How to Read Daniel

The Book of Daniel

Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application.  

Daniel, a Major Prophet, highlights the pattern of evil in the world, and the promise that God will one day completely rescue his creation and usher in a new Kingdom. These themes are laid out through the stories and dreams of Daniel, living in Babylon during the exile. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the book of Daniel, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video.

Now that you have an overview of Daniel in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Daniel. Read Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man In Daniel 7:13–14. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Daniel 7:13–14.   

Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV)

The Son of Man Is Given Dominion

13“I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven

there came one like a son of man,

and he came to the Ancient of Days

and was presented before him.

14 And to him was given dominion

and glory and a kingdom,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

should serve him;

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,

which shall not pass away,

and his kingdom one

that shall not be destroyed.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: A new Kingdom is coming that involves people of all nations, and it will never be destroyed.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Daniel 7:13–14? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) A new Kingdom is coming that involves people of all nations, and it will never be destroyed. (Interpretation) God will restore all things and bring a new Kingdom, with Jesus as King. People of every tribe and tongue will serve God, and no other nation will ever overthrow it. 

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Daniel 7:13–14? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Daniel? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: God promised that He would bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham’s family. From David’s line a King is promised, who will always be on the throne. Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man. Jesus tells His followers to make disciples of all nations. God will ultimately defeat all evil and His Kingdom will not be shaken. It will endure for all eternity.

Contextualize: What themes does Daniel 7:13–14 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Jeremiah? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the earlier books of the Bible?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Like Daniel, I live in a world of persecution. I am still in “exile” on earth from my true home. But even in the midst of persecution, or political ploys, or the ever-shifting allegiances of nations, I can rest in the promise that God is still at work to restore all things to Himself, and bring His Kingdom to earth. This week, when I am feeling anxious about who is leading our nation, or when I am tempted to despair or worry about the fate of the church in our country, I can ask God for renewed hope in His promises, just like He renewed Daniel’s hope that God would still be faithful in the middle of exile. His Kingdom is coming.

Apply: How does the truth from Daniel 7:13–14 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Daniel to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps us wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.  

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Daniel, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Daniel this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 

To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.