icon of guardian angel with sword in hand
A guardian angel is on the job

The Uniform Series text for Sunday, January 28 is Daniel 10:10-19, part of the introduction to Daniel’s final vision and the final apocalyptic prophesy in the book of Daniel. Daniel has been mourning and fasting since the vision in chapter 9, and at the beginning of chapter 10 has been approached by a celestial being of tremendous size (according to Rashi) and brightness. The section we are reading follows this initial appearance, and precedes the angel’s recitation of coming events of the “end of days” (Daniel 10:14).

First Impressions: The immediate context for Daniel 10:10-19 is the beginning of chapter 10, when the vision begins. Curious that the preface stresses “the word was true” (v1). Daniel’s response to the celestial being (vv5-6) seems completely reasonable – because in trying to imagine a celestial being suddenly appearing in the office, I think – if a regular-looking stranger suddenly appeared in the office, I would be afraid; so if a giant super-bright celestial being appeared, I’m sure it would be worse. Daniel’s companions sense the presence of the being even though they can’t see it. That’s interesting.

“Greatly beloved” stands out (v11).

I always dread these texts that have figures like “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” (v13) – why? (Maybe because I have read too many literalist, dogmatist interpretations, on one hand, and then contemptuous dismissals on the other, and I want to land somewhere in between, but don’t have the details worked out on how to do that, and would just like not to have to deal with it …?)

Context: Daniel has been mourning for some shorter or longer period of time – Rashi comments that it’s “three weeks of days,” namely twenty-one years, since the reconstruction of the Temple was curtailed as described in the book of Ezra. But NRSV says “three weeks,” and there’s no clue as to the particular occasion for this mourning, accompanied by fasting. The being that arrives, dressed in linen (“like a priest” according to the study Bible notes) is bringing a vision that will occupy the rest of the book of Daniel. Although this being makes references to the “princes” of various countries or nations (e.g., Persia, Greece, Michael who is “one of the chief princes” and the “prince of your people” v19), the being himself is not named; perhaps he is one of these princes as well, or perhaps not.

Closer Reading: The interaction between Daniel and the celestial being is an acutely strange mixture of the terrifying and the reassuring.

Terrifying, or at least overwhelming, because of its clear effect on Daniel: Daniel is knocked unconscious face to the ground (v9), only manages to get up to his hands and knees at first (v10), finally stands up but trembles (v11), is only able to speak with assistance (v15, v16), and even then says he doesn’t have enough strength for a conversation and feels like the wind’s been knocked out of him (v17).

Reassuring, because the being repeatedly touches him (vv10, 16, 18), calls him “greatly beloved” (literally, “desirable” or “precious” vv11, 19), tells him not to fear (vv12, 19), and that he is “safe” (literally, “shalom is upon you” v19), and to be “strong and strong” (v19), and all this touching and speaking finally strengthens him (vv18, 19). And, perhaps also in the reassuring category, the being informs him of a lot of celestial activity taking place on his and his people’s behalf (vv12-14, 20). And the being has been sent to him (v11). To help him understand (v14). So presumably “someone up there likes him.”

One last thought: I am inclined to want to focus on the reassurance.

This is partly because I am not quite sure what to make of the “theology of history” related in chapters 10-12. On one hand, the angelic princes seem to be engaged in endeavors that are at least a little bit subject to chance – since the being speaking to Daniel has “come because of your words” (12), but then was “opposed” and helped by Michael and it took him all this time to arrive. This sounds like a little story of events that might have unfolded otherwise, at least a little otherwise. But then the angel proceeds to tell Daniel what is “inscribed in the book of truth” (v21), and that content is presented as future events that seem to be known in some detail, so, a story of events that are already pre-ordained. To me that sounds like two different theologies of history. Maybe we could make them into one with enough of the right kind of work, but do we want to do that work this week? Or maybe someone has already done that work, but I just haven’t found out about it yet.

And then there is the question of how this relates to the date of composition of the book of Daniel, whether that is early or late, and how that might affect the way contemporary readers need to read Daniel’s theology of history, and how that might affect the way we understand what this text has to say about what is happening to and around us today. Do I conclude that there is an ongoing celestial battle that is influenced by our prayers (a view plenty of people in my zip code would affirm), or do I conclude that ultimately everything that happens has been worked out in advance (a view Calvin famously affirmed), or do I conclude that whoever wrote this text in the 2nd century BCE thought something like that, or …?

But mainly I think the reassurance is the most definite aspect of the text. Whatever else the text does or doesn’t say, it says that Daniel’s experience was one of being cherished by God. Even when events were not obviously positive, even when it was not easy to communicate that divine attitude, and in fact, even when it was impossible to communicate it without scaring Daniel half to death first, the text affirms Daniel’s being “beloved” and “safe” – literally, under shalom. So the reassurance seems to be the thing to stick with.