Daniel 2:21 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Dan 2:21 And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.

Daniel 2:21 is sometimes claimed as evidence that God is responsible for the rise and fall of all kings to ever exist. By extension, God controls all governments and perhaps all things in life. But even the first step of logic is unwarranted, and the following steps of logic are definitely too much.

Often when powerful people talk about what they do and how they act, they use similar statements. In Isaiah 14, God speaks to the king of Babylon and uses similar phrases:

Isa 14:5 The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked, the scepter of rulers,
Isa 14:6 that struck the peoples in wrath with unceasing blows, that ruled the nations in anger with unrelenting persecution.

Isa 14:12 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!

The king of Babylon “ruled the nations” and “laid nations low”. Naturally no one would assume the text is about the king of Babylon ruling all nations on earth or destroying all nations to ever be destroyed. Instead, the claims are about characteristic actions of Babylon. When writing about characteristic actions, often this general phrasing is used. It does not matter if it is about people, nations, or even God. This is just a normal way of writing.

To claim Daniel 2:21 is about God controlling all nations everywhere is to import theology onto the text. The more natural reading is much like Isaiah 14 that God is powerful and has characteristically controlled nations (but not necessarily all nations). The statement is a general power claim, not a claim to control everything ever to happen. If the author’s purpose was to proclaim God’s power, and the author believed God controlled all things to ever happen, he probably would have written quite a different point. Saying God controls all things is a much more forceful claim than controlling governments. Not surprisingly, the author never makes the claim that God controls all things.

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