When we read the stories of Daniel it’s easy to miss out on the story of Daniel. The episodic nature of the narratives and visions inclines readers to approach them individually. Through impressive storytelling the miracles come to life and the visions mysteriously reveal God’s grand plans for the future. Who doesn’t want to dig into stories of miraculous deliverance and eschatological mystery!? There’s hope in thinking that God will miraculously deliver us when we’re faithful. There’s encouragement in knowing that tortured tyrants get what’s coming to them. And it’s comforting to think that those who have an ax to grind with God’s people will soon be ground down.

These stories within the story keep readers engaged, they reveal and remind us that God is personally involved in the details, and they move the plot of the larger story forward. Most importantly, they reveal a pattern: God is at work in the lives of individuals, families/groups, and nations, sovereignly positioning them for his ultimate purposes. Though these mighty works of God are told through individual stories, they all coalesce to form a story. If we focus on the individual stories, to the exclusion of the story, we risk missing key themes and emphases of the text. In the case of Daniel, we miss clues about God’s future plans for the land of Israel. Because Daniel itself is only a part of the larger story, it doesn’t give us all the answers about the future, but it does offer a specific clue about the future of the Promised Land. In order to see this, we need to pay attention to the framing of the story of Daniel. How the story begins and ends reveals Daniel’s view of Israel’s future in the land.

How does the story begin? With Jerusalem being sacked and the temple plundered (1:1-2): “In the third regnal year of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his power along with some of the articles of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar to the house of his god, and the vessels he brought to the treasure of this god.” If we’re focused on the stories, instead of the story, we’re tempted to jump ahead to the part about Daniel and his three friends being taken captive. After all, this is what the first chapter highlights. God works on behalf of, and through, Daniel and his friends’ faithfulness. It’s a great story! It’s hope-giving to be reminded that God works for, and through, our faithfulness. And we should trumpet that message and be encouraged.

But why does the story of Daniel begin with these verses? How do they set the tone for the whole book? They shout to all within earshot, “Israel has lost the land!” This is a massive moment of change for God’s people. The land was part of their identity. It was a key piece of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Read Joshua 14-22. What generally bores modern readers, long lists of tribal land allotments, was painstakingly detailed because it was viewed as the fulfilment of one of God’s most cherished promises – the land. The story of Daniel begins with the loss of this land; it now belongs to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. But even in these first two verses the text emphasizes that the land was ultimately still God’s to give. The way Daniel records it, God “gave”[1] the land to the king of Babylon; Nebuchadnezzar didn’t take it.

Now that we’ve set the stage by understanding the significance of the beginning of the story, let’s turn to the end and see if it lines up with our take on the beginning. The last verse of Daniel (12:13) reads, “And as for you, continue to the end. You will rest, and you will rise to your allotted portion at the end of days.” At first glance, it seems to be a simple encouragement to Daniel. “Continue to the end” implies that Daniel’s way of life is exemplary – there’s nothing to be corrected in the way he has lived to this point. However, if we slow down and read this final verse as the end of the story of Daniel, and not simply an encouragement to the prophet, we see something significant. When God’s messenger tells Daniel, “You will rise to your allotted portion at the end of days,” it’s a loaded phrase dripping with promise. That whole section of Joshua previously mentioned (14-22), the one that records the land distribution to the tribes of Israel, consistently uses the same word to describe their allotted (גּוֹרָל) portions in the Promised Land. The end of the story of Daniel is a promise of return to their land, a reversal of what happened at the beginning of the story (1:1-2). The land is God’s to give, and according to Daniel, he will, once again, give it to his people. Indeed, a hope-filled conclusion to the story.

There’s no question the stories of Daniel are marvelously told and meant to be studied, taught, meditated on, convicting, and encouraging to God’s people. However, we can’t read the stories and neglect the story. The story was intended to be read from beginning to end. In this reading, it becomes clear that God is sovereign over all (individuals, families/groups, and nations) and he has sovereignly declared that Israel will, once again, inhabit their allotted portion in the land he promised.

*To read about all the detailed stories that take place between the beginning and the end of the story, check out our new commentary on Daniel.

[1] The Hebrew word for “give” (נָתַן) is used at three key moments in the first chapter and God is the subject of each.