In the sweep of great world empires, the impact of military conquest on individual people is usually overlooked. For example, the fall of Jerusalem into the hands of Babylon six hundred years before Christ probably did not make much of a stir in the ancient world. It was an event so insignificant to the Babylonians that it wasn't even worth mentioning in their official chronicles.
This was the first of three defeats that those in Judah would suffer from the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. He simply established Babylonian authority over Judah and left. On the surface not much changed. But behind the scenes some Jewish families and especially some young Jewish men were deeply affected. A number of gifted young men from the families of the Jewish nobility were taken from their homes to a new land. They were thrust into a new lifestyle. Every effort was made to break down their former convictions. They had to make a difficult choice. Would they hold to their faith and to a life of obedience to the Lord God, or would they flow into the new culture? It was a time of crisis for these young men, including the man we will be studying together—Daniel.
It is precisely at this point that we identify with Daniel. Regardless of how sheltered our existence has been as children or how often we were taken to Sunday school, there comes a time when we are thrust into a pagan world. We are confronted in a modern university or on the job or in society with a lifestyle radically different from what is taught in the Bible. At each turn we have to make difficult decisions. Will we obey God regardless of the consequences, or will we become part of the surrounding culture?
Daniel gives us practical and personal help in our struggle. He was a man who rose to a position of great power and prestige in the world system but who never compromised essential biblical principles. He shows us how to live a life of spiritual integrity in the crush of a secular world. Anyone who has been tempted to cave in to such pressures will learn much from him.
Israel's great king Solomon died in 931 B.C. Solomon's son, Rehoboam, foolishly provoked the leaders of the northern part of the nation, and they split off from the south. The northern tribes (ten of them) were called Israel. They existed until 722 B.C. when they were destroyed by the Assyrians. The southern two tribes were called Judah. God spared Judah until 586 B.C. when the Babylonian armies crushed the nation.
Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian commander, had come to Judah and Jerusalem twice before to put down Jewish rebellion against the authority of the empire. In 605 B.C. the Jews had been treated fairly well. A few young men (including Daniel) from the leading families had been taken as hostages, but the nation was left relatively undisturbed. In 597 B.C. the treatment was harsher. More people were deported to Babylon, including the king, Jehoiachin, and the prophet Ezekiel. Finally, in 586 B.C. the Babylonian patience was exhausted. The temple of God was burned, the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, and the people were virtually all killed or deported to Babylon. A summary of these three "conquests" can be found in 2 Kings 24—25 and 2 Chronicles 36.
God judged Judah for seventy years (from 605 B.C. to 536 B.C.)—a period called the Babylonian captivity. In 536 B.C. Babylon was defeated by a new world power, Persia. Cyrus, the Persian ruler, allowed the Jews to return to Judah.
Daniel's ministry in Babylon extended through the entire seventy-year Babylonian captivity and on into the reign of the Persians. Daniel lived well into his eighties or nineties! His primary prophetic focus was on the Gentiles. Even during the period of Judah's humiliation God's voice was heard in the courtroom of the emperor.
If you read the book of Daniel and only see a den of lions and strange visions, you have missed the main character in the book—a sovereign God! Daniel wrote this book not to glorify himself but to exalt the Lord. In every circumstance, in every crisis, Daniel points us to a God who is sovereignly at work in human history.
To say that God is sovereign simply means that nothing happens that is not planned or permitted by God. That is true of kingdoms, and it is true in our lives. Daniel's God is not a weak, frustrated deity who sits in heaven, wringing his hands, hoping everything will turn out all right. He is a God who orders all events according to his own will.
The book of Daniel is apocalyptic literature designed to speak to us in those times when God seems to be absent. The crushed people of Judah in Daniel's day were saying, "Where is God?" Daniel answers their questions by showing them that, even in a national catastrophe, God is working out his purpose and plan.
Daniel is able to resist compromise because of his relationship to a sovereign God. His obedience was simply an expression of God's kingship in his life. Daniel's courage to proclaim God's message came from his allegiance to a sovereign God. He saw the Lord as the one who was King over the earthly kings of Babylon. Be prepared, then, in these quiet times to see God in a new way! It will be a stretching, convicting but life-changing adventure.
The second part of the book of Daniel is less well known and markedly more difficult to understand than the first part of the book. But it is no less profitable! In Daniel 1—6 the focus is primarily on the life and character of Daniel as a man of God. In Daniel 7—12 the focus is on Daniel as the messenger of God. These chapters consist of a series of visions given to Daniel—visions of the future of the Gentile nations and of the nation of Israel.
The visions of Daniel are a source of controversy among students of the Bible. The first area of controversy centers around the integrity of the visions. Liberal and critical scholars maintain that what is recorded in these chapters is not prophecy at all. Instead the writer wrote after the events (sometime in the second century B.C.) but cast what he wrote in the literary form of predictions given by God to a wise man in Babylon four hundred years earlier. According to this view, these chapters recordhistory (a record of events that have already transpired) and notprophecy (a prediction of events in the future).
For those who accept the Bible as God's revelation, this controversy is settled by the claims of the book itself and by the defense of those claims mounted by evangelical scholars. We also have Jesus' own confirmation of Daniel. In Matthew 24:15 he referred to Daniel as a real person and called him "the prophet." Jesus quoted from these later chapters of Daniel and took them as authoritative revelation from God (see Mt 24:30; Lk 21:27).
The second area of controversy centers on their interpretation. Even those who agree on the historical integrity of Daniel disagree on how these visions should be interpreted. Our objective in this guide is not to defend one particular prophetic system but rather to try to understand what Daniel says. Therefore, while we will refer to other biblical passages, the emphasis of each study will be on what we can learn from this book about God's program for human history. Not all the answers about the future will be found in one part of God's truth. If we understand this part, however, we will have a better understanding of the whole as we attempt to develop a biblical framework for future events. We will gain far more from Daniel if we try to learn what is revealed here rather than seeking to defend a preconceived idea of what we want Daniel to say.
While Daniel 7—12 is not an easy section of Scripture, it is just as much the Word of God as the rest. Therefore, it is profitable to us for instruction and correction. After spending many hours in these chapters, I can tell you that they expand not only our understanding of God's program for the future of the world, but also our capacity to trust a sovereign God for our own future. His cosmic, eternal plan includes us!