The People of the Bible—Part XX
The Book of Daniel

Daniel—Exile, Statesman, and Prophet

WHEN the two-tribe kingdom of Judah was overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar and the Jewish people taken captive to Babylon, Daniel, then a young man, was among the captives. While apparently too young previous to this to occupy any official position in Judah’s tottering kingdom, he was nevertheless favorably known, and the Prophet Ezekiel refers to him as an example both of righteousness and of wisdom.—Ezek. 14:14,20; 28:3

Daniel was selected, together with three other young Hebrew captives, to be trained for special service in the Babylonian government. Being chosen for this purpose in keeping with the stipulation outlined in Daniel 1:3 indicates that Daniel and the other young Hebrews had been very closely associated with the royal family of Judah. Apparently Nebuchadnezzar felt that there was something to be gained by bringing these young Hebrews into his government, and there was.

They were to have the best of treatment, even during the period of their training. “The king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.” (Dan. 1:5) “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.” He requested “of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” (vs. 8) The prince of the eunuchs, who had charge over these young trainees for the government, was fearful of disobeying the king’s wishes in the matter; so Daniel requested that he and his Hebrew friends be given a ten-day trial on the plain food to which they were accustomed, to see what the result would be.—vss. 10-13

The prince of the eunuchs consented “and proved them ten days.” At the end of ten days their “countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.” This settled the matter. The king’s meat and wine were removed, and the four Hebrew “children” were permitted to live on their own diet of “pulse” and water.—vss. 14-16

All four of these were of the tribe of Judah—Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The prince of the eunuchs gave them all Babylonian names—Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. While the latter three of these went through some very interesting and, at times, trying experiences (see chapter 3), Daniel—Belteshazzar—was the most prominent among them. Verse 17 (ch. 1) says concerning the four, “God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” Thus Daniel stands out from the others as being one of the Lord’s holy prophets, and we find that some of the most important prophecies of the Bible were uttered by him and recorded in the book which bears his name.

Other young men besides Daniel and his three friends had been selected for the three-year period of training. At the “end of the days” Nebuchadnezzar had them all brought before him. “And the king communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.”—vss. 18-20

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, and therefore prior to the end of the three-year period during which Daniel and his friends were trained “to stand in the king’s palace,” the king had “dreams, wherewith his spirit was troubled, and his sleep broke from him.” He sent for the “magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to show the king his dreams.”—ch. 2:1,2

The king did not remember his troublesome dream, and it was this that presented a real problem to the magicians, astrologers, and sorcerers. The king sensed that they were seeking time in order to discuss the matter and make up a fictitious dream and give its interpretation. He became angry at this and ordered that all the wise men of the realm be killed. Daniel and his friends were included among these, although Nebuchadnezzar had not asked them to tell him his dream.

When Daniel learned of the situation he counseled with his three friends, and they prayed earnestly to the Lord for help, and the Lord answered their prayer. That night, in a dream, the Lord revealed to Daniel the details of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation. Daniel immediately contacted Arioch, the “captain of the king’s guard,” whose duty it was to carry out the order of execution against the wise men of the realm, and said to him, “Destroy not the wise men of Babylon; bring me in before the king, and I will show unto the king the interpretation.”—ch. 2:24

The true nobility and humility of Daniel is revealed in this experience, in that he gave all the glory to the Lord. After the information was revealed to him, Daniel at once thanked the Lord for it, saying, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever; for wisdom and might are his.” “I thank thee, and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast now made known unto us the king’s matter.”—ch. 2:19,20,23

When taken before the king, Daniel again emphasized that it was not by his wisdom that the dream and the interpretation were known to him. Referring to God, Daniel said to the king, “He that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass.” (vs. 29) This placed an important thought in the king’s mind; for after he had been told his dream and its interpretation, he said to Daniel, “Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldst reveal this secret.” (vs. 47) What an important lesson this is for all the Lord’s people!

The Humanlike Image

In his dream Nebuchadnezzar saw a humanlike image having a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, thighs of brass, legs of iron, and feet and toes of iron and clay-mixed. He saw a stone cut out of the mountain without hands, which smote the image on its feet, causing it to fall, and grinding it to powder; and the “powder” was blown away “like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors.” Then the stone which smote the image grew until it became a great mountain which filled the whole earth.—ch. 2:31-35

Interpreting the dream, Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar: “Thou O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.”—vss. 37,38

This announcement to Nebuchadnezzar by one of God’s holy prophets marked the beginning of a very significant era in the outworking of the divine plan of the ages. It was the beginning of that period referred to by Jesus as the “times of the Gentiles”—the “times,” that is, during which the Lord would permit a certain succession of Gentile powers to dominate in world affairs, and even to hold his own people in subjection.

This was to be a period of seven symbolic times, each one of which would be three hundred and sixty years in length, making a total of 2,520 years. (Dan. 4:16,23,25,32) This time measurement began with Nebuchadnezzar in 606 B.C., and therefore ended in A.D. 1914. It did not mark the beginning of Gentile nations, nor should we expect the closing of the period to mean the sudden end of all Gentile nations. As Daniel clearly explained, it was then that the God of heaven gave Nebuchadnezzar a kingdom and dominion. It was this authorization that ended in 1914, and naturally with it began the rapid deterioration of the kingdoms involved.

Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar that after Babylon there would arise three other kingdoms. History reveals these to be Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. To these also the God of heaven gave dominion. Paul wrote in the days of Rome, “The powers that be are ordained [margin, ordered] of God.”—Rom. 13:1

But there was not to be a fifth world power. The legs of iron pictured the Roman empire, but coming to the feet we find disintegration and division represented. Clay becomes mixed with the iron; and the final picture is of the toes, symbolizing the ten general divisions of the states of Europe, which once constituted united Rome.

It was the feet and toes of the image that were smitten by the stone cut out of the mountain without hands. The expression “without hands” suggests that it was brought about by God’s supervision and power. And so it is. After explaining that the smiting of the image with this “stone” caused its downfall and destruction, Daniel indicates it to mean that “in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.”—vs. 44

Thus, in the first prophecy uttered by Daniel, he forecast more than twenty-five hundred years of Gentile history, culminating in the establishment of the long-promised kingdom of Christ. Who but a prophet of God could have foretold so accurately the rise and fall of mighty empires, the disintegration and division of the fourth and last, and the final overthrow of these divisions as we are witnessing it today? Surely this gives us confidence that Daniel’s prophecy concerning the kingdom of God which was to succeed Gentile rule can also be depended upon; and it means that we are living at the very threshhold of the divine kingdom.

Daniel Exalted

The king was greatly pleased with Daniel’s ability and made him a “great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon.” (vs. 48) Here we observe another noble trait of Daniel’s character. In this hour of exaltation he did not forget his three friends but requested of the king that “he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon.” This request was granted.

Daniel maintained his high position in government throughout essentially the entire period of Israel’s captivity, which was seventy years, as chapter 1:21 says, “even unto the first year of king Cyrus.” In his service of the government, Daniel was both faithful and fearless. In chapter 4 we are told of another dream of Nebuchadnezzar’s which Daniel interpreted, and the interpretation was not pleasant to the king. Daniel said to him, “My Lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies.”—ch. 4:19

The interpretation of this dream indicated that the king was to dwell with the beasts to “eat grass as oxen” for a period of “seven times [literally, years].” (vs. 25) Doubtless when Daniel had told Nebuchadnezzar that he was represented by the head of gold on the great image which he saw in his dream, he must have been pleased. It was a pleasant message for Daniel to present to the king. But now to tell him that he was to become insane and live with the beasts for seven years was something different. This required courage. But Daniel did not hesitate.

The Handwriting on the Wall

The years passed, and Belshazzar succeeded Nebuchadnezzar as king of Babylon. He “made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.” (ch. 5:1) It was a drunken, riotous feast at which the king and his lords, his wives and his concubines, drank wine from the “golden and silver vessels” which Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem. “They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, and of iron, of wood, and of stone.”—vs. 4

But the merriment soon ceased. “In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.” (vs. 5) Little wonder that “the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.” He had cause for alarm.

As was the custom, the king sent for the astrologers and the soothsayers to read and interpret what had been written on the wall; but they were unable to do so. Then Belshazzar was troubled even more. The queen reminded him of Daniel, whom Nebuchadnezzar had made “master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers.” Here, she explained, is a man of “excellent spirit, and knowledge and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts.”—vss. 10-12

The queen urged the king to “let Daniel be called,” and he did. The king asked him, “Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?” Belshazzar said to Daniel that he had heard about him and about his great wisdom. He told Daniel that if he could explain the writing which had appeared on the wall he would be “clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold” about his neck and be made “the third ruler in the kingdom.”—vss. 13-16

Again Daniel’s nobility and courage appear. He said to the king, “Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.” (vs. 17) But Daniel was in no hurry about it. First he reminded Belshazzar of God’s dealings with Nebuchadnezzar his father, who, while receiving his kingdom from the Lord, had exalted himself and for this was severely punished, being made to dwell with the beasts.—vss. 17-21

Then Daniel said, “And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven.” (vs. 22,23) This again took courage but was a necessary prelude to the interpretation of the handwriting on the wall, that mysterious “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.”—vss. 24,25

The interpretation was brief but, to the king, crushing: “God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” Immediately Belshazzar commanded that Daniel be clothed with scarlet and a chain of gold put about his neck. He also issued a proclamation that he be made the third ruler in the kingdom. This, however, was the last proclamation to be made by Belshazzar, for “in that night,” the record states, he was slain.

It was that night that the city of Babylon was conquered by the mighty army of Cyrus. Traditionally, Cyrus is said to have had his soldiers dig a trench to bypass the waters of the river Euphrates, which ordinarily flowed under the walls and through the city, and thus allowed his army to enter the city through the river bed.

Daniel Again Tested

Babylon had fallen, and now the Medo-Persian Empire, represented by the breast and arms of the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar in his dream, was taking shape. Cyrus, apparently, was the first emperor, but Darius became king over the city and province of Babylon, probably by delegated authority from Cyrus. The records are not clear as to exactly what did occur at this point.

Darius set over the kingdom “an hundred and twenty princes,” and over these he appointed three “presidents,” of whom “Daniel was first.” We read that “Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.” (ch. 6:1-3) This was too much for the other presidents and princes, who coveted the first place in the realm, which had been given to Daniel; so they conspired against him.

In laying their plans to have Daniel removed from his position and, if possible, put to death, they paid him the greatest tribute that could ever be given to a servant of God. They said, “We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.” (vs. 5) Appealing to the king’s pride, they urged him to sign a decree that for thirty days it would be unlawful for anyone to petition “any god or man,” except Darius himself.

The king did not discern the real purpose of this decree, and since it honored him, he signed it. A law of the Medes and Persians could not be changed; so those who conspired against Daniel knew that if they could spy on him and find that he continued to pray to his God despite this thirty-day decree, the king would have no alternative but to have him cast into a den of lions, which was the punishment prescribed for offenders.

Daniel knew about the decree, but he did not permit it to hinder his worship of Jehovah, the God of Israel. Openly, before his window, three times a day he continued to pray, as his custom was. The case was brought before the king, who then realized the trick that had been played upon him but could do nothing to free his beloved Daniel. All he could do was to trust that Daniel’s God would deliver him.

Daniel was cast into the den of lions during the evening, and all that night the king was greatly agitated. Going to the den the next morning, however, he was delighted to find that Daniel had not been harmed but that, as Daniel explained, God had “sent his angel” to “shut the lions’ mouths.” Thus Daniel had again won a victory of faith and of courage.—ch. 6; Heb. 11:33

Daniel the Prophet

Daniel’s encounter with the jealous presidents and princes of the Medes and Persians is the last record we have of his association with governments. While he was highly honored by both Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, there is little doubt that Daniel’s chief interest was in his God and in his fellow exiles, the children of Israel. And he was greatly used by God as a prophet, in addition to the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s two dreams.

Daniel had a dream of his own which was prophetically very significant. It is recorded in chapter 7. In this dream Daniel saw “four great beasts” which “came up from the sea, diverse one from another.” The first was like a lion, the second a bear, the third a leopard. The fourth was very different from any beast Daniel had ever heard of. It was “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly.”

Most Bible students agree that these four beasts picture the same four world powers that were represented by the image which the king of Babylon saw in his dream. The difference is that here the kingdoms are seen as beastly and ferocious—God’s viewpoint of them—as against man’s view, in which Nebuchadnezzar saw them as powerful and glorious.

Daniel’s vision of the four beasts covers the same period of time as that pictured by Nebuchadnezzar’s image, ending with the establishment of the kingdom of God. The fourth beast seen by Daniel had ten horns, corresponding to the ten toes of the image; but a “little horn” grew up among the others, supplanting three of them. This little horn had “eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.” Daniel watched the vision until he saw the thrones, or kingdoms, pictured by these horns, cast down, “and the Ancient of Days did sit.”

Students agree that this fourth beast pictured the Roman Empire, and the “little horn” (that replaced three of its ten) was symbolic of papacy, which fastened itself upon Rome. The important consideration is that this “beast” continued until the time came for the saints to “possess the kingdom.” (Dan. 7:18,22) This fourth beast is then given to the “burning flame,” symbolic of destruction, while the “kingdom and dominion and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven” is “given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”—Dan. 2:44; 7:11,27

The Seventy Weeks

Chapter 8 records another marvelous vision and prophecy, but too many details are involved to attempt even a summary in this brief study. We refer the reader to Volume III of “Studies in the Scriptures.” Chapter 9 of Daniel outlines the circumstances leading up to the prophecy of the “seventy weeks” of exclusive favor upon natural Israel, ending with the coming of the Messiah.

In the opening verses Daniel explains that he knew from the prophecy of Jeremiah that the captivity of the nation was to last for seventy years. (Jer. 25:12) He was concerned lest the sins of his people, even during their captivity, had made them unworthy to be set free at the close of the seventy years; so he earnestly prayed to the Lord concerning the matter. Verses 4-19 record this prayer, one of the most eloquent to be found in the Bible, revealing Daniel’s great reverence for the Lord and love for his people.

While he was praying, the angel Gabriel whom, he said, he had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched him about the time of the evening oblation. “And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding.” (vss. 21,22) Then Gabriel told Daniel that “seventy weeks are determined upon thy people, and upon the holy city.” Later the seventy is broken down into three periods of sixty-two, seven, and one; the seven and sixty-two being linked to make sixty-nine.

These are prophetic weeks, in which each day represents a year, and therefore would be a total of 490 years. They were to begin to count from the issuing of a decree authorizing the rebuilding of the city and walls of Jerusalem. This decree was actually issued by King Artaxerxes in the year 454 B.C. Sixty-nine weeks of the prophecy, or 483 years, were to reach to “Messiah the Prince.” This was at the baptism of Jesus, when he was anointed by the Holy Spirit to be the Messiah. In the “midst” or middle of the seventieth symbolic week of seven years he was to be “cut off” in death for the sins of the world. And then three and one-half years were to remain, during which the privileges of the Gospel were restricted to the Jewish nation. It was at the conclusion of this seventieth symbolic week that the Gospel went to the Gentiles, Cornelius being the first convert.

The “Time of the End”

In chapter 10:1 we are told that in the “third year of Cyrus, King of Persia a thing was revealed unto Daniel, … and the thing was true, but the time appointed was long; and he understood the thing and had understanding of the vision.” In these visions shown to Daniel he saw little prospect of real deliverance and prosperity for his people. Because of his great interest in them, this caused him to mourn. In this case he mourned for three full weeks.

Then another angel was sent to him and gave him a symbolic preview of important events leading up to what is described in chapters 11:40 and 12:4 as the “time of the end.” For details we again refer the reader to Volume III of “Studies in the Scriptures.” Howbeit, the prophecy of chapter 11 does bring us to the beginning of the “time of the end.”

Then chapter 12 opens with the statement, “At that time shall Michael stand up, the great Prince which standeth for the children of thy people.” Here, at last, was something for which Daniel was looking, that is, someone who would stand up for his people. And he was assured that “at that time thy people shall be delivered.” Even so, the standing up of Michael was first to result in a “time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation.”

Here we are on more familiar ground, for Jesus quotes this prophecy and applies it to the time of his second presence. (Matt. 24:21,22) “Michael,” then, is Christ, and it is within the “time of the end” that he returns to establish his kingdom, deliver God’s people, and raise the dead; for verse 2 adds that at this time “many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.”

But while Daniel was given a measure of understanding concerning some of the visions shown to him, with this one he was to “shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end.” When the time of the end came, he was informed, it would be marked by much running to and fro and a great increase of knowledge.—vs. 4

Without doubt we are now living in the time when this prophecy is being fulfilled. We are witnessing the “increase of knowledge” and the “running to and fro.” And we are right in the midst of the greatest time of trouble that the world has even seen, so great that Jesus said unless it was shortened no flesh would survive. It is just this that is now feared by world leaders and others.

But as for Daniel, the beloved of God, he said: “I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?” (vs. 8) But again he was put off—“Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.” (vs. 9) But, thank God, Daniel will one day understand. The Lord further said to him, “Go thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest [in death], and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.”—vs. 13

Daniel’s lot “at the end of the days” will be among the other Ancient Worthies, whom the Lord will make “princes in all the earth.” (Ps. 45:16) He is one of those who will receive the “better resurrection” mentioned by Paul. (Heb. 11:35) What a marvelous prince he will be to assist in administering the affairs of the kingdom of God!

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Dawn Bible Students Association
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