13.1 The Date (of the prophet’s ministry and work)
Daniel was taken captive as a young man to Babylon in 605 B.C. His training as a statesman in the king’s palace began almost immediately. Daniel and his Hebrew friends proved faithful to their God in the midst of a foreign land from the outset. Daniel 1 records his first faith test that propelled him to prominence and the respected status he enjoyed throughout his life. In Daniel 10:1, he dates his final vision to third year of Cyrus in 536 B.C. Thus Daniel’s lengthy ministerial career spanned virtually the entire exilic period (605 – 536 B.C.). Daniel dates the events of his book to the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar (chapters 1-4), Belshazzar (5-7), Darius the Mede (5:30-6:28; 9), and Cyrus the Persian (10-12).
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the critical consensus had been to date the book to the second century B.C. Dillard and Longman explain the primary reasons for such a dating schema.
…there are two reasons for moving away from a sixth-century date for the book. The first is the opinion that such exact prophecy is not possible. We have found this to be an unacceptable presupposition. Second, however, there are the supposed historical errors. These are difficult…[but] reasonable, though not certain, harmonizations are possible.
Despite disagreements surrounding the book’s authorship between conservative and critical scholars, all agree that Daniel was a sixth century historical personage who held an official post in the Babylonian government.
13.2 Background History (historical setting of the prophet)
Like Ezekiel, Daniel lived the first period of his life in Judah during the last remaining years of the country’s sovereign rule. He was a young man when Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem for the first time in 605 B.C., and was among the first round of captives carted off to Babylon. Wood describes the historical background during this lamentable era.
Nebuchadnezzar following his great victory at Carchemish came south into the Palestine area to assert his control over cities of the eastern Mediterranean seaboard. Jerusalem apparently was one of the first contacted, and Nebuchadnezzar wanted two things from the city. One was booty and this proved to consist especially of the valuable objects of the temple. The other was captives including especially choice young men whom Nebuchadnezzar might train, and from whom he might later make selection for staffing offices in his kingdom.
13.3 Work and Person (character and ministry of the prophet)
Wood’s analysis of Daniel’s work is instructive for categorizing his various responsibilities. He lists the general matters for which Daniel worked: (1) serving as God’s chosen representative for the purpose of maintaining God’s honor in a foreign land; (2) maintaining the welfare and protection of the captive Judahites; and (3) recording the prophetic revelation of the future that God revealed to him.
Similarly, Wood catalogues specific episodes of work God prepared for Daniel: (1) the test involving abstention from the king’s food that resulted in recognition of wisdom and promotion; (2) the revealing of Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream and interpretation which led to the king praising God and granting high governmental positions to Daniel and his friends; (3) the test of not worshipping the statue and the fiery furnace punishment that resulted in supernatural deliverance and the king once again giving praise to God; (4) the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream that resulted in the king’s temporary insanity and eventually more praise to God from the king; (5) the reading and interpreting of the writing on the wall that immediately resulted in King Belshazzar’s defeat at the hand of Darius the Mede; and (6) the account of Daniel cast into the lion’s den for ignoring the royal decree and continuing to pray to God that resulted in his miraculous salvation from the beasts, and thereafter the king delivered the officers who were behind the plot against Daniel to the same lions for punishment.
Furthermore, God revealed to Daniel on four occasions information regarding the future and even the last days of the age.
Although nothing is known of Daniel outside the pages of his book, much can be ascertained about his character from its content. Wood describes Daniel as a person of great spiritual status and maturity (demonstrated by his forthrightness in speaking with the king, the faith he demonstrated in believing God for dream interpretations, and his obedience in the face of persecution and danger), righteousness (shown in his choices to do right despite unpleasant consequences), courage (related to his choice of righteousness in hostile environments), immense capabilities (evidenced in his favorable status among the king’s most trusted wise men and administrators), and thoughtfulness of others (revealed when he remembered his friends and requested high positions for them, and his concern for the king recorded in Dan. 4:19).
13.4 The Book (abbreviated outline and brief summary)
I. The Narratives (1:1-6:28)
A. Vindication of Daniel and His Friends (1:1-21)
B. Nebuchadnezzar’s First Dream (2:1-49)
C. Deliverance From the Furnace (3:1-30)
D. Nebuchadnezzar’s Second Dream (4:1-37)
E. Judgment on Belshazzar (5:1-31)
F. Deliverance From the Den of Lions (6:1-28)
II. The Visions (7:1-12:13)
A. Vision of the Four Beasts (7:1-28)
B. Vision of the Ram and the Goat (8:1-27)
C. Vision of the Seventy Weeks (9:1-27)
D. Vision of the Future of God’s People (10:1-12:13)
1. The Angel’s Message to Daniel (10:1-11:1)
2. From Daniel Until Antiochus IV Epiphanes (11:2-20)
3. The Rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (11:21-12:3)
4. A Final Message to Daniel (12:4-13)
The major theme tying together the book is the kingdom of God, which is not restricted to a nationalistic and Jewish embodiment, but rather this kingdom is universal in its dominion. As literature written from the perspective of the Babylonian exile, Daniel teaches the theological significance of Israel’s exile for (1) apostates; (2) disobedient believers; (3) Israel as the type of “servant of the Lord;” and (4) the faithful remnant whom God has reserved for himself. Regarding apostates who had demonstrated their disbelief through syncretistic religious practices or outright idolatry,
this category of people has always lived in the midst of God’s elect nation. But by the exile, the final fate of the apostate is vivified. They have fallen under the ultimate curse of God. In accordance with the law of the covenant, those who worship other gods must be cut off, for they had broken the covenant. For these people, exile depicted eternal banishment from the presence of the Lord.
For disobedient believers, Daniel teaches a lesson still applicable today: “For whom the LORD loves He chastens” (Heb. 12:6).
These chastening actions of the Lord against his own people may be severe at times. Yet, it must be remembered that the worst chastening judgment in this life is always less than the punishment that every sin deserves. Only by this acknowledgment will God’s chastening judgments lead to true repentance rather than to resentful rebellion.
Robertson explains the typological identification of Israel as the “servant of the Lord.”
Clearly none of Israel’s sufferings may be regarded as atoning in substitution for the guilt of others, since no Israelite has ever existed who has not himself sinned. Yet this imagery of Israel’s sufferings found its fulfillment when Jesus Christ as the true Israel of God became “not my people” on behalf of his people in the “exile” of his crucifixion. In his unique role as servant of the Lord, he suffered banishment “outside the camp,” the innocent for the guilty (Heb. 13:11-13; I Pet. 2:22-25).
As for the faithful remnant that also experienced the exile alongside their apostate and disobedient countrymen, they were given the revelation of the worldwide expansion and domain of God’s kingdom.
The provincialism of Israel was broken by the very act of divine judgment that scattered these faithful ones among the nations. As a consequence, the door was opened in a new way for participation in God’s kingdom by all the peoples of the earth. This principle finds consummate manifestation in the sufferings of the disciples of Jesus today as they “fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” for the sake of the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth (Col. 1:24).
Summarizing the book of Daniel, Robertson denotes five critical points that dominate the prophetic/apocalyptic passages. These dreams and visions outline the history of the Gentile nations and their rule over Israel from the time of Daniel until the last days.
- The colossus of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:31-45). This section identifies the components of the dream with four kingdoms that will rule over Israel: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Some interpreters see a revival of the Roman kingdom in the last days before the second coming of Christ.
- The stone made without hands (Dan. 2:34-35). Robertson singles out this particular passage within the context of the colossus of Nebuchadnezzar as especially significant. The stone made without hands is Christ, who strikes the great statue of kingdoms and destroys them, and then grows into a mountain to fill the whole earth (symbolizing the growth and maturation of Christ’s kingdom).
- The four beasts, the little horn, and the Son of Man (Dan 7:2-28). The beasts are identified in parallel with the four kingdoms of Daniel 2 (Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome). The little horn is “the embodiment of governmental powers arising as a late manifestation of the fourth empire…and represents the epitome of human authority in opposition to the kingdom of God.” The little horn is remarkably similar to (and probably identified with) the beast described in Revelation 13. Many interpreters see the little horn as the final personified Antichrist to come in the final days before the parousia. The Son of Man “parallels the image of the stone cut out without human hands in Daniel 2” and is almost universally held to be a reference to Jesus.
- The seventy sevens (Dan. 9:24-27). This complex prophecy delivered to Daniel from the angel Gabriel speaks to the chronological ordering of the times determined for the people of God and even history itself. The seventy “sevens” (or weeks) are best understood as seventy units of seven years totaling 490 years. The division of the sevens into subunits (7, 62, and 1) is meant to communicate when the old covenant prophetic revelation would cease (approximately 400 B.C., corresponding with the subunit of 7), the time of the messiah’s earthly ministry (approximately A.D. 30, corresponding with the subunit 62), and perhaps the age of the new covenant (from Christ’s resurrection to the consummation of all things at the end of the age, corresponding with the subunit of 1).
- The stern-faced king (Dan. 8:23; 11:36). This section prophetically describes in unsurpassed detail the Grecian persecution of God’s people in the historical context of the kings of the north (Seleucids) and the south (Ptolemies).
In these last chapters of Daniel, it is explained that this third kingdom will be the great oppressor of God’s people, thereby anticipating the last great persecution that would come at some future date. This perspective appears to provide adequate rationale for the extended treatment of the period embracing the third of Daniel’s kingdoms.
149. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 332. See pages 330-32 for a fuller discussion.
150. Wood, Prophets of Israel, p. 345.
151. Wood, Prophets of Israel, pp. 345-48.
152. Ibid., pp. 348-52.
153. “Daniel,” in Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, pp. 1375-76.
154. Robertson, Christ of the Prophets, p. 356.
155. Ibid., p. 357.
157. Ibid., p. 358.
158. Ibid. pp. 324-54.
159. Ibid., pp. 332-33.
160. Ibid., p. 335.
161. The shift of interpreting the weeks of Daniel’s vision from literal to figurative is a hotly debated topic, especially between dispensational and covenant theologians. In any case, the nature of the seventieth week is less clear than the others.
162. Robertson, Christ of the Prophets, p. 350.