1. Author and Time of Writing
The book of the prophet Daniel ( hebr. = my God is judge) owes its name to the main character. Daniel, as many other authors of the antiquity and the Bible, writes of himself in the third person throughout the first part of the book. From chapter 7:28 onwards (in the second part) he writes of himself in the first person. In chap. 7:1 Daniel tells us how he wrote down the dream that was revealed to him. In chap. 12:4 he is asked to shut up the words and seal the book. This can only relate to the entire book written by him.
Daniel belonged to those Jews who had been led away captive to Babylon at the first siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in the year 605 BC (compare Dan. 1:1-2 with 2 Kings 24:1 and 2 Chron. 36:6-7). By this Isaiah’s prophecy to king Hezekiah was fulfilled which was spoken of around 100 years before Daniel’s time. This prophecy said that the descendants of Judah’s king would become servants of the king of Babylon (compare Dan. 1:3 with Is. 39:5-7). Daniel was one of these nobles und descendants of the Jewish royalty who were destined to serve at the Babylonian court after profound training. He was probably not more than 15 to 20 years old at his imprisonment.
Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were exemplary in their heathen surrounding by their believing determination. The first six chapters of the book describe their – and especially Daniel’s – faithfulness in the most varied circumstances of life.
Under Nebuchadnezzar Daniel served as regent over the whole province of Babylon and was chief of the governors over all the wise of Babylon (Dan. 2:48). After Nebuchadnezzar’s death we hear of Daniel again during the time of Belshazzar only. Belshazzar was Nabonid’s son and reigned during his father’s absence as vice-king. At that time Daniel was an old man already.
After the conquest of Babylon through Darius the Mede (probably Gubaru or Gobryas) in the year 539/538 BC Daniel was appointed as one of the three presidents set over 120 satraps of the kingdom of the Medes and Persians (Dan. 6:2-3).
The last indication of a date is the 3rd year of king Cyrus of Persia in Dan. 10:1 which was the year 536/35 BC. Daniel must have been around 85 to 90 years of age when he wrote down his last visions.
Daniel was a contemporary of Ezekiel who went into Babylonian captivity in 597 BC (around eight years later than Daniel). Ezekiel mentions Daniel three times in his book ( Ez. 14:14.20; 28:3). Daniel knew also Jeremiah’s writings whose service had begun already some years before the Babylonians started to attack Jerusalem. While studying the book of Jeremiah Daniel came to the conclusion that the announced 70-years-captivity would come to a soon end (Dan. 9:2).
When the Lord Jesus in his Olivet discourse spoke of the profanation of the temple through the Antichrist He explicitly mentions Daniel the prophet (Matt. 24:15; compare with Dan. 11:31; 12:11). The Lord refers to Daniel 7:13 in Matt. 24:30 and 26:64 as well.
Daniel is not mentioned especially in Heb. 11 among the heroes of faith of the OT. But should the words of verse 33 “who stopped the mouths of lions” not refer to Daniel who was spared in the lion’s den (Dan. 6)?
The book of Daniel has been the object of unbelieving criticism for ages. The first attacks go back to the heathen New Platonist Porphyrius of Tyre (3rd century AC). Porphyrius designates the book of Daniel as the work of a Jew of the 2nd century BC. The modern critics hold similar opinions. The reasons mentioned against Daniel’s authorship are pretended historical inaccuracies, linguistic details and the “theology” of Daniel. The main reason for criticism however is no doubt the fact that Daniel prophesied historical events with absolute precision (as did Isaiah). For Daniel has in detail described the Syro-Egyptian fights of the time of the Maccabees among other events (Dan. 11:1-35). This is simply impossible – say the critics. They say a book with such details must have been written only after these events. But Daniel has also prophesied precisely of the coming of Christ (Dan. 9:25). Finally he writes on the still future events of the time of the end before the second coming of Christ. In all this the words of Amos the prophet are clearly affirmed: “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealed his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
2. Purpose of Writing
In the Hebrew Bible the book of Daniel does not belong to the prophets but to the “writings” (hebr. ketubim), which is the third and last part of the OT. There the book is placed between Esther and Ezra.
A large part of the book is written in Aramaic (chapters 2:4 – 7:28). Aramaic was the official language of the Babylonians and Persians. The reason for these facts is probably that Daniel in contrast to the other prophets living during and after the exile prophesied hardly anything in relation to Israel or Judah but his prophecies are mainly about the heathen nations.
The great theme of the book of Daniel are the four world empires which rule and will rule the world’s history from after Jerusalem’s destruction up to Christ’s appearing before the millennium. This period is called the “times of the Gentiles” in the NT (Luke 21:24). Jehovah could no longer publicly accept His earthly people Israel or Judah respectively. He punished it through the captivity in Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. He had left His habitation the temple (Ez. 10:4.18; 11:23). The most high God, possessor of heavens and earth (Gen. 14:19), had as it were retired to the heavens. In the book of Daniel God is called “the God of heaven” four times (chap. 2:126.96.36.199), “King of heaven” once (chap. 4:37) and once “Lord of heaven” (chap. 5:23). During this time of His indirect government God puts the authority over the earth into the hands of heathen nations until His Blessed One, the Lord Jesus, shall take over the government as glorified Son of Man.
Daniel gives a prophetic overview on the times of the Gentiles that is the four world empires: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. After the complete failure of these empires’ government finally the people of Israel will be restored to God and Christ will reign over all as king.
The fact that Daniel is describing the times in which we are still living makes the book especially interesting for the Christian.
The book may be divided into two great parts. The first part (chap. 1 – 6) after the introduction of a faithful remnant (Dan. 1) describes various historical events out of Daniel’s life. To start with, chapter 2 tells us of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s interpretation of it. This dream contains Nebuchadnezzar’s human view of the four world empires. This is an imposing view indeed! The following chapters 4 – 6 not only show Daniel and his friends’ exemplary faithfulness but also indicate various characteristics of the heathen world empires, which will find their culmination in the time of the end. Chapter 3 shows the idol worship, chapter 4 the human arrogance, chapter 5 the blasphemy and chapter 6 the deification of man.
The second part starts in chapter 7 with a second revelation on the four world empires but out of God’s sight: The empires are like four wild beasts. Chapter 8 tells us of the second and third empire, chapter 9 of the end of the Babylonian captivity and of the Messiah and chapters 10 to 11 of the kings of the north (Syria) and the south (Egypt). Chapter 12 forms the end in which we find the faithful remnant again.
There is a close relationship between the book of Daniel and the revelations concerning the future in the New Testament. Matt. 24 – 25, 2 Thes. 1 – 2 and Revelation are additions respectively extensions of the revelations Daniel received. Only by considering them all together will we receive the right comprehension over the future events.
The Prophecy of the 70 Weeks
Daniel 9:24-27 gives exact indications on the point of time of the Messiah’s appearing. After “70 weeks” that is periods of each seven years (= year weeks, compare with Lev. 25:8) there shall be made an end of sins and everlasting righteousness shall be brought in and a most holy place shall be anointed. The 70 year weeks fall into three periods: seven weeks (= 49 years), 62 weeks (= 434 years) and one week (= 7 years), 490 years in total.
The starting point for counting these 490 years is the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem. This happened in the year 445 BC in Artaxerxes’ 20 th year ( Neh. 2)1. To begin with follow the seven weeks, that is 49 years, in which Jerusalem was rebuilt under great threat from within and from without. This is partly described in the book of Nehemiah. Then follow the 62 weeks or 434 years leading up to the Messiah. But after the 69 weeks, that is 483 years, the Messiah would be cut off and have nothing.
This can only relate to the death and ascension of the Lord Jesus. If one calculates these 483 years as prophetical years of 360 days each (12 x 30 days) one gets 173.880 days which including the leap-years result in 476 calendar years and lead to the year 31/32 AC.
The last year week still awaits its fulfilment. They are the last seven years before the millennium will be set up. Between the end of the 69 th and the beginning of the 70 th year week lies the actual time of grace, during which the “calendar of Israel” is not valid so to speak. The last year week of Daniel will begin after the rapture of the saints. According to Dan. 9:27 this week will be divided into two parts. The second half of these 3 ½ years is mentioned more than once in the Revelation either as “a time, times and half a time” (Rev. 12:14, compare with Dan. 7:25) or as 42 months (Rev. 11:2; 13:5) or also as 1260 days (Rev. 11:3; 12:6). If one assumes that it is always the same period of 3 ½ years one discerns that these “prophetic years” are 12 x 30 days.
The Four World Empires
According to Daniel 2 and 7 the God of heaven considers the world’s history from another viewpoint than man. For Him His people Israel are the most important people on earth (Deut. 32:8-9) and the land of Palestine is the navel or the middle of the earth (rendered land in English) ( Ez. 38:12). During the time of the rejection of Israel as a nation God sees the world’s history as sequel of four great world empires: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. In Daniel 2 these empires appear to Nebuchadnezzar in form of an imposing human image composed of four parts. A stone (which signifies the Lord Jesus) without human hands finally destroy this image. In Daniel 7 God gives the prophet another sight; here the world empires are portrayed as four rapacious wild beasts without knowledge that finally receive their judgment.
The fourth empire ( Rome) ruled at the time the Lord Jesus was living on earth (compare Luke 2:1). It perished during the Middle Age but will rise again according to Rev. 17:8b in the last days (“the beast that was, and is not, and yet is”) and then be destroyed by Christ with the other countries before the millennium will be set up (Dan. 2:44-45; 7:11-14; Rev. 13; 19:19-21).
4. Overview of Contents
Daniel 1: Introduction: Daniel’s Decision and God’s Answer
Daniel 2 – 6: Character of the World Empires
Daniel 7 – 11: Prophetical History of World Empires
1) According to earlier opinion Artaxerxes’ edict was made in
455 BC. If one deducts 483 years
one gets the year 28 AC.