Interpreting the Prophets

By James Luther Mays; Paul J. Achtemeier | Go to book overview

21
The Preacher
in the Lions Den

W. SIBLEY TOWNER

The claims of Daniel upon our world will be kept freshest if we see in
the text paradigms of a consistently renewed experience of the tri-
umph of God's redeeming power over death and corruption.

Settle back in your chair now and let me mix you a metaphor. As a preacher or theologian confronted with the Book of Daniel, you find yourself in a veritable lions' den of difficulties. Frankly, the book is a bearl

The problem is not with the first six chapters, those delightful narratives about Daniel and his heroic Judean friends who carry the fight for true faith in God right to the heart of the courts of Babylon and Persia. Those stories, while fraught with wondrous elements, are properly told as edifying tales. As such, they need pose for the twentieth-century interpreter no overwhelming problems but, in fact, endless delight.

No, the bear is lurking in the second half of Daniel, chapters 7—12. Very simply put, there we have a series of failed apocalypses on our hands.

The problem is familiar, but perhaps it can be freshly illustrated by recourse to a parable of a filmmaker. Let history itself be the scene spread out before the lens, and let the Book of Daniel be the camera. Suppose the filmmaker were to set up the tripod exactly in the space between v. 8 and v. 9 of chapter 7 of Daniel. Pivoting the camera around in one direction, the filmmaker could zoom in effectively on the series of four great beasts as they came up out of the sea (Dan. 7:1-8). Although they would give the film all the bizarre quality of a horror movie—just imagine a lion with eagles wings which was given a man's mind, a bear with three ribs sticking out of its mouth, a leopard with four wings of a bird and four heads, and a terrible beast with iron teeth and ten horns!—the focus nonetheless would be clear. The viewers would know what the cameraman knew, that these beasts represented four great world empires (Dan. 7:17) that had actually arisen within the historical memory of the hasisdim or observant Jews who gave us the Book of Daniel. We would detect that we were looking at Babylon, Media, Persia, and the Hellenistic empire founded in the east by Alexander

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