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Chapters 10-12 of Daniel are the most challenging to understand and apply. It is some years later, during the third year of Cyrus – a time when things should be looking up for the Jews, because they have been given permission to return to Judea and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. However, not all the exiles returned, and life was never the same, even in the restored kingdom. These chapters explain what life was like and continues to look like for God’s people. In today’s passage we read the introduction to the vision.
Daniel was in mourning, probably for the sad and sorry state of his original home while he remained in captivity (cf Neh 1). During this time he stood on the banks of the great river, just as Ezekiel had stood 66 years earlier, and saw a terrifying vision of an awesome man. There are so many verbal parallels between Ezekiel’s visions and Daniel’s here that it is impossible to ignore the intentional link. The effect of the vision and accompanying sound was that Daniel fell on his face unconscious, weak with terror, to the ground.
Daniel is touched by a hand, and he is set on his hands and knees, trembling. Presumably the hand belongs to the man, who then speaks kindly, reminding Daniel once again that he is precious to God (cf 9:23), and asking him to understand the words the man is about to speak. Now Daniel is told to stand up, and he obeys, although still trembling. Observe how Daniel has been raised up: from flat on his face, to his hands and knees, to standing (just like Nebuchadnezzar in Chapter 4). The man tells Daniel not to be afraid, because he has come as a result of Daniel’s prayers, and his commitment to understand and humble himself before God.
Skip over verses 13-14 for a moment (we’ll pick them up tomorrow) and look at Daniel’s response in verses 15-17. He still looks to the ground and is mute. But the man touches his lips (cf Is 6:7), and Daniel is able to open his mouth to confess his weakness and anguish (the same word is used repeatedly in Isaiah to describe labour pains). Again the man touches Daniel and he is strengthened. He calls Daniel precious once again, and urges him to be not afraid, to be at peace, to be strong. Daniel feels strengthened and asks the man to speak. But we will hear the content in tomorrow’s reading.
What are we to make of this section? First of all, in its theological and literary framing, we must hear that the author is setting up the following speech in the context of biblical revelation. We have to keep that in mind as we read the next two chapters. He wants us to hear that this word about a great war is true (10:1), and stands in the trusted line of previous scripture. In fact, the word I translate as ‘war’ here is the same word used in Is 40:2, where Isaiah assures Israel that her warfare (NIV = ‘hard service’) is ended; this is important in light of Dan 9:24-27 and how it relates to Chapters 10-12.
Secondly, and perhaps less importantly but more powerfully, the character of Daniel in this chapter reveals something to us about our relationship with God. We sing songs about seeing God face to face, entering his presence, resting in his arms, etc, but let us never lose sight of the reality illustrated in this chapter: God is awesome, and when we really see him we will probably be knocked unconscious. Even so, he is tender and caring, not wanting us to fear, but wanting to strengthen us and have us understand his word. The man in linen (who is not characterized as God himself, yet clearly represents him as a divine being) acknowledges that he has come in response to Daniel’s prayer, commitment, and humility before God. God sees Daniel as precious, desirable, beautiful (it’s the same word used of the fruit in Gen 2:9; 3:6; God’s laws in Ps 19:10; the lover’s shade in Songs 2:3; and for coveting!). God wants to interact with his servants who humble themselves before him.
Prayer: Our God, you are an awesome God, reigning in heaven above. Forgive us for our lack of humility before you, and help us to understand who you truly are. Thank you for your mercy and your desire to have a relationship even with me, that you would deign to reveal yourself and share your word with me.