Daniel is one of the most amazing people in the Bible. He was carried away from his native Israel by Nebuchadnezzar in 605 BC while he was still a young man. He spent the rest of his life in Babylon and seems to have lived to a ripe old age. Daniel actually outlived the Babylonian empire, and he continued on throughout the duration of the seventy year captivity of the Jewish people. It was largely do to his prayers that the captivity came to an end (9:1-23). After that he lived on, advising and rebuking kings, and serving as a high government official. What a man!
This man is an outstanding example of how a person can live a godly and triumphant life in the midst of a fallen and perverted society. For instance, Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the king’s dainties (1:8). These undoubtedly included a few items like shrimp from the Persian Gulf, catfish from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and perhaps some good ole Babylonian barbecued pork chops. The commands of the Torah would have forbidden such foods and Daniel didn’t want to take any chances.
We can immediately learn from Daniel that we cannot feast on the fare of this age and accomplish great feats for God. We cannot become “couch potatoes” and watch five or six hours of TV each day and expect to be victorious for God in our time. Daniel had commitment, and it paid off for him and for all Israel many times over.
Daniel was not only a patriot, statesman, and prophet, but he was also a dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions. God talked to him, and on several occasions mighty angels appeared to him. Because of his uncanny vision and understanding of the times, he was able to interpret God’s word to the pagan kingdoms of Babylon and Persia. He actually became a legend in his own time. Ezekiel, who was brought to Babylon some fifteen years after Daniel, mentions him almost with a holy reverence and places him in the company of men like Noah and Job (Ez. 14:14).
AN UNUSUAL VIEW OF HISTORY
Because Daniel was close to God, the Lord gifted him with knowledge and understanding of all kinds (1:17). Since he could see into the unseen realm, he was called upon to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. One night the king had a dream that greatly troubled him. He called his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers but they could not tell him his dream. At last, Daniel was called and the vision was made known.
The king had dreamed of an enormous, dazzling statue with a head of gold, with a chest and arms of silver, with a belly and thighs of bronze, with legs of iron, and with feet and toes of iron mixed with baked clay. The king watched until a rock was hewn out of the mountain. That rock crashed into the image turning it into dust, but the rock grew into a great mountain, filling the whole earth (2:36).
Daniel quickly interpreted the meaning of the vision to an astounded king. The vision was a picture of the Gentile Age, which had apparently come into being at the very time that Israel had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. There would be four world kingdoms and they would continue intact until the present hour. At last, these kingdoms would be destroyed together by the rock hewn out of the mountain. In Daniel, and also in Revelation 14:1, it becomes clear that the mountain is Mt. Zion, and the rock is the Messiah and his government. The fall of Israel began the Gentile Age, and the final restoration of Israel will bring it to an abrupt end.
What an unusual view of history! It would never be taught in a secular school today, yet is seems to be the proper and biblical view. Someday everyone will likely understand history in just the way Daniel interpreted it. The four world empires of the Gentile age are Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Daniel correctly saw that the Roman empire would divide into eastern and western portions like two legs of a man. He saw that it would later divide into ten sections like a man’s toes. Later in the book (7:8), he saw that from these ten toes a king of fierce countenance would arise and bring a brief age of terror and persecution the likes of which the world has never seen before.
Daniel saw that the image would fall at one time (2:35). This is important. The Babylonian head didn’t fall off in 539 BC when that nation was destroyed. It is still there today. We can know by this that the godless principles of these world governments will continue to be in effect, although the nations themselves have long passed from
We can only speculate about what principles were involved in these nations. Babylon probably represented religion without God. It represented a defiled and adulterated religious system, mixed with sorcery. God calls his people to come out of this wretched system (Isa. 48:20; Rev. 18:4). Media-Persia seems to represent a system of law and government without God. The laws of the Medes and Persians could not be changed even if they were wrong and stupid (6:8). We still have plenty of laws like that, and more are being enacted every day. Greece undoubtedly represented knowledge without God. It represented humanism and rationalism, which are very much in vogue today. Rome probably represented power without God – brute military force. There is also still enough of that around.
In chapter 7, Daniel saw the very same view of history again, but with the symbols of beasts, emphasizing for us that the worldwide religious-economic-political system is essentially beastly in its nature. In the end of days one who is described as a wild beast (Rev. 13:1) will rule over the whole world for a very brief period until Messiah’s government overcomes him. Then the whole system will collapse.
TROUBLE FOR THE RIGHTEOUS
Because of their strong faith in God, Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, had many trials. Daniel’s friends were thrown into the fiery furnace for their refusal to join in Babylon’s idolatrous worship (3:18). God came, walked with them in the furnace, and delivered them because of their devotion to him (3:25). Later, Daniel spent the night in a den of hungry lions, because he insisted on praying to the true God rather than joining in the idolatry of Persia (6:13). Someone jokingly said that the lions could not eat Daniel because he was all backbone. God delivered Daniel and when morning came, he was lifted from the den intact and unharmed (6:22).
But Daniel realized that there would be difficult trials for all those who would live godly lives. Daniel saw in his vision that a “little horn” or the beastly king would someday rise up from the fragmented remnants of the Roman Empire. The prophet saw that this end-time person would wage war with the saints of God and partially defeat them (7:21). He would wield authority for three and one half years, speaking against the Most High, and touching the land of Israel. This king would greatly interfere with the worship in Israel (8:11), and would destroy many of God’s people (8:24). Finally he would be broken, but not with human hands (8:25). Daniel, like the author of Revelation (Rev. 5:4), was deeply troubled by his view into the future (8:27).
DANIEL PRAYS IN THE RESTORATION
During the reign of Darius, Daniel realized from the scripture that Israel would soon be restored. Upon this realization, he prayed one of the most beautiful prayers for Israel recorded anywhere in the Bible (9:1-19). Daniel literally prayed in the restoration of God’s people. He prayed the Bible, using the prophecies of Jeremiah as the basis of his request. God heard Daniel’s prayer and in a few short years, Zerubbabel was leading almost 50,000 Israelites back home to Jerusalem. In Daniel 9:20-27, the prophet is given a capsulized view of Israel’s history from the time of the decree to restore Jerusalem until the end of the world. His view includes the precise time for the coming of Israel’s Messiah (before the Temple’s destruction), until the last turbulent three and one half years of this present evil age. Daniel’s prophecy is so accurate and detailed that it reads like a historical account. Some scoffers have even insisted that the book of Daniel is a “vaticinium ex eventu” (prophecy after the event). Modern scholarship however has vouched for the authenticity of the Book of Daniel.
DANIEL EVEN FORESAW HANUKKAH
It seems clear that in chapter eight, Daniel even foresaw the events leading up to the first Hanukkah celebration. He saw that a king of fierce countenance would rise up out of the fragmented Greek empire and would mightily persecute Israel (8:23-24). He would be a pattern for the evil king of the last days. Daniel’s vision came to pass in the years 168-165 BC. The king of fierce countenance was Antiochus IV (Epiphanes).
In that bleak period of time when many were being overcome and were falling from the faith, the Maccabee family arose to do great exploits (11:32). They assembled and inspired a guerrilla force. By their heroic faith and dogged determination they finally overcame the whole Seleucid army. The Temple, which had been polluted with the offering of swine’s flesh, was cleansed and the menorah lit once again. Reportedly the menorah burned for the whole eight day period of Hanukkah, even though there was only enough undefiled oil to last for a single day. These valiant men stood apart, just like Daniel had done, and even in the darkest hours of Israel’s history they kept the light of faith burning.
How can we summarize this exciting book? Daniel shows us that if he could live for the Lord in the very heart of ancient Babylon, then we can live for the Lord in the very heart of modern Babylon. God has called us to be overcomers, especially as we see the end days closing in upon us (Rev. 2:11; 2:17; 2:26; 3:12; 3:21; etc.) We too can be overcomers in a wicked and perverse society. We too can be wise like Daniel (12:3), and shine as the brightness of the firmament – even in the midst of the darkest hours of human history.
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem. Original publication date, 1991.
Portrait: The Prophet Daniel from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling, 1508-12, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.