How You Can Preach the Purpose and Theology of the Book of Daniel
With so much global uncertainty and unease, it’s easy to forget what the book of Daniel reminds us: God is the King of kings!
Old Testament scholar Wendy L. Widder explores this crucial anthem in her new Daniel commentary (Story of God Bible Commentary series). While Christians have been obsessed with how Daniel reveals end-times events, she argues we’ve often missed its pivotal message—one we need now more than ever:
God is in control, no matter how things look, and his kingdom will one day fill the earth. (14)
Widder explains that this message grows out of the book’s primary theme: the kingdom of God. “The book reveals why God is the king of all kings, and it offers perspective on how citizens of his kingdom should live while they await the full realization of God’s rule on earth” (14).
Sounds like a book ripe for the preaching!
But how can you preach its purpose and theology, and how might both speak prophetically to our day? Keep reading to find out.
The King and His Kingdom
The way Daniel portrays God’s kingship is a bit enigmatic.
On the one hand, “he is the sovereign, eternal king—the king of all kings” (14), which comes through in the use of titles and terms for God, both personal and cosmic. On the other hand, where you would expect his power and wisdom to shine in obvious ways, it doesn’t. In fact, its opening verses would have been interpreted by ancient Near Eastern people “as the weaker God of Israel losing to the stronger god of Babylon” (15).
What we discover, however, is a God who willingly restrains his power, yet remains sovereign. Widder points out that we often seem to believe that God is most glorified when his power is most exercised. Not so, according to Daniel:
The book of Daniel reminds us that, in spite of appearances, the God of Israel is the God of the nations. […] So until his kingdom comes in all its fullness, we trust that he is in control—that he could wipe the planet clean now if he chose, but that in his wisdom he chooses not to. He is all powerful and all wise, despite what the headlines say. (15)
Citizens of the Kingdom—Now and Later
Every kingdom has both a king and citizens. God’s kingdom is no different.
Daniel teaches us how God’s covenant people “live in both exile and expectation, awaiting the unobstructed rule of God on earth” (16). It offers us a window into what it means to live as citizens of God’s kingdom now under conditions in which God’s people both thrive and suffer; it shows us how to live now in light of “future vindication and reward when the kingdom of God is fully realized on earth” (16).
And yet the Israelites aren’t the only people in the book; foreign people “permeate the book of Daniel” (16). In fact, Widder explains “one commentator argues that the entire book of Daniel is ‘an extended theological reflection on the status, purpose and destiny of the Gentiles’ (Wells and Sumner, Esther and Daniel)” (16–17). Meaning: the citizenry of God’s kingdom encompasses both Jews and non-Jews.
All peoples, nations, and languages will together praise the sovereign, eternal king forever. Until then, the citizens of God’s inaugurated kingdom live in both exile and expectation, knowing that no matter how things look, God is in control and his kingdom will most certainly fill the earth at just the right time. (17)
Daniel and the Story of God
How does Daniel fit into God’s broader story? Like every Story of God Bible Commentary, Widder makes plain how each pericope within Daniel, as well as the broader book itself, fits within the whole counsel of Scripture.
After tracing the history of humanity generally and Israel specifically from the fall in Genesis 3 to exile in Daniel 1, Widder offers this explanation:
The book of Daniel […] affirms that God was not done with his people. They may have broken the covenant, but in his faithfulness God would restore them. But the book also reveals that restoration would be much bigger, much further away, and far more complicated than anyone imagined. It would not come apart from great suffering, but when it finally did come, it would be more glorious than they had anticipated. (18)
Daniel, then, is about the specifics of Israel’s story during their exile experience. But it’s bigger than that: it’s about our collective exile—as humans, as the people of God awaiting “that day when the rule of God becomes the reality of the world” (19).
“Although the book is well loved,” says Widder, “it can be difficult to understand” (1). Let her help you unpack its meaning and apply its enduring theology so that you and those you teach can live as citizens of God’s kingdom as you await its full realization on earth. Check out this commentary on Daniel today.