Prophetic History Introduction | Prophetic History | Daniel 1

Daniel Introduction

Daniel and Revelation commentary in
Daniel Introduction, page 15

Further Study— The prophecies of Daniel are to be repeated as last-day events.

      In English translations, as also in the LXX and the Vulgate, the book of Daniel appears with the Major Prophets, following the book of Ezekiel. In the Hebrew canon, however, Daniel is classified with the Kethubim, or “writings,” which included books that appear in English Bibles from 1 Chronicles to Song of Solomon, with Ruth and Lamentations. Various explanations have been given to account for the position of Daniel in the Hebrew canon, of which the more important are: (1) Daniel was not accepted by the Jews as part of the Sacred Canon until after the contents of “the law” (the Pentateuch) and “the prophets” (see Lk 24:44) had become fixed. (2) Daniel, though called a prophet (Mt 24:15; Jos. Ant. x. 11. 4, 6), was officially and primarily considered to be a statesman, not a prophet. According to this view he had the prophetic gift but not the prophetic office; that is, he did not address his contemporaries in the name of the Lord and exhort them as did the other prophets. At the same time, he was the recipient of important visions.
      The traditional view of both Jews and Christians is that the book of Daniel was written by Daniel, its leading character, during the 6th cent. B.C. Josephus refers to Daniel as a great prophet (Ant. x. 11), and to the book as antedating Alexander the Great who died in 323 B.C. (Ant. xi. 8. 5), and even Artaxerxes I, who began to reign in 465 B.C. (Against Apion i. 8). Christ similarly spoke of Daniel as a prophet and as the author of the book that bears his name (Mt 24:15). In addition to this external evidence, the writer of the book identifies himself as Daniel, its chief character, and frequently speaks in the first person (Dan 8:1, 2; 9:2; 10:1, 2; etc.). The fact that he also writes in the third person (chs 1; 2; etc.) does not necessarily imply Daniel was not the author since this was commonly practised by ancient writers.
      Since the time of the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry (c. A.D. 300), one of the first major critics to attack the historicity of the book of Daniel, its authenticity and inspiration have been challenged. This has been particularly true during the past 2 centuries, and today a majority of Christian scholars attribute it to an anonymous author of the time of the Maccabean revolt during the middle of the 2nd cent. B.C. The 3 chief arguments they offer for this conclusion are: (1) That the principal theme of the prophetic portion of Daniel is the great persecuting power depicted in chs 7 and on, and that this refers to Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175­164/63 B.C.). With this is coupled a rejection of the idea that the prophets had the ability accurately to predict the future. Thus, they contend that if what purports to be predictive prophecy appears to have met reasonably accurate fulfilment in history, the prediction must have been written after the occurrence of the event. (2) That the historical sections of the book contain numerous historical inaccuracies, anachronisms, and misconceptions. (3) That the occurrence of Greek and Persian words in the book are evidence of a late date.
      With respect to the first of these contentions 3 points may be noted: (a) The fact that some of the prophetic specifications seem to fit Antiochus (and many commentators who accept the book as genuine prediction by Daniel will allow at least some application to Antiochus in ch 8 or 11) does not prove that a later fulfilment might not fit the requirements even better and more completely. (b) The insistence on Antiochus as the persecuting power of ch 7, which is, to say the least, equally subjective with a belief in a later fulfilment, is most necessary to those who assume that the fulfilment is to be sought in or before the time of writing. (c) The inconsistency of this interpretation with historical facts both from Nebuchadnezzar to Cyrus and from Antiochus on, is alleged as proof that the writer was ignorant of those facts and was therefore a pseudo Daniel of the 2nd cent. B.C. In other words, in the face of a set of specifications in the prophecy, some of which fit Antiochus and some of which do not, it is illogical to conclude that the specifications that do not fit the facts are an indication that the author was ignorant of his subject; it is more logical to doubt the correctness of the interpretation.
      With respect to the 2nd of these contentions it may be noted that the author gives repeated evidence of being intimately acquainted with the historical circumstances of which he writes in chs 1­6 concerning the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the first years of the Persian Empire. However, the detailed knowledge of these facts was largely lost during the centuries following. Only with relatively recent archaeological finds have these facts once more come to light, thus authenticating the historical narrative of the book at numerous points. Critics who attribute the book to some person other than its leading character, and who assign it to the Maccabean period (c. 165 B.C.) are at a loss to account for such a late writer’s accurate knowledge of historical facts that had been forgotten long before his day and that have but recently again come to light. For instance, Greek writers almost ignore Nebuchadnezzar and make the mistake of attributing his extensive rebuilding of the city of Babylon to Semiramis, who was actually a queen mother of Assyria who had lived 2 centuries earlier. Until the second half of the 19th cent., also, there was no known historical evidence regarding Belshazzar as the last king in Babylon, and critics commonly pointed to this silence as evidence that the writer was misinformed. Now, of course, the existence of Belshazzar, his position as joint king ruling in Babylon for his absent father, and his role during the last years before the fall of Babylon, are all amply attested. On the period from Nebuchadnezzar to Cyrus see Babylon; Cyrus; Nebuchadnezzar; Persia. The supposed chronological discrepancy between Dan 1:1 and Jer 25:1, and between Dan 1:5, 18 and 2:1, with respect to the regnal years of Jehoiakim and Nebuchadnezzar, can be resolved by taking into account the now well-known “accession-year” or “post-dating” system of numbering regnal years, and the ancient habit of reckoning inclusively.
      With respect to the 3rd contention, it is now known that Ionian (Greek) and Persian artists were employed at the Babylonian court, who might easily have been responsible for the introduction of foreign terms. Furthermore, the widespread commercial activities of the Phoenicians and Aramaeans, together with the fact that articles of trade commonly retain the names given them in their country of origin, could also have accounted for the use of some of these foreign words. Then, too, some words that were formerly thought to be Persian have been found to be Babylonian.
      A characteristic literary feature of the book of Daniel is the fact that it is partly in Hebrew and partly in Aramaic, a language closely akin to Hebrew. The Aramaic portion begins with ch 2:4 and continues to the end of ch 7. Aramaic was a sort of lingua franca used widely throughout western Asia. The Aramaic of Daniel, which is almost identical with that of the Aramaic portions of Ezra, contains a large number of Babylonian and Persian words, as might be expected, and is sometimes improperly called Chaldee. Whether the book of Daniel was originally written in 2 languages, partly Hebrew and partly Aramaic, or whether one part or the other represents a translation, is not known. It has been suggested that the book appeared in 2 editions, one in Hebrew for Palestinian Jews, and one in Aramaic for the Jews of Mesopotamia. According to this theory a portion of the copy at Jerusalem was destroyed during the Maccabean wars of the 2nd cent. B.C., and later the lost portion was replaced by the corresponding portion in Aramaic, without translation. More probable is the suggestion that the author began to write in Aramaic at the point where the Chaldeans addressed “the king in Syriack [literally, “Aramaic”] in ch 2:4, and that he continued in this language as long as he was writing at the time. When he resumed writing, with ch 8:1, he chose to use Hebrew. It is certain that Daniel knew both languages, having been reared in Jerusalem and having later studied Aramaic at Babylon (ch 1:4). As a statesman he would be expected to be fluent in the official language of the government he served. Thus, when he came in the narrative to a speech made in Aramaic it would be natural for him to report the speech in the language in which it was spoken, and having done so to continue the narrative in that language. Aramaic must have become as familiar to Daniel as his own native Hebrew.
      The book of Daniel has 2 parts, the first essentially historical in nature, and the second prophetic. It might appropriately be called a handbook on history and prophecy. The historical section sets forth, by practical example, the principles of the true philosophy of history, and stands as a preface to the prophetic section, in which those principles and that philosophy are projected into the future. A somewhat detailed account of God’s dealings with one nation, Babylon, provides a pattern for understanding the rise and fall of other nations that were to follow. As a leading statesman in 2 of the great empires of antiquity, Daniel was well qualified to perceive and understand God’s dealings with Babylon and to be the recipient of an inspired delineation of future events. According to the philosophy set forth in the book of Daniel, it is the function of government to protect and upbuild the nation and to provide its people the opportunity of knowing and attaining to the Creator’s purpose for them. A nation is strong in proportion to the fidelity with which it fulfils God’s purpose for it; its success depends upon its use of the power entrusted to it; its compliance with the divine principles is the measure of its prosperity; and its destiny is determined by the choices its leaders and people make with respect to these principles.
      The historical section of Daniel reveals how, when God’s chosen people, the Jews, were at a crisis hour in their history, the king and officials of the Babylonian Empire were confronted with a knowledge of the true God and of His will for them as a nation. King Nebuchadnezzar, genius of the Gentile world, was brought face to face with Daniel, God’s man of the hour, that the king’s co-operation in the divine plan might be secured. The national apostasy of the Jewish people came to a climax in the Babylonian captivity, and if they were to learn the lesson of loyalty to God that the Captivity was designed to teach, they must be held by a firm hand but without being obliterated as a nation. Daniel’s mission at the court of Nebuchadnezzar was to secure the king’s submission to the divine will in order that God’s purpose might be realised. The first 4 chapters reveal the means by which God secured Nebuchadnezzar’s allegiance. Daniel and his 3 companions earned the confidence and respect of the king and his courtiers as men of gracious personality, vigorous health, and superior intellect (Dan 1). By the agency of these 4 worthy men of principle, and in a succession of dramatic interpositions of divine providence, Nebuchadnezzar learned to his satisfaction the knowledge, power, and authority of Daniel’s God. The inadequacy of human wisdom, vividly demonstrated in connection with the dream of the golden image of ch 2, led the king to admit to Daniel, “Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets” (ch 2:47). The incident of the golden image and the fiery furnace demonstrated God’s power to thwart the king’s will when it was exercised in opposition to that of God. “There is no other God that can deliver after this sort,” Nebuchadnezzar admitted (ch 3:29). By erecting the golden image Nebuchadnezzar defied God’s express declaration in ch 2:38, 39 that his kingdom would fall and be succeeded by other kingdoms. His imperial policy was to found a kingdom that would last forever. The fiery furnace expressed his fixed purpose to silence all opposition to this plan, but the providential deliverance of the 3 worthies from its flames effectively revealed to the king the fact that he had no power to thwart the purposes of the Omnipotent One (Dan 3:28). The experience of ch 4—the 7 years during which his own vaunted wisdom and power were temporarily removed--taught the king not only that the Most High is omniscient (ch 2) and omnipotent (ch 3) but that He rules in the affairs of men (ch 4:17, 25, 32). Nebuchadnezzar was now willing to admit that in wisdom, power, and authority the God of heaven transcends all the prowess of man. But the rulers who succeeded Nebuchadnezzar upon the throne of Babylon deliberately refused to profit from his experience. They openly defied the God of heaven (ch 5:23), in the full knowledge of what they were doing (v 22). Instead of fulfilling the divine purpose in its existence the kingdom of Babylon became proud and cruelly oppressive. It was weighed in the divine balances and found wanting (vs. 25­28), and world dominion passed to the Persians (vs. 30, 31).
      In the deliverance of Daniel from the lions’ den God demonstrated His power and authority before the leaders of the Persian Empire (Dan 6:20­23), and led Darius to acknowledge Him as “the living God” (v 26) and to admit that “the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not” (v 8) must yield before the decrees of the Most High. Evidently impressed favourably by this, and by the prophecies outlining his role in the restoration of the Jews to their homeland (Is 44:26 to 45:13), Cyrus fulfilled his divinely appointed mission and issued the decree for their return. The historical section of the book of Daniel thus demonstrates the principle that divine wisdom, power, and authority operate through the history of nations for the eventual fulfilment of the divine purpose.
      The prophetic portions of the book of Daniel contain 4 great lines of prophecy: (1) the great image of ch 2, (2) the 4 beasts and little horn of ch 7, (3) the ram, he-goat, and little horn of chs 8 and 9, and (4) the kings of north and south, of chs 10, 11, 12. Each of the 4, in its own particular way and from its own point of view, traces the history of the world from the time of Daniel onward. All 4 converge on the close of earth’s history and come to a focus on the eternal kingdom that the God of heaven proposes one day to set up. All 4 are concerned with the struggle between the forces of good and evil on this earth from the time of Daniel to the establishment of that kingdom; and are thus, in general, parallel in scope and nature.
      Though the primary purpose of the dream of Dan 2, in its setting in the historical section of the book, was to reveal to Nebuchadnezzar his role as ruler of Babylon, and incidentally to make known to him “what should come to pass hereafter” (vs. 29, 30), it is of great value to us today. This prophecy provides a brief outline of world history down through 4 successive world powers, and makes only incidental references to the experiences of God’s people. The 2nd prophecy—the vision of ch 7—covers the same ground but emphasises the experiences of God’s people, their ultimate victory, and God’s judgement upon their adversaries. The 3rd and 4th visions came to Daniel after the Babylonian Empire had run its course, or nearly so, and that empire therefore does not figure in either of them. The 3rd vision emphasises Satan’s attempts to thwart the plan of salvation as represented by the sanctuary service and the chosen people (ch 8:9­14, 23­26). The restoration from Babylonian captivity is promised (ch 9:24­26), but with this promise comes the warning of a future desolation that will terminate only with the final “consummation” (chs 8:17, 19; 9:26, 27). The 4th vision (chs 10, 11, 12) differs from the others in that it is couched in literal, rather than figurative, language. Nevertheless, it covers some of the ground of the ones that precede it, but with added detail and thoroughness at certain points. In particular, it provides a more complete preview of the experiences of God’s people prior to the first advent of Christ and also prior to His second advent. The focus of emphasis in the 4th vision is on “what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days” (ch 10:14), and “the time appointed was long” (v 1). The narrative outline of history covered in ch 11:2­39 leads up to “the latter days” (#14) and the events that were to occur in “the time of the end” (ch 11:40).
      The prophecies of Daniel are closely related to those of the book of Revelation. The Revelation covers some of the same ground, but places particular emphasis on the role of the Christian church as God’s chosen people. Thus details that may be obscure in the book of Daniel are often clarified by comparison with the Revelation. That portion of the prophecy of Daniel relating to the last days was sealed (Dan 12:4), whereas John was specifically instructed to “seal not the sayings” of his prophecy, since “the time is at hand” (Rev 22:10). Accordingly, certain obscure portions of the book of Daniel are unsealed in the Revelation.
      In view of the generally parallel nature of the 4 visions as to scope and content, a composite picture of the information supplied by all 4 on each major point is particularly helpful. All 4 look forward to “the latter days,” or “the time of the end,” when God will deliver His people from their enemies and when they “shall take the kingdom” (Dan 2:28, 29, 45; Dan 7:1, 2, 18; 8:13, 14, 17, 19, 26; 10:1, 14; 12:1, 6). The first two visions introduce Babylon, one as the golden head of the image (ch 2:32, 37, 38) and the other as a lion with eagle’s wings (ch 7:4). The Persian Empire (The Persian Empire Under Cyrus, Darius I and Xerxes) figures in all 4, in the 1st as the breast and arms of silver (ch 2:32, 39), in the 2nd as a bear (ch 7:5), in the 3rd as a ram with 2 horns (ch 8:3, 4, 20), and in the 4th, in literal language, under several of its kings (chs 10:20; 11:2). “Greece”--that is, the Greco-Macedonian-Oriental Empire of Alexander--and its successors, the Hellenistic kingdoms (The Hellenistic World), appear in the 1st vision as the bronze “belly” and “thighs” of the image (ch 2:32, 39), in the 2nd as a leopard with 4 wings (ch 7:6), in the 3rd as a male goat with its horns (ch 8:5­8, 21, 22), and in the 4th in literal language, under Alexander and his successors (chs 10:20; 11:2­4). The career of Rome (The Roman Empire in the First Century (A.D.)) is depicted in the 1st vision as the iron legs of the image (ch 2:33, 40), in the 2nd as an indescribably ferocious beast (ch 7:7, 19, 23), in the 3rd as a little horn that became exceedingly powerful (ch 8:9, 10, 23, 24), and in the 4th in literal but somewhat obscure language (commentators disagree as to where Rome is first introduced; some believe as early as ch 11:14; others, later). Rome’s opposition to Christ is presented in the 3rd and 4th visions (chs 8:11, 12; 11:22, 30). The European nations that succeeded Rome are pictured in the 1st vision as the feet of the image, of iron and clay mixed together (ch 2:33, 42, 43), and in the 2nd as the 10 horns of the indescribably ferocious beast (ch 7:7, 20, 24; possibly also in ch 11:31). The apostasy which developed into the Papacy figures in the 1st vision only incidentally, but comes in for extended comment later. Its opposition to God and Christ is represented in the 2nd vision under the symbol of a little horn with a blasphemous mouth (Dan 7:8, 20, 25), in the 3rd by the little horn in its later phase (ch 8:9­12, 23­25), and in the 4th--according to one interpretation--as a wilful king who exalts himself against God (ch 11:31­38). An alternate interpretation applies vs. 36­38 to Turkey and France. Its opposition to God’s people and to the truth is similarly depicted (chs 7:21, 22, 25; 8:10­13, 24; 11:30­35; 12:1, 10). Papal policy is delineated in chs 7:8, 20, 25; 8:11­14, 19, 25; and, according to one interpretation, in ch 11:31, 36­39, 44, 45. An alternate interpretation applies the latter to Turkey and France. The ultimate end of earthly kingdoms is spoken of in the 1st vision under the symbol of the shattering of the image by a stone (ch 2:34, 35, 44, 45), in the 2nd under the figure of the final judgement (ch 7:9­12, 16), in the 3rd by the breaking “without hand” (see chs 8:14, 17, 19, 25; 9:27), and in the 4th by Michael standing up to deliver His people (chs 11:27, 35, 45; 12:1, 2). In the 1st vision the reception by Christ of His kingdom appears under the figure of a stone that fills the earth (ch 2:34, 35, 44, 45), in the 2nd it is referred to literally, as the Son of man receiving dominion (ch 7:13, 14), and in the 4th, as Michael standing up (ch 12:1). The 4 visions thus collectively present a composite preview of the process by which God purposed to work out His will through the process of history, how those who love and serve Him would suffer but eventually triumph, and how “the kingdoms of this world” would “become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ” (Rev 11:15).

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.

Jos. Ant.— Favius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, books i-xiv translated by H. St. J. Thackeray and Ralph Marcus, Loeb Classical Library (6 vols.; London, 1930-1969)

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Prophetic History Introduction | Prophetic History | Daniel 1