The Narrative and Apocalyptic Styles of Daniel 3:25 and 7:13


Introduction

The Book of Daniel is replete with both narrative and apocalyptic passages, and how they relate to the overall message of Daniel will inevitably connect to the soteriological framework of the Biblical message.  Daniel, a Jewish exile in Babylon who was elevated to positions under governments like Nebuchadnezzar’s and Darius the Mede, chronicled his ascension into nobility juxtaposed against doctrinal depths that many Jews and Christians for thousands of years have used to encourage others and themselves in times of need.  In addition, Daniel recorded a number of visions he received from God about the outcome of the exile, the fate of the nation and world empires, as well as the eschatological and soteriological hope in the Messiah.

Daniel 3:25 – Narrative

“He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

In the third chapter of Daniel, following Nebuchadnezzar’s ominous dream and Daniel the seer’s interpretation of it, the king had an image of gold made for his provincial subjects to worship (3:1-5).  The result for not paying homage to the image was certain death from the “blazing furnace” (3:6) where “temperatures in these kilns could reach as high as 1000 degrees centigrade.”[1]  Out of all the king’s subjects, Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, defiantly refused to worship the image (3:8-14).  King Nebuchadnezzar offered them another chance before he would execute them, however, they faithfully refused again, and the king followed through and had them thrown into the fire (3:15-23). 

What transpired from this point forward can only be deduced as a divine miracle.  Once the men were thrown to their fate, the king noticed a fourth person (3:24-25) in the fire accompanying the unharmed trio of faithful servants.  For Nebuchadnezzar, the fourth man appeared to look like “a son of the gods” (3:25b, ESV) who unequivocally saved the men who were miraculously “unbound” from their restraints, completely unharmed from the effects of the flame.  This fourth man appears to be anthropomorphic, divine, yet appears like a man, rescuing Daniel’s friends from the fire, and who is likely God in the Second Person of the Trinity, later to be known in the first century as the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:1-14).  The phrase “son of the gods” (bar ‘ĕlâhı̂yn; LXX: “like the Son of God”) quickly denotes a divine characteristic, notably salient in the theological framework surrounding the divine council[2] (Psa. 82:1-8, etc.).  The “hidden” aspect of this divine rescuer is also present in 2nd Temple and Rabbinic literature as “the one of the Most High has kept hidden” who will “crown the martyrs in heaven”[3] (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8; Jas. 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4; Rev. 3:11).  This is perhaps what may have been circulating in the apostle Paul’s mind when he said, “we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory,” (1 Cor. 2:7-8; cf. Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26).  Walvoord summarizes, “The second Person is the visible God of the New Testament.  Neither the Father nor the Spirit is characteristically revealed in bodily and visible form.”[4]  Because Christ appeared to Old Testament figures (Gen. 12:7; 16:7; 17:1; 19:1; Jud. 13:2-25; Eze. 9:2-11; 10:2-7; 40:3; Dan. 10:5; 12:6-7), it cogently follows that “the fourth man in the fire was the angel of the Lord, God himself in the person of his Son Jesus Christ,”[5] and His actions in this particular event foreshadows His eschatological and soteriological work in the future (Gal. 1:4; cf. Jude 1:20-23). 

Daniel 7:13 – Apocalyptic

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.”

Daniel has a vision of the coming world empires (7:1-8) juxtaposed against their divine judgement of God (7:9-12).  In verse 13, another character is introduced as one coming “on the clouds of heaven” (7:13a) who was “presented” (7:13b; cf. Psa. 110:1; Heb. 1:5-14) before God.  The “son of man” (kĕbar ’ĕnāš) is given all authority (7:14) over creation (Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:3; cf. redemption in, Rom. 8:20-21) and will come on the clouds of heaven (Dan. 7:13a; cf. Matt. 24:30; seated at God’s right hand, Matt. 26:64), announcing “the Lord’s ascension and entrance into the throne room of God.”[6]  This verse “produces a passage in which a ‘Son of Man’ figure is identified with/as God and receives worship,”[7] a characteristic embodied in “Jesus’ own message”[8] and actualized in His efficacious role, thereby fulfilling the hope of Israel and precluding Gentile inclusion.  Daniel 7:13 is one of the most heralded, Messianic verses in the Old Testament, whereby Jesus Christ referred to Himself as such on many occasions (Matt. 8:20; to forgive sins, 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 40; 24:0; 25:31; etc., see comparisons in the Synoptics), and marks an essential doctrine to the supremacy of Christ.  Jesus Christ is the “son of Man,” and His eschatological and soteriological supremacy holds together a unified church under His regency.

Narrative and Apocalyptic Cohesion in Daniel

Because the overall message in Daniel is centered around apocalypticism,[9] the use of narration becomes a useful tool in conveying the theological hope and doctrines for Israel’s inevitable deliverance and vindication from their foes.  For Christianity, this is even more amicable juxtaposed against the Christological efforts in Jesus as how He reflected on Himself as the appointed Son of Man.  Collins states that:

Apocalypse is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.”[10]

However, the difference between the two are distinct, in that narration is used as a communicative tool documenting a historical setting, whereas apocalyptic genre is what the writer sees and hears often mediated by a divine messenger (מַלְאַךְ – mal-ake).  Yet, just as the preliminary chapters establish that “the power and sovereignty of the Lord and have prepared the way for the prophecies in the latter part.”  Simply put, If God “was able to deliver from the den of lions and from the fire, he also possessed the miraculous ability to predict the future.”[11]  The narrative chapters, although rife with theological doctrine and apocalyptic genre, nevertheless contributes to the following a considerable number of eschatologically, apocalyptic passages that directly deal with the exoneration of Israel from exile (Dan. 9:2; cf. Isa. 44:28: 45:1), the prediction of the coming Messiah (7:13-27; 9:24-27) and the vindication of His followers in the age to come (12:1-2).

Daniel 3:25 and 7:13 and its Cohesion to the message of Daniel

            The fourth man in the fiery furnace is likely the Second Person of the Trinity, who is Jesus Christ, and His promise to never leave or forsake His flock (Heb. 13:5; cf. Matt. 28:20; cf. Deut. 31:6).  The events surrounding Daniel’s friends illuminate God’s steadfast love and protection for those who fear Him (Psa. 6:4; 33:18; etc.; protect, Psa. 20:1; Isa 31:5; Zec. 9:15; etc.).  For Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, martyrdom was simply a vehicle that would eventually lead to vindication and standing firm on God’s promises engulfed their fear of religious persecution and death (Dan. 11:32; cf. 1 Cor. 16:13; Phil. 4:1; 1 Pet. 3:14-17; etc.).   In chapter 7, Daniel depicts the ascension of the son of Man to the Ancient of Days and is given power over all things (vv. 3-14).  He is the object of worship and His kingdom is eternal (Dan. 2:45; cf. Isa 9:6-7).  The Messiah is ‘the’ eschatological figure for pre-Christological Judaism and is the center of hope in the vindication and reunification of Israel under the twelve tribes.  In the midst of the destructive kingdoms chronicled in the vision (vv. 3-8), the hopes of Israel are peripherally actualized in the son of Man’s kingdom (Dan. 2:45; 7:14, 27), and exiles like Daniel, privy to the prophecies surrounding the culmination of Jewish exile (Dan. 9:2; cf. Jer. 29:10), encourages his people that the coming of the Messiah is certain and their hopes can remain steadfast in the midst of injustice.

Conclusion

            Daniel 3:25 and 7:13 are intrinsic to the overall framework of Daniel, by which they both elude to the coming of Jesus Christ and His deliverance of both Jews and Gentiles.  Daniel’s use of narrative and apocalyptic genre to convey this eschatological and soteriological hope for not only Israel, but likewise for those outside of the commonwealth of Israel (Eph. 2:12), clearly shows God as reliable and trustworthy for those who put their faith in Him.  Daniel’s work in his book encourages believers that God’s presence and guidance in believer through His Spirit (John 16:13), in Whom Christians will worship God through the Son of Man, Christ (John 4:24; 14:17), mediator for all (1 Tim. 2:5) sanctifying His people (Heb. 10:14; cf. Rom. 12:1-2), culminating in one’s change from glory into glory (2 Cor. 3:18) into Christ’s presence, now resurrected and glorified, just like our brother (Heb. 2:11) and friend promised (John 15:13-15; cf. Jas. 2:23).

Bibliography

Collins, John J., ed. Apocalypse: The Morphology of a Genre, (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1979).

Hesier, Michael, “What is the Divine Council?” The Divine Council, published Jan. 8, 2015, accessed Sept. 7, 2018, http://www.thedivinecouncil.com

Hesier, Michael, The Unseen Realm, (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2015).

Hurtado, Larry W., How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?  Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2005).

Lahaye, Tim and Hindson, Ed, eds. The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishing, 2004).

Miller, Stephen R., The New American Commentary, An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Volume 18 – Daniel, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998).

Pannenberg, Wolfhart, Jesus-God and Man, 2nd Ed., (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977).

Walvoord, J.F., Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation, (Chicago: Moody Publishing, 1971).


[1] Stephen R. Miller, The New American Commentary, An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Volume 18 – Daniel, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), The Decree, http://www.mywsb.com/reader

[2] Michael Hesier, “What is the Divine Council?” The Divine Council, published Jan. 8, 2015, accessed Sept. 7, 2018, http://www.thedivinecouncil.com ; Michael Hesier, The Unseen Realm, (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2015).

[3] Margaret Barker, The Great Angel, A Study of Israel’s Second God, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1992), 7.

[4] John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord, (Chicago: Moddy Publishers, 1969), 45.

[5] Stephen R. Miller, The New American Commentary, An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Volume 18 – Daniel, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), The Deliverance, http://www.mywsb.com/reader

[6] Tim Lahaye and Ed Hindson, eds. The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishing, 2004), 69.

[7] Larry W. Hurtado, How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?  Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2005), 127.

[8] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man, 2nd Ed., (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), 207.

[9] J.F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation, (Chicago: Moody Publishing, 1971), 145.

[10] John J. Collins, ed. Apocalypse: The Morphology of a Genre, (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1979), 9.

[11] Stephen R. Miller, The New American Commentary, An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Volume 18 – Daniel, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), Daniel’s Night Vision and its Meaning, http://www.mywsb.com/reader