Lesson 5 of 5
In Progress

Theological Themes in Daniel

God can deliver—only God

Daniel asserts that God delivers the faithful; even foreign kings make this assertion (for example, Darius in 6:26-27). This affirmation is pushed to the limit in the visions; God must defend the faithful who are not only tested, but explicitly persecuted. The theme “God can deliver” moves to “only God can deliver,” for there is no other escape from the tyranny of the persecutors.

Hubris to blasphemy

The hubris of rulers in the first half of Daniel becomes blasphemy in the latter half. God controls the coming and going of kingdoms in the former, but in the latter the battle becomes cosmic and evil will be finally defeated. In the end, there will be no more imperial coming and going, only the reign of God which will create new life beyond the turmoil of history.

Impermanence: Turnover and turmoil

Each empire and king depicted in the book seeks to establish its permanence, whether through conquest and building (for example, Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4) or through unchangeable laws (Darius in Daniel 6). The quest for permanence is coupled with increased violent domination in the visions in the latter part of the book. The repeated turnover is one sign of the actual impermanence of empires.

Mockery: Faith-filled defiance

The rulers in Daniel 1-6 clearly can threaten harm, but the narratives mock their pretensions. They cannot command mysteries and they often look decidedly “un-royal.” Even their “confessions” about God at the end of episodes have a tone of bombast. Narrating stories of imperial conduct with a mocking tone is one form of defiance to sustain readers under later persecution (Daniel 7-12).

Permanence: Faithful continuity

For those who live within imperial turmoil and persecution a long-range perspective is little comfort; more than a perspective is needed. The violent impermanence of kings must be offset by the permanence of God’s dominion. Permanence comes from the One who is trusted by the faithful; all else has an end. Faith itself is an act of defiance and resistance against imperial presumption and persecution.

Sovereignty of God: Against Israel

The book of Daniel does remember that the sovereignty of God did operate against Israel, not just against Israel’s opponents. Daniel 1:1-2 states that God gave Jerusalem into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, which resonates with the perspective of the book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:9; 27:6). Daniel, in his prayer in 9:4-19, confesses that one dimension of past and continued affliction is punishment for Israel’s lack of fidelity to the covenant. The petition for forgiveness is constant.

Sovereignty of God: Against the nations

The nations relentlessly move toward dominance and thus sooner or later challenge the rule of God. The narratives depict this movement in terms of personal hubris that is both comical and destructive. The visions describe this movement as increasingly violent toward the people of God and explicitly defiant toward God. The former are controlled by God and the latter are defeated by God; rather than a new human kingdom replacing a prior one, the dominion of God is put in place.

Sovereignty of God and human fidelity

The sovereignty of God permeates the book of Daniel. Human fidelity is, of course, expected and commended; Daniel prays to and praises God (for example, 2:17-23; 9:3) as well as reads scripture (9:2), but the decisive acts are those of God. God gives power (for example, 4:17; 5:21), but abusive use of power is constricted. Abusive power is limited and has an end. It will be destroyed by God, not with human power (8:25; see also 4:34; 11:44-45).

Sovereignty of God: Established and promised

The evil that both persecutes the faithful and challenges God directly will be defeated by God and the heavenly hosts that God directly commands. There are narratives of God’s triumph both accomplished, especially in the first half, and promised, increasingly in the latter half. If the book was finalized near 164 B.C.E., it is striking to note that the book does not pick up on the military alternative offered by the Maccabean rebellion.

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