There is a 19th century hymn that encourages God’s people to take inspiration from the life of Daniel. Its refrain goes like this:
Dare to be a Daniel! Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm! Dare to make it known!
This hymn draws its own inspiration from the story of Daniel and the lions’ den. With full knowledge of the consequences of his obedience to the one true God, Daniel disobeyed Darius’ decree that had required prayers to be offered only to the king and to no other god. It was a bold stand for truth, to be sure, and a shining example of faith in action.
But it paints Daniel as a bit of a flat, or one-dimensional, character. Yes, he dared to stand alone, but he also had years of “uninspiring” quiet faithfulness that did not require him to stand alone and make his faith known in such a dramatic way. More than that, the book of Daniel presents the man as one who appreciated the importance of humbly walking with his God in faithfulness, acknowledging when and where and how he could take a stand and when and where and how he could live a quiet and peaceful life godly and dignified in every way. Thus, to round out Daniel as a character, we must take into consideration many factors that make him much less “inspiring.” Or, to put it another way, if you dare to be a Daniel, don’t forget to include all the daringly ordinary parts of Daniel’s life.
I say all of this in hopes of striking a balance at the beginning of our study of Daniel, with respect to both Daniel’s exemplary life and the purpose of the end-times prophecies. When we read about Daniel’s life, I hope you don’t come away with the notion that every day of his life was daring. In the same way, when we read about the visions that Daniel received, I hope you don’t come away with the notion that we’re living at the end of the end times. In fact, I hope you come away with exactly the opposite impression. I hope you read the book of Daniel acknowledging that its message is patient endurance for the long haul, even as big events in history like nation rising against nation happen around you.
One commentator puts it this way: “It is a very necessary warning in advance to people who will find themselves living in momentous times not to think that they are already living in the time of the end and that the End is at hand, simply because their own times show certain features that will mark the time of the end as well.” That is to say, wars and rumors of wars along with global pandemics do not mean that we should be walking around with our eyes towards the heavens, expecting the Lord to return any second now. To be sure, we should be always prepared for the Lord to come again, but we should not try to read the tea leaves of our current world events—no matter how momentous they may seem—as surefire indicators that we’re the final generation to walk the earth before it is renewed. It’s possible, but both Daniel and Revelation strongly warn us against that presumption.
Ralph Davis puts it well in his commentary when he says,
Two words of Jesus then might sum up the message of Daniel: “the end is not yet,” and “but the one who endures to the end—he shall be saved.” That is not what we usually like to hear, for we think, for example, of the planned annihilation of Christians in Somalia and Iraq, of the decades of deprivation and terror endured by Christ’s flock in southern Sudan, of his servants tortured in Vietnam, and we long to tell them that the Lord has marked on his calendar a date in the very near future for their vindication. No, we have something like Daniel’s book instead—a realistic survival manual for the saints.
My hope, then, as we launch into this new year is that our study of Daniel will give us a realistic view of world events as indicators of the end times—for they certainly are that—without dragging us into unprofitable speculation about when the end of the end times might be.
My hope is that we’ll dare to be as bold and faithful as Daniel was to the one true God in both standing for the truth and serving quietly for as long as God wills.