Daniel: a character study
What was life like for you when you were young? Could it go on forever? School, sports, friends, outings. Imagine it all being cut short! Daniel was only about 18 years of age when his life was suddenly changed — for ever!
Daniel was of the royal family (Dan 1:3), and thus of the tribe of Judah.1 What a life he was living! What a future! Then . . .
Not without warnings, though, in the year 605 BC Jerusalem was attacked for the first time by the Babylonian army. Daniel was among those who were captured and marched off to Babylon about 1000 km away, if they went north and south east around the Fertile Crescent.
He never returned to his homeland. He lived in Babylon until he was in his 80s. He saw the beginnings of the return of the Jews to their homeland and the restoration of the province of Judah under the rule of the Persian king, Cyrus, but he was a prophet in a foreign land. There in Babylon he not only became a prophet who was privileged to receive messages from God about the future of his people, Israel, he also demonstrated in his own life of the way that God can miraculously intervene to save His people.
Having read of this remarkable man in the chapters preceding, we can now pause to review his life and character.
He is referred to twice in the New Testament. In one reference we are urged to study his book. “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel — let the reader understand — …(Matthew 24:15)” In the other reference he is alluded to as an example of faith. “[Some] who through faith … shut the mouths of lions … (Hebrews 11:33).”
His name means “God is my judge.”
If we assume that Daniel was about 18 years of age at the time he was taken captive by the Babylonians, his age at the time of major events recorded in his book would be as follows. (Some dates are approximate, to within three years.)
Qualities and Qualifications
Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility — young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians (Daniel 1:3-4).
Which of the above qualifications might you aim to copy?
Daniel’s Personal Life
His resolving not to defile himself with the royal food and wine of the Babylonian culture and his request of the chief official for exemption are great examples of his understanding and respect for the God-given principles of his Jewish culture (Daniel 1:8). He had absolute faith in God: “So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead (Daniel 1:16).”
Daniel was in his 80s. when King Darius put the decree in writing prohibiting the worship of anyone except the king for 30 days. “When Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help (Daniel 6:9-11).” Centuries later it was the apostle Peter and his colleagues who verbalized Daniel’s stance and trust: “We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)!”
This kind of conviction is nice to have, but what do you do when it is tested? How would you feel and what would you do if you discovered that people were plotting against you?
Although a visionary prophet, and this was not his career (!), Daniel was a student of Scripture and a man of prayer. It was in the first year of the reign of the Medes and Persians over Babylon that Daniel noted that he understood from the prophecy of Jeremiah that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years (Daniel 9:2).
What had Jeremiah written? “This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever (Jeremiah 25:11-12).”
Not content with just these facts of the exile, Daniel felt compelled to pray about the spiritual condition of his people, the reason for the prophecy in the first place.
Daniel had a good grasp of Israelite history and God’s involvement in it. This was expressed in his lengthy prayer recorded in chapter 9.
All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. “Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.”
Centuries before, the Lord had warned, I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins (Leviticus 26:33).
Moses had repeated the warning: Just as it pleased the LORD to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods – gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. In the morning you will say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening, “If only it were morning!” – because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see (Deuteronomy 28:63-67).
Rather than abandoning his faith in God, Daniel, this old man in his 80s, prays that God would not forget His promises! He wrote, I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands,…(Daniel 9:4)”
As a young man Daniel had endeavored to establish and maintain a good relationship with others including those in authority. He was confident in speaking to the chief official about the food problem, and confident in speaking to Nebuchadnezzar. Both were willing to hear him and grant his requests.
He was prepared to take the leading role. Of the four friends, he was the one who spoke up.
At the same time he was a man who could be courteous and sympathetic even to the king who had it in his power to execute him — as he decided to do with his friends on the Plain of Dura (Daniel 4:19, 27). You can only do that when you have love and not fear.
How did others view Daniel?
The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom (Daniel 1:19-20).
He was known and respected for his ability to interpret visions and dreams.
On the night of the carousal that ended in the conquest, it was the queen who said to Belshazzar, “This man Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means (Daniel 5:12).”
How did he react to his visions and dreams?
After one vision he confessed to being “deeply troubled” and to keeping the matter to himself (Daniel 7:28). On another occasion he was “terrified and fell prostrate (Daniel 8:17).” He was “exhausted and lay ill for several days. Then [he] got up and went about the king’s business. [He] was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding (Daniel 8:27).” He was in his 70s on these occasions.
In his final vision he was poignantly farewelled with, “As for you, go your way till the end” and promised: “You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance (Daniel 12:13).”
We say that maturity comes with age. Solomon wrote: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7).
How old was Daniel when he began training for service in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.
Here as a teenager he shows remarkable maturity and confidence. Does he make these decisions because someone has told him to? Are these his personal convictions. Who were his role models? Was he familiar with the lives of Joseph, Moses, Joshua and Elijah? Did he know about Joseph’s stance in Potiphar’s house, about Moses’ identifying himself with God’s people, about Joshua’s “Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” Did he know about Elijah’s fearless stance before Ahab? Role models indeed — not from the fanciful world of mythology, but from real life. Would to God that every young man would model his life after these men of faith.
“The greatest want of the world is the want of men—men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.” 2
Both the church and the world need people who respect those in authority and who are respected. The church and the world need people who will have a strong prayer life, who are convicted that faith in God is essential. Both the church and the world need people who understand their culture and are prepared to avoid those things that are acceptable to man but not to God. We desperately need people who will study the Scriptures and understand God’s role in human affairs.
If you are young and say to yourself, “Yes, I want to be like that” you have a future of God’s making. Your plans for yourself will now be exchanged for God’s plans.
And if you are older and you have adopted God’s plan for your life you must know that God is with you. To one and all such people, whether older or younger, God will assure you, as He assured Daniel at the end of his life, that you will one day receive the inheritance He has prepared for you.
- Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.
- White, Ellen G., Education (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1903), 57.
© 2010, Angus McPhee