James M. Hamilton Jr.. With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology. Grand Rapid: IVP Academic, 2014. 274 pp. $26.00.
Studying apocalyptic literature is difficult to say the least. Preaching apocalyptic literature, some might say, is flat out crazy. I did so for high school students in 2012 and am still reeling from the experience. I preached through Daniel and had the toughest time wading through the theological vantage points offered by a spectrum of commentaries.
The book of Daniel – like Ezekiel, Zechariah, Revelation, and the Olivet Discourse – is an extremely complex book to interpret. This is the nature of apocalyptic literature. Much like deep-sea scuba diving, having a reliable companion on your journey into the colorful depths of this book is a necessity.
With the Clouds of Heaven by Dr. James M. Hamilton Jr. – professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church – is your diving companion for studies in the book of Daniel; it’s the book I wish I had in 2012.
With the Clouds of Heaven is a recent installment in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. This series is edited by D. A. Carson and published by IVP Academic. If you haven’t encountered these silver paperbacks on biblical theology, then you have missed out. I rarely say this about theologies or commentaries but every book in this series is worth purchasing.
Ten chapters constitute the content of With the Clouds of Heaven. Chapter one covers preliminaries by offering a definition of biblical theology, discussing the role of canon in this study, and Hamilton’s evangelical approach. Chapter two sets Daniel within its Old Testament historical redemptive context. Chapter three compares, contrasts, and critiques the many proposals of Daniel’s literary structure, which leads to Hamilton presenting his own proposal. Chapter four examines the biblical-theological concept of the four kingdoms in Daniel. Chapter five tackles the complex task of interpreting the seventy weeks in Daniel. Chapter six studies the divine and angelic images throughout Daniel. Chapter seven interacts with the extant extra-biblical literature alluding to Daniel. Chapter eight and nine cover the New Testament writer’s interpretation of Daniel. Finally, chapter ten presents the typological pattern connecting the Joseph narrative to the Daniel narrative.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
Like I said, I’ve read a lot of material on Daniel. Not much of the substantive work on Daniel is evangelical in nature. With the Clouds of Heaven fills this void. Hamilton attests: “One catalyst of the desire to write this book was the lack of a robust canonical biblical-theological treatment of Daniel that took an evangelical perspective on the date of the book of Daniel” (30-31). With the Clouds of Heaven provides a defensible argument for an early date of the book of Daniel.
Furthermore, there are many merits for Hamilton’s presentation of Daniel’s literary structure. After comparing all the possible and popular literary structures argued to date, Hamilton delivers a chiastic structure that honors the thematic essentials of Daniel and pulls together the true sense of the text.
This structure can be summed up in the following sentence:
“Daniel encourages the faithful by showing them that though Israel was exiled from the land of promise, they will be restored to the realm of life at the resurrection of the dead, when the four kingdoms are followed by the kingdom of God, so the people of God can trust him and persevere through persecution until God humbles proud human kings, gives everlasting dominion to the son of man, and the saints reign with him” (83).
Paying close attention to the key elements of this definition, you will discover that many of the chapters from With the Clouds of Heaven are drawn out of this definition.
Other key elements worth noting include Hamilton’s careful steps to provide a reader friendly study. Ample charts are employed to clarify, repeat, list, or categorize biblical evidence for one point or another. Attentive explanation of complex words and ideas are fleshed out for readers. The text, itself, is not encumbered by constant dialogue with other studies. Yes, Hamilton dialogues with important and pertinent companions along the way, but for the most part the author points the reader to the biblical text and not secondary literature.
Hamilton does not pit theological systems against one another in order to select the merits of one over the other. You’ll actually find the text liberated from ostentatiously discussing and distinguishing dispensational, preterist, or covenant readings – an effort that frequently slips into antagonistic rhetoric and divisiveness. This is not the case with Hamilton’s nuanced approach. Hamilton’s inductive approach to studying Daniel leaves the reader curious, as he or she pieces together the subtleties to discover where Hamilton, himself, lies on the spectrum regarding hermeneutical systems and millennial views. All of these features result in a relatively distraction free reading experience.
When studying Daniel, we should take stock in this crucial observation of Hamilton’s: “The past is regularly used to supply the categories with which we describe and interpret the present” (229). With the Clouds of Heaven is an elaborate exercise of this maxim. Throughout the Bible we see echoes, gentle nods, to the book of Daniel. Each of these installments in the pattern of God’s redemptive story point to the apocalyptic promise that our King will return to humble the world and defeat his enemy. We must eagerly anticipate the coming of this one, who rides the clouds.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
With the Clouds of Heaven is an excursion into the depths of one of the most complex but rewarding books of the Bible.