Today we begin the book of Daniel. It is one of the most difficult books in the Bible to understand (the second half of the book, anyway. There are debates about when exactly it was written (anywhere form the 6th to the 2nd centuries B.C.). There are debates about how to classify it (our English Bibles consider Daniel a Major Prophet, the Jewish tradition places it among the writings, like Psalms and Proverbs). There are questions over authorship (some posit multiple authors). There are debates over how to interpret it (largely because of the other debates). We will consider Daniel as written by one man during the Babylonian captivity, and spilling over into the Persian conquest of Babylon (which was in 539 B.C.).
The book begins with the initial captivity of Judeans by Nebuchadnezzar (1:1 – see 2 Chr 36:6-7). Among those taken at this time were Daniel and three other youths of Judah, best known by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (vv. 6-7). They were among those hand-picked by the Babylonians to be trained up to be made part of the Babylonian upper class (vv. 4-5). However, they did not want to defile themselves by eating foods forbidden by the Law (v. 8). We see that God sovereignly gave favor to Daniel by his captors, and God made Daniel and his companions healthier by comparison so that they could continue to eat vegetables (vv. 15-16).
Already we see a major theme of the book: God’s sovereignty. An the theme continues. God gives these men great intelligence and wisdom (v. 17). Daniel is given the gift of interpreting dreams. God gave them favor with the king (v. 20). We see that this favor remained on Daniel until the kingdom of Babylon fell (v. 21).
Chapter 2 records the incident of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. When the king calls for his magicians to interpret the dream (v. 2). But Nebuchadnezzar is no fool. He wants to know he is getting an accurate interpretation from the gods. He wants the magicians to tell him what his dream was (v. 5).1 Otherwise, he would have them killed for lying to him (vv. 8-9). The magicians say that only the gods themselves could accomplish such a feat (v. 11). So Nebuchadnezzar sentences all the magicians and wise men to death (v. 12). This would include Daniel and his friends (v. 13). But Daniel offers to interpret the dream (v. 16).
Daniel and his friends go to God in prayer (vv. 17-18), and God gives Daniel his answer in a vision. Daniel then praises God. True wisdom belongs only to God (vv. 20-21). He is sovereign over kings. He is omniscient (v. 22). Then Daniel comes before the king and tells him that there is only One Who could give him an answer, and that is God.
Daniel then describes the dream to Nebuchadnezzar. The king saw in his dream a statue made of precious metals, common metals, and clay (vv. 31-33). A stone “cut by no human hand” struck the statute and shattered it to dust (v. 35). Then the stone became a mountain the filled the entire earth.
Daniel then interprets the dream, but not before telling Nebuchadnezzar that it id YHWH that has made him king (vv. 37-38). He is the head of gold. Another kingdom (Persia) will arise after him (v. 39). Another kingdom will displace Persia (Greece). The final kingdom is Rome (vv. 41-43). The mixing of iron and clay is the mingling of political power and religious power that Rome will wield. But the stone is the final kingdom: the Kingdom of God. In the days of Rome (v. 44), Christ would come. And His spiritual kingdom is being spread over the earth until this day! Rome is also a metaphor for the kingdom of the world that Christ will permanently destroy at His Second Coming when His physical kingdom is over all the earth. The king responds by acknowledging that YHWH is above all other gods (v. 47) and places Daniel over the kingdom (v. 48)2
Chapter 3 records the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image. Nebuchadnezzar’s pride is on full display here. He makes a golden statue (3:1) and commands that it be worshiped as a god under penalty of death (vv. 5-6). Nebuchadnezzar is essentially making himself a god. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will not worship the image (see Ex 20:3-5), and this is brought to the king’s attention (vv. 8-12). Many commentators feel this is done out of jealousy for the rank of the foreign Jews (mentioned in verse 12).
Nebuchadnezzar’s pride is out of control here. He calls the three men to him and gives them the opportunity to worship the image (v. 15). Notice in verse 14 that Nebuchadnezzar places his image on par with the gods of Babylon. The men tell the king in no uncertain terms that they will not worship anything or anyone other than YHWH, Who they trust is able to save them from the punishment of fire (v. 17). Then, in one of the greatest acts of faith recorded in the Bible, the men say that even if it means they die in the fire, they would still not worship ay other god (v. 18).
Nebuchadnezzar becomes furious (v. 19) and commands their execution. The fire is so hot that those who even came near to it to throw the men in are killed from the heat (v. 22). But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are unhurt by the fire (v. 25). Not only that, but Nebuchadnezzar sees another man that looks like a son of the gods.
When the king calls out to the men, he calls them servants of the “Most High God” (v. 26). This is the same acknowledgment of God he expressed to Daniel (2:47) – YHWH is above all other gods. And Nebuchadnezzar includes himself among those gods. That these men were completely unaffected by the fire (v. 27) and were willing to die to reman faithful to YHWH (v. 28) forces Nebuchadnezzar to recognize YHWH as the God of all gods. The king forbids speaking against YHWH under penalty of death because no other god saves like YHWH (v. 29).
1 From the second half of 2:4 through chapter 7, all existing manuscripts are in Aramaic. There is no existing Hebrew of this portion. This adds to the debates discussed above.
2 This episode repeats the pattern established with Joseph (see Genesis 41).