How Do Middle Earth, Star Wars, and the Godfather Help Us Teach Daniel to Our Kids?

You’ve got to understand Middle Earth a bit before you can get into the adventure of the hobbits. Likewise, parents, you need to understand a few things about the historical setting and how God interacts with his people in order to explain the beauty of what God is doing in the book of Daniel to your kids

What you will find in Daniel is a God who makes a covenant people for himself, speaks to these people, and keeps covenant with his people even when they break it. This knowledge helps us see how all of Daniel points to Jesus as God’s means of making a new covenant people for himself, Jesus as God’s final prophet, and Jesus as our hope, even when we break covenant. 

God is Like a King to His People

Clans, tribes, wars, treaties! Who doesn’t love these things? In ancient times a conquering king was described as a suzerain, and the conquered king then became a vassal. A suzerain often had multiple vassals (kings they had conquered). The suzerain would establish a covenant with his vassal or vassals that included a preamble: “The Suzerain is so Great!” followed by a historical prologue ( “I am the king who….”). The covenant would include stipulations, commands, sanctions, and blessings (for obedience) and curses (for disobedience). Often these covenants were written on stone.

So we see that God communicated with his people in a manner they understood. God is like a suzerain (but far greater) and the people of God are like his vassals. He has made a covenant with them. They are his people, and he is their God.1

Prophets Are Messengers of the King

What does a good king do if he hears of a subject who is disobeying his rules? He sends a messenger to warn them of what will happen if they continue and to admonish them to stop what they are doing and turn back to the king. This is the role of the prophets in the Old Testament. They are divine messengers chosen by the suzerain (God) to communicate blessings of covenant obedience and the punishment of covenant-breaking disobedience to the vassals (Israel & Judah).  

God speaks through his divinely chosen messengers. 2 Chronicles 36:15-16 says, “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers [prophets], because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.” The covenant punishment for worshipping other gods and following man rather than God is exile. Daniel is in Babylon because God’s people refused to listen to God’s messengers. Yet even in exile God is going to communicate to his people through Daniel’s character, and the visions he gives Daniel.2

Like a Star Wars Timeline

This illustration will help your kids: episode 4 of Star Wars premiered in 1977, followed by episodes 5 (1980) and 6 (1983). Then came episodes 1, 2, and 3, and three decades after the original Star Wars, episodes 7, 8, and 9. 

When someone says “I like the original Star Wars” they are not talking about Episode 1, they are speaking about Episodes 4-6. In the same way, the actual historical timeline of Biblical books does not match the order in which we find them in the Bible. The book of Daniel is dated around 605-535 BC. This means that Daniel probably saw the destruction of Assyria and the conquest of Babylon, and he most definitely lived through the fall of Babylon to the times of Persia and the Medes. 

This is important for our children to understand because Daniel is writing to a persecuted community. God’s people have been completely overtaken by other nations as a result of not keeping covenant with God. Unlike the writings of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah, written prior to or during the beginnings of exile, Daniel is written from exile in Babylon. 

When I saw Star Wars episodes 1-3 I remember thinking, wow, this is a really cool story! I had more appreciation for episodes 4-6 after seeing 1-3. (I didn’t care too much for the 7-9.) In the same way, most kids naturally come to a knowledge of Jesus in the gospels, the heart of the Bible narrative, just as episodes 4-6 is the heart of Star Wars. 

But when our kids grow as Christians they start to learn about the prequel (the Old Testament) and the sequel (the birth of the Church and the age to come). As the Holy Spirit teaches us and our children through the Word, we develop a deeper understanding of the father’s love, and the greatness of Jesus. 

Hard to Over-Exaggerate the Hopelessness

Once God’s people go into exile, they would have thought themselves as good as dead. Other nations now rule them. Their temple, where God’s presence had resided, has been destroyed by pagan nations. Their families have been dispersed. Their daughters marry into other nations and their children are educated under a completely different worldview. The scene is not bad for God’s people, it’s hopeless. You have to understand exile to understand Daniel. 

The Perfect Setting

Not all of God’s people ignore his messengers. There has always been a remnant who trust in him and yet find themselves suffering the consequences of the disobedience of the nation. During the story of exile (God’s just punishment) of his people, God gives us the story of Daniel. Daniel is written to give hope to God’s people who find themselves in exile! Exile is a perfect setting for God’s people to witness the sovereignty of their God that transcends all other kings and powers, the faithfulness of God to his chosen messenger, and the hope God gives his people of a future victory where he reigns over all.

Death to Life

Parents, as you read and teach Daniel to your kids, there are many gospel truths to draw out. God is our King (suzerain) and we are his people (vassals). He has commanded us to love him and love others (the Old Covenant). We have broken God’s covenant (sin) and the consequence of that is exile (death). It is hard to over-exaggerate how hopeless we really are in our sin. Those who are in exile cannot save themselves; their salvation must come from outside themselves. In the same way, apart from Jesus’ saving work on the cross and his resurrection we would be forever dead in exile. 

Historically, the people of God find their salvation later in the story. Christ, who is King, Prophet, and Lamb, comes as a man, a representative of God’s people who keeps covenant perfectly. He gives his people all of the blessings promised for covenant obedience, and he takes upon himself, finally, all of the curses deserved for God’s covenant-breaking people. He establishes a new covenant of grace to be received by faith. Finally, Jesus will give us an even better example than Daniel of what it means to live faithfully as God’s new people in Christ in exile. Read Daniel with your kids, and enjoy. 

Footnotes:

  1.  For Dads: it might help you to think of the workings of a mob family. There is the Godfather (Suzerain) and then there are families with individual leaders, Dons (Vassals) ,and then Consiglieres (Prophets) and many other roles at work as well.  
  2. Daniel is not actually considered a prophet even though our Bibles have him in the section of prophets. In the early Canon divided into the Law, Prophets, and Writings, Daniel was placed in the Writings, primarily because Daniel is Apocalyptic in genre, not prophetic. Daniel is included with the Prophets now because it does contain predictive prophecy. 

If you want to learn more about gospel-centered parenting, we hope you’ll consider joining us for our 2024 conference in Dallas, TX where we’ll take a walk through the book of Daniel.

What does it look like to live in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christianity? Teenagers today feel the enormous pressure of a “you-do-you” culture. Discipling them to walk with Jesus in this modern “Babylon” feels somewhere between daunting and impossible. The Old Testament book of Daniel provides the encouragement we long for and the direction we need in a cultural moment that leaves us crying, “How long, O Lord?” Daniel offers the ultimate hope that one day God will bring all nations under his rule, and we will dwell with him forever! Our prayer is that in studying this book together you will be filled with hope, seeing more clearly the God who loves his people, who is in sovereign control over all things in his world.

Joey Turner is a young husband and dad who is obeying the Spirit's prompting to evangelize and equip parents and students in Beavercreek, OH through the written Word. He is privileged to be married to his wife Jenny, with whom he has four amazing children. Joey serves as the Pastor of Student Ministries at Patterson Park Church in Beavercreek, OH.

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