Introduction to the Book of Daniel

SYNOPSIS - An introduction to the Book of Daniel with a brief overview of how the Book of Revelation applies it

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The book of Daniel is a well-structured literary work, not a collection of folk stories and random visions. At the very beginning, the key themes of the book are presented in brief, then worked out in detail in the subsequent chapters.

The largely historical stories in Chapters 1-6 lay the foundation for the visions and their interpretations recorded in the second half of the book (Chapters 7-12). Even the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar interpreted by Daniel in Chapter 2 anticipates the detailed vision of the “four beasts ascending from the sea” - (Daniel 7:1-8).

Each of the visions from the second half includes several subjects common to all of them – That is to say, each vision builds on its predecessors to construct a more complete picture by the end of the book.

For example, the cessation of the daily sacrifice is mentioned in the visions of the Ram and the Goat, the Seventy Weeks, and the Kings of the North and South, as well as in the conclusion to the book - (Daniel 8:10-139:26-2711:31, 12:11).

Likewise, the “little horn” of the fourth beast that was “speaking great things” is found in the visions of the Four Beasts from the Sea and the Ram and Goat - (Daniel 7:87:20-218:9).

The “abomination that desolates” is central to three of the four dream-visions, and to the concluding section or “epilogue” of the book. Thus, the visions of Daniel are interrelated and interpret one another - (Daniel 8:139:2711:3112:11).

The name ‘Daniel’ means, “God is my judge” or “God is judge.” He first appears as a Jewish youth just arrived from Jerusalem in Babylon.  No information is provided on his family history, though he was from Jewish nobility - “Of the seed royal and the nobles.” Nothing is known of his life prior to this.

At the time of his deportation, most likely Daniel was a teenager. He received his final vision in the third year after the overthrow of Babylon by the “Medes and Persians,” in approximately 536 B.C. Therefore, his prophetic “career” was spent in the city of Babylon and spanned a period of seventy years or more. As far as is known, Daniel never returned to Judah after the fall of Babylon. Presumably, he died there at an advanced age.

Daniel was given the Babylonian name ‘Belteshazzar,’ meaning, “Bel protect [the king].” ‘Bel’ was the Akkadian form of ‘Baal’ (“lord, master”) and referred to the patron deity of Babylon, Marduk.

Daniel is classified as a prophet in Jewish and Christian tradition, although the book stresses that he was a “wise man” with great “discernment” (chakham – Strong’s - #H2445). In the royal court, he was a noted interpreter of dreams - (Daniel 1:17, 2:13, 5:11-12).

He was a devout Jew living in a pagan culture. At times, certain members of the inner court were hostile to him and other followers of Yahweh. Despite pressure and persecution, Daniel remained loyal to the God of Israel. His ability to interpret dreams won him high praise, honor, and position in the empire. Later, he served faithfully in the court of Darius the Mede after the downfall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire - (Daniel 5:31-6:1).

The book of Daniel presents the role of the prophet in affecting events at the courts of Babylon and Persia - (Chapters 1-6), his visions about the changing World-Power, and the control of Yahweh over the course of human history - (Chapters 7-12).

Daniel epitomizes the faithful Jew who lives by divine grace while residing within a pagan society. He perseveres despite the downfall of the Jewish nation and his vulnerability to powerful forces. Yahweh provides him with wisdom to confound opponents and to astound kings. Though powerless from a human perspective, God uses his pronouncements before kings to change the course of history and empires.

Daniel served in important positions within the governments of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius the Mede. Nebuchadnezzar made him “chief of the wise men” and governor of the province of Babylon. Belshazzar appointed him the third ruler in his kingdom. And Darius placed him over the provincial governors of his domain - (Daniel 2:48, 5:29, 6:1-3).

All the events recorded in the book occurred during the captivity of Israel in Babylon. The stated purpose of the captivity was to punish Judah for her sins - (2 Chronicles 36:15-17Jeremiah 25:1-14).

The kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyria over a century before the rise of Babylon, around 721-720 B.C. The last remains of the Assyrian empire were destroyed at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. by a largely Babylonian force under the command of the crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar - (2 Kings 17:7-182 Chronicles 35:20Jeremiah 46:2).

After the defeat of Assyria, Nebuchadnezzar subjugated the several nations of northern Palestine, including the kingdom of Judah, and imposed tribute on each new vassal. This was a region known as the “Hatti-land” by the Babylonians (“All the kings of the Hatti-land came before Nebuchadnezzar and he received their heavy tribute” – from the Chaldean Chronicle, quoted from Exile and Return by Charles Pfeiffer, Baker Books, 1962, p. 12).

In the case of Judah, this “heavy tribute” included the deportation of a select group of Jews to serve in the imperial civil service. Thus, in the assessment of the book of Daniel, the captivity of Judah began after the subjugation of Jerusalem in 605 B.C.:
  • (Daniel 1:1-4) – “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, came Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon to Jerusalem, and laid siege against it; and the Lord gave into his hand Jehoiakim king of Judah, and a part of the vessels of the house of God, and he brought them into the land of Shinar, into the house of his gods,—and the vessels brought he into the treasure-house of his gods. Then did the king give word to Ashpenaz, the chief of his eunuchs,—that he should bring in of the sons of Israel, even of the seed royal, and of the nobles, youths in whom was no blemish, but comely of countenance, and skilful in all wisdom, and possessed of knowledge, and able to impart instruction, and who had vigour in them, to stand in the palace of the king,—and that they should be taught the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The rise of Nabopolassar to the Babylonian throne in 626 B.C. marked the start of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which endured until 539 B.C. At that time, it was overthrown by the “kingdom of the Medes and the Persians,” the Achaemenid Empire under the rule of Cyrus the Great.

Under Nabopolassar, the Neo-Babylonian kingdom rebelled against Assyrian sovereignty, a process that took several years to complete, culminating in the Battle of CarchemishDaniel includes chronological references that coordinate key events with the reigns of the kings of Judah, Babylon, Persia, and Greece - (Daniel 1:1-21:216:28-31, 11:1-4).

The book applies a theological concept and term to the period it covers, the time of the “indignation” or za’am - (Strong’s - #H2195), a divinely ordained period of correction. When Daniel speaks of the “time of the end,” he means the end of the “indignation,” not the end of History. The “indignation” also provides another chronological marker that connects two or more of Daniel’s visions, for example:
  • (Daniel 8:17-19) – “So he came near where I stood, and when he came I was terrified and fell upon my face, but he said to me, Understand, O son of man, that to the time of the end belongs the vision…Then said he, Behold me, causing you to know that which shall come to pass in the latter part of the indignation, for at an appointed time shall be an end.”
  • (Daniel 11:36) – “And the king will do according to his own pleasure, and will exalt and magnify himself against every god, yea, against the God of Gods will he speak wonderful things and will succeed, until exhausted is the indignation, for what is decreed must be done.”
In the Hebrew Bible, “indignation” refers to the indignation of God with Israel for her sins, and to her resultant punishment. In Daniel, the “indignation” began with the overthrow and captivity of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. The book also describes this as the “desolations of Jerusalem,” a period when the “little horn” wages war against the “saints” for “a time, times, and part of a time.”  This suppression would continue until the conclusion of the “seventy weeks” - (Daniel 7:24-28, 9:1-3, 9:18-27, 12:1-7).

Based on the internal evidence, Daniel was composed after the start of the Babylonian Captivity and completed by the early years of the Persian Empire. The range provided is from the “third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim” (606 B.C.) to the “third year of Cyrus king of Persia,” or 536 B.C. - (Daniel 1:1-2, 1:21, 5:31-6:1, 10:1).

The Babylonian Captivity developed over several stages, beginning in 605 B.C. with the subjugation of Jerusalem. It culminated in the destruction of the city in 587-586 B.C. There were at least three deportations of Jews to Babylon - (in 606, 598, and 587 B.C.).

The historical sections describe events in the lives of Daniel and three of his Jewish companions (Chapters 1-6). The dream-visions were received between the first year of Belshazzar’s reign and the third year of Cyrus the Great (Chapters 7-12).

The dream-visions are built on a framework of four successive kingdoms that are to precede the inauguration of the everlasting kingdom of God. This fourfold structure connects the historical and visionary sections. Three of the four kingdoms are explicitly identified:  Babylon, the “Medes and Persians”, and Greece. Though not named, the fourth kingdom is one of the four divisions of the Greek empire that result from the death of its first king - (Daniel 2:24-45, 8:20-2511:1-4).

The primary theological theme of the book is that God rules over the kingdoms of this world and gives rulership to whomever He pleases, “even to the lowest of men.” Despite appearances, human resistance, and machinations, His purposes are not thwarted. The Prophet Daniel is the perfect example of how Yahweh directs the course of history through the lowly voice of a man without any military, economic or political power.

Chapter 1 and chapters 8-12 were composed in the Hebrew language. The section in chapters 2-7 was written in an Aramaic dialect related to the Imperial Aramaic of the Persian Empire. The switch to Aramaic occurs at Daniel 2:4 when the “Chaldeans spoke to the king in the Syrian language,” meaning, Aramaic The change back to Hebrew occurs at Daniel 8:1. This change is too specific to be accidental or the product of later copyists.

The Hebrew and Aramaic sections point to a date of composition during the Babylonian Captivity. The man who wrote the book was familiar with both languages and uses grammatical and idiomatic features specific to the Mesopotamian region. The change from one language to another serves to mark off major literary sections.

There are verbal and literary links between the first and last literary units of the Aramaic section. For example, Nebuchadnezzar had a “dream and visions of his head upon his bed”, just as Daniel had “a dream and visions of his head upon his bed.” The dream of Nebuchadnezzar left him “troubled,” just as Daniel was “troubled” by his dream. Both dreams feature a fourfold division of kingdoms, beginning with Babylon and concluding with the establishment of God’s kingdom - (Daniel 2:1-4, 2:28, 7:1-28).

The several stories of the Aramaic section demonstrate that God gave Daniel “knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom”:
  • “And Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams…in all matters of wisdom and understanding the king found Daniel and his companions ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers in his realm” (Daniel 1:17-20).
The accounts in Chapters 2-7 validate this claim.  God enabled Daniel to use the language and learning of the Chaldeans to demonstrate that He rules over the kingdoms of the world and, additionally, to confound the supposed “wisdom,” ideology, and the religious practices of the Babylonian elite.

The use of the Aramaic language fits the historical setting. By the time of Nebuchadnezzar, it was the de facto standard language of diplomacy and commerce among the nations of the Near East. It became the common tongue of many Jews by the end of the Babylonian Captivity - (2 Kings 18:17-37, Ezra 4:11-22, 5:7-17, 6:6-12, 7:11-26, Nehemiah 8:8).

The contents of the Aramaic section concern events that occurred during the career of Daniel in the Babylonian kingdom, and in the first years of the “kingdom of the Medes and the Persians.” In contrast, the visions of the Hebrew section are about events that occur after the fall of the Babylonian Empire - (Chapters 8-12).

In the Book of Revelation

Verbal allusions from Daniel are used repeatedly in the book of Revelation. Source material from Daniel often sheds light on the symbolism from the visions of John - (For example, Daniel 2:28 in Revelation 1:14:1-222:6).

The “little horn” that “made war with the saints and prevailed against them” in the vision of Daniel concerning four beastly kingdoms is echoed in visions found in Revelation 11:712:1713:7 and 17:14.

The single great “beast ascending from the sea” seen by John is the amalgamation of the “four beasts ascending from the sea” in the dream-vision of Daniel - (Daniel 7:1-8Revelation 11:713:1-2).

However, the book of Revelation does not simply quote and repeat verses from Daniel - It reinterprets them in the context of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Events once predicted to occur in “latter days” become “what things much come to pass soon.” The enthronement of Jesus signified that the time of fulfillment has arrived - (“The season is at hand”). Daniel was told to “seal” the book “until the time of the end.” In contrast, John was commanded NOT “to seal the book, for the season is at hand” - (Daniel 2:27-2812:4, Revelation 1:1-3, 22:10).

Thus, the events Daniel saw that were to occur in a distant future John witnessed unfolding in his day, and often accompanied by more explicit and detailed explanations. The book of Revelation is intended to “reveal,” not to conceal or further mystify the saints about what God is doing in the world about them.


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