Structure of Daniel 2-7

Wed, 13/09/2017 - 10:58 -- James Oakley
Concentric and other Patterns
Image Credit: Rodney Campbell

Daniel chapters 2-7 are written in Aramaic; the rest of Daniel (chapter 1, and chapters 8-12) are in Hebrew.

The most obvious way to divide Daniel into two is to note that Daniel chapters 1-6 contain stories about Daniel, whereas chapters 7-12 contain visions seen by Daniel.

However, the fact that the book is written in two different languages must be important. This suggests that chapter 1 is an introduction, chapters 2-7 belong together, and then chapters 8-12 are the second main section of the book. (Or, perhaps, chapter 7 is a "Janus" chapter, belonging both in 2-7 and 7-12).

I've been greatly enjoying Dale Ralph Davis’ relatively new (2013) commentary on Daniel, in the Bible Speaks Today series. He suggests these three headings for those three sections (page 15):

  1. The place in which faithfulness is lived (chapter 1)
  2. The God to whom the kingdom belongs (chapters 2-7)
  3. The people to whom the kingdom is given (chapters 8-12).

But how might we further subdivide chapters 2-7? On pages 23-24, Davis suggests not one but three ways of doing so. He stresses that these are not mutually incompatible, such that we are forced to choose between them. Rather, there's something in all of them. Together, they help the book as a whole to speak its message. They show the incredible skill and craftsmanship with which the book has been written.

Chiastic / Concentric

This one has been recgonised by many writers on Daniel:

Vision of the four kingdoms (chapter 2)
    Deliverance of three from the furnace (chapter 3)
        Divine discipline of a king – eventual success (chapter 4)
        Divine discipline of a king – eventual judgement (chapter 5)
    Deliverance of Daniel from lions (chapter 6)
Vision of the four kingdoms (chapter 7).


Look at the key themes of the chapters, you see an ABC | ABC pattern. To see this, first note the programmatic words that occur in each chapter:

2:   Tell, interpret, make known, reveal
3:   Rescue, save/deliver
4:   ‘Rules’ (ESV) + ‘kingdom’, ‘dominion’, + ‘King of heaven’
5:   Show interpretation ,make known, interpret
6:   Rescue, save
7:   Dominion, throne(s), kingdom (ESV).

That helps us to see the key themes in each chapter. The focus is on God: “the God of Judah’s sorry exiles [is] far superior to any would-be deities of Babylon or Persia” We thus get a pattern, repeated twice:

    chapter 2    — The God who reveals   —    chapter 5
    chapter 3    — The God who rescues  —    chapter 6
    chapter 4    — The God who rules       —    chapter 7.


Lastly, we can arrange the chapters into 3 pairs:

2:    The rule of Babylon is temporary (therefore, rejoice in the enduring kingdom).
3:    But the rule of Babylon may be tyrannical (therefore, be prepared to pay the price).

4:    Proud king who was humbled and feared.
5:    Proud king too stupid to learn.

6:    Fidelity suffers in Persia as well as in Babylon.
7:    Fidelity will suffer in the end.

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