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The penultimate chapter of Daniel tells of a time of great war between the "King of the North" and the "King of the South". For the purposes of this question, it probably doesn't much matter who they might be identified with in history (or precisely when Daniel was written).

In the ultimate chapter, we hear how the conflict will be resolved. Daniel 12:1-4 (ESV, emphasis mine):

“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”

How are we to interpret this passage—particularly the bits about shining like the sky and the stars forever?

Some options I thought of are:

  1. The righteous will become actual stars and parts of the sky.
  2. Compared to the metaphorical darkness of war, the peace the righteous will experience will be like daylight.
  3. After the destruction of war, God's renewal for the sake of the righteous will be on a similar scale to the creation described in Genesis 1.

Is there a better way to understand this passage?

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I came across this question in N. T. Wright's Resurrection of the Son of God. It's clear to me that because of the context of chapter 11, the resolution is an example of God providing peace or shalom for his people. – Jon Ericson Nov 7 '11 at 17:32
Given the reference to the resurrection of the dead and the wider context of the passage, a 4th option could be the appearance of their robes and/or the reflection of God's glory. (c.f. Revelation 7:9-17) – GalacticCowboy Nov 7 '11 at 18:31
Also see Philippians 2:14-15. – GalacticCowboy Nov 7 '11 at 18:35
@GalacticCowboy: Thanks for including the cross-references in comments. If you accept them as Scripture, they pretty much blow away the question, don't they? ;-) – Jon Ericson Nov 7 '11 at 20:48
Well, they are in a different testament... :) I'm sure it's still worth discussing for multiple reasons - Daniel was probably talking to Jews, not to "all nations", etc. – GalacticCowboy Nov 7 '11 at 21:24
up vote 6 down vote accepted

It's not implying that we'll become actual stars, but that we will become like stars. That "those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above".

This brings to mind the radiance of God that we saw shining around Moses after he came down from Mount Sinai:

Exodus 34:29 (NIV)
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD.

It seems that it's being in the presence of God that will cause us to shine.

In this context in Daniel, it's saying that some people in life will be sent to "everlasting contempt", whereas those who were wise will shine. Due to the Exodus correlation, we can take this to mean that they will be with God for all eternity.

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In essence: They'll be in heaven. – Richard Nov 7 '11 at 18:57
Good callback. I hadn't made that connection. – Jon Ericson Nov 7 '11 at 20:39

In sensus plenior;

Abraham's children are likened to dust [1], sand of the sea [2] and stars [2].

These represent three classes of Abraham's children:

  1. Dust are those without the water/word. The Arab nations descended from Abraham.

  2. Sand of the sea shore- those that are in close proximity to the water/word. The Jews

  3. Stars - those who are the lights of the world [3] and turning souls to Christ [4]. The church including saved Arabs and Jews.

Since Jesus is the firmament of Gen 1, and the stars are in the firmament, the church is 'in Christ'.

The direct answer then is that the stars are figurative.

[1] Ge 13:16 And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, [then] shall thy seed also be numbered.

[2] Ge 22:17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which [is] upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;

[3] Mt 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

[4] Da 12:3 And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.

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Daniel 12.2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

I think that this passage from Daniel could be linked to a passage in Revelation.

Revelation 11.18 And the nations were angry and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.

If you consider the following quotation from Daniel 12.3 you will see the link And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.

This is another way of describing the prophets and the saints.

What this is effectively saying is that the prophets and saints will be judged at this particular point in time during the tribulation. The prophets who have adhered to the commandments of God {YHWH} without wavering will be recognized as righteous and just and will reign with Christ 1000 years, and all those who have attempted to change or alter His Word will suffer shame and everlasting contempt.

This is the first resurrection.

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