The book of Daniel seems almost like two books. The first six chapters tell of four young Israelites in the Babylonian captivity (chapter 1)—Daniel (also known as Belshazzar), Hananiah (aka Shadrach), Mishael (aka Meshack), and Azariah (aka Abednego). These first six chapters include the stories of:
• Daniel interpreting two of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams (chapters 2 and 4).
• The king making a gold statue and requiring that everyone worship it. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to do so, the king had them thrown in a fiery furnace—but God joined the three young men in the fire and prevented them from being harmed (chapter 3).
• Daniel interpreting the handwriting on the wall for King Nebuchadnezzar—followed immediately by Nebuchadnezzar’s death and the ascendancy of Darius to the throne (chapter 5).
• Daniel being thrown in the lion’s den—and being saved from harm by the Lord (chapter 6).
At chapter 7, the writing changes from pure narrative to apocalyptic narrative that includes visions of strange beasts, judgment, and angels.
Chapters 10-12 tell of Daniel’s vision of conflict between nations and heavenly powers, culminating in a judgment scene where sinners are consigned to “shame and everlasting contempt,” but the wise are resurrected to “shine as the brightness of the expanse” (12:2-3).
Chapter 11 tells of turmoil among Persia and Greece (11:2-6) and among the “king of the south” (the Ptolemies of Egypt) and the “king of the north” (the Seleucids from Syria and Mesopotamia). This tracks with what we know of conflict between the Seleucid King Antiochus III (Antiochus the Great) and Egypt for control of Palestine and Lebanon, which resulted in victory for Antiochus in 198 B.C. However, his ambitions exceeded his reach, resulting in defeats, humiliation, and his death in 187 B.C.
While the book of Daniel does not mention Antiochus III by name, chapter 11, verses 10-19 reads like a chronicle of his reign.
Antiochus III was succeeded by his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who ruled Syria from 187-164 B.C. Epiphanes meant “God manifest,” but his enemies called him Epimanes, which meant “Madman”—an appropriate nickname.
Antiochus IV, intent on Hellenizing the Jews, desecrated the Jewish temple and tried to impose the worship of Greek gods—inspiring a revolt on the part of the Jewish Maccabeans, who won a David-versus-Goliath victory against the powerful Seleucids.
While the book of Daniel does not mention Antiochus IV by name, chapter 11, verses 21–45 reads like a chronicle of his reign.
However, if chapters 1-6 and 7-12 appear, at first glance, to be very different stories, they are, in fact, one story—the story of God’s providential care for God’s people—told from two different perspectives. Chapters 1-6 tell the story as it relates to God’s care for a handful of God’s people (Daniel, Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego). Chapters 7-12 tell the same story as it relates to God’s care for the nation Israel.
DANIEL 12:1-3. AT THAT TIME, YOUR PEOPLE SHALL BE DELIVERED
1 “At that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince who stands for the children of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who shall be found written in the book. 2Many (Hebrew: rab·bim) of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise shall shine as the brightness of the expanse; and those who turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever.
“At that time” (v. 1a). This phrase connects this verse to the tumultuous events of chapter 11. When those terrible things take place, God has a plan to save his people.
“shall Michael stand up, the great prince who stands for the children of your people” (v. 1b). We first heard of Michael in 10:13, when “a man clothed in linen”—presumably an angel (10:5)—sought to reassure Daniel. He said that “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” had opposed him, but Michael dealt with that dark prince. He then said, “there is none who holds with me against these, but Michael your prince” (10:21). In the New Testament, Michael is portrayed as fighting Satan (Jude 1:9; Revelation 12:7).
Jewish tradition speaks of seven archangels, four of whom—Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel—were allowed to stand in God’s presence. While the duties of the archangels are not clearly delineated, the idea seems to be that God placed them in command of the great host of God’s angels to do God’s bidding (Stuart, 347).
“and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time” (v. 1c). This time of anguish would be when Antiochus IV tried to “profane the sanctuary, even the fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt offering, and they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate” (11:32). He will defeat Egypt and “go forth with great fury to destroy and utterly to sweep away many” (11:44).
“and at that time your people shall be delivered” (v. 1d). This is the point. In spite of this bad king’s power and wealth, “he shall come to his end, and none will help him” (11:45). His power and wealth will not protect him against justice of God, who will deliver his people. Judas Maccabeus and his family will defeat Antiochus and his armies—a true David-and-Goliath kind of victory.
“everyone who shall be found written in the book” (v. 1e). This would be the Book of Life (a phrase that is used in Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27). That is a book in which God records the names of the righteous. It is “a list of those who belong to God’s people, the citizen list of the true Jerusalem” (Goldingay).
It is these people—those whose names are written in the Book of Life—who shall be delivered (v. 1d).
“Many (rab·bim) of those” (v. 2a). This Hebrew word, rab·bim, means “many.” Some scholars interpret rab·bim in this context to emphasize the selectiveness of those who will awake to everlasting life. Other scholars feel that the emphasis is on the large number rather than the selectiveness (Baldwin, 204).
“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (v. 2). In the Old Testament, “sleep” is sometimes used as a metaphor for “death” (Job 14:12; Psalm 13:3; Jeremiah 51:39, 57).
This is one of only a few references to resurrection in the Old Testament—although the word “resurrection” doesn’t appear until the New Testament. Other allusions to resurrection in the Old Testament include:
• Deuteronomy 32:39 (“I kill, and I make alive”).
• 1 Samuel 2:6 (“Yahweh kills, and makes alive. He brings down to Sheol, and brings up”).
• Isaiah 25:8 (“He has swallowed up death forever [and]…will wipe away tears from off all faces”).
• Isaiah 26:19 (“Your dead shall live. My dead bodies shall arise”).
• Ezekiel 37:12-14 (“Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, my people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. You shall know that I am Yahweh, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, my people. I will put my Spirit in you, and you shall live”). However, Ezekiel’s vision was intended to portray the rebirth of Israel as a community of faith rather than the resurrection of faithful people as individuals.
• Hosea 6:2 (“After two days he will revive us. On the third day he will raise us up, and we will live before him”).
But, for the most part, Old Testament Jews tended to think of living on through their children rather than living eternally in heaven.
In the New Testament, the Jewish people were divided on the subject of resurrection. Pharisees believed in resurrection, but Sadducees did not (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18).
“Those who are wise” (v. 3a). In this verse, “Those who are wise” stands parallel to “those who turn many to righteousness”—which suggests that wise people are righteous people. It takes a wise person to lead people to wisdom and a righteous person to lead people to righteousness.
However, we should not hear this to mean that “those who are wise” constitute an exclusive elite. Spiritual wisdom isn’t limited to those few people who enjoy a high IQ, but is a characteristic of every faithful believer. Spiritual wisdom isn’t manifested in mental gymnastics, but in a life lived faithfully for God.
“shall shine as the brightness of the expanse; and those who turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever” (v. 3b). People have been fascinated by the bright lights of the sky—the sun, moon, and stars—from the beginning of time. Many ancients worshiped the stars, although Jewish law forbade such practice (Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:2-5).
Those of us who live and work indoors, surrounded at night by bright light, can barely fathom the impact that the moon and stars had on primitive people. Their nights would take on a quality of darkness that most people today never experience. On a clear night, they would see millions of stars—most of which would never show through our light-pollution. Such people would wonder about the stars—would dream about reaching up to touch the stars. But their stars, however bright, would be less accessible to them than the diamonds in a jeweler’s case are to most of us.
The stars were not only beautiful; they were useful too. The ancients found their way around the darkness by moonlight and starlight. They learned early that they could use stars for navigation. Stars might seem to move across the night sky, but the ancients knew that the stars were never out of place. If they seemed out of place, it was only because the observer didn’t understand them—or because the observer was out of place.
Now, Daniel’s vision promises that the faithful shall shine like those stars—beautiful—dependable—useful—eternal. People would admire them. They would learn to guide by the light of their faithful mentors. Faithful people would bless all those who observed their lives, just as we are all blessed by the lights that God has placed in the sky.
Surely with this verse in mind, Jesus concluded his Parable of the Weeds by saying:
“Then the righteous will shine forth like the sun
in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Baldwin, Joyce G., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Daniel, Vol. 21 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1978)
Duguid, Iain M., Reformed Expository Commentary: Daniel (Philipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company, 2008)
Ferguson, Sinclair B., The Preacher’s Commentary: Daniel, Vol. 21 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1988)
Goldingay, John E., Word Biblical Commentary: Daniel, Vol. 30 (Dallas: Word Books, 1989)
Lederach, Paul M., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Daniel (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1994)
Miller, Stephen R., New American Commentary: Daniel, Vol. 18 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998)
Pace, Sharon, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Daniel (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2008)
Smith-Christopher, Daniel L., The New Interpreters Bible: Daniel, Vol.VII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)
Stuart, Douglas, in Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume Three: K-P – Revised (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986)
Towner, W. Sibley, Interpretation Commentary: Daniel (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984)
Copyright 2009, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan