Bible Book of Daniel, Part 1 - Introduction & Chapter 1
Here is my practical explanation of the book of Daniel in the Old Testament of the bible.
In this book, the popular children's stories are Daniel in the Lion's Den and his friends in the fiery furnace. You may also come across teaching on prayer and the 3-week delay in Daniel’s prayer from a battle in the spiritual world.
However, the deeper meanings of God's many visions and dreams to Daniel (and a King) seem to get missed.
I realised this myself in 2017 and the 500th year celebration of the Reformation. After understanding what this represented, I realised that such Great Reformers understood an interpretation of Daniel's prophecies in a way that I had never come across before.
The Daniel Display
To try and explain what I’ve come to realise, I’ve created a wooden ‘display’ to outline what the twelve chapters of the book of Daniel say.
I am writing this in May 2020 during the Covid-19 Coronavirus lock-down, with limited access to materials, resulting in having to use things like:
· A spare piece of chipboard base
· Old pallet wood for cutting into strips and pieces
· A tin of white emulsion as a back-wash
· Screws coming out behind the back of wood strips to slot into the baseboard
· Pictures and words printed from a printer running out of ink
I have created nine sections to cover the twelve chapters, with each one building further on the overall display – first around the edges to form the context, and then the real meat in the middle about the prophecies.
The Ten Chapter-One Points
To begin with, here are ten main points or themes, based around the first chapter of Daniel and a general overview of this book.
There is a block of wood for each point that fits the bottom of the display to form the foundation of things from now on.
There are two other resources you need alongside. Firstly, the bible itself, ideally the Kings James version, to read and study yourself.
Secondly, there are some links to resources elsewhere online if you want to delve deeper and go into further detail.
In addition to this study itself, it's important to read the book of Daniel itself in the bible, ideally several times. There's also highlighted links to any additional resources.
So here goes, the ten main pointers about this book of Daniel and the first chapter:
1. Jews in Babylon
God’s special people were the Jews in the Old Testament and the Children of Israel. God simply asked for whole-hearted worship and obedience to Him for them to walk in His blessing.
They didn’t do this on numerous occasions, causing ten tribes to split into the Northern and two tribes into the Southern sections, and God warned them that they would end up being taken captive by other nations.
The Northern one called Israel fell to Assyria first, and the Southern one called Judah was taken captive by the Babylonians through King Nebuchadnezzar invading their capital city Jerusalem.
“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.” – Daniel 1:1-2
This was the first of 3-phases of take-over in the year 606 BC, with the top layer of society like kings, governors, and potential talent being taken back to Babylon (along with valuable items).
“And the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the princes; Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.” – Daniel 1:3-4
As an aside, the second phase was in 597 BC with around 10,000 Jews being taken (including Ezekiel), and the third phase in 586 BC when the temple and city were finally destroyed.
Therefore, in short, Judah was now coming into the hands of another nation. Although not as severe a treatment as their first period as a family in Egypt with Pharaoh before reaching the promised land, this was still unwanted change.
2. Daniel and Friends
Daniel and his mates were part of this first-phase into Babylon – talented young lads around eighteen.
They came from Royal Lines with teachers like their pastor Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Nahum – all classic Old Testament prophets.
They went to Babylon for three years in what we would now see as a university experience as they tried to remove their Jewish customs and become indoctrinated into the Babylonian empire and Chaldean ways (covering subjects like the Sumerian language, science, mathematics, magic, astronomy and astrology).
They were even given new Babylonian names with different meanings:
· Daniel (meaning 'God is my Judge'), to Belteshazzar (meaning 'The Treasure of Bel').
· Hananiah (meaning 'The Lord is gracious'), to Shadrach (meaning 'Comman of Aku').
· Mishael (meaning 'Who like God?'), to Meshach (meaning 'Who is what Aku').
· Azariah (meaning 'The Lord helps'), to Abednego (meaning 'Servant of Nego').
3. Babylonian Ways
Life for the Hebrews at first was not as bad as you might think over the forthcoming decades, unlike the slavery period in Egypt as mentioned above; however, there were subtle changes in their mindset and lifestyle choices, against God.
They lived in their own colonies; their gifted craftsmen contributed towards the Babylonian economy. When God did open the door for them to return to Jerusalem 70 years later (also in 3 phases) the majority still stayed in the now more-comfortable Babylon.
Daniel’s 75-years in Babylon after arriving at the age of eighteen meant he never returned to Jerusalem himself and ended up faithfully serving under different kings within Babylon with a heart for God’s people being able to one day return to their land and city.
King Nebuchadnezzar is a key figure, who developed Babylon into its world-power over 43 years, but then 23 years after his death the Medo-Persian empire took over.
Interestingly, only Daniel and Joseph are described as faultless in the Old Testament, with God clearly blessing their Godly lives.
4. Chapter Summaries
The twelve chapters of the book of Daniel have different trends, depending on how you analyse scripture.
The first six chapters focus on what historically is happening to Daniel in real-time at that point over his 75 years in Babylon. In contrast, the latter six are more eschatological prophecies and predictions for the future beyond Daniel.
Also, this first half of the book is written by someone else referring to Daniel as 'he', whereas in the latter half it is 'I' as Daniel himself records.
Chapters one, and then eight to twelve, were originally written in Hebrew and therefore aimed at God’s people. In contrast, chapters two to seven are in Aramaic for a wider worldwide audience.
In terms of how these chapters are then going to be laid out in the display:
· These ten introductory points from the first chapter are along the bottom
· Chapters three to six are along both sides, which relate to the famous fiery furnace and lion's den, and two Babylonian kings.
· Chapter two, and then seven to twelve, which are the prophetic pictures, go along the middle section in consecutive order from left to right
A deeper way to look at the structure of chapters is known as a Chiasm.
These are basically a Godly literacy structure that acts as a mirror in the bible. This identifies how God has deliberately laid things out with a subtle pattern as His mark of approval - as you go along these, you start repeating or being compared to previous ones in reverse order.
There is an example Chiasm in Daniel here.
5. Prophecies Covered
Daniel has several direct visions and dreams from chapter seven onwards, and king Nebuchadnezzar has two in chapters two and four. These are all from God to prophecy and predict future happenings to His people. God blessed Daniel to receive and interpret these:
“As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” Daniel 1:17
Even Daniel himself was overwhelmed by these, often feeling sick and not understanding what they actually mean. God helped confirm several times that these mainly relate to way off into the future at the ‘Time of the End’ and to leave them sealed-up until then.
"But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” – Daniel 12:4
The way to begin interpreting these into the future is therefore key, with four main ways to do these:
1. Preterism – believing that everything has already happened in the past, from Daniel up to Christ being born, and the early stages of the Christian church afterwards.
2. Idealist – believing that there is no real reference to actual events on earth, it’s more the general principles that we can learn from personally.
3. Futurism – believing that everything is still to happen in the future at some point, often around the country of Israel
4. Historicism – believing that everything is happening progressively over time through history, right from when it was first received to Christ’s Second Coming.
It’s essential to be clear on what position you’re taking in order to make sense of these prophecies - absolutely key.
Nowadays, the Christian world tends to take the Futurist view by default, although with some Idealist lessons along the way and possible Preterist applications in the past.
The Historicist approach is unpopular, yet it was the position taken my many great Reformers in the past (plus, the Baptist Confession of Faith and Westminster Confession of Faith many centuries ago):
* John Wycliffe- involved with bible interpretation into English and the Lollards.
* Thomas Cranmer - leading the Engish Reformation
* William Tyndale- involved with the interpretation of the Bible in England from the Reformation.
* Hugh Latimer - English martyr resulting from the Reformation.
* John Knox - seeing the Reformation reach Scotland
* John Calvin - a popular theologian, stemming from the Reformation.
* Issac Newton - influential scientist and theologian
* John Wesley - part of the English revival leading to Methodism
* Charles Surgeon - popular English preacher
This shocked me when I looked into the Reformation celebration in 2017 – why was this so popular in the past, and is not even identified as a realistic option now?
And yet when you begin to look into things, you can see how this Historicism approach makes sense, with God even saying later in the book that certain animals do in actual fact represent specific-mentioned ‘kingdoms’ that occur one after another, in a progressive, historical order.
However, as we will see, even the Historicism perspective has limitations in that by its focus on historical happenings it can miss the even more important prophetic and spiritual meanings.
As discovered later on, full knowledge and understanding of this 'time of the end' revelation were actually restricted until the beginning of the nineteenth century, and beyond a lot of the classic Reformers, including a fuller understanding of the book of Revelation.
6. Symbols Used
Rather than saying exactly what something is, various symbols, pictures, animals, and even numbers are used to signify another actual meaning.
Although this appears to make things complicated, it’s a trend throughout scripture for those seeking God to understand these, enabling it to be preserved as the Word of God throughout the centuries.
Jesus Himself also used parables to symbolise other meanings, and specifically mentions Daniel as something to be appreciated:
“ When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)” – Matthew 24:15
Even Paul in the New Testament knew there was something not quite right already at that time, working against God’s people:
“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:7
However, the good news is that it is possible to ‘de-code’ these symbols to identify the true meanings.
Early Jewish and Christian believers in the Old and New Testament knew this and were generally more familiar with scripture and how this will interpret itself as a whole book.
I have therefore come up with a Symbols Check List which you can access here.
This basically takes the main symbols in Daniel and identifies places elsewhere in scripture where they are also mentioned and identified as being what they are. Most scholars will accept these as being the case.
Daniel and his friends were offered good food in Babylon whilst on their 3-year university induction:
“And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.” – Daniel 1:5
Archaeological digs in Babylon have identified tablet recipes with glamorous items like fatty foods, marbles meats, eggs, lentils, honey, and mulled wine. This is the equivalent to takeaways and quality restaurant food in today’s society.
But Daniel and his mates refused to eat this.
Scripture states how this was a conscious decision by Daniel, not happening by accident:
“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” – Daniel 1:8
He offers a 10-day trial with the Prince of the Eunuchs to demonstrate that he would be better off on a simpler diet:
“Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.” – Daniel 1:12
They refused this lush food because it was an important part of their faith not to eat unclean foods, especially those dedicated to the Babylonian gods.
The result from doing this – God blessed them, far beyond what their natural abilities could do for them. You can see how they were visibly better-off in verse fifteen:
“And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat.” – Daniel 1:15
Plus, there are four other references to God’s favour amongst their peers, the Prince, the King himself, and spiritual gifts:
“And the king communed with them; and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: therefore stood they before the king.” – Daniel 1:19
“Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.” – Daniel 1:9
“As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” – Daniel 1:17
“And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king enquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.” – Daniel 1:20
This simple vegetarian-based diet, or form of fast as often referred to, didn’t allow food to become a god to them – something Adam and Eve, unfortunately, didn’t succeed within the Garden of Eden.
8. Worship & Obedience
Out of up to seventy others in this ‘university’, only Daniel and his friends (just four of them) apparently made it through with flying colours in God’s eyes (the only ones mentioned here).
Natural talents and gifts might have got them there in the first place, but the favour of God saw them through the 3-years and beyond, with Daniel in particular mentioned for decades later and his involvement with kings and government.
The secret to this is simple worship and obedience to God. Small steps of faith and trust in matters like food and later idol-worship enabled God to bless and protect them.
Therefore, although we’re going to focus more on the prophecies of this book rather than the usual Sunday-school lessons of the fiery furnace and lion's den, ironically the lessons from such prophecies should lead us into a simple faith-like walk with Christ right now to see His will unfold through us in our equivalent of fiery-trials and den-like issues that we face in our daily lives.
9. Kingdoms Explained
There is lots of talk about ‘kingdoms’ in these prophecies; therefore, it’s worth being clear what these mean.
These are the particular nation, king, or government prevailing in an area at any one time.
God is therefore warning His people to be aware of these, and how there is a mighty spiritual battle going on being the scenes between good and evil, which is then being played-out through these earthly kingdoms.
God is ultimately in control, and even allows the wrong kingdom to prevail for a while if that’s what is unfortunately required because His people are not directly following Him:
“And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.” – Daniel 1:2
However, there’s a happy ending with God’s kingdom and new heaven and earth coming to pass at the end of time with Christ’s Second Coming.
In the meantime, there’s a story unfolding of how ultimately Satan and his angels are trying to stop this by working through such earthly kingdoms.
It’s not necessarily about individuals – we all make our own decisions for Christ, whether we’re in or out of the ‘right’ kingdom. But God warns us not to get caught up in the wrong ways as we prepare for His Second Coming.
10. Aims & Objectives
As a final point after we’ve now gone through all the others, let’s focus on what the remaining explanation of this book of Daniel is all about, through two aims and objectives:
Firstly, to explain the book's prophecies in an undiluted form, straight from the Word of God, and in a visual display.
Specific verses will be mentioned, but that’s no excuse for not reading and studying the whole book yourself, several times. That is where God’s revelation will truly come through the Holy Spirit; when you see if for yourself in God’s Word.
This study and display hopefully steer you in the right direction. It helps you see the right ‘layout’ of things – something I believe earlier Christians had, but we miss in this crazy and confusing twenty-first-century world.
After all, these prophecies are supposed to be understood by God’s people – not left in confusion
Hopefully, as well, it’s good middle-ground coverage of the subject. Whilst some might say it's over the top and too much to take in, others will probably say it is making complex theological issues too simple.
Secondly, the aim is to enable people to then make their own decision on matters.
This is not supposed to be yet another complicated and overly intellectual look at an Old Testament book, to then walk away either more confused or even content in the fact of having a few more golden nuggets of information under your bible-belt.
If this is real, then it should lead to life-changing revelations from God.
Bottom line – Christians need to be led into truth by asking the Holy Spirit to show them this as they humbly go through God’s Word themselves.
For those who don’t have the Christian faith who are reading this, I hope it helps you appreciate how amazing the bible is, particularly the predictions about Jesus Christ later on, and therefore how it is actually worth a prayer under your breath asking such a God, if he does exist, to reveal Himself to you.