The book of Daniel is the shortest of the collection known as the “Major prophets”: only twelve chapters compared to Isaiah’s sixty-six (aside from Lamentations,that is – which is really part of the Old Testament wisdom literature, which includes, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, etc).
The book divides neatly into two halves. Chapters 1 to 6 relate some of Daniel’s adventures, chapters 7 to 12 are Daniel’s dreams and visions.
The first half recounts Daniel’s exile in Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar, his son Belshazzar, and the conqueror Darius the Mede. Each story stands on its own. There is no attempt to give a full and detailed account of Daniel’s life and work – in some cases, years pass between one event and the next, there’s no attempt to account for the time in between, and it may not even be in chronological order. These are mostly well-known stories:
* Daniel and his friends ask for vegetables rather than food from the king’s table,
* Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams (yes, there’s two of them),
* The fiery furnace,
* The writing on the wall,
* Daniel in the lion’s den.
It’s worth knowing that the Catholic “Deuterocanonical” books (also known as the “Apocrypha”), contain a few additional stories:
* The prayer of Azariah and the song of the three young men – relating to what took place inside the fiery furnace in chapter 3.
* Susanna – accused of adultery and rescued by Daniel.
* Bel and the Dragon – Daniel exposes the nature of two Babylonian idols, and is thrown in a pit of lions (again) for his troubles. One of the unusual features of this story is that Daniel is fed by the prophet Habakkuk, carried by the hair from Jerusalem to Babylon by an angel to do so.
The second half overlaps chronologically with the first half and is not written entirely in order:
* Chapters 7 and 8 both occur some time during the reign of Belshazzar (between chapters 4 and 5),
Chapters 9 and 11 (and 12?) during the reign of Darius, (around the time of chapter 6), and
Chapter 10 (after chapter 6), during the reign of Cyrus.
It is less well known than the first half. Perhaps that’s because of its strange imagery. Perhaps, being quoted by fundamentalists predicting the end of the world, it is ignored (uncomfortably) by the rest of the church. However, in many regards, chapters 7 to 12 constitute the more important half of the book, because of their use throughout the New Testament. This use includes quotations and borrowed imagery. Here are some examples.
The vision of four beasts and the Ancient of Days (Chapter 7) offers many parallels with John’s vision of the throne room in Revelation chapter 4, as well as the beast from the sea in Revelation chapter 13.
The book includes some uses of the phrase, “son of man”. In Daniel 8:17, it refers to Daniel himself, mirroring its use in the prophecy of Ezekiel. However, Daniel 7:13 contains a much more familiar image, where it refers to the Lord: “And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven!”. This is quoted directly in Matthew 24:30, Rev 14:14, but remember that the Lord also refers to himself as the “Son of Man” throughout the gospels.
Chapter 10 also contains a vision of the Lord with many parallels to John’s visions in Revelation chapters 1 and 19 – the glorious man, one having the likeness of the sons of men.
“The abomination that causes desolation”, appears in the Lord’s words in Matthew 24:15, and He even attributes the phrase to Daniel (9:27, 11:31, 12:11).
Another reasonably well known phrase of Daniel’s used in the New Testament is the “time, times and half a time” of Daniel 12:7, in Revelation 12:14.
Two angels are named in the book of Daniel, both playing a significant role in different parts of the New Testament: Gabriel, the messenger (see Daniel 8:16, 9:21, Luke 1:19 and 26) who announces the birth of the Lord; and Michael, the warrior prince who leads the armies of heaven (see Daniel 10:13, 10:21, 12:1, Jude 9, Revelation 12:7). Outside of the Apocrypha, Daniel is the only Old Testament book to mention these angels.
Finally, Daniel asks when the fulfilment of all he has seen will take place, and he is told that the words are sealed up. It is not difficult to see a connection with the sealed scroll, and the subsequent breaking of the seals, enacted in Revelation 5:1 through 8:1.
So, you can see that the second half of the book of Daniel provides much material for further development later in the Bible. That makes it worthwhile reading in itself. It’s certainly not a section we should ignore, just because it contains strange pictures.