Book of Daniel – a quick overview

The book of Daniel originated with the Hebrew prophet Daniel. He is the key figure throughout and so the manuscript belongs to about 536 BC. Some critics have wanted to place it around 160 BC because of their hesitancy about or even rejection of predictive prophecy. They think the events described in reference to the Greek empire are too precise to have been written beforehand. On the other hand, we know from the best of the Jewish books of the 2nd century BC that there was no true prophet among the Jews then (1 Maccabees 14), and the form of the Hebrew and Aramaic language of the book is certainly much earlier than the 2nd century.

The simple structure of the book should be noted. It is written in Hebrew except 2:4-7:28 which is written in Aramaic, the common language of those days, apparently because this section has special relevance to the nations. Chapters 1 to 6 are narrative in the 3rd person; chapters 7-12 are visions in the 1st person. However, note that the two parts are tied together both by the content and by the overlapping of Aramaic.

Ch 1: Daniel aged about 14 arrives in Babylon 605 BC

This chapter shows the loyalty of Daniel and his three friends to God despite all the pressures to conform. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mould!

Ch 2: The Dream of the Image 602 BC

Four world empires which despite their varied forms are all of a piece, and are overthrown by a stone cut out without hands.

Gold: New Babylonian (605-539 BC)

Silver: Medo-Persian (539-331 BC)

Brass/bronze: Greek (331-168 BC)

Iron & clay: Roman and successors

Ch 3: The Golden Image

It looks like Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t want to reckon with a silver empire after his. His golden kingdom alone matters: he makes himself to be God (3:15), and indeed he was king by God’s decree. Yet God’s decree is no insurance for those who do not live responsibly toward the sovereign God. On the other hand, those who trust the living God know that, whatever happens, God makes everything work for their ultimate good. Who is that fourth person in the furnace?

Ch 4: The King’s Madness

Nebuchadnezzar was a man who couldn’t make up his mind. He died in 562 BC and prior to this suffered a period of madness [technical name: boanthropy] as described in this chapter so that he behaved like a beast without fully forgetting who he was.

Ch 5: Belshazzar’s Feast 539 BC

Strictly Nabonidus was king but other historical records tell us that he assigned royal functions to his son Belshazzar and lived in Arabia for 10 years. Thus Belshazzar promised Daniel the 3rd highest position in the kingdom if he could explain the writing on the wall (5:16).

Ch 6: Daniel in the Lion’s Den 537 BC

The precise identity of Darius the Mede (5:31) is still disputed; it could be the throne name for King Cyrus or the name of his personal representative in Babylon. The Persian empire, unlike the Babylonian, was a constitutional monarchy, hence the king was bound by the decree.

Ch 7 The Vision of the Four Beasts c 548

Note that the time of this chapter is earlier than chapters 5 and 6. Daniel has been in exile about 60 years but the future is not going to improve in the way he was thinking. There would be a long period of human empires followed by the Messianic kingdom which would not give special prominence to Israel and would involve trials and persecutions. This seems the explanation for Daniel’s troubled spirit (7:15). The parallels with the four metals in the image (chapter 2) are obvious:

Gold – Winged Lion – New Babylonian 605-539 BC

Silver – Bear – Medo/Persian 539-331 BC

Brass – Winged Leopard – Greek 331-168 BC

Iron & clay – Indescribable – Rome and successors

Note that “the little horn” rises from the 4th kingdom and persecutes for “a time, times and half a time”.

Ch 8 The Ram and Goat Vision

At 8:1 we switch back to Hebrew because the main message from here on relates to the position of God’s people. Note that “the little horn” rises from the 3rd (Greek) kingdom, persecutes God’s people and tramples the temple for 2300 days – something over 6 years. There is probably symbolism in the number, but the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes 175-168 undoubtedly are referred to. He desecrated the temple and had a mind to wipe out the Jews. The common verbal expressions in chapters 7 and 8 do not mean what is described in 8 is still future but that it provides in what occurs from the 3rd (Greek) kingdom an illustration of what will happen on a deeper level from the 4th (Roman) kingdom.

Ch 9 The Seventy Sevens Vision 538 BC

It is very important to appreciate the context in which this passage must be understood.

a. it expands on the outline of the future in chapters 7 and 8 but b. specifically (9:2) refers to Jeremiah 25:8-14 and 29:10 which speak about the 70 years of exile. 2 Chronicles 36:21 explains that the number of years of exile corresponded to the number of years the land had not enjoyed the sabbath it was due each seven years (Leviticus 25);  c. the prayer (9:3-19) is the prayer of one who knows the nation has lost the privileges of the covenant – the temple and sacrificial system, the city of Jerusalem and life in a land flowing with milk and honey because of covenant disobedience. “But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers…I will remember by covenant….I will remember the land” (Leviticus 26:40ff).

The passage (9:20-27) tells us that the end of the 70 years of exile will introduce a new period of 70 units of seven. The exile was closed by Cyrus as God’s “Anointed One” (cf Isaiah 45:1) who allowed the Jews to return. The new period will be climaxed by the true Anointed One who will deal with the sin problem that had caused the exile in the first place. The 70 sevens is a complete and perfect period during which the perfect plan of God will be realised in effective dealing with sin and deliverance from sin’s bondage (v24) through Messiah’s death (v27) which causes God’s covenant to prevail. The end point of the 70 sevens is therefore the eternal sabbath, the goal of history. Notice the 3-fold division:

seven sevens – the city will be rebuilt but no 50th jubilee year follows (Lev 25:8-13) since true liberty will not follow the rebuilding of Jerusalem; this comes only with the Messiah.

sixty-two sevens – an odd or broken period as if to convey the idea that the period from the rebuilding until the coming of Christ (the first time) is uncertain to us, and a period which even with what has gone before is still incomplete.

one seven – the last seven is itself complete, a single seven. Like creation it suggests a new and complete work of God (cf Gen 1:1ff), but also completes the perfect plan of God (70 sevens). In the middle (not the end) of this seven Jerusalem is destroyed [which it was in AD 70] leaving three and one half to the end of history. This broken period is a symbol of the Christian dispensation – a period of trial and persecution but also a period which ends in triumph. [The same period is expressed as 42 months in Rev 11:2; 13:5 and 1260 days in Rev 11:3; 12:6.]

So Daniel learns that the city will be rebuilt but destroyed in order that God’s covenant may prevail through Messiah’s death so that its full benefits will be realised in the building of the spiritual temple and the establishing of the kingdom which will have no end. The earthly city/temple is not the key – Messiah is.

Ch 10 The Vision of a Man 536 BC

The time: after the overthrow of Babylon by Persia, and at the time (10:4) of the Passover (an earlier deliverance).

The key figure: a priest-king ruling in and through history; compare the description of Jesus in Rev 1:12ff.

The subject: the future of God’s people.

Ch 11 The Suffering of God’s People

vv 1-35: developments in the 3rd world kingdom

vv 36-45 more difficult – perhaps generalised description

Ch 12: Climax: Salvation/resurrection/judgment

Where is God in the troubles of Ch 11? But keep the perspective of chapters 10 and 12.

Some points to ponder:

1. The LORD has all authority over nations and individuals.

2. Mere human kingdoms are temporary, but Messiah’s kingdom is eternal.

3. The work of Messiah is the means by which this eternal kingdom comes.

4. God’s chosen ones inherit the kingdom only through tribulation.

5. The present calls for faithfulness to the LORD in a hostile environment.

6. The climax of world history is in God’s hands.

NB: There are difficult things in the Book of Daniel but don’t let them distract you from what is plain.