What would come of Israel in exile? How would God’s people live among potential adversaries in a pagan land? What did God have in store for His people and the land? Through Daniel’s experiences and apocalyptic visions God would show the way.
Daniel is the twenty-seventh book in most English Bibles; in the Hebrew Bible Daniel is part of the Ketuvim, the “Writings.” Half of Daniel was written in Hebrew; Daniel 2:4-7:28 was written in Aramaic. Daniel is exiled in the days of Jehoiachin (605 BCE; Daniel 1:1-7) and remains active into the days of Cyrus king of Persia (ca. 536 BCE; Daniel 6:28). Many scholars believe Daniel was written in the second century BCE on account of its detailed description of Ptolemaic and Seleucid engagement in Daniel 11:2-45, yet such a view is based on a denial of predictive prophecy. Those who trust in the inspiration of Daniel by God recognize the text as a sixth century BCE document describing Daniel’s engagement with the rulers of Babylon and the visions which God gave Daniel regarding what would happen between the days of Daniel and the end of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The book of Daniel encouraged Israelites of the exile and the Second Temple period to put their trust in YHWH despite the challenges and persecutions of life under foreign pagan powers and gave prophetic insight regarding what would take place over the next 600 years.
The first half of Daniel features narratives involving Daniel, his friends, and their engagement with Babylonian and Persian rulers (Daniel 1:1-6:28). Daniel 1:1-7 sets the scene: Daniel and his friends are of the nobility, and when exiled, are brought into the royal palace to learn the wisdom of Babylon. Daniel resolved to not eat the king’s food but to eat vegetables instead; Daniel and his friends prospered and were recognized as masters of knowledge and wisdom (Daniel 1:8-21). In Daniel 2:1-49 Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has a dream: his magicians and wise men cannot tell or interpret the dream, but God gave knowledge of the dream and its interpretation to Daniel, a large statue comprised of different elements and metals representing successive kingdoms until the Messiah. Nebuchadnezzar then built a statue and expected all his officials to bow down to it: when Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refuse to bow down to it, they are cast into a fiery furnace, yet are preserved by God’s power, and Nebuchadnezzar praises God (Daniel 3:1-30). Daniel 4:1-37 is composed as a letter of Nebuchadnezzar chronicling another dream and how its meaning was carried out, featuring his acting like an animal in humiliation until his sense was restored and gave God the glory. Daniel 5:1-30 features Nebuchadnezzar’s great-grandson Belshazzar, his feast and use of the instruments of the Temple of YHWH, the writing on the wall, and Daniel’s interpretation thereof, leading to the end of the Babylonian Empire and the accession of Cyrus king of Persia. In Daniel 6:1-27 Daniel is accused before Darius of Persia of praying to God against a decree made up against him, is cast into the lion’s den, yet is preserved by God’s power, leading to the demise of those who plotted against him.
The second half of Daniel features the substance of visions and revelations which God gave to Daniel (Daniel 7:1-12:13). Daniel 7:1-28 is composed as a first-person recounting of a vision in which Daniel saw four successive beasts and then the Ancient of Days giving authority to one like a Son of Man whose kingdom would not end, and its interpretation, with beasts representing successive empires followed by the great Kingdom of God. Daniel saw another vision involving a ram and a goat and its horns, interpreted in terms of Persia, Greece, and the trauma of the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 BCE (Daniel 8:1-27). In 539 BCE Daniel recognized the 70 years of exile ought to be over, prays to God regarding Israel’s sin and begs for their forgiveness, and is then granted knowledge about the future of Jerusalem and some things which would need to take place between the rebuilding of the Temple and its ultimate destruction in 70 CE (Daniel 9:1-27). Daniel 10:1-21 speaks of visions which Daniel saw which terrified him and the angels who spoke to him about them. It is likely that Daniel 11:1-12:3 tell at least in part what he saw: the end of Persia, the Macedonian Empire, Ptolemaic (“king of the south”) vs. Seleucid (“king of the north”) contests, the persecution of Judah under Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Maccabean revolt and the Hasmonean dynasty, and finally looking forward to the Messiah and His resurrection (ca. 539 BCE – 30 CE). Daniel is told to seal up these insights and is told how long it will be until they are finished (Daniel 12:4-13).
The book of Daniel proves quite important for God and His purposes in Israel and through Jesus. Through Daniel God proves faithful to His words in Amos 3:7, setting forth what Israel would experience in the days when there would be no prophet in the land until the time of the Messiah. Daniel testifies to the resurrection of the dead (Daniel 12:2-3); Daniel sees one like a Son of Man receive a Kingdom from the Ancient of Days, laying down one of the predominant ways by which Jesus and His followers understood His life, resurrection, and ascension (Matthew 16:27-28, 20:18-19, 26:64, Acts 7:56, Revelation 1:12-18). May we be encouraged by Daniel’s faith and steadfastness in times of trial and participate in the Kingdom of God in Christ which he saw in his visions!
Ethan R. Longhenry