James M. Hamilton, With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology

Hamilton, Jr., James M. With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology. NSBT 32; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2014. 272 pp. Pb; $20. Link to IVP

James Hamilton, associate professor of biblical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church, is well-qualified to write a biblical theology of Daniel. His commentary on Revelation was published in the Preaching the Word commentary series. Hamilton contributed a short introduction to Biblical Theology (What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns, Crossway, 2014). The New Studies in Biblical Theology series has contributed many studies on both the Old and New Testament seeking to study particular elements of Biblical Theology from a canonical or theological perspective. Perhaps what is unique about this volume is the focus is primarily on the book of Daniel. There are a number of elements of Hamilton’s book attempt to trace broader themes of Biblical theology. For example Hamilton seeks to read the typologies from the book of Daniel through the Second Temple Period and the New Testament, especially the book of Revelation. He has also written a major commentary on the Psalms in the EBTC series (Lexham 2022).

James M. HamiltonChapter 1 discusses methodological issues necessary for understanding Biblical Theology within the Canon in Scripture. Hamilton is clear he is an Evangelical who holds to a very high view of scripture including inerrancy. This will result in some rather traditional views concerning the book of Daniel. Chapter 2 places Daniel in the overall structure of salvation history in the Old Testament. Hamilton argues Daniel’s main contribution to salvation history concerns the latter days when “the little horn makes great boasts” in persecutes God’s people in the end times.

In Chapter 3 Hamilton suggests a literary structure for the book of Daniel. Outlining the book of Daniel is notoriously difficult: should the change on language from Hebrew to Aramaic be used as a structural clue? Perhaps the content is more important, narrative versus apocalyptic. Hamilton argues the book of Daniel is framed with the beginning of the exile (ch. 1) and the return from exile (ch. 10-12). The four kingdoms vision in Daniel 2 is paralleled by four kingdoms visions in chapters 7-9. In the center of the structure are two chapters on humbling the proud kings, first Nebuchadnezzar (ch. 4) and Belshazzar (ch. 5). This analysis is intriguing especially since the two humbling passages are central to the theological interests of Daniel. I am not convinced the “four kingdoms” vision ought to include chapters 7-9, however. It is better, in my view, to structure the book using Aramaic portions of the book, with the two visions of four kings (chs. 2 and 7). In chapters 3 and 6 the four young men demonstrate strength in persecution. The two chapters on humbling kings are still central in this scheme.

Chapter 4 examines the four kingdoms in Daniel 2 and 7, as well as the Ram and Goat vision in Daniel 8. Hamilton also includes the rather difficult vision of the kings of the north and south in Daniel 10-12 in this section. Hamilton follows a traditional scheme in which the first kingdom is Babylon followed by Medo-Persia, Greece and a final unnamed kingdom. This final kingdom has characteristics corresponding to Rome in many ways, although he falls short in claiming the fourth kingdom is actually Rome. As the book progresses, Hamilton argues the last kingdom is typological for the final evil empire of the last days.

Chapter 5 discusses the 70 weeks prophecy, suggesting the 70 weeks is symbolic of a tenfold Jubilee and corresponds to the long exile of Israel. The first 69 weeks conclude with the cutting off of the Messiah, the crucifixion of Jesus for Hamilton. After discussion various suggestions for exact end of the 69 weeks, he concludes the number is a general time period rather like the 70 years of exile. Both numbers are approximately the time of the exile and one should not expect them to be precisely exact.

Chapter 6 surveys all the heavenly beings in the book of Daniel and offers a rather Christological interpretation of the Son of Man in Daniel 7. The son of man is distinct from all of the other angelic beings in the book. Hamilton argues he is both a human king in the line of David but also a preexistent heavenly being and member of God’s heavenly Court.

Chapter 7-9 traces the history of interpretation of Daniel through the Second Temple Period literature, the New Testament, and finally the book of Revelation. Beginning with Tobit, Hamilton argues the author of Tobit understood Daniel typologically as a model of a faithful Jewish person living in the Exile. At Qumran, however the book of Daniel was interpreted eschatologically, looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. First Maccabees, on the other hand, thinks of Daniel as a historical figure who models faithfulness in persecution. 1 Enoch describes a “son of man” as the Davidic King, a deliverer, and an agent of God’s judgment. This view is supported also by 4 Ezra, at the end of the first century. Hamilton therefore finds a diverse use of Daniel in the Second Temple Period, not exclusively eschatological. I thought there ought to be a section on the Story of Ahikar since this legend is not unlike Daniel in that he becomes a government official in the Assyrian empire.

Turning to the New Testament, Hamilton examines a handful of quotations of Daniel and Matthew 13. Here he sees a reversal of human wickedness sitting things right. In Daniel Nebuchadnezzar commanded people to commit idolatry, in the Gospels Jesus commands true worship. Those who refuse to worship God will be gathered and “thrown into the fiery furnace” (Matt 13:42, 50). I am ultimately not convinced by Hamilton’s description of how Daniel is used in Matthew’s parables of the kingdom. However, I am also not sure why Matthew uses language from the fiery furnace in the way that he does. This particular text needs further study.

Hamilton spends most of the section examining how Matt 24 and Mark 13 used Daniel. In fact he says that the Olivet Discourse is a kind of “commentary on Daniel” and is therefore a window into how Jesus understood Daniel as referring to the end of the age. Like Daniel, there will be Great Tribulation such as not been seen since the beginning of time (Dan 12). There will be deceptive false christs and false prophets and ultimately a gathering of the elect from the four corners of the world. Here. Hamilton very clearly rejects pre-tribulation rapture, stating that “there is no indication Jesus will rapture out his followers prior to the tribulation” (188). Faithful followers of Christ will, like Daniel, endure to the end.

Finally in the Gospels, Hamilton sees an allusion to Daniel 6:17 in the sealed two (Matt 27:66). When Daniel is sealed in the Lion’s den he is as good as dead, yet in the morning he is found to be alive. Daniel therefore constitutes a “type of Christ” who was also is sealed in a tomb and discovered three days later to be alive. Hamilton gives a number of other parallels between Daniel 6 in Matt 27. For example, in Daniel, Darius the king attempts to release Daniel, in Matthew Pilate tries to release Jesus.

Hamilton also includes 2 Thess 2:4 (Jude 16) as an allusion to Daniel. Paul uses the language of rebellion and abomination, perhaps drawn from Daniel’s “abomination that causes desolation.” There are a number of thematic fulfillments Daniel’s view of salvation history , including the appearing of the Lord Jesus at “just the right time” and his is reign as an everlasting dominion which will never end.

It is obvious the book of Daniel is highly influential on the book of Revelation, therefore Hamilton devotes a chapter to Revelation’s view of Daniel. Since the literature on this topic is vast, Hamilton limits himself to places where John reuses Daniel’s language (102). Many of his examples are very close lexically, although at times I wonder if there is direct dependence since the phrases are generic. For example the phrase “God of heaven” is used in Daniel and Revelation, but the phrase is common enough that is cannot be used to prove dependence.

There are other places however where Hamilton makes some excellent connections. For example in Revelation chapter to the city of Smyrna faces a 10 day time of testing the same amount of time Daniel and his friends were tested (Dan 1). Another apocalyptic motif is a heavenly being who reveals so much information that the seer is overwhelmed and collapses. The heavenly being then revives and strengthens the recipient of the vision. The “man clothed in linen” in Dan 10 is likely the background for John’s description of Christ in Revelation 1.

Hamilton makes great deal out of the parallels between his understanding of the overall structure of Daniel and Revelation. In both cases he finds a chiastic structure and in both cases the books center on the coming kingdom of God. However, the structure of Daniel is not as settled as Hamilton claims, and the parallels he suggests between the two books are not always clear. To be fair, he does refer to these as “broad correspondences” (207), but they are far too broad for my taste. More useful to me is Hamilton’s collection of examples John citing Daniel’s prophecy as fulfilled. For example, the “one coming on the clouds of heaven” in Dan 7 is fulfilled in Revelation in Jesus. There are a number of typological fulfillments as well.

Hamilton offers a number of examples in which John clarifies Daniel’s visions. He argues the way John interprets Daniel’s Seventieth week will give us insight into the original meaning of Daniel’s vision (212). This assumes that John’s interpretation of Daniel is in fact inspired and inerrant. It is possible, for example, John is re-interpreting Daniel in order make the Seventieth week fit a new and different context. Why did the kingdom not arrive after the messiah was cut off? If John is writing fifty or sixty years after the crucifixion, he may be trying to answer the problem of the non-return of the Messiah. This re-interpretation may be different than Daniel’s original intention and equally inspired and inerrant, but not helpful for understanding the original prophecy. I think Hamilton is right, but I am less confident that the New Testament ought to guide exegesis of the Old. With respect to the fourth kingdom from Daniel, I agree this kingdom is in some ways Rome, but also typological of the final kingdom prior to the eschatological age.

Finally Hamilton suggests that Daniel creates some typical logical patterns for biblical theology (ch. 9). He describes a “promised shaped paradigm” beginning with Abraham which he traces through the Psalms. This typology helps to understand the relationship between Joseph and Daniel, but for Hamilton, there are other similar typologies: Jehoiachin, Esther and Nehemiah all live out their lives in the Exile, like Daniel. This chapter probably should have limited itself parallels between Joseph and Daniel has types of Christ since there are clear examples and parallels. Hamilton in fact lists a page and a half of parallels between Joseph and Daniel many of which can be seen as types of Christ. I have always found typology something of a dark heart so I find I am less than impressed with typologies with Esther, Mordecai, and Nehemiah and other things he describes as a “broad pattern.” But the Joseph Daniel Jesus typology seems to be clear.

Conclusion. I found Hamilton’s book to be challenging and stimulating. It is good to seen conservative Evangelical scholars working in Daniel and Apocalyptic literature and defending their views well. Those who date Daniel to the Maccabean period or take the fourth kingdom as Greece will still find value in much of this book. I appreciate the fact Hamilton attempts to fit Daniel into an overall biblical theology, even if I am resistant to some of his use of typology. His material on Daniel’s interpretation in the Second Temple Period is excellent, although the topic is worthy of a monograph. I find many of his arguments persuasive. However, it is always difficult to put too much weight on the structure of the book like Daniel or Revelation as he does in the later chapters of this book.

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

10 thoughts on “James M. Hamilton, With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology

  1. Phillip, thanks for a great review of the book by James Hamilton. Several questions come to mind from reading the review. First are the number references in parenthesis page numbers from book? Second what is meant by tenfold jubilee?

    One interesting note is I find it interesting that the author rejects pretribulation rapture. How much detail does he go into expousing this idea and view from Daniel?

    • Yes, the (#) refs are page numbers in the book.

      What he whats to avoid is precise dating. The 70 years was “about 70 years” or three generations. He compares this to the years of captivity in Ezekiel 4, 430 years is pretty close to Daniel, They are symbolic numbers, not literate (page 126). Connecting these typological long periods to the Jubilee year from Lev 25, he can argue something like “70 Years of Captivity were like a Jubilee for the land, so the 490 years are ten times as long, Ten times is a “complete” time.” I think this is an interesting tactic, although he still ends up in the Roman era with the coming of the Messiah, even if he rejects setting a precise date like the Triumphal Entry, etc.

      With respect to Rapture, Hamilton does not really say much beyond what I have said here, no argumentation or details, The reason is simply that this is not the subject of the book! I have a sense he would follow Moo in the Four (or was it Three?) Views on the Rapture that Zondervan put out a few years ago. This is still a book well-worth reading, but not an argument for “pre-wrath rapture.”

      Thanks for the comment!

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