This fervent, fascinating book was written during Judah’s captivity in the land of Babylon, to which country they were taken as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, “And them that had escaped from the sword carried he [that is, the king of the Chaldeans] to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: to fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years” (II Chron. 36:20, 21).
As we know, there are four major prophets in the Old Testament record: two (Isaiah and Jeremiah) wrote previous to the captivity; the other two (Ezekiel and Daniel) prophesied during the exile. As there is a striking difference between the ministry of Isaiah and that of Jeremiah, so there is between that of Ezekiel and Daniel. Isaiah is well called the “gospel prophet,” for his book rings with the glorious message of God’s redeeming love. It is true that he also faces the nation with its sin and guilt, but this is not the theme of his book, while it certainly is that in Jeremiah’s writing. Isaiah has much to say about the glorious Person of the Christ, from His virgin birth to His matchless sacrificial death, and on to His triumphant return to reign in power and glory. Jeremiah, on the other hand, is known as the “weeping prophet.” His main burden is not the Person of the perfect Savior, but the sin of Israel—a crooked and perverse generation. Isaiah speaks to the heart, bringing a message of joy; Jeremiah speaks to the conscience, with a message of guilt and the need for repentance. It is precious indeed to realize that the ministry of Isaiah precedes that of Jeremiah, for grace ever comes before truth. Our holy Lord said, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace [first] and [then] truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
Sad to say, neither grace nor truth succeeded in bringing Judah to repentance, for “the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy” (II Chron. 36:16). It is so in our day. Men despise the goodness and forbearance of God, paying heed neither to the warnings of coming judgment, nor to the offer of His pardoning grace. And I feel sure we are fast approaching the stage when the wrath of God shall arise against this wicked world. Why doesn’t man learn, with the history of the ages to warn him?
Ezekiel and Daniel wrote during the exile in Babylon. As there are such clear-cut contrasts between the manner and message of Isaiah and Jeremiah, so there are also between those of Ezekiel and Daniel. Ezekiel sat by the captives of Israel (see Ezek. 1:1 and 3:15), while Daniel sat in the palace of the king of Babylon. Ezekiel occupied a very low place, Daniel a very exalted one. Ezekiel spoke considerably to the consciences of the people of Israel; Daniel spoke to the consciences of the mighty gentile monarchs. Ezekiel warned of God’s judgments on Israel in some of his utterances, but Daniel prophesied of the judgments to fall upon the gentile nations.
Ezekiel describes how he saw the “appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezek. 1:28) depart from Judah and her beloved city Jerusalem. He tells how it did so reluctantly, in stages. First, the glory went forth into the plain (Ezek. 3:23); second, the glory stood at the door of the temple (Ezek. 8:3, 4); third, it stood on the threshold of the house (Ezek. 9:3); fourth, by the court of the temple (Ezek. 10:4); fifth, it stood at the east gate of the house (Ezek. 10:19); and finally, sixth, the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city (the Mount of Olives), and from there it went up (Ezek. 11:23, 24).
When the glory of the Lord left Judah, the nation was left to the mercy of the Gentiles; their city of Jerusalem was wrecked, and the people slain, scattered, or taken captive. Now Daniel presents the exact reverse of Ezekiel’s visions. The same Lord that left the land then (and left it again much later when He ascended to heaven from this same Mount Olivet) will return thither (Zech. 14:4). When He comes it shall not be, as in that dark past, to leave Israel to the fearful experiences that befell them at the hands of their enemies, but it will be to deliver them and to blast their oppressors, to take out of His Kingdom all that offend and do iniquity, and to reign in peace and in righteousness. Not then to have Jerusalem trodden down and de- stroyed, but to liberate it. And, while the Lord left them reluctantly, as we saw from Ezekiel’s account, at His return there will be no hesitation. He will not come then in slow stages, but He will smite His enemies in a sudden, devastating storm of judgment. As the lightning flashes from one end of heaven to the other, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be (Matt. 24:27). As Malachi puts it, “He … shall suddenly come to his temple” (Mal. 3:1).
Ezekiel’s mission was to unfold and stress Israel’s doom, which is now history; Daniel tells the glorious news of Israel’s restoration and blessing, which is still future. So our God has for each of His servants a certain ministry to perform; He, in His infinite love, divides to every man severally as He will. Whether you or I sweep a street or rule an empire makes little difference; both demand that we serve Him faithfully. It is faithfulness that the Lord rewards. Both Ezekiel and Daniel had their faith tested; both knew a good deal of trials and suffering. No believer is exempt from the trial of faith, in a palace or in a hut. Just to serve our blessed Lord is an honor each one of us may well value!
The book of Daniel may also be profitably compared with the book of the Revelation, since both are specifically devoted to foretelling the future. Following are some interesting and instructive contrasts, as well as comparisons, which may help to a clearer understanding of both books:
Both were written by men who lived to a great age, possibly over ninety years.
Both are called “beloved”; Daniel is said to be “a man greatly beloved” (Dan. 10:11), and the apostle
John is well-known as the “beloved disciple.”
Both speak of the future of the gentile nations.
Both mention the eventual judgment of the gentile nations.
Both speak of the tribulation and persecution of the people of Israel.
Both write of a period of three and one-half years —the time of Israel’s “great tribulation.”
But there are significant differences. Many of Daniel’s prophecies are now history, with the exception of the truth concerning the to-be-revived Roman empire and its relation with Israel, which are still future as we shall see. John (beginning at the fourth chapter of Revelation) deals with events which are still in the future. Daniel emphasizes the history of the nations which is now past, John reveals their moral and political future.
Another vital comparison between Daniel and Revelation lies in the fact that both these books present historical events, in general, in chronological order—the only prophetic books in the Bible to do so. Hence these books can be fairly easily understood. The strange thing is that many argue that Daniel and Revelation are too difficult to understand, when God says, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand” (Rev. 1:3). It is true that Daniel was told to “shut up the words, and seal the book,” but this was only until “the time of the end” (Dan. 12:4). Today we have reached that “end time,” hence John is told not to seal the book for the “time is at hand” (Rev. 22:10). The explanation of these two apparent contradictory orders is simple. For Israel (and all unsaved) the Bible (with its prophecies) is still a sealed book, because they are blinded by the god of this world; hence they cannot see (Rom. 11:7-10, 25). This is not true of believers in Jesus. We, can and should understand these great prophecies of Scripture, for to us the Holy Spirit reveals their scope and meaning.
The book of Daniel is a book of prophecy; prophecy is but history written before it happens. Of course, the enemy of souls has sought all through the years to deny the authenticity of God’s holy Word, for, says he in his ignorant wisdom, it is impossible to know beforehand things that are to happen many years later.
If it weren’t so sad it would truly be ludicrous to hear vain philosophers reason thus. Can you think of greater conceit than to say that because I don’t know the future, therefore no one else can know? That’s the unbalanced pride of the intellectual. God is ruled out of His own realm; no one, not even God, must be permitted to know more than they do.
The believer, of course, finds here no problem at all. Our holy Lord said that Daniel wrote this book, and that settles it (Matt. 24:15). There are, nevertheless, a number of proofs to substantiate that this is truly a prophetical book. For instance, we know that the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, was in existence somewhere in the neighborhood of 260 B.C.; at least one hundred years before Antiochus Epiphanes came upon the scene. Yet this book describes his character and rule in detail (Dan. 11:21-35), as we shall see in our study. It has been noticed by others that when Alexander the Great came to Jerusalem in 332 B.C. the Jewish high priest showed him the prophecies of Daniel which greatly impressed that famous commander. Josephus, the Jewish historian, records this, and it is not likely that he went out of his way to prove the genuineness of the book of Daniel. We may call attention as we go along to other places where Daniel’s prophetical powers are unmistakably demonstrated.
The composition of the book of Daniel is quite clear. It is divided in the middle with each section having six chapters. In the first six, attention is called to prominent rulers—Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon; Belshazzar, viceroy of the empire; and Darius the Mede. In the events unfolded, in Daniel’s interpretations of the dreams, and in his experiences we read the history of the gentile nations. This is known as the “times of the Gentiles,” both in what is now history and also in those events which are still future. Thus we have the history of the nations of the world, especially in their bearing upon the people of Israel, while that unhappy nation at present is “Lo-ammi,” not His people (Hos. 1:9). Two features stand out in this history—the character and the conduct of those empires, and their rulers. Though God’s people Israel during those thousands of years have been cast off as God’s peculiar people, yet God is deeply interested in them, and His eyes are ever upon them. They shall be His earthly people forever, and the book of Daniel closes with that blessed day in view.
As the first six chapters present the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) in story, the last six chapters give the same thought in visions and revelations given to Daniel, but with added detail.
God saw fit, for these important revelations, to choose a young lad, at the time he was carried captive to a strange country perhaps about fourteen years old. This young boy grew into manhood and eventually to a ripe old age, ever marked by an unblemished character; and, as with our blessed Lord, they could find no fault in him. One can but admire and marvel at his purpose of heart, his poise, pluck, purity, and power. Of the prominent men of the Old Testament whom we may consider types of the Lord Jesus Christ, Daniel is the only one of whom no sin or failure is recorded. Even men like Moses or Joseph betray at times failures so common to us all, but not so in Daniel’s case. I believe we may see in him in many ways a type of Christ, and I think we shall find in our study that it is just so he is presented to the eye of faith. He takes no place of superiority above his people, but humbly confesses sins of which he personally could not have been guilty. Of course, like the rest of us, he was a sinner, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. It is encouraging and challenging to realize that, if he could live such an outstanding life of holiness and devotion to God, then the same is open to all of us. We shall see more of him, and of Him whom he pictures, as we proceed.
I know of no prophet in the Old Testament who seemed to enter more fully into the mind of Christ than did Daniel. His is no mere technical, formal ministry, but something into which he enters with all his heart and soul; as one listens to his impassioned prayer in chapter nine, one is stirred to the depths. Listen to his vibrant closing plea, “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name” (9:19). Doesn’t this outburst make you feel ashamed of your cold and listless prayers?
Daniel not only heard the Lord speaking to him but he saw visions of great importance; he felt their force, and they led to his deep pity for his people, to passion and pleading. Though himself but little guilty of the sins of the nation, yet he shares their guilt and expresses this in his prayers; he is one with them in their sad state and the responsibility therefore. Is it not so with our blessed Lord Himself, Who, being Himself absolutely sinless, yet makes our sins His own? He prays about His sins (Psalm 38:4 among other verses); He did not impute our trespasses unto us, but charged Himself with our sins. Thus, truly, the “spirit of Christ” (I Peter 1:10-12) which dwelt in all of God’s prophets was particularly real in Daniel’s attitude. If he is not a type of Christ (and I believe he is), certainly his ways and his words are those of Christ Himself. May we too be burdened with a deep sadness for the spiritual condition among Christians, such as Daniel felt for his people. If this book could be effective in so burdening hearts, then our study will result in much greater benefit than a mere knowledge of events could impart.
Daniel—The Prime Minister
Daniel occupied a very high position for sixty years and more. Yet he did not allow it to go to his head. He was able to be high up and still stay low down, which is not an easy job. No doubt the secret lies in that he was a man of prayer. With heavy responsibilities on his shoulders as the active head of state, he made it his business to pray three times a day. He seemed to be a strong believer in spiritual meals as well as material ones. He was scrupulously honest in all his ways in the post he occupied, so that even his enemies had to say, as the enemies of our holy Lord were forced to say of Him, “We find no fault in him” (Dan. 6:4, 5; Luke 23:4). He is one politician who managed to eliminate the almighty dollar from his program.
I imagine one thing Daniel ever kept before him is the meaning of his name, “God is my judge.” It is well to remember that God is our judge. The sinner will have to stand before that great white throne in that day, to be consigned to eternal perdition. The Christian shall also be judged, not for his sins, but to have his life reviewed at the judgment seat of Christ. Our lives should be lived ever in view of that day, so that we may hear Him say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And we should live also with a view of judgment in the present; for the believer judgment begins at the house of God. So it is well for each one of us to remember that God is my judge—right now in the way of discipline and correction, by and by for appraisal and reward.