Daniel 9-12: A Prayer, A History, A Vision of the Future

Daniel begins chapter nine with a reference to the prophet Jeremiah. There are two interesting things about this. The first has to do with how we date the book of Daniel. This is one of the very few places where a biblical text from the Hebrew Bible refers to another biblical text. New Testament writers often appeal to the Hebrew Bible, which had taken on a fixed, canonical form by then. But the process of canonization was slow enough that Hebrew Bible authors could not refer to earlier sources in this way. It seems unlikely that Jeremiah had already achieved canonical status by the time of the exile, which began within his lifetime. Daniel’s reference to Jeremiah then is yet another indication that the book was written much later the exilic period in which it is set — probably in the mid-second century during or just before the time of the Maccabean revolts. The second interesting thing about the reference to Jeremiah has to do with how malleable the facts of history become in light of Daniel’s theological purpose. Jeremiah predicted a 70-year exile. So, do the math. The exile began in 586 when the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. It ended in 538 when Cyrus decreed that the exiles could return. That’s only 48 years. Let’s try again. Maybe we can start the exile in 597 when the first wave of nobles were sent to Jerusalem. Hmm..still not there. Okay, let’s delay the end of the exile until 520 when reconstruction began on the Temple. Shoot! Now we’re either short by four years or we’ve overshot it by seven. Oh well, it’s in the neighborhood of 70, and that’s such a good number. Let’s just go with it; that’s what Daniel did.

9:4-19 records a prayer of confession. Communal confession was part of the liturgical tradition in Judah and had become especially important in synagogue worship after the destruction of the Temple. If you read this prayer aloud, you’ll recognize the same cadences of speech that we still use in our own prayers of confession. Take note of the following features:
  • v. 4-6 make clear that both the sin and the punishment are communal;
  • v.7 speaks of all those driven away, both the people of Judah and those of the northern tribes; it also gestures toward the diaspora communities that continued long after the exile had ended;
  • v. 11-14 reiterate a theology of retribution that had become prominent during exile. It was most systematically expressed in the works of the Deuteronomistic Historians (DH) who recounted the history of Israel in the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and KIngs. The DH held that God had a made a vassal-suzereignty covenant with Israel. It was an “if-then” contract that promised the protection of God provided that the people remained loyal. The exile was understood as a consequence of breaking the contract. If you want to read a theologian with strong reservations about that theology, take a look at the book of Job.
  • v. 17, the “desolated sanctuary,” refers both to the Temple destroyed by the Babylonians and to the re-built Temple desecrated when the Seleucids filled it with altars to foreign gods;
  • v. 18 expresses a theological conviction that makes the calvinist in me happy: “We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.”
  • Finally, notice the liturgical rhythm of the closing lines: “Oh Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay!”

Gabriel comes at the end of chapter 9 to offer a vision of the times between exile and the rule of the Seleucids. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, “the prince who is to come,” is the one who brings war, makes “sacrifice and offering cease,” and places in the Temple “an abomination that desolates.”

Chapters 10 and 11 recount a complicated history of war between the Ptolomies and the Seleucids after the division of Alexander the Great’s empire. Try not to get lost in the details, but instead notice the overarching theme. Even though kingdoms come and go, even though foreign powers rise and fall, God is in control of history. 
  • Look at the description of Gabriel in 10.5-6. It is reminiscent of the visions of other prophets — like Isaiah and Ezekiel — and later is picked up by apocalyptic authors like John of Patmos in the book of Revelation. No wonder the angel greeted him with “do not fear.” 
  • Apparently war is being waged in heaven even as it is on earth, and Gabriel has left “one of the chief princes,” Michael, to organize the battle while Gabriel comes to earth to sort out Daniel’s visions.
  • Typical of a prophet, Daniel expresses reluctance to take up the prophetic task (10.17).

Here’s the history in a nutshell (don’t sweat the details):
  • 11.1-4, Alexander’s kingdom will be “broken and divided toward the four winds”
  • 11.5-10, the king in the north refers to the Seleucid leader, while the king in the south is a Ptolomaic ruler based in Egypt. Berenice, a daughter of a Ptolemaic ruler, and her children were slaughtered, but her brother (“a branch from her roots,” v. 7) fought to avenge her. 
  • 11.10-13, eventually the Seleucids defeated the Ptolomies and took possession of Judah.
  • 11.14, “the lawless among your own people,” may refer to the powerful families of Judah who were willing to pay bribes to the Seleucids to have their sons chosen for the office of high priest.
  • 11.14-19 accounts for the reign of Antiochus III who tried to make a treaty with the Ptolomies in Egypt by offering his daughter Cleopatra in marriage. The marriage did not work as Antiochus had hoped because he found himself deep in tribute debt after suffering defeat at the hands of the Romans. (Of course, Cleopatra would end up giving the Romans no end of trouble, but that’s a whole other story!)
  • 11.20-28 – at last we arrive at the real bad guy of the story, the villain of Daniel’s own time: The “contemptible person” (v. 21) of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. LIke the Seleucids before him, A IV E could not resist going to war against the Egyptians, and like his predecessors he failed to defeat them on their own turf. 

11.29-39 brings all of this history home to the Jews of Daniel’s own time and to their struggle to figure out how to live under a tyrant who desecrated their Temple and demanded they give up their own religious practices. 
  • Daniel argues that when the “Kittim,” the Romans proved too much for Seleucid forces, that Antiochus turned his wrath on the Jews. Look carefully at v.30b-31 for a list of his evil acts.
  • Now notice three kinds of responses in v. 32-33: there are “people who violate the covenant,” those who “take action,” and “the wise.” These are likely Jews who (1) assimilated and were rewarded for it (see v. 39), (2) took up arms, such as the Maccabean forces, or (3) resisted nonviolently and often suffered the consequences through torture and martyrdom.
  • 11.40-45 – in these verses Daniel moves from an historical account to a prediction. He foretells the end of Seleucid rule.

Meanwhile, back in heaven….
You remember that Gabriel had left Michael in heaven to deal with a celestial war, right? Having put things right in heaven, Michael comes to put things right on earth. Here are some important things to note:
  • You can see here a vision of a cosmic savior that will eventually grow into an expectation of a Messiah who is more than an earthly king. It is precisely this kind of expectation that prepares the way for Christian claims about Jesus. 
  • Notice that this chapter includes one of the earliest biblical claims about a personal afterlife, and it takes the form of resurrection and final judgment.
  • Finally, remember that this promise of resurrection, life everlasting, and final vindication is offer
    ed to those who are being “purified, cleansed, and refined.” That was the same language that Daniel used earlier for the wise ones who suffered martyrdom. Here is a promise that they may not survive the furnace or the lion’s den, but they will nonetheless be restored and vindicated at the end of times.

See you Sunday.


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