Daniel’s Second Chiasm: Part One

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In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter. Daniel 7:1


Learning the Dance

The human mind was built to naturally recognize and follow patterns. Language, science, mathematics, and music all harness the power of patterns to catch our attention and inform our intelligence. Integral to this process is a balance between consistency and change. The pattern plays out for the smallest child—rhythm and beat, tempo and tone are what guide each step and teach us to dance.

Thus far, we have learned the first half of the pattern given in the Book of Daniel. But just when we’ve grown accustomed to the timing, the tempo suddenly changes (Figure 1).

First Chiasm (2–6: A, B, C, C’, B’)NarrativeAramaic
Inversion (7): Close of Chiasm 1;
Introduction of Chaism 2
VisionsAramaic
Second Chiasm: (8–12: D, C, D’)VisionsHebrew
Reversion (1): Introduction of Chiasm 1NarrativeHebrew
Figure 1: Sudden changes in chapter seven tell us that we are moving into something new.

Two Steps Forward

We’ve already considered the significant change we encounter as we begin Daniel seven. The genre, the tone, and the characters are so unlike the previous chapters, it makes a person wonder if they are reading the same book. But these are only the most obvious of several signals that indicate that the tempo has increased. Put another way, we are not entering another building, but another level of the same building, offering us a better vista of what we first saw at ground level.

Chapter seven signals a new tempo from its first verse. Before we recognize the new genre, we realize that we are on a new timeline. The first chiasm (1–6) had guided us chronologically from the first year of the Babylonian Emperor Nebuchadnezzar to the early reign of the Persian lord, Darius the Mede (Dan. 5:31; 6:1). Chapter seven breaks with this chronology, rewinding us to “the first year of Belshazzar” the last king of the Babylonian empire (Dan. 5:30–31; 7:1).

It’s not long before we realize that we’ve come into something very different from the stories of chapters one through six. These narratives had readily welcomed us into their world, with all the setting and scenery needed to follow the storyline. In Daniel two we were presented with all the staging, characters, and plot necessary to understand the vision that was revealed to us. By contrast, the visions of chapter seven burst upon us after giving almost no context. What’s more, the visions absorb the entire stage, moving everything—king, courtier, and country—to the background; even Daniel is but a backdrop for the visions he discloses.

One Step Backward

But for all of the differences, there is still an alignment to the first chiasm. For one thing, the account is still given in Aramaic, the language of chapters two through six. In four beasts giving way to a kingdom of God, we are pointed back to the opening vision of Daniel’s book. The setting and the syntax further underscore the parallel, because the chapter opens with Daniel receiving visions in his sleep, a clear throwback to Nebuchadnezzar’s situation (cp. Dan 7:1 to 2:1). However, the comparison only goes so far: though the chapters are parallel in theme and similar in setting, they are different in position.

And a Slide to the Right

Daniel seven is a step above its partner, and this fact is made plain in a variety of ways. The first and most obvious of these is its dramatic increase in information. The visions of chapter seven supply significantly more details and descriptions than their counterparts in chapter two. Furthermore, the information is sophisticated and even enigmatic, impossible to understand without a knowledge of the Old Testament.

The visions are also more intimate than those of chapter two. Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams had come in relatively simple symbols interpreted by a human prophet. By contrast, Daniel’s visions were almost surreal and were explained by angelic messengers.

The expansive nature of these visions is further highlighted in smaller details. For instance, when Daniel 7:1 resets the chronology of the book, it does so in the reign of one of the latest rulers of the first chiasm (Dan. 5:1) and then guides us through a chronology that takes us beyond the timeframe of the first chiasm, ending the book in “the third year of Cyrus king of Persia.” This may seem incidental, but consider that this places us beyond “the first year of Cyrus,” exceeding even the conceptions of the Aramaic chiasm (Dan. 1:21). The geography also expands; whereas the first chiasm retained us in the city of Babylon, the subsequent chapters venture us beyond to the Persian city Susa (Dan. 8:2), the Ulai Canal (Dan. 8:2), and the Tigris River (Dan. 10:4).

The advanced position of chapter seven is even implied in its storyline, syntax, and setting: Daniel is dreaming instead of Nebuchadnezzar, and God is the teacher instead of Daniel. In a word, the novice is removed, and we are free to go further faster. This appears to be hinted at in the use of the Aramaic phrase, “and visions of his head as he lay in his bed” a phrase that returns us to chapter two—not the beginning of chapter two but the beginning of its vision (cp. 7:1 to 2:28).

A Higher Level

All of these aspects indicate that we are entering not merely into a new chiasm, but into a new level as well. What will follow will expand on all that has been previously given and take us into revelation beyond what has already been articulated. It’s no wonder then, that the chiasm begins with a shift from simple court tales to a sophisticated apocalyptic vision, and then changes from cosmopolitan Aramaic to the language of a small, special minority: Hebrew. In more ways than one, we have been told that the tempo has changed, and we had better listen up.

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By Brian Warren

Brian Warren is a regular teacher at Grace and Truth Gathering in Portland, Oregon where he has been faithfully attending since 2014. He has served as a full-time preacher and teacher of the Scriptures since 2009, frequently speaking at camps, conferences, and Christian gatherings throughout the United States and Canada. Brian and his wife Jennifer have been married fourteen years and enjoy an active life with their six children.

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