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Daniel in Babylon

By Mike Mazzalongo     Posted: Thu. Dec 26th 2013
A background look at the person (Daniel) and the circumstances surrounding his exile from Jerusalem to Babylon as well as a first description of the dream that forms the basis for Daniel's prophecies.

We are studying the book of Daniel as a way of understanding the background information, imagery and symbolism that is contained in the book of Revelation.

Much of the apocalyptic style of writing found in Daniel is also found in Revelation; understanding one helps us understand the other. Much of the prophecy in Daniel is fulfilled in Revelation as well.

Both Daniel and Revelation speak to a primary audience (believers) as well as address issues on the world stage (successive world powers and Roman persecution).

Daniel was a young man from a well to do family in Jerusalem who was carried off into captivity by the newest world power emerging at that time, Babylon, and its greatest king, Nebuchadnezzar.

Babylon the City and Empire

Babylon was the greatest city and empire in the pre-Christian era. Assyrians ruled longer, but their cities were not as great or beautiful. Babylon was ruled for most of its time by Nebuchadnezzar (45 years in all) who never tired of beautifying and improving its great capital city.

Ancient historians say that the walls around the city were 60 miles long (15 miles on each side). The walls were 300 ft. high, 80 ft. thick and 35 ft. into the ground so enemies could not tunnel under. All were made of brick. There was ¼ mile of cleared space around the wall where a mote was built. There were 250 towers, 100 gates of brass and sentries posted everywhere. The city of Babylon was an impregnable fort. The city itself was divided by the Euphrates River that flowed through it and there were draw-bridges to get across. There were 53 temples and 180 altars to the goddess Ishtar (goddess of war and love).

Nebuchadnezzar's palace was huge with walls 50 ft. thick. Nebuchadnezzar also built one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the hanging gardens of Babylon. He built these for his queen. The gardens were 400 square foot platforms held up by arches that cascaded down one from another. They were filled with flowers, trees, and shrubs and were all watered from a reservoir at the top fed by hydraulic pumps from the Euphrates River from below. Underneath the arches were luxurious apartments, the pleasure grounds of the palace. These were built while Daniel was the chief governor of the wise men of Babylon.

Isaiah (13:17-22) and Jeremiah (51:37-43) both prophesied that this great city would not only be destroyed but it would remain uninhabited forever. In 539 Cyrus, who had taken over Media, Persia, and Elam, led his army into Babylon and captured this seemingly indestructible city and nation without going into a long protracted battle. The Medes simply diverted the flow of the Euphrates River and marched the army under the wall along the dry riverbed at night, capturing the Babylonian leaders by surprise.

It remained an important city throughout the reign of the Medo-Persian kings and even to the reign of Alexander the Great, but after his death the shift of power went to Rome and the city declined.

By the time of Christ it was mostly in ruins and, except for archaeological expeditions, it remains abandoned until this day, just as the prophets had said. It was into this city, this empire, that Daniel and several of his friends were brought for retraining and reeducation by Nebuchadnezzar.

Book of Daniel

The book of Daniel presents Daniel (7:1, 28) as its author. It was confirmed as Daniel's work by Jesus Himself in Matthew (24:15). It was also accepted by Jews and early Christians and this view was unanimously held until the rise of "Modern Criticism" that contended that it was written in the 2nd Century before Christ by an unknown author. This theory has been rejected by scholars (both Jewish and Christian).

The book is written in two languages: Chaldean or Aramaic which was the diplomatic language of that era (2:4-7:28) and the Hebrew language for the balance. This is what might be expected from a book written for Jews living in Babylon, containing information describing their actual experience in Babylon and references to their own Jewish past and future.

Outline – Daniel

  • The court of Nebuchadnezzar – 1:1-21
  • Nebuchadnezzar's dream – 2:1-49
  • Four episodes in Daniel's life – 3:1- 6:28
  • Four visions of Daniel's prophesy – 7:1-12:13

Daniel the Person

Daniel was of a noble family, probably of royal blood. Josephus says that he was probably kin to King Zedekiah of Judah, which is why he and his friends had access to the Babylonian court and were not placed with the people instead.

He rose to a position of great power because of his ability to interpret dreams, his visions and his great piety and faith in the Lord. He was a young man when he went into captivity and died an old man, still in Babylon 72 years later. He lasted through the reign of five kings beginning with Nebuchadnezzar and lasting to the reigns of Darius the Persian and Cyrus the Mede in 534 BC. Even though the Jews returned home after 70 years, he remained until his death. He was God's witness in the palace that ruled the world during his lifetime.

The court of Nebuchadnezzar

1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along 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 he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, 4 youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king's court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king's choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king's personal service. 6 Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach and to Azariah Abed-nego.

8 But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself. 9 Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials,10 and the commander of the officials said to Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king, who has appointed your food and your drink; for why should he see your faces looking more haggard than the youths who are your own age?

Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king." 11 But Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 "Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king's choice food; 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 their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king's choice food. 16 So the overseer continued to withhold their choice food and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables.

17 As for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams.

18 Then at the end of the days which the king had specified for presenting them, the commander of the officials presented them before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king's personal service. 20 As for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm.21 And Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus the king."
- Daniel 1:1-21

Note that in a compact first chapter Daniel summarizes the reason why he and three others are now in the palace of the king. Part of their training was to immerse them into Babylonian culture, this included eating their food. The young Jews accepted (and excelled) at the academic training but refused to eat the food: food sacrificed to idols, food not prepared in "kosher" style, some of the food may have been considered "unclean."

Of course this test of faith results in the Lord's blessing them so that they maintained their right to eat without violating their conscience, and they succeeded in impressing the king and securing very high positions in the palace.

Good lessons for us here:

  • Decide in advance that you will obey God so you will not be pressured on the day of testing.
  • God tests us with trials and with opportunities (opportunity to get ahead if we break some minor rules).
  • God always rewards obedience, sooner or later. He did it sooner with Daniel, later with Jesus.
  • You never know why God has put you where you are; why the test is what it is.

Daniel's impact lasted centuries, but he did not know it then. You never know if the doing of right in your humdrum routine might have tremendous impact later (or the reverse: avoiding confessing Christ, or avoiding to do right might eliminate you from contributing mightily to the Kingdom).

In any case, we see that Daniel's position is secured with God and with the king by the way he conducts himself in the early stages.

Daniel 2:1-49 – Nebuchadnezzar's dream

This chapter describes the beginning of Daniel's ministry of prophecy in the king's court. What takes place is the following:

The king has an unusual dream that makes him anxious since he does not understand it. The Babylonians were adept in the black arts, the occult and magic. They would try to foretell the future by reading the stars or cutting open animals and "reading" their inner organs; they also put much importance in dreams and their meaning.

The king calls his "wise men", a collection of sorcerers, astrologers, counselors and ministers to give him the interpretation of the dream. The catch is that he does not tell them what the dream is. They must tell him the dream and interpret it.

He tells them that if no one can do this they will all be executed and their homes destroyed; this included Daniel and his three friends who were part of the court's advisors. The wise men confess that they cannot and so the king orders the decree that all wise men are to be executed. When Daniel hears this, he and the three other Jewish youths go to God in prayer and God reveals the dream and its interpretation to them. Daniel then goes to the king with his revelation and saves himself and the others (since he was considered one of the wise men by the king).

31 You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary splendor, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome. 32 The head of that statue was made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34 You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

36 "This was the dream; now we will tell its interpretation before the king. 37 You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory; 38 and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold.

39 After you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth.

40 Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces. 41 In that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay. 42 As the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery, so some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle. 43 And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery.

44 In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. 45 Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy."
- Daniel 2:31-45

In the interpretation of this dream, Daniel not only discovers the king's mind but he also prophesies concerning world events that will take place in the next 650 years.

The dream:

A great statue: the head is of gold, the breast of silver as well as arms, the belly and hips of brass, legs of iron and the feet a mixture of iron and clay. A stone appears, cut without hands, and strikes the feet of the statue. The statue crumbles to dust and is blown away. The statue grows into a mountain which fills the earth.

The interpretation:

The head is gold and is the embodiment of the kingdom of Babylon: the first great and magnificent world kingdom. (The Assyrians also ruled before them but not with the splendor and wealth and total control of the Babylonians.) The breast and arms of silver represent well the dual nature of the Medo-Persian Empire that conquered and replaced the Babylonians. Also, silver coinage and this people's wealth in silver fits the imagery in the dream as well as the two arms or two nations ruling as one.

The belly and hips of brass refer to Alexander the Great and the Greek nation who will become the next world power after the Medo-Persians. Alexander innovated warfare by introducing brass armor in combat.

The Roman Empire is described as legs of iron with feet of mixed clay and iron. The Romans introduced iron weapons in warfare. At the beginning they were tough and unbreakable like iron legs. As the Empire grew, however, it began making alliances with other nations (rather than conquering and ruling them by force). This is represented by the feet mixed with iron and clay.

The stone cut without hands refers to a supernatural source. The small stone totally destroys the statue and conquers its essence and substance (power, control, dominance, glory, etc.). The stone is the kingdom established by God, never to be destroyed and always alive and growing. It will eventually dominate everything and last forever.

Once Nebuchadnezzar hears this he falls on his face to honor Daniel as a true prophet and worships the God of Daniel. He also makes Daniel the head of all wise men and counselors in the palace and his three friends the administrators of the province of Babylon.

Summary

This is a tremendous prophecy because of its clarity and exactness. He said that this dream was about the future rulers of the world. He gives the exact number there will be as well as their order and enough information from the dream to identify them. He prophesies correctly about the coming of the church and at what exact period of time (Roman) it would appear, destroy the opposition and continue its growth. He even correctly interprets the idea that none of these kingdoms would ever revive (all blown into dust).

Jesus, the Apostles, and the last 2,000 years have confirmed that the church, the kingdom of God on earth, the stone cut without hands, continues to grow filling the earth long after these other kingdoms have dried up and blown away.

This section is important not only to prove the inspiration of the Bible, but also to set the scene for what will take place in Revelation. Revelation describes the actual stone striking the base of the statue. The conflict between Rome and the church is described in Revelation. Revelation continues the prophecy originally made in Daniel but completed in the time period when John writes the book of Revelation. It is not an instant destruction but rather a struggle begun in the first century that will go on for several hundred years that will finally end in victory for the church.

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Dr. Stafford North
Professor of Bible
Oklahoma Christian University