Decoding Daniel - an in depth Bible study of the book of Daniel

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Introduction to Daniel

Why Study the Book of Daniel?

Purpose of Daniel

Great Conflicts Unveiled

Daniel the Prophet

Structure and Themes

Style and Interpretation

Ancient Translations

Daniel In the Critics' Den

Historical Background

The City of Babylon

Historical Background of Daniel

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).

Jehoiakim, 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 centuries.

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 interpreted
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.

In 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.

The 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 served
God’s purpose, Isaiah 12:19-22 would be fulfilled:

"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."

The 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
small, 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).

Nebuchadnezzar 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 Babylon.

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