Four Episodes in Daniel's Life
We are reviewing the book of Daniel in preparation for our study of the book of Revelation. Here is an outline of the book:
1. The court of Nebuchadnezzar – 1:1-21
The Jewish boys, Daniel and three friends are in captivity and training in the Babylonian palace. They are placed in high positions.
2. Nebuchadnezzar's dream – 2:1-49
In his dream, the king sees a great statue made of gold, silver, brass, iron and clay which is then destroyed by a stone hitting the feet of the statue and turning it to dust which is blown away. Daniel comes forward to discern the dream and interpret it. From historical records we know that he was correct:
- The golden head was Babylon.
- The silver chest and arms were the Medo-Persian Empire.
- The brass belly and hips were the Greeks.
- The iron legs and feet mixed with iron and clay were the Romans.
- The stone was Christ and His church that appeared during the Roman period and eventually grew to cover the earth while all of the kingdoms before it have been crushed and have disappeared from the world scene.
From this point on Daniel and his three friends are given a high position in the court of Nebuchadnezzar.
3. Four episodes in Daniel's life – 3:1-6:28
We will begin discussing in this chapter.
4. Four visions in Daniel's prophecy – 7:1-12:13
This section is a more detailed vision concerning the earlier prophecy regarding the world powers that were to come in the future.
For this chapter let us look at Nebuchadnezzar's reaction to Daniel's interpretation of his dream.
These four important events cover a period of about sixty years and the majority of Daniel's record. We will review all four of these in this chapter.
Chapter 3 – The fiery furnace
According to the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament with historical notes) this event took place in the 18th year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign after Daniel had been in Babylon about 18 years. This was the same year that Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem a second time in order to burn it down and destroy the temple. It is interesting that Daniel does not appear in this event.
1 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height of which was sixty cubits and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent word to assemble the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. 3 Then the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces were assembled for the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed: "To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, 5 that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. 6 But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire." 7 Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
- Daniel 3:1-7
Some claim that Nebuchadnezzar got the idea of the statue from the dream. Making and refurbishing public shrines and statues were part of the king's duty. DURA is an unknown sight in the Babylonian flat river area. Archaeologists have found very large pedestals that could have been the base of the statue. The idea was to put it in the flatlands so it could be seen from afar gleaming in the sunlight (9 ft. base x 90 ft. high).
The king was to use the unveiling of the statue as an opportunity to test the loyalty and submissiveness of his court and ministers. He calls and tells them to bow down and they do. Of course, this presents a problem for the three friends of Daniel because, like the pagan food, this type of worship was a violation of their faith. To do this, even to appease the king, was to sin against God.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to do this and their detractors (others jealous of their position) accuse these men of insubordination to the king. The king is furious but because they have served him well, he permits them to explain themselves. These faithful men tell the king that their confidence is in God to save them and whether He does so or not does not matter, they will not do this.
The king demands that they be thrown into a large brick kiln (oven), heated to the maximum which would leave not even any ashes of their body (an abomination even for pagans). The king observes that the three are joined by a fourth person (an angel of the Lord) and that the fire is not affecting them at all.
When they are released, Nebuchadnezzar decrees that the religion of these men become a "protected religion" and rewards the three with even higher positions.
- Whether God heals us or not, answers our prayer or not, gives us prosperity or not, He is still God and deserves our trust and obedience.
- You will have your chance to witness for Christ. Everybody gets an opportunity to publicly show their faith, even if it is not as dramatic as this. It is not always life or death, but it is always a test to confess Christ or deny Him.
- God is always with you, even if it seems He has let you down. The angel was a sign that God would be with them in death, even if this time He was sparing them for His own purposes.
Chapter 4 – Nebuchadnezzar's madness and recovery
In this chapter, Nebuchadnezzar recounts the events of his madness and recovery: He has a dream where a great tree is present and ultimately cut down to a stump. Daniel tells him that the tree represents him and that because of his pride, his sanity will be taken from him and he will have the mind of an animal for seven periods (Lycanthropy, a form of schizophrenia). The Babylonians counted only summer and winter so this would be a period of about 3½ years.
Daniel also appeals to the king to repent of his sins and do good deeds to avoid this punishment from God.
Apparently the king does not do so and a year later as he is walking on the roof of his palace, contemplating his own achievements and greatness, he is struck with this madness. The Babylonians believed that madness was a form of divine madness. There are inscriptions by Nebuchadnezzar that have been found. Thousands of large bricks that tell of all his great victories and works, they were used to construct buildings, etc. One of his writings mentions a period of four years where he did no public works and where he did not delight in his kingdom.
With time he recognizes his sin and acknowledges that God is the true ruler of the world and this includes kings. After this realization and confession, he is restored to health, his position and splendor.
It is interesting to trace the progression of Nebuchadnezzar's faith, beginning with a fierce, pagan, proud ruler:
- After Daniel interprets his original dream he acknowledges that God is stronger than all the gods. He is still a polytheist who has added the Lord to his list of gods.
- After the furnace he declares that worship to this powerful God is good and should be protected. Now he is a sympathetic polytheist.
- After the second dream and his recovery from madness, he himself now worships God and declares Him to be eternal, all-powerful and sovereign. He actually prophesizes himself. He now believes.
This is a good lesson for us who are discouraged about converting family and friends or the effect of the gospel on powerful people.
Chapter 5 – Belshazzar's feast
We now fast-forward to the very last night of the Babylonian kingdom. Daniel has now been there 70 years. Nebuchadnezzar is dead and a man named Nabonidas has inherited rule, but since he would prefer other pursuits he leaves the throne in the hands of Belshazzar, his son.
Belshazzar decides to organize a lavish feast in his own honor and as the food and especially the wine is flowing, he demands that the vessels that were taken from the temple in Jerusalem be brought out for display and common usage for their party.
This, of course, was a sacrilege to Jewish eyes and all done out of pride and with the purpose of showing how powerful they were, having destroyed the temple of the Jews and their God.
While this was going on, a man's hand appeared and began to write on the wall opposite them. This frightened the king and so he called on his "wise men" to interpret the writing on the wall, promising them the third highest position in the kingdom for the one who could do it (his father was first and he was second).
No one can and Daniel is brought in to solve the mystery. He refuses the reward but interprets the message. Before he does so, however, he reminds Belshazzar of Nebuchadnezzar's experiences with God and the lessons learned, lessons which Belshazzar has refused to learn and which have brought him to this point.
The inscription was a series of symbols for Aramaic weights and measures, A MINA, A MINA, A SCHEKEL, and FRACTIONS. The word interpretation: NUMBERED (minas were counted in units); WEIGHED (shekels were measured by weight); FRACTIONS (represented division). The literal interpretation: God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it; God has weighed you in the balance and you have been found wanting; your kingdom will be divided (and given to the Medes and Persians). Belshazzar is disturbed by this and still offers the honor to Daniel and declares him to be the third ruler in the kingdom.
Inscriptions found by archaeologists tell us that this took place on October 12, 539 BC. That night the Medes led by Darius (one of Cyrus' commanders) diverted the flow of the Euphrates, and led by two Babylonian deserters, marched their army under the walls along the dry river bed. They captured the city without a battle while the king and leaders were drunk at their feast. Darius reigned for about two years while Cyrus was fighting other battles in the north. Eventually Cyrus came to claim the rule of Babylon.
One good lesson for us from this episode is that we should be careful to learn from the mistakes of the past. Belshazzar was defeated because he refused to honor God or apply the lessons from the past to his present life.
Chapter 6 – Daniel in the lion's den
Daniel, perhaps because he had prophesied concerning their victory, is now placed with two others into cabinet positions over the 120 governors who would rule over the entire nation. This position and his superior abilities provoke jealousy among the other ministers and governors. They want him out, so they devise a plan to attack him on his religious beliefs and practices which are different than their own.
Their strategy was to create a law which in effect made the king the supreme high priest for a month. This would show his authority in every dimension because no prayer, no petition, no religious function could be performed without his blessing for a certain period of time. The plot was to accuse Daniel of defying this law through his daily habit of private prayer. The law was punishable by death and under Persian custom, royal decrees could not be changed nor exceptions be made. Of course Daniel is once again faced with the decision of honoring God or forfeiting his position and his life.
The lions were kept by Persian kings for sport. They would hunt and kill them on royal land to demonstrate their sovereignty over man and beast (king of men, king of beasts).
Daniel (now about 90 years old, contrary to pictures of a young Daniel) is placed in the den and unharmed. This pleases the king because he respected Daniel and realized the plot too late to change anything. After Daniel is removed from the den, the ministers and governors who participated in the plot are executed along with their families. The chapter ends with Darius glorifying God and rewarding Daniel like Nebuchadnezzar before him.
We have reviewed four episodes in Daniel's life that showed his and his friends' faith and courage, God rescuing them over and over again and pagan kings brought to faith or punished by a King who was demonstrated as being greater than they.
All this happened to affect several people:
- Daniel and his friends were vindicated by their faith in God.
- The kings and leaders in Babylon came to know and honor the true God who raises up kings and kingdoms and has the power to destroy them and their idols.
- The Jews who were in Babylonian captivity saw their city and the temple where God dwelled destroyed and overrun by pagans. They had to put up with the boast of their captors that the power of their gods was greater than the power of the God of the Jews. (And their captivity and destruction of Jerusalem was pretty convincing proof).
However, through Daniel's life and the very high profile events that I have just described, God was able to help His people maintain their faith despite their defeat. God was still in charge and still working in their lives as well as in the lives of their captors.
In this way the Jews, while in captivity, were able to maintain the spirit and practice of their religion.