Bible Book Number 27—Daniel
Place Written: Babylon
Writing Completed: c. 536 B.C.E.
Time Covered: 618–c. 536 B.C.E.
1. What kind of history is contained in Daniel, and what does it highlight?
IN THIS day when all nations of earth stand on the brink of disaster, the book of Daniel brings to attention prophetic messages of momentous import. Whereas the Bible books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are based on eyewitness records of the history of God’s typical kingdom (the Davidic dynasty), Daniel focuses on the nations of the world and gives forevisions of the power struggle of the great dynasties from Daniel’s time down till “the time of the end.” This is world history written in advance. It leads up to an absorbing climax in showing what comes to pass “in the final part of the days.” Like Nebuchadnezzar, the nations have to learn the hard way “that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind” and that finally he gives it to one “like a son of man,” the Messiah and Leader, Christ Jesus. (Dan. 12:4; 10:14; 4:25; 7:13, 14; 9:25; John 3:13-16) By paying close attention to the prophetic fulfillments of the inspired book of Daniel, we will appreciate more fully Jehovah’s power of prophecy and his assurances of protection and blessing for his people.—2 Pet. 1:19.
2. What confirms that Daniel was an actual person, and during what eventful period did he prophesy?
2 The book is named after its writer. “Daniel” (Hebrew, Da·ni·yeʼlʹ) means “My Judge Is God.” Ezekiel, who lived at the same time, confirms that Daniel was an actual person, naming him along with Noah and Job. (Ezek. 14:14, 20; 28:3) Daniel dates the beginning of his book as “the third year of the kingship of Jehoiakim the king of Judah.” This was 618 B.C.E., Jehoiakim’s third year as tributary king to Nebuchadnezzar.a Daniel’s prophetic visions continued down to Cyrus’ third year, about 536 B.C.E. (Dan. 1:1; 2:1; 10:1, 4) What eventful years were covered by Daniel’s life span! His early days were spent under God’s kingdom in Judah. Then, as a teenage prince, along with his noble Judean companions, he was taken to Babylon to live through the rise and fall of that third world power of Bible history. Daniel survived to serve as government official in the fourth world power, Medo-Persia. Daniel must have lived nearly one hundred years.
3. What proves the canonicity and authenticity of the book of Daniel?
3 The book of Daniel has always been included in the Jewish catalog of inspired Scriptures. Fragments of Daniel have been found among those of the other canonical books in the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of which date from the first half of the first century B.C.E. However, an even more important proof of the book’s authenticity is to be found in the references to it in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Jesus specifically names Daniel in his prophecy on “the conclusion of the system of things,” wherein he makes several quotations from the book.—Matt 24:3; see also Dan. 9:27; 11:31; and 12:11—Matt. 24:15 and Mark 13:14; Dan. 12:1—Matt. 24:21; Dan. 7:13, 14—Matt. 24:30.
4, 5. How has archaeology routed the assertions of higher critics regarding Daniel?
4 Though higher critics of the Bible have called in question the historicalness of Daniel’s book, archaeological finds over the years have completely routed their assertions. For example, these critics leveled scorn at Daniel’s statement that Belshazzar was king in Babylon at the time that Nabonidus was reputed to be ruler. (Dan. 5:1) Archaeology has now established beyond question that Belshazzar was an actual person and that he was a coregent of Nabonidus in the last years of the Babylonian Empire. For example, an ancient cuneiform text described as the “Verse Account of Nabonidus” clearly confirms that Belshazzar exercised kingly authority at Babylon and explains the manner of his becoming coruler with Nabonidus.b Other cuneiform evidence supports the view that Belshazzar exercised regal functions. A tablet, dated in the 12th year of Nabonidus, contains an oath made in the name of Nabonidus, the king, and Belshazzar, the king’s son, thus showing that Belshazzar ranked with his father.c This is also of interest in explaining why Belshazzar offered to make Daniel “the third one in the kingdom” if he could interpret the handwriting on the wall. Nabonidus would be considered the first, Belshazzar would be the second, and Daniel would be heralded as the third ruler. (5:16, 29) One researcher says: “Cuneiform allusions to Belshazzar have thrown so much light upon the role which he played that his place in history stands clearly revealed. There are many texts which indicate that Belshazzar almost equaled Nabonidus in position and prestige. Dual rulership during most of the last Neo-Babylonian reign is an established fact. Nabonidus exercised supreme authority from his court in Tema in Arabia, while Belshazzar acted as coregent in the homeland with Babylon as his center of influence. It is evident that Belshazzar was not a feeble viceroy; he was entrusted with ‘the kingship.’”d
5 Some have tried to discredit Daniel’s account of the fiery furnace (chap. 3), saying that it is a legendary invention. An Old-Babylonian letter reads, in part: “Thus says Rîm-Sin your lord: Because he has cast the slave-lad into the oven, do you cast the slave into the furnace.” Interestingly, referring to it, G. R. Driver stated that this punishment “appears in the story of the Three Holy Men (Dan. III 6, 15, 19-27).”e
6. What two parts make up the book of Daniel?
6 The Jews included the book of Daniel, not with the Prophets, but with the Writings. On the other hand, the English Bible follows the catalog order of the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate by placing Daniel between the major and the minor prophets. There are actually two parts to the book. The first of these, chapters 1 to 6, gives in chronological order the experiences of Daniel and his companions in government service from 617 B.C.E. to 538 B.C.E. (Dan. 1:1, 21) The second part, comprising chapters 7 to 12, is written in the first person by Daniel himself as recorder and describes private visions and angelic interviews that Daniel had from about 553 B.C.E.f to about 536 B.C.E. (7:2, 28; 8:2; 9:2; 12:5, 7, 8) The two parts together make up the one harmonious book of Daniel.
CONTENTS OF DANIEL
7. What leads to Daniel and his companions’ entering Babylonian government service?
7 Preparation for State service (1:1-21). In 617 B.C.E. Daniel comes to Babylon with the captive Jews. The sacred utensils from Jerusalem’s temple come also, to be stored in a pagan treasure-house. Daniel and his three Hebrew companions are among the royal Judean youths chosen for a three-year course of training in the king’s palace. Resolved in his heart not to pollute himself with the king’s pagan delicacies and wine, Daniel proposes a ten-day test of a vegetable diet. The test turns out in favor of Daniel and his companions, and God gives them knowledge and wisdom. Nebuchadnezzar appoints the four to stand before him as counselors. The last verse of chapter 1, which may have been added long after the preceding portion was written, indicates that Daniel was still in royal service some 80 years after his going into exile, which would be in about 538 B.C.E.
8. What dream and interpretation does God reveal to Daniel, and how does Nebuchadnezzar show his appreciation?
8 Dream of the dreadful image (2:1-49). In the second year of his kingship (probably dating from Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 B.C.E.), Nebuchadnezzar is agitated by a dream. His magic-practicing priests are unable to reveal the dream and its interpretation. He offers them great gifts, but they protest that no one but the gods can show the king the thing that he is asking. The king becomes furious and orders that the wise men be put to death. Since the four Hebrews are included in this decree, Daniel asks for time to reveal the dream. Daniel and his companions pray to Jehovah for guidance. Jehovah reveals the dream and its meaning to Daniel, who then goes before the king and says: “There exists a God in the heavens who is a Revealer of secrets, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what is to occur in the final part of the days.” (2:28) Daniel describes the dream. It is about an immense image. The head of the image is of gold, its breasts and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of copper, and its legs of iron, with feet partly iron and partly clay. A stone strikes and crushes the image and becomes a large mountain to fill the whole earth. What does this mean? Daniel makes known that the king of Babylon is the head of gold. After his kingdom there will follow a second, a third, and a fourth. Finally, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. . . . It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.” (2:44) In gratitude and appreciation, the king extols Daniel’s God as “a God of gods” and makes Daniel “ruler over all the jurisdictional district of Babylon and the chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.” Daniel’s three companions are made administrators in the kingdom.—2:47, 48.
9. What results from the three Hebrews’ bold stand against image worship?
9 Three Hebrews survive the fiery furnace (3:1-30). Nebuchadnezzar erects a mighty image of gold, 60 cubits (88 ft) high, and orders the rulers of the empire to assemble for its dedication. At the sound of special music, all are to fall down and worship the image. Any who fail to do so are to be thrown into the burning fiery furnace. It is reported that Daniel’s three companions, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, have failed to comply. They are brought before the enraged king, where they boldly testify: “Our God whom we are serving is able to rescue us. . . . The image of gold that you have set up we will not worship.” (3:17, 18) Filled with fury, the king orders that the furnace be heated seven times more than customary and that the three Hebrews be bound and thrown in. As they do this, the would-be executioners are killed by the fiery flame. Nebuchadnezzar becomes frightened. What is this he sees in the furnace? Four men are walking about unharmed in the midst of the fire, and “the fourth one is resembling a son of the gods.” (3:25) The king calls on the three Hebrews to step out of the fire. Out they come, unsinged, without even the smell of fire itself upon them! As a result of their courageous stand for true worship, Nebuchadnezzar proclaims freedom of worship for the Jews throughout the empire.
10. What frightening dream involving “seven times” did Nebuchadnezzar have, and was it fulfilled upon him?
10 Dream of the “seven times” (4:1-37). This dream appears in the record as Daniel’s transcription of a state document of Babylon. It was written by the humbled Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar first acknowledges the might and kingdom of the Most High God. Then he relates a frightening dream and how it was fulfilled upon him. He saw a tree that reached to heaven and provided shelter and food for all flesh. A watcher called out: ‘Chop the tree down. Band its stump with iron and copper. Let seven times pass over it, so that it will be known that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind and sets up over it the lowliest one of mankind.’ (4:14-17) Daniel interpreted the dream, making known that the tree represented Nebuchadnezzar. A fulfillment of this prophetic dream soon followed. At a time of expressing great pride, the king was afflicted with madness; and he lived as a beast in the field for seven years. After that, his sanity was restored, and he acknowledged Jehovah’s supremacy.
11. During what debauchery does Belshazzar see the fateful handwriting, how does Daniel interpret it, and how is it fulfilled?
11 Belshazzar’s feast: handwriting interpreted (5:1-31). It is the fateful night of October 5, 539 B.C.E. King Belshazzar, son of Nabonidus, as coregent of Babylon, makes a big feast for a thousand of his grandees. The king, under the influence of wine, calls for the sacred gold and silver vessels from Jehovah’s temple, and from these Belshazzar and his guests drink, in their debauchery, while praising their pagan gods. Immediately a hand appears and writes a cryptic message on the wall. The king is terrified. His wise men cannot interpret the writing. Finally Daniel is brought in. The king offers to make him the third one in the kingdom if he can read and interpret the writing, but Daniel tells him to keep his gifts to himself. Then he goes on to make known the writing and its meaning: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL and PARSIN. . . . God has numbered the days of your kingdom and has finished it. . . . You have been weighed in the balances and have been found deficient. . . . Your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.” (5:25-28) That very night Belshazzar is killed, and Darius the Mede receives the kingdom.
12. How is a plot against Daniel thwarted, and what decree does Darius then issue?
12 Daniel in the lions’ pit (6:1-28). High officials in Darius’ government frame mischief against Daniel by having the king pass a law that places a 30-day prohibition on making a petition to any god or man other than the king. Anyone disobeying it is to be thrown to the lions. Daniel refuses to obey this law affecting his worship and turns to Jehovah in prayer. He is thrown into the lions’ pit. Miraculously, Jehovah’s angel shuts the mouths of the lions, and next morning King Darius is glad to find Daniel unharmed. The enemies are now fed to the lions, and the king issues a decree to fear the God of Daniel, as “he is the living God.” (6:26) Daniel prospers in government service on into the reign of Cyrus.
13. In a private dream, what vision does Daniel have concerning four beasts and the rulership of the Kingdom?
13 Visions of the beasts (7:1–8:27). We return to “the first year of Belshazzar,” whose reign evidently began in 553 B.C.E. Daniel receives a private dream, which he records in Aramaic.g He sees four huge and fearsome beasts appear each in its turn. The fourth is unusually strong, and a small horn comes up among its other horns “speaking grandiose things.” (7:8) The Ancient of Days appears and takes his seat. “A thousand thousands” minister to him. “Someone like a son of man” comes before him and is “given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him.” (7:10, 13, 14) Daniel then receives the interpretation of the vision of the four beasts. They represent four kings, or kingdoms. From among ten horns on the fourth beast, a small horn arises. It becomes mighty and makes war on the holy ones. However, the heavenly Court steps in to give “the kingdom and the rulership and the grandeur of the kingdoms under all the heavens . . . to the people who are the holy ones of the Supreme One.”—7:27.
14. What vision does Daniel have featuring a he-goat and a two-horned ram? How does Gabriel explain it?
14 Two years later, long before Babylon’s fall, Daniel sees another vision, which he records in Hebrew. A he-goat with a conspicuous horn between its eyes struggles with, and overcomes, a proud ram that has two horns. The he-goat’s great horn is broken, and four lesser horns come forth. Out of one of these comes a little horn that becomes great, even to defying the army of the heavens. A period of 2,300 days is foretold until the holy place is to be brought into its “right condition.” (8:14) Gabriel explains the vision to Daniel. The ram stands for the kings of Media and Persia. The he-goat is the king of Greece, whose kingdom will be broken into four. Later, a king of fierce countenance will stand up “against the Prince of princes.” Since the vision “is yet for many days,” Daniel must keep it secret for the present.—8:25, 26.
15. What causes Daniel to pray to Jehovah, and what does Gabriel now make known concerning “seventy weeks”?
15 Messiah the Leader foretold (9:1-27). “The first year of Darius . . . of the Medes” finds Daniel examining Jeremiah’s prophecy. Realizing that the foretold 70-year desolation of Jerusalem is nearing its close, Daniel prays to Jehovah in confession of his own sins and those of Israel. (Dan. 9:1-4; Jer. 29:10) Gabriel appears in order to make known that there will be “seventy weeks . . . to terminate the transgression, and to finish off sin, and to make atonement for error.” Messiah the Leader will come at the end of 69 weeks, after which he will be cut off. The covenant will be kept in force for the many till the end of the 70th week, and finally, there will be desolation and an extermination.—Dan. 9:24-27.
16. Under what circumstances does an angel again appear to Daniel?
16 North versus south, Michael stands up (10:1–12:13). It is “the third year of Cyrus,” and hence about 536 B.C.E., not long after the Jews’ return to Jerusalem. After a three-week fast, Daniel is by the bank of the river Hiddekel. (Dan. 10:1, 4; Gen. 2:14) An angel appears to him and explains that ‘the prince of Persia’ opposed his coming to Daniel but that “Michael, one of the foremost princes,” helped him. He now relates to Daniel a vision that is for “the final part of the days.”—Dan. 10:13, 14.
17. What prophetic history of the king of the north and the king of the south does Daniel now record?
17 As it opens, this enthralling vision speaks of the Persian dynasty and a coming struggle with Greece. A mighty king will stand up with extensive dominion, but his kingdom will be broken into four parts. Eventually there will be two long lines of kings, the king of the south as opposed to the king of the north. The power struggle will surge back and forth. These incorrigibly bad kings will keep speaking a lie at one table. “At the time appointed,” the warfare will flare up again. There is to be a profaning of God’s sanctuary, and “the disgusting thing that is causing desolation” is to be set in place. (11:29-31) The king of the north will speak marvelous things against the God of gods and give glory to the god of fortresses. When “in the time of the end” the king of the south engages with the king of the north in a pushing, the king of the north will flood over into many lands, entering also “into the land of the Decoration.” Disturbed by reports out of the east and north, he will rage forth and plant “his palatial tents between the grand sea and the holy mountain of Decoration.” So “he will have to come all the way to his end, and there will be no helper for him.”—11:40, 41, 45.
18. What things occur during Michael’s standing ‘in behalf of the sons of God’s people’?
18 The grand vision continues: Michael is seen standing ‘in behalf of the sons of God’s people.’ There is to be “a time of distress” unprecedented in human history, but those found written in the book will escape. Many will awake from the dust to everlasting life, “and the ones having insight will shine like the brightness of the expanse.” They will bring many to righteousness. Daniel is to seal up the book “until the time of the end.” “How long will it be to the end of the wonderful things?” The angel mentions time periods of three and a half times, 1,290 days, and 1,335 days and says that only “the ones having insight will understand.” Happy are such ones! Finally, the angel holds out to Daniel the reassuring promise that he will rest and then stand up for his lot “at the end of the days.”—12:1, 3, 4, 6, 10, 13.
19. What fine examples of integrity and prayerful reliance on Jehovah are to be found in the book of Daniel?
19 All who are determined to maintain integrity in an alien world do well to consider the fine example of Daniel and his three companions. No matter how vicious the threat, these continued to live by divine principles. When their lives were in peril, Daniel acted “with counsel and sensibleness” and with respect for the king’s superior authority. (2:14-16) When the issue was forced, the three Hebrews preferred the burning fiery furnace to an act of idolatry, and Daniel preferred the lions’ den to forgoing his privilege of prayer to Jehovah. In each instance Jehovah granted protection. (3:4-6, 16-18, 27; 6:10, 11, 23) Daniel himself provides a splendid example of prayerful reliance on Jehovah God.—2:19-23; 9:3-23; 10:12.
20. What four visions are recorded concerning the world powers, and why is it faith-strengthening to consider these today?
20 Daniel’s visions are thrilling and faith-strengthening to review. First, consider the four visions concerning the world powers: (1) There is the vision of the dreadful image, whose head of gold represents the dynasty of Babylonian kings starting with Nebuchadnezzar, after which three other kingdoms rise, as pictured by the other parts of the image. These are the kingdoms that are crushed by the “stone,” which in its turn becomes “a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin,” God’s Kingdom. (2:31-45) (2) There follow Daniel’s private visions, the first being that of the four beasts, representing “four kings.” These are like a lion, a bear, a leopard with four heads, and a beast that has big teeth of iron, ten horns, and later a small horn. (7:1-8, 17-28) (3) Next, there is the vision of the ram (Medo-Persia), the he-goat (Greece), and the small horn. (8:1-27) (4) Finally, we have the vision of the king of the south and the king of the north. Daniel 11:5-19 accurately describes the rivalry between the Egyptian and Seleucid offshoots of Alexander’s Grecian Empire following Alexander’s death in 323 B.C.E. From 11 verse 20 the prophecy continues to trace the course of successor nations of the south and north. Jesus’ reference to “the disgusting thing that is causing desolation” (11:31), in his prophecy about the sign of his presence, shows that this power struggle of the two kings continues right down to “the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matt. 24:3) How comforting the prophecy’s assurance that in the “time of distress such as has not been made to occur since there came to be a nation until that time,” Michael himself will stand up to remove ungodly nations and bring peace to obedient mankind!—Dan. 11:20–12:1.
21. How did Daniel’s prophecy of the “seventy weeks” have a remarkable fulfillment?
21 Then, there is Daniel’s prophecy of the “seventy weeks.” After 69 weeks “Messiah the Leader” was to appear. Remarkably, 483 years (69 times 7 years) after “the going forth of the word” to rebuild Jerusalem, as authorized by Artaxerxes in his 20th year and put into effect by Nehemiah in Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth was baptized in the Jordan River and anointed with holy spirit, becoming Christ, or Messiah (that is, Anointed One).h That was in the year 29 C.E. Thereafter, as Daniel also foretold, there came “an extermination” when Jerusalem was desolated in 70 C.E.—Dan. 9:24-27; Luke 3:21-23; 21:20.
22. What lesson do we learn from the humbling of Nebuchadnezzar?
22 In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream concerning the chopped-down tree, as recorded by Daniel in chapter 4, it is related that the king, who boasted of his own achievements and had confidence in his own might, was humbled by Jehovah God. He was made to live as a beast of the field until he recognized “that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind, and that to the one whom he wants to he gives it.” (Dan. 4:32) Are we today going to be like Nebuchadnezzar, boasting in our achievements and placing our confidence in the might of men, so that God has to mete out punishment to us, or will we wisely acknowledge that He is the Ruler in the kingdom of mankind and place our confidence in his Kingdom?
23. (a) How is the Kingdom hope emphasized throughout Daniel? (b) What should this book of prophecy encourage us to do?
23 The Kingdom hope is emphasized throughout the book of Daniel in a faith-inspiring way! Jehovah God is shown as the Supreme Sovereign who sets up a Kingdom that will never be brought to ruin and that will crush all other kingdoms. (2:19-23, 44; 4:25) Even the pagan kings Nebuchadnezzar and Darius were compelled to acknowledge Jehovah’s supremacy. (3:28, 29; 4:2, 3, 37; 6:25-27) Jehovah is exalted and glorified as the Ancient of Days who judges the Kingdom issue and gives to “someone like a son of man” the everlasting “rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him.” It is “the holy ones of the Supreme One” that share with Christ Jesus, “the Son of man,” in the Kingdom. (Dan. 7:13, 14, 18, 22; Matt. 24:30; Rev. 14:14) He is Michael, the great prince, who exercises his Kingdom power to crush and put an end to all the kingdoms of this old world. (Dan. 12:1; 2:44; Matt. 24:3, 21; Rev. 12:7-10) The understanding of these prophecies and visions should encourage lovers of righteousness to bestir themselves and rove through the pages of God’s Word to find the truly “wonderful things” of God’s Kingdom purposes that are revealed to us through the inspired and beneficial book of Daniel.—Dan. 12:2, 3, 6.
c Archaeology and the Bible, 1949, George A. Barton, page 483.
d The Yale Oriental Series · Researches, Vol. XV, 1929.
e Archiv für Orientforschung, Vol. 18, 1957-58, page 129.
f Belshazzar evidently began to reign as coregent from Nabonidus’ third year on. Since Nabonidus is believed to have begun his rule in 556 B.C.E., the third year of his rule and “the first year of Belshazzar” was evidently 553 B.C.E.—Daniel 7:1; see Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, page 283; Vol. 2, page 457.