The Time of Daniel
The sixth and fifth centuries B.C. was an active period
in the ancient world. It was a time when some of the great
religions of the world were being formed. Probably the
first Persian king to recognize Zoroastrianism, the
religion proposed by Zoroaster, was Darius I. Confucius in
China and Buddha in India were establishing the religions
to be known ultimately by their names. While all of this
was taking place, Judaism was emerging among the Jews held
captive in Babylon.
In the eighth century B.C.,
Yahweh had employed the Assyrian Empire to judge the
northern kingdom of Israel. Near the close of the seventh
century B.C., He raised up a new empire to judge the
southern kingdom of Judah. In 626 B.C. Nabopolassar, a
Chaldean, rebelled against Assyria and established the
Neo-Babylonian Empire. In 612, along with Cyaxares the
Mede and the king of the Scythians, Nabopolassar destroyed
the city of Nineveh. In 605, the Neo-Babylonian Empire was
challenged by the Egyptians under the leadership of
Pharaoh Necho, but the forces of Egypt were decisively
defeated in the Battle of Carchemish by Nabopolassar’s son
and successor, Nebuchadnezzar (605-562).
King of Judah, whom Necho had placed upon the throne of
Judah (2 Kings 23:34), became the vassal of Nebuchadnezzar
(2 Kings 24:1), who now occupied Palestine. Nebuchadnezzar
deported hostages of the royal family and nobility to
Babylon; among those deported were Daniel and his three
friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
Nebuchadnezzar’s great empire did not survive long after
the death of its great king. The Neo-Babylonian Empire
lasted for about seventy years after the first deportation
from Judah in 605. On the 15th of Tishri of 539 B.C. (the
Feast of Tabernacles on Israel’s calendar), the great
empire fell, without a battle, to the Medes and Persians.
It had served its ordained purpose.
The Neo-Babylonian Empire
Ten Babylonian Dynasties stretch from Neo-Babylonia
back to about 2230 B.C. Many kings of the first nine
dynasties are unnamed. From time to time, the flow of
these dynasties was interrupted by foreign powers. For
instance, Assyrian kings often ruled over Babylon and the
two powers were in conflict with one another for
Daniel lived during the last and
greatest of the Babylonian dynasties, which ran from 625
to 539 B.C., a period of eighty-seven years. The seven
kings of this tenth and final dynasty of Babylon were:
- Nabopolassar, founder of the Neo-Babylonian
Empire. Reigned 21 years from 625-605 B.C.
- Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest of earthly kings.
Reigned 43 years from 605-561 B.C.
- Evil-Merodach, who was kind to Jehoiachin. Reigned
2 years from 561-559 B.C.
- Neriglissar, murderer of Evil-Merodach. Reigned
3-4 years from 559-556 B.C.
- Labashi-Marduk, murdered by conspirators. Reigned
9 months in 555 B.C.
- Nabonidus, who lived in his royal palace at Tema.
Reigned 16 years from 555-539 B.C.
- Belshazzar, governor of Babylon in Nabonidus’
absence. Reigned 14 years from 553-539 B.C.
Nebuchadnezzar maintained his country’s supreme
position until he died. He was proficient in warfare, as
well as being an active and successful builder.
Architecture and literature flourished during his reign.
In absolute power and grandeur, Nebuchadnezzar
ranks supreme until Christ reigns on His throne in
Jerusalem. This preeminence was revealed by God in the
king’s dream of the enormous, dazzling statue, which
depicted the king as the “head of gold.” Daniel
Nebuchadnezzar’s place in history, saying,
“You, O king, are the king of kings” (Daniel 2:37-38).
Nebuchadnezzar lived in a time of advancement.
Observing the sky in the interest of astrology led to
undreamed of advances. The astrologers were able to
predict eclipses of the sun and moon. In the Babylonian
school of Astronomy, about 750 B.C., observations of the
heavenly bodies were recorded. Their studies continued
without interruption for over 350 years, the longest
series of astronomical observations ever made. The
accuracy of their reckoning exceeded that of European
astronomers until well into the 18th century.
contrast to Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus, the last of the
Babylonian rulers, neglected the empire for digging in
ruins. He may well have been the first archaeologist in
the world. He caused ruined shrines and temples to be
excavated and old inscriptions to be deciphered and
translated. However, his absence from the city and throne
opened the way for the demise of the empire.
Babylonian Empire had been raised up as the instrument of
God’s punishment of Judah. The empire would fall
unexpectedly in one night. Babylon would be held
accountable for the way it mistreated the apple of God’s
eye during its destruction of Jerusalem. Once Babylon
God’s purpose, Isaiah 12:19-22 would be
"Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the
glory of the Babylonians' pride, will be overthrown by God
like Sodom and Gomorrah. She will never be inhabited or
lived in through all generations; no Arab will pitch his
tent there, no shepherd will rest his flocks there. But
desert creatures will lie there, jackals will fill her
houses; there the owls will dwell, and there the wild
goats will leap about. Hyenas will howl in her
strongholds, jackals in her luxurious palaces. Her time is
at hand, and her days will not be prolonged."
pomp and glory, the power and might of Babylon that “has
sinned against the LORD” would be short-lived (Jeremiah
50:10-16). The lofty walls of the city, and its high
towers, had been reflected in its waters for a short time.
Today, the mighty Euphrates River turns its back on the
site of the city; it has chosen a new bed. The little Arab
settlement of “Babil” preserves in its name the memory of
the proud city—but it lies some miles north of the ruins.
Ironically, by the time Daniel wrote his prophecy,
Jerusalem lay in ruins. The Israelites were broken up and
scattered everywhere throughout the “Fertile Crescent.”
Consequently, the book of Daniel was written to offer hope
in the midst of despair.
The message of Daniel is
that four empires will rise and fall. And yet God’s people
will not disappear, but will be preserved for a new
millennium—“when the God of heaven will set up a kingdom
that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to
another people” (Daniel 2:44).
The Babylonian Exile
There were two great watersheds in the history of
Israel. The first was the Babylonian exile consisting of
the four deportations of 605, 597, 586, and 581 B.C.,
marked by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in
586 B.C. The second was the A.D. 70 destruction of
Jerusalem and its Temple, and the Diaspora that
accompanied the nation’s rejection of Jesus Christ. Out of
the first Judaism was born; Zionism rose from the second.
Apart from the prophetic books of the Bible, the
Scriptures reveal little of the exile itself. The prophets
Isaiah (distant) and Jeremiah (near) predicted the exile.
Daniel and Ezekiel were written during the exile. The
postexilic books of Nehemiah and Ezra focused on the
return of the Jews and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The
Chronicler, writing after the exile, sketched the source,
cause and consequence of the exile.
The LORD, the
God of their fathers, sent word to them through his
messengers again and again, because he had pity on his
people and on his dwelling-place. But they mocked God's
messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets
until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people
and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the
king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with
the sword in the sanctuary, and spared neither young man
nor young woman, old man or aged. God handed all of them
over to Nebuchadnezzar. He carried to Babylon all the
articles from the temple of God, both large and
and the treasures of the LORD'S temple and the treasures
of the king and his officials. They set fire to God's
temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned
all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.
He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who
escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him
and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power.
The land enjoyed its Sabbath rests; all the time of its
desolation it rested, until the seventy years were
completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by
Jeremiah (2 Chronicles 36:15-21).
besieged Jerusalem in 588 B.C., and destroyed the city in
the summer of 586 B.C. The city of God, along with
Solomon’s magnificent Temple, was turned to burnt rubble.
With the state destroyed, its cultic religion suspended,
and the remnant exiled, history within Judah ceased for
the next fifty years.
In 701 B.C., the Assyrian
Sennacherib claimed to have deported 200,150 people from
the northern kingdom of Israel. Only the choicest of
Judah’s political, ecclesiastical, and intellectual
leadership were selected for deportation to Babylonia. A
small country like Judah would not have had many educated
and skilled citizens. For the three deportations, the
number of 4,600 captives is recorded in Jeremiah 52:28-30.
In 2 Kings 24:14-16, a higher number of 10,000 is given,
which includes officials, fighting men, craftsmen and
artists. It is conjectured that only adult males were
included in Jeremiah’s number.
Only a remnant of
Judah was not killed and only the poorest people of the
land were left behind. Unlike the Assyrians of the eighth
century, Nebuchadnezzar did not import foreigners into the
Promised Land. This was a significant benefit to Judah
since it eliminated the danger of intermarriage with
heathen Gentiles, a development which had become a reality
in the North.
The exiles settled in villages and
rural areas near the city of Babylon and lived normal
lives. Many were content and became integrated into
society as they found opportunities to get ahead.
Since the moving from place to place by individuals was
dangerous, merchants traveled in caravans or by ship.
Without government support and protection, the Jews were
in Babylonia for the duration that God had ordained.
Back in Palestine, the prophet Jeremiah kept in touch
with exiles by writing letters to them from 598 to 586.
Ezekiel, both a priest and a prophet, ministered to the
exiles in Babylonia, while Daniel, a statesman and a
prophet, served the kings of two empires in the city of