Author and Date
In 605 BCE Nebuchadrezzar led the Babylonian army to victory first over Egypt and then Judah; during the campaign his father died and he became king.[1 p.56–7]. The book describes events from that year to 535 BCE. Daniel is presented as a Jew who in 605 BCE was taken captive to Babylon. If Daniel was then a teenager, he had been born during Josiah's reforms, and lived to his mid eighties, and saw the rise and fall of Babylon. An elaborate tomb said to be Daniel's is now venerated in a synagogue in Suza, which is now in Iran, but other traditions say that he was buried in the royal vault in Babylon[1 p.22].
Daniel's name means "God is my judge"[1 p.22]. He presents an inspiring example of faith put into practice. He was a well-bred young man like a boy in a public school, captured by a country known for cruel and arbitrary justice, putting an end to his hopes and plans. He was a contemporary of Ezekiel (who prophesied in exile from about 593–571 BCE). Boadt[2 p.316] thinks the name translated Daniel in Ezekiel 14:14, 14:20 and 28:3 is actually the Ugaritic "Dan'el", an ancient king who was famously close to God, but Miller[1 p.42] says it is a reference to the biblical prophet. Those verses date to about 593 BCE, when Daniel was known only as a man of good character who interpreted Nebuchadrezzar's first dream.
The language of the text varies: 1:1 to 2:3 is mostly in Hebrew, 2:4 to 7:28 mostly in sixth century Aramaic[1 p.31], and 8:1–12:13 is mostly in Hebrew again. It also uses technical terms used in the Babylonian administration. The variation in language may show that it does not come from a single source, but Miller[1 p.48] argues that Daniel's prophetic proclamations to gentiles are in Aramaic, the common language of the Babylonian empire, while his memoirs and messages to the Jews are in Hebrew.
Some commentators allege significant historical errors which a sixth century writer would not have made. Others say the text shows more historical knowledge than a later author would have; for example, Daniel accurately describes punishment by fire under the Babylonians being superseded by the lions' den under the Persians, because fire was sacred to Zoroastrians. The book cannot be later than second century, because fragments from the third or second century BCE were found at Qumran[1 p.25–26]. Also its inclusion in the LXX indicates that it was considered canonical at that time[1 p.39].
Commentators are divided; traditionally the book was seen as a sixth-century autobiography. Some now argue that it is a second century pseudograph[8 p.35], the last OT book to be written, drawing on historical themes to encourage the oppressed Jews of the Maccabean era[1 p.23] (in which case it belongs in the Apocrypha). Others view the Aramaic sections as a second century composition inserted into the original autobiography.[1 p.24] However, the book does not suit the second century situation as well as it could have done, if it was written then.[1 p.27] It seems that the problems used by some commentators to argue a late date apply equally to the dates they suggest, so their "solution" does not solve the problems.
Christian Bibles follow LXX in placing Daniel among the Prophets, but the Hebrew Canon places it among the later Writings. It seems that Daniel was not recognised as a prophet until after the Jewish canon of prophetic books was closed[1 p.24]. The protestant Apocrypha includes a different version of Daniel with additional material found in the LXX (the Prayer of Azariah, the Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon) assumed to have been added by Jews in Alexandria.[1 p.49]
Audience and Content
"Daniel is a book about kings, and the central dynamic of its plot is the question: who is the true king of the whole world?" It proclaims that God is all-powerful and faithful to those who are faithful to him, so godly people should trust him and do right. After learning this the hard way by being rescued from mortal danger, Daniel was able to receive apocalyptic visions involving a "Son of Man" and a new age.
The first six chapters relate six events involving Daniel and his friends. The remainder is apocalyptic, a novel genre in which God reveals something of himself and visions of the future "not to satisfy idle curiosity but as a source of comfort and encouragement to the saints during their time of need"[1 p.47]. In the early part God rewards saints on earth, while the second part introduces the idea of reward in heaven (once earthly hope was lost, the temple being demolished in 586 BCE[1 p.44]).
The question of whether the prophecies foresaw future events or were composed afterwards affects the interpretation of the book.[1 p.23] These notes start from the assumption that the book is what it says it is. Perhaps people who do not believe that God reveals the future to prophets look for other explanations.
Daniel, with Joseph, sets a good example of how a godly person should respond to exile. He remembered his faith and sought to pray regularly and to obey God in purity. But being close to God did not make his life safe and comfortable. He knew his limitations and did not hesitate to ask for help, from God and from friends, when he was out of his depth. He trusted God, and God did not let him down, even in extreme peril. The temptation to compromise must have been overwhelming, but he stood firm. And he always gave God the credit. He had a reputation for honesty, diligence, and godliness. His enemies could only attack him by making it illegal to pray to God. He carried on, even when this meant facing the lions' den (Daniel 6:5). His friends were inspired to face the fiery furnace rather than compromise. There were times when he and his friends didn't know whether God would save them (Daniel 3:17), but did save them, again and again.
Chapters 1–6 and 7–12 are both in chronological order within themsleves, but there is some overlap between chapter 6 (the last historical item) and chapter 7 (the first vision).
The overall structure, based on Miller[1 p19], with his interpretation of the timing of the visions relative to the historical chapters[1 p.193 et al], is:
Historical setting (605 BCE)
Nebuchadrezzar's first dream (603–602 BCE
Trial of the three Hebrews (undated)
Nebuchadrezzar's second dream (no later than 571 BCE)
Belshazzar's feast and the fall of Babylon (539 BCE)
Daniel in the lions' den (perhaps 538 BCE)
The first vision and interpretation (seen before chapter 5, perhaps 553 BCE)
The second vision: ram, goat and little horn (seen before chapter 5, around 550 BCE)
The third vision: seventy sevens (seen between chapters 5 and 6)
The fourth and final vision (seen last of all, perhaps around 535 BCE)
Daniel 1: Historical setting
Jehoiakim was put on the throne of Judah by Pharaoh Neco (2 Kings 23:24), and paid tribute to Egypt, but vacillated when Nebuchadrezzar attacked (2 Kings 24:1).
Jehoiakim was succeeded by his son Johoiakin, who surrendered to Nebuchadrezzar in 597 BCE[1 p.42] (2 Kings 24:12). That did not mean (as most people then believed[1 p.125]) that the Lord ("Adonai") had lost control. Isaiah 39:1–6 predicted 100 years earlier that the Babylonians would take away the wealth that Hezekiah showed them. The archaic name Shinar reminds the reader that Babylon was the site of the Tower of Babel.
The Babylonians took away thousands of principal Jews (2 Kings 24:14) including Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1) and the four young men whose experiences the book records, who Josephus said were descended from Zedekiah. For three years (typically age 14 to 17 according to Plato) they were taught Babylonian court etiquette, language and beliefs, and cuneiform script.[1 p.60–3]
cf. Joseph renamed in Genesis 41:45. The Hebrew names, which contained references to God, were replaced by names referring to pagan deities.[1 p.66]
Daniel knew that Judah's God saw what he did in Babylon. "Vegetables" means a vegetarian diet of bread, fruit, and nuts.[1 p.68] cf. Romans 14:2, 1 Corinthians 8:7.
The Babylonians believed that gods spoke through dreams, and prized anyone who could interpret them, cf. Joseph in Genesis 40–41.[1 p.71]
The context of the chapters that follow is the Babylonian court. The word translated "magician" literally means scribe, in other words, an administrator, but "enchanter" indicates a pagan priest[1 p.72–3]. Nebuchadrezzar used divination using arrows drawn out as lots, images of gods, and inspection of the liver of an animal sacrifice (Ezekiel 21:19–22).[2 p.320] He also believed that dreams can contain messages.
Daniel 2: Nebuchadrezzar's first dream, written in Aramaic from verse 4b
The dream describes a sequence of four empires.[1 p.75] Perhaps in Nebuchadrezzar's second year the young Jews had not yet finished their training, so they were not in the group called before the king, but were included in the group to be killed.[1 p.75]
The text from here on is in Aramaic, the common language of the empire, but the conversation was probably in Akkadian, the language of the city of Babylon. Archaeologists have found manuals in Akkadian for interpreting dreams.[1 p.80]
The magicians' pleas for the king to tell them the dream show that they did not think he had forgotten it, but that he was testing their occult knowledge.[1 p.80]
Perhaps all the wise men were being gathering to be executed together.[1 p.84] Herodotus recorded that Darius the Mede did execute all the wise men about a hundred years later, and their practices became almost extinct.[1 p.83]
Daniel's tactful intervention is admirable, but he had little to lose, being sentenced to death!
Daniel prayed about the King's problem and asked his friends to pray too.
Arioch tried to take the credit for solving the king's problem.
Daniel went to the King with the answer and tactfully told the King that God had revealed these things to the King, as Joseph did before Pharaoh (Genesis 41:25).
Daniel witnessed to the power of the one true God, superior to the Babylonian gods.
Nebuchadrezzar ruled for 43 years, and was the greatest ruler of his age, but his empire lasted only 66 years. In 539 BCE Cyrus the Great defeated it, and the Medes and Persians (the bear or two-horned ram of chapters 7–8) ruled for 208 years, the morally inferior "silver" empire. The identities of the remaining empires are disputed, perhaps Greece and Rome, but all are subject to God's rule.[1 p.93–5]
The interpretation of the kingdoms depends on whether the rock that filled the whole earth is God's rule in individual's hearts following Jesus's Palestinian ministry, or his ultimate rule after the final judgment, in which case the later empires may be yet to come.[1 p.99–101]
The king's actions suggest that he had not grasped the distinction between God, source of all knowledge, and Daniel, his messenger. Daniel, as God's representative, had to accept some of the praise due to God. The king praised God among other gods which (as history shows) he continued to worship.[1 p.103]
Daniel became chief counsellor to the king, and his friends leading governors. God's people, finding themselves in unexpected situations, should trust that God remains in control.[1 p.104] The promotions gave the young men substantial power, but with it came public exposure, and the enmity of the other wise men.
Daniel 3: Trial of the three Hebrews
According to Herodotus, Nebuchadrezzar made several enormous statues. The mention of gods in v.12 is consistent with the statue being an image of Marduk. The height may include a plinth.[1 p.110, 115]
Daniel was now employed in the king's presence in the city of Babylon, but the other three young men were expected to worship the statues.[1 p.108–9]
The herald would address the international assembly in Aramaic, the empire's common language.[1 p.113] The surviving Aramaic text could be verbatim.
cf. Jeremiah 29:22. A furnace was an apt way for Babylonians to dispose of enemies, and a potent spur to obedience; they had become powerful by taking bronze age technology to new heights of technical excellence. Their furnaces resembled bottle kilns in "the potteries" of the English midlands, and could reach 1,000 C.[1 p.115]
The accusers made their accusation a racist one, perhaps hoping to widen its effect. Satan accuses in heaven (Revelation 12:9–10), but Jesus defends us (Romans 8:34).
The king had discovered that God can reveal dreams; now he would see more.
Perhaps strong men were chosen in a futile attempt to avoid divine intervention. The physical details are consistent with the men being thrown into the top of a bottle kiln, while the king watched at the lower opening. The Jews were miraculously protected from harm, in literal fulfilment of Isaiah 43:2.[1 p.121–4]
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the burning fiery furnace, but the king saw four people. The Lord was with them. Similarly, Ernest Shackleton was in mortal danger after his ship Endurance was crushed by pack ice, ending his expedition to the south pole. They sailed in life-boats to Elephant Island and then a few went in one small boat to South Georgia to get help. As three of them struggled across the mountains of South Georgia to get to civilisation, they each (as they found when comparing notes afterwards) perceived a fourth person with them.
The outcome was greater glory for God and reward for his brave servants. Nebuchadrezzar might have spoken up for God out of fear of punishment.[1 p.125]
Daniel 4: Nebuchadrezzar's second dream
These events occurred about thirty years after chapter 3; the king was now elderly, and Daniel was about fifty years old.[1 p.128]
Babylonian kings often spoke as if they ruled the entire world[1 p.128]
After thirty years Daniel (Belteshazzar) was still Master of the Magicians.[1 p.132]
The king was given a year to ponder Daniel's words and repent, but did not.[1 p.139]
Babylon's magnificence is confirmed by people like Herodotus who saw it. The Hanging Gardens, a Wonder of the World, were just a part.[1 p.142] cf. Proverbs 16:18.
While Nebuchadrezzar was ill, his son Amel-Marduk (called "Evil-Merodach" in 2 Kings 25:27 and Jeremiah 52:31[1 p.44]) reigned as Regent.[1 p.138]
Modern medical experience shows that the delusion described here does not totally prevent reasoned thought, so the king could acknowledge God while ill.[1 p.138]
Daniel 5: Belshazzar's feast
Another thirty years have passed. The Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon both report that a banquet was in progress when Babylon fell on 12 October 539 BCE.[1 p.150–1] Nabonidus was Belshazzar's father and Nebuchadrezzar's wife was his mother. He behaved like a king[1 p.148] while his father was on retreats.[1 p.138],[4 p.565–6]
Archaeologists have discovered in the main Babylonian palace ruins a throne room 170 feet long by 56 feet wide painted internally with a gypsum whitewash.[1 p.155]The lampstand may have resembled a temple one, suggesting God's presence.[4 p.566]
"The Queen" who came was Belshazzar's mother, wife of Nebuchadrezzar.[4 p.566]
The writing was in Aramaic, understood by all, but only Daniel could interpret it. Only the consonants were written at that time, making an incomplete sentence unclear: they saw MN MN TKL PRSN. The consonants of the fourth word are the same as those of the word "Persian", the army at the city gates.[1 p.165]
Darius seems to be acting as Cyrus's deputy. The Medes and Persians were known to be good rulers so the city was handed over to them without a battle.[1 p.167–8]
Daniel 6: Daniel in the lions' den
This probably occurred soon after Darius took control.[1 p.171] Darius's identity is uncertain[4 p.566]. He retained Daniel, an experienced foreign administrator[1 p.177].
Daniel did not keep his faith secret, but nor did it detract from his duties.
cf. Acts 4:18–20, and Matthew 22:21 where "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's" not only tells us to pay taxes as good citizens should, but also not to give Caesar what he asks for but is outside his authority, for example, banning the worship of God.
cf. Daniel's prayer in 9:4f. Jesus may have seen Daniel as a model of private prayer in Matthew 6:5f. Babylonian upper rooms usually had lattice windows admitting a draught [1 p.182]. Daniel prayed towards Jerusalem, cf. 1 Kings 8:29.[1 p.182]
Darius appointed himself a universal priest, rather than a god.[1 p.181]
Darius was annoyed to discover that the new law was not intended to honour him, but to settle his officials' rivalries. His subordinates had manipulated him.[1 p.184]
Daniel 7: The first vision and interpretation
This vision is one of the most important in the OT, influencing all subsequent apocalyptic writing. Chapters 1–6, written in the third person, established Daniel's credentials. Chapter 7 continues in Aramaic but is written in the first person.[1 p.181–2]
The vision dates to the beginning of Belshazzar's reign, a couple of years before the events in Chapter 6. It is now Daniel's turn to be puzzled by a vision[4 p.567].
Daniel saw four animals: a lion, a bear, a leopard, and something with iron teeth and ten horns. They represent the same four empires (and emperors, since the emperor personified his empire) as Nebuchadrezzar's vision in Chapter 2. They arose sequentially from the sea in verse 3, but the earth in verse 17; the sea may symbolise turmoil in the surging mass of humanity.[1 p.195–6]
The first beast: a lion with eagle's wings, which was the symbol of Babylon, found in the form of statues and reliefs in the ruins of the city. Nebuchadrezzar was immobilized for a while by insanity, and then restored to sanity and power.[1 p.197]
The second beast: a bear with three tusks and unequal legs, unbalanced but large and powerful. This is consistent with it symbolizing the Medes and Persians.[1 p.198]
The third beast: a leopard with four wings and four heads. The Persian empire was superseded by the Greek empire, which became divided into four kingdoms after the death of Alexander the Great: Antipater ruled Greece and Macedonia; Lysimachus ruled most of modern Turkey; Seleucus ruled most of the middle east and Asia, while Ptolemy ruled Egypt. The four wings suggest speed.[1 p.199–200]
The fourth beast: something with iron teeth that crushed everything in its path. It had ten horns, some of which were superseded by an arrogant little horn. The Greek empire was superseded by the Roman Empire. Apparently something satanic will arise from the heritage of ancient Rome.[1 p.202]
cf. Revelation 1:14 and Jesus transfigured in Mark 9:3. White indicates purity[1 p.204]. We should not focus on identifying the earthly kingdoms, nor interpreting their timing, but rest assured that God knows the future and will one day reign supreme. Thrones: cf. Luke 22:30, 1 Corinthians 6:2, Revelation 3:21 and 20:4.
A river of universal judgment flows from God's throne, a vision of Jesus's second coming[1 p.205]. Books without number indicate unlimited knowledge; the court is fully informed, even in trivial or secret matters, and no lie can deflect God's justice.
cf. Revelation 19:20[1 p.206]. Only the arrogant little horn was put to death.[4 p.567]
Perhaps the deposed emperors were given time to repent.
cf. Revelation 7:9. Someone of human form but coming in clouds to be worshipped can only be Jesus, who is both God and man. Jesus called himself "son of man", an indirect way of referring to oneself, like "one" in English[5 p.49]. In Matthew 26:64 these verses fore-tell events still to come[1 p.35], and in Mark 14:61–62 Jesus would fulfil this vision.
Apparently it is not God's will for the church to be strong enough to withstand the forces of evil; only God can do that. We must pray for and look for his rescue.
"Time,  Times and Half a Time": Rabbis thought the seven day week mirrored the life of the universe. Psalm 90:4 equates a day with a thousand years, so the universe would last seven millennia exactly. "Time, times and half a time" is half that, i.e. Creation to the mid-life point, or from there to the end. cf. 12:7, and Revelation 11:2 where Jerusalem will be trampled for 42 months (=3½ years).[1 p.215]
Daniel 8: The second vision: ram, goat and little horn. The language reverts to Hebrew.
Cyrus created a power bloc by uniting Media with Persia. Babylon was anxious, and tried to negotiate treaties with Lydia and Egypt. Daniel, now aged about seventy, again saw animals that represented empires and emperors.[1 p.219–220]
Daniel imagined himself in Susa, soon to become the Persian capital[4 p.568]; perhaps the vision was recorded in the Persian era. The book Esther is set in Susa.[1 p.221]
Two unequal horns show that the ram represents the Medes and Persians (v.20). Cyrus came from Persia, the weaker partner, but became greater[1 p.222].
The Greeks (v.21) under Alexander, moving with astonishing speed from the west, avenged invasions by the Medes and Persians in 490 and 480 BCE, and established an empire with a common language, facilitating the spread of the Gospel.[1 p.223–4]
Alexander the Great died and the empire divided into four parts, as in Daniel 7:6.
More detail is given here than in chapter 7. The Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–163 BCE) banned Judaism and killed thousands of Jews. His coins called him epiphanes ("god manifest"); others called him epimanes ("madman").[1 p.234, 298] He robbed the Temple, put an altar to Zeus in it, and sacrificed pigs on it.
The persecution began in 170 BCE when Menelaus murdered a former High Priest. In 164 BCE Judas Maccabaeus rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem.[1 p.225–230]
Gabriel is also mentioned by name in Luke 1:19 and Luke 1:26.
Daniel was addressed as a humble "mortal" like Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:1).
In persecuting the Jews, Antiochus tried to defeat God, but was judged after a while. The purpose of the vision seems to be to prepare God's people for the future.[1 p.234]
Daniel was to keep the vision safe until it became relevant. cf. 12:4.[1 p.236]
Daniel 9: The third vision: seventy sevens
Jeremiah 25:11–12, 29:10 prophesied that the desolation of Jerusalem was to last for seventy years, which soon proved to be wrong. Gabriel told Daniel that it was actually seventy sevens (490 years). This period would end at the anointing of the Messiah, perhaps Matthew 3:14–15 when Jesus was baptised.
Daniel recognised that the fall of Judah was according to the Covenant. Modernism has robbed modern Christians of the corporate identity shown here. His exceptional prayer contained praise (v.4), confession (v.5–15), and a request (v.16–19) seeking God's glory rather than human comforts; cf. Acts 4:24–30. The modern model ACTS commends: Adoration; Confession; Thanksgiving; and Supplication.
Experience confirms that God often answers prayer before the sentence is complete. This was not a vision but a visit by the Archangel Gabriel in person.[1 p.251]
"These are four of the most controversial verses in the Bible".[1 p.252] Seventy weeks means seventy sevens = 490. If it means 490 years, it confirms chapter 9 above; "bringing in everlasting righteousness" in v.24 sounds messianic; yet v.25 sounds like Nehemiah's reconstruction of Jerusalem, and v.26 sounds like the murder of the High Priest in Antiochus I Epiphanes' time. The mystery remains unsolved.
Daniel 10–12: The fourth and final vision
Daniel was given insight into unseen events in the heavenly realm.
It seems that Daniel made an extended Feast of Unleavened Bread (celebrating the exodus from Egypt), perhaps desiring an exodus from Babylon.[1 p.278] For three weeks it may have seemed that nothing was happening, but see verse 13.
The vision, more frightening than Gabriel in chapter 8, resembles Jesus in Revelation 1:12–17. The reactions of those present resemble those in Saul's vision on the Damascus road (Acts 9:3–4). A gold belt may have been a formal dress.[1 p.280–1] Linen was worn by priests (Exodus 39:27) and angels[4 p.570]; it may show purity cf. Ezekiel 9:2.
cf. Acts 9:1–7.
Miller[1 p.282] thinks the vision departed, and Daniel then conversed with an angel. God's response to Daniel's prayers was given quickly, but evil delayed it.
While Daniel prayed for 21 days (v.2) a battle was fought in the heavenly realms. The "Prince of Persia" is presumably an evil angel, of similar power to good ones.
cf. Isaiah 6:7.
"Your prince" means the chief angel tasked with protecting the Jews, as in 12:1.
Cyrus was succeeded by Cambyses, Smerdis, Darius I Hystasphes and then Xerxes, who attacked the Greeks. Under Alexander they won a bigger empire, but after his death his sons were murdered and the empire split into four (see 8:5–8).[1 p.291]
The rulers of the four parts of the Greek empire fought against each other. The Seleucids, based in Syria, fought the Ptolemys of Egypt. Ptolemy II Philadelphus's daughter Berenice married Antiochus II Theos of Syria to establish peace, but Antiochus's first wife Laodice killed Antiochus, Berenice and their child.[1 p.293]
Antiochus IV Epiphanes married his daughter Cleopatra to Ptolemy V, seeking influence in Egypt, but she loved, and was loyal to, her husband. He attacked Egypt but was humiliated when Rome joined forces with the other Greeks. He returned home via Palestine, found a rebellion in progress, and killed 80,000 Jews.[1 p.296–300]
See comments on 8:9–12. The suffering would be intense, while God permitted it.
The remainder of the prophecy is not easily reconciled with history. It may refer to some "antichrist" figure (see 1 John 1:18–22 and 4:3) still to come.[1 p.304f] Those who see the book as a 2nd century historical novel regard these verses at a failed attempt at genuine prophecy, the rest of Daniel being written after the event[4 p.564].
cf. Daniel 10:21.
cf. Matthew 27:52–53. This is the only clear promise of resurrection[4 p. 570] and eternal life[8 p. 27] in the OT.
The prophecies should be kept securely, as in Jeremiah 32:9–12.[1 p.320] cf. 8:26.
Time, times and half a time: see 7:25 above. For 3½ years the people of God would be completely defeated, as in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, but God remains in control.[1 p.322] Meanwhile Daniel would die and rise again to receive his reward.[4 p.570]
BCE: before the Christian Era (the academic multi-faith version of Before Christ)
CE: in the Christian Era (the academic multi-faith version of Anno Domini)
cf.: abbreviated Latin meaning "compare this with"
et al: abbreviated Latin meaning "and others"
f: and thefollowing verses
i.e.: abbreviated Latin meaning "that is"
LXX: Septuagint, a Greek translation of the OT. The translators struggled with the old Persian words in Daniel, making inaccurate translations of them., [1 p.39]
OT: Old Testament
OUP: Oxford University Press
© David Billin 2002–2021