An introduction to the Book of Daniel with a brief overview of how the Book of Revelation applies it.
The book of Daniel is a well-structured literary work, not a collection of folk stories or random and unrelated visions. At the very beginning, the key themes of the book are presented in brief, then worked out in detail in the subsequent chapters, and each new vision builds on the preceding ones.
The historical stories in the first six chapters lay the foundation for the visions and their interpretations in the second half of the book. Even the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar about the “great image” with a “head of gold” anticipates the detailed vision of the “four beasts ascending from the sea” in chapter 7.
Each vision includes one or more common subjects. For example, the cessation of the daily sacrifice is mentioned in the visions of the Ram and the Goat, the Seventy Weeks, and the Kings of the North and South, as well as in the conclusion to the book – (Daniel 8:10-13, 9:26-27, 11:31, 12:11).
The name ‘Daniel’ means “God is my judge.” He first appears as a young Jewish exile who just arrived in Babylon from Jerusalem. No information is provided on his family history, though he was from the nobility – “Of the seed royal and the nobles.”
At the time of his deportation, most likely, Daniel was a teenager. He received his final vision in the third year after the overthrow of Babylon by the “Medes and Persians,” that is, around 536 B.C. This means his prophetic “career” was spent in the city of Babylon over a period of approximately seventy years. There is no record that he ever returned to Judah, and presumably, he died in Babylon at an advanced age.
Daniel was given the Babylonian name ‘Belteshazzar,’ which means “Bel protect [the king],” ‘Bel’ being the Akkadian form of ‘Baal’ (“lord, master”) that was applied to the patron deity of Babylon – Marduk.
Daniel is classified as a prophet in Jewish and Christian tradition, although in the book, he is presented as a “wise man” with great “discernment.” In the royal court, he was noted as a great interpreter of dreams – (Daniel 1:17, 2:13, 5:11-12).
Daniel was a devout Jew living in a pagan culture. At times, certain members of the inner court were hostile to him. Despite occasional pressure, he remained loyal to the God of Israel. His ability to interpret dreams won him high praise and position in the imperial civil service. Later, he served faithfully in the court of “Darius the Mede” after the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire – (Daniel 5:31-6:1).
The book presents the role of the prophet in affecting events at the courts of the Babylonian and Persian empires. His visions concerned the changing World-Power and the control of the God of Israel over the course of history.
Daniel epitomizes the faithful Jew who lives by divine grace within pagan society. He perseveres despite the downfall of the Jewish nation and his vulnerability to powerful forces. Yahweh provides him with wisdom to confound his opponents. Though powerless, God uses his pronouncements before kings to change the course of history.
Daniel served in important positions within the governments of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and “Darius the Mede.” Nebuchadnezzar made him the “chief of the wise men” and governor of the province of Babylon. Belshazzar appointed him the third ruler in his kingdom, while Darius placed him over the provincial governors of his domain – (Daniel 2:48, 5:29, 6:1-3).
All the events in the book occurred during the captivity of Israel in Babylon, which Yahweh imposed to punish Judah for her sins. The northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyria a century earlier, and later, the last remnants of the Assyrian empire were destroyed at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. by Babylon – (2 Kings 17:7-18, 2 Chronicles 35:20, Jeremiah 46:2).
After his defeat of Assyria, Nebuchadnezzar subjugated the nations of northern Palestine, including Judah, and imposed tribute on each new vassal. This was a region known as the “Hatti-land” by the Babylonians (“All the kings of the Hatti-land came before Nebuchadnezzar and he received their heavy tribute” – from the Chaldean Chronicle, quoted from Exile and Return by Charles Pfeiffer, Baker Books, 1962, p. 12).
In the case of Judah, the “heavy tribute” included the deportation of a select group of Jews to serve in the Babylonian civil service. Thus, in the assessment of the book of Daniel, the captivity of Judah began with the subjugation of Jerusalem in 605 B.C. – (Daniel 1:1-4).
The rise of Nabopolassar to the Babylonian throne in 626 B.C. marked the start of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which endured until 539 B.C. when it was overthrown by the “kingdom of the Medes and the Persians,” the Achaemenid Empire under the rule of Cyrus the Great. The book includes chronological references that coordinate key events with the reigns of the kings of Judah, Babylon, Persia, and Greece – (Daniel 1:1-2, 1:21, 6:28-31, 11:1-4).
The book applies a theological concept to the period it covers, the time of what it calls the “indignation,” the divinely ordained period of correction. When Daniel spoke of the “time of the end,” he meant the end of the “indignation,” not the end of History. The “indignation” also provides another chronological marker that connects several of his visions – (Daniel 8:17-19, 11:36).
In the Hebrew Bible, “indignation” refers to the indignation of God with Israel for her sins, and to the resultant punishment. In Daniel, it began with the overthrow and captivity of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. The book also refers to it as the “desolations of Jerusalem,” the period when the “little horn” waged war against the “saints” for “time, times, and part of a time” – (Daniel 7:24-28, 9:1-3, 9:18-27, 12:1-7).
Based on the internal evidence, the book was composed after the start of the Captivity and completed by the early years of the Persian Empire. The range provided is from the “third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim” (606 B.C.) to the “third year of Cyrus king of Persia” in 536 B.C. – (Daniel 1:1-2, 1:21, 5:31-6:1, 10:1).
The Babylonian Captivity developed over several stages, beginning in 605 B.C. with the subjugation of Jerusalem. It culminated in the destruction of the city and Temple in 587-586 B.C., and there were at least three deportations to Babylon – (606, 598, 587 B.C.).
The historical sections describe events in the lives of Daniel and three of his companions. The dream-visions in the second half were received between the first year of Belshazzar’s reign and the third year of Cyrus the Great. These visions are built on a framework of four successive kingdoms that precede the inauguration of the kingdom of God. Three of the four kingdoms are identified by name – Babylon, the “Medes and Persians”, and Greece. Though not named, the fourth kingdom is one of the four divisions of the Greek empire that resulted from the death of its first king, Alexander the Great – (Daniel 2:24-45, 8:20-25, 11:1-4).
The theme of the book is that God rules over the kingdoms of this world and gives rulership to whomever He pleases, “even to the lowest of men.” Despite appearances and human machinations, His purposes are not thwarted.
Chapters 1 and 8 through 12 were composed in the Hebrew language. The section in chapters 2 through 7 was written in the Aramaic dialect of the Persian Empire. The switch to Aramaic occurs at Daniel 2:4 when the “Chaldeans spoke to the king in the Syrian language,” meaning Aramaic, and the change back to Hebrew occurs at Daniel 8:1. The change is too specific to be accidental or the product of later copyists.
The Hebrew and Aramaic sections point to a date of composition during the Babylonian Captivity. The man who wrote the book was familiar with both languages and uses grammatical and idiomatic features peculiar to the Mesopotamian region.
The several stories in the Aramaic section demonstrate that God gave Daniel “knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom,” and furthermore, enabled him to use the language and learning of the Chaldeans to demonstrate that Yahweh rules over the kingdoms of the world.
The use of the Aramaic language fits the historical setting. By the time of Nebuchadnezzar, it was the de facto language of diplomacy and commerce among the nations of the Near East, and it became the common tongue of many Jews by the end of the Babylonian Captivity – (2 Kings 18:17-37, Ezra 4:11-22, 5:7-17, 6:6-12, 7:11-26, Nehemiah 8:8).
The contents of the Aramaic section concern events that occurred during the Babylonian empire, and in the first few years of the “kingdom of the Medes and the Persians.” In contrast, the visions in the Hebrew section are about events that occurred after the fall of the Babylonian Empire.
IN REVELATION. Verbal allusions from Daniel are used repeatedly in the book of Revelation, and the original source material often sheds light on the symbolism of Revelation. For example, the “little horn” that “made war with the saints and prevailed against them” is echoed in the visions concerning the “beast” that waged war “against the saints.” And John’s single “beast from the sea” is the amalgamation of the “four beasts from the sea” in Daniel – (Daniel 7:1-8, Revelation 11:7, 13:1-2).
But Revelation does not simply quote verses from Daniel; it reinterprets them in consideration of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Events predicted for “latter days” become “what things much come to pass soon.” Daniel was told to “seal” the book “until the time of the end,” whereas, John was commanded NOT “to seal the book, for the season is at hand” – (Daniel 2:27-28, 12:4, Revelation 1:1-3, 22:10).
Thus, the events Daniel saw that were to occur in a distant future John witnessed unfolding in his day and often accompanied by more explicit and detailed explanations.