Prophets of the Bible – Daniel
Daniel and his prophecy
As we come to the last of the major prophets, we do so mindful there has been no let-up in the wow factor as wonderful truth is gleaned, sometimes for the first time. It has become increasingly clear, while the prophets were concerned with similar issues, they each delivered the message God gave them from their own unique perspective, according to the situation prevailing at the time and the circumstances they were placed. We don’t see the same message of Israel’s judgment we saw in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, other than delay in the setting up the long awaited messianic kingdom as God’s chosen people were further refined, but we do read of a message of future hope that was meant to motivate faithfulness, as Daniel looked, often way ahead into the future and spelled out in remarkable detail what was going to happen, some of which is still to happen.
As for that which has been fulfilled, it has been so precisely. It is one reason why taking a straightforward view that the Book of Daniel was completed by Daniel himself, soon after the Cyrus edict around 538BC, toward the end of his life, is resisted by those who doubt that the future can be accurately predicted. Another stumbling block is its reference to the miraculous. There are several miracles described in the Book of Daniel, which ought not be dismissed. As has already stated, this book takes the straightforward and, unless clearly not the case, literal interpretation of Daniel (recognising still significant gaps in the author’s understanding and differences among eminent scholars). As fascinating as checking out historical and architectural verification is, and relevant in order to come to a view on the reliability of the text, it is not the intention to examine evidence in this book. This author, like Jesus, has no doubt Daniel wrote the Book of Daniel, without the benefit of hindsight, because he was a prophet.
Daniel’s prophecy was less to do with pronouncing oracles on the street and in the palaces so to speak, as did many of the writing prophets, and was more to do with dreams and visions (his own and others) and their interpretation as was revealed to him by the Lord, along with a good deal of narrative concerning events happening at the time. It makes Daniel an extraordinary book to come to grips with. Some parts are so easy to comprehend such that when we teach it Sunday School all involved can readily understand. But when it comes to the prophetic parts of Daniel, much of which is of an apocalyptic nature, matching and indeed complementing the Book of Revelation, as well as the writings of some of the other Hebrew prophets, that can and does present a challenge.
If there is a standout theme of the Book of Daniel, it is God’s sovereignty and “that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men” Daniel 5:21. Daniel was the right person to convey that message. From the time, as a teenager, he was taken into captivity in Babylonian, throughout the seventy-year exile period, until an old man and unlikely never to return to his country, he faithfully did so. He lived a godly life, serving God, despite the obstacles and temptations. He was also endowed with extraordinary wisdom and ability and was promoted to high positions in the governments of the Babylonian kings, Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, and the Mede king Darius, who all recognised his abilities.
Background and context
We learn a lot about Daniel from the opening verses of the book and while the Book of Daniel was about the message rather than the messenger, we find a lot more, particularly his prayer life and desire to serve God: “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god. And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes; Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself” Daniel 1:1-8.
We see here further confirmation that Daniel was among the first exiles to Babylon and he likely was part of the privileged class. Daniel means “God is my judge”. His Babylonian name, Belteshazzar, means “Keeper of the hidden treasures of Bel (a Babylonian god)”. Having to adopt a new name and learning the wisdom of the Babylonians, some of it to do with their false worship, did not seem to phase Daniel and his three friends (who will henceforth be referred to as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – how the author was taught as a child) and they adapted to their new circumstances and excelled. But when he came to following the Law of YHWH, they would not compromise, and the rest of the chapter (and the Book) is about YHWH honouring those who honoured him.
When it comes to background, Daniel was not just against the backdrop of Babylonian exile but also the Medo-Persia empire that was to take over and the prophecy of Jeremiah that the captivity would be for seventy years only. This happened, as will be detailed when we come to the post-exile prophets: Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, but by then Daniel was a very old man, who could only see this happening with the eyes of faith. A further backdrop was the kingdoms to follow: Greece, Rome and eventually that of Israel’s Messiah. There was much Daniel couldn’t figure out but was assured by the angel he was beloved of God: “And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end” Daniel 12:9. It is worth reflecting, the rise and fall of kingdoms and where Christ will ultimately triumph through God’s sovereign will, along with a spiritual dimension and battle, was a major theme of Daniel’s prophetic ministry, reminding us: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” Ephesians 6:12
For the angel had also told him about the unseen conflict, indeed war, in the spiritual realm and it was this, as brought out after he had been entreating the Lord on what was going to happen, in prayer, that had caused him to become exhausted: “And he said unto me, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent. And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling. Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia” Daniel 10:11-13.
The only other Old Testament reference to Daniel, was by Ezekiel, discussed earlier, with Daniel being perhaps being one of the three most righteous men to have ever lived up to then. While not named by the writer of Hebrews as one to be included in his hall of faith, he surely had Daniel in mind when he wrote: “… of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions” Hebrew 11:32,33. Besides parallels to the Book of Revelation (although Daniel is not named), perhaps the most startling reference is that of Jesus’ own end times prophecy: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place …” Matthew 24:15, pointing out that a single prophecy (Daniel 11:31, 12:11) can be fulfilled at different levels: through Antiochus Epiphanes, the sacking of the Temple in AD 70 and the AntiChrist.
A synopsis of Daniel
Here we offer two alternative breakdowns (both correct):
- Daniel and His Companions in Babylon Ch. 1
- Daniel and the Dangerous Dictator Chs. 2 – 4
- Daniel and the Contemptuous King Ch. 5
- Daniel and the Manipulated Monarch 6
- Daniel’s Dream and His Visions of the Future Chs. 7 – 12
- Prologue: The Setting (Ch. 1; in Hebrew)
- The Destinies of the Nations of the World (Chs. 2–7; in Aramaic)
- The Destiny of the Nation of Israel (Chs. 8–12; in Hebrew)
At the time Daniel wrote, Hebrew was the language of the Jews, Aramaic was the lingua franca universally used. The choice of the language used in the Book of Daniel was likely due to who were the intended audience. It might be said Daniel is like a game of two halves: the first half 1-6 is mostly narrative and the second 7-12 mostly prophecy in the form of visions and dreams, ending in chapter 10, with chapters 11 and 12 tying up many of the themes of the Book. Noticeably, the first half is written in the third person (i.e. about Daniel and his world) and the second half is in the first person (i.e. about Daniel’s prophecies).
The message of Daniel
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, and were promoted in the king’s service. In Chapter 2 we read that 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 (golden head), Persia (silver breast), Greece (brass belly), Rome (iron legs) and feet of iron and clay, followed by the messianic kingdom that will usurp all other kingdoms: “thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces” Daniel 2:34, something Daniel interpreted to the king’s satisfaction, 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 4 might be seen in three sections: Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a tree, Daniel interprets the dream and the dream is fulfilled. 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 despite a dream he would be stripped of his power, something Daniel was able to interpret. A year later the king was driven away from his palace and became crazy for seven years until he recognized God was the true God who he had to honour. And so he did and thus he was restored. As for Nebuchadnezzar, he could not have spoken a truer word: “At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase” Daniel 4:36-37.
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: “And this is the writing that was written, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. This is the interpretation of the thing: Mene; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Tekel; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. Peres; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians” Daniel 5: 25-28. This Daniel interpreted and was again promoted to a high position. Like Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar’s pride had been judged and while Nebuchadnezzar repented and his throne was restored, in Belshazzar’s case he did not and he was killed. That very night, the mighty Babylonian empire was overthrown by the Persians and Darius the Mede became king in his stead. Darius, recognizing Daniel’s qualities, and he retained him in his royal service and Daniel prospered. This made other high officials jealous, who tricked the king into making an edict that all were to worship King Darius, on pain of death. Naturally, Daniel refused and he was thrown into the lion’s den, but God delivered him, much to the king’s relief.
Moving onto the second half of the Book, our big challenge is understanding the dreams and visions given to Daniel. Chapters 7 and 12 are about 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, depicted by a ram and a goat in Chapter 8, with many of the details remarkable in terms of historical correlation. Chapter 11 is about what happens after Alexander the Great dies and the Greek empire is divided among his four generals, and both chapters remarkably details events that have come and gone. One commentator has identified 135 specific prophecies fulfilled in Chapter 11.
The culmination of Chapter 7 sees one identified in the New Testament as the AntiChrist, who is himself cast down with the true king (the Messiah) taking over, with his saints: “he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” Daniel 7:25-27. It is worth noting that both the Ancient of Days (v9) and the Son of man (v13) are named by Daniel along with much rich imagery, and we see a parallel with Revelation 1 and 4.
Concerning Chapter 9 and to an extent 10, in particular Daniel’s remarkable prayer of chapter 9, this was 2-3 years after the end of the 70-year exile, after which the captives could return back to their land. Besides Jeremiah’s prophecy there is that about Cyrus in Isaiah 45. His 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 (in 70 weeks, including the missing one). Some commentators, relating 69 weeks to a day being a year and 483 years to the coming of the King (Jesus), but this and the “missing” 70th week is for further study. Regarding Chapter 10, again linked to another Daniel prayer, we are reminded of a spiritual war raging in the heavenlies, with demonic powers seeking to control the temporal powers.
The final chapter makes sobering reading as it resonates with what we see now, and yet there is hope, not least that the purposes of God will be fulfilled and the reward for the righteous: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. 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. 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. But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” Daniel 12:1-4.
The warning is clear: “many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” Daniel 12:10, but so is the hope of the coming of the Messiah along with the saints (and that would include all his followers) to rule. As one person reflecting on why was all this was revealed to Daniel concluded that besides being a warning to unbelievers and those would try to usurp God’s authority, it was to encourage God’s people (then and now) to stand firm, do exploits, bring understanding, endure suffering, be refined, resist evil, find rest. As with the prophets generally, we are grateful Daniel stuck to his task.
As we close, we do so mindful we have hardly scratched the surface concerning Daniel’s prophecies and, while we will revisit one of them in Chapter 15, the reader is encouraged to check these out themselves in a spirit of open humility, mindful of wide differences in interpretation among commentators. One thing ought to be pondered is these prophecies was history before it happened and, as Daniel was able to witness first hand, the Sovereign God is in control of history. While some history was fulfilled before the first coming of Jesus, other parts spanned both comings. Daniel unlikely had more than basic insights into the period in-between or the time elapsed. Each prophecy covers different periods. Some have both an initial and a final fulfilment, which is to be revealed. An example is the BC AntiChrist, Antiochus Epiphanes; but there is one still to come that Daniel also referred to, the identity of which is yet to be revealed.
As often is the case with the prophets, the message and the messenger, were closely linked, even though presenting the message was invariably done with due humility, honouring the message originator. Unlike with the other major prophets, we don’t get the impression that Daniels message was received negatively, and it was likely the exiled people needed hope and the despot rulers welcomed his future insights. It is evident, as far as Daniel was concerned, hearing from God was an emotionally draining experience, whenever God spoke to him in dreams and visions with vivid and alarming imagery, from which he could not detach. There is evidence of a meaningful prayer life and Daniel intreated God, we are told, three times a day, Daniel 6:10. Among his items of prayer, Daniel prayed on behalf of the people, pleading their plight.
The following is offered by way of summary of Daniel’s life and ministry:
- His whole life was marked by his faithfulness to God
- He was diligent in all that he did and God blessed him and made him a blessing to others
- While he submitted to ungodly authorities, it was always God first, even if it meant he had to die for adopting godly principles
- His extraordinary qualities as a result of God’s blessing were recognized by those who did not recognize the God of Israel, including ungodly rulers, with who he cooperated, working for the common good
- He was recognized and honoured by at least three kings: Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius, and that had a significant impact in the unravelling of God’s plan for Israel, including influencing all of the kings in unexpected ways and impacting the divine plan
- He had more than a glimpse into a still to happen future: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” Daniel 2:44
- He prayed amazing prayers, especially the one on behalf of his people and confessing their sins, which ends: “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name” Daniel 9:19
- He had a glimpse into the spiritual warfare that profoundly was going on in the background and did so prophetically: “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days” Daniel 10:11
- Just as he looked forward to the reign of the Christ and His everlasting kingdom that will usurp all before it, he saw the evil reign of the yet to be revealed AntiChrist, and AntiChrist type figures before him, realizing: “yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him” Daniel 11:45
- He understood a time of trouble for God’s people, some of it still to be fulfilled: “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” Daniel 12:1
- He understood and humbly accepted the limits of his own knowledge and understanding and was patient: “And he said, go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end” Daniel 12:9
- He could personally look forward to a wonderful end beyond the grave: “But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days” Daniel 12:13