For Jews living in Exile and captivity, these chapters contain both challenges and comforts. The same applies to God’s people today. The challenge is about holding fast to faithful witness in face of the threats and seductions of imperial and idolatrous culture. The comfort is in knowing that God has the last word over all the developments of history, even that he is using them for the victory and glorification of his suffering people. There is further comfort in being reminded that the divine or semi-divine emperors really have no clothes; they are mortal, fallible and even crazy, like the rest of us (Daniel 3). Their pretenses to heroic and divine power and nature are part of their craziness. There is no independent historical verification of Nebuchadnezzar having been absent from the throne for seven years due to insanity, but this is not the kind of thing that despots want on their official record. “Seven years” may be a symbolic reference to time, common to the Bible, that denotes completion, or fullness. There is independent record of his son, Nabodnidus’ seven year absence, in the deserts of Arabia, and he may be the one known by his father’s title. His son, Belshazzar, presided over the fall of his father’s empire to the Medes and Persians, in the scene (chapter 5) from which we get the phrase, “seeing the handwriting on the wall,” not usually a happy event.
Daniel’s confrontation with the powers-that-be in chapter 6, leading to his night in the lion’s den, is a reminder to all of us about one very important purpose of aging. He was probably pushing 80 when it happened (The Medo-Persian alliance came to power 60 years after Daniel’s capture). We who have been blessed with long lives must especially be willing to lay them on the line for the sake of the following generations. Had Daniel folded and hidden his faith, the impact on the generation of returnees would have been devastating. Even had he died, his courage would have been as fruitful for others.
The remaining chapters give us a God’s-eye symbolic view of history at the time of Daniel, and of the four main empires known to the intended audience of his visions: empires such as Babylonia, Medo-Persian alliance; Persian and Greek, with the most blasphemous of the horns possibly being Antiochus, the most anti-Jewish heir to Alexander’s conquests. The symbolism of beasts for empires will return in other biblical literature, especially Revelation.
Of special note is Chapter 7: 9-14, and the image of “A Son of Man,” who represents “the people of the holy ones of the Most High (7:27). This passage is key to two later Jewish doctrines that are key to the New Testament: the judgment of every soul after death; and a Messiah figure who represents the best of God’s people to God, and God to the people. Tie that latter idea in with the prayers in the Psalms for a righteous, holy king (Ps. 85) and the promise of God to David for an everlasting lineage, and the groundwork is laid for the person and ministry of Jesus. It is from this passage that he called himself, “The Son of Man.”
Until this chapter, doctrines of life after death and judgment were not very clear in the Old Testament. While the Christian does not deign to sit on God’s “Great White Throne” and levy judgment on others, he or she can confess to two things: 1) that Jesus is the one to whom is given dominion and judgment (John 5: 25-27), and; 2) that anyone who comes to him for mercy will find it (Luke 23: 39-43).
Hosea’s prophecy is personal. He is commanded to marry a woman with a certain reputation, a harlot. This painful relationship symbolizes Israel’s disposition toward God in the 8th C. BC. Already in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, we have seen the covenant between God and Israel likened to marriage, and idolatry likened to adultery.
The children born of this marriage will bear the reminders of Israel’s willfulness, just as in real life. For example, the first child is named Jezreel, because the latest round of problems plaguing the Northern Kingdom stem from the slaughter of innocents several generations before, by Jehu, who overthrew the dynasty of Ahab and Jezebel (2 Kings 10). He was zealous for the God of Israel, but he lacked all mercy, compassion or humility. His “faith” was probably more about hostility and personal ambition than it was about compassion and submission to God. Thus, his reforms led nowhere. The names of the next two children will remind people of the mercy and the membership they are forfeiting.
Yet the New Testament will pick up this thread with a note of hope. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy,” wrote Peter to his Gentile converts (I Peter 2: 10).
…is a lament over the unreliability of loyalty, wealth, status, honor and human justice. It has some liturgical elements, such as the refrain in verses 2 and 6. Pay attention to the names for God. The closing thought, that “God will reward each one according to his works,” is the psalmist’s appeal for justification and vindication. What does verse 10 say about the way our world views wealth, and goes about getting it?