With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology

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Let me quote in the full the opening paragraph of James Hamilton’s preface to With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology:

I don’t deserve to read the Bible, much less write about it. What a privilege to have God reveal himself to us in his word. What a great God, keeping covenant and steadfast love, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and everywhere manifesting his power and love. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars, and yet he also speaks so tenderly that the bruised reed doesn’t break. I join the ranks of the heavenly hosts, the saints across space and time, and everything in this cosmic temple to ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. Would that I could do so in a way worthy of him. I thank God the Father through Christ the Son by the power of the Spirit for his merciful salvation, full and complete revelation, and gracious provision. (15)

When I read this, I knew I was in for a great book. While it doesn’t tell you much about the content of the book, it does tell you about the heart of the person writing the book. Clearly, for Hamilton, writing this study of Daniel was something he approached worshipfully and humbly. And it shows.

As Hamilton explains in the introductory chapter, “I am here attempting an evangelical and canonical biblical theology of Daniel” (21). In his the rest of the chapter, Hamilton defines biblical theology (“the attempt to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors”), as well as a defense of the Hebrew ordering of the Old Testament canon. He also articulates and evangelical approach to interpreting the book, which consists of an early date (prior to the prophecies it delivers) and that Daniel, as Scripture, has both a human and divine author.

From here, the second chapter places Daniel in the context of “the wider storyline of canonical biblical theology” (41). Chapter 3 is an in-depth analysis of Daniel’s literary structure. Hamilton presents the thematic links that appear throughout the text and argues for a chiastic structure of the book (1 and 10-12 parallel; 2 and 7-9; 3 and 6, and 4-5 are the center). With this foundational understanding in place, Hamilton turns to an interpretation of the four kingdoms in chapter 4, the seventy weeks in chapter 5, and the heavenly beings in the book in chapter 6, with particular reference to “the one like a son of man.”

Chapter 7 is a kind of turning point. Rather than focusing on themes within the book, or particular interpretive difficulties, Hamilton examines the interpretations of Daniel in early Jewish literature. Particular attention is paid to Tobit, writings from Qumran, 1 Maccabees, 4 Ezra, and 1 Enoch. The following chapter then moves to the New Testament interpretations of Daniel, other than its use in the book of Revelation. Here, he notes that for the New Testament writers, Daniel has both been fulfilled and yet remains to be fulfilled (199). Chapter 10 focuses on Daniel within the book of Revelation before the final chapter wraps up with an explanation of the typological patterns in Daniel, with particular reference to his connection to Joseph.

While I could go into more detail about the depth and riches of Hamilton’s work here, I think you’d be better served by just picking up and reading for yourself. The overall flow of material here is something I would like to see more of in future titles in this series. After setting the book in historical and literary context, Hamilton does a close analysis of the literary structure of the book before tackling major themes. Once he has done that detailed exegetical work, avenues are opened to actually do good biblical theology by seeing how the book fits into the canon as a whole. I also appreciated that Hamilton put a chapter on early Jewish understandings before jumping to the New Testament. Because of Daniel’s apocalyptic nature and time of writing, this helped to show both similarities and differences with how the New Testament writers, particularly Matthew, Mark, and John understood the book to be fulfilled in the person and work of Christ.

I think both the church and the academy are served better by this kind of close attention and exposition of a text within its canonical context. Likewise, for a controversial book in the realm of eschatology, Hamilton does a good job of focusing on major themes of the text. He could have focused on showing how the book supports a pre-millennial understanding of the end times event timeline, which was how the book was taught at the Bible institute I went to freshman year. While that it is Hamilton’s perspective, that wasn’t the focus of his book and even if you’re from a different eschatological position (which I am), there is much to appreciate and learn from in his handling of the key texts of Daniel. In Hamilton’s capable hands, the book of Daniel is allowed to speak for itself as he tracks closely with his sense of the intent of the author (and Author). This kind of reading should be emulated widely.

As I noted back at the beginning, I knew from reading the preface that this book would be an enjoyable and beneficial read. It skipped to the front of my reading queue when it came in the mail and I think I finished it in a few days as I was also reading through Daniel in my daily quiet time. It is a work I think I’ll return to, but in the mean time, I hope Hamilton has another work like this in his hopper. I guess while I wait, I can always go back and re-read God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment as I read through the Bible this coming year. In fact, if you’d like to join me, Dr. Hamilton has a post explaining exactly how to do that!

James M. Hamilton Jr., With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology, New Studies in Biblical TheologyDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, August 2014. 272 pp. Paperback, $25.00.

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Author: Nate

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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