The Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, July 5, 2020
The Book of Daniel
The book of Daniel is the twenty-seventh book of the Bible. It has 12 chapters and 357 verses. The name Daniel means God is my judge. The book was first addressed to the people of Judah who were in exile in Babylon, discouraged, and almost bitter at God. They were wondering whether God is indifferent to their plight. They had been told about his promises to always be there for his people, but now, here they were in exile and stateless. Has the great God of heaven and earth been defeated by the gods of Babylon?
Daniel writes his book to encourage the people. He tells them that God is sovereign over all kingdoms. He causes them to rise and fall, and he will triumph over their enemies in the end. Nothing happens without his allowing it to happen, and nothing he purposes will ever be thwarted. He uses all events to further his purposes which are far beyond human understanding.
There were three deportations of Jews from Judea to Babylon, 605, 597, and 587 B.C. Daniel was taken in the first deportation. He was about 16-17 years old. The king of Babylon intended to take some noble Jewish young men and train them in the Babylonian culture in preparation for serving in government. This was the providence of God towards the Jews. When Jerusalem eventually fell in 586 and the Jews were taken to Babylon in large numbers, they found their countrymen in positions of authority to help them settle peacefully in the foreign land. Daniel lived through the whole 70 years of the Jewish captivity in Babylon.
Outline of Daniel:
The book can be divided into two broad parts:
A. Chapter 1 – 6 Historical material
1:1-21 Daniel and his three friends decline the kings offer of royal food
2:1-49 Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream
3:1-30 Daniel and his three friends in the furnace of fire
4:1-37 Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream: he loses his kingdom for seven years
5:1-31 King Belshazzar and the writing on the wall
6:1-28 Daniel and his three friends in a den of lions
B. Chapter 7 – 12 Dreams and visions of the future
7:1-28 Daniel’s vision of four beasts
8:1-27 Daniel’s vision of the ram and the goat
9:1-27 Daniel prays for God’s people
10:1-12:13 Daniel vision at the Tigris River
Daniel and his three friends exemplify spiritual training that has taken root in a young person. Here they were in a foreign land almost 900 miles away from home. No parents. No elders. No spiritual community to support them. Yet they are determined to walk faithfully with God in the smallest details of life. They refuse to eat the king’s food which was allocated to them. They were unsure what animals were being slaughtered for food. There could be times when meats forbidden in the book of God’s law could be served. They wanted to be sure they did not flout God’s law. So, they asked to be served vegetables only. Without any protein from meat, they thrived more than the other Jews who accepted to eat the king’s food.
Daniel foretold with precision the future empires of the world beginning with the instant one, that is, the Babylonian, then the Mede-Persian, then the Greek, and the Roman. The predictions are so accurate that scholars who don’t believe God can perform miracles or enable prophets to foretell the future try to date Daniel much later than he lived so they can say he wrote in hindsight.
Daniel chapter 11 is very difficult to understand without knowing Jewish history. The chapter describes the political intrigue between the king of the North and the king of the South. One king invades another, then one marries the daughter of the other.
I share the view of Bible readers who see the interaction of these two kings to fit the interaction between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies of later years. When Alexander the Great died at the age of 32 with no heir, his empire was divided into four parts and each given to four of his generals to rule. The generals were Seleucus who took Mesopotamia (Syria and Iraq), Iran, and parts of India. He founded the Seleucid Dynasty. Ptolemy took Egypt, the holy land, and Cyprus. He founded the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Lysimachus took Asia Minor or present-day Turkey, and Cassander took Macedonia and Greece. There followed a long political turmoil in which Lysimachus and Cassander lost their empires to the other two, the Seleucids and the Ptolemies respectively. The Ptolemies were the kings of the South and the Seleucids were the kings of the North. Daniel 11 records the intricate political intrigues that went on between these two. It would be helpful for anyone wishing to understand Daniel Chapter 11 to also read the Apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees chapters 1 and 2.