, including its structure, key themes, how the book influences both early Jewish literature and the New Testament, and how it connects to key themes throughout scripture.

In this book, James M. Hamilton, Jr. sets out to give us an evangelical biblical theology of the book of Daniel. He begins by assuming a canonical approach to the book of Daniel, that Daniel would have had access to most of the works that preceded his, and he contends, against a significant part of the scholarly community for dating Daniel in the exile, and not in the Maccabean period of the second century B.C.

Working from these assumptions then, Hamilton sets out first to consider Daniel’s contribution to the Old Testament picture of the history and future of the world, which is one that reflects the literary structure of exile and return, with the critical piece of the four kingdoms, the coming of the Son of Man, and the end of days including the 70 weeks. He considers the visions of Daniel 2-4, 7-8, and 10-12 and their meaning, the beastly powers that attempt to stamp out the people of God against which the faithful are to stand in hope. He then discusses the seventy weeks, with the persecution of the faithful and the ultimate victory of the son of man. With that he turns to the various heavenly figures throughout Daniel and considers which may be equated with the son of man, and actually determines that none can be definitively equated with him.

Chapters 7 to 9 then explore how the book of Daniel influenced early Jewish literature, the New Testament other than Revelation, and finally the use of and fulfillment of Daniel in Revelation. Hamilton argues that not only the language but also the structure of Revelation parallels that of Daniel.

I thought the final chapter the most interesting as Hamilton considers Daniel as part of the big story of all of scripture, considering the parallels of Daniel with Joseph in Egypt, Nehemiah, Esther, Jehoiachin, and finally Jesus. Daniel’s life is a type as intercessor, one who “rises from the dead” and his message with the four kingdoms, during the last of which the kingdom of the son of man comes, in the sixty ninth week, as it were. Hamilton sees the seventieth week as divided into the first half, a long period of growth and witness, and a final tribulation the last three and a half days (a shorter time he argues) before the final victory of the son of man and the resurrection of the dead.

Whether or not one agrees with all of Hamilton’s conclusions, what is most valuable in this book is the careful work in the structure and theology of Daniel, the appropriation of Daniel in later literature, and the place of Daniel within the canon of Scripture. Furthermore, Hamilton draws out Daniel’s vision of history that is of great encouragement to faithfulness as kingdom advance is met with beastly resistance and brutal opposition. Daniel’s faithful witness and prophetic word call us to a faithful witness that looks one way or the other to the Lord for deliverance from the lion’s mouth, and for the final restoration of all things.

This is a wonderful resource for the student of scripture who wants to understand more deeply the inter-textual connections between Daniel and the rest of scripture. It is a valuable resource to those who would teach or preach this book and a good complement to any commentary in understanding the “big picture” of Daniel.