Before we dive into the Book of Daniel, I want to begin by addressing some generalities aimed at setting the stage for our study and hopefully wetting your appetite. For starters, the prophetic books of the Old Testament are divided into two sections: Major and Minor Prophets. The Major Prophets (which include the writings of men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) are given this particular designation not only because their books contain more content, but the scope of their subject matter tends to be more expansive.
While the Book of Daniel concludes this section of major prophetical manuscripts, you need to know, in many ways, Daniel stands on its own as being the crown jewel of all the books of prophecy! Daniel not only establishes the skeleton by which the majority of future Biblical prophecy is hung, but without his writings it would be virtually impossible to understand or comprehend any of the future prophecy presented in the Book of Revelation.
I don’t want to make any assumptions, so let me explain what a prophet was… Within Israel God established three official offices foundational to the structure of the Nation. There was the role of the king who administered God’s authority over the people, the priest who represented the people before God, and the prophet who spoke on God’s behalf.
In the end these three offices were ultimately fulfilled in the person of Jesus. While we have pastors who shepherd the flock, we have only one authority — King Jesus. As our High Priest, we need no other priest as it’s Jesus who mediates on our behalf before the throne room of God. Finally, all that God has to say to mankind was eventually summed up in Jesus — “the word that became flesh” as the Gospel of John so boldly declares.
In the Old Testament context think of a prophet as God’s human megaphone. These men and women were the instruments by which God communicated to man. For this reason, in the bulk of the Major and Minor prophets, what they write almost always begins with the phrase, “Thus says the LORD…” Ultimately, God would use these prophets to call out His people concerning their sin and to warn them of coming judgment if they refused to repent.
And yet, as a prophet, the Book of Daniel reads much differently than the others. Instead of a straight “thus says the LORD” approach, God speaks to and through Daniel in some really radicle ways. In chapters 2 and 4 Daniel explains to Nebuchadnezzar God’s plan for the future by deciphering two separate dreams that deeply worried the king.
In chapter 5 Daniel declares God’s intention to destroy Babylon by interpreting the literal “writing on the wall” via the finger of God! In chapter 7 God reveals to Daniel the future of successive empires by giving him his own dream. In chapter 8 Daniel receives a bizarre and confounding vision of a ram and a goat the angel Gabriel appears and explains to him.
In chapter 9, as Daniel is studying God’s Word and praying to the Lord concerning the fate of Israel, Gabriel is again used by the LORD to help him understand God’s ultimate plan and intentions for His people. In chapters 10-12 Daniel meets a mysterious man by the banks of the Tigris who peals back the veil of world affairs unveiling the final resolution of all things.
Beyond all of this… In chapters 1, 3, and 6 God will manifest Himself in the halls of pagan kingdoms and powers through the Godly witness of a crew of Hebrew men who refuse to compromise — even if this required they be thrown into a fiery furnace or the lion’s den.
What set’s the Book of Daniel apart and makes him so unique is that he ends up being God’s mouthpiece not only concerning the future of the Hebrew people, but he speaks more broadly to the rise and fall of world empires. While this will be largely lost as our text has been translated into English, one of the interesting characteristics of Daniel and his writings is how he’ll switch between languages based upon the intended audience.
For example, Daniel will begin writing in his native Hebrew before switching to the common tongue of the day (Aramaic) starting in chapter 2:4. This will continue to the end of chapter 7 when chapter 8:1 opens with Daniel switching back again to Hebrew. Note: A portion of Daniel 4 is written in ancient Chaldean as it’s penned by Nebuchadnezzar himself.
It will become apparent in our study that Daniel’s ministry transcended Israel and his message was global in scope! Personally, Daniel will find himself riding on the crest of two different world empires. Initially, he’ll become the most trusted adviser of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, but by the end of his life he will also serve his Persian replacement King Cyrus! Daniel ends up front and center for two major geopolitical shifts!
As an aside… One of the great themes of Daniel will be the absolute sovereignty of God! On 10 or so different occasions the God of Israel will be referred to as being the “Most High God” or literally God the Highest. This designation will even be affirmed by the pagan players in this book. Understand, as it concerns the affairs of this world, absolutely nothing happens outside His direct involvement. It is God who raises up kingdoms and it is God who sees to their downfall. God is in total control of whoever is in control!
Aside from Babylon the Great and Medo-Persia, Daniel’s prophecies will also address the rise and fall of the Grecian Empire under Alexander, the emergence and might of the Roman Empire, along with Rome’s inevitable downfall and reordering. While more than half of Daniel’s prophecies have been fulfilled in history, it’s exciting that much still remains. In fact, Daniel has a ton to say of a still yet future world power and it’s diabolical leader.
Another thing you will notice as we study Daniel is how exacting and detailed his prophecies truly are. Because of this, it’s a fact, no book of the Bible has been attacked more aggressively! Since the prophecies of Daniel are so precise and meticulous, critics of the Bible are forced to call into question his authorship and therefore the dating of 530 BC.
While I really don’t want to spend a ton of time on this, aside from the fact the book itself claims Daniel as the author (in chapters 8:1, 9:2, 9:20, and 10:2 we read, “I, Daniel”), you should note Ezekiel — who was a contemporary Jewish prophet also serving in Babylon — affirms Daniel as being a historical figure by mentioning him on at least four occasions.
As just one example in Ezekiel 14:12-14 we read, “The word of the LORD came again to me, saying: ‘Son of man, when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it; I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it. Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,’ says the Lord GOD.”
Furthermore, as a fact of history, we know the Book of Daniel predates even the most skeptical estimations. Multiple ancient historians, including Josephus, tell us that when Alexander the Great came to destroy Jerusalem in the year 332 BC he was met by the High Priest Jeduthun who read to him the section of Daniel predicting his rise and conquests over the Persians. Impressed, Alexander decided to spare the city and the Temple.
I could take more time to defend the authorship of Daniel because the evidence is overwhelming. That said, you really don’t need anything more than the testimony of Jesus. In Matthew 24, during the Olivet Discourse, Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet.”
With some of the generalities out of the way, let’s go ahead dive into the this incredible book… Daniel 1:1-4, “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, with some of the articles of the house of God, which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the articles into the treasure house of his god.
Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king’s descendants and some of the nobles, young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans.”
These four verses are important and demand our careful examination, because they set up the background and establish the backdrop for the entire Book of Daniel. The recorded narrative begins with a definite timeframe established, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah.” Jehoiakim became king in the year 608 making it now 605 BC.
In order to have a complete picture, a little Jewish history is warranted. While the kings of Judah had been wicked since the reign of the Godly King Hezekiah, 57 years following his death, in the year 640 BC, an eight year old boy named Josiah becomes the unlikely king over Judah. Though the people had a series of terrible rulers, 2 Kings 22:2 says of Josiah that, while young, “He did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in all the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.”
During Josiah’s 31-year reign he not only represented the LORD well, but he funded a remodel of the dilapidated Temple. According to 2 Kings 22 while the work was happening a priest ends up discovering a copy of God’s Law that had long been forgotten. After reading God’s Word Josiah enacts sweeping reforms re-instituting the true worship of the LORD.
2 Kings 23:21-25, “Then Josiah commanded all the people, saying, ‘Keep the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.’ Such a Passover surely had never been held since the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah… Moreover Josiah put away those who consulted mediums, the household gods and idols, all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD. Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him.”
Tragically, this revival proved to be to-little-to-late regarding the fate of Judah. In the next verse (2 Kings 23:26) we read, “Nevertheless the LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath, with which His anger was aroused against Judah… And the LORD said, ‘I will also remove Judah from My sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, ‘My name shall be there.’”
In the end King Josiah dies in battle against the Egyptians. His wicked son Jehoahaz is crowned king, but he’s immediately taken captive. 2 Kings 23:34 we read, “Then Pharaoh Necho made Eliakim the son of Josiah king and changed his name to Jehoiakim.” Again, this man Jehoiakim, referenced in Daniel 1, comes to the throne in the year 608 BC.
In 620 BC, at the hight of the Assyrian Empire, an official named Nabopolasser rebelled establishing himself the new king of Babylon. By 607 Assyria had given way to a ferocious Babylonian Empire now dominating the world stage. At this point the only remaining threat to their power was the Egyptians in the South. Since this was the case, in the early part of 605 Nabopolasser’s son Nebuchadnezzar came down to wage war against Pharaoh.
Though Jehoiakim had been set upon the throne to strength Judah’s alliance with Egypt, in 2 Kings 24 we’re told he pledges a false loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar as well — he’s playing both sides of the conflict. While Nebuchadnezzar was focused on the Egyptians, Jehoiakim leads a rebellion against Babylon which proved to be a terrible miscalculation. The armies of Nebuchadnezzar end up victorious over Egypt and quickly turn their attention to Judah.
When the Book of Daniel opens, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it” the year is 605 and this is the specific event in reference. Neb was not a gracious man and because of Jehoiakim’s actions they were about to experience a measure of Babylonian vengeance.
What Nebuchadnezzar’s full intentions had been in this first siege we will never know. In August of 605, while in Judah figuring out what he wanted to do, Nebuchadnezzar receives word his father has died unexpectedly. As such, this required he and his armies make an immediate return to Babylon so he could be crowned king and maintain succession.
Verses 2-4 records Nebuchadnezzar’s ultimate decision as to how to punish Judah… First, we read how he “carried into the land of Shinar to the treasure house of his god some of the articles of the house of God.” Imagine seeing that! The very “articles” God commissioned to be used in His “house” to facilitate the people’s worship are not only taken away, but they end up being displayed and used in the temples of the pagan Babylonian deities. The very vessels created for the worship of the True God are being completely desecrated.
Don’t forget Solomon’s Temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world and her artifacts were a component of this. In fact, many years earlier, King Hezekiah showed off the glories of the Temple to a delegation that had come from Babylon. Hezekiah would end up being confronted by Isaiah who then prophesied one day the Babylonians would return to plunder the Temple. It appears Nebuchadnezzar knew what he was looking for!
Secondly, we read that Nebuchadnezzar “instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king's descendants and some of the nobles, young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans.”
While Nebuchadnezzar was a brutal and sadistic man, he was also a shrewd tactician. Historically, Nebuchadnezzar will become the most powerful man to have ever lived — which explains why more is written about him in the Bible than any other pagan ruler.
Per his instructions one of his most trusted advisers, a man named Ashpenaz, was to select from the people a group of “young men” they’d bring back to Babylon. These men, who likely ranged in age from 13 to 17, were to have “no blemish” or physical deformity. Additionally, they also had to be “good-looking” as well as intellectually gifted. The truth is this group of young men represented the best and brightest Judah had to offer.
Through the mistakes of the Assyrian Empire, Nebuchadnezzar knew it was not possible to rule the world through military might and intimidation alone. He understood, in order to grow and sustain a global empire, he would need to surround himself with the best advisers the world had to offer. Wisely, Nebuchadnezzar filled his courts with representatives from the nations he conquered. That said, for anyone “to serve in his palace” it was a simple prerequisite they have the “ability” to learn “the language and literature of the Chaldeans.”
The other reason for this decision centers on which social and economic classes they chose these “young men” from. Notice from who they selected… They took from “some of the children of Israel, some of the king's descendants (the royal family), and some of the nobles (the ruling class of elites).” Can you think of a more effective way to keep the leading families of a nation under your thumb in line than taking their kids away as hostages?
While Jehoiakim is allowed to remain on the throne, understand he was a wicked, evil man. As one of many examples, one year after these things, the prophet Jeremiah came to him with a Word from the Lord. Alarmingly, Jehoiakim chopped up the scroll and threw it in the fire. It’s at this point Jeremiah tells him the Babylonians were going to destroy Judah!
Jehoiakim will die leaving the throne to his son in the year 597, but this will be short-lived. With his patience with the Jews growing thin, Nebuchadnezzar returns a second time. 2 Kings 24 records how he takes captive Jehoiakim’s son, the royal family, along with another 10,000 captives, while also procuring the rest of the Temple artifacts. If you’re wanting to connect the dots, the prophet Ezekiel is among this second group taken to Babylon.
At this point Nebuchadnezzar places Jehoiakim’s brother Zedekiah onto the throne, but 2 Kings 24 indicates, after a while, he also leads a rebellion. Ten years later in 587 BC Nebuchadnezzar returns a third time, crushes the uprising, and destroys Jerusalem along with the Temple. Not only do they burn everything to the ground, but in 2 Kings 25 we read how Nebuchadnezzar takes Zedekiah, kills his sons in front of him, and plucks out his eyes.
To aid your big picture understanding of Scripture, when this final siege occurs in 587 Daniel has been in Babylon for 18 years, Ezekiel for 10 years, and Jeremiah — who started his ministry is the 18th year of King Josiah and had been predicting these things would happen — is in Jerusalem witnessing this final destruction. As it’s happening he pens Lamentations.
I think it’s important you realize how deeply unsettling these events truly are from the larger narrative of the Bible. So many years before God had promised to grow the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into a mighty nation through which He’d send a Savior! God’s plan to save the world from sin was specifically tied to the Jewish people.
Following their time in Egypt and deliverance, God gives them the Law to obey and a land to enjoy. They were His people and He dwelt in their midst. And yet, right from the beginning of this relationship, God had been clear as to His terms. As His people living in a covenant relationship with Him their obedience would bring about His blessing, but their rebellion would also necessitate His correction and if continued — judgment!
In Leviticus 26 God was about as forward and honest as you could possibly be. After explaining the blessings they could enjoy, He says if they followed after idols and refused to obey His commands (Leviticus 26:27-33), “I will walk contrary to you in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins… I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars, and cast your carcasses on the lifeless forms of your idols; and My soul shall abhor you. I will lay your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries to desolation, and I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas. I will bring the land to desolation, and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it. I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste.”
When you read the story of the Bible and realize God’s plan to save all of us from sin was specifically tied to the Jewish people, Daniel 1 is a punch to the gut! How could this be? God’s people, critical to His plan for redemption, have now been ripped from the land God had given them! The very people He freed from bondage in Egypt are now being taken away captive to Babylon! How could God allow this to happen?
To compound the situation, don’t overlook a detail provided in verse 2. We read, “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the articles of the house of God.” Wait!? What happened to Judah, the people of God, and ultimately the destruction of the Temple was the Lord’s doing? Yep! The truth is Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire were nothing more than God’s instrument to judge His people.
In fairness to God it should be pointed out this wasn’t a snap-decision. In spite of their continued idolatry, wickedness, and persistent failure to obey His commands, for 490 years God had patiently warned them what was coming if they refused to reverse course.
Amazingly, 150 years or so earlier the Prophet Isaiah prophesied that God was going to use the Babylonians to judge them. Additionally, the prophet Habakkuk reiterated this fact in the year 612 writing (Habakkuk 1:5-7), “Look among the nations and watch — be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you. For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation which marches through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful; their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves.”
While the development presented in the first few verses of Daniel is alarming, understand the people of God had been given ample warning as well as every opportunity to repent of their sin! And yet, they remained stubborn in their rebellion, leaving God zero choice but to act. Their destruction and exile into Babylon was the consequences of their own decisions.
When we get to Daniel 9 this great and logical question as to whether or not God had given up on Israel and His plan to provide a Savior through her will be answered in detail. Spoiler alert: God had not given up on His people and His plans to save hadn’t been deterred. And yet, there is an important lesson we shouldn’t avoid in the grand context of this story-arch…
There is no doubt the Hebrew people had been chosen by God as a manifestation of His grace. While a pagan living in Ur God came and called out Abraham making to Him a series of incredible promises that didn’t necessitate his involvement. While in bondage in Egypt, in what as act of His unmerited favor, God raised up Moses to deliver them. God chose the Jewish people, made them His people, and gave them an inheritance when a simple examination of their history reveals how little they deserved any of His blessings.
And yet, while for 490 years God’s grace manifested in a supernatural patience concerning their rebellion and wickedness, a new approach was now warranted. You see the overarching lesson presented in the first four verses of Daniel 1 is that God’s grace never negates the necessity of His judgment when His people are walking in rebellion!
Make no mistake about it… What happened to Judah and by inclusion Daniel and the men carried away to Babylon had been completely just and unavoidable. “The Lord gave” them into the hands of the Babylonians because of their persistent sin. Warning after warning had been refused and ignored. Ultimately, God’s hand was forced in the matter. God loved His people enough that He could no longer allow the status quo to continue.
This is as good a point as any to apply these things to you and I… While the Hebrew people remained God’s chosen people even in spite of their awful choices (their standing didn’t change even though they were in Babylon), it’s simply a fact their sinful choices yielded terrible consequences. The Temple of God was defiled and their bondage resulted.
Christians, please know that while Jesus has given you a righteous standing in heaven as a child of God, it doesn’t change the fact deliberate sin and rebellion will manifest the same kind of real, tangible consequences. As the Temple of God there is no greater defilement than a person who’s been set free from sin finding themselves living in bondage to sin!
And it’s in these situations when we’ve engaged in sin, ignored His warnings, and harden in our resolve to continue the rebellious path we’ve set for ourselves, that God, in His grace, refuses to stand idly by! As with Judah, it is the Lord who enacts judgment in our lives.
Have you ever found yourself in such a situation? You’re a Christian, saved by grace, liberated from sin, set free from bondage; and yet, overtime you make a serious of tragic decisions? If we’re honest, you knew what you were doing was wrong. You ignored the warnings of friends, the warnings of God’s Word. And then it happened! Your house of cards came tumbling down. Your choices caught up with you. The ruse was up! God intervenes.
In an instance your life changes completely. You experience what you know to be the judgment of God. Your wife files for divorce citing your affair. Your employer is forced to fire you for cause. A creditor takes away your home or worse still the IRS comes knocking. In a moment you’re ripped by God from the land of promise and forced to live in Babylon.
Again, speaking honestly, in these moments it’s only natural you begin to question your standing before God and future. Is God done with you? You blew it. You deserve it. God’s justice demands the consequences you’re experiencing. You imagine you’ve so irreparably ruined things there’s no way the Lord could have any future use for your life? What’s next?
Friend, this is also what makes this book so amazing. The story of Daniel illustrates that while God’s grace doesn’t negate His judgment and in some instances demands it (there are consequences to rebellion), it also reaffirms that you are still His child, He can still use your life, and His grace remains accessible even to those being judged!
As we’ll begin to see in the verses that follow, like Daniel and a group of his friends, if — in the midst of your judgment and the hardship that naturally results — you accept the fact your plight is of your own making and you choose to repent and accept responsibility, you’ll discover this unbelievable reality… There is still grace in exile!
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