3 Reasons to Preach through Daniel
The book of Daniel isn’t about Daniel. The book of Daniel is about Daniel’s God. If what you’ve taught or learned from this soaring book is that you should “dare to be a Daniel,” then I’m afraid you entirely missed the point.
This book is more than a hero tale that inspires us to live a courageous life for God amid hard circumstances. If we preach the book like this, then the sovereign, destiny-determining God of Daniel is ironically swept to the side.
Nonetheless, this book deserves a place in your preaching schedule. And I don’t mean just the first six chapters—you know, the ones with the masterfully narrated stories. Preaching Daniel also means digging into the seemingly strange visions of the final six chapters. Throughout the whole book, we meet the Most High God who is sovereignly ruling over the kings and kingdoms of human history until the Messianic Son of Man consummates history and brings his people into the everlasting Kingdom of God.
Consider with me several reasons why your church should hear from this faithful prophet of old.
1. Daniel teaches Christians to be faithful where they are planted.
The book tragically begins with King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquering Judah and taking Daniel and his three friends (and the temple vessels) into exile (1:1–7). From the beginning, Daniel makes clear that this is not a conflict between two peoples but between false gods and the true God. Babylon seeks to remake Daniel and his friends into its image, immersing them in their language and literature, dictating their diet, and giving them new Babylonian names that reflect the gods of their new land (1:4–7). In Babylon, God’s people face complete cultural and theological domination.
And yet, Daniel doesn’t wage a culture war because he understands that while he may be in exile, his God is not. Daniel lives in faith where God has placed him, being conformed to his God not those of Babylon. In fact, at the end of chapter 1, we learn that Daniel remained in Babylon for over 70 years, until the first year of King Cyrus. That’s seven decades of quiet faithfulness, of disciplined resistance to loving this world and its passing desires, of a long obedience in the same direction and in a land completely hostile to Yahweh. Don’t our people need to catch a vision of that kind of discipleship?
Daniel has a word for exiled Christians: we must take the long view in the lands where God has planted us. Whether we’re citizens of the country in which we currently live or not, our true citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), and we’re to live out our earthly citizenship in light of our heavenly one. Daniel teaches us that God’s purposes are long, and we should trust him, confident that he will use our ordinary faithfulnesses in more extraordinary ways than we can see or imagine.
Too often, when we think of Daniel we think of the heroic moments, and in the process overlook thousands of ordinary, unseen moments in which he chose faithfulness over folly. So it must be for God’s people today as we live in exile, precisely where God has placed us.
2. Daniel exposes the folly of idolatry.
From the great statue of gold that Nebuchadnezzar set up (3:1, 2, 3, 5, 7) to King Darius’ proclamation that he alone be petitioned as the sole mediator between the people of his realm and the gods (6:6–9), Daniel teaches us that idolatry is folly. Either for glory or destruction, we become what we worship (12:2–3). In this book filled with visions of beasts who will rule empires throughout history, Daniel makes plain that those who worship the beast will become like beasts themselves (4:28–33). It is not the fleeting kings of this world whose word stands but the Most High God who rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will (4:32; 7:23–27; 9:18–26; 11:2–45; 12:2–3).
In a world filled with false gods made by human hands, Daniel reveals that it is the God who is not made by human hands who alone is worthy of worship (2:45; 8:25). Until Babylon falls, God’s people will be enticed by idols and need to see idolatry in all its folly. Daniel shows us that no matter how alluring idols are, they’re empty. And that’s a message our churches need continually to hear.
3. Daniel upholds the sovereign God who reigns over everything.
In Daniel, we meet the God who rules over everything so that all will know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he wills (4:25). Whether it’s Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams in chapters 2 and 4, or the confidence that undergirds Daniel’s prayers in chapters 2 and 9, Daniel reveals to us that God is sovereign over everyone and everything. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings (2:21).
This God evokes such confidence in his people that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could extol his sovereign power to deliver them from the fiery furnace (3:17) while at the same time confidently say, “But if not . . . we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up” (3:18). The God of Daniel is not made with human hands, and he cannot be thwarted by the idols that are.
For all the varied and even strange interpretations that the visions of the last six chapters have yielded, what cannot be mistaken is that they are screaming: “The true God reigns!” In the end, it will not be Babylon or Persia or the United States or any other kingdom that stands. No, no—dominion, glory, and the kingdom will be given to one like a son of man, and all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him (7:13–14).
Our people need to hear this. While we all live in and love various earthly kingdoms, we do so best when we love them in light of our eternal king and his eternal kingdom. Human history will be characterized by the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms, but there is one king who rules over them all, and his kingdom is forever (chs. 7 – 12). Isn’t that good news for God’s people in a world that continually offers lesser kings and kingdoms?
Far from being an irrelevant book that’s unhinged from the eschatological vision of the New Testament, Daniel undergirds and enhances it. Daniel speaks to God’s exiled people today (1 Peter 1:1) who still wait for a better king and better kingdom.
Until our years of exile end, we will be people who live and wait in faith. Thankfully, Daniel gives us rock-solid confidence that our God is bringing every one of his purposes to pass. So, pastors, preach this book! Preach all of it. And be confident that your people need to behold Daniel’s God and faithfully live in light of his sovereign power just as much in our day as they did in Daniel’s.
I loved Andrew Steinmann’s commentary. Written from an amillennial viewpoint, Steinmann helpfully addresses major issues in the book. Steinnman is a Lutheran, so he sees law/gospel distinctions everywhere. But this is a thorough commentary that is very useful for preachers.
Read Jim Hamilton’s, With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology, before you preach this book. If you can’t, consult it while preaching though it. Hamilton sets the prophesied kingdoms in their biblical-theological frameworks and shows how the Spirit-inspired New Testament writers unpack this book. He also gives much-needed help as you work through the difficult 70 weeks of Daniel 9. Hamilton will help you see the big picture and the gloriously rich biblical-theological themes that pervade the book of Daniel.
For a different view of the seventy weeks in Daniel 9, I suggest reading Peter Gentry’s, “Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and the New Exodus” in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.
E.J. Young’s, The Prophecy of Daniel, is a classic and well worth using. It’s not as filled out as Steinmann’s and is considerably shorter, but it helpfully breaks down difficult passages and contains a number of solid gold nuggets.
Both Iain Duguid (Reformed Expository Commentary) and Dale Ralph Davis (Bible Speaks Today) have compiled the sermons they preached through Daniel, which may help you with categories of application that you missed.
I am indebted to both Greg Beale and Jim Hamilton for their writing on this topic. See G.K. Beale. We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008) and Jim Hamilton. With Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology in New Studies in Biblical Theology ed. D.A. Carson (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2014).
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Editor’s note: You can read the rest of the articles in this series here.