Now Daniel speaks in his own voice – and his visions put things into perspective – whether it’s Daniel’s own story or that of the great kings that he serves in exile. For he sees the mighty spriritual figures who are at work behind the material scenes. Like the book of Revelation, his vision is full of strange and vivid symbols, the exact meaning of which is a matter for speculation to us so much later. This is the writing known as apocalyptic – not as in ‘telling of great disasters’ but as in ‘unveiling’ or ‘opening the curtain’ on the realities of life, history and politics.
So the different beasts aren’t literal figures, but symbols of the kingdoms and empires that will rise and fall between the time of the story of David in Babylon and its publication in its current form, probably in Maccabean times in the 2nd century BCE.
More clearly (though still with the same kind of overwhelmed imagery as we saw in Ezekiel’s vision of God) Daniel sees the greatest powers behind the curtain.
The Ancient of Days, in whom we can’t help but see God the Father, sits enthroned in majesty. Serving him behind the scenes in earthly affairs is the Son of Man – which would become Jesus’ own preferred title for himself. And alongside this pre-Christmas Son fights Michael, ‘the great prince, the protector of your people’, who reappears in Revelation as the commander of God’s heavenly host and the slayer of the dragon.
These great heavenly beings leap from the page. And they remind us that our vision of the world is often very thin – we see only the surface, and forget that the Angels, holy and fallen, live and serve alongside us all unseen. They are, somehow, involved in the fate of nations as well as of individuals. We do not fight evil alone; and if we retreat too easily from the fight against evil, our cowardice is not unnoticed, even if no human eyes are watching.
The details, like in the Book of Revelation, are hard to pin down when we try to make sense of Daniel’s vision. We can suspect that it would have made much clearer sense to those for whom it was first written so long ago. But what we can see clearly is perhaps this. When we try to serve God, we never do so alone. And we are on the side which in the long run will win.