History of the prophet Daniel, part 6 (final)

“Then King Darius wrote: ‘To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God, and steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall endure to the end. He delivers and rescues, and He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.” Daniel 6:25-27

This account is from one of the most popularly recounted stories from the Bible – Daniel and the Lion’s Den.

The decree above is from Darius, the appointed king of Babylon after the Neo-Babylonian empire (Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar’s kingdom) was conquered by Persia; in historical record, he is most famous for the efficient governing system he set up. Answering directly to the king were three administrators, each responsible for overseeing forty local governors (“satraps”); this made governing the kingdom much easier on the king. Daniel was graciously given an administrator’s position, recognized for his long and successful experience in such a position since chapter 2 under Nebuchadnezzar.

Like Joseph in Genesis, God blesses Daniel’s faithful commitment and honest management, so much so that Darius gives thought to moving Daniel from administrator to prime minister – his second in command over the whole kingdom. Unfortunately, such favor with the king sparks the political ire of Daniel’s fellow rulers – all 122 are filled with such envy that they decide to ruin Daniel, no matter what it took. Failing to find any flaws in his political record and service, they strike a truly low blow by conspiring to attack Daniel’s moral code and make him appear rebellious. Through flattery, Darius is convinced to sign into law a decree that outlaws prayer to anyone but the king for thirty days; this would’ve been seen as Darius establishing himself as an authority on religion (like Nebuchadnezzar earlier on) and as a loyalty test to single out anyone in Babylon who disliked being ruled by a foreign king. The sentence for breaking this law was capital punishment – death by wild beasts (Mesopotamian lions, in this instance). Unlike the Babylonian kings, whose every word was law, those of the Medes and Persians were bound by the laws they signed into existence – once enacted, not even the king could reverse them.

After learning of the new law, Daniel chooses to remain faithful to God and continues praying to God in the way he has done since he first came to Babylon. Having gathered their “proof,” the jealous conspirators expose Daniel’s civil disobedience to King Darius, who does his level best to find a legal loophole to save Daniel’s life. Deeply regretting his decision, Darius commends Daniel to the protection of God and endures a sleepless night before returning to the lion’s den where Daniel was thrown and sealed inside. Like his friends from the fiery furnace, Daniel emerges unharmed; God prevented the lions from eating him, and he comes out without the smallest injury. Daniel’s survival was in no way due to lack of appetite on the lions’ part; when the conspirators are executed for fooling the king and trying to destroy Daniel, the lions have no mercy and kill them all before they even hit bottom.

Having witnessed God’s miraculous saving power, Darius readily declares His supremacy over all things. Like Elijah on Mount Carmel in 1st Kings, the one righteous man who serves God is proven to be better than all those who served themselves and their false deity of power and greed. More importantly, God has proven what He is capable of, and any doubts about Him are easily cleared up by those who bear witness of His actions.

As a final note, the lions mentioned in Darius’ decree do not necessarily refer only to the physical lions of the den. Satan is described in Peter’s epistles as a roaring lion, and the wicked are often described in Proverbs as being like lions waiting to tear to pieces the righteous. Lions are a symbol of adversity, and God proves that He is capable of either rescuing His children or bringing them through anything that Satan and the fallen world throws their way.

History of the prophet Daniel, part 5

“‘O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor…But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him. Then he was driven from the sons of men, his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses. But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven…and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.’…That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain.” Daniel 5:18, 20-23a, 23c, 30a

According to a translation of the Aramaic, the word “father” means ancestor; historical record shows that Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, the man who succeeded Nebuchadnezzar as king. They exercised power together as co-rulers; in this system of government, the father was the sovereign ruler and the son/heir-apparent was second in command; that explains why, when the writing on the wall appeared, Belshazzar offered the THIRD most powerful position in Babylon as reward, since that was the highest he could legally promote anyone.

The wise men of Babylon were unable to translate because they could not understand the writing. There seems to be a constant theme of spiritual blindness in the rulers and advisers of Babylon; this highlights Daniel’s perception through his faith in God, but also contrasts their lack of faith, which seems rather ironic considering that Nebuchadnezzar (the worst of the lot) thought that he held absolute authority over the spiritual as well as the physical.

The words Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin are Aramaic, translated “numbered, numbered, weighed, divided.” Their literal translation refers to weights and money; Mene is “a mina (50 shekels),” Tekel is “a shekel,” and Paras (singular of Parsin) is “half-shekels.” Each one also draws an analogy to verbs in the Aramaic language; Mene=”to number,” Tekel=”to weigh,” and Parsin=”to divide.” Certainly, this riddle confounded the greatest minds of Babylon, and only Daniel is credited as being able to translate the riddle by the queen (mother) who remembered his past services in the days of Nebuchadnezzar.

Belshazzar is portrayed as being even more foolishly defiant than his grandfather; whereas Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged God as supreme after learning the hard way, Belshazzar ignores his ancestor’s example and does things even Nebuchadnezzar had never dared to do: use the sacred cups from the Temple in Jerusalem to profanely give glory to the pagan deities of Babylon – effectively giving God a slap in the face.

What can we take from this passage? You’ve heard the saying “God will not be mocked;” this is an extreme example of how God rises to the challenge and passes judgment on those who think they can escape the consequences. Belshazzar was doubly blind, because he failed to heed his own conscience and the testimony of his righteous ancestor; don’t be so blinded by the world around you that you lose sight of everything but yourself. Like the Rich Fool in the Gospels, Belshazzar’s time came to an abrupt end, he was found morally bankrupt on God’s scale, and he lost everything he had to the replacement(s) God allowed to enter the place Belshazzar thought he would be safe.

History of the prophet Daniel, Part 4

“I thought it good to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me. How great are His signs, and how mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His domain is from generation to generation…All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand, or say to Him, ‘What have You done?'”…Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.
Daniel 4:2-3, 35, 37

The years-long battle in Nebuchadnezzar’s life finally reaches an end; in this chapter, the king’s great pride is finally brought low. He gloried in his possessions and power so much that he thought he did not have to submit to anyone, and so God stepped in after the testimonies of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are observed by the king but ultimately fail to convince him to accept God as his King. Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of Babylon, is driven insane and lives for seven years like a beast, and it is after God has restored him that Nebuchadnezzar is writing to his renewed subjects, to explain the reason why he underwent this ordeal. Like Moses, he had taken credit for what God had done, and like the prophet, the king paid the price for his pride and rebellion.

Finally, Nebuchadnezzar is convinced of God’s superiority and sovereignty over all; he now fully understands the statue dream from chapter 2 and is living according to the truth of it – that everything is subject to God, and that only the kingdom that God establishes lasts forever. This also extends to those who rule it – we have seen this all through the Old Testament, from Saul and David all through to the last kings of Israel and Judah. The only way to be established before God is to establish Him as your number one priority.

The events are a picture of both judgment and grace; the king of an empire is made as low as the animals, but his sanity, power, and wealth are returned to him by God. I cannot help but sense a kindred experience with Job; while he is not charged with any wrongdoing, Job is still in need of refinement to remove self-righteousness from his character. Perhaps the most important point is that Nebuchadnezzar recognizes that God is justified in all that He does, and He is fully capable of dealing with anyone who would raise voice or hand against Him. In short, God has touched Nebuchadnezzar’s heart, and he is now a changed man, letting the world know who God is and how this change has come about.

History of the prophet Daniel, Part 3

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18

In the book of Daniel, much of the attention revolves around the namesake prophet; in this chapter, however, he is notably absent and we see the righteous character of his three close friends who were with him through it all.

King Nebuchadnezzar, remembering Daniel’s interpretation of his dream in the previous chapter, sets up a golden image about 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide. Debatably, this might have been for two different reasons; he might either have been attempting to proclaim the never-ending reign of Babylon (in defiance of the statue dream), or he might have been attempting to immortalize the glory of His kingdom (taking pride in the fact that his kingdom would be greater than any that would follow).

The king’s challenge in verse 15 seems surprisingly bold, but then let us consider that the cultures of this time considered war and conquest as battles between deities; “Nebuchadnezzar considered himself above all gods…Again [as previously seen in chapter 2], this shows that he claimed absolute authority in both political and religious realms [shown by his condemnation of the Chaldean magicians, his spiritual advisers]. He was challenging any god to circumvent his authority. The matter then became a conflict between Nebuchadnezzar and Yahweh, the God of Daniel’s companions.”

Even though they knew that refusal to bow would result in painful, violent death, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (their true names) stand tall and remain loyal to God above all. As when they were younger, they placed their fate in the hands of God; they had learned from Isaiah 43 of God’s promise to protect His people from the elements, and they took Him at His word. They make it perfectly clear, however, that whether He would save them or not was His own affair, and their moral stand was not contingent upon their survival. What mattered most to them was that God was almighty, and their lives would continue to reflect that fact or they could not call truly call themselves His followers. God stayed true to His promise, and they were brought out of the furnace (7x its normal temperature, killing the super-soldiers who threw them in) with not even the smell of smoke on their bodies or clothes.

Certain themes of this chapter ring true with past triumphs and defeats from Jewish history – the golden image (like the calf at Sinai), the proud ruler determined to have his own way, even if it means defying God (similar to Pharaoh in Exodus), and God’s command over fire (Elijah at Mount Carmel).

History of the prophet Daniel, Part 2

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him…The secret which the king has demanded, the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, and the soothsayers cannot declare to the king. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.” Daniel 2:20b-22, 28

In this chapter, Nebuchadnezzar has had a dream in which he saw visions of the future, but apparently forgot the details; when his advisers could neither recount the king’s dream nor provide a satisfactory answer of its interpretation (despite their alleged position as spokesmen of the supernatural), he orders them to be executed as frauds and deceivers. Despite the death-mark on his own head, Daniel boldly asks for time to meet the king’s request, and he meets with his three friends in captivity to pray to God for the revelation.

They pray for God’s mercy, and rightly so; they were facing a task that no human could hope to accomplish. According to one commentary,”Mercy is God’s response to a person’s need. Daniel here recognized his own inability in the circumstances and turned to God in confidence, expecting the Lord to meet his need.” God answers their prayer, not merely because they asked in humility, but because they were persistent and specific in their request; prayer is not just talking out loud or listing requests – at its most fundamental, intimate level, it is speaking personally with/to God Almighty.

The vision portrays the earthly kingdoms preceding the coming of God’s kingdom under Christ: Babylon’s absolute monarchy is the head of gold, the silver represents Medo-Persia’s constitutional monarchy, the bronze symbolizes Alexander the Great’s authoritarian empire, and Rome’s military dictatorship is as strong and unbending as the iron portraying it. This is their outward political glory, which will be overcome by the majesty of God in His everlasting Kingdom; we will see this vision portrayed in a different light later on in the book.

Even after God has given him the answer, Daniel acts with humility and wisdom. He gives God the credit due, and as part of the king’s reward Daniel requests positions for his three godly friends so that they can remain closely connected. Leadership can be/feel isolating; it’s always good to have close friends to hold one accountable, especially those who share faith in God.

Something I didn’t notice before: while listening to a teaching series by one of my Christian professors, it was said that faith is not religious duty; real faith is action, and actions in the cause of Christ always involves risk. God did not call us to be safe; it is no small thing to live for God’s glory in the midst of a world system that opposes Him. A constant theme throughout the book of Daniel is his faith, lived out boldly in situations when life was very much at risk. I’d say it’s that quality that has made Daniel one of the most famous and memorable people in the Bible.

History of the prophet Daniel, Part 1

Having already perused the latter half of my namesake’s book, I will now endeavor to explore the historical account found in the first six chapters!

“But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the royal delicacies or the royal wine. He therefore asked the overseer of the court officials for permission not to defile himself. Then God made the overseer of the court officials sympathetic to Daniel. But he responded to Daniel, ‘I fear my master the king. He is the one who has decided your food and drink. What would happen if he saw that you looked malnourished in comparison to the other young men your age? If that happened, you would endanger my life with the king!’ Daniel then spoke to the warden whom the overseer of the court officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: ‘Please test your servants for ten days by providing us with some vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who are eating the royal delicacies; deal with us in light of what you see.”
Daniel 1:8-13

Some details about this chapter: Daniel and his fellows are sons of Judean noble families. They have been taken captive by the dominant political power of their time, and the rulers are attempting to erase their original cultural identity. They are given Babylonian names, jobs in the Babylonian government, and are expected to eat Babylonian food. Not only does it not confirm to Jewish cleanliness law/health code, but part of the king’s portion was sacrificed to idols; like in the Tabernacle tradition, to eat of the sacrifice is to worship/fellowship with the deity to whom it was offered. That was the other, true “defilement” that Daniel and his friends were determined to avoid.

While he may have sympathized with their plight (possibly being a non-Babylonian himself), the overseer had good cause to be afraid; by refusing the king’s generosity, the young men risked the king’s displeasure, but the overseer would literally be risking his own neck by allowing them to do so.

Thankfully, Daniel’s righteousness came with a healthy dose of compassion; he too appreciated another man’s plight. He offers a feasible way out: a test to see which is the better food. He and his friends place their trust and fates in God’s hands, and because they choose to honor God instead of indulging themselves, He honors them. They are given better health (from vegetables and water instead of rich meats) and a blessing they did not ask for: greater wisdom than the seasoned advisers of the king. Even though they are still “in training” from the Babylonian perspective, Daniel, Hananiah, Misheal, and Azariah are already distinguished as exceptional among their peers. Right from the beginning, these men will see kings and empires fall and rise, living for God through it all.

Prophetic Words of Daniel, Part 6 (final)

“‘And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt…But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.'”…”Although I heard, I did not understand. Then I said, ‘My lord, what shall be the end of these things?’ And he said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.'” Daniel 12:1b-2, 4, 8-9

Close to the end of his earthly life, Daniel is granted a vision of deliverance even greater than the return from Babylon – God’s final judgment at the end of time itself. There apparently exists a special resurrection reserved for those involved in Jesus’ trial and execution (Matthew 26:63-64, Revelation 1:7) as well as the Tribulation saints who will see Jesus’ return at the Second Coming. It will be a humiliation for those who condemned Him during his First Coming (only to see Him revealed as all He said He was) and a reward for His followers who will give their lives in service to their Lord and Savior.

As I reach the end of Daniel’s book, I look back and reflect on the many things God has revealed to Daniel. To him was shown the rise and fall of empires, God’s power moving in the lives of pagan kings and godly servants, and even the finishing chapter of God’s plan for Israel. It’s surprising, then, to see that God held back from revealing this mystery when He explained so many others to the prophet in exile. Daniel was given several glimpses into the future, reaching even to the End Times, yet his view was cut short and the interpretation withheld.

It then occurred to me that, while Daniel may not have understood this prophecy, he didn’t need to; God provided him with no explanation because the prophecy was for us, the generation who lives in the end times. That is why the prophecy is sealed here; its time has not yet arrived, and until it does the true meaning shall remain hidden. Besides, it would seem that God’s purpose for Daniel has been fulfilled; he has lived a long life full of challenges and victories, testified of his faith in God through his words and actions before kings, and God has granted him a word that will be passed on to future generations of believers. He has been God’s messenger, to the generation of his day and the generations to come – he has been a faithful servant, and he will rest until the final prophecies are ready to be fulfilled. May we pay heed to what God has spoken, and may we live without fear of human judgment, with God as our Judge as Daniel did.

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