1. Daring to Believe Daniel
(The Critics Versus Christ)
Years ago as college student, I attended the first session of an education class required for a degree in education. The professor began by asking us to write down our expectations for the class and turn them in at the end of the period. Like the rest of the students, I wrote a flowery dissertation about my expectations.
Later, after some reflection, I went to the professor and told him how I really felt. “I’m in this class for one reason,” I confessed to him. “It is a requirement if I want to become a teacher. Quite frankly, I must admit I don’t expect to gain much from this class at all."
Needless to say, this was not what the professor wanted to hear, but it was the truth. Most of the other students shared that same opinion by the time the class was finished. At least I had the satisfaction of telling the truth.
This leads me to ask you: “What do you expect to gain from a study of the Book of Daniel?” There are a number of critical “scholars” who expect to learn no more from the Book of Daniel than I expected to learn from that education class. Due to the criticism leveled against the Book of Daniel, we will begin by surveying some of the criticisms of this book and some responses to these criticisms.
An important goal of this lesson is to identify some values of the study of Daniel. Another is to provide an overview of the book as a whole and point out some of its unique characteristics and contributions. Finally, we will attempt to lay the groundwork for further study by considering the setting and historical background of Daniel in order to understand it in the light of the time it was written.
Daniel comes highly recommended to us. The Scriptures consistently and emphatically testify to the authenticity and authority of the Book of Daniel. Ezekiel, a contemporary of Daniel, speaks of this man in the highest of terms. He is singled out by Ezekiel, along with Noah and Job:
Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Son of man, if a country sins against Me by committing unfaithfulness, and I stretch out My hand against it, destroy its supply of bread, send famine against it, and cut off from it both man and beast, even though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job were in its midst, by their own righteousness they could only deliver themselves,” declares the Lord God. “If I were to cause wild beasts to pass through the land, and they depopulated it, and it became desolate so that no one would pass through it because of the beasts, though these three men were in its midst, as I live,” declares the Lord God, “they could not deliver either their sons or their daughters. They alone would be delivered, but the country would be desolate. Or if I should bring a sword on that country and say, ‘Let the sword pass through the country and cut off man and beast from it,’ even though these three men were in its midst, as I live,” declares the Lord God, “they could not deliver either their sons or their daughters, but they alone would be delivered. Or if I should send a plague against that country and pour out My wrath in blood on it, to cut off man and beast from it, even though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in its midst, as I live,” declares the Lord God, “they could not deliver either their son or their daughter. They would deliver only themselves by their righteousness” (Ezekiel 14:12-20).
If Daniel’s righteousness is in view in this text, Ezekiel also refers to his wisdom in this indictment of the “leader of Tyre”:
The word of the Lord came again to me saying, “Son of man, say to the leader of Tyre, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “because your heart is lifted up and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods, in the heart of the seas’; yet you are a man and not God, although you make your heart like the heart of God—behold, you are wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that is a match for you” ‘” (Ezekiel 28:1-3).
Just as Daniel spoke of our Lord, the Messiah (see, for example, Daniel 9:24-27), our Lord spoke of Daniel. In His Olivet discourse, He refers to Daniel as “the prophet” (Matthew 24:15) and then lays out the events of the last days as the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecies.
Others in the New Testament, who may not quote directly from Daniel, reflect the profound impact Daniel’s writing had on their thinking. Paul’s doctrine of the Antichrist draws heavily from Daniel 7 and 11. The Book of Revelation draws from Daniel’s prophecies and from the symbols he employs.1 Virtually every New Testament writer has been influenced by or has drawn from Daniel in some way.2
Since the Scriptures show Daniel in such favorable light, it is indeed remarkable to find Daniel under greater attack from certain “scholars” than any other Old Testament book. The skeptical scholars have a serious problem with the Book of Daniel: its prophecies of future events, particularly those during the Maccabean period, are too precise. For such prophecies to have been made, and then be precisely fulfilled, would require the supernatural, and this is not acceptable to those who reject a sovereign God who is in control of history.
The fundamental issue is that of prophecy,3 the ability of God to foretell the future through His inspired prophets. The assumption that the Book of Daniel does not contain predictive prophecy makes it necessary to explain why the latter chapters of Daniel so accurately depict what has already taken place, especially during the 400 “silent years” between the Old and New Testaments. The anti-supernaturalist explanation is simple: Daniel is not a book of prophecy but of history; Daniel was not written in the 6th century B.C. but in the 2nd century.
Kraeling, who holds this view, represents it in these words:
For the Christian reader Daniel is a prophetic book. This is because he is called a prophet in the New Testament (Matt. 24:15) and because of the profound influence, especially of the visions, on Jesus and early Christianity. In our English Bible the book of Daniel follows Ezekiel. Not so in the Hebrew Bible, where it stands not among the prophets but among “the Writings.” From the standpoint of the book’s own suppositions the author (at any rate of the visions) was a man living in the time of the Chaldean and Persian kings. But this, in the view of all critical scholars, is a masquerade. Since prophecy, as we have seen, was virtually outlawed in the second century B.C., the idea came up to publish predictions under the name of some wise man or prophet of long ago. The pattern was provided by ancient Egyptian tales of wise men or seers who prophesied to a ruler about what would happen in the future—how his dynasty would end in social chaos and be replaced by a new one bringing blessing to the country. Jewish authors took over the pattern but gave it a new importance by providing a finale consisting of judgment over a current empire that had trodden down their people and the coming of the kingdom of God or of the Messiah. Thus was born the apocalyptic literature of which Daniel is the oldest specimen.4
J. Sidlow Baxter, a conservative evangelical scholar, summarizes the critical view this way:
To our skeptical critics the book is merely one of the pseudepigrapha, or Jewish writings of the first and second centuries B.C., issued under a spurious name. It was written about 164 B.C., to hearten loyal Jews amid their trials in the time of the Maccabees. This means that it was written three and a half centuries after the time which it pretends. Its miracles are imaginations. Its predictions are simply history pretended to be foretold three hundred and fifty years later.5
Critical scholars have cited various lines of evidence to support their conclusion. Further inquiry and more recent data not only provide conservative biblical scholars with the ability to refute the arguments of the critical scholars; it has even caused some liberal scholars to rethink their position.6 Listed below are some arguments of those who attack the accuracy and authority of Daniel and the response of conservative scholarship to them.
ARGUMENT 1: Daniel was not listed among the famous Israelites by Ecclesiasticus 44:1ff. Since this document was in existence by 180 B.C., Daniel must have lived at a time later than 180 B.C.
RESPONSE: Among the Qumran discoveries were manuscripts and fragments from the Book of Daniel. “Since the [Qumran] community was itself Maccabean in origin, it testifies to the way in which Daniel was revered and cited as Scripture in the second century B.C.” 7 Harrison points out that Ecclesiasticus not only omits any direct reference to Daniel, but also to Job and all the Judges except Samuel, as well as Kings Asa and Jehoshaphat. Mordecai and even Ezra himself are also omitted.8 Harrison further points to allusions to Daniel by this same author (Ben Sira) in some of his other writings. He alludes to Daniel in Maccabees (1 Macc. 2:59ff.), Baruch (1:15-3:3), and Sibylline Oracles (III, 397ff.).9
ARGUMENT 2: In the Hebrew Text of the Old Testament, the Book of Daniel is not included in the second section (the prophets), but in the third (the writings).10 This shows that Daniel was not considered one of the earlier prophets. The book must therefore be a later work.
RESPONSE: In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) Daniel is listed with the prophets, indicating the translators, like Jesus, accepted Daniel as one of the prophets. Daniel was not a typical prophet like Isaiah or Jeremiah. His ministry was more like that of Joseph. Both were interpreters of dreams in a foreign land. Inclusion among the writings does not indicate anything about the date of the book. Job, for example, is included among the writings and is generally regarded to be a very old book.
ARGUMENT 3: The language of the Book of Daniel argues for a late date. Certain Persian and Greek words are used which originated later than the 6th century B.C. The Aramaic used in Daniel is “late” in form.
RESPONSE: Each individual language argument falls apart under scrutiny. The more we learn about the language of Daniel’s day, the more critical arguments collapse.11
ARGUMENT 4: Daniel was incorrect when he wrote (1:1) that Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem occurred in the “third year of Jehoiakim” because Jeremiah spoke of it as being in the “fourth year” (Jeremiah 25:1, 46:2). Daniel’s error can be explained by the fact that he did not live in those days but wrote at a later time.
RESPONSE: It should first be noted that Daniel did not say Nebuchadnezzar defeated Jerusalem in the third year of Jehoiakim, but only that he took certain people captive to Babylon. Secondly, the Palestinian method of reckoning the number of years of a king’s reign from the time of his accession differed from that of the Babylonian method. The Babylonian method did not count the year of a king’s accession; the Palestinian method did. Thus, Daniel (by the Babylonian method) spoke of the event as being in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign, and Jeremiah (by the Palestinian method) as being in the fourth.12
I differ with the presuppositions and premises of the critical scholars not only because of the basis of their arguments, but because of the implications of their views. I differ not only with “where they are coming from” but also with “where they are going.” Consider some implications of the critical view of Daniel. If their arguments are true, then these implications must be faced:
(1) The critical view of Daniel makes Scripture merely human, denying its divine and supernatural character. By eliminating the supernatural element from prophecy, one removes the divine. The critical view believes God did not speak through Daniel, men did.
(2) The critical view of the Book of Daniel makes “Daniel” a fictional character, not a real person. This means that the piety of Daniel (and his three friends) was fictional and that there is no real link between the practical piety of Daniel and his prophecies.
(3) The critical view of Daniel legitimizes falsehood by employing a fabricated story to teach the truth. One of the purposes of divine prophecy is to reveal the truth while exposing falsehood. The critical view makes the prophecy of Daniel a falsehood. How then can it proclaim God’s truth?
(4) The critical view of Daniel, by inference, demeans all biblical prophecy. If the divine revelation of future events is rejected in Daniel, then we must reject it elsewhere in the Bible as well. The prophecies of the Bible pertaining to the future to which we presently look for hope and comfort, cannot be a supernatural revelation of the future and thus are worthless. To reject Daniel because it is prophecy is to reject all prophecy.
(5) To accept the critical view of Daniel is to demean the rest of the Scriptures, the authors of Scripture, and our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Kraeling said it. We have a high view of Daniel because Jesus did. But if such a view of Daniel is wrong, then all those who have esteemed Daniel highly were wrong, including our Lord. If the Book of Daniel is less than our Lord thought it was, our Lord must be less than we have thought Him to be. Our view of Christ will either determine our estimation of Daniel, or our (critical) estimation of Daniel will diminish our view of Christ.
These criticisms of Daniel all begin with unbelief—unbelief in a sovereign God, who supernaturally foretells future events and then brings them to pass. God’s Word always accomplishes that purpose for which it is intended.
“I declared the former things long ago And they went forth from My mouth, and I proclaimed them. Suddenly I acted, and they came to pass. Because I know that you are obstinate, And your neck is an iron sinew, And your forehead bronze, Therefore I declared them to you long ago, Before they took place I proclaimed them to you, Lest you should say, ‘My idol has done them, And my graven image and my molten image have commanded them.’ You have heard; look at all this. And you, will you not declare it? I proclaim to you new things from this time, Even hidden things which you have not known. They are created now and not long ago; And before today you have not heard them, Lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them’” (Isaiah 48:3-7).
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth, And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Characteristics of the Book of Daniel
Just as every individual has a unique set of fingerprints, every book of the Bible has its own individual characteristics which enable it to make a particular contribution to the reader. Consider the following characteristics of the Book of Daniel:
(1) The Book of Daniel depicts historical events beginning with the first conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.C. and ending in the third year of Cyrus (536 B.C.).
(2) The prophecies of the Book of Daniel encompass time from Daniel’s day to the future establishment of the kingdom of God.
(3) Daniel is written in two languages, not just one. The Book is written in Hebrew and in Aramaic:13
- Daniel 1:1 - 2:4a-Hebrew language
- Daniel 2:4b - 7:28-Aramaic language
- Daniel 8:1 - 12:13-Hebrew language
There are a number of theories why two languages were used. One reason may be that the Spirit of God was indicating that the message of this book was for both Jews and Gentiles. Thus, the Hebrew portions would get the attention of the Jews, while the Aramaic portion would have the attention of the Gentiles.
(4) The structure of Daniel is not strictly chronological, making it difficult to neatly categorize.14 Chapters 1-6 tend to be historical and chronological; chapters 7-12 are prophetic, but not chronological. If there is a chronological sequence in chapters 7-12, it may be in the prophetic scheme of future events laid out in these chapters, rather than in the historical events described in Daniel. The prophecies of Daniel tend to range from events in Daniel’s day onward to eternity.
Consider the following observations comparing the structure in Daniel:
Chapters 1 - 6
Chapters 7 - 12
The days of Daniel
A time future to Daniel
Biographical and historical
Prophetic and apocalyptic
History is chronological
Prophecy is chronological
Written in the third person
Written in the first person
Others have dreams15
Daniel has dreams
Another must interpret
(5) There is a deliberate interweaving of history and prophecy, of present and future, of prophetic revelation and practical piety. Chapter 1 deals with an historical event in the lives of Daniel and his three friends. Chapter 2 is an historical account but deals with the interpretation of a dream Daniel explains as prophetic. Chapter 3 returns to the present time and to the decision of Daniel’s three friends who must face the firey furnace for not bowing down to the king’s golden image. The structure of the book encourages us to recognize that personal piety and prophecy go together.
The Contribution of the Book of Daniel
We know that the Book of Daniel comes highly recommended in the Scriptures, if not by some scholars of a later time. Several contributions offered in a unique or special way will be considered in two categories: (1) the contribution of the Book of Daniel to the Scriptures; and, (2) the contribution of the Book of Daniel to us personally.
Daniel’s Contribution to the Scriptures
(1) The Book of Daniel provides us with valuable insights into conditions in Babylon during the 70 years of Judah’s Babylonian captivity.
(2) The Book of Daniel testifies to the accuracy and reliability of the Word of God. All that God had said would happen to the southern kingdom of Judah did happen, as the Book of Daniel bears witness.
(3) The Book of Daniel links the Old Testament to the New by prophetically revealing the events to take place in the 400 “silent years” between the two testaments. Bible students have often commented concerning that 400 year period in which no book of the Bible was written. While God may have, in one sense, been “silent” during the 400 years, He was not silent about the 400 years. Daniel describes some of the events which will take place during these four centuries with such accuracy, the critics insist it must be history rather than prophecy.
(4) The Book of Daniel is perhaps the most comprehensive layout of God’s prophetic plans in all of the Old Testament. The theology, themes and symbolism of Daniel provide the student of Scriptures with the “key to prophecy” :
Of the three prophetic programs revealed in Scripture, outlining the course of the nations, Israel, and the church, Daniel alone reveals the details of God’s plan for both the nations and Israel. Although other prophets like Jeremiah had much to say to the nations and Israel, Daniel brings together and interrelates these great themes of prophecy as does no other portion of Scripture. For this reason, the book of Daniel is essential to the structure of prophecy and is the key to the entire Old Testament prophetic revelation.16
Daniel’s Contribution to the Saints
(1) The godly personal life of Daniel is a model for the saints. Daniel was not a priest nor was he a typical prophet like Isaiah or Jeremiah. We are not told that he ever had a “prophetic call” like that Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-13) or Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1-10) or Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:1-7). So far as we are know, Daniel was not given direct revelation to guide him in those daily decisions which proved to be turning points in his life and ministry. In his youth, as in his final days, Daniel remained faithful to God and his fellowmen. Daniel is a man whose personal piety can challenge and inspire us in our walk with God.
(2) The life and ministry of Daniel provide us with some valuable insights on Christian leadership. Daniel was indeed a great leader whose ministry impacted the lives of several of the greatest political leaders of his time. How Daniel got to be a leader, and the way in which he led, are not the way of our culture (Christian or heathen). Daniel is a model leader, and we should learn about leadership from him.
(3) Daniel was a man who served God in the midst of his suffering. Though he suffered because of the sins of his nation and because of his own personal piety, Daniel faithfully served God even in the midst of affliction and has much to say to those who suffer.
(4) Daniel is a book which has much to say about prophecy and about personal piety. In the New Testament, Peter instructs us that prophecy should inspire the Christian to personal piety (see 2 Peter 3:11-13). Daniel demonstrates how this is done.
(5) Daniel is a book which inspires hope and comfort, giving constant witness to the sovereignty of God. God is in control just as he was in the defeat and captivity of Judah. He was in control of the history of the world, so He could foretell the powers who would rule from Daniel’s day onward. He was in control, using the captivity of Judah for their good, and for the blessing of the Gentiles. Daniel bears witness to the comforting truth of God’s power and His control over the affairs of men. The book assures us that nothing happens to His people which is not a part of His plan, designed for our good and His glory.
(6) The Book of Daniel teaches the Christian how to relate to a godless, heathen society, outside of church walls and stained glass windows. The people of Judah were inclined to think that God was with them only when they were in the promised land and in the proximity of the temple. God was still present and active among His people in Babylon, as seen in His intervention on behalf of Daniel and his friends. They are examples of how saints can live in a heathen society so as to bear witness to the majesty, power, and grace of God. This book shows how to live godly lives in a fallen world and how to impact a heathen society, even when a minority as small as “one.”
The Setting for the Book of Daniel
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god (Daniel 1:1-2).
From the first two verses of Daniel 1 which inform us of the setting of the book, we can draw some initial conclusions to provide the key to understanding this book and its implications for our lives.
(1) The Book of Daniel contains a great deal of future prophecy but also is the result of fulfilled prophecy.
In these brief words of introduction, Daniel informs us that he and his people are captive in Babylon because God gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzer. How did this come about and why? We see from the Old Testament scriptures that verses 1 and 2 are the precise fulfillment of prophecy.
Before the nation Israel crossed the Jordan to possess the promised land of Canaan, God renewed His covenant with this people, promising to bless them for obedience to His law and to curse them for disobedience. This curse included captivity:
“But it shall come about, if you will not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you … Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes shall look on and yearn for them continually; but there shall be nothing you can do … The Lord will bring you and your king, whom you shall set over you, to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone. And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a taunt among all the people where the Lord will drive you” (Deuteronomy 28:15, 32,36-37).
“The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand, a nation of fierce countenance who shall have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young” (Deuteronomy 28:49-50).
“Moreover, the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known.” (Deuteronomy 28:64).
The nation Israel divided into the northern kingdom (referred to as “Israel” or “Ephraim”) and the southern kingdom (most often referred to as “Judah”). Israel consisted of 10 tribes under the leadership of Jeroboam and then 18 subsequent kings, none of whom were of the line of David. The northern kingdom was consistently in one of two conditions: “bad” or “worse,” as seen from a reading of 1 and 2 Kings. The southern kingdom of Judah also had 19 kings, all of whom were of the line of David. Some of these kings were bad, others had a heart for the Lord, and some wavered in between.
God foretold the defeat and destruction of Israel, the northern kingdom, by the Assyrians:
“For the Lord will strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water; and He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, because they have made their Asherim, provoking the Lord to anger. And He will give up Israel on account of the sins of Jeroboam, which he committed and with which he made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 14:15-16).
The scriptures record that defeat:
Now it came about in the fourth year of King Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria and besieged it. And at the end of three years they captured it; in the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was captured. Then the king of Assyria carried Israel away into exile to Assyria, and put them in Halah and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed His covenant, even all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded; they would neither listen, nor do it (2 Kings 18:9-12).
During the reign of Hezekiah, Judah (the southern kingdom) was threatened by Assyria but was divinely delivered from their hand (2 Kings 18-19). Hezekiah later became very ill and was told that he was to die. Because of his appeal to God for mercy, his life was extended 15 years (2 Kings 20:1-11). The king of the (as yet) distant and obscure empire of Babylon, hearing of Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery, sent him a “get well” note which led to a visit to Jerusalem. Foolishly Hezekiah showed his Babylonian visitors all the riches of Jerusalem. For this Isaiah rebuked Hezekiah and gave this prophecy of Judah’s downfall at the hand of Babylon:
Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord. ‘Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and all that your fathers have laid up in store to this day shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,’ says the Lord. ‘And some of your sons who shall issue from you, whom you shall beget, shall be taken away; and they shall become officials in the palace of the king of Babylon’” (2 Kings 20:16-18).
Reading Daniel 1:1-2 in light of these and other prophecies, I am struck by the fact that God’s promises and prophecies concerning Israel and Judah were literally and precisely fulfilled. If Daniel is the source of future prophecies, his book is also a testimony to fulfilled prophecy. The future prophecies of Daniel are all the more certain in light of the fulfilled prophecies, to which Daniel bears witness.
(2) The Book of Daniel turns our attention and focus to Israel’s God and the certain hope of His people for reconciliation with God, restoration, and eternal blessing.
The promises and prophecies of God fulfilled in the defeat and captivity of Israel and Judah were only part of the picture. God not only promised Israel’s captivity, but also her restoration:
“So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. And the Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers” (Deuteronomy 30:1-5).
As surely as God’s promises of judgment were fulfilled, so will be His promises of salvation and blessing. In many ways, this Book fixes our hope on the restoration of His people, as well as the blessing of the Gentiles.
The certainty of restoration and blessing for God’s people was assured by the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. God’s sovereignty is indicated in the introduction, Daniel 1:1-2. Judah, under Jehoiakim, was defeated by Babylon and taken into captivity. But Daniel makes it clear that this defeat was in fulfillment of God’s purposes and promises. God gave Jehoiakim and Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. Judah’s defeat came from God. The great and mighty nation of Babylon was but an instrument in the hand of God to achieve His purposes.
The sovereignty of God, pointed out in the introduction, is taught and affirmed throughout the rest of the book. The prophecies which God revealed to the kings of Babylon and fulfilled in their times bore witness to God’s sovereignty. The miraculous deliverance of Daniel (from the lions, chapter 6) and his three friends (from the firey furnace, chapter 3) also testifies to the sovereignty of God.
The greatest witness to God’s sovereignty comes from the Babylonian rulers themselves. Note the contrast between Daniel 1 and Daniel 4.
And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god (Daniel 1:2).
In the ancient world, military battles waged between two nations were battles of the gods of those warring nations. The winning nation was thought to have the greater gods.17 When a heathen nation defeated another nation, it often placed the gods of its defeated foe in the temple of their own god as a symbol of their god’s victory (see 1 Samuel 5:1-2; Daniel 1:1-2).
When Nebuchadnezzar took the vessels of the house of God and placed them in the house of his god, we are prepared for a “battle of the gods.” Did Nebuchadnezzar think that his “gods” had prevailed over the God of Israel and Judah? Though the book of Daniel begins with Nebuchadnezzar giving his gods credit for being better than the God of Judah, take note of his final words, which speak of the God of Israel:
“But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing. But He does according to His will in the host of heaven. And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What has Thou done?’
“At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just and He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (Daniel 4:34-37).
Nebuchadnezzar, like Israel, had become proud in the position and power God had given. Nebuchadnezzar, like Israel, was humbled for a time, and then restored to give praise and glory to God. There is hope of Israel’s restoration, as Nebuchadnezzar and the Book of Daniel bear witness.
May God enrich our lives as we study and apply the message of this great book to His glory. And may the kingdom for which the saints of all ages have looked soon come to the earth with the Lord Jesus as our Great King.
Questions and Answers
About the Book of Daniel
(1) Who was Daniel?
Daniel was a Hebrew, apparently of noble birth, who was taken captive as a youth by Nebuchadnezzar when he attacked Jerusalem in 605 B.C. Daniel became an official in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, and he continued to serve later rulers, until the first year of Cyrus (536 B.C., see Daniel 1:1-2, 21). Although not called a prophet in the book, Jesus referred to him as such in Matthew 24:15. The Bible has only good things to say about him. He is regarded as one of the great saints of the Old Testament (see Ezekiel 14:12-20; 28:1-3).
(2) What is the Book of Daniel all about?
Daniel is not grouped with the rest of the prophets in the Hebrew Old Testament, but rather among the writings (including Job, Psalms, and Proverbs). The Book of Daniel depicts events which occurred during the 70 years of Judah’s captivity in Babylon. It records a number of very important prophecies concerning future events, some of which were fulfilled in Daniel’s lifetime, others in the years up to and including the first coming of Jesus Christ. Still other prophecies (see chapter 12) are yet to be fulfilled when Christ comes once more, to establish the kingdom of God on the earth.
In general terms, Daniel is about the personal piety of Daniel and his three friends and the prophecies which were revealed to, or through, Daniel during his lifetime.
(3) What are some of the characteristics of the Book of Daniel?
The book of Daniel was written in two languages: Hebrew, the language then spoken by the Jews (1:1-2:4a; 8:1-12:13), and Aramaic, the language of the Babylonians (2:4b-7:28).
The structure of the Book of Daniel is not quickly or easily determined. It seems difficult to neatly divide the book, which may have been by divine design (to prevent liberal scholars from claiming that Daniel had more than one author, as they claim with other books, like the Book of Isaiah).
Chapters 1-6 tend to be more historical, dealing with people and events in Daniel’s day. Writing in the third person, Daniel interprets the dreams of others which they are unable to understand.
Chapters 7-12 tend to be more prophetic, dealing with events from Daniel’s day to eternity. Here, Daniel writes in the first person, describing his own visions for which God provides the interpretation through an angelic interpreter.
The Book of Daniel interweaves history and prophecy indicating to us that prophecy goes hand-in-hand with godly living in the present.
(4) What do some critics of the Book of Daniel say about this book, and how do we answer them?
The critics are opposed to the Book of Daniel because they do not believe in the supernatural. The miracles of the Book of Daniel bring strong reaction from those who have determined that miracles don’t happen. In particular, the critics find Daniel’s prophecies too good to be true. The events of the Maccabbean period too precisely fulfill some of the prophecies of Daniel. The skeptics conclude from this that Daniel must not be prophecy, written before the events which are predicted, but rather history. They believe Daniel was written late, in the first or second century B.C., posing as prophecy and attempting to comfort the Jews at that time with falsified evidences of God’s sovereign preservation and protection of His people. They seek to point out “errors” in Daniel, which they believe help to establish that the book is not really divine prophecy.
Virtually all of the specific examples of “error” in Daniel vaporize under the scrutiny of investigation and in the light of later and more complete information, such as that provided by language study and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran.
(5) What does the Bible tell us about Daniel, and about the value of this book?
Ezekiel, a contemporary of Daniel, speaks most highly of him (Ezekiel 14:12-20; 28:1-3). Jesus spoke highly of Daniel, calling him a prophet and indicating that His scheme of prophecy is the same as that laid out by Daniel (see Matthew chapter 24, especially verse 15). Every chapter of Daniel is referred to or quoted in the New Testament; every New Testament writer makes use of Daniel’s prophecies. Daniel’s book is the backbone of Old and New Testament prophecy. Daniel provides us with the most complete prophetic picture of any Old Testament book and with the key to understanding New Testament prophecy, especially the Book of Revelation.
(6) What is the unique contribution of Daniel?
Daniel describes some of the historical events which took place during the Jews seventy-year exile in Babylon. In addition, Daniel’s prophecies depict future events from the time of Daniel to the establishment of God’s kingdom in the future. Daniel’s prophecies describe events which took place during the 400 silent years between the Old and New Testaments, thus serving as a bridge between the two testaments. Daniel is not only a book of future prophecy, it is a book which demonstrates the fulfillment of prophecy. The captivity of the Jews and of Daniel, as well as his ministry to Babylonian kings, is the precise fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, from the time of Moses onward.
(7) What can we gain from a study of Daniel?
The person of Daniel provides the Christian with a model of a godly man, from his youth to the end of his life. He demonstrates how a Christian can live a godly life in an ungodly world and have an impact upon the society in which he lives, even when in a minority. He is an example of a man who learned to stand alone for God when it was dangerous to do so. He has much to teach us about faithfulness in times of suffering and adversity, about leadership, and about the sovereignty of God. Daniel is a reminder of God’s faithfulness, even when men are unfaithful. Daniel shows how God can work in our lives, even through those who are unbelievers and who are opposed to God’s people.
1 “Paul’s doctrine of the coming Antichrist obviously reflects Daniel vii. and xi. Still more are the visions of John in the Apocalypse bound up with those of Daniel.” J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), vol. 4, p. 70.
2 The New Testament in Greek and English, published by the American Bible Society in 1966, lists in its index of quotations (pp. 897-907), every chapter of Daniel as being quoted in the New Testament. It also shows that most of the books of the New Testament quote the Book of Daniel. While not every New Testament book cites Daniel, virtually every New Testament author does, including all the gospel writers, Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and the writer to the Hebrews. One-hundred-thirty-three New Testament references were listed here, citing 68 references in Daniel.
3 Those who reject the foretelling dimension of prophecy maintain that all a prophet can do is to forthtell, to speak concerning the present, but not concerning the future. Viewed this way, the prophets were those who challenged men to abide by God’s rules, but who were unable to describe the form God’s rule would take in the future.
4 Emil G. Kraeling, The Prophets (Rand McNally and Company, 1969), p. 285.
5 J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book, vol 4., p. 49.
6 For an excellent conservative discussion of these issues, see R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), pp. 1110-1127.
7 R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 1107.
10 In Luke 24:44, Jesus spoke of the Old Testament in terms of three commonly recognized divisions: the Law of Moses (the first five books of the Old Testament); the Prophets (divided into two categories: “Former” and “Later”); and the Psalms (which is also known as the writings). The “writings” include Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles.
11 See R. K. Harrison, pp. 1124-1126.
12 See R. K. Harrison, p. 1112.
13 After the captivity, the language of the Jews ceased to be Hebrew, which necessitated the translation of the Old Testament Scriptures into Greek (this Greek translation of the Old Testament is known as the Septuagint). Only a select few would retain the ability to study the Hebrew Scriptures. The Jews of our Lord’s day spoke a form of Aramaic. The common language in Babylon at the time of Daniel was Aramaic.
14 I am tempted to think that God deliberately structured Daniel to make it difficult to subdivide. The two-fold division of chapters 1-6 and 7-12 has some appeal, but this arrangement hardly explains the use of both Hebrew and Aramaic, which spans both divisions. The tendency of liberal scholars has been to claim multiple authorship of some of those books which are prophetic. Isaiah, for example, is claimed to have had two, three, or even more authors. Did God see to it that Daniel’s structure resisted division, so that we would be more inclined to admit that Daniel wrote the whole book--history, prophecies, and all?
15 Nebuchadnezzar has two dreams in chapters 1-6. The first is the dream of the great statue, in chapter 2, and the second is the dream of the tree, in chapter 4. I would also include Belshazzar’s revelation from God in the “handwriting on the wall” recorded in chapter 5. While this was not a dream, it was a divine revelation which required Daniel as an interpreter of its meaning.
16 John F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 7.
Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines