What Is the Setting and Significance of the Book of Daniel?
God’s prophets had not been silent: if the Israelites continued the trajectory of sin and rebellion, the judgment of captivity and exile would befall the fractured and faltering people. In 722 BC, the Assyrian army conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, just as God had promised (Hos 11:5–6). The Southern Kingdom of Judah remained, though they did not turn from their sins and pursue the Lord with faithfulness. At the appointed time, the Lord raised up the Babylonian army to come against his people. The conquering of the Southern Kingdom was not immediate, however. Years of siege withered the people.
In 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar—the king of Babylon—began to besiege the city of Jerusalem (Dan 1:1). He wanted to deport youths who belonged to elite and royal families, and a young man named Daniel was among those who went into exile. The book of Daniel bears the name of this young man who became a prophet of God to a displaced people. He interprets dreams and sees visions. He experiences wonders and exhibits courage toward earthly authorities. Though Daniel left the land, he never left the Lord. Daniel devoted himself to Yahweh despite tests and threats.
The book of Daniel narrates the faithfulness and sovereignty of God to the people of God. The prophet learns about nations beyond the Babylonian regime, and he receives insight about an everlasting kingdom which God will establish. The world may be filled with those who vie for power and oppress the vulnerable, but the righteousness of God will overcome the wicked. The saints will be vindicated, and even death will be defeated. Daniel receives these prophecies throughout his time in exile. His last vision in the book occurs in 536 BC (Dan 10:1), so the events in these twelve chapters unfold between 605 and 536 BC. Taken captive in his teens, Daniel will be a man in his 80s before the book ends. He probably died outside the Promised Land, never returning with the exiles who refilled the city of Jerusalem.
How Is the Book of Daniel Structured?
Thinking about structure is important for the reader to interpret the book of Daniel rightly. There are multiple valid ways to outline it. I will offer two. First, chapters 1–6 are narratives and chapters 7–12 are visions. This twofold outline is the easiest way to divide the book. Second, there is a noticeable language shift: chapters 2–7 are written in Aramaic, while chapters 1 and 8–12 are written in Hebrew. This change in language sets off chapters 2–7 in their own structure which has a symmetrical inversion known as a chiasm. Chapter 1, then, introduces the book and is followed by an Aramaic section in chapters 2–7. With this outline, chapters 8–12 are Hebrew chapters that have a chiastic structure as well. This commentary will follow the outline which is sensitive to the shifts in language.
The stories and prophecies in the book of Daniel are intended to help exiles and sufferers persevere in faith as they trust their sovereign God whose unrivaled power and everlasting dominion will overcome the wicked and vindicate the righteous.
“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.”
— Daniel 2:44 ESV
I. The Exile and Test of Daniel and Others in Babylon (1:1–21)
II. Four Earthly Kingdoms and an Everlasting Kingdom (2:1–49)
III. The Miraculous Preservation of the Faithful (3:1–30)
IV. Divine Judgment Upon an Arrogant King (4:1–37)
V. Divine Judgment Upon an Arrogant King (5:1–31)
VI. The Miraculous Preservation of the Faithful (6:1–28)
VII. Four Earthly Kingdoms and an Everlasting Kingdom (7:1–28)
VIII. The Future Actions of the Persian and Greek Empires (8:1–27)
IX. God’s Promise of Ultimate Jubilee and Forgiveness (9:1–27)
X. The Future Actions of the Persian and Greek Empires (10:1—12:13)
The Exile and Test of Daniel and Others in Babylon (1:1–21)
1:1–7 In the final years of the 7th century BC, the fierce conqueror in the ancient Near East was Nebuchadnezzar. And in 605 BC, the people of Jerusalem were in his sights. From the book of Exodus onward, the Lord showed himself to be a God who fought for his people, delivering them from all manner of distress and dilemma. But God did not fight against Nebuchadnezzar to spare the fledgling nation. Already God had brought the Assyrians against the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, and now he was bringing the Babylonians against the Southern Kingdom. The king of Babylon would succeed in his campaign against the Israelites because God had decreed judgment on them (Dan 1:2).
Jerusalem was the place of the temple that Solomon built, and this precious sanctuary faced the arrogant thievery of the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar directed that some of the temple vessels be taken to the land of Shinar (which is another name for the land of Babylon), and he stored these vessels in the treasury of his own god (1:2). The captivity of the temple vessels would—to the Babylonians—represent a defeat of Israel’s God. Nebuchadnezzar was conquering not just the promised land and its inhabitants but Yahweh who brought them there.
Nebuchadnezzar told his chief eunuch—named Ashpenaz—to deport certain Israelites: intelligent and physically attractive young people from royal, elite, and noble families (1:3–4). These youth would learn the ways and worldview of Babylon. They needed instruction in the language and literature, which would include the gods and religious practices of the Babylonians. The intent in Nebuchadnezzar’s order was clear: take some young Israelites and make Babylonians out of them. The king wanted people who would stand before him and serve in his court. So, for three years the Israelite youth would be immersed in the curriculum of Babylon. Education is discipleship, and Nebuchadnezzar wanted disciples for his own purposes and glory.
Education is discipleship, and Nebuchadnezzar wanted disciples for his own purposes and glory.
Part of Babylon’s reorientation program was renaming the Israelite youth. Four Hebrew names—Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—become four Babylonian names (1:6–7). Each of the Hebrew names contained a reference to God, and this reference was obscured by the Babylonian names. Nebuchadnezzar wanted the allegiance of the youth to be thoroughly transferred. He wanted them to sense the privileged opportunities that lay before them, so he assigned them royal food and wine to eat and drink (1:5). The three-year program would involve special treatment and special focus, leading to Israelite youth becoming Babylonians from the heart. Nebuchadnezzar had conquered people before the Israelites, so no doubt he believed his methods were tried and true. The question is, how would Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah fare in their new state of exile? Would the pressures of their new place and indoctrination program be successful?
1:8–14 In the first scene with Daniel in the book, he makes clear his unwavering allegiance to the Lord. He resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief of the eunuchs for an exemption (1:8). Though the official refused Daniel’s request, the Lord showed favor on Daniel. The official did not report him, even though Daniel had asked to be exempted from the king’s assigned food. The official realized his own head would be in jeopardy if the three-year program ended and Daniel was found to be malnourished (1:10).
Though Daniel’s first effort was unsuccessful, he was thoughtful and wise and redirected his request to another person. The steward, who had been assigned to Daniel and the other three Hebrew youths, agreed to test the men for ten days. During this ten-day span Daniel and his friends would eat only vegetables and drink only water. Daniel was willing for the steward to make the determination, after the ten days ended, about whether the food adjustments would be ongoing (1:13).
Why did Daniel want to avoid the royal food and drink? He had said he did not want to defile himself (1:8). Perhaps the royal menu contained items that violated the dietary regulations for Israelites (see Lev 11). The assigned drink, however, was wine, and wine was not forbidden to Israelites. In fact, later in the book (see Dan 10:3), Daniel had apparently been eating meat and drinking wine, though there was a short period of fasting when he abstained from these things. Was his concern in 1:8 about eating something that was offered to idols? Maybe, but other food options—such as the vegetables—may have had that status too. Was Daniel a Nazirite (Num 6:3–8)? The text is silent about this. If he had taken a Nazirite vow before Daniel 1:8, he had ceased it by the events of 10:3.
Although Daniel does not explain the nature of the possible defilement in 1:8, the reader can at least conclude that this refusal somehow showed ultimate allegiance to Yahweh. He, along with the three Hebrew youths, wanted to operate in such a way that the king’s efforts to ingratiate them and conform them would fail. The three-year program would reveal which youths should stand before the king, but Daniel’s deepest devotion was to the Lord.
1:15–21 A miracle occurred. Eating vegetables and water would not leave someone fatter in flesh than those who ate from the king’s food and drank the king’s wine, yet Daniel and his friends showed a better appearance than others in the program (1:15). As the bargain had stipulated (1:12–13), the steward made the determination about what to do from that point forward, and he gave the four Hebrew youths vegetables and water (1:16). The unusual effect upon Daniel and his friends—that they were fatter in flesh—revealed the Lord’s hand with them. The Lord honored their resolve not to defile themselves.
Not only did the Lord ensure a better appearance for Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but he also equipped them with learning and skill in Babylonian literature, and Daniel would show understanding in visions and dreams (1:17). The narrator’s comment about Daniel foreshadows the rest of the book because, to this point, Daniel has not interpreted any dreams or visions. But he will—and soon (see Dan 2). When the three-year program had come to an end, Nebuchadnezzar evaluated all the youths and deemed Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be superior to all the rest (1:19–20). They would stand to serve in the court of the king. Daniel in particular would serve the Babylonian administration until it came to an end—an end which Cyrus the Persian would bring about in 539 BC.
In the opening chapter of the book, the reader sees the resolve of Daniel and his friends, and they will persevere in this resolve during the years to come. They are faithful to the Lord, and he is faithful to them. Others who seek to pressure and compel them to compromise their devotion to Yahweh will fail. God’s favor and vindicating hand will be upon his servants there in Babylon.
Four Earthly Kingdoms and an Everlasting Kingdom (2:1–49)
2:1–13 In approximately 602 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream. When an ancient king had a troubling dream, one common assumption was that the gods were trying to communicate something about the future. And since the king could not foretell the future, he needed to summon those who supposedly could (2:2). But when the magicians and enchanters assembled in his court to interpret his dream, they heard an unexpected directive: Nebuchadnezzar wanted them to first tell his dream and then provide the interpretation, or he would kill them all (2:5). The interpreter, on the other hand, would be richly rewarded (2:6).
Understandably, the Babylonian wise men wanted to bide their time and convince the king to lower his expectations (2:7). But Nebuchadnezzar’s decision was firm: tell the dream first and then the interpretation or perish. With their lives on the line, the Babylonian wise men insisted that no one on earth could fulfill his request, and no mighty king had ever asked such a thing before (2:10)! Only the gods who gave the dream would be able to reveal the dream, and they did not dwell with people (2:11).
The reader knows that there is a God who dwells with sinners. Despite the claim from the magicians and enchanters, Israel’s tabernacle had been a mobile confirmation that the Creator dwelled among his creatures. The people in Nebuchadnezzar’s court did not believe the gods were accessible, but soon we will see that Daniel’s faith shows a different conviction. The hope for Daniel is that the God of heaven and earth can hear his people and act on their behalf. Meanwhile, Babylon’s king was furious with the inept advisers before him. He decreed the destruction of all the wise men of Babylon (2:12). This decree applied even to those absent from the court at that time—Daniel and his companions.
Despite the claim from the magicians and enchanters, Israel’s tabernacle had been a mobile confirmation that the Creator dwelled among his creatures.
2:14–23 Nebuchadnezzar probably summoned soldiers to carry out his plan for murder. The captain of the guard—Arioch—came to Daniel, and apparently the captain was prepared to act on the king’s order with urgency. Daniel asked why the decree was so urgent, and then he learned what had occurred (2:15). Implicit in the text is that God showed Daniel favor here because Arioch did not kill him. Instead, Daniel made an appointment with the king to make known what the king requested (2:16).
The purpose of that appointment preceded Daniel’s knowledge of the king’s dream and interpretation, so the appointment was an act of faith. Daniel knew his own life—and the lives of his friends and all the Babylonian wise men—was in jeopardy. If he could meet the king’s unreasonable request and high expectations, he and all the others would be spared. If there was no way for Daniel to discern the king’s dream and its interpretation, death was sure.
God’s people call upon his name (Gen 4:26). Daniel returned home and explained to his three companions what was going on. They needed mercy, which—in this case—would mean God sparing them from death. They needed the God of heaven to reveal to Daniel what would meet Nebuchadnezzar’s request. Seeking mercy, Daniel and his friends prayed (Dan 2:18–19). And in seeking, they found. The Lord revealed the mystery of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in a vision.
The proper response to answered prayer is praise, so Daniel blessed the name of the Lord and extolled his power and sovereignty over all things (2:20–23). Wisdom and might belong to God, and according to his wisdom and by his might, he oversees and directs the political and social realities on earth. God has ordained the kings who reign, and they will not reign beyond his will. From God’s gracious hand, wisdom comes to the wise, and more knowledge abounds to the understanding (2:21). Daniel’s experience confirms this because God has answered prayer and endowed the young man with the knowledge of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as well as what it meant.
The proper response to answered prayer is praise.
Only God knows the future, and so such deep and hidden things belong to him (2:22). The mind of God is fully alight with knowledge. Daniel, however, could not know the future and so the deep and hidden things were beyond his reach. God, in mercy, made known what humans cannot see in the dark. Daniel offered praise because he had come to know—through divine revelation in the vision (2:19)—what would spare his own life and the lives of the other Babylonian wise men (2:23). Now he needed to get to the king with this vital information.
2:24–30 Daniel went to Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, and asked him to halt the plan to destroy the Babylonian courtiers. Arioch brought Daniel before Nebuchadnezzar and introduced him as a man from Judah among the exiles (2:25). The king specifically inquired whether Daniel could make known both the dream and its interpretation (2:26), and Daniel affirmed he could. The ignorance of the Babylonian enchanters and astrologers was humanly insurmountable, but God in heaven reveals mysteries (2:27–28).
The mystery in chapter 2 was not only the details the king’s dream but the future it foretold. Nebuchadnezzar had glimpsed “the latter days” (2:28), a phrase which refers to the distant future. God—the revealer of mysteries—had shown the king “what is to be” (2:29). This same God had now revealed to Daniel what the king had seen, and this knowledge was not due to any innate wisdom within Daniel (2:30). No amount of human intelligence can access the details of the future, which is shrouded in darkness. Rather, God had answered Daniel’s prayer so that the king would know and understand the dream.
2:31–35 The description of the king’s dream was both brilliant and frightening. A mighty image stood with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, middle and thighs of bronze, and legs and feet made of iron and iron/clay (2:32–33). These different materials are arranged in order of descending value, from the head of gold to the feet made of iron and clay. There is also an instability with the feet, since iron and clay do not mix, and thus the image is very top-heavy. These materials recall elements in the tabernacle and temple. The tabernacle vessels were made from gold, silver, and bronze. In the temple there was iron as well (1Chr 22:16). Perhaps the materials are a parody of true worship and reign since Israel’s tabernacle and temple reminded the people of God’s presence and reign in their midst.
The mighty figure in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream succumbed to the crushing power of a stone. This stone was “cut out by no human hand,” which means it had a heavenly origin (Dan 2:34). The iron/clay feet broke from the striking stone, and the whole image cracked into pieces (2:35). Whatever these materials represented, something heavenly conquered them. The pieces became like chaff at a threshing floor, where wind would carry away chaff from the threshed grain (2:35). In the Old Testament, the blowing away of chaff sometimes depicts God’s judgment (see Ps 1:4).
The conquering stone established dominion: it became a mountain which filled the whole earth. Mountains are made of dirt and stones of various sizes, so the growth into a mountain is in continuity with the heavenly stone. The stone fills the earth, an action reminiscent of Genesis 1:26–28 when God’s image-bearers were to subdue creation and exercise dominion. In Isaiah 2:2, the prophet spoke of the mountain of the house of God which would be established as “the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it.” A mighty mountain represented the hope of God’s reign as well as true worship among the nations. Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed of earthly materials falling in judgment before a mighty heavenly stone which exercised dominion throughout the earth.
2:36–45 As Nebuchadnezzar had wanted, one of the Babylonian wise men (an Israelite, actually) had provided the details of the dream. Now came the interpretation (Dan 2:36–45). The king had dreamed about a succession of kingdoms, and each of these earthly kingdoms was represented by the materials comprising the image.
King Nebuchadnezzar—and thus Babylon—was the head of gold (2:38). A second kingdom (silver) was coming, and then a third kingdom (bronze) beyond the second (2:39). The fourth kingdom (iron/clay) would be superior to the previous three (2:40). The mixture of clay and iron suggests a brittle, unstable, vulnerable kingdom (2:41–43). Then the God of heaven will set up his kingdom with the stone uncut by human hands (2:35, 44–45). The stone represented the long-awaited kingdom that would never end (2:44).
As readers study the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in light of history, the Babylonian kingdom (gold) was conquered by the Medo-Persian kingdom (silver), which was conquered by the Greek kingdom (bronze), which was conquered by the Romans (iron/clay). Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that the heavenly stone struck the iron/clay feet (2:34), and during the reign of Caesar Augustus, the Lord Jesus was born (Matt 1:18–25; Luke 2:1–7). These four kingdoms—Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Roman—are the traditional interpretation of the king’s dream and are more likely than other suggestions. In fact, Jesus identified himself as a crushing stone (Luke 20:18), and he ministered during the reign of the fourth kingdom which Daniel had mentioned.
The promise in Daniel 2:44–45 was that God would set up an unending kingdom, and this hope recalls God’s promise to David, that a son from David’s line would receive the throne and reign forever (2Sam 7:12–13). Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed about the same thing that the prophets foretold: a Son of David would come to reign. This dream occurred while God’s judgment was coming against the promised land through the Babylonians, so the timing confirmed that God was not withdrawing his covenant with David. Though Israel would be in exile, the exile would not be permanent. In the future, a king was coming whose reign would never end.
Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed about the same thing that the prophets foretold: a Son of David would come to reign.
Central to the preaching of Jesus was his announcement that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17). He traveled throughout the Promised Land “proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt 4:23). If there was hope in the Old Testament that God would establish an indestructible kingdom (see 2Sam 7:12–13; Dan 2:44–45), Jesus announced he was bringing it. He was the promised Son of David (Matt 1:1–17) and the stone to overcome the wicked and all earthly kingdoms (Luke 20:18).
The audience of Daniel’s book would look forward to the fulfillment of God’s prophecies about the empires and the everlasting kingdom, but we modern readers look back at the march of history from Babylon to Medo-Persia to Greece to Rome, when the Son of David was born in Bethlehem, died on a cross outside Jerusalem, rose from the dead on the third day, ascended to the right hand of God, and now reigns victoriously as he subjects all enemies under his feet (1Cor 15:25).
2:46–49 Having heard the details of his dream accurately reported, and having received the interpretation of what they meant, Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face before Daniel. He exclaimed that Daniel’s God was truly the God of gods, Lord of kings, and revealer of mysteries (Dan 2:47). This response indicates that Nebuchadnezzar believed Daniel had truly received divine revelation and had conveyed it. As the king had pledged earlier, he gave Daniel honors and rewards, making him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over the Babylonian wise men (2:48). Daniel’s life, therefore, had been spared, as well as the lives of Daniel’s three friends and the king’s other advisers.
With his newfound honors and position, Daniel asked for new appointments for his friends, and Nebuchadnezzar agreed to this request. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were now over the affairs of the province of Babylon, with Daniel remaining at the king’s court (2:49). Not only were Daniel’s friends spared, they were promoted! God’s vindicating hand was upon these faithful Israelites as they depended on him during their exile.
The Miraculous Preservation of the Faithful (3:1–30)
3:1–7 The image Nebuchadnezzar built was connected to the image in his dream. But while in his dream only the head was gold, the image in chapter 3 was entirely gold. The construction project did not consist of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and clay—only gold. This decision about the material was from the defiant and arrogant king who rejected Daniel’s interpretation of the dream. Nebuchadnezzar did not believe the will of the gods was unthwartable, and his golden image revealed an attitude of invincibility and delusion.
Nebuchadnezzar did not believe the will of the gods was unthwartable, and his golden image revealed an attitude of invincibility and delusion.
Approximately 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide or 28 meters tall and 3 meters wide, the statue loomed large over the plain of Dura (3:1). All the officials of his provinces came to its dedication, and a herald ordered everyone to bow down at the sound of the orchestra (3:2–5). Because of Nebuchadnezzar’s victories, he ruled over different peoples and nations and languages. Those who bowed represented a multinational display of idolatry. God had made the nations and languages to glorify his own name, not to bow before a dead idol.
A fiery furnace would have been advantageous to melting and shaping gold for the construction of the image, and it served the purpose of destruction as well. The king decreed that anyone who refused to bow before the image would face death in the fiery furnace (3:6). When the music sounded, everyone among the peoples and nations fell down and worshiped—well, almost everyone.
3:8–18 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three Israelites who refused to heed the king’s decree, for worshiping the image would be false worship and thus a violation of God’s commandments (see Exod 20:1–6). Some Babylonians exposed this refusal to Nebuchadnezzar, and he ordered that the rebels appear in his presence (Dan 3:12–13). With their lives on the line, the three Israelites received one more opportunity to bow down at the sound of the music. In their only recorded speech in the book, the three declared confidence in God’s power to deliver them, and they expressed readiness to die rather than worship the golden image (3:16–18).
The three Israelites could not guarantee that God would spare them. But the idea of turning from him to idols was worse than death. The threat of the fiery furnace was a test of devotion, and the resolve of the three men showed that their devotion was to God over self-preservation. Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). The men knew what greater gain looked like: if God spared them from the furnace, then he would deliver them from death; and if God did not spare them from the fire, he would deliver them through death. No matter the outcome, their resolve was firm.
3:19–23 The enraged king ordered the furnace heated more than normal. The three fell bound and fully dressed (Dan 3:21). This condition meant they could not escape from the soldiers and would succumb to the fury of the flames. When soldiers cast the faithful Israelites into the furnace, the excessive heat killed the soldiers, and so surely the Israelites had met their terrible fate (3:22).
At first it seemed Nebuchadnezzar was right that no god was able to deliver the Israelites out of his hands (3:15). The king would make an example out of these three Israelites, even though he had previously promoted them in his administration (2:49). He would show the provinces that no one could safely defy his orders. And he would prove that no god could overcome his plans for punishment.
3:24–27 The king jumped up when he saw four people, instead of three, in the furnace and walking around (3:24–25). The fourth figure was like a son of the gods (3:25). Something divine was happening. The three Israelites were unbound and unhurt, and suddenly the king faced the truth that their God was able to deliver them from punishment.
The fourth figure in the furnace may have been a created angel, or perhaps the figure was the divine Angel of Yahweh. Throughout church history, interpreters have considered this figure to be the preincarnate Son of God. Although the exact identification of the fourth figure may be unknown, a divine intervention is certainly clear.
Nebuchadnezzar summoned the three Israelites from the furnace, and they emerged with no effect of fire or smell of smoke upon their heads or cloaks. God’s deliverance of their bodies was thorough and total. God is able to save his people, from death and through death. Earthly kings defy him in vain. The Lord in heaven laughs (Ps 2:4). He makes a spectacle out of their futile efforts of self-aggrandizement.
God is able to save his people, from death and through death.
The saints of God can read about the deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and then rejoice at God’s power to overcome the designs of the wicked. What some mean for evil, God means for good (Gen 50:20). God displays his power as superior to the Babylonian king. That victory foreshadows when God will deliver his people from death at their bodily resurrection. The God who is greater than Nebuchadnezzar is greater than the tombs. And pictured by the emergence of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the dead will come forth alive by divine power.
3:28–30 The king of Babylon praised the God of the Israelites. He summarized what had happened, that God delivered his servants who had set aside the royal command and were willing to give their bodies to the flames rather than worship anything besides their God (Dan 3:28). A new decree went out: anyone who speaks against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be destroyed (3:29). This new decree was an overreaction, but it was fitting with the kind of personality Nebuchadnezzar has exhibited in the book so far.
This chapter ends the way chapters 1 and 2 did: with promotion (3:30). The three Israelites rise in prominence in the province of Babylon, and this move is confirmation of God’s continued hand upon the faithful. Not only had God delivered them from the rage of the king and the flames of the furnace—they were now in a better position in Babylon than before.
Divine Judgment Upon an Arrogant King (4:1–37)
4:1–3 King Nebuchadnezzar has a story to share. Chapter 4 in the book includes firsthand testimony of humiliation and restoration. Daniel would have received this testimony from Nebuchadnezzar himself, since Daniel served in the administration of the king. Most of the chapter is narrated from a first-person perspective.
The opening words are a universal announcement. Nebuchadnezzar wants everyone everywhere to hear his story. His account will tell of “the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me” (4:2). These wonders involve both judgment and restoration. The king extols God’s wonders as great and mighty. Although Nebuchadnezzar would not have welcomed the notion that his earthly reign would end, he opened his account declaring that God’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. Since unending dominion belonged to God, it did not belong to the king of Babylon. This admission is both true and shocking because of Nebuchadnezzar’s attitude and actions in chapters 1–3. The account in chapter 4 will justify the newfound perspective of Babylon’s king.
4:4–9 Like chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that made him afraid (4:5). And like chapter 2, he summoned his advisers to help him understand the dream (4:6). This time he did not demand that they tell him his dream first (see 2:5). He gave them the content and needed an interpretation. The Babylonian magicians, astrologers, and enchanters divulged their ignorance, so Daniel arrived. As in chapter 2, the ignorance of the advisers will be followed by the wisdom of Daniel that interprets the king’s dream.
Nebuchadnezzar considered Daniel to have “the spirit of the holy gods” (4:8), and that phrase is found outside the book only in Genesis 41:38, where Joseph has the spirit of God (or “the gods”). A pagan ruler—the pharaoh of Egypt—acknowledged Joseph’s ability, and now another pagan ruler—the king of Babylon—recognized Daniel’s ability. Both Joseph and Daniel served pagan courts outside the promised land. Both could interpret dreams. Both conducted themselves in ways that saved the lives of others. Both had the Spirit of God.
4:10–18 Nebuchadnezzar described his dream. A tree grew in the midst of the earth, reaching to heaven and visible to the end of the whole earth (Dan 4:10–11). Its many leaves and fruit provided shade and food for birds and animals (4:12). The scene was luscious, extravagant, abundant. But then the dream took a negative turn. A holy one—an angel—descended from heaven and called for the tree to be chopped, its branches lopped off, its leaves stripped, and its fruit scattered (4:13–14). This set of actions was a terrible reversal of the tree’s status.
Only a stump of roots remained in the earth, and around it a band of iron and bronze. Then the king’s description moved from focusing on the stump to mentioning someone who would be “wet with the dew of heaven” (4:15). Someone would be dwelling with the beasts and have the mind of a beast for a period of time (4:16). This change was a judgment from heaven, and its purpose was to exalt the rule of God who is sovereign over earthly kingdoms and their kings (4:17).
In Genesis 1:26–28, God made people in his image and commissioned them to rule over creation and exercise dominion over beasts. In Daniel 4, the figure being judged would become like one of these beasts. The violence against the lavish tree suggested a diminishing of greatness and a humbling of power. Nebuchadnezzar needed Daniel’s help to grasp the meaning of the dream (4:18).
4:19–27 The recollection by Nebuchadnezzar was alarming, and Daniel framed his response with words that prepared for a very negative meaning (4:19). The tree was the king of Babylon. Like the tower of Babel in Genesis 11, the tree in the dream stretched toward heaven. Nebuchadnezzar had become great and strong, with vast dominion and majesty (Dan 4:20–22). But the dream foretold judgment upon the king. The watcher—a holy angel—called for the near-total destruction of the tree (4:23). The stump left in the grass represented the state which Nebuchadnezzar would experience for a period of time. He would be like the beasts in the field.
Nebuchadnezzar’s self-exaltation would lead to humiliation. Rather than living among people, he would live contrary to an image bearer. His food and dwelling would be with the animals. His mind would not work right, and his conduct would reflect this change. The aim of this judgment would be to showcase the rule of the Most High who gives and takes away the reign of earthly kings (4:25). Nebuchadnezzar thought he was untouchable, but he was vulnerable. At the end of the judgment period, Nebuchadnezzar would inhabit his power and kingdom again (4:26).
Daniel explained how the king should respond to the troubling dream: repent. Rather than practicing sin, Nebuchadnezzar should pursue righteousness. Rather than oppressing people, he should show mercy to them. The dream should warn the king against continuing in his iniquities. Now was the time to turn from sin and do what was right. Perhaps repentance would lead to a lengthening of the king’s prosperity and not to a humiliating judgment (4:27).
4:28–33 A year passed (4:29). Unfortunately, the words and ways of the king had not changed. The narration describes Nebuchadnezzar on a roof, walking around and exulting in the vastness of his kingdom: “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (4:30).
The dream became a reality. God proclaimed that the kingdom was departing from Nebuchadnezzar for a time, and that the king would become like a beast and dwell with the beasts (4:31–32). Suddenly the might of the king was gone. The royal posturing and self-exaltation were futile. The God of heaven brought Nebuchadnezzar low, to a state in which the latter ate from the grass like an ox (4:33). His body became unkempt and disheveled. Everything the Lord had promised now came to pass (see 4:25).
4:34–37 Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was about a judgment lasting “seven periods of time” (4:16), but the exact amount of time is uncertain. Perhaps the span was years or maybe only months. Since his hair and nails grew so long (4:33), the period was certainly more than a few weeks. But when the allotted judgment had passed, Nebuchadnezzar regained his mind. He praised the Lord and spoke words exalting God’s dominion and power (4:34–35). The kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar was unstable, but God’s dominion was everlasting (4:34). Compared to God, what were the inhabitants of earth, even the mighty rulers like Nebuchadnezzar? Compared to God, everything and everyone are as nothing (4:35).
As Daniel had said, the Lord restored the glory and splendor of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom (4:25–26, 36). In fact, just as chapters 1–3 ended with some kind of prospering of the characters, chapter 4 ends with the king increasing in greatness (4:36). His testimony concludes with a commitment to praise and honor the Lord, calling his works “right” and his ways “just” (4:37). Readers should hope that this testimony is from a converted heart. Perhaps the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar now led to a man who would devote himself to the praise of Yahweh, though certainty is not possible.
Better to walk in humility before God, for pride leads to destruction. Self-exaltation is the path of judgment.
The takeaway of the whole chapter is in the final verse: “those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (4:37). Nebuchadnezzar had walked in pride, boasting in his accomplishments and in the vastness of his reign. But he learned how susceptible his might was to the Sovereign of Heaven who rules over the rulers of the earth. God humbled him by chopping down the tree of his greatness and by stripping the branches of his boasts. And yet, in mercy, God restored the king’s kingdom after this valuable lesson. Better to walk in humility before God, for pride leads to destruction. Self-exaltation is the path of judgment.
Divine Judgment Upon an Arrogant King (5:1–31)
5:1–4 The year is 539 BC. Just over a decade earlier, Cyrus the Great had conquered the Medes and formed the mighty Medo-Persian army, and now he leads his army to the doorstep of the Babylonians. In Babylon, King Belshazzar and his father Nabonidus are coregents over their empire. While Nabonidus is away, Belshazzar throws a banquet, and it will be his last.
The Babylonian feast was for Belshazzar’s lords and with his wives and concubines (5:1–2). He directed the vessels which had once been taken from the Jerusalem temple (by Nebuchadnezzar as the city Jerusalem was under siege) to be brought out for use. The king, his lords, his wives, and his concubines toasted and praised their gods with the sacred vessels.
5:5–9 In a nightmarish turn of events, a hand—unconnected to an arm—appeared and wrote words on a wall lit up by the lampstand (5:5). The sight was so overwhelming, so terrifying, that the king became weak and, according to the original language, incontinent. He did not understand what the words meant. It is possible he could read the words but simply could not discern their significance, or perhaps he could not read the writing because of a puzzling way it was formed. Nevertheless, he needed help.
The magicians and enchanters entered the room, and Belshazzar promised rewards to the one who could read the writing and tell its interpretation. The rewards included a purple cloth, which was the color of royalty; a chain of gold, which probably denoted authority and distinction; and the status of third ruler in the kingdom, since positions one and two were already occupied by Belshazzar and his father Nabonidus (5:6).
Just like the Babylonian wise men in chapters 2 and 4, these men failed to understand the writing on the wall (5:8). Given the earlier pattern established in chapters 2 and 4, however, the ignorance of the magicians and enchanters sets up the discernment and wisdom of Daniel which would be on display next.
5:10–12 Daniel was not yet present at the banquet. Belshazzar’s mother—the queen—arrived and assured her son that the man named Daniel would be able to explain what was on the wall. The queen’s confidence was based on her past knowledge of Daniel’s ability. In the days of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel had demonstrated understanding and wisdom, and he had become the chief of the Babylonian advisers (5:11). The queen said Daniel had the “spirit of the holy gods” (5:11), which is something Nebuchadnezzar had also affirmed (4:18).
To this point in the book, the reader knows Daniel can interpret dreams. But the writing on the wall was not a dream. When the hand appeared in 5:5, the scene is not attributed to a vision in Belshazzar’s mind. And others were able to see the writing on the wall, though unable to interpret it (5:8). Unlike the visions which were unclear in Nebuchadnezzar’s mind, here on the wall was an objective display. This was more like a riddle, a puzzle. But the queen believed Daniel could “explain riddles” and “solve problems,” so the writing on the wall would pose no difficulty for him (5:12).
5:13–24 Approximately 80-years-old now, Daniel entered the banquet hall. He did not have the same administrative relationship with Belshazzar that he had had with Nebuchadnezzar. The reader does not know what changes had occurred, other than Daniel’s age and the fact that the Babylonian king was a different man who may have inclined toward different advisers. Since the queen offered so much information about Daniel to her son (5:11–12), it seems that Belshazzar had little direct interaction with the man in his administration.
Belshazzar repeated the words to Daniel which the queen had used (5:13–14). And he promised Daniel the same rewards that he earlier mentioned to the Babylonian wise men (5:15–16). But Daniel refused these privileges (5:17). He would interpret the writing on the wall for free.
Daniel began his diatribe by recalling the glory and greatness of Nebuchadnezzar and by recounting how that king’s pride led to humiliation for a season (5:18–21). Daniel’s words alluded to the events in chapter 4, when Nebuchadnezzar became like a beast and, afterward, confessed the power of God to humble the proud. Then Daniel applied his recounting: Belshazzar knew what had happened to Nebuchadnezzar yet had not humbled his own heart (5:22). Instead, the heart of Belshazzar was lifted up against the Lord, demonstrated by idolatry and blasphemy (5:23).
The worship of idols was futile because they have to be crafted (from things like gold, bronze, iron, and stone) and cannot see or hear or know anything (5:23). These gods have been the praise of Belshazzar and of those at the banquet. The king failed to reckon with the reality that Yahweh’s hand holds the breath of every man. Belshazzar is mortal and vulnerable. The gods he praised cannot save him. The king had spurned his Creator rather than honoring him (see Rom 1:18–25). The divine hand, which holds the breath of Belshazzar, had appeared and written on the wall (Dan 5:24).
The divine hand, which holds the breath of Belshazzar, had appeared and written on the wall.
5:25–28 The Aramaic words on the wall were Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. Each word related to the notion of judgment on Belshazzar and Babylon. Daniel explained the puzzle to the king. “Mene” sounds like the word for “numbered,” since God had brought the numbered days of Babylon to its end. “Tekel” sounds like the word for “weighed,” and when God put the king on the scales, the latter did not measure up. “Peres” (the singular of “Parsin”) sounds like the word for “divided,” because God was going to take away the Babylonian kingdom from Belshazzar and give it to the Medo-Persians.
The writing on the wall was the announcement that judgment day had come for Babylon. The mighty empire which had conquered and ravaged peoples and nations, and which had taken captive the Israelites in 586 BC, would now fall. God changes times and seasons, and he removes and sets up kings (2:21). Near the end of chapter 5, God is changing the times and shifting empires. Nebuchadnezzar once said of God that “none can stay his hand” (4:35). And God’s hand had written on the banquet wall what would come for Babylon. No one would resist his sovereign will.
5:29–31 Even though Daniel refused the rewards Belshazzar had promised (5:16–17), Belshazzar commanded that they be given anyway (5:29). Daniel received purple clothing, a golden chain for his neck, and the king declared that Daniel was third ruler in the kingdom. The providential benefit to this visible recognition was that the conquering king would see Daniel as important in the administration, and that recognition resulted in Daniel being integral to the new empire (6:1–3). The night of the banquet was the night of Belshazzar’s death (5:30). The final king of Babylon had fallen.
Who is Darius the Mede?
The Medo-Persian conqueror is called Darius the Mede (5:31), and he is probably the same person as Cyrus the Great. Some characters in the book have two names, so two names for Darius would not be out of place. Ancient records also confirm that Cyrus the Great had one parent who was a Persian and another parent who was a Mede, which could explain the use of two names reflecting each background. Also important in this identity discussion is that no Babylonian records mention someone named Darius conquering the Babylonians in 539 BC. Cyrus the Great was the conqueror, and so the name Darius is synonymous with the known victor. The age of Darius is significant: he conquers Babylon when he is “about sixty-two years old” (5:31). Since ancient records show that Cyrus died at age 70 in 530 BC, then in 539 he would have been “about sixty-two years old,” further identifying the characters—Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Great—with one another.
Chapter 5 narrates the fulfillment of divine prophecy, for God told Habakkuk that judgment would fall upon Babylon (Hab 2:16–17). Even though God had used a wicked nation to judge the Israelites in the 6th century BC, he would not overlook the iniquity of that conquering nation. Counting from the deportation of Daniel in 605 BC, the timespan to 539 BC (when Babylon fell) was almost 70 years. This 70-year period was what Jeremiah had prophesied for the exiled people (Jer 25:11–12). The fall of Babylon, therefore, meant that the release and restoration of the Israelites was coming soon.
The Miraculous Preservation of the Faithful (6:1–28)
6:1–5 The Medo-Persian Empire had new administrative tasks to accomplish. They set up satraps, who were accountable to three presidents, and Daniel was one of these three (Dan 6:1–2). Since Daniel had no prior relationship with Darius, this new responsibility was a huge act of trust on the part of the king. Daniel had served the Babylonian regime for decades, and now he served as one of three presidents in Medo-Persia.
Typical of Daniel, he conducted himself with faithfulness and integrity. The other two presidents noted his distinction and excellent spirit, yet they resented him because the king had even greater plans for Daniel (6:3). They wanted to compromise Daniel, so they looked for grounds to accuse him to Darius. But they searched in vain for a legitimate cause (6:4). Daniel was not sinless, but he worked with such dedication and trustworthiness that the other presidents had to change plans. They realized they would need to use Daniel’s devotion to Yahweh against him (6:5). Daniel was dedicated to his administrative tasks, but he had given the impression that his religious devotion was paramount above all.
6:6–9 In consultation with each other and in conspiracy against Daniel, the presidents and satraps came to Darius with an idea for a decree about prayer: the king should order that prayer be made only to him for the next thirty days, and anyone who violates the edict would be cast into the den of lions (6:7). This suggestion would certainly stroke the king’s ego, and it was only for a month. The presidents and satraps knew that a Medo-Persian royal decree was irrevocable, so the king’s agreement would seal Daniel’s fate (6:8). The king embraced their recommendation, and the injunction was confirmed (6:9).
6:10–11 Since the royal edict became public knowledge, Daniel found out about it. But the decree did not alter Daniel’s devotion. Prayer was an act of worship and dependence, and Daniel knew that praying to the king would violate the law of God (Exod 20:3). Although Daniel was willing to serve in pagan administrations, he had to obey the Lord if obedience to earthly authorities would mean transgressing God’s commands (see Acts 5:29). During Daniel’s times of prayer, therefore, he prayed to God, which is what the conspirators were counting on (Dan 6:11).
Daniel prayed with his chamber windows open toward Jerusalem (6:10). This direction honored the words of Solomon in 1 Kings when he was dedicating the newly built temple in Jerusalem. If the Israelites were ever exiled from the promised land because of their flagrant disregard for God’s commands, they were to pray toward Jerusalem and plead for heaven to hear and forgive and restore (1Kgs 8:46–51). Since the 70-year captivity was coming to an end, Daniel was interceding on behalf of the Israelites, obeying King Solomon’s instructions. King Darius may have issued an edict about prayer, but King Solomon’s instructions were far more important, God-honoring, and hope-giving.
King Darius may have issued an edict about prayer, but King Solomon’s instructions were far more important, God-honoring, and hope-giving.
6:12–18 The opponents of Daniel no doubt went eagerly to King Darius with the news. They first reminded the king about the injunction for prayer as well as the penalty for violators (Dan 6:12). Then they pronounced that Daniel had violated the edict (6:13). Though Daniel was one of the three presidents in the Medo-Persian Empire, his opponents simply referred to him as “one of the exiles from Judah,” seeking to diminish him in the king’s eyes (6:13). But King Darius was distressed at the news and wanted to deliver Daniel from death in the lions’ den (6:14).
Concerned that their plot might be thwarted by the king himself, the enemies of Daniel reminded the king that Medo-Persian injunctions could not be revoked (6:15). The king relinquished his efforts at stalling to find a way of deliverance for Daniel. He ordered the penalty which the decree had warned about, declaring to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” (6:16).
After serving administrations in Babylon for decades as an exile from the Promised Land, Daniel was cast into a den of lions. People rolled a stone over the entrance to prevent escape or rescue, and the king sealed the stone with his own signet and that of his lords, barring anyone from disrupting the scene (6:17). Back in his palace, the king was restless and fasted (6:18). He was preoccupied with what had happened and with Daniel’s condition. He wanted no distractions, and he had no sleep.
6:19–23 Morning came, and the king ran. He arrived hastily at the den of lions and cried out, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” (6:19–20). And a reply came from below. Darius heard the words, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me” (6:21–22). Like the three Hebrews in chapter 3, Daniel was spared from death because of a divine deliverance.
Thrilled at the news of Daniel being alive, the king ordered his removal. After all, the king had fulfilled the principle of Medo-Persian law because he had not revoked the penalty of casting a violator into the den of lions. Having ordered Daniel to be cast into the den (6:16), he now ordered Daniel to be brought up. The divine deliverance had been so thorough that no trace of harm was on Daniel’s body (6:23), just as the three Hebrews had emerged from the fiery furnace without any damage from fire or smoke upon them (3:27).
6:24–28 Royal commands continued. Darius ordered the opponents of Daniel to be cast into the den, along with their households (6:24). The lions were voracious and broke the people’s bones before they even hit the bottom of the den (6:24). This violent outcome confirms that Daniel had survived not because the lions were full or sickly but because God had miraculously intervened in a deadly situation. The death of Daniel’s enemies is an illustration of the ironic reversals that appear throughout Scripture: the enemies succumb to the very punishment they had arranged for Daniel (see Esth 7:10; Prov 1:17–18).
King Darius made a decree that everyone should tremble before the God of Daniel (Dan 6:25–26). Daniel served “the living God” who has an everlasting kingdom (6:26). As proven with Daniel’s deliverance, this God rescues and performs wonders and saved Daniel from the power of the lions (6:27).
Four Earthly Kingdoms and an Everlasting Kingdom (7:1–28)
7:1 The seventh chapter of the book is a change in genre, from primarily narrative to primarily vision and apocalyptic. Chapters 7–12 are more challenging for the interpreter than chapters 1–6, and this greater challenge is due to the fact that the apocalyptic style of writing is highly imaginative and contains symbols, numbers, figures, and descriptions that contribute to the meaning of the text.
The vision in chapter 7 does not continue chronologically after the events of chapter 6. Instead, the vision sets the reader back in the reign of the Babylonian Empire. In approximately 550 BC, during the first year of Belshazzar’s reign, Daniel had a dream and wrote it down (7:1). When Nebuchadnezzar had dreams from the Lord, Daniel was able to interpret them. But in chapters 7–12, the visions of Daniel will need an interpreter besides him (7:16).
7:2–8 Beastly figures rose from a stirring sea. In the books of the OT prophets, beasts can be symbols for nations, and that is the case with what Daniel saw. Like chapter 2, Daniel’s vision is about four earthly kingdoms in succession which are followed by the establishment of an everlasting kingdom.
The first beast was like a lion with eagles’ wings, though the wings were plucked off and the creature lifted from the ground on two feet (7:4). The report that “the mind of a man was given to it” (7:4) recalls the judgment and restoration of Nebuchadnezzar (4:33–34) and confirms that the first beast is picturing the Babylonian kingdom.
The second beast was like a bear raised up on its side and with three ribs in its teeth (7:5). The ribs are the remainder of a prey that the bear has successfully overcome. And the bear will continue its predatory behavior. A voice says to it, “Arise, devour much flesh” (7:5). Since the creature in 7:4 was Babylon, the bear is the Medo-Persian Empire which conquered Babylon in 539 BC (see 5:30–31).
The third beast was like a leopard with four bird wings on its back (7:6). More grotesque, the beast had four heads and received dominion (7:6). Continuing the succession of earthly kingdoms, the Medo-Persians fell to the Greeks in 331 BC, so this leopard with bird wings represents the Greek kingdom. And if the four heads represent Greek rulers, they may be those who divided Alexander’s kingdom after his death.
The fourth beast is described as terrifying and strong, with iron teeth and acts of destruction (7:7). The reference to iron recalls the fourth area on the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (2:33, 40–41). This fourth beast has ten horns, but their symbolic meaning is uncertain. Among these horns grew a little horn that had eyes like a man and a mouth speaking great things (7:8). The interpretation will confirm that the little horn’s speech is dishonoring to the Lord and probably blasphemous (7:25). Since the Romans conquered the Greeks, this fourth beast in Daniel’s vision would represent the Roman Empire, and the little horn signifies one of its rulers.
7:9–12 The scene shifts from the sea to heaven. A court convenes where a judgment is issued. The Ancient of Days takes his seat on one of the thrones (7:9). His clothing is white, reminding the reader of his purity and holiness. His hair is like wool, denoting that he is the Ancient One who is wise. The fiery flames of his throne probably symbolize divine presence, since the fire that led the Israelites and the fire that descended upon Mount Sinai represented God himself.
Before the angels who stood and served him, God issued a judgment based on the information contained in “the books” (7:10). These books were the record of deeds, and the deeds of the little horn led to destruction (7:11). Since the vision reported divine action against the fourth beast and its little horn, the reader might wonder about the previous beasts. Their dominion had been taken away, though the inhabitants of the earthly kingdoms were absorbed by whatever nation conquered them at the time, thus “their lives were prolonged for a season and a time” (7:12).
7:13–14 Just as the earthly kingdoms in the vision of chapter 2 were followed by the establishment of an everlasting kingdom, Daniel sees someone “like a son of man” approach the Ancient of Days and receive authority and dominion over all things (7:13–14). The figure “was presented,” perhaps after some accomplishment. The overcoming of the fourth beast and its little horn (in 7:11–12) seems to be what prompts the presentation of the one like a son of man (7:13). If the fourth beast faced judgment, the figure like a son of man has received victory and vindication. The kingdom of the figure is everlasting, with all peoples and nations and languages serving him (7:14).
In Jesus’s earthly ministry, his most common self-designation was “Son of Man,” and that title drew upon 7:13–14. Jesus believed he was the one who would establish an everlasting kingdom and receive all authority over all nations (Matt 4:17; 28:18). At his ascension, he came to the Ancient of Days and sat down (Dan 7:13; Heb 1:3). Jesus had sealed the promised New Covenant (Jer 31:31–34; Luke 22:20). The Romans had crucified him, but he rose in victory on the third day (John 20:1–20). In John’s apocalyptic vision, he saw the conquering lamb go to the one who was seated on the throne and take the scroll (Rev 6:6–7).
Though Daniel’s vision was future from his vantage point, the inauguration of the reign of Christ is past for us. He is the one who reigns with all authority (1Cor 15:25). He is the vindicated Son of Man whose dominion will never end. Like the stone that became a mountain to fill the earth (Dan 2:35), the kingdom of Christ cannot be destroyed and will fulfill the commission once given to the first Adam (Gen 1:26–28). Jesus is the Last Adam who subdues his enemies.
When Jesus spoke to his disciples about what the Son of Man would do, he taught that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). Although Daniel’s vision sees the presentation of the Son of Man and the subsequent conferring of all authority to him, Jesus teaches how this reality is accomplished: it is accomplished through the Son of Man’s suffering and death. Jesus conquers through dying. And in his resurrection and ascension, he reigns as the king with the unending kingdom.
Jesus conquers through dying. And in his resurrection and ascension, he reigns as the king with the unending kingdom.
7:15–28 Daniel was disturbed by elements in his vision, especially about the terrifying fourth beast with its fearsome little horn (Dan 7:15, 19–20). An angel explained that the four beasts were earthly rulers and that God issued judgment on behalf of the saints (7:18, 22). The victory of the Son of Man means victory for his people. This victory was desirable because the little horn made war against the saints and prevailed over them (7:21). But their death was not ultimate defeat, for the victory of the Son of Man ensured the vindication and reign of his people (7:22).
The dreadful fourth kingdom would have a vast empire and destroy peoples that opposed it (7:23). And the God-opposing ruler—the little horn—would oppose the saints and disrupt their worship of God for a time (7:25). Despite the little horn’s persecution of God’s people, divine judgment would overcome those earthly efforts (7:26). Those who had been persecuted and oppressed would receive the everlasting kingdom of the Son of Man (7:27). Even though Daniel’s vision affirmed the eventual victory and reign of God’s people, Daniel was still alarmed by the fourth beast and the malevolent little horn’s hostility toward the saints (7:28; see 7:19–22).
During the days of the Roman Empire, the Lord Jesus was born, lived, died, rose, and ascended, inaugurating the everlasting kingdom of the Son of Man. The antagonistic “little horn” may have been a first-century persecutor of the church like the Roman Emperor Nero. Some interpreters have suggested that the little horn is a future Antichrist who will persecute the church. While interpreters may not achieve consensus or certainty about the identity of the little horn, the victory of the Son of Man is clear, the everlasting kingdom has been inaugurated, and the saints will inherit all that Christ has accomplished on their behalf.
The Future Actions of the Persian and Greek Empires (8:1–27)
8:1–7 During the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, in approximately 548 BC, Daniel had another vision. In the vision, Daniel was in Susa, which was a fortified city, and he was at the Ulai Canal in particular (8:1–2).
On the bank of the canal was a ram with two horns (one higher than the other), and the ram was charging uncontested in multiple directions (8:3–4). No one could thwart the path of the ram. But then a male goat, with “a conspicuous horn between his eyes,” came from the west gliding across the earth without touching the ground (8:5). A collision between the beasts was inevitable. The goat ran down and trampled the ram, breaking the ram’s horns (8:6–7). No one could conquer the goat, and no one could save the ram from the goat’s power (8:7).
8:8–14 The greatness of the goat increased. The horn broke, and in its place four other horns came up (8:8). From one of these four horns, a little horn emerged and grew exceedingly great, even toward “the glorious land” (8:9). In the book, “the glorious land” refers to the land of Israel. The little horn also grew great toward the host of heaven and trampled some of the stars (8:10). The scene of violence was not over.
The little horn rose against the Prince of the host, causing the regular burnt offering to be taken away and the sanctuary to be overthrown (8:11). The image of a “little horn” in chapter 7 prepares the interpreter for a malevolent figure who opposes God and God’s people. And in 8:9–12, the Israelites and their worship are a target of the little horn. A reference to “the regular burnt offering” (8:11) is about worship at God’s sanctuary (Lev 1), which apparently the wicked little horn thwarts.
The scene of persecution and antagonism provoked a question by one angel to another angel, asking essentially, “How long will the atrocity last?” The answering angel said, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state” (Dan 8:14). Apparently, Daniel had witnessed a temporary judgment which the Israelites would experience under a future empire. The angel said the atrocity would last 2,300 evenings and mornings. Some interpreters may see “evening” and “morning” and assume that days are meant. But the evenings and mornings could refer to the times of sacrifice. After all, the vision already mentioned the regular burnt offering (in 8:12 and 8:13). In a context where sacrifices have been invoked, the 2,300 may refer to 2,300 evening and morning offerings. If the number counted each offering, then the number of days would be more like 1,150—half of 2,300.
8:15–19 Daniel did not understand what he had seen in the vision (8:15). A voice told Gabriel to help Daniel understand, so the angel approached him (8:16–17). Probably overwhelmed at the sight of an angelic being, as well as horrified by the violence prophesied for the Israelites, Daniel was frightened (8:17). But Gabriel assured him that the vision “is for the time of the end,” beyond Daniel’s day. The “time of the end” does not have to mean the end of all things; it is probably a phrase meaning the “distant future,” like the phrase “latter days” (2:28). The “end” may be the end of a specific empire or may refer to “the end of the indignation” that 8:19 mentions.
8:20–25 Still struggling physically and emotionally with the vision, Daniel was helped by the angel’s touch (8:18). An interpretation came next. The ram with two horns represented the Medo-Persian kings (8:20), and the goat with the single horn was the king of Greece (8:21). Since the goat trampled the ram, the interpreter expects that the Greeks would overcome the Medo-Persians. And in 331 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Medo-Persians. Alexander was the single horn on the goat’s head. But Alexander died, and so the horn was broken. In its place, four other horns emerged, and these horns may represent the four generals who took over different parts of Alexander’s kingdom (8:22).
One of the generals, named Seleucus, was the first of a line of Seleucid kings. Many years went by before a Seleucid king named Antiochus IV came to power in 175 BC. He was the little horn (8:9, 23). He was bold, aggressive, and blasphemous. In approximately 167 BC, Antiochus IV defiled the Jerusalem temple by offering a pagan sacrifice. He disrupted the system of offerings and forbade the Jews from circumcising their male infants and from practicing the laws of Torah in general. He prevailed over the people and tempted Jews with compromise. If their loyalty was to Antiochus, they would live. If their loyalty was to Yahweh above all, they would die (8:24–25).
But a group of men known as the Maccabees overcame Antiochus’s forces and cleansed the temple, rededicating it for proper worship in 164 BC. This period of about three years corresponded to the angel’s answer of “2,300 evenings and mornings” before the sanctuary would be restored to its rightful state (8:14). While Antiochus was a diabolical ruler, he was an earthly king whom the Lord brought down: “he shall be broken—but by no human hand” (8:25).
8:26–27 The angel told Daniel to seal up the vision, which means to record it and preserve it for the future: the vision “refers to many days from now” (8:26). Daniel was a prophet during the 6th century BC, and the rise of Antiochus IV would not be until centuries later in the 2nd century BC. Though Daniel would not experience the horrors which Antiochus inflicted upon the Israelites, he was still overcome by what he had seen in the vision. According to Daniel’s own testimony, he was sick for days before returning to the business of the Babylonian administration (8:27).
God’s Promise of Ultimate Jubilee and Forgiveness (9:1–27)
9:1–2 Daniel’s practice of prayer continued after the Babylonians fell to the Medo-Persians. In the first year of Darius the Mede (539 BC), Daniel was reading Jeremiah’s prophecies. The prophet Jeremiah had communicated to the Babylonian exiles (see Jer 29:1–23), and Daniel learned that the captivity was a seventy-year judgment (see Jer 25:11–12; 29:10). Since Nebuchadnezzar began besieging Jerusalem in approximately 605 BC, Daniel and others had been in captivity for almost seventy years. The time for release was coming. Daniel reflected on Jeremiah’s words, and they compelled him to pray.
9:3–14 Interceding for the Israelites, Daniel called upon the Lord and confessed their unfaithfulness. God had been steadfast and faithful to the covenant, but the Israelites had committed wickedness and had turned from the divine commandments (Dan 9:4–5). Though God had sent prophets to warn the people and the rulers, the warnings were not heeded (9:6). The judgment of exile had come.
God was just in his dealings with Israel. The exile showed the righteousness of God and publicized the shame of the people (9:7–8). But even the exile was not the full consequence of what their transgressions deserved. God had spared a remnant, and he promised a return to the land. The people had been treacherous, but he would show mercy and forgiveness (9:8–9). The prophets had spoken words from God himself, yet the Israelites rejected the prophets and thus refused the voice of God (9:10–11). The curse of exile was a demonstration of God’s covenant faithfulness because he fulfilled the warnings he had issued (see Lev 26:14–45). The calamity of Israel’s destruction and deportation was a terrifying outworking of divine wrath (Dan 9:12–14).
The exile showed the righteousness of God and publicized the shame of the people.
9:15–19 After acknowledging through corporate confession that the Israelites had violated God’s laws and spurned the prophets, Daniel entreated the Lord for mercy. He wanted God to act on behalf of the Israelites, just like when God had brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand (9:15). The Israelites needed a new exodus, a new deliverance.
The city of Jerusalem was a holy hill which God had smashed with the Babylonian army, yet now Daniel prayed for God’s wrath to turn away (9:16). The removal of judgment would be tantamount to a return and restoration. The prophet longed for God’s face to shine on the temple once more, which would mean a rebuilding and a rededication of the ruined sanctuary (9:17). Daniel prayed that God would act “for your own sake, O Lord” (9:17), which meant a display of God’s glory through the bestowal of mercy and favor. While the defeat of the Israelites would evoke scorn and derision from Israel’s enemies, the vindication of Israel would reinforce the might of Israel’s God.
Daniel prayed and pled, but he needed God to see and hear (9:18). If God refused the prophet’s prayer, the exiles would remain scattered and defeated. The Israelites had no righteousness to prompt God’s mercy. They needed their desolations overcome by a divine deliverance that would exalt God’s power and glory (9:18–19). Daniel emphasized that Jerusalem was “your city” and that the Israelites were “your people” who were called by “your name” (9:19). After sending the Israelites into exile by his hand, will he now, by that same hand, bring them back into their land of promise?
9:20–23 Daniel was not finished praying, but God had already sent an answer. An angelic messenger named Gabriel came while Daniel was interceding for the Israelites (9:20–21). The timing was at the “evening sacrifice” (9:21), which was a practice alluding to the days of the tabernacle and temple. Daniel was not offering sacrifices at a temple while he was in exile, but his discipline of prayer retained the rhythms of the sacrificial system. He was praying for favor and vindication and forgiveness, and he was doing so at the time when a pre-exilic priest would be offering a sacrifice to the Lord.
Gabriel came in response to Daniel’s prayer so that the prophet would have deeper insight into his pleas for liberation and forgiveness (9:22). God loves Daniel and sent the angel to tell “a word” that would be unpacked in the following verses (9:23). This “word” comprises the third vision in the series of visions in the latter half of the book (see Dan 7, 8, 9, and 10–12). Daniel’s third vision is auditory only (9:24–27). The revelation from Gabriel includes some of the most challenging verses not only in the book but in the whole Bible.
The revelation from Gabriel includes some of the most challenging verses not only in the book but in the whole Bible.
9:24 Daniel read about seventy years of captivity (9:2), and Gabriel speaks about seventy sevens, a clear play on the years of exile. While Daniel prayed for the exile to end with favor and freedom, Gabriel speaks about a future time of extraordinary blessing. The seventy sevens would lead to the finishing of transgression, an end to sin, atonement for iniquity, the bringing in of everlasting righteousness, the confirming of both vision and prophet, and the anointing of something (or someone) significant (9:24).
The language about counting sevens is rooted in the book of Leviticus. The Israelites would count seven years so that they knew when to give their land a Sabbath rest (Lev 25:1–7). And they were to count seven sevens of years—seven times seven—so that they would know when the Year of Jubilee arrived (Lev 25:8–22). The Year of Jubilee was a time of release and freedom, of celebration and restoration. The Year of Jubilee was the year of the Lord’s favor, and it became an eschatological hope which God’s Spirit-anointed deliverer would bring (Isa 61:1–3).
The Year of Jubilee (Lev 25:8–22) is the background to the “seventy sevens” in Daniel’s vision (Dan 9:24). The Israelites would return in Daniel’s day, and so freedom and restoration were on the near horizon. But freedom and restoration were on the far horizon as well. God would accomplish something beyond what Daniel was praying about. A day would come when God would deal with the transgressions of his people and accomplish atonement. If seven sevens would lead to the Year of Jubilee (Lev 25:8–22), then seventy sevens (Dan 9:24) would lead to a tenfold Jubilee, a time of unprecedented and glorious mercy and pardon. The things which Gabriel promised (9:24) were the New Covenant realities that the other prophets prophesied (see Jer 31; Ezek 34).
The people needed more than their physical captivity reversed. They needed their sin atoned for. They needed righteousness.
Under the Medo-Persians, the Israelites would return to the land. But the people needed more than their physical captivity reversed. They needed their sin atoned for. They needed righteousness. They needed an anointed one, a king, who could accomplish a surpassing work of sacrifice and say, “It is finished” (Dan 9:24; John 19:30). They needed Jesus and his New Covenant work (Luke 22:19–20). Jesus would be a deliverer greater than Darius the Mede, and he would accomplish a restoration from captivity deeper than physical exile. Jesus would deliver sinners from spiritual exile, from captivity to sin and death. Jesus came to fulfill the Jubilee anticipated by the seventy sevens.
Jesus would deliver sinners from spiritual exile, from captivity to sin and death. Jesus came to fulfill the Jubilee anticipated by the seventy sevens.
9:25 After announcing what God would accomplish in the greatest Jubilee (Dan 9:24), Gabriel added more details about the timespan from Daniel’s day to the day when atonement is finished. From a decree about restoration to the coming of an Anointed One, there would be seventy weeks which Gabriel divides into three parts (9:25–27). Before we look at these three parts, note that Gabriel calls the Anointed One “a prince,” and this equivalence will be important for later in the revelation. Note also that the term “Anointed One” means “Messiah,” and this figure is the promised Son of David who would reign on the throne forever (2Sam 7:12–13). The promises in Daniel 9:24 would be accomplished by the Anointed One of Daniel 9:25.
In the first division of the seventy sevens, Gabriel spoke of seven weeks (or seven sevens). This first division echoes the division in Leviticus 25:8. The counting of these “sevens” begins with “the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem” (Dan 9:25a). This “word” came from Cyrus the Persian (also known as Darius the Mede) in approximately 538 BC (see 2Chr 36:22–23; Ezra 1:1–4). The counting of the first set of sevens is probably symbolic of the era that encompassed the return of the Israelite exiles and the rebuilding of the sanctuary and the city of Jerusalem.
In the second division of the seventy sevens, Gabriel spoke of sixty-two weeks (or sixty-two sevens) which are associated with fortifying the city with squares and a moat in a troubled time (Dan 9:25b). The counting of this set of sevens is probably symbolic of the era from Nehemiah’s day until the coming of Christ. Under Nehemiah’s leadership, the Israelites rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem, and they did so amid opposition and trouble (see Neh 4–6), completing the wall in approximately 444 BC. But the subsequent years would bring trouble for the Israelites, especially under the Greek Empire.
9:26 If seven sevens took the people from the time of the Israelites’ return and up to the time of Nehemiah, and if sixty-two sevens then took the people from the days of Nehemiah up to the time of the Anointed One, then the last seven—the seventieth seven—is the time of the Anointed One’s work. How would this figure accomplish atonement and righteousness which Gabriel said would come (Dan 9:24)? The Messiah “shall be cut off and shall have nothing” (9:26a). To be “cut off” is the language of rejection and curse. Paul teaches that Christ bore the curse of the law in our place (Gal 3:10–14).
Gabriel foretold a future devastation of the city of Jerusalem and its temple: “And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (Dan 9:26). Since the “prince” is the “Anointed One” (9:25a), the people of the prince may be the Jewish people. The Jewish wars with Rome (AD 66–70) resulted in devastation on the city and the destruction of the temple. Gabriel promised, “Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed” (9:26b). God had promised a future destruction of the temple, and it occurred in AD 70 by the Romans. The temple once again faced desolation. Warfare would precede it, and judgment was decreed.
This verse in Gabriel’s revelation is about the atoning work of the Messiah and the judgment upon Jerusalem and its temple. Jesus himself spoke of his future atoning work as well as a future judgment upon the temple. Jesus would lay down his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), and the stones of the temple would be thrown down by an army (Mark 13:2; Luke 21:20–24). The finished work of Christ coincided with the rending of the temple veil (Mark 15:38), a rending which signaled that the purpose of the temple had come to an end.
9:27 In the final verse of chapter 9, Gabriel returns to the subjects of the previous verse (Dan 9:26). There is an A-B-A’-B’ pattern in 9:26–27. In 9:26, Gabriel spoke about the work of the Messiah and the judgment of the temple, and then in 9:27, he spoke once more about the work of the Messiah and the judgment of the temple. The use of an A-B-A’-B’ pattern is a typical rhetorical device among the prophets and noting the use of that device here will help readers understand the referents in 9:27.
Gabriel spoke of the Anointed One making “a strong covenant with the many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering” (9:27a). This strong covenant is the New Covenant. The “many” refers to sinners for whom Jesus dies (see Isa 53:12; Mark 10:45). The “one week” refers to the seventieth seven that brings ultimate jubilee (Dan 9:24). He shall “put an end to sacrifice and offering” (9:27a), which is what Gabriel promised the seventy sevens would lead to (9:24). In his final moment before death on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Following a promise about the coming Messiah’s work, Gabriel spoke once again of the temple’s destruction: “And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator” (Dan 9:27b). The place of abominations would be the Jerusalem temple, destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. The “one who makes desolate” may have been Titus, the Roman general who led the destruction. But God had decreed judgment for the desolator as well, ensuring that the wicked are brought to account.
Daniel had been praying for forgiveness and restoration, and the good news from Gabriel was that a great jubilee was coming for sinners, when the promised Anointed One would seal a covenant and give his life as a ransom for many, atoning for iniquity and bringing the purpose of the physical temple to completion.
Gabriel’s auditory revelation for Daniel (9:24–27) are some of the most disputed verses in the Bible, yet the biblical background (Lev 25:1–22) and the atoning work of Jesus, as well as his promise of the temple’s destruction, comprise the most likely context for understanding the fulfillment of Gabriel’s words. Daniel had been praying for forgiveness and restoration (Dan 9:1–19), and the good news from Gabriel was that a great jubilee was coming for sinners, when the promised Anointed One would seal a covenant and give his life as a ransom for many, atoning for iniquity and bringing the purpose of the physical temple to completion.
The Future Actions of the Persian and Greek Empires (10:1—12:13)
10:1–4 The final vision in the book begins in 10:1 and carries through the rest of the book. The break at chapter 11 mentions the year of a king, but the break is unfortunate because the mention of the year and the king is part of the vision already underway. Daniel’s last vision occurred in the “third year of Cyrus king of Persia,” which was approximately 536 BC. The prophet would be in his 80s. The “word” that was revealed is trustworthy and is about a “great conflict,” and the details of this “word” begin unfolding in 11:2.
When the vision was revealed to Daniel, he had been mourning for three weeks, abstaining from meat and wine and the normal hygienic anointing (10:2–3). Fasting could accompany sorrow and mourning, and that was the case for Daniel. Although he does not explain his reason for mourning and fasting, the timing of the vision is significant. A vision came to him on “the twenty-fourth day of the first month,” which was the month of Nisan. The days of mourning and fasting would have continued through the Feast of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread which immediately followed. Daniel is distressed.
Parallel to the time when Daniel was beside the Tigris River (approximately 536 BC), there was spiritual apathy in the Promised Land. Thousands of Israelites had returned under the leadership of a man named Zerubbabel, and they had begun to repair the foundation of the temple and the altar for sacrifice. But then the rebuilding ceased. There was also opposition to the rebuilding that dampened morale (Ezra 3–4). Thousands of exiles had reentered the land, but perhaps Daniel received word that not all was well in Jerusalem.
10:5–9 Daniel saw an exalted and glorious figure. A man was clothed in linen, like a priest, with a belt of gold around his waist (Dan 10:5). The man’s body was like beryl, a face like lightning, eyes like torches, arms and legs like bronze, and the sound of his words were like the sound of a multitude (10:6). In the book thus far, no angel has received such an extensive description. Daniel was not encountering a created angel. He was beholding the Angel of Yahweh, the divine messenger.
The details of the Angel’s appearance are meant to ignite the imagination and fill it with both awe and fear. And Daniel was afraid. The men with Daniel could not see the vision, but they fled to hide anyway (10:7). Only Daniel beheld this overwhelming sight, and his strength and color left him (10:8). This set of descriptions is the source for John’s words about Jesus in Revelation 1. John saw that the exalted Son of God had eyes like fire, feet like bronze, and a roaring voice (Rev 1:14–15). The face of Christ shone brightly, and when John first saw him, John fell at his feet like a dead man (Rev 1:16–17).
John’s use of imagery from Daniel 10 to describe Jesus in his vision may confirm that the Old Testament figure was divine and not a created angel. In fact, John saw that the Son of Man in his vision wore a long robe with a golden sash around his chest (Rev 1:13), and this detail alludes to what the prophet Daniel saw, a man clothed in linen with a belt of fine gold around his waist (Dan 10:5). Reading these Old and New Testament chapters together, readers may conclude that not only did the prophet Daniel see a divine figure but that this divine figure was the preincarnate Son of God.
10:10–14 The heavenly figure strengthened Daniel, helping him from his prostrate position (10:9–10). The figure came in response to Daniel’s prayer. In fact, from the first day Daniel began to seek understanding (probably three weeks earlier; see 10:2), God heard his words. Part of what Daniel needed to understand was the spiritual warfare that was currently being waged. An angelic—demonic—power, whom the figure calls the “prince of the kingdom of Persia,” had opposed the figure for twenty-one days, which was the same amount of time Daniel had been mourning and fasting. In the spiritual realm there had been spiritual warfare, and Daniel was learning about it from the divine figure in this vision.
Part of what Daniel needed to understand was the spiritual warfare that was currently being waged.
The angel Michael arrived to oppose the satanic spiritual powers (10:13), so the figure in Daniel’s vision came to give understanding about “what is to happen to your people in the latter days” (10:14). The context of spiritual tension and warfare suggests trouble in the present and the future for the Israelites. The “latter days” referred to a period of time distant from Daniel’s day.
10:15–11:1 Daniel anticipated a revelation of trouble and turned toward the ground without speaking (Dan 10:15). The heavenly figure touched Daniel’s lips, and Daniel spoke about pains from the vision and a lack of strength (10:16–17). With another touch, the figure strengthened Daniel and assured him of being loved (10:18–19). Daniel did not need to fear; he could be strong. He readied himself for the details of the vision (10:19).
The divine messenger would return to oppose the satanic powers of Persia, but the empire of Greece would come eventually (10:20). The Greek Empire was the subject of the messenger’s revelation. He would give Daniel some understanding of “what is inscribed in the book of truth” (10:21), which refers to the secret counsels of God. The messenger had revelation about heavenly and earthly warfare that was coming, and which was already going on. The angel Michael was the “prince” or angelic “leader” of the Israelites (10:21), and during the first year of Darius (approximately 539–538 BC), the heavenly figure had confirmed and strengthened Michael for spiritual work (11:1).
The timing of this strengthening is important because the victory of Darius over the Babylonian Empire (in 539 BC) would lead to the release of the Israelites from exile. So, when the divine messenger strengthened Michael (the angelic leader over Israel), this action was a preparation for the warfare that would ensue on an earthly plane. When the Israelites faced tension and opposition and open hostility, these problems coincided with the clashing of spiritual forces and authorities in heavenly places (Eph 6:12).
11:2–20 While the tenth chapter focused on the heavenly figure who appeared to Daniel, now begins the content of the revelation itself. Daniel learns of more Persian kings who will come, one of which will provoke the kingdom of Greece (Dan 10:2). A mighty king—Alexander the Great—would arise and conquer the Medo-Persians in 331 BC (10:3). But several years later this mighty Greek king would die, and his empire would divide toward the four winds of heaven (10:4).
The kingdom of Alexander would be divided among his generals. These generals became the new heads of respective lines of kings. The king of the north was called Seleucus, and the line of kings from him was called the Seleucid kings. The king of the south was called Ptolemy, and the line of kings from him was called the Ptolemaic kings. The directions “north” and “south” are with reference to the Promised Land. The Seleucid kings ruled north of the Land, and the Ptolemaic kings ruled south of the Land. The location of the Promised Land meant that whenever the kings of the north and south were embattled, there could be implications for the Land in between.
From 11:3 (with the rise of Alexander the Great) to 11:20, the heavenly messenger prophesies a period of Greek history that would unfold over approximately 150 years (from 331 to 175 BC). There would be skirmishes between the kings of the north and south. Seleucid and Ptolemaic rulers would plot and wage war, deceive one another and plunder. The figure’s prophecies do not name the particular rulers; they are simply known as a “king of the south” or a “king of the north.” But the reason the messenger moves quickly through 150 years of warfare among Greek kings is so that the pace can slow with the rise of a contemptible Greek king who would inflict terrible atrocities upon the Israelites.
11:21–35 The main disclosure in the final vision to Daniel is a period of future persecution against the Israelites which a particular Seleucid king would cause. In history we know this man to be Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Antiochus IV became king in 175 BC, and he was a formidable ruler (11:21–24). His dominion increased, and he was fierce with vengeance. He came against the Ptolemaic king in the south but did not succeed (11:25–27). While returning to his own territory, Antiochus killed many Israelites (11:28). He conceived of coming against the Ptolemaic land again, but this time ships from Kittim aided the king of the south, and Antiochus IV withdrew in rage (11:30). He came against the people of Israel in Jerusalem.
In 167 BC, Antiochus IV profaned the Jerusalem temple by offering a pagan sacrifice. He forbade the Jews from following the laws of Torah, and he demanded that the Jews forsake their allegiance to Yahweh. If they refused to compromise, Antiochus would order their execution. Many Jews forsook their covenant with God (11:30, 32). A group of Jews known as the Maccabees rose with resistance against the Greek army, and in 164 BC the Maccabees retook the temple and dedicated it for right worship and sacrifice. The rededication of the temple became an annual feast known as Hanukkah.
The years of persecution (167–164 BC) were horrible and violent. The wise—those who know the Lord—instructed people and held fast to their hope in God, whereas some Jews rejected the faith of the Scriptures. When opportunists saw that the Maccabees were overcoming the Greek army, the opportunists joined the Jewish warriors with flattery (11:33–34). While many faithful Jews died during these years of persecution under Antiochus IV, the promise was that God’s people would be purified and refined (11:35). An end-time hope for their vindication would compel their present faithfulness under persecution.
11:36—12:3 Sometimes interpreters have said this passage foretells a future Antichrist who will persecute the people of God but will be vanquished at the return of Christ. The language opening this passage, however, does not indicate a shift in subjects. The divine messenger tells Daniel, “And the king shall do as he wills” (11:36a). The bold and blasphemous king that was in view (particularly in 11:21–35) was fulfilled by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. And so 11:36 may be also talking about this antagonistic king.
The problem with “the king” in 11:36 still being Antiochus is that the verses which follow cannot be a chronological continuance of that king’s reign. Some interpreters have concluded that Daniel has reported prophecy about Antiochus, then, but the prophecies were not completely trustworthy. But what if 11:36 is still talking about Antiochus yet is not picking up chronologically where 11:35 left off? What if readers can affirm the trustworthiness of the words about Antiochus in 11:21–35 and also in 11:36—12:3?
Because of corresponding themes between 11:21–35 and 11:36—12:3, it seems that the content and chronology in 11:21–35 is recapitulated in 11:36—12:3. In other words, beginning in 11:36, the speaker goes over the same ground that was initially covered in 11:21–35. A literary device like recapitulation would explain how 11:36—12:3 is still about Antiochus but also how it is trustworthy prophecy.
In 11:36–39, the divine messenger prophesies about the wicked king’s blasphemous and militarily ambitious actions. In 11:40–41 we hear again about how this king waged battle with the king of the south (a Ptolemaic ruler) and how a return to his own land included the murder of many Israelites. The heavenly figure mentions that the wicked king would show more hostility toward Egypt (11:42–43), and after this the king would direct his fury toward to the people in the Promised Land (11:44–45). These actions of the Seleucid ruler were fulfilled when Antiochus IV Epiphanes persecuted the Israelites in Jerusalem and defiled their temple (167–164 BC).
Amid the coming persecution, God promised help and hope: “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” (12:1). The heavenly warfare would be accompanied by earthly vindication. Through the countermovement of the Maccabees, the Israelites were able to overcome the Seleucid forces and rededicate the temple in Jerusalem for proper worship in 164 BC.
Just as 11:21–35 ended with a hope of purification and vindication, 11:36—12:3 ends with the same notions. Under the brutal reign of Antiochus IV, many Jews would perish because of their faithfulness to God. Yet their death would not be the last word. The future of God’s people is resurrection life: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (12:2). The resurrection of the dead would mean everlasting life and peace for God’s people but shame and everlasting judgment for God’s enemies (see John 5:28–29; Acts 24:15).
The wise “shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:3). The heavenly figure is depicting the glory of a resurrection existence. Paul shows how this hope is inaugurated already for the saints in Christ, for we are called to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15). In Christ, the saints are the light of the world and have already begun to shine. But the glory of resurrection life is the promise for all who belong to God. Death may be our future, but bodily resurrection is also in store and will be the bursting of death’s bonds. Christ will return and “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil 3:21).
12:4–7 While the heavenly figure is still in the vision which Daniel sees, 12:4–13 provides a kind of epilogue to the scene. Daniel receives final instructions, and the book comes to a close. The messenger tells Daniel to seal his book until the time of the end (Dan 12:4), which refers to the times of fulfillment in the far horizon from his day. The recent revelation, in particular, would not be fulfilled for centuries. Daniel can seal the book, then, knowing that understanding about its contents would increase as time passed. In that way, “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (12:4). The running “to and fro” is a search for understanding (see Amos 8:12), and “knowledge shall increase” as readers discern historical fulfillments to the prophecies in the book.
Daniel saw two others standing on both banks of the stream (Dan 12:5). These “others” are angels. One of them spoke to the man clothed in linen, “How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?” (10:6). The man in linen (10:5) was above the waters of the stream (10:7), and this position further confirms his divine stature. In the Old Testament, God is the one who hovers over the waters (Gen 1:2; Job 9:8; Ps 29:3). The angel asked about the “wonders” which the revelation referred to (Dan 11:2—12:3), and the exalted figure said it would be for “a time, times, and half a time,” and then the shattering of the holy people would end (12:7). The persecution would be temporary. If “a time , times [+2], and half a time [+.5]” is a period of years, then the number 3.5 may be accurate. If 3.5 years is the meaning, then that period was fulfilled from 167–164 BC when Antiochus IV terrorized the Jews.
12:8–10 Daniel did not understand everything he had been told, and he wondered about the outcome—or purpose—of these wonders (12:8). The exalted figure said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end” (12:9). Daniel needed to carry on in faithfulness and not worry about the things occupying his mind. The purpose of the vision, after all, was beyond the days of this prophet.
The divine speaker shared that “Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined” (12:10a), and this seems to be part of the answer to Daniel’s question about the “outcome” of the persecution (10:8). The faithful will show themselves faithful. Through persecution, God will purify his people. Their suffering will not be wasted. The wicked, however, will show their true colors by expressing their lack of wisdom (12:10b). The persecution of the saints will reveal the righteous and the unrighteous.
12:11–12 Daniel heard that the future atrocities (which would be fulfilled in the Greek Empire when Antiochus IV persecuted the Jews) would last 1,290 days (12:11). That is the time period after the regular burnt offering is disrupted and an abomination is set up. In terms of years, the 1,290 days is approximately 3.5 years. This fits into the years 167–164 BC, when the persecution by Antiochus disrupted Jewish worship at the temple.
While the 1,290 days referred to a period of difficulty and trial, “Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days” (12:12). This beatitude is for those who go through the trial. The difference between the numbers is 45 days. When Caleb had entered the Promised Land and received his allotment, he said, “And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the LORD spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old” (Josh 14:10; see Num 14:30). Caleb had transitioned from wilderness to inheritance, and the number 45 was significant in that regard.
The people of God are called to persevere, through the wilderness of trial and suffering, and they do so in view of God’s blessing, for the inheritance that is promised will be theirs. God does not break his promises. The inheritance for the saints will show the faithfulness of God that stretches to the skies.
12:13 Daniel would die outside the Promised Land, but that would not prevent him from receiving the allotment God had for him. For now, Daniel would go his way and rest in death (Dan 12:13). But he would rise with the saints and shine like the stars. His allotment—inheritance—would be the new creation, which is what the Promised Land foreshadowed.
Daniel, an old man and full of days, would die in hope. The visions he had heard and seen would come to pass at the appointed times, there would be seasons of suffering which the people of God would face, and the political and social structures would shift and shake. But through it all, the sovereign God, the one who holds our breath, would glorify the Stone uncut by human hands. Daniel would rest in death during the reign of the Medo-Persians, but he would rise in glory to an everlasting kingdom.
Chase, Mitchell L. “Daniel,” in the ESV Expository Commentary, vol. 7. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018.
Davis, Dale Ralph The Message of Daniel. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013.
Duguid, Iain M. Daniel. Reformed Expository Commentary. Phillipsburg: P&R, 2017.
Greidanus, Sidney Preaching Christ from Daniel: Foundations for Expository Sermons. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.
Hamilton Jr., James M. With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014.
Steinmann, Andrew E. Daniel. Concordia Commentary. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2008.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Daniel Taken to Babylon
1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family1 and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. 6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. 9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, 10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” 11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” 14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. 16 So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. 21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.