The Life and Times of Daniel the Prophet

One of the good things about being asked to speak knowledgably on a challenging subject is that in order to do it justice you need to know what you are talking about and that means researching your subject. For the past several weeks now I have been leading Bible studies at my church on the prophets of the Bible and the last two sessions have been on the last of the major prophets, Daniel, after which I am planning to cover each of the twelve minor prophets. Daniel is a controversial book that scholars argue over and one that many find difficult to understand, yet it is rewarding to study.

I decided to approach my subject on the basis of a game of football – a game of two halves. While Daniel is much into the supernatural throughout – miracles in the first six chapters and prophecy and visions in the last six, with chapters 1 to 6 being relatively easy to understand as a lot of it concerned events that happened in Daniel’s day, chapters 7 to 12 being more difficult to interpret as predictions of events yet to happen (including some still not yet fulfilled). The widely differing interpretations by scholars include incredulity among liberals who are reluctant to accept the miraculous and that Daniel could so accurately predict the future. As for my own understanding, I take the view that since God can do anything, I can happily accept both the miraculous and Daniel the book supports my view that the Bible is a God inspired library (of 66 books).

For the first session, I decided to focus on the humbling of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, and the restoration of his power when he returned to God. Like Cyrus (Isaiah 45), Nebuchadnezzar was referred to as God’s servant in Jeremiah 27, for it was he who God chose to use to take the people of Judah into Babylonian captivity as part of his judgment on their sin. In the first wave of Judaean exile in, some of the cream of society were taken, and that included Daniel and his three teenage friends: Meshach Shadrach and Abednego who were not only very bright but feared YHWH.

Nebuchadnezzar saw an opportunity of training up these and other bright young men to exercise positions in his royal court (chapter 1). Daniel and his three friends were willing to do this but not to compromise when it came to matters of faith, in particular on matters of diet. This act of faith set a precedence for Daniel’s long life that followed and he and his friends not only healthier than those who compromised but they excelled in their studies. In chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, which he could not remember and decreed that if his wise men (which included the four friends) could not provide an interpretation that they would be put to death. The dream was about kingdoms that was to follow after Babylon (Persia, Greece, Rome) culminating in the messianic reign, something Daniel successfully interpreted, giving glory to God, and as a result the grateful king promoted Daniel to high office.

Chapter 3 was about the Image of Gold Nebuchadnezzar had built representing himself, demanding his subjects worship that image and the Blazing Furnace Meshach Shadrach and Abednego were cast into for refusing to do so and how God miraculously delivered them from the Furnace. Chapter 5 was about Nebuchadnezzar’s successor Belshazzar who arrogantly made a feast for his subjects and in doing so mocked the God of Israel. Here we witness the writing on the wall, which Daniel, now an old man, interpreted and was again given high position. That very night the mighty Babylonian empire was overthrown by the Persians and Darius became king. Darius, recognizing Daniel’s qualities retained him in his royal service. This made other high officials jealous, who tricked the king into making an edict that everyone for a period was the worship he, King Darius, on pain of death. Naturally, Daniel refused and was thrown into the Lion’s den but God delivered him, much to the king’s relief.

Going back to chapter 4, this might be seen in three sections: Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of a Tree, Daniel Interprets the Dream and the Dream Is Fulfilled. Of all the stories in the Old Testament, this is one I find among the most moving. God had already used Nebuchadnezzar as his instrument of judgement, and had revealed himself both in the interpretation of his dream and the way God had delivered  Meshach Shadrach and Abednego, and yet the king remained proud and continued to do so despite a dream he would be stripped of his power, something Daniel was again able to interpret. A year later the king was driven away from his palace and became crazy for seven years until he recognized that God was the true God who he had to honour. So he did and thus he was restored.

Moving onto the second half of the Book, my big challenge was understanding the visions given to Daniel, which remain work in progress. As I see it, chapters 7 and 12 are about the end times and can be tied in with the Book of Revelation, while chapters 8 and 11 was more to do with the future of the Medo-Persian empire and it being conquered by the Greeks, many of the details are remarkable in terms of historical correlation. Rather that go too deep into the prophecies, which will require further dedicated study, I opted to focus on chapter 9 and to a small extent 10, in particular Daniel’s remarkable prayer of chapter 9. If my maths is correct this was 2-3 years from the end of the 70 year exile, after which the captives were due to return back to their land.  Besides Jeremiah’s prophecy there is that about Cyrus in Isaiah 45. The prayer was one of contrition, finding out God’s will and seeking God’s honour. The answer was an extraordinary and unexpected one, which looked beyond merely returning but to the coming of the Messiah (70 weeks, including the missing one). Regarding chapter 10, again linked to another Daniel prayer, we are reminded of a spiritual war raging in the heavenlies.

I am mindful that what I have provided is at best a superficial introduction to the life of Daniel the Prophet. Daniel was a remarkable man who honoured the Lord from his youth until he was an old man and, despite spending most of his life under captivity, God was able to use and him and where he carried favour with three kings due to his wisdom and integrity. The most important comment on Daniel’s life might be at the very end of the book (12:13) where despite there being much he could not quite figure out, the Lord reassured him that all will be well: “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance”.

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