Mystery and Majesty

I finished my Daniel 10 exegesis paper this afternoon. It was rather substantial, and at 10 cents a copy on the CRTS library printer it cost nearly 5 dollars to print. You should expect at such times for something to go wrong, and you shouldn’t blame the library computer when you end up printing the whole thing twice. And it’s not the stapler’s fault, either, if you prick your finger on a staple after two hours of formatting purgatory. Besides, passing the blame just lessens the satisfaction when, with multiple staple holes and maybe a spot of blood, the paper finally drops into Dr. Smith’s mail slot.

The following section is the passage from my paper that covers verses 5 and 6. There are a number of mysterious figures in chapter 10, like Michael, and the prince of Persia, and in verses 5 and 6 Daniel sees a blazing apparition that leaves the beloved man bereft of his dignity. Some scholars argue that Daniel sees a vision of God (a theophany), others that he sees the angel Gabriel, and still others that the figure cannot be identified at all. Here is what I concluded:


10:5-6: I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a man clothed in white linen, his waist girded with gold of Uphaz. 6. His body was like a yellow jewel and his face like the appearance of lightning; his eyes were like flaming torches and his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze; the sound of his words was like the sound of a roar.

The identity of the man in linen is not given by Daniel, but I conclude from the context that he is Gabriel. Some argue that he is the pre-incarnate Christ, and there are two passages elsewhere in Scripture where similar visions are recorded, the comparisons with which can help to answer that question. The first is the vision Ezekiel sees in chapter 1 of his book, and the second is John’s vision of Christ in the book of Revelation.

In Ezekiel 1, the prophet sees “visions of God” (v.1). He also sees four creatures who serve as God’s throne, creatures we know from Ezekiel 10 to be cherubim (10:15,20). These creatures gleam like burnished bronze (v.7), in their midst are torches of fire and flashes of lightning (v.13), their wheels sparkle like jewels (v.16), and they make a sound like that of many waters (v.24). While it is evident that the vision is a theophany, it is important to note that the beings who appear this way are not God, but the cherubim.

In Revelation 1 the apostle John has a vision of the glorified Christ. Christ appears to him wearing a golden sash (v.13), with eyes like fire (v.14), with feet like burnished bronze (v.15), and with a voice like the sound of many waters (v.15). The similarity of these descriptions strongly suggests a connection between the visions.

But scholars debate over what such a comparison reveals. Keil is not alone in arguing that the man in linen that Daniel sees “was no common angel-prince, but a manifestation of Jehovah, i.e. the Logos.”[1] He makes the case by starting with Ezekiel’s vision, a known theophany, and interprets Daniel’s vision from that. Only then does he draw the line to Revelation, as a means of sealing his argument tight.[2] The problem with his argument, however, is his reading of Ezekiel’s vision. He claims that the whole vision Ezekiel sees is “the glorious appearance of the Lord,” but this is not the case. The reality, as mentioned above, is that the four creatures Ezekiel sees, the ones that appear with similar features to the man in linen, are not God, but cherubim.

This creates a major difficulty for the argument that, based on appearance, the man in linen is God. For what we have in Ezekiel, then, is a known instance of creatures who bear a likeness to the man in linen. And if we know that creatures can appear this way, then a confident deduction cannot be drawn from Daniel’s vision that the man in linen is God. One can argue from his appearance that he is a creature as much as one can argue that he is the Second Person of the Trinity. Which is to say, based on his appearance the matter is inconclusive.

Nevertheless, the similarities between the visions of Ezekiel, Daniel, and John do beg for some explanation. For that purpose there is a fourth passage that may be helpful. Exodus 28 describes the garments that Moses is to have made for the priests. The priests will be clothed with a linen robe and girded by an embroidered sash (v.39); their torsos will glitter with jewels (v.12, 17-21); and a solid gold plate will flash from their foreheads (v.36-38). These are similar to the robe, the sash, the torso, and the flashing countenance of Daniel’s messenger. The LORD tells Moses that these vestments are to be made “for glory and for beauty” (v.20). So not only were these garments meant to be attractive, they were meant as well to be a picture of God’s glory.

Perhaps, then, the conclusion we should draw from comparing the above visions is not that the beings bear God’s divinity, but that they bear his glory. Psalm 96:6 says, “Splendor and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” Glory, then, is not only an attribute of God, it is also an attribute that God imparts to the place where he dwells and is worshiped, and to those who are there in his presence. It can be assumed, of course, that any creature in heaven is in God’s presence, but no doubt there are those who have the privilege of being closer than others. The four cherubim in Ezekiel are the throne of God; Christ sits at God’s right hand; and, to anticipate myself a little, in Luke 1:19 Gabriel says to Zechariah, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God.” Zechariah knew he was seeing an angel, for he was gripped with fear at the sight, so there was no need for Gabriel to inform him that he was from heaven. Instead, Gabriel’s words indicate his high rank and his close proximity, even in heaven, to God himself. It is stronger, then, to conclude based on his appearance that the man in linen is appearing to Daniel with an awesome display of heavenly splendor and majesty than to conclude that the man is God himself.

Among scholars who do not accept the interpretation that the man is the pre-incarnate Christ, Collins points out, “the angel in question is generally assumed to be Gabriel.”[3] This fits well with the context of Daniel, as Gabriel had appeared already in chapters 8 and 9. As for specific connections to the man in linen, in chapter 8:15 Gabriel is described as “one who looked like a man,” (c.f. 10:16,18), and just as in chapter 10, the appearance of Gabriel in chapter 9 is frightening (v.17) and causes Daniel to faint (v.18). He also strengthens Daniel by touching him (v.18). In chapter 9:23 Gabriel arrives in response to Daniel’s humbling himself before God, telling him that he is highly esteemed, just as the man in linen does (10:11,12). In 8:16 Gabriel is called upon by a man at the river to give Daniel understanding of the vision, a scene very similar to 12:6. A further line of argument, in connection with the discussion above, is that perhaps Gabriel’s awesome appearance in chapter 10 is due to the more full and detailed revelation that he brings to Daniel, not just regarding the people of God but also regarding his own role in the angelic realm.

The argument in favour of Gabriel suffers, though, from the fact that the angel is not named. In both of Gabriel’s prior appearances he is identified, but his name is conspicuously absent here. It may be that the reader is expected to draw the conclusion himself, but this is just a guess. Nevertheless, although I acknowledge this weakness I do believe that the argument that this man is Gabriel is a strong one.

[1] C.F. Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Book of Daniel, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, eds. C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, trans. M.G. Easton, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968), 410.

[2] Ibid., 410.

[3] John J. Collins, Daniel, Hermenia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, ed. Frank Moore Cross, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 373.


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