Review: A Study Commentary on Daniel by Allan M. Harman

Review: A Study Commentary on Daniel

by Allan M. Harman (Evangelical Press, 2007) hbk., 333pp.

Allan Harman has written another OT commentary that displays the typical marks of his work in sensitivity to the text, honesty and sobriety in exegesis, and clarity of expression. Additionally, as befits the EP Study Commentary series, there are points of practical application at the end of each section. The Commentary reads well, the print is clear, and its perusal will profit the average busy pastor and stimulate the more advanced student.

While I regard Harman’s work on Deuteronomy and Isaiah as very helpful, I am less confident about the interpretation offered at key points in this volume.

Dr Harman is not afraid to offer explanations that challenge traditional understandings. The four fold vision in Chapter 2 is not regarded by Harman as indicating successive world empires (New Babylonian, Medo-Persion, Greek and Roman & its successors) because the image is destroyed at one time, not successively, so the last three kingdoms must really be contemporaneous he says (p.69). Nor, says Harman, should the kingdoms be identified with specific empires except for the first head of gold. Similarly, in Chapter 7 Harman does not see the four beasts as successive kingdoms parallel to those in Chapter 2, since the fourth beast is destroyed first (7:11). Unless the verbs in 7:12 are taken as pluperfects (so eg. Calvin & NIV), verse 12 seems to indicate the continued existence of the first three beasts.

Against these positions, the traditional approach argued for successive empires, and that the spirit of the four kingdoms was the same: what was true of the first passed into the second and so on. Further, the setting up of the kingdom of God occurred in the time of the fourth world empire, and so decisively dealt with the kingdom of man wherever found. This fact is well represented by the stone which struck the foot of the image (chapter 2) or by the overthrow of the fourth beast (chapter 7).

Harman does not discuss the possible relationship the little horn of the fourth beast in Chapter 7 with the little horn that arises in the time the third beast (chapter 8), identified in the text as the Greek kingdom (8:21), except to say that they are not the same. Harman agrees with most commentators that the developments in the Greek kingdom with the persecution Antiochus launched against the Jews about 170 BC are in view. It would have been helpful to discuss the way in which the little horn in chapter 8 is in certain ways typical of the persecution the people of God experience in the period begun by the resurrection of Christ. This could have strengthened his comments on chapter 9.

Daniel’s 70 weeks

In regard to the important but difficult chapter 9, Harman helpfully outlines five views of the seventy weeks prophecy (pp. 225-232) including the sabbatic approach advanced by Meredith Kline which, in my view, is much to be preferred. Affirming a symbolical rather than literal meaning to the 70 sevens, Harman decides for an eschatological view with 9:24 referring to the ultimate kingdom of God and the consecration of a new sanctuary, and 9:26-27 referring to Antichrist not to Jesus Christ.

He notes a Christological interpretation seems to be excluded by the way the Massoretes punctuate the Hebrew text of 7:25 to have ‘the anointed prince’ coming at the close of the first seven and thus before the 62 sevens during which the city of Jerusalem is rebuilt. He points out that a Christological interpretation is not found in early Christian writers, and notes that Daniel does not speak elsewhere of a suffering Messiah. In Harman’s view the first seven sevens cover the period from Jeremiah’s ‘word’ in Jeremiah 29:10 about 594 BC to Cyrus’ decree in 538 BC (remember Cyrus is described as God’s Anointed in Isaiah 45:1); and the Anointed One who is cut off at the end of the next 62 weeks refers to Antichrist.

Massoretic punctuation is late, inevitably interpretive and is not an insuperable problem. Given the difficulty of the passage the punctuation cannot be decisive. Early non-Christological interpretations of Daniel 9:25-26 by the Church Fathers are also not decisive given that the NT does not give us specific exegesis of all OT passages referring to Christ. To refer the two references in the passage to an Anointed One to two different figures – Cyrus who prefigures the true Messiah in allowing the people to return and build the city and the temple, and Antichrist who is the reverse, seems difficult to sustain. The reference to Jeremiah 29:10 is important, but while Jeremiah refers to the plans of God and the promise yet to be fulfilled (‘my good word to restore’) Daniel refers to the commencement of an action (‘from the going forth of a word to restore’).

I respect the honest intent of the commentator. His book certainly has value. But it does not contain sufficient supporting argumentation to justify the more noval positions referred to. Those wanting a straightforward commentary on Daniel along more traditional lines will find Sinclair Ferguson’s work in the Mastering the Old Testament series (Word 1988) more helpful. [I also regret that Harman’s busy schedule has not allowed him time to interact with a draft of this review provided three months before it was published here.]


5 July 2008.