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Daniel 7:1-28 Part I

In an earlier lesson we examined 7:1-8 and the vision of the four sea beasts. Our approach in this and the subsequent lesson will be more topical in nature. We will first focus on the identity of the Ancient of Days, the Son of Man, and the angelic interpretation of Daniel's visions. In the second part of our study on Daniel 7 we will look at the relation of the Messianic kingdom to that of the fourth beast and little horn, the identity of the little horn, and the reference to the duration of the little horn's dominion as 'a time, times, and half a time (7:25). The structure of Daniel 7 is easily seen: there is a prologue (7:1), followed by the visions (7:2-14), their interpretation (7:15-27), and an epilogue (7:28). The section containing the interpretation also contains the personal reaction of Daniel (7:15-16,19-22).

A.             Prologue 7:1

B.             Visions 7:2-14

1.              the sea beasts 7:2-8

2.              the Ancient of Days - 7:9-10

3.              parenthesis: judgment of the sea beasts 7:11-12

4.              the Son of Man 7:13-14

C.             Interpretation 7:15-27

1.              personal reaction of Daniel 7:15-16,19-22

2.              angelic interpretation 7:17-18,25-27

D.            Epilogue - 7:28


The Ancient of Days

The description in vv. 9-10 of the Ancient of Days (AD) is one of the most awesome and awe-inspiring portraits of God anywhere in Scripture. In contrast with the chaotic waters of the great sea (v. 2) and its bestial inhabitants, there appears in the calm of heaven He in whom all authority and power reside. A multitude of thrones are set up, for whom or what we do not know. Are they for the Son of Man, the angels (cf. Rev. 4:4ff), glorified men, the Triune God, or is 'thrones simply a plural of majesty? In the midst of this regal setting the AD is enthroned. The title 'Ancient of Days is literally 'one advanced in days, very old. It is a finite, but vivid portrayal of his eternal longevity, the everlasting and unending life and power that He is.

'But the Lord abides forever; He has established His throne for judgment (Ps. 9:7).

'The Lord sat as King at the flood; yes, the Lord sits as King forever (Ps. 29:10).

'Before the mountains were born or you gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God (Ps. 90:2).

'Your throne is established from of old. You are from everlasting (Ps. 93:2).

"In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end" (Ps. 102:25-27).

'Behold God is exalted, and we do not know Him; the number of His years is unsearchable (Job 36:26).

His appearance as an 'old man is designed to inspire veneration and conveys the impression of dignity and gravity.

Just a note in passing: the oft-heard allusion to God as 'the man upstairs is a far cry from what Daniel is describing. Daniel's imagery is designed to evoke awe and reverence and wonder, whereas 'the man upstairs is a rather flippant and derogatory reference to God that diminishes his transcendent majesty.

This image is heightened by his vesture (robe) of shining white, an indication of the unsullied majesty by which he is characterized. His hoary (white or grayish) hair points to purity, righteousness, and truth (Isa. 1:18; Rev. 1:14; 19:8,11). Inasmuch as the proper element of Deity is fire with its effluence of light (Exod. 3:2; Deut. 4:24; 33:2; Ps. 50:3; 97:1-4; Isa. 30:27-28; Mal. 3:2; 1 Tim. 6:18; Heb. 12:29), he and the throne on which he sits are wholly engulfed in flames. Keil comments:

'Flames of fire proceed from His throne as if it consisted of it, and the wheels of His throne scatter forth fire. One must not take the fire exclusively as a sign of punishment. Fire and the shining of fire are the constant phenomena of the manifestation of God in the world, as the earthly elements most fitting for the representation of the burning zeal with which the holy God not only punishes and destroys sinners, but also purifies and renders glorious His own people. . . . The fire-scattering wheels of the throne show the omnipresence of the divine throne of judgment, the going of the judgment of God over the whole earth. The fire which engirds with flame the throne of God pours itself forth as a stream from God into the world, consuming all that is sinful and hostile to God in the world, and rendering the people and the kingdom of God glorious (230).

This fire, says Montgomery, symbolizes the 'irresistibility of the divine energy (298). The fire, says Archer, 'not only represents the blindingly brilliant manifestation of God's splendor but also the fierce heat of his judgment on sin and on all those opposed to his supreme authority (89).

What possibly could a 'river of fire (v. 10) be or look like? Flowing flames! A stream of never ending lava-like energy! The presence of fire is more than simply background or attendant circumstances to God's authority. The fire must itself be an expression of the character of God, his personality, his all-consuming passions.

An innumerable throne of celestial beings, like courtiers surrounding an earthly potentate or armies drawn up in divisions await his call and do his bidding (cf. Deut. 33:2; 1 Kings 22:19; Ps. 68:17; Zech. 14:5). The books are opened (Exod. 32:32; Ps. 69:28; Isa. 4:3; Ps. 139:16; Dan. 12:1; Mal. 3:16-17; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8). The Ancient of Days in all his resplendent brilliance prepares to pass judgment (1 Kings 22:19-22; Pss. 50 and 82; Joel 3:2-17).

We should not forget that in Rev. 1:13-16 the characteristics of the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man coalesce and converge in the person of Jesus Christ!

The Son of Man

Where did the imagery of the 'Son of Man (SM) come from? Many have been inclined to find the source or origin in parallel descriptions contained in Babylonian, Egyptian, Iranian, Hellenistic, and Gnostic literature. For a complete analysis and refutation of these theories, see Arthur J. Ferch, The Son of Man in Daniel Seven (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1983), pp. 40-77. A stronger, but still unconvincing case, is presented by John J. Collins who believes Daniel drew upon Canaanite mythology.

The juxtaposition of the two heavenly figures of the AD and the SM riding on the clouds is most satisfactorily explained, says Collins, as derived from a Canaanite myth in which Baal, who is often called 'rider of the clouds, approaches the venerable El. El, the father of gods and men, is depicted as a venerable white-haired old man. The goddess Asherah addresses him: 'Thou art great, O El, verily thou art wise, thy hoary beard indeed instructs Thee.

Collins also points out that in one Ugaritic text El is called abu shanima, a phrase that is most plausibly interpreted as 'father of years and suggests that El is indeed the prototype for the Ancient of Days. Collins says that Baal's adversary in one cycle of the Ugaritic myths was Yamm or Sea, who was associated with a dragon and a seven-headed serpent. In Daniel 7 the 4 beasts come up out of the sea. They are most likely chaos monsters, analogous to the sea dragons and serpents of the myth. In light of these alleged parallels, Collins insists that Daniel derived his imagery from the Canaanite myths (see his Daniel, 77-78; Apocalyptic Imagination, 81-83; Apocalyptic Vision, 100-01).

Without denying the existence of these 'parallels in ancient literature, what possible explanations are there for them other than derivation? . . .

It is far more likely that Daniel drew upon familiar biblical imagery:

*          the Messiah points of similarity include the receiving of dominion, glory, and the kingdom; the worship of all peoples; the eternal character of his kingdom; both the SM and the Messiah share their rule with the saints; etc.

*          son of man in Job 15:14-16; 25:4-6; Ps. 8:4; 80:17.

*          the 'likeness as it were of a human form in Ezek. 1:26-28 (although in Ezekiel the one so described is Yahweh, i.e., the Ancient of Days.

*          a heavenly figure or angelic being such as either Michael or Gabriel (cf. Dan. 8:15,16; 9:21; 10:5,16,18; 12:6,7; and 10:13,21; 12:1).

In determining the identity of the Son of Man in Daniel 7 we need to take note of several defining characteristics.

(1)           The phrase 'with the clouds of heaven In the OT and NT 'clouds are often used when referring to the appearance or intervention of Yahweh on behalf of his people or in judgment. For example,

*          the 'pillar of cloud' in the wilderness wanderings (e.g. Exod. 13:21-22; 14:19-20,24; 33:9; Ps. 78:14; 99:7);

*          the cloud in which Yahweh descended or hovered over the tabernacle (Exod. 34:5; 40:34-38; Num. 9:15-22; Deut. 31:15);

*          the cloud associated with the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11; Ezek. 10:3);

*          the cloud in Ezekiel's vision (Ezek. 1:4,28);

*          the clouds associated with eschatological theophanies (Isa. 4:5; Ezek. 30:3; Joel 2:2; Nahum 1:3; Zeph. 1:15).

See also Isa. 19:1; 2 Sam. 22:12; Job 22:14; Ps. 68:34; 104:3; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Rev. 1:7.

(2)           What is meant by his 'coming? Is this an ascent of the SM from earth to heaven or a descent from heaven to earth, or neither? Ferch comments:

'The notion of descent seems to have been inspired by the NT picture of Christ's parousia and the final judgment on earth. Since neither ascent to heaven nor descent to earth by the Danielic figure can be deduced from the Danielic text both notions should be set aside. Instead, the presence of the Ancient of Days, the throne which he occupies, and the myriads of attendants suggest a heavenly location for this scene and the coming of the manlike being to the Ancient of Days delineates movement in the heavenly sphere. Hence, the coming with the clouds and the sphere in which the approach takes place seem to point to the celestial nature of the Son of Man (166-67).

(3)           Daniel's figure is 'like a Son of Man, i.e., although similar to, yet different from, and possibly more than, a man. The beasts have certain resemblances to ordinary animals. They are more like a lion, bear, and leopard than anything else, but are not precisely those animals themselves. Similarly, the figure in v. 13 bears resemblances to a man but exhibits differences also. It is not a man, but one like a man. The word 'like draws attention to the similarity or imperfect resemblance between that which is seen in the vision and that to which it is likened in the real world.

(4)           The Hebrew equivalent to the Aramaic 'son of man occurs 107x in the OT. It is literally, '(a) son of man(kind). It is found 93x in Ezekiel and once in Daniel in reference to Daniel himself. It occurs 13x in solemn and poetic contexts (Num. 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Pss. 8:5; 80:17; 146:3; Isa. 51:12; 56:2; Jer. 49:18,33; 50:40; 51:43).

Simply put, it means a single man or person within the species or race; hence, it is synonymous with 'man. Literal translations are 'one like a man, 'one like a human being, 'one who resembles a human being, or 'one in human likeness. It should also be noted that the phrase is not employed in the vision as a title. It is a figurative portrayal, a descriptive model.

(5)           The Son of Man is subordinate in some sense to the Ancient of Days. The SM is ushered into the presence of the AD. It is the AD who judges and in whose presence is the angelic host. It is evidently from the AD that the SM receives his dominion and kingdom.

(6)           In biblical Aramaic outside of Daniel 7 the term 'serve (v. 14) designates 'religious service or 'worship or 'veneration of either the God of Israel or pagan deities (Dan. 3:12,14,17,18,28; 6:16,20; Ezra 7:24). In Daniel 7 it occurs twice (vv. 14b,27c). In these texts it means 'religious worship (note the doxological refrain in v. 14 which is reminiscent of 4:3b; 4:34b; 6:26b).

So, who or what, then, is the Son of Man? Theories:

(1)           The theory dominant among critical scholars is that the Son of Man is a collective symbol for the people of Israel.

(2)           Another widely held view is that the Son of Man is a heavenly angelic being of some sort. Most often the SM is identified with either Michael or Gabriel.

Both of these views often appeal to v. 18 and the 'saints of the Highest One. In v. 18 the 'saints are said to receive the kingdom whereas in v. 14 it is the Son of Man to whom the kingdom is given. Therefore, the two must in some sense be referring to the same entity or being. Those who believe the SM is a collective symbol for Israel point to the fact that 'saints or 'holy ones is used in Ps. 34:9 for the people of Israel. Furthermore, in Dan. 7:21,25 the 'saints are oppressed and persecuted by the little horn, something not possible of angels.

Some of those who believe the SM is an angelic being point out that in the great majority of cases in the OT 'saints = angelic beings. Therefore, the SM represents the archangel Michael (or Gabriel) who in v. 14 receives the kingdom on behalf of his host of holy ones (v. 18). To the objection that the 'saints cannot be angels because of 7:21,25, the answer given is Dan. 8:10; 11:36.

(3)           The third and final theory is that the Son of Man is the Messiah. In support of this appeal is made to what we have already seen to be true of the 'clouds, the 'dominion/kingdom given to him, the 'worship/service rendered by all peoples, and of course the fact that in the NT Jesus applied this descriptive phrase to himself and used it as a messianic title. On this latter point, see especially Mark 14:61-62.

The phrase 'Son of Man occurs 81x in the gospels, 69 of which are in the Synoptics. It is always on Jesus' lips or on the lips of those who are quoting him (Lk. 24:7; John 12:34). Also see Acts 7:56; Rev. 1:13; 14:14. Not all of Jesus' uses point to Daniel 7. Some simply imply frailty, suffering, true humanness (cf. Mt. 9:1-8). But by and large there can be no mistaking the fact that when Jesus referred to himself as 'the Son of Man he meant 'that same one 'like a son of man' foretold in Daniel 7:13.

In order to determine the identity of the 'saints in v. 18 we should note the following characteristics:

*          They belong to God ('of; v. 18).

*          They are characterized by 'holiness (v. 18).

*          They suffer intense persecution and oppression from the little horn (vv. 21,25).

*          They receive an eternal kingdom (vv. 18,22,27).

*          Judgment is passed in favor of them (i.e., they are vindicated), or, judgment is given to them (i.e., they become judges) (v. 22).

The differences between the SM and the saints seem to rule out their being identical:

*          The saints are a collective unit of terrestrial or earthly beings (v. 27) whereas the SM is a transcendent individual.

*          While the saints are human beings, the Danielic figure resembles a human being.

*          The SM is cast in a heavenly, royal setting. The saints are cast among earthly powers.

*          The SM receives his dominion in heaven. The saints receive theirs under the whole heaven on earth (v. 27).

*          Nowhere is the SM presented as persecuted, oppressed, and suffering.

*          Nowhere is the SM presented as being vindicated or judged or passing judgment.

The only real similarity between the two is that both receive dominion and a kingdom. But this may well be due to the fact that the SM shares his kingdom rule with those who are his faithful people. In other words, there is indeed a solidarity or community of interest and privilege between the SM and the saints of the Most High.

In summary, although Ferch sees in the SM more of a parallel with Michael, his comments provide an accurate summation of the evidence. The Son of Man is

'an individual, eschatological, and celestial figure with messianic characteristics. Though he is distinguished by divine attributes, he is distinct from the Ancient of Days, in that he assumes a subordinate role in the presence of the latter. The Son of Man is also a celestial being, yet set apart from the heavenly beings of vs. 10. Finally, while he resembles a human being, he is not one of the terrestrial saints with whom he, nevertheless, shares a perpetual kingdom or kingship and dominion. . . . Within the larger context of the chapter, the 'king' and 'the kingdom,' which had characterized earlier visionary symbols in Dan. 7, find their counterparts in the distinction of Son of Man and saints. However, although distinct, there are significant resemblances between the Danielic figure and God's holy people, for the Son of Man also enjoys a solidarity with the saints in that he shares at the endtime and throughout perpetuity with the saints on earth the kingship he had received from the Ancient of Days (184,192).