You look around you and you see all those kings. Call them presidents, prime ministers or supreme leaders. Whatever the title, they are people in power. Who can stand against them? Who can bend them to their knees? Whose kingdom will outlast theirs?
Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers. Today I review “The Message of Daniel: His Kingdom Cannot Fail” by Dale Ralph Davis. This is a commentary from The Bible Speaks Today series, a series with Alex Motyer, John Stott and Derek Tidball as the series editor. 173 pages, published by Inter-Varsity Press Academic in August 2013. It is available for USD14.05 in Amazon Kindle but if you go to Logos this month, June, you can get it for USD1.99. Yes, you heard it right, you can get this really good commentary for only USD1.99 through Logos.
The Free Book I Did Not Review
If you visit the Free Book of the Month site you will see the free book of the month and other nearly free books like today’s. Whenever possible, I review the free book instead of the nearly free book. I chose not to review the free book but let me give a quick description of it because some listeners might need a bit more incentive to click on the “Download for Free” button.
The free book, “Justification: Five Views” is a collection of five essays on justification. Representing Traditional Reformed is Michael Horton, Progressive Reformed is Michael Bird, New Perspective is James Dunn, Deification is Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen and Roman Catholic is Gerald O’Collins and Oliver Rafferty. After a writer presents his position, the other four tell him how he is wrong. I mean, they tell him where they agree and disagree.
This views and response format helps readers see where the real divisions are. I cannot stress how important it is to see the real differences because, if I can loosely describe it this way, some people are friends when they shouldn’t be and some people are enemies when they shouldn’t be. I’ve personally gained from such books for other subjects and if I ever needed to study justification with reference to the New Perspective or Deification, I would most certainly read this book.
As of now, I don’t feel a burning urge to do so. Hence this book is safely, tucked away, in my virtual library, ready to come to my aid when needed. I put it aside because I really want to read Dale Ralph Davis’ commentary on Daniel.
Who is Dale Ralph Davis? He was a pastor. He was a professor. He has written lots of books. He comes with strong credentials but I am not giving those details because which church he pastored and which seminary he taught and how many books he wrote does not adequately describe who this man is. I like how a Facebook group dedicated to Dale Ralph Davis describes him:
Dr. Dale Ralph Davis is one of the most readable and reliable expositors/commentators of Scripture. He is a master at illustrations in preaching/expositing as well. Any of his books are a welcome read.
Everything there is true. Yet, it’s too bland. So let me describe him in my terms. Let me tell you how Dale Ralph Davis’ writing has impacted me.
In Episode 5 of this podcast, I mentioned that I enjoyed, not just enjoy but gained the confidence, to read commentaries after I read Davis, specifically his commentary on 1 Kings. Since then, I have read all his books in the Focus on the Bible commentary series, namely his commentary on Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings (which I have already mentioned) and 2 Kings.
I like them so much, having bought the hardcopies, I then bought the Logos softcopy versions of these same books, partly because I lost one. I had enthusiastically lent a friend 1 Kings. I told him, “You must read this book”. He must have misconstrued my enthusiasm and took the book as gift. So, it’s now a gift. And I got the Logos versions just in case, I ever gift his books again.
My enthusiasm explains why when I saw that Davis’ commentary on Daniel at USD1.99 in Logos, I didn’t think twice. I am tempted to say he is my favourite author but I might have to retract that one day. Just to be safe, I’ll say that he is one of my favourite authors. And if you stick to the end of this review, I hope to make you a Dale Ralph Davis fan.
But you don’t want to hear me raving on about him. You want to know more about the book. So here we go.
Structure-wise, “The Message of Daniel” begins with the series preface. The editors, Alec Motyer, John Stott and Derek Tidball intends that the Bible Speaks Today series be:
characterized by a threefold ideal:
- to expound the biblical text with accuracy
- to relate it to contemporary life, and
- to be readable.
These books are, therefore, not ‘commentaries’, for the commentary seeks rather to elucidate the text than to apply it, and tends to be a work rather of reference than of literature.
Following the editor’s note, we read the author’s preface and our first words from Dale Ralph Davis. His first words hints at the tone he brings to this book and to all his books. I quote:
There are a number of good reasons not to write an exposition of Daniel. For one thing, going into print on the book of Daniel makes it too easy for readers of whatever stripe to assign one’s lot among either the kooks or the nincompoops. The book is an interpretive minefield and wherever one comes down on various questions he is sure to disappoint people—one fails to take an ‘obvious’ view here or finds the data too uncertain to take a ‘firm’ one there. However, with a kind invitation from Alec Motyer it seemed only right to overcome reluctance and begin. I felt it was like eating my oatmeal—it would be good for me.
Despite the editors’ rejection of the commentary label, I’ll stick to it because the structure follows a commentary. We have 14 chapters that track the 12 chapters in Daniel.
Navigating Word Play
Speaking of structure, it was Davis who taught me so many years ago to appreciate the literary structure of a biblical book. Before Davis, I knew that structure was important, anybody who ever wrote an essay knows that. But after Davis, I don’t just know its importance, I desire to know the structure. If I don’t have it, I went searching for it.
It’s like when soldiers operate in unfamiliar territory. Knowing how to shoot is important but navigating more so. If you know the land, you can ambush, defend, forage for food or vanish like a ghost. If you don’t know the land, you waste time and energy, going around in circle, never reaching your goal.
With Davis, you will always know the lay of the land. In the introduction, Davis shares the big structure of the book of Daniel. In fact, he doesn’t just give one, he shares three proposed structures to emphasise that the complexity of this book shows that this is a book written by a single mind rather than written by a committee.
Now every commentary will give you an outline of the book and the chapters but Davis uses all sorts of tricks to get you to turn your eyes to see at the structure.
For example, in chapter 2 of the book. He starts:
Most of us probably try to avoid beginning a sentence with a conjunction. And I don’t know exactly why — maybe someone along the way has told us it is bad form.
In this paragraph where he explains the significance of the conjunction, the word ‘And’ in the Hebrew text, he started five sentences with a conjunction. Okay, perhaps that humour is a bit too subtle and nerdy for you. He enjoys word play. Which is why he is such a fun guy to read.
Renaissance Man of Biblical Outlines
Let’s look at another way he brings out the structure.
Chapter 2 of this commentary directly corresponds to chapter 2 of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar dreams a dream and challenges his wisemen and court magicians to tell him what he dreamt. Daniel appears to rescue the day. All glory, not to Daniel, but to God.
If you think you are familiar with this story, or any of the stories in Daniel, wait until Davis reveals the structure.
In chapter 2, he writes:
We can break down chapter 2 into broad chunks:
And he breaks it down. The focus is not the wisdom of Daniel or the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar. The focus is actually verse 28: “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries…”
“What mysteries?” you ask. Where would be the fun in hearing it from me when you can read Davis’ book for yourself?
Davis makes you a better Bible reader by showing you the ‘secret’ structure. It is not a secret. It’s there in front of you just that you never noticed it before. In chapter 4, he writes:
Tracing the literary shape will help mentally organize a fairly long narrative. It develops like this:
And he develops the outline. After which you better understand the text.
In chapter 8, he writes:
The overall break-down of the chapter is rather straightforward; it tells of Daniel’s vision:
And he breaks it down for us rather straightforwardly. And we thank him for it.
Great artists understand anatomy. They understand how the body is structured more than the doctors. They have to in order to paint, sculpture and write Bible commentaries. What Davis does with the anatomy of the text is a work of art. Under his skilful hands, the structure outlined is not simply a practical necessity — necessary for us to navigate the text — it becomes a map of beauty. We appreciate the Biblical text for its literary quality, what the writer had in his mind when he wrote it.
The Writer’s Mind
Which brings me to my next point. Mature Christians will rightly tell you that it’s important to know what is the writer’s intended meaning for the text. That is basic hermeneutics or biblical interpretation. Davis demonstrates it for us.
Let me share an extensive quote that gives you a good idea of how Davis brings you into the biblical writer’s mind. Listen to Davis’ commentary on Daniel 3:1-15. Here, Nebuchadnezzar sets up a statue and commands people to worship it. I quote:
Notice the vicious verbs our writer uses. The very first line tells of the image the king made (‘ābad), and Nebuchadnezzar himself uses the same verb in verse 15. In fact, for an Israelite, Nebuchadnezzar’s statement in that verse (Now if you are ready … to fall down and worship the image that I have made) sums up the theological asininity of the whole affair. To worship what someone made! But a reader almost ducks under the machine-gun-like occurrences of the verb qûm (‘set up’); it appears nine times (1, 2, 3 [twice], 5, 7, 12, 14, 18), always in reference to the image the king had set up. Swipe the uses of that verb with your orange highlighter, then go back over the text—see if it doesn’t seem as if a kind of cumulative mockery is at work. The image is a ‘set up’ job, as we say. The writer is telling you that it’s no more divine than your knee replacement.
Later, Davis comments on the people who obey Nebuchadnezzar:
The praise band plays (7a), and the crowd gets its back sides in the air and its noses in the sand and enjoys job security. They felt they had no choice. They ‘had’ to do it. There’s a tremendous invisible coercion that comes from being among a whole mob of flattened worshipers.
If the Book of Daniel was a movie, and Daniel the Director, then Dale Ralph Davis would be the YouTuber vividly describing what Daniel the Director was doing in each scene. This is how the Director wants you to see these powerful kings. This is how the Director wants you to see those who put their faith in God. This is how the Director wants you to see God and his kingdom.
Illustration, Applications and Readability
I don’t have the time to elaborate on his masterful use of illustrations. Sometimes illustrations overwhelm the message.
But not so for Davis. His use of illustrations is perfect. His choice of illustration, its length and placement leaves you wanting more which he soon satisfies when he makes his next point. The illustrations are more often than not fresh, and applied in a powerful way without detracting from the text.
I also don’t have time to elaborate on his application. We naturally look for, “What do I get out of the text? Give me something that I can apply in my daily life.” This is another area that preachers and writers can go off-balance, to over-emphasise on the application of the text that they unintentionally make the text become all about you.
In comparison, listen to how Davis tells us how to apply the text. As an example, I draw from his commentary on Daniel 6 which is Daniel’s prayer. I quote:
Kneeling in prayer is not a matter of indifference — it reminds you of your true position. It’s as if you say, ‘I am a servant. He is the King. I do not live in a democracy but under a monarchy. He is not my errand boy. I never present my demands. I am always a beggar at the throne of grace, and, though it is a throne of grace, I never forget it is a throne.’
But the most praiseworthy quality of Davis’ writing is…
Allow me to remind you of the editor’s intention for the Bible Speaks Today series. The series is to be:
characterized by a threefold ideal:
- to expound the biblical text with accuracy
- to relate it to contemporary life, and
- to be readable.
That’s it. Dale Ralph Davis’ book is immensely readable.
Note that John Stott is one of the editors. I love John Stott. John Stott is very readable. But to me, and this is a matter of preference so feel free to disagree, to me, John Stott is readable but Dale Ralph Davis is more readable.
If you are a John Stott fan, I imagine you rushing to object and insist I explain how I made the comparison. I did not read all of their books. However, I have read two of John Stott’s commentaries in the Bible Speaks Today series. His commentary on the Sermon on the Mount and Galatians. So when I compare two of John Stott’s books against Dale Ralph Davis’ commentary on Daniel, all these books in the same commentary series, I like reading Davis. Stott is the guy you bring to impress your professors. Davis is the guy you bring to impress your friends. I don’t think Stott intended for anyone to laugh out loud reading his commentary. I know Davis did.
Great Writing… What About the Content?
The careful listener will notice that I have made much of Davis’ writing but what about the content?
First of all, The Bible Speaks Today series is not a reference series. The editors made the clear enough.
All the Daniel stories? Through Davis you will understand how they are all linked together. You will see that they are not random stories collected into an anthology. The writer has an order or structure in place to drive a specific theme: God’s Kingdom.
What about Daniel’s visions? The statue, the tree, beasts, horns, the ram, the goat and more horns. Davis doesn’t exhaustively go through the many possible interpretations. He doesn’t have the space and he says so. He gives us his interpretation and defends it on the basis of the text.
What about the really tricky passages? Like the interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27, the one on the seventy weeks. Davis dedicates a whole chapter on these four verses. But in the end, that may not satisfy the professional doomsday student. My advice: Go read a different book. This is not the book you are looking for.
The One Chapter You Need To Watch Out For
Let me tell you one thing.
If you are an average Joe who wants to understand the Book of Daniel, what you really need is for someone to explain one chapter, which is chapter 11.
I say this because the average Joe already understands the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the story of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, Daniel in the lion’s den, the spooky writing on the wall and so on. You already know those stories. Davis will help you fill the gaps and connect them together.
As for the visions of the beasts and the horns, etc… would you want to know what they mean? Of course you do. The images are so fantastical, it’s just natural to want to know what the beasts and horns represent. Nobody needs to make an extra effort to make you interested in understanding those visions.
And that’s the difference with chapter 11. Chapter 11 is a difficult to understand vision but it’s not interesting. It’s boring. King of the North. King of the South. War. Lots of war. But no details. No last stands. No heroism. It is a prophecy. A fulfilled prophecy. But nobody talks about it. Looks it up. Read Daniel 11. Has anyone preached this to you? Have you studied this passage before? Do you know any song inspired by Daniel 11? Nope.
Yet, I contest that Daniel 11 is the most important chapter in the Book of Daniel. What is written here is so incredible that because of this chapter some scholars insist that the book of Daniel must have been written much, much, later than the time of Nebudchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Cyrus or Darius. They say it couldn’t have been Daniel who wrote it. Because if it was Daniel writing in the time of Darius, that means God has spelled out in great, agonizing detail (read it! It is agonizing!), events that will take place 300-400 years into Daniel’s future. It is as if God predicted the winning lottery numbers for 300 years. If God did that, you would want to know. But trust me, this is better than knowing wining lottery numbers.
If you get Daniel 11, the question of God’s ability to foreknow the future is conclusively put to rest. And in that same deal, you get the purpose of God telling us the future. God tells us the future many times in the Bible, and he explains why to Daniel in his vision. Let those who have ears, hear and those who have eyes, see.
For you to see it, it helps to have someone who can give you a good map so that you don’t get lost, someone who can get you into the writer’s mind, someone to engage you with humour, confidence and ease. Otherwise you are going to feel exasperated reading chapter 11. I can think of no one better than Dale Ralph Davis to be your guide.
My final reflection is I know that I am hyping this book up. I have not been so exuberant in my praise for any of the books I have reviewed so far.
I must admit, my enthusiasm could stem from the great debt I owe to Dale Ralph Davis. If not for his commentary on 1 Kings, today I would avoid an entire category of books, namely commentaries. Before him, I read other commentaries and they made me feel stupid. That was not the author’s intent, I was reading above my level. But after him, I am the reader I am today. Not just a reader of commentaries but more importantly, I am a reader, a better reader of the Bible.
Even as I recommend today’s book, “The Message of Daniel: His Kingdom Cannot Fail”, which is available for the low, low price of USD1.99 in Logos for June, I would say that if you are looking for a book by Dale Ralph Davis to start with, I would go with either Judges or 1 Kings. Because Daniel is a more complex book, it has a mix of stories and visions. It has verses that spur debates, debates that will only end when the final horny man appears and Jesus blasts him with his breath. In contrast, Judges and 1 Kings is a more straightforward narrative and Davis is in his element as a storyteller.
And I have to stop here before I start reviewing those commentaries.
This is a Reading and Reader’s review of “The Message of Daniel: His Kingdom Cannot Fail” by Dale Ralph Davis. 173 pages, published by Inter-Varsity Press Academic in August 2013. It is available for USD14.05 in Amazon Kindle as of this recording but if you go to Logos this month, June, you can get it for USD1.99.
In fact, I am rushing this episode out so that there is a higher chance that you, my dear listener, will go and get it. What are you waiting for? Don’t you want the Bible to speak to you today? Don’t you want to know God’s awesome kingdom that will not fail? Isn’t this why you subscribed to this podcast, so that you will not miss a good book deal? I hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. Thanks for listening.`