This is the book of the universal sovereignty of God. Prophecy is here interwoven with history to show that God is overruling the idolatry, blasphemy, self-will, and intolerance of the Gentiles.5This theme is demonstrated by the linkage between the first six chapters which contain historical narrative and the remaining chapters which illustrate the sovereign control of God in the spiritual realm behind the scenes of history, especially His foreknowledge in predicting and determining the course of history.
It is one thing to see how these episodes [of chapters 1-6] are related. But how are they relevant to the prophetic sections of the book? The reiterated point of the historical episodes relates to the terrifying visions of the earthly kingdoms in an important way. Daniel’s overall purpose, obviously reflecting God’s purpose in giving him these revelations, was to strengthen the faith of the people of God against the prospects of future events. . . . The historical episodes support the thesis that whereas earthly kings are temporarily sovereign, God is supremely so and His kingdom will never end. This theme is stated explicitly in the prophetic section.6Some attempt to find refuge from the sovereignty which pervades Scripture by holding that although God knows in advance what will happen, He doesn’t control its outcome. This impotent view of God must surrender in the face of passages such as Daniel 9:24-27‣ which predicted the arrival of the Messiah based on a specific pattern of seventy sevens of years. When one considers the generations in the line leading to Messiah between the prediction by Gabriel unto the presentation of Jesus to Israel, one is faced with the realization that all the variables contributing to the “random” timing of human choices pertaining to romance, courting, and marriage (not to mention conception) were not just foreknown, but predetermined for the predicted Seventy Sevens to come to pass.The revelation of God’s ultimate control of all affairs is intended to be a source of great comfort for those who trust in Him:
These accurate prophecies demonstrating God’s control are not intended merely to demonstrate God’s omnipotence. They are primarily designed to comfort God’s people. He is in control of all human history for their benefit. While this benefit may be seen in the short term (as when Daniel is rescued from the lions’ den or the young men from the fiery furnace), often it is not immediately evident (as in the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar or the persecution of God’s people under Antiochus IV Epiphanes). Yet Daniel emphasizes that God always has his people’s welfare in mind, so that by his mighty hand, often unseen in the course of human events, “all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).7
And I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries: according to their way and according to their doings I judged them. And when they entered unto the nations, where they went, they profaned my holy name, when they said to them, These are the people of the LORD, and have gone forth out of his land. But I had pity because of my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations, where they went. Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD; I do this not for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for my holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations, where you went. (Eze. 36:19-22)The events of the captivity and associated destruction of Jerusalem might appear to the natural eye as if to indicate that God was incapable or unwilling to defend Israel or that He had reneged upon His promises:
To the interested observer of Israel’s fortunes in Daniel’s time, it seemed that Yahweh had either become impotent or had abandoned His chosen people. The gods of Assyria and Babylon had apparently triumphed over Him. His temple lay in ruins, His capital had been ravaged and stood empty and vulnerable, and His people were living as unhappy captives in a foreign land. At such a time as this, God revealed His supernatural power. He did so to demonstrate that He is the one true God and that He is still sovereign over the affairs of humanity and history.9The superiority of Israel’s God over the Gentile gods is seen in the passages where God receives worship through the witness of Gentile kings. Nebuchadnezzar makes numerous pronouncements glorifying Israel’s God (Dan. 2:47‣; 3:28-29‣; 4:2-3‣, 34-35‣, 37‣).10 Darius the Mede also testifies concerning the abilities and character of the God of Israel (Dan. 6:16‣, 25-27‣).Nebuchadnezzar captures the temple vessels and places them in the temple of his god (Dan. 1:2‣) seemingly demonstrating the superiority of Marduk over the God of Israel. However, subsequent abuse of the vessels by Belshazzar (Dan. 5:2-4‣) results in the ultimate overthrow of Babylonia at the hands of the Medes and Persians as instigated by Israel’s God (Dan. 5:5‣, 22-28‣).Although Babylonian rulers appeal to various wise men—who revere Babylon’s gods—for understanding (Dan. 2:10-11‣; 4:7‣; 5:7-8‣), only Daniel’s God is capable of providing the sought after information (Dan. 2:19‣, 27-28‣; 4:19‣; 5:15-17‣).When Babylonian rulers require veneration and worship under the threat of death (Dan. 3:4-6‣, 10-11‣; 6:7‣) those who refuse to worship idols while exhibiting their trust in the God of Israel are preserved (Dan. 3:17-27‣; 6:22‣).
Daniel also emphasizes the person and work of the Messiah as Jerome recognized centuries ago. In the Son of Man figure (Dan. 7:13-14‣), the seventy sevens passage of chap. 9‣, and elsewhere in the prophecy, Christ is set forth. Both his first and second advents are referred to, with particular attention directed toward the latter.... Finally, eschatology is a prominent theme in Daniel’s prophecies, particularly the tribulation of the last days and the subsequent new world. Someday the Messiah will appear and establish a kingdom that will bring earthly regimes to an end.12A significant passage in chapter 7 relates that the kingdom “shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High” (Dan. 7:27‣), contributing to the doctrine of the co-rule of the saints in the Messianic Kingdom (Ps. 45:16; Dan. 7:27‣; Rev. 2:26‣; 3:21‣; 5:10‣; 20:6‣; 22:5‣). This truth is especially relevant during the difficulties the saints face prior to the arrival of the kingdom.13The permanence and eventual global control of the eternal Kingdom of Messiah is at odds with man’s attempt to establish a kingdom independently from God of similar characteristics: “Men always try to reestablish the kingdom of Babel. Every major political leader, whether you’re talking about Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, Caesar or you come up into more modern times with Napoleon and Adolph Hitler, every major political leader in human history has tried to reestablish the kingdom of man and to bring the entire world under one governmental system. Why? Because man wants to control his destiny independent from God; he wants to set up a society and all the structures in society, from education, politics, economics, law, he wants to set everything up completely free from divine interference. And what we see in this is the seed of the Biblical critique of human culture, that man tries to continuously establish his social structures, his intellectual, his political existence independent from God and free from the authority of His Word, but God is not going to allow that to happen and it continuously fails.”14A major theme of the book of Daniel is the contest between the kingdom of man (originated in Babel) and the kingdom of Messiah—and the ultimate victory of Messiah’s kingdom as the only eternal kingdom.
The book portrays God’s interest in, and care over, His chosen people, even when they are being punished for sin. This is shown in the historical portion by actual events described, and in the predictive portion by the nature of the prophecies, in which Jewish interests are continually placed in the fore.20In revealing the eventual restoration of Israel, the book serves as an encouragement concerning God’s provision for His elect nation in the midst of judgment.21 God’s provision for the Jews in the midst of judgment is evident from the very first verse where we find Daniel taken to Babylon in advance of the majority of his countrymen. Like Joseph who was sold into Egypt, it was God’s purpose to send Daniel ahead as part of His plan to provide favor for the Jews in the midst of their hardship.22
[God] will “refine them, purify [them], and make [them] white” (Dan. 11:35‣) so that they can maintain their faith with integrity, even in the face of persecution. He will make them insightful enough to avoid compromising their faith, and he will also awaken them from death, raise them bodily, and make them shine like the brightness of the sky forever (Dan. 12:2-3‣).26Like Daniel, we in our age are living geopolitically in the “Kingdom of Man.” The question arises as to how we should live within a culture predominantly opposed to God and His principles? Do we take a stand on every issue and become continually divisive? Do we take the opposite approach of yielded pragmatism and risk amalgamation by the culture? By observing Daniel’s behavior immersed in the culture of Babylon, we can discern important principles that help us in our Christian walk in this world. Principles that tell us when to take a stand and when it may not be necessary or wise.27
The book of Daniel is a prophetic book, but it is more than that: It contains some of the most precious and important lessons in practical Christianity that can be found anywhere in all the Word of God. Today as never before we need to emphasize the necessity for living an obedient, Spirit-filled, separated life, dedicated unto the Lord, and the reward for such a life. I believe the greatest need in the Church today is the need for men, consecrated to God as Daniel was when he purposed in his heart that he would be obedient to God regardless of he cost to himself.28
How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ (Isa. 14:12-14) [emphasis added]Thus began the millennia-long struggle of usurped dominion and self-elevation by “the god of this age” and representatives of his choosing (Mat. 4:9). Satan’s influence has abetted fallen man in his desire to throw off God’s restraints as he imagines himself as a god, independent and in charge of his own destiny (Ps. 2:1-3). Ultimately, Satan is destined to achieve near universal worship through the elevation and self-deification of a man (Rev. 13:2-4‣, 15‣).While asserting his independence and self-will, man perverts his behavior as the divinely ordained representative over the earth. Scripture reveals that man’s degeneracy reaches such a degree that instead of reflecting his unique created stature, in the image of God, he descends to the level of the beasts over which he was to rule. Thus, man’s imagined “ascent” toward deity works out to be a descent into increasingly beastly behavior.31 All the while, as man portrays himself in glorious imagery, God evaluates his behavior as akin to a beast.This theme surfaces within the book of Daniel in the interplay between image and beast.
1Using a collection of satellite-based observations, scientists and visualizers stitched together months of observations of the land surface, oceans, sea ice, and clouds into a seamless, true-color mosaic of every square kilometer (.386 square mile) of our planet. “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in” (Isaiah 40:22). Image courtesy of NASA. Image is in the public domain.
2The Jewish kings were deposed in the events leading up to the Babylonian captivity. See Historical Setting.
3“Without doubt the principle theological focus of the book is the sovereignty of God. Every page reflects the author’s conviction that his God was the Lord of individuals, nations, and all of history.”—Stephen R. Miller, “Daniel,” in E. Ray Clendenen, Kenneth A. Mathews, and David S. Dockery, eds., The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 50.
4David Jeremiah, The Handwriting on the Wall: Secrets from the Prophecies of Daniel (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1992), 11.
5J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1981), 3:526.
6Les P. Bruce, “Discourse Theme and the Narratives of Daniel,” in Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 160 no. 638 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, April-June 2003), 182.
7Andrew E Steinmann, Daniel (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2008), 29.
8The Plane of the Ecliptic is illustrated in this Clementine star tracker camera image which reveals (from right to left) the Moon lit by Earthshine, the Sun’s corona rising over the Moon’s dark limb, and the planets Saturn, Mars, and Mercury. “Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name): ‘If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the LORD, Then the seed of Israel shall also cease From being a nation before Me forever.’ Thus says the LORD: ‘If heaven above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel For all that they have done, says the LORD’ ” (Jeremiah 31:35-37). Image courtesy of NASA. Image is in the public domain.
9Thomas Constable, Notes on Daniel (Garland, TX: Sonic Light, 2009), 4.
10Contrast Nebuchadnezzar’s response to God’s revelation with that of Belshazzar who has no record of being humbled or glorifying God.
11“Two statements in chapters 2 and 7 might express the theme of Daniel: ‘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 itself endure forever’ (2:44). ‘I kept looking . . . and behold . . . One like a Son of Man was coming. . . . His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed’ (7:13-14).”—Bruce, Discourse Theme and the Narratives of Daniel, 177-178.
12Miller, Daniel, 51.
13“The place of the saints in God’s everlasting kingdom is also supported by the historical episodes. The saints will be promoted to positions of responsibility within His kingdom. The servants of God, participants in the narratives in chapters 1-6, illustrate that principle. . . . Believers can live with the conviction that they are part of a greater kingdom in which they have rights and responsibilities. Believers in various political regimes may face persecution and hardship or even martyrdom.”—Bruce, Discourse Theme and the Narratives of Daniel, 182-183.
14Robert Dean, Lessons on Daniel (Spokane, WA: Ellen Kelso [transcriber], 2006), 2.22.
15“The prophecy traces the course of ‘the times of the Gentiles’ (Luke 21:24) from the captivity of Judah under Nebuchadnezzar till the second advent of Christ and the setting up of the Messianic Kingdom over Israel.”—Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 1603. “In light of what is revealed in the opening and concluding chapters of this section, it is fair to say that chapters 2-7 depict the role, character, and succession of the Gentile nations of the world under whom Israel is being disciplined before Messiah’s kingdom. These chapters affirm that these Gentile kingdoms have the right of world sovereignty (under God’s authority) until God is pleased to establish the messianic kingdom, and that no adversary can successfully oppose Him (Dan. 2:44‣; 4:3‣, 34-35‣; 5:21‣; 6:26‣; 7:14‣, 27‣).”—J. Paul Tanner, “The Literary Structure of the Book of Daniel,” in Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 137 no. 545 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, January-March 1968), 281.
16“And now, as we know, with this particular nation (Israel) were tied up all the gracious promises of God. Were these promises cancelled? Could God achieve the impossible, humanly speaking?”—H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Daniel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1949, 1969), 15.
17“The people about them were saying that God had cast them aside (Jer. 33:24), and they needed to hear that this was not so. They needed to hear, indeed, that God actually had a long, attractive future in mind for them.”—Leon J. Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998), 14.
18“Thus the purpose of the Book of Daniel could be stated this way: ‘To demonstrate that God is sovereignly in control of the nations under whom Israel is being disciplined until the time comes when He will bring in Messiah’s kingdom, and that Israel will ultimately be restored and blessed in this kingdom after she has first undergone tribulation and sufferings imposed by the Antichrist.’ ”—Tanner, The Literary Structure of the Book of Daniel, 282.
19“Daniel in the Lion’s Den.” Lead glass window (detail) in the Catholic parish church, Saint-Aignan Church of Chartres, Lorin (1888). Image courtesy of Reinhardhauke. Use of this image is subject to Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
20Wood, A Commentary on Daniel, 23.
21“Four items about this time period would greatly encourage the exiles. First, they would be encouraged to know that this time period would not last forever but rather would be limited to four specific empires. Second, they would be encouraged to know that God was sovereign over the empires that were oppressing them. His limitation of their reigns revealed His sovereignty over them. Third, they would be encouraged to know of God’s covenant faithfulness as evidenced by His intention to preserve a remnant throughout this traumatic time period. Fourth, they would be encouraged to know of God’s purpose to honor the Abrahamic covenant by learning of His intention to ultimately restore the kingdom to Israel (Dan. 2:35‣, 44‣).”—Andy Woods, Introduction to the Book of Daniel, 25.
22 “Thus, Daniel had been in Babylon for eight years when Judeans of the captivity of 597 arrived, and nineteen years when those of 586 came. He continued to live during the full period of the captivity and was able to witness the return to Judah of many of the people in 538/537 B.C.”—Wood, A Commentary on Daniel, 13-14. “The other area of work concerns Daniel’s enhancement of the welfare of Judeans, while they were in captivity. One would naturally expect the lot of captives to be a hard and oppressive one, but this was not the case for many, if not the majority, of Judeans in Babylonia. There is evidence that they lived in a good farming area of the land, had their own homes, enjoyed freedom of movement, continued their own institutions of elders, priests, and prophets, experienced employment opportunities, and even carried on correspondence with the homeland. The likely human factor to account for this surprising condition was the influence of Daniel, working from his position in the government. A principal reason for God’s permitting him to be taken captive eight years earlier than the captivity involving the large group of Judeans may well have been to allow opportunity for him to achieve such a position.”—Ibid., 17.
23Thomas A Howe, Daniel in the Preterist’s Den (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008), 36-37.
24See Rev. 12:13-17‣.
25“Recently I read a well-known Christian author who made the comment that he did not see how any believer who was serious about his Christian life could ever be a politician because he had to compromise so much. Well, he wasn’t thinking of Daniel.”—Dean, Lessons on Daniel, 1.1.
26Steinmann, Daniel, 30.
27“We’re in [the Kingdom of Man], and to a degree we’re all compromising with that, even in the present moment. Daniel was the story of how to at least be effectively separated from it, that though we live in it we don’t have to be of it”—Charles Clough, Lessons on Daniel (Spokane, WA: Ellen Kelso, [transcriber], 2006), 4.40. (Php. 2:14-16)., “This book is written for believers who are suffering and struggling inside the kingdom of man. In one sense it’s almost a political handbook for how to survive and how to live in a pagan world without compromise.”—Dean, Lessons on Daniel, 3.30.
28Oliver B. Greene, Daniel (Greenville, SC: The Gospel Hour, 1964, 1974), 35.
29“Daniel . . . constitutes an indispensable introduction to New Testament prophecy, of which the chief themes are the apostasy of the church, the revelation of the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, the second advent of Christ, the resurrections, and the establishment of the millennial Kingdom. Those themes (except the apostasy of the church) are Daniel’s themes also.”—Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, 1603.
30“Apart from the far-reaching eschatological disclosures of this book, the entire prophetic portions of the Word of God must remain sealed. Jesus’ great prophetic Olivet discourse (Mat. 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21), as well as 2 Thessalonians 2 and the entire book of the Revelation, can only be unlocked through an understanding of Daniel’s prophecies.”—Ibid., 1606.
31One of the most powerful deceptions of Satan in this age is Neo-Darwinian evolution. Evolution attempts to erase the important distinction between man, uniquely created in God’s image, and animals. As the distinction between man and animal is eroded, a host of evils come to roost: from laws which attempt to bestow human-rights upon animals to laws which denegrate human life to the level of an animal (e.g., abortion, euthenasia).