Daniel 7 and the Kingdom of God

The end of the Aramaic section of Daniel, Dan 7:28, sees Daniel troubled by a recent vision in (some) identical terms to those used to describe Belshazzar’s distress at his own ‘writing on the wall’ vision in Dan 5:6, 9.  That in itself is interesting but I’ll leave it with you to ponder.  My focus here is actually on the previous verse, v. 27.

The word translated ‘kingship’ at the beginning of v. 27 in NRSV and the New Jerusalem Bible and ‘sovereignty’ in the NIV is the same one (in the Aramaic, ‘malkû‘) translated a few words later, and often in Daniel, ‘kingdom(s)’.  It appears 57 times just in the Aramaic chapters of Daniel, showing how important these six chapters, Daniel 2-7, are for the theme of the kingdom of God in our biblical theology.  That, after all, is the point of the opening and closing visions of this Aramaic section.  Chapter 2 features a statue whose successive metals represent successive ancient Near East empires, which is finally wiped away by the uncut rock that represents this kingdom.  The same happens in Daniel 7, at the other end of the ‘envelope’ structure, when the heavenly court decides against the power of all the animal kingdoms and gives authority instead to the ‘one like a son of man’ (7:13).

But something I read in a classic OT monograph gave me a little more insight into this theme of Daniel. R. R. Wilson in his 1977 work, Genealogy and History in the Biblical World, makes the comment about the Sumerian King List that it “presents the dogma that only one city can possess kingship at any given time [and] also suggests that kingship is now located in Isin.”   While we are quite comfortable with the idea that more than one powerful nation might find room to exist simultaneously in the world, the idea in the Sumerian King List and at least one rival document was that in the Mesopotamian world, only one city could legitimately hold the heaven-sent ‘kingship’ or pre-eminence in human kingdoms.

So suddenly the statue and the animal series make sense, being based on this ‘one-at-a-time’ idea, and the succession of empires that dominated the Tigris-Euphrates valley, Assyria, Babylon, Persia and finally Seleucia, could only have reinforced this obviously widely-held idea.  Only one human kingdom gets to hold the sceptre than heaven gives.  In Daniel it is the ‘Most High’ or the ‘Ancient of Days’ that hands out the sceptre, and when human kingdoms have had enough of a day, takes it back to hand to…the human-like one (v. 13)/ ‘the saints of the Most High’ (v. 27a) and therefore, ultimately, Himself (27b)!

P.S. Out of 20 occurrences of this word, malkû, in the determined singular in Daniel, several occurrences seem to carry this meaning, ‘kingship’, rather than ‘kingdom’.  Check out 2:44; 4:18; 6:1 as examples.
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