Listen to Daniel’s Words for Our Day
“And he went on to say: ‘Go, Daniel, because the words are made secret and sealed up until the time of the end.’”—Dan. 12:9.
1. When were the words of the prophet Daniel to be opened up to human understanding, and why should we feel specially privileged?
THE prophet Daniel foretold the momentous times in which we are now living. Rich in prophetic meaning for our day, Daniel’s prophetic writings are a source of strength and encouragement to Christians today. They can be thrilled to have Daniel’s marvelous visions and prophecies for this “time of the end.” Yes, that is where the term “time of the end” originates—from Daniel’s writings. Daniel was so keenly interested in the fulfillment of his prophecies that he asked God’s angel about the matter. The angel told him that the fulfillment was a secret and sealed up until the “time of the end,” and that is exactly where we are now. How thrilled Daniel would be if he could be alive today as his book of prophecy is opened up to human understanding! Oh, how he would rejoice and delight to reach this time in history for the climax of his prophetic words! So we should take great delight in examining Daniel’s words for our day, feeling especially privileged to understand what Daniel himself could not discern.—Dan. 12:4, 8, 9.
2, 3. How did Daniel come to be in Babylon, and on what basis did he know that he and his companions would be there a long time?
2 Who was this prophet? Daniel wrote his prophecies mostly in Babylon. He was taken there by King Nebuchadnezzar with certain others who were selected to get special training for service at the king’s court. With Daniel there were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, but Nebuchadnezzar changed their names to the ones with which we are more familiar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These four youths from the tribe of Judah probably ranged in age from about fourteen to eighteen years.—Dan. 1:1-7.
3 They were slaves in Babylon, and Daniel knew they would be in exile a long time. He was there before Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 B.C.E. And after that event, he knew, the whole land of Judah would lie desolate for seventy years. What a long time to be away from their homeland!—Dan. 9:1, 2; Jer. 29:10.
VISION OF GOD’S KINGDOM ESTABLISHED
4, 5. In the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon, what visions did Daniel have, and how did he describe the opening of Court in heaven?
4 The years passed and soon the day approached when the luster of Babylonian world power must be forever dimmed. The last of its dynasty of Chaldean kings was on the throne of world government. It was the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon. (Dan. 7:1-8) The dream and visions of Daniel’s own head upon his bed in that year had to do with the rise and fall of world powers, symbolized by frightful beasts. As the eyes of the prophet Daniel turned from the dreadful fourth beast out of the sea, he was given a vision of a heavenly scene that vitally concerns our day:
5 “I kept on beholding until there were thrones placed and the Ancient of Days sat down. His clothing was white just like snow, and the hair of his head was like clean wool. His throne was flames of fire . . . There was a stream of fire flowing and going out from before him. There were a thousand thousands that kept ministering to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand that kept standing right before him. The Court took its seat, and there were books that were opened.”—Dan. 7:9, 10.
6. (a) Who is the Ancient of Days, and when does this vision of the opening of Court in heaven have its fulfillment? (b) What books come under the scrutiny of the heavenly Judge, and why?
6 What a marvelous vision! Court is in session in heaven, and the setting is during our time, from the year 1914 C.E. onward. During this time the judgment of the nations is taking place. Soon Jehovah God will proceed to execute the national governments and empires represented by the ferocious beasts described by Daniel. The Ancient of Days is none other than Jehovah God. Since the autumn of 1914 C.E. the books or records made by the nations during the “seven times” of Gentile rule have been opened. A beastly record comes under the scrutiny of the great Judge. The “appointed times of the nations” have run out. (Luke 21:24) The nations deserve no further lease of sovereignty over the earth. So the time has come for the Permanent Heir of King David to be installed as king at this momentous time in history.
7. (a) Why may we marvel at this vision of the angels’ standing before the Ancient of Days? (b) What encouragement is there to God’s people, especially for overseers and ministerial servants, in this vision?
7 Picture in your mind all those angels in heaven standing before the Ancient of Days—a hundred million of them—waiting to hear and rejoice in his righteous decrees. Well may we marvel at the 100,000,000 angels standing before the Supreme Judge. When you think of it, an attendance of one million angels would be stupendous. What skill it must take to deal with so many, so many millions! How can he see them all and deal with so many at once? How Jehovah God manages all these angels single-handedly is staggering to our imagination. What a great and wonderful Organizer! A hundred million dealt with, and each one assigned his work. This should give strong encouragement to those in Jehovah’s visible organization today. The Great Organizer can help his people in the organization of the Kingdom work, and, further, we can be confident that these ministering angels will aid us in time of need and assist us to get the Kingdom preaching work done. Let us work with these angels, our heavenly brothers, who stand in the presence of the Ancient of Days.—Prov. 16:3; Heb. 1:14.
8. Whom does Daniel next see as gaining access to the Ancient of Days, and what is given to him?
8 But now Daniel sees a thrilling sight: “I kept on beholding in the visions of the night, and, see there! with the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One. And to him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him. His rulership is an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom one that will not be brought to ruin.”—Dan. 7:13, 14.
9. (a) Who is identified as the “son of man”, and why appropiately so? (b) What time has arrived, in harmony with what was foretold in the Psalms?
9 Who is this being ushered into the Divine Court? It is “someone like a son of man.” But is this not a heavenly scene? Yes, but the term “son of man” here pointed forward to the time when this heavenly Son of God would become a man on earth and be known as Jesus Christ. Now he is exalted to heavenly glory, but he still retains the title “son of man,” which he earned by his faithful course on earth. Here in this vision Daniel sees the “Son of man,” the Lord Jesus Christ. (Matt. 25:31) The time has come at last for him to appear before the Ancient of Days and to ask for the things that are due him according to the covenant for the kingdom over all the earth. (Ps. 110:1-6) All the evidence, visible and spiritual, proves that Jesus Christ has been given ‘the nations as his inheritance and the ends of the earth as his own possession,’ to fulfill Daniel’s vision. (Ps. 2:8) What a thrilling time in which to be living, now that Jesus Christ has been given Kingdom power and rules as King!
TEST OVER ISSUE OF WORSHIP
10. What issue specially faces Christians today, and whose example do they have to help them to meet it?
10 With God’s kingdom established in the heavens, the issue facing all professed Christians is critical: To whom will they render worship? To Jehovah Most High who rules as King through his Son? Or to man-made gods and images? (Rev. 11:15, 17; 13:11-18) Helping Christians in their determination never to give in to idolatrous worship is the example of the faithfulness of Daniel’s three companions, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Although they were still slaves, they were appointed over the administration of the jurisdictional district of Babylon. Even as all servants of Jehovah must eventually face tests of faith, Satan was maneuvering those faithful witnesses of Jehovah into direct conflict with the king over the issue of worship.
11, 12. (a) What image did King Nebuchadnezzar set up, and what may have been his purpose? (b) What proclamation did the royal herald make?
11 King Nebuchadnezzar had a great image of gold made. (Dan. 3:1-3) It was about nine stories high and nine feet thick. He then began to call the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the police magistrates and all the administrators of the jurisdictional districts to come to the inauguration of the image. But why did the king make such a costly golden image? Well, history records that King Nebuchadnezzar was extremely religious, so much so that the annals of Babylon give more attention to his exploits regarding religion and worship of the gods of Babylon than they do to his military operations. And here on the plain of Dura this religious-minded king undoubtedly wanted to unite the world empire in worship. No name is given to this image in the Bible; however, it may have been erected in honor of the king’s favorite god—Marduk. Perhaps to put them all in a religious frame of mind, the king arranged for some kind of music to be played. At the king’s command the royal herald cried out loudly:
12 “To you it is being said, O peoples, national groups and languages, that at the time that you hear the sound of the horn, the pipe, the zither, the triangular harp, the stringed instrument, the bagpipe and all sorts of musical instruments, you fall down and worship the image of gold that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship will at the same moment be thrown into the burning fiery furnace.”—Dan. 3:4-6.
13. Explain how the three Hebrews rendered obedience to the State as far as they could.
13 The three Hebrews, obedient to the king’s command to assemble, appeared on the plain of Dura. But what would Daniel’s three companions do? They went as far as they could by assembling with the others—but they refused to bow! Nebuchadnezzar had so much wanted to have 100-percent participation in this exercise, and here these three men were refusing to join in!
14. (a) Why do Jehovah’s people face a similar situation in our day? (b) Why is the Devil expected to resort to drastic measures in our day, even as he did with the three Hebrews?
14 Today the faithful servants of Jehovah face a similar situation. The thirteenth chapter of Revelation, after the previous chapter’s discussion of the establishment of God’s heavenly kingdom, tells about the worship of the “wild beast” and the “image” of the wild beast, and how this idolatrous worship will be enforced in all the inhabited earth, under one guise or another. So the issue today is the same: Will it be worship of Jehovah God or of false gods? And the Devil’s purpose today is the same as formerly: He is trying to compel all at the cost of their jobs and lives to take part in idolatry. The Devil uses extreme, drastic measures, these diabolical efforts being referred to at Revelation 12:17, where we are told that the symbolic dragon goes forth to wage war against the true followers of Jesus Christ.
15. Show how the issue of worship is a major issue in modern times, and what encouragement do we have to be faithful to God?
15 This burning issue of worship faced Jehovah’s witnesses thirty years ago in Nazi Germany. Anyone who would not heil Hitler with his arm raised to the swastika was sent off to a concentration camp, to suffer brutal treatment. Today, behind the Iron Curtain the State forbids the preaching of the good news of God’s established kingdom, whether this is done by word of mouth or in printed form. Over the years thousands of the Christian witnesses of Jehovah have been imprisoned because of refusing to bow to the ungodly demands of the Communist state, to stop preaching the good news. In many lands the issue of nationalism has come to the fore, in which the State demands the worship that belongs to God alone. To help Christians in these critical times, they have the fine example of the three faithful Hebrews who rendered exclusive devotion to Jehovah despite the most fearsome threats.
16, 17. How did Nebuchadnezzar react when he heard that the three Hebrews refused to worship the golden image?
16 Just like some rulers or officials today who want all citizens to bow in worship of the State or their religious gods, when Nebuchadnezzar heard that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would not bow down, he went into a rage and ordered an investigation. So they were brought in before him. Could you imagine yourself standing there before the infuriated king of the Third World Power when he asked: “Is it really so, O Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you are not serving my own gods, and the image of gold that I have set up you are not worshiping?” (Dan. 3:13, 14) These men were fine servants in everything else. Why should they step out of line now and not do this little thing? ‘Just bow down, that is all I am asking of you.’ Nebuchadnezzar was prepared to give them another chance:
17 “Now if you are ready so that when you hear the sound of the horn, the pipe, the zither, the triangular harp, the stringed instrument, and the bagpipe and all sorts of musical instruments, you fall down and worship the image that I have made, all right. But if you do not worship, at that same moment you will be thrown into the burning fiery furnace. And who is that god that can rescue you out of my hands?”—Dan. 3:15.
BENEFIT OF DECIDING BEFOREHAND
18. Why did not the three Hebrews need time to decide their course of action, and what did they say in answer to the king?
18 It did not take these men a moment to decide. Their minds were already made up. They knew from their youth up whom they would serve. Without hesitation Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are under no necessity in this regard to say back a word to you. If it is to be, our God whom we are serving is able to rescue us. Out of the burning fiery furnace and out of your hand, O king, he will rescue us. But if not, let it become known to you, O king, that your gods are not the ones we are serving, and the image of gold that you have set up we will not worship.”—Dan. 3:16, 17.
19. (a) What should Christians today do who wish to pass tests of integrity? (b) What course is often open to us today that was not to the three Hebrews? (c) What modern-day example of faithfulness like the three Hebrews do we have?
19 What these men were commanded to do was obviously worship. In our day the issue is not so clear, so sharply defined, but it is there in some form. To pass the tests faithfully in our day true Christians likewise should determine their course in advance. What is their position toward State images and songs that eulogize nations? The three faithful Hebrews had to appear before Nebuchadnezzar’s image, but often today dedicated Christians can take steps to avoid difficult situations. However, when these cannot be avoided and the servants of God are faced with a choice between idolatry and faithfulness to Jehovah, the true Christians must be just as uncompromising as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, no matter how fearsome may be the threat if they refuse to bow in compromise to other gods. In one African country a few years ago, a large group of Christians were peacefully assembled at a convention when armed soldier came in and marched them off to a government compound, there to be beaten, insulted and tortured until they agreed to salute a State emblem. It appeared that it was either salute or die! Those who remained firm, trusting in Jehovah, were richly blessed by him. They were delivered from their tormentors, just as it was with Jehovah’s faithful witnesses in Daniel’s day.—Ex. 20:4, 5; 1 Cor. 10:14.
20. What happened after the three Hebrews were thrown into the burning fiery furnace?
20 After those Hebrews had been thrown alive into the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar saw a frightening thing. In fact, Daniel tells how Nebuchadnezzar rose up in a hurry and said to his royal officials: “Was it not three able-bodied men that we threw bound into the midst of the fire? . . . Look! I am beholding four able-bodied men walking about free in the midst of the fire, and there is no hurt to them, and the appearance of the fourth one is resembling a son of the gods.” (Dan. 3:24, 25) Then he got as close as he could to the door of the burning fiery furnace and called out: “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, you servants of the Most High God, step out and come here!”—Dan. 3:26.
21. How did the faithfulness of the three Hebrews result in a great witness to all the onlookers?
21 When they came out everyone could see that the fire had had no power over their bodies and not a hair of their head had been singed, and even their clothing—why, there was not even the smell of fire upon it! Their faithfulness under trial proved to be a great witness to all the onlookers back there and even to the king who, obviously shaken by this experience, was moved to say: “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who sent his angel and rescued his servants that trusted in him and that changed the very word of the king and gave over their bodies, because they would not serve and would not worship any god at all except their own God. . . . there does not exist another god that is able to deliver like this one.”—Dan. 3:28, 29.
22. (a) Show how the basic issue is the same today as in Daniel’s day. (b) Since tests come upon most of God’s servants, what is the wise course of action?
22 Like these men, Jehovah’s witnesses today cannot compromise. In some countries they must preach the Kingdom good news underground. In others they meet secretly in order to be strengthened for the work ahead. Though they are law-abiding Christians, when faced squarely with an issue involving integrity to Jehovah, they cannot bow to the whim or dictates of nationalistic rulers. The very same issue is facing Jehovah’s people today as in Daniel’s time: ‘Whom do you worship?’ Sooner or later such tests will come upon most of God’s servants, and those who have resolutely made their decision beforehand may be expected to prove faithful. Better it is to make that decision now than to put it off until one is faced with some test. How timely the record of these faithful men of old! How encouraging for faithful servants of God today to see the outcome that Jehovah God gave to those who refused to worship other gods!
PROPHETIC TREE DREAM
23. What dream did Nebuchadnezzar have more than eight years before he died, and what did Daniel say in interpretation?
23 One night more than eight years before Nebuchadnezzar died he had a frightening dream. When all the magic-practicing priests of Babylon failed to give him the interpretation, Daniel was called in to the imperial presence, and the mighty world ruler said to him: “Tell me the visions of my dream that I have beheld and its interpretation.” (Dan. 4:9) The dream was of an immense tree that an angel from heaven commanded to be chopped down. Its stump was banded with iron and copper and had to stay that way among the grass of the field until “seven times” passed over it. The angel in the dream had said: “Let its heart be changed from that of mankind, and let the heart of a beast be given to it, and let seven times pass over it.” But what was the meaning of this dream? Would its interpretation prove to be equally frightening to King Nebuchadnezzar? Listen to Daniel’s words: “The tree that you beheld, . . . it is you, O king.”—Dan. 4:10-22.
24, 25. (a) What was to happen to Nebuchadnezzar, and why? (b) On what occasion was the tree dream fulfilled upon him, and how?
24 Imagine how this must have heightened Nebuchadnezzar’s interest as he listened attentively to Daniel’s explanation that followed. Daniel revealed that he was to be driven from his throne into the field to eat grass like bulls. But, like that double-banded tree stump, his kingdom was to be held for him until he had spent “seven times” in such a degraded state. Only then would he come to his senses and be obliged to confess that the Most High God rules supreme and gives the kingdom of mankind to whom He wants to give it. One year later the dream was fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar while he was walking upon his royal palace looking out over the magnificent city and one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World,” the hanging gardens of Babylon. How exalted he felt as he viewed all this glory! Boastfully he spoke: “Is not this Babylon the Great, that I myself have built for the royal house with the strength of my might and for the dignity of my majesty?”—Dan. 4:29, 30.
25 Nebuchadnezzar had no sooner spoken those words than a voice from heaven announced that the tree dream would be fulfilled upon him now! At that very moment he was seized with madness and went out into the field to eat grass like a bull and stayed there for seven years. At the end of that period his understanding came back to him, and he now rendered praise to the Most High God rather than appropriating it to himself. That dream and its direct fulfillment upon Nebuchadnezzar were prophetic, reaching right down to the twentieth century.
26. (a) With the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. what transfer of domination took place? (b) What was pictured by the tree and by the banded stump?
26 When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed God’s typical kingdom of Israel, a transfer of domination to the victorious Gentile world power took place. Gentile governments were now to rule the earth without any interference from the kingdom of Jehovah God even in a typical way, until “seven times” had passed. The tree, which pictured world domination by God’s kingdom, was banded and its stump left in the ground. This symbolized that the One who originally held world domination would not forever let go of it. The banding of the stump gave assurance that the tree was not dead and that its rootstock was destined to sprout again.
27. (a) What was symbolized by Nebuchadnezzar’s insane conduct? (b) What do the Scriptures show the length of seven prophetic times to be, reaching into what time period?
27 Prophetically, during the “seven times” of Gentile rule, God’s kingdom would remain low, like that tree stump. Nebuchadnezzar’s insane bestial conduct during the period when the seven literal times passed over him pictured how the Gentile rulers would conduct themselves in a bestial manner during the time of their world dominance. The Scriptures show the length of the “seven times” of Gentile rule to have been a period of 2,520 years, stretching forward from 607 B.C.E. to 1914 C.E., yes, right into our twentieth century!
28. What took place at the end of the seven symbolic times, and why does Jehovah permit the nations to continue yet for a little while?
28 In 1914 God removed the bands around the symbolic tree, and he has raised up the Lord Jesus Christ and clothed him with world domination. God’s kingdom now rules! It is only by Jehovah’s long-suffering that the Gentile powers remain, for he could have wiped the nations out in the years immediately following the reestablishment of his kingdom. Whether they recognize it or not the Gentile nations rule today only by God’s toleration. Jehovah permits their continuance for a few years more so that sheeplike persons from all nations may come out of this system of things before its Armageddon end.