By Barnard C. Taylor
Parallel reading: Same passages in Kings and Chronicles as for Jeremiah and Ezekiel; Ezra 1 to 3.
1. Date and Historical Occasion
There are two widely divergent views concerning the date of this book:in one view, it was written by Daniel approximately within the years 603-635 B. C.; in the other it was produced at the time of the great persecutor of the Jews, Antiochus Epiphanes, 175- 163 B. C.
According to the former view it is for the most part prophecy in the sense of prediction; according to the latter view it is history given in allegorical form.
The reasons urged for holding the one or the other of these views need not here be cited. They can be found in Driver’s “Introduction,” in the Bible Dictionaries, and in commentaries on Daniel.
Assuming that the contents of the book were written by Daniel, the occasion was important. Daniel was among the captives taken by the army of Nebuchadrezzar (605 B. C.) as he was driving the Egyptians back from their campaign into Mesopotamia. Judah at that time became subject to Babylon instead of Egypt. The Jewish kings who were allowed to stay on the throne, were little more than agents to collect tribute for Babylon. When Zedekiah attempted to withhold the tribute, looking to Egypt for help, he was removed, and Jerusalem was destroyed. (586 B. C.)
Jeremiah was prophesying at Jerusalem and Ezekiel in Babylonia among the exiles, where Daniel was. Ezekiel did not begin his work until 597, six years after Daniel and his companions had been chosen for the royal court. Thus Daniel began his career about eighteen years before Jerusalem fell, and his last message was given after the Jews had returned to build again the temple. (10:1.) He lived through the period of the captivity foretold by Jeremiah, and felt the full force of the sway of the world power over the people of God. It may be that the contentment of the Jews in their exile home would make any prospect of restoration seem all the more hopeless. Not only Gentile enemies, but Jewish indifference would prevent the fulfilment of the earlier prophetic hopes.
2. The Chief Work of Daniel
In its formal aspect the work of Daniel was with the rulers of Babylon. He was given the opportunity to teach them truths about the true God, Jehovah, God of the Jews. He was able to show that Jehovah only was almighty, and that he could defend his people against the hate of their enemies. Fundamentally the work of Daniel was to give comfort to God’s people. In this his work is like that of Isaiah in the second part of his book. He belongs to the time of God’s favor after the time of chastisement, although he lived while the chastisement was still in progress. His work was to give grounds of encouragement to God’s people, to help them see, not so much the cause of their downfall, as shown in Isaiah and Jeremiah, but the certainty that they would come forth again from oppression, that their* suffering was no proof that God had forgotten them, that he still was intervening on their behalf, and that all powers that opposed them would at length be overthrown.
3. The Chief Teachings of Daniel
Whichever view be taken of the date of this book the teaching is the same. The following may be noted:
(1) To give consolation to God’s people in their suffering. The instances recorded of God’s deliverance of those who feared him from suffering imposed by the heathen idol-worshipers gave proof of his constant care over them, and the assurance that there would be a favorable issue from all oppression. There was not taught the doctrine that God would prevent his people from all suffering, for they did suffer, but that suffering imposed as a punishment would end in mercy. And in this the chief thought is not freedom from suffering, but the care of God over those who feared him.
(2) Another prominent truth taught in Daniel is that Jehovah whom the Jews worshiped was the true God, that there was no other.
Much truth of a theological character had already been given to the Israelites to be handed down through them in the teachings of Moses, in God’s dealings with his people as recorded in the historical books and in the earlier prophets. The doctrine of monotheism had before been taught, but it is needful now to emphasize this doctrine. It must be insisted that there was, and could be, but one God, and that it was he who had made himself known to the Israelites.
Isaiah had taught that Jehovah was above all the gods, indeed he had said these gods were no gods. Daniel was to teach that “gods” were not God. Ezekiel's frequent refrain was, “And they shall know that I am Jehovah.” His great thought was that God would be manifested to all the nations.
The consummation of all the pre-Messianic revelations was soon to be reached in the coming of man’s Redeemer, and there was need of the incontrovertible proof that Jehovah, who had promised a Redeemer, was God, that it might be known that the Redeemer who should come came from God, not a god. There can be but one. The one God was the God of the Jews. All the grounds of hope for spiritual life that man could have were to be based upon the claims of the Messiah whom Jehovah had promised to send. In order that such grounds might be known to be sure it was needful to teach that God against whom man had sinned was no other than the one sending this Redeemer.
The highest evidence of the character of God is found in the supreme excellence of the moral attributes shown in the manifestations of himself through the prophets, and especially in Christ. But the proof of the existence of the Supreme Being who concerned himself about man must precede the proof of his character. The miraculous is therefore not only unobjectionable but necessary. If God would save men in his mercy he must give proof that it is a Person and not a force that is watching the interests of man, not a mere power continuing the operations of the laws of nature. Nor was it enough to show omnipotent power, but such power must be exercised with gracious purposes. All recorded Biblical miracles are connected with the unfolding of God’s purpose of redemption. They were not simply evidences of almightiness, nor proofs of benevolence, they were didactic. They helped to teach that God willed to redeem men.
It is by no means clear that the heathen kings of Daniel’s day came to believe in Jehovah as the true God. The proofs placed before them were intended as the permanent possession of God’s people.
(3) The third prominent teaching of Daniel is that the kingdom of God was to be triumphant over the world powers.
However much there may be that is common to all men, there yet has always been a distinction between those classed as God’s people and those who are not. This is not merely a distinction in character, it is one evidenced in conduct. Men have shown enmity against God by attacks, sometimes apparently successful, against God’s people. The one thing for which the Old Testament prophets condemn the heathen is this enmity. At the time of Daniel the heathen enmity had reached its climax in the Jewish captivity. It would seem that God’s enemies had been victorious; that God’s kingdom would not endure; that his people must perish from the earth.
From this darkest hour sprang the brightest promises with the strongest assurances. The world powers, now triumphant, should at last be overthrown, all opposition should be utterly demolished, and the kingdom of God, whose beginning would be miraculous and its origin heaven, would itself overthrow, destroy, and endure forever.
Whoever the author, or whatever the date of this book, its teaching is that the triumphant, glorious kingdom of God shall permanently abide. This truth will be valuable so long as opposition to God’s people tends to discourage them. Physical opposition may be past; others more potent continue. Whatever the form of opposition to God’s cause, his people may rest assured that it cannot be overthrown, though it may be hindered. The final victory of Christ is not uncertain. Its date would seem to be fixed by the amount of valor shown by those who contend for him.
4. The General Character of the Book
In the other prophetic books we find charge, condemnation, and threat predominant. The chief work of the other prophets was to turn the people of Israel back from their sins, to endeavor to secure their fidelity to Jehovah. Besides this, their work was to interpret the calamities that were befalling Israel as judgments sent for punishment.
Daniel does not rebuke nor threaten God’s people. He comforts only. The dream and vision is rare in the other prophets except in Ezekiel. In Daniel the dream and vision make up the bulk of the book. The rest is the narrative of miraculous events by which truth was taught.
The other prophets delivered messages to their people, Daniel delivers none directly to them, though all that he writes is for them. Thus this book is unique among the prophets. This is evident even on the view that the book was written by Daniel. On the other view that it was not produced until the days of the Maccabees, it is regarded as apocryphal. Its apocalyptic character marks it off still more clearly from the other prophets.
5. The General Divisions of the Book
The chapters may be divided into two groups:
(1) Chs. i to 6. In these occur narratives of the experiences of Daniel and his companions, and the dreams of the king Nebuchadrezzar and the vision of Belshazzar, which Daniel interpreted.
(2) Chs. 7 to 12. In these we have the visions that Daniel saw; his prayer for the fulfilment of God’s promised deliverance, and the revelation made to him, in which he was shown the great conflicts that were to come, in which the people of God would suffer, and from which at last they would be delivered.
The same general truths are found in both these parts, and there is recognized a close correspondence between the meaning of the fourfold image of the king’s dream, and the four beasts of Daniel’s vision. (Ch. 2; comp, with ch. 7.)
6. The Chief Thought of the Different Chapters
Chapter 1 shows how Daniel came to be among the king’s counsellors. The class to which he belonged was famous for learning and wisdom. The objection that was made to the food furnished probably arose from religious scruples.
Ch. 2. The great truth of this chapter is that the world powers were at length to be overthrown by the kingdom of God. The latter was to have a divine origin. There are different views about what world powers are meant, whether the last of the four is the Roman or the Grecian. On the supposition that the book is only history under the guise of symbolical terms, and was written while Antiochus was persecuting the Jews, the fourth part of the image meant Greece, not Rome. This view limits the scope of teaching, it does not change its character.
Ch. 3. The miraculous escape of the three Jews from the fire of the furnace was to teach that Jehovah, God of the Jews, was the true God, and was the only God. There was also the teaching that he was not only able to deliver, but would. The power of all who hated the servants of Jehovah could not withstand the merciful intervention of Jehovah in behalf of his people. The king was willing to decree at least that none should speak against the God of the Jews.
Ch. 4. The abasement of the proud king narrated in this chapter was to show that Jehovah was not the God of the Jews only, but universal Sovereign. This truth had been taught to some degree from the first. It is not unlikely that even the Israelites themselves during much of their history held the common idea that each country had its own god, and that Jehovah ruled especially, if not only, in Palestine. Such a doctrine was not held by the divinely appointed teachers of Israel, but it could easily have been accepted by the common people from the beliefs of the other nations. The universal sovereignty of Jehovah needed now to be specially emphasized.
Ch. 5. It was when Daniel was old that he was sent for to give the interpretation of the handwriting on the wall. The teaching of the chapter is similar to that of the preceding, with the further condemnation of the king because he profaned the vessels of the holy temple, and praised the gods instead of God.
Ch. 6. It has been difficult to identify Darius the Mede. There are, however, sufficient reasons for regarding the account as trustworthy. He manifests nobility of character, even if something of weakness, in his anxiety for Daniel, whose miraculous deliverance from the death decreed teaches again that Jehovah is God, and that loyalty to him is not only right, but will be rewarded. Not alone our sympathy for Daniel, but our sense of justice makes us approve the fate of those who would stop Daniel from praying to his God because they were jealous of his preeminence.
Ch. 7. The meaning of this vision of Daniel is similar to that of Nebuchadrezzar’s dream. (Ch. 2.) It is certain that the scope of the vision included the establishing of the kingdom of Christ on the earth. Its full meaning may not yet be exhausted by what has already taken place, but the interpretation that makes the fourth beast mean the Roman power seems the best one. This is accepted in accordance with the general view that the book is prediction and not history symbolized.
Ch. 8. The general thought of this vision is also one of conflict and desolation. It was in part interpreted to Daniel, in part was left obscure. Daniel himself was overcome by the terribleness of what he saw. This is also regarded as including the Roman power.
Ch. 9. Daniel studied the Scriptures of the former prophets and saw the promise of restoration that God had made. And now he prays that the promise may be fulfilled. He confesses that the affliction that had come upon his people was just, for they had sinned. But he prays that the anger of Jehovah may be turned away from his people. While he prayed the answer came. Gabriel assures the prophet that there shall be desolation, and an end of desolation. The Messiah shall come, and shall be cut off. The length of time is given in terms whose meaning has been disputed. Many attempts have been made to determine from these prophecies of Daniel the date of the fulfilment of God’s purposes. It seems to have been left for the event itself to solve.
Chs. 10 to 12 belong together. There is no part of the book more puzzling than this. It is to be noted that the events described took place after Cyrus had given the decree that the Jews might return to build the temple. There is no account of this in Daniel. It is thought that the first chapters of Ezra were originally a part of this book.
The very minute description of the conflict between the powers lends support to the view that it is really a history of what had already taken place in the reign of Antiochus, intentionally made obscure. But the book in general professes to be prophecy, not history. In ch. 12 the revelation given to Daniel goes far beyond what occurred in the Grecian period. It is declared that the distant future is included in the view presented.
Daniel was not told all that should be, but was assured that in the end it would be well for God’s people, that they would be delivered, and that he himself would stand in his lot at the last. Not only is there the comforting’ thought that God would care for his people as a whole, but the individual would not be lost sight of.
Note—The Interpretation of Daniel
A fuller statement seems needed about the different interpretations of this book. What may for convenience be called the traditional view accepts the historical trustworthiness of the narratives, as having been written by Daniel himself, and believes the dreams and visions to have been actual facts. It takes the contents to be prophetic of future events, as the book itself claims. The other view is that the book was produced in the time of Antiochus, and that it only intends to give events already past or conditions then present, but gives these in the form of symbols and allegories. The chief reason for this view is that we do not find other apocalyptic writings in the Old Testament, and that it is not probable that such minute details would have been predicted and so exactly fulfilled. It is said that it was not unusual for writers to place the name of another as the author of their work. This has not been proved. The reader is referred to the articles cited for a full discussion of the subject.