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The Second Riddle: Introduction

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Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​for he is the living God, ​​​​​​​enduring forever; ​​​​​​​his kingdom shall never be destroyed, ​​and his dominion shall be to the end. ​​​​​​​He delivers and rescues; ​​​​​​​he works signs and wonders ​​​​​​​in heaven and on earth, ​​​​​​​he who has saved Daniel ​​​​​​​from the power of the lions.” ​​​So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter. Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it.

Daniel 6:25–7:4

Rewarding Riddles

Few books of the Bible draw as much interest as the Book of Daniel, but most folks would have difficulty expressing why this book fascinates them. Daniel certainly isn’t the only prophetic book of Scripture, and its famous stories have strong competition from other books of the Bible.

Daniel is striking because it’s so different—so “other”—to everything that comes before it. It’s clearly something new yet not the New Testament—a book that bridges the two testaments in a manner that piques our interest and incites our curiosity. This “otherness” not only characterizes the book but also reaches down to its deepest levels. We witnessed this fact in our last series, where we found that the book’s unique bilingual composition is best understood from the perspective of Daniel’s unique ministry to captive Israel and their gentile overlords.

But one doesn’t have to get linguistic to be drawn into the wonder of this remarkable book. In fact, there’s a good chance you have already scratched your head over the question we will be considering in this series.

The Second Riddle: Literature

Do you remember the first time you read through the Book of Daniel? Quick show of hands—how many of you crashed when you got to chapter seven? I know I did! The first six chapters were straightforward stories of heroism and miracles, but then everything changed. Suddenly, Daniel was alone, seeing strange, über-complex visions that seemed totally unrelated to the circumstances around him. What happened?

The Book of Daniel was written in two literary genres, two different kinds of literature. The first half of Daniel consists of six stand-alone stories, each one set in the court of Babylon. These stories of narrative prose repeatedly consist of Hebrew courtiers, their gentile overlord, and a problem that only God can solve. Some scholars classify these stories as court tales, a literary genre that generally features a sovereign and a clever courtier who ensures the king’s safety and success.

The second half of Daniel consists of four sophisticated visions providing copious, yet enigmatic prophecies about the future of Israel, the end of the world, and the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth. Gentile monarchs—major characters in the first half of the book—are little more than time markers in the second half of the book (Dan. 7:1; 11:1–4), nor do we find any significant human characters except Daniel. Instead, these chapters are populated with supernatural characters—angels (Dan. 8:16; 9:21) and even the Lord Jesus (Dan. 10:5–7)—and feature visions that foretell events that would not be fulfilled for centuries to come. Daniel 7–12 is often referred to as apocalyptic literature, a distinct genre best represented by the New Testament Book of Revelation.

Genre Problems

It all seems pretty clear: two genres, two sections—no problem, right? Well, not really:

  1. For one thing, it is an odd combo. The joining of upbeat short stories with austere apocalyptic visions creates a contrast that is meant to be noticed. Can you think of anywhere in the Bible where we are given such a noteworthy change in genre and style?
  2. We’ve already seen that Daniel is a bilingual composition. What’s fascinating is that its linguistic division overlaps its literary division. In other words, even though the genre and style change dramatically with the opening of chapter seven, the composition is still in Aramaic until chapter eight. Moreover, the content of chapter seven clearly parallels the vision given in chapter two, requiring us to understand the book’s two contrasting halves as forming one collective whole. In other words, one cannot account for Daniel’s contrasting halves by simply assuming that each half was composed at different times by different authors because the first half and the second half are stitched together inseparably in chapter seven.

Over the coming weeks, we will explore Daniel’s two genres and work to understand the “otherness” that makes the Book of Daniel such a compelling piece of divine inspiration.

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