Daniel (Overview)

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1: Daniel and Three Friends in Nebuchadnezzar’s Court (Hebrew) [Daniel 1]
2: Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream and Daniel’s Interpretation (Aramaic) [Daniel 2]
3: Nebuchadnezzar’s Image and The Fiery Furnace (Aramaic) [Daniel 3]
4: Nebuchadnezzar’s Tree Dream and Conversion (Aramaic) [Daniel 4]
5: Belshazzar’s Feast and Fall (Aramaic) [Daniel 5]
6: Darius, Daniel, and The Lion’s Den (Aramaic) [Daniel 6]
7: Daniel’s Vision of Four Beasts (Aramaic) [Daniel 7]
8: Daniel’s Vision of a Ram and Goat (Hebrew) [Daniel 8]
9: Daniel’s Prayer and The Seventy Weeks (Hebrew) [Daniel 9]
10: Vision of Three Kingdoms (Hebrew) [Daniel 10-12]

Timeline (605-535 BC)

Introduction to Daniel

The book of Daniel opens in the year 605 BC, this was the year that King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took Daniel with him back to Babylon along with some of the articles from the temple. By this time, Jeremiah (Daniel’s mentor) had already been prophesying for about 22 years. After King Josiah’s death in 608 BC, efforts to reform the nation had become futile. Jeremiah’s message to Israel and to all the nations was to submit to the yoke of Babylon. If they did this, they would survive, but if not, they would be punished (Jer. 27). In God’s providence, Daniel becomes a new Joseph figure; he is sent ahead of his brothers to prepare a place for them while the land lies desolate for 70 years. Daniel is also a new Moses, who explains the law of God to a people living in the wilderness. Jerusalem has become Egypt, exile is a new exodus, and Babylon is the place of testing before they re-enter the promised land (under Zerubbabel and Ezra-Nehemiah).

James Jordan has noted that the ten sections of Daniel correspond to the Ten Commandments. For example, Daniel 1 deals with the question of who is the supreme Lord, is it God, or is it Nebuchadnezzar? Daniel 2 deals with images, as Nebuchadnezzar sees an image of four empires with himself as head, but this image is shattered to pieces by a stone cut without hands, the image of God that is Jesus Christ. Daniel 3 deals with taking the Lord’s name in vain as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego refuse to pay lip service to Nebuchadnezzar’s image. They are thrown into the fiery furnace but are delivered as they confess the supremacy of YHWH whether He delivers them or not. Daniel 4 deals with sabbath rest as Nebuchadnezzar boasts in his works but is then humiliated as seven times pass over him. He is then converted and enters into true rest as he ascribes glory and majesty to God. In Daniel 5, Belshazzar refuses to honor his father and mother, and so his days are cut short and the kingdom passes to Darius the Mede. These connections to the Ten Commandments continue on through the end of the book as Daniel teaches Israel what it looks like to keep the law of God while living in Babylon.

These ten distinct sections are easy to identify. The first nine correspond to the chapter divisions in our Bibles, and then the tenth and final section runs from chapter 10 thru chapter 12. The first 6 chapters record key events in Daniel’s life and span about 70 years (from 605-535 BC). In chapter 1, Daniel is a young man, but by the time he is thrown into the lion’s den in chapter 6, Daniel is old, probably in his 80’s. In the second half of the book, chapters 7-12 we are given visions of the future along with their interpretation. These visions will describe the entirety of the intertestamental period and culminate with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Daniel is unique in that it contains multiple chapters that are written in Aramaic instead of Hebrew. Chapter 1 opens in Hebrew, but then chapters 2-7 are in Aramaic, after this the book goes back to Hebrew for chapters 8-12. We might wonder why God chose to do this? Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Empire. James Jordan has argued that this shift in language signifies a shift in the perspective and focus of Daniel’s message. The Aramaic sections are concerned with world history from an Oikumene/Empire perspective, whereas the Hebrew sections are concerned with world history from a Jewish perspective. The fact that we have inspired oracles from God written in another language is also a judgment on the Jews. The gospel will go to the Gentiles, and this “speaking in tongues” anticipates the latter days when Greek will become the language of the New Testament Scriptures.

Let’s turn now to survey the contents of each chapter and discuss some of the more difficult interpretative questions that arise.

Daniel 1 – Four Cornerstones of a New Beginning

In chapter 1, Daniel and his three friends (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) are brought into the land of Shinar (Gen. 10:10, Gen. 11:2), this was the land where the Tower of Babel was first built. Daniel and his three friends are set up as the four corners of a new house, they are the seed and beginning for a new tabernacle in the wilderness of Babylon, a holy house that will stand in contrast to Nebuchadnezzar’s reboot of the original Babel project. This pattern of four men who act as cornerstones of society is a theme that reoccurs throughout biblical history.

  • Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gen. 9:18-19).
  • Abram had three young men who fought alongside him (Gen. 14:24).
  • Moses had Aaron and his two sons (Exodus 24:1).
  • David had his three mighty men (2 Samuel 23:8-17, 1 Chr. 11:10-19).
  • Job had three counselors/friends (Job 2:11).
  • Jesus had Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:1).

Daniel and his three friends are the beginning of a new covenant arrangement, they are the foundation for a four-cornered sanctuary that will be protected inside the four successive empires which appear in the next chapter. As sons from the tribe of Judah, they are children of the nobility, but before they are elevated to serve in the king’s court, they must demonstrate that they are first and foremost servants of YHWH, not merely Nebuchadnezzar.

The test for Daniel and his three friends is a test of food and loyalty, similar to Adam’s test in the Garden of Eden. Adam was impatient and grasped for the power to rule before he was ready. Daniel and his three friends do not make the same mistake. In verse 8 it says, “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.”

Why did Daniel not want to eat the king’s food?

Option 1: Some commentators think that this was because the king’s delicacies were ceremonially unclean (pork, blood, etc.) and thus unlawful for Daniel to eat as a Jew. However, the word for “defile” (גאל) in verse 8 is not the same word that is used for defilement in the Levitical law (טמא) and is even translated as “excluded” in Nehemiah 7:64. If it was truly unlawful for Daniel to eat the king’s food, then why does he do so later in life, as we can infer from Daniel 10:3? It is also hard to imagine that every single item in the king’s buffet violated the Levitical laws for cleanliness (Lev. 11). Something else must be going on here.

Option 2: A better option is to treat the food and wine as things that were in themselves lawful to eat (1 Cor. 6:12-13), but improper given the historical situation that Israel was in. Like wearing white to a funeral, or black to wedding, there is something unfitting about Daniel and his friends eating from the king’s delicacies and drinking wine, while back in Jerusalem their countrymen will starve and die by famine. This should also remind us of the bread that Ezekiel eats in Ezekiel 4:9, “Also take for yourself wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt; put them into one vessel, and make bread of them for yourself. During the number of days that you lie on your side, three hundred and ninety days, you shall eat it.” The food that Daniel requests is usually translated as “vegetables,” but it would be more accurately translated as “seeds,” food similar to what Ezekiel eats as a parable of judgment. In this sense, Daniel is seeking to identify himself as a member of that nation under God’s discipline, but also as the seed and beginning of something new. Seeds and bread are Alpha food, the things we eat at the beginning of the day. Wine is Omega food, reserved for feasting and gladdening the heart after we sit down to rest. Like the food they request, Daniel and his three friends are young, they have not yet attained to the age and maturity of kingship.

We can see in Daniel’s purposing of his heart not to defile himself a parallel with Moses as described in Hebrews 11:24-26, “By faith Moses when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.” Like Moses, Daniel and his three friends are coming of age, they are transitioning from youth to manhood, approaching graduation from the University of Babylon. The test before them is who will they serve? Where does their allegiance lie? Whose law will reign supreme? We see this battle of the gods reflected by the new names they are given. Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego are all related to various pagan deities, whereas their original names, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah all possess some form of God’s name:

  • Dani-El: God has judged
  • Hanan-Yah: Yahweh is gracious
  • Misha-El: Who is what God is?
  • Azar-Yah: Yahweh has helped

Daniel and his friends exercise their Christian liberty to make a point about who their ultimate master is. YHWH can take seeds and water and transform their appearance to something more glorious than those who eat the king’s delicacies. For ten days they are tested, and when they are examined by the king, they are found ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers in the realm (Dan. 1:20). Having chosen this path of not grasping for the fruit and wine of kingship at an improper time, we read that, “As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (Dan. 1:17). Whereas Adam and Eve grasped prematurely for the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, Daniel and his three friends wait patiently and are granted supernatural knowledge from YHWH. Authority comes to those who humble themselves before the mighty hand of God. In due time, God will exalt the righteous.

Daniel 2 – God’s New Empire

In chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar begins to have dreams that will not allow him to sleep. His spirit is so troubled that he calls for the magicians, the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans to tell him his dreams. This impossible request suggests that the king is starting to have doubts about those who serve him. When we consider the contents of his dream, and the fact that it foretells the future destruction of his empire, it would not be surprising that he is suspicious of his counselors. Perhaps they are conspiring against him, perhaps the gods of Babylon are powerless to help him. Once it becomes clear that the Chaldeans are unable to answer the king’s request, some of them are put to death. When Daniel finds out about this decree, he asks the king for time, and then he and his companions seek mercy from the LORD that they might not perish with the wise men of Babylon. In a night vision, Daniel is shown the dream and its interpretation, and so he goes before Nebuchadnezzar to tell him the answer.

The king saw a great image. The head was gold, the chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, and its feet partly iron and partly clay. Then a stone cut without hands struck the image on its feet and broke them in pieces. Then all the metal of the image was crushed together and carried away by the wind so that no trace of them was found. Then the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. What is the meaning of this vision?

What Nebuchadnezzar sees is an image of God’s Kingdom plan for the next 600 years, and the rest of human history. It starts with him as the gold head of Babylon, is followed by the kingdom of Medo-Persia under Cyrus, which is followed by the kingdom of Greece under Alexander the Great, which is followed by the kingdom of Rome and finally culminates in the days of Christ when the iron of Rome and the clay of the Herodian/Jewish alliance is destroyed by Jesus Christ.

These metals that correspond to various kingdoms also correspond with the temple complex, which from a bird’s eye view makes the shape of a man. Just as we are called temples of the Holy Spirit, so also this metal statue is a kingdom temple for God’s people until the Messiah comes. The temple proper was made of gold and corresponds to the head. The surrounding shoulders or sockets were made of silver (Ex. 36:24-30) and it is likely that the side-chambers of the temple contained Solomon’s silver lampstands and silver tables (1 Chr. 28:15-17, 1 Kings 6:5-6). The bronze furniture in the outer court corresponds to the bronze belly and thighs. The iron legs correspond to the iron gates of the temple complex.

Human ImageMetalHistorical KingdomTemple Image
HeadGoldBabylonTemple Proper
Chest & ArmsSilverMedo-Persia-Area between Temple & Courtyard
-Tabernacle Sockets
Belly & ThighsBronzeGreeceCourtyard
LegsIronRomeOuter Gates
FeetIron & ClayRome & Herod/Jews 

This humaniform image composed of gentile kingdoms is an anticipation of Christ’s universal empire that extends to all nations. We might also compare this image with what Ezekiel sees in his vision (Ezekiel 40-48). In a certain respect, Daniel and Ezekiel see the same thing, they are given a picture of God’s covenant relationship to the world and to His people during the latter days. Daniel’s vision emphasizes the political/kingly aspect, while Ezekiel’s vision emphasizes the liturgical/priestly aspect.

An important theological takeaway from this passage is that Christ’s kingdom becomes a great mountain that fills the whole earth. This is crucial when it comes to determining your eschatology (or view of the last things). When Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, and sent forth the Holy Spirit, that stone cut without human hands began to grow, and history will not end until it has become a great mountain that fills the world. For however extensive the kingdoms of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome were, they are as chaff before the wind of the Spirit. Jesus is Lord, and we will see His kingdom conquer all the earth in history prior to the final resurrection and judgment. That is the future we are living in and moving towards.

Daniel 3-6 – Narratives of Faith

The rest of the narrative section of Daniel (chapters 3-6) are more straight forward.

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego are thrown into the fiery furnace but come out unharmed. This reminds us of the burning bush that Moses sees in Exodus 3. Although Israel was in bondage in Egypt, God was with them, and they were not consumed. So also, God’s people will be preserved in the furnace of Babylon, though it is heated seven times (the number of covenant judgment, see Lev. 26). This is because one like the son of God walks with them in the midst of the fire (Dan. 3:25). Just as Israel was brought out of Egypt, so also the Jews will be brought out of Babylon and back into the land.

In Daniel 4, we are given the conversion story of Nebuchadnezzar, and here we have a noticeable departure from the original Exodus story. When God did signs and wonder in Egypt, Pharaoh hardened his heart and was destroyed. But when God does signs and wonders in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar gives glory to God. After being given the heart of beast and eating grass like an ox, Nebuchadnezzar is restored to his kingdom. He has learned that God is the Most High King, and the ultimate ruler of Babylon. This was a truth that the Jews themselves need to hear and believe: “For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation” (Dan. 4:34). This reinforces our interpretation of the image in chapter 2, although four successive empires are pictured, God is the one who is governing them according to His purpose and no one can restrain His hand.

In Daniel 5, we jump ahead to 23 years after Nebuchadnezzar’s death. By this time, His son Belshazzar is in power but has apostatized from serving the Lord. Because of this, the kingdom passes to Darius the Mede. This is the same king who is elsewhere called Cyrus the Persian. This transfer of power fulfills the prophesy of Isaiah 45:1:
“Thus says the Lord to His anointed,
To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—
To subdue nations before him
And loose the armor of kings,
To open before him the double doors,So that the gates will not be shut…”

Cyrus will decree the return of the Jews to Jerusalem, marking the beginning of the end of the exile.

In Daniel 6, Daniel is now an old man (in his 80’s) and yet he continues to distinguish himself above all the governors and satraps in the kingdom to the point that “the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm” (Dan. 6:3). This threat of Daniel ruling with such power provokes his fellow governors to plot against him. Daniel refuses to comply with the king’s decree “that whoever petitions any god or man for thirty days except the king, shall be cast into the den of lions” (Dan. 6:7). Daniel’s custom was to pray three times a day with his windows open toward Jerusalem. His enemies catch him in the act of praying to God and so Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den. The king realizes that he has been manipulated and yet he cannot find a way to break his own decree, but he gives to Daniel a great word of faith, “Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.” The next morning, King Darius goes to the lion’s den and Daniel is alive and well. Having kept his word to throw Daniel to the lions, the king proceeds to execute vengeance on those who plotted against him. The men, their children, and their wives are cast into the lion’s den, and they are broken in pieces before they reach the bottom. This great reversal becomes a testimony to God’s power, and thus the king makes a new decree, “that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.” Like Nebuchadnezzar, Darius learns that God is the Most High God, “His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, And His dominion shall endure to the end” (Dan. 6:26).

Daniel 7 – The Four Beasts

Daniel 7 is the last of the Aramaic chapters, and the first in a series of visions that will continue to the end of the book. As the attentive reader will have noticed by now, there are many numerical patterns, enigmas, and symbols for us to sort thru. However, if we have accurately interpreted the first six chapters, especially the vision in chapter 2, we can allow these final six chapters to fill out some of the details within that broader framework. Just as the four kingdoms in chapter 2 are one image, here in chapter 7 these four beasts are also one beast. We might think of this vision as adding another layer to the symbolic package of chapter 2. Not only are these four kingdoms a dwelling place for God’s people, they are also four guardian beasts, like the four faces of the cherubim around God’s throne (Ezekiel 1).

In verses 1-14 we get Daniel’s vision, and then in verses 15-28 we get the interpretation.

The four beasts are as follows:

Lion with Eagle’s WingsBear with Three Ribs in its Mouth  Leopard with Four Wings of a Bird and Four HeadsTerrible Beast with Iron Teeth and Ten Horns

We are told in verse 24 that the ten horns are ten kings. I take these to be the ten Roman Emperors going from Julius Caesar to Vespasian. There is also a horn different from these who is said to subdue three kings, and then in verse 25,

“He shall speak pompous words against the Most High,
Shall persecute the saints of the Most High,
And shall intend to change times and law.
Then the saints shall be given into his hand
For a time and times and half a time.”

I take the identity of this horn to be the Herodian kings. The Herods were both Edomites and circumcised Jews, but they were not from the kingly line of David, which is part of why the birth of Jesus was such a threat to their power. Josephus records the many wicked and insane actions of these kings which included torturing and murdering their own children and friends. It is hard to read their history without concluding that some king of demonic power was influencing them. Despite Herod’s violent attempts to prevent the coming of Christ’s kingdom, he is unable to thwart God’s decree, as it says in verses 26-27,

 “But the court shall be seated,
And they shall take away his dominion,
To consume and destroy it forever.
Then the kingdom and dominion,
And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven,
Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High.
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And all dominions shall serve and obey Him.”

Daniel 7 foretells the giving over of these world empires to Jesus Christ and His saints. Jesus is the Ancient of Days and the church is his body; we are the “one like the Son of Man.” After the judgment on Jerusalem and Rome in AD 70, the kingdom that had started with Babylon, passed to Persia, then to Greece and Rome, is finally given over to the saints. As it says in Ephesians 2:6, God has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” The significance of this cosmic shift is hard to overstate. It means that the people of God are the new Oikumene. We are the empire. We are the cherubim. We are the temple. As Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21).

Daniel 8 – The Ram and The Goat

In Daniel 8 the language of the text returns to Hebrew as the remaining chapters deal with world conflict in relationship to the Jews. Daniel sees a vision of a ram with two horns that is conquered by a goat with one horn. We are told in verses 20-21 that the ram with two horns are the kings of Media and Persia. The male goat is the kingdom of Greece, and the large horn on its head is the first king, who we know from outside sources was Alexander the Great. Alexander would conquer Persia and become exceedingly great, but he would die young, the large horn would be broken.

In verses 23-25 we get an interpretation of the Little Horn that grows up to the host of heaven and casts down some of the stars. If we remember the book of Numbers which describes Israel as God’s heavenly army, it is no surprise to find in verse 24 that these hosts and stars are called “the mighty and the holy people.” This is an assault on the saints, and more specifically the priesthood, by a wicked king. Some have understood this Little Horn to refer to Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215-164 BC) who you can read about in the books of 1-2 Maccabees, but I think a better interpretation is to identify this as the line of Herods who ruled over the Jews in Jesus’ day. Antiochus is then a sort of anticipation of the Herods who would come after him.

Daniel 9 – Seventy Weeks

The first half of Daniel 9 (verses 1-19) records an intricate prayer of repentance (28 chiastic sections). Daniel has been reading Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11) and understands that the 70 years of desolations are up. While Daniel is praying, the angel Gabriel appears to him and gives him a prophesy of the future that begins in Daniel’s day and ends in AD 70. This is one of the most difficult sections of Scripture to interpret, primarily because of the all the chronological issues it raises. Some take the seventy weeks of verse 24 as symbolic, while others take it as approximate, and others as a literal and exact amount of time. My understanding is that there are three blocks of time that compose this Seventy Weeks:

  • Block 1 – Seven Weeks (49 years)
    • This is the time period from Cyrus’ decree in 537 BC to rebuild Jerusalem until the completion of this work under Nehemiah (488 BC).
  • Block 2 – Sixty-Two Weeks (434 years)
    • This is the “time between the testaments” which is filled out by the vision in Daniel 11.
    • We are told in verse 26 that after this block of time, “Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, And till the end of the war desolations are determined.”
    • So sometime after this 62-week block (not immediately after), the Messiah will come and die for His people. This meant that starting around 54 BC, Jews who knew the prophecy of Daniel were expecting and looking for the Messiah. After the Messiah comes and is cut off, there will be a final seventieth week.
  • Block 3 – Seventieth Week (7 years)
    • Some take this week to refer to the time of Christ’s ministry and death, which brings an end to sacrifice and offering. Depending on when you date Christ’s crucifixion, this would mean locating this week around AD 27-AD 34.
    • Others take it to refer to the time of the Roman-Jewish War from about AD 66-AD 74, where the end of sacrifice in the middle of the week refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. I lean towards this latter view.

Daniel 10-12 – The Final Vision

Chapters 10-12 of Daniel make up the 10th and final section of the book. This section begins with Daniel mourning for three weeks, and if we look at the timeline, this is the same time that opposition has arisen against the Jews in their effort to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem (Ezra 3:8, Ezra 4:1-3). It is also the same time that Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread should take place. Eventually an angel comes to Daniel’s aid, but not before being held up by the prince of Persia. Here we are given a glimpse into the heavenly warfare that occurs in connection with our prayers. When the angel arrives, he says to Daniel, “I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision refers to many days yet to come.” Chapters 11-12 are then a prophecy of these latter days, with a special focus on the historical period from Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) until AD 74 (Dan. 12:12).

The first four verses of Daniel 11 describe the end of the Persian kingdom (the Silver Bear) as they are conquered by Greece (the Bronze Leopard). However, Greece will be divided toward the four winds of heaven and eventually Greek Syria will triumph over Greek Egypt. In order to understand the rest of chapter 11, we need to know a lot of extra-biblical history, and even then it can be difficult to make 1-1 connections between the biblical text and the exact historical circumstance. In a future episode we will tackle this in greater detail. The main point of Daniel 11 and 12 is to encourage the saints who will be tested over the next 400 years. Although there will be many wars, persecutions, and great tribulation, God has decreed in advance all that will take place, and the telos of these trials is the saints inheriting the kingdom of God. Michael the Prince will stand up, Jesus will ascend to the right hand of the Father, and there will be judgment, resurrection, and glory for the righteous: “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:3).