“Is Russia the Beast of Daniel 7?” Such a sermon topic seems to be frequently announced in some churches. Or do we only remember those Sunday School stories about Daniel in the lion’s den, or the three men in the fiery furnace? Is that all there is to the Book of Daniel?
What are the possibilities of preaching from Daniel if we are not sympathetic to millennial prophecy and wish to retreat from frenzied announcements of doom? What other option is there for us other than innocuous stories about superhuman strength? Are we simply to ignore any possibility of preaching from Daniel?
If there were no other choice we might be justified to ignore Daniel. Should any part of the Scriptures be ignored? We do wish to present a well proportioned presentation of the Word of God. Yet the Book of Daniel is so difficult to interpret that we find it easier to preach from other texts. Preaching might improve if we did struggle with difficult texts.
The Common Lectionary, although it attempts to present the full biblical revelation, has only three texts from Daniel in the three-year cycle. One text, Daniel 12:1-3, is listed to be used on Easter evening in all three years of the lectionary cycle. Another, Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18, is a reading for All Saints Day in Year C. Only the third choice, Daniel 7:9-14, is placed in a typical setting, being suggested for a Sunday late in the Pentecost season in Year B.
These texts do deserve our attention. Those who follow the lectionary texts for preaching, however, may escape dealing with any text from Daniel at all. Few of us will observe All Saints Sunday, even once in three years. Many of us will not have an Easter evening service. That leaves only one text. With other readings for that Sunday it is easy to choose one from the Gospels or the Letters.
Jesus refers to Daniel as one of the prophets in Matthew 24:15. Much of the teaching of Jesus about the coming end of history is clearly based on concepts in Daniel. The title most preferred by Jesus, Son of Man, is also based on the insights of Daniel. If this Old Testament book is so important to Jesus’ teachings, then it should have an important place in our preaching.
The understandings of Daniel which we find in the Church Fathers, even in the commentaries of Luther and Calvin, are so different from our world view that they are often ignored. A recent edition of Luther’s works omits much of his commentary on Daniel.
Several resource books will help us in our study of Daniel. The materials written by Arthur Jeffery and Gerald Kennedy in The Interpreter’s Bible, volume VI, is helpful although much of the exposition is dated. The commentary by D. S. Russell in the Daily Study Bible Series is highly readable and has much the same flavor as the New Testament series by William Barclay. One of the most useful recent books for the preacher is the study by W. Sibley Towner in the Interpretation series.
Among the issues for a study of Daniel are the variety of languages, the historical period, and the nature of the book. Our preaching will depend upon our interpretation of each issue. Daniel was clearly preserved in three languages. Chapters 1, and 8-12 were Hebrew documents, while Chapters 2-7 are in Aramaic. There are additions to the Book of Daniel preserved only in Greek. Some feel that each language represents the period for the development of that portion of the book. For them the Book of Daniel is a compilation of writings from three periods of history. Daniel is not a tapestry like the Pentateuch, but a compilation in such a view.
Among Jewish editions of the Old Testament, Daniel has been placed among the Prophets, and later among the Writings. If Daniel is properly a prophetic book, then one group of principles is important for its interpretation. If Daniel is a “wisdom writing” instead, another set of principles should be used in explaining it.
Was Daniel written during the Babylonian exile? Or, is it a document which comes from the time of the Maccabees, late in Old Testament history? The date one assigns to Daniel affects the interpretations which can be given to it.
A study of Daniel can provide us with several sermon possibilities not limited to moralistic stories or frantic predictions of doom. In addition to discovering what one writer referred to as “a tract for tough times,” we may discover texts and topics that speak to us even in the midst of ease and abundance.
Four such possibilities are:
I. Daniel: The Folk Hero
Sermons on an entire book are possible, and often helpful to many hearers whose understanding of the Bible is limited. A portrait of a prophet and seer who is faithful in difficult circumstances is a message for our time as well as for the Old Testament one. We would not be able to present much biographical background, but the images of Daniel in the book itself indicate one who relies on God, listens to God, seeks God, and obeys God. Our prophet lives a life of faith when it is easier to be unfaithful.
II. The Prayers of Daniel
The prayer of Daniel in 9:4-19 could be the basic illustration, but there are other references to prayer in the book. Prayer is a means for receiving the wisdom of God which makes Daniel acceptable in Babylonian society. The ability to interpret dreams is not a human skill, but a divine gift bestowed through prayer. The issue about worship in chapter 6 underlines the importance of prayer. Daniel continues to pray according to his custom, despite the edict of the king. Daniel 6:10 contains the phrase: “… and prayed … as he had done previously.”
Another use of prayer is illustrated in chapter 4 when Nebuchadnezzar, stricken by the curse of God and living like an animal, is restored to his throne when he “lifted his eyes to heaven” (Daniel 4:34).
III. Obedient to the Highest Power
Paul defended himself by saying, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Ads 26:19). Another theme in Daniel is obedience despite the circumstances.
Daniel and his companions would not eat the rich food of the king. This act was an act of obedience, not rebellion. Asked to interpret the dreams of the king on two occasions, Daniel says that he does not wish to offer a word of doom; however, he must speak God’s revealed truth. When Darius the Mede decrees that all must pray only to him for thirty days, the opponents of Daniel report to the king his disobedience of continuing to pray to his God. There is a pattern in Daniel for civil disobedience informed by the faithful conscience.
IV. The Kingdoms of This World
In Daniel the kingdoms of this world exist by the decree of God. Daniel and those who are faithful can live in both the kingdom of this world, being obedient to the Lord of Heaven, and at the same time live as the saints of the Most High, citizens of a heavenly kingdom. The power of God revealed in the events reported by Daniel is described by the words of the New Testament, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Revelation 11-15).
The Book of Daniel can be a source for sermons that will focus on today’s world, that will be more than shouts of doom or moralistic stories. The Book of Daniel is more than a distant hope and simplistic idealism. Sermons based on the book will be more as well.

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