The casual reader of Daniel will experience a notable difference when one moves from chapter 6 to chapter 7. The first six chapters of Daniel are narrative. They are stories of Daniel and his friends as they interact with the power brokers of Babylon. Daniel and his friends are taken into captivity during the first deportation under Nebuchadnezzar. They are plunged into a life in which they are trying to live faithfully to God while in a foreign land, under a foreign regime. Their ability to impact Babylonian culture for good, while maintaining their distinct faith, become powerful lessons for those of us today who are trying to walk the tightrope between withdraw from, or assimilation into, culture.
However, the narrative takes a turn in chapter 7 when the book of Daniel becomes the genre of apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature involves often strange visions of the future through the lens of signs, symbols, and numbers. It is a means for an oppressed people to speak of a future hope, while everything around them says the future is bleak, and the current ruling party will stay in power. In some ways it is a literature that recognizes the current situation is destructive and the only hope for a changed future is not through traditional means, but through the interaction and intervention of God. Only through God’s direct work, can the present situation be changed.
Daniel finds himself in Babylonian captivity, and while he has personally prospered and risen to great heights within the government, he knows this is not the ideal situation. God’s people are in a foreign land. The Babylonians destroyed the Temple and took the country hostage. Israel is struggling with trying to discern how to worship Yahweh God while living in a foreign land. It is a horrible time; a time of struggle, hurt, and fear. Daniel knows that even with his position of power, he is powerless to change the outcome. If Israel is to be restored to the land, it is only happen through the work of God.
Thus, chapter 7 begins Daniel’s apocalyptic vision of the future. Daniel has a dream and in his dream he sees four separate beasts rising out of the sea. The first was the shape of a lion but with the wings of an Eagle. The second was a bear with three ribs stuck between his teeth who was told to arise and devour many bodies. The third was a leopard with four heads and four wings that was given dominion over the earth. Finally, a fourth beast arose with ten horns and iron teeth that was terrifying, dreadful, and exceedingly strong. Later, the reader will discover that these beasts represent various kingdoms that will arise, but for now they simply stand has horrifying creatures that have been sent to destroy the world. Daniel must be terrified. One after another these beasts come out of the sea to destroy the world. Who can stand up under their power? Who can possibly stop the destruction? Everything seems lost. Death is imminent.
But then Daniel sees another scene, it is the throne room of God and on the throne sits the Ancient of Days. He is surrounded by thousands who are proclaiming his praise. His throne is a fiery flame and he comes to sit in judgment. The beasts, and those with the beasts, are heaping insults on the Ancient of Days, proclaiming their own power and the weakness of the one on the throne. But then, in just an instant, everything is over. “As I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire.” (Daniel 7:11b) The Ancient of Days makes quick work of the beast. The beast seems strong and intimidating (and to us it is), but in the sight of the Ancient of Days, the beast is nothing. With what seems like the snap of a finger, the Ancient of Days dispenses of the beasts and paves the way for God’s glorious kingdom to be revealed. Daniel is letting his readers know that God is over all and controls all. While difficulties may arise, there is nothing to fear. God is in charge.
This is a message we need to hear. We are surrounded daily by beasts that are trying to destroy us. Whether entities as big as governments or corporations, or struggles such as sickness, hunger, and pain, we are often struggling to stay afloat through the storms of life. It is easy to lose hope, especially since the storms are real and destructive. But we must not lose hope; the Ancient of Days is still in charge. That doesn’t mean that our beast will be easily and quickly destroyed. The beasts are real and they will create havoc, sometimes for generations. But their dominion is limited. They will fail. The Ancient of Days will be victorious. The glorious kingdom will be established.
So don’t lose heart. Remain hopeful. Stay strong in the faith. God’s dominance over the beast is assured. The Ancient of Days will be victorious. And we will inherit the Kingdom of God.