Through the example of his life and the visions recorded in his book, Daniel had a great influence upon people of later generations.
The name that Jesus most commonly used of himself, the Son of man, was taken from Daniel’s vision of the heavenly and universal king (Dan 7:13-14; Mark 2:28; 14:62); the writer to the Hebrews used Daniel as an example of the person of true faith (Heb 11:33); and John, in the book of Revelation, recorded visions that were based largely on those of Daniel (cf. Daniel Chapters 2,7 and 8 with Revelation Chapters 11, 12 and 13).
A man of faith
As a youth Daniel had been carried off captive to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar first attacked Jerusalem (605 BC; Dan 1:1-6). Being handsome and intelligent, he was trained to be a courtier in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. He proved the genuineness of his faith in God by resisting the pressures upon him to conform to the ungodly ways of Babylon. God gave him success in his studies and the ability to interpret dreams (Dan 1:17,20). This ability enabled Daniel to interpret a puzzling dream for Nebuchadnezzar. As a reward he was promoted to chief administrator in Babylon and head over Nebuchadnezzar’s council of advisers (Dan 2:48). Daniel knew, however, that his success in interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream came only through his faith in God (Dan 2:16-19,24). Daniel’s trust in God showed itself also in the fearless way he told Nebuchadnezzar of the judgment that would fall upon him because of his pride (Dan 4:19,25). But Daniel had no joy in announcing the punishment, preferring rather that Nebuchadnezzar change his ways and so avoid the threatened judgment (Dan 4:27). In the time of a later ruler, Belshazzar, Daniel was even bolder in his denunciation of royal pride and arrogance (Dan 5:18-23). Belshazzar was the last of Babylon’s rulers, for it was during his reign that Persia, under Cyrus, conquered Babylon. By this time (539 BC) Daniel was at least eighty years of age, but he was given one of the highest positions in the new administration (Dan 6:1-2; cf. 1:21; 5:30). When jealous fellow administrators laid a trap that they thought would force Daniel either to deny his God or be put to death, Daniel refused to deny his God and God saved him from death (Dan 6:5,23). One way Daniel maintained and demonstrated his faith was through prayer (Dan 2:17-23; 6:10). This applied not only to his involvement in great crises with heathen kings and governors, but also to his concern for the spiritual well-being of his own people, the Jews. On one occasion he humbly linked himself with the rebellious Israelite people as a whole in confessing their sin and asking God’s mercy (Dan 9:1-19), and in reply received God’s assurance of forgiveness (Dan 9:20-23). On another occasion his prayers were accompanied by three weeks of mourning and fasting (Dan 10:2-3), and once again his faith was rewarded by answered prayer (Dan 10:11).
The book of Daniel
Although the book of Daniel is commonly known as one of the Major Prophets, the Jews who arranged the books in their Bible included Daniel not among the prophets but among the miscellaneous writings. To them Daniel was a statesman who served God in a foreign palace, rather than a preacher who brought the message of God to his people. Nevertheless, the New Testament refers to Daniel as a prophet (Matt 24:15), for he was one through whom God revealed his purposes. In broad outline, the purpose of the book of Daniel is to show to both Jews and foreigners that all nations and their rulers are under the control of God. The kingdoms of the world may fight against God, but in the end they must fall beneath the all-conquering power of his kingdom. The book of Daniel presents this message in two parts. The first deals with stories of selected people of God in a heathen country, the second with visions that God gave to his servant Daniel. These revelations are concerned in the first place with the long period of confusion and conflict that followed the Persian period and reached its climax in the events of the New Testament era. Their meaning, however, is not limited to those events, for the New Testament writers apply features of them to the final triumph of God’s kingdom, which is yet to take place. Because of the many visions recorded in it, the book of Daniel has characteristics of that kind of Hebrew literature known as apocalyptic (from the Greek apokalupto, meaning ‘to reveal or uncover’). In apocalyptic literature the visions are always strange, with weird symbolism that often features fierce beasts. The overall purpose is to picture great conflicts out of which God and his people triumph (see APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE).
Contents of the book
After Daniel and his friends proved their faithfulness to God during their time of testing in the Babylonian palace (1:1-21), an occasion arose where Daniel showed his remarkable ability to interpret dreams. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which, Daniel explained, showed that God is the ruler of the world and he sets up and destroys kingdoms according to his will (2:1-49). Daniel’s success at interpreting the king’s dream brought promotion for him and his friends, but this in turn brought jealousy from some of the other officials. They accused Daniel’s friends of treason for refusing to worship an idol that the king had set up, and had them thrown into a fiery furnace; but God saved them through their ordeal (3:1-30). When Nebuchadnezzar refused to heed Daniel’s warning of the danger of pride, God humbled him. Nebuchadnezzar was then forced to acknowledge that Daniel’s God was the one and only true God (4:1-37). A succeeding king, Belshazzar, failing to learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s experience, brought about his nation’s destruction. In his reign Babylon fell to Persia (5:1-31). Daniel, now an old man but a leading official in the Persian administration, was the victim of a plot by jealous fellow officials. Though he was sentenced to death and thrown into a den of lions, God saved him (6:1-28).
The first of Daniel’s visions was of four beasts that symbolized the successive empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. In spite of their increasing opposition to God and his people, God’s kingdom triumphed in the end (7:1-28). The next vision developed details of one of the four empires, namely, the Greek (8:1-27). At the time of Daniel’s visions, the Jews were still in captivity in Babylon, but expected to return to their homeland soon. In response to a prayer of Daniel on behalf of his people (9:1-19), God showed that he was now bringing his age-long purposes to completion. He would deal decisively with the whole problem of sin and bring in everlasting righteousness (9:20-27). Before that climax would arrive, however, the Jews would have intense suffering This would be so particularly during the Greek period, when they would suffer terrible persecution at the hands of Antiochus Epiphanes (10:1-12:13; for details see GREECE).