Introducing the Book of the Prophet Daniel
I will always remember one incident early in my first class on the subject of “Daniel and Revelation” at Avondale College, Cooranbong, New South Wales, early 1962. The lecturer, Dr. Desmond Ford, asked us to take a sheet of paper, and write the numbers 1 to 12 down the left-hand side. After that he told us that these represented the numbers of the 12 chapters in the Book of Daniel. “Now write a summary of each chapter opposite each number.” To this day, I remember that I remembered chapter 2. The other chapters? The lions’ den. The fiery furnace. Something about Turkey? But what chapters were they in?
Well, it was a healthy but humbling exercise. Like to try it? Do it now. Having done that you can either compare your answers with your Bible or turn to the endnote for the answers which, by the way, are more clues than summaries.
I will do my best to let the Bible speak, discovering its own interpretation of its symbols and in their context. Let’s not interpret Daniel, or Revelation for that matter, by current affairs, in the excitement of the occasion dogmatizing about certain events as if they were the fulfillment of prophecy. For example, was the First World War “Armageddon” as some thought at the time? Were the Leonid meteors of 1833 the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of Matthew 24:29 and Mark 13:25? Further, I will do my best to strain out gnats and not swallow camels (Matthew 23:24)!
The historical setting: sieges, deportation and captivity
The Babylonians, under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar, three times besieged Jerusalem during the reigns of the last three kings of Judah.
1. In the 3d year of Jehoiakim (605 B.C.), some of the Temple treasures and a number of captives, including Daniel, were taken to Babylon (Dan. 1:1–3).
2. Eight years later, at the end of the three-month reign of Jehoiachin (597 B.C.), in the 8th year of the reign Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:8–16), Jehoiachin, with others including Ezekiel were taken captive (Ezekiel 1:1–3; 33:21; 40:1).
3. In the 11th year of Zedekiah (586 B.C.), Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, and the larger portion of the remaining inhabitants was deported to Babylonia (2 Kings 25:8–21).
I quote in part from the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, p. 745.
King Jehoiakim, during whose reign Daniel had gone into captivity, remained loyal to Babylon for a few years. Eventually, however, he acceded to the policy of the pro-Egyptian party in Judah, and rebelled. As a result the country suffered military invasions, its citizens lost their liberty and were taken into captivity, and the king lost his life. His son and successor, Jehoiachin, … saw the armies of Babylon return to mete out punishment for disloyalty. He, together with thousands of the upper class citizens of Judah, went into captivity … His successor, Zedekiah, apparently attempted to remain loyal to Babylon. However, being weak and vacillating, he could not long withstand the overtures of Egypt and the anti-Babylonian sentiment of his chief advisers. As a result Nebuchadnezzar, weary of the repeated revolts in Palestine, decided to put an end to the kingdom of Judah. For two and a half years the Babylonian armies ravaged Judah, took and destroyed the cities, including Jerusalem, with its Temple and its palaces, and led the majority of the inhabitants of Judah into captivity in 586 B.C.
We feel the sorrow, anger and frustration of the Jewish exiles in the songs they composed at the time.
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
Remember, O Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us —
he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks (Psalm 137).
Then out of the sadness comes a message of hope in the lives of Daniel and his associates, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and also in the dreams and visions of the future. A song says, “What He’s done for others, He will do for you.” That’s the message of Daniel: “What He did for them, He will do for us.”
Do you feel taunted by your enemies? Do you feel at times that there is no hope for you? Do you feel that life has no point? Do you feel abandoned at times? Take courage. God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).” He also wrote to his protege Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God … (1 Timothy 6:17).” Despite circumstances and the appearance of circumstances, God is at work, and will be at work for good in the lives of those who put their trust in Him.
The name “Daniel” means, “God is my Judge.”
In the early days of Israel’s history the Lord permitted enemies to oppress the Israelites because of their involvement with idolatry. We are told though that from time to time
the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them (See Judges 2:11-18).
The traditional name for these deliverers is “judges.” But now, about 700 years later, the Israelites are in exile in the land of Babylon and who will step in and deliver them now? There is no human deliverer in sight.
The question is answered in the very name “Daniel” which means “God is my judge.” Although the Hebrew words for “judge” are different in these two books, Judges and Daniel, the theme of intervention and salvation are prominent. In the experience of Daniel and his colleagues, recorded in the first six chapters, when to all appearances they are doomed, God steps in and delivers them — time and time again. And the same is true for the covenant people in the prophecies in this book, recorded in the final six chapters.
While we will remember Daniel, his faith, and his message, we would do well to remember that his deliverer is, and will be, our deliverer. “What He’s done for others, He will do for you.”
Believers in this truth might echo the song of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who said,
My soul glorifies the Lord …
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
… He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers (Luke 1:46-55).
The observation of King Darius, the first ruler of Babylon under the Persian regime, was right. “The God of Daniel rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth (Daniel 6:27).”
The ultimate fulfillment of the prophecies of Daniel will occur in the latter days. We are indeed privileged, for the same God who worked through individuals and nations to get His people home is working today to do the same for you and me.
I think we shall get to like Daniel as we get to know Him better.
While you and I may not bear his name may we, by our lives and our quiet faith, show the world that the God who was Daniel’s judge/deliverer is ours too.
The chapter topics
- Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego decide on their diet
- Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great image
- The fiery furnace
- Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the tree
- The writing on the wall
- Daniel in the lions’ den
- The beasts from the sea and the judgment scene
- The 2,300 days
- The 70 weeks
- The glorious being
- The Kings of the North and the South
- The end: “Go thy way, Daniel”
© 2010, Angus McPhee