23 April 2013

Daniel 7:1-28

“As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” (vv. 13-14)


Dreams and visions are difficult to make sense of, especially if you don't want to fall into the trap of assuming that what they recount are fixed and inescapable facts. The Bible is full of extraordinarily colourful sections, but they are not meant to be read in the same way as other parts of Scripture.

For example, this passage says that the "Ancient One" - an often-repeated phrase for God - had hair like white wool (verse 9). Not actually wool for hair - that would be silly - and the word 'like' is usually the giveaway. The writers use words to try to describe the indescribable.

As Daniel describes his vision he comes to a passage about "one like a human being" who came out of heaven to represent God on earth. To the Jewish nation, severely threatened by empires, the image was of great significance: here was proof that God had a better plan than watching people get swept away by disaster or enemies.

Later in the New Testament (Mark 13:26), Jesus adopted the phrase "Son of Man" for himself and said there would be a moment when God would intervene to end human suffering. In many versions of the Bible "one like a human being" is translated "one like a Son of man" so Christians have traditionally taken the Daniel reference to be about Jesus as well.

Rather than being "like a lion", like a bear", "like a leopard", or incomparably horrible, the King who comes from heaven is human but with authority to rule for God. The "one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven" will govern all peoples, nations, and languages with the Most High's power.

For Jewish readers there was the consolation that, whatever happened in human history, God had a plan and it's the same today.

What is significant is that God and the one 'like a human being" are bound up together with humanity -- God did not abandon the faithful community in Jerusalem and the hope of intervention on earth was fulfilled in Jesus.

To Ponder

  • How do you picture God?
  • If a non-Christian asked you to describe God, what you would say? Do you have a 'God is like ...' phrase that helps you explain it?

Bible notes author

The Revd Gareth Hill

Gareth Hill is a Methodist minister with a particular interest in pioneer ministry and fresh ways of being Church. He is​ in circuit ministry in the Winchester, Eastleigh & Romsey Circuit in the Southampton District and has pastoral charge of six churches in Romsey and on the edge of the New Forest.