Daniel is unique among the prophets because he is not actually a prophet. The book of Daniel is a difficult book to categorize because Daniel is not a prophet, in that he did not preach to anyone, yet he received a great deal of prophetic dreams and visions from God that told of future events. As a matter of fact, the Hebrew Old Testament does not include Daniel in the prophets, but places it with the “Writings” (these were the history books and the poetry books) because it is actually more of a narrative rather than a collection of messages like the other Old Testament prophet books.
Daniel was a young man in Jerusalem during the reign of Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23-24). Jehoiakim was actually a puppet king that had been put on the throne in Jerusalem by Neco, the Pharaoh of Egypt. During his reign, the Babylonians were on the march from the east and were sweeping in from the north, through Israel and all the way down to Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians, and by doing so won all of their territories. That meant that the puppet king, Jehoiakim, had a new master to pull his strings. Jehoiakim was a good vassal (servant) to Neb for three years. Then he got cocky and rebelled. Neb didn’t like this, so he came in with both guns blazing and laid siege to the city.
When Neb sacked the city (he hadn’t destroyed it yet), he took the gold from the Temple and took some of the “cream of the crop” of the young people with him back to Babylon. Daniel was one of these young people. He was enrolled (forcefully) into the University of Babylon and chosen to be groomed to become a leader and a wise man in Babylon. Despite Neb’s cruelty in battle, he was actually a civilized leader who desired to create a cosmopolitan civilization and a cultural center of the world out of the city of Babylon. He was broadening his cultural base by educating these young Jewish men, among other nationalities.
As we have already mentioned, Daniel was not a prophet. He never received the call from God to preach to the people and “declare the word of the Lord.” Daniel was a politician and spent his entire career serving in the Babylonian government. The book of Daniel can be thought of, not as an anthology of messages from a prophet, but as the personal journal of a godly man living in an ungodly cultural and political environment.
Daniel’s career has four phases, as you can see in the illustration. During each “administration,” Daniel and his colleagues had different visitations from God and different actual experiences. It is important to note that the events and visions in the book are not recorded chronologically. The chart places the visions in their proper historical context. Observing this fact sheds light on the meaning and purpose behind the various visions of the political future of the nation of Israel. The following are the four phases of Daniel’s career:
Phase 1: Nebuchadnezzar (chs. 1-4)
During this phase Daniel experienced a great deal of power and influence in Babylonian government. While his three colleagues were not treated as nicely as he was, their fiery ordeal served to “spark” the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual awakening. In this phase the main focus is that, through faithful perseverance to the truth of God, even megalomaniac emporers can be won over to God.
Phase 2: Belshazzar (chs. 5, 7-8)
This is the dark phase of Daniel’s career. When Belshazzar took over the throne from Nebuchadnezzar things changed drastically for Daniel. We don’t know exactly what happened, but the fact that he had to be summoned from apparent obscurity indicates that Daniel had been discarded by the new monarch and forgotten. It was during this time that Daniel’s dreams became tormented and his vision of the political future of the world turned beastly.
Phase 3: Darius (ch. 9)
After evil Belshazzar got his just rewards, the Median empire took over for a short while. Under Darius, Daniel was restored to a political office. However, the new Median ruling class and “wise men” were not very happy with this “old school” foreigner having such prestige in their government. In this section we see that good people are often misunderstood and often set up for a fall. Through Daniel’s faithfulness he was spared from the mouths of the lions and was once again exalted to a high position.
Phase 4: Cyrus (chs. 10-12)
Daniel ended his political career under the Persian king, Cyrus. While Daniel was once again restored to a high position as he was under Nebuchadnezzar, he probably had a very different perspective on things. No longer was he focused on politics and power. He had been humbled and broken. Now his focus was on God and on the Kingdom of God at work in the world. He was spending time in God’s word, and upon reading the prophecy of 70 years in Jeremiah 25, Daniel became convicted that God’s Kingdom was indeed supreme and he began earnestly seeking God’s heart on this matter. Chapters 10-12 are God’s response to a truly broken and repentant man who was desperately seeking to make sense out of his world.
It is during these chapters that we have the most bizarre and difficult visions. One thing must be made clear at the outset of any study of Daniel’s visions: NO ONE fully understands these visions. Daniel was told to “close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end.” There are several schools of thought about how to interpret the visions. The two major schools or thought are a) that the visions mark out an actual history that ends with a tragic massacre in Jerusalem that happened during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes in A.D. 168. b) the events may have a type in Antiochus, but they actually point to an event in the distant future which is yet to come and is intertwined with the prophecies in the book of Revelation.
Interpreting The Visions
When you take the visions of Daniel and compare and distill them, there are some basic components that can be observed.
- There are four major eras that will happen (four phases of the statue, four beasts out of the sea)
- There will be a final “little horn” that will do terrible things – the abomination that causes desolation.
- There will be 70 “7’s” between the time of the decree to rebuild the Temple to the time of the abomination that causes desolation.
- In the end, one “like the Son of Man” from “the Ancient of Days” will come and ultimately destroy the beast (the little horn) and throw him into the fire.
This is what it SAYS, but what does it MEAN?
As mentioned in the introduction, there are two basic interpretations.
The first interpretation sees the events described in these visions as being very literal and having been completely fulfilled already. They coincide very nicely with the actual recorded events. The following is the history of this region.
The Actual History
After Persia was finished conquering most of the world (the ram in ch. 8) it was overthrown by a fierce and brilliant young ruler named Alexander the Great (the goat in ch. 8).
Alexander was on a quest, not just to conquer the world, but to breath the spirit of Grecian culture into all the world. As a result of his “Hellenization” campaign, most of the world (including Jerusalem) became infused with the Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle (Alexander’s mentor).
Alexander died young and his empire was split up between his four generals (the four horns of ch. 8, the ten horns of the beast in ch. 7, the feet of iron and clay of ch. 2) Two of these generals factor into the vision for Israel. One – the Seleucids — took Syria to the north of Israel. The other – the Ptolomies – took Egypt to the south of Israel. They were in constant battle for governance over Israel. (the northern and southern kings of ch. 11)
Eventually, a low ranking official (the little horn), named Antiochus Epiphanes, maneuvered his way into power in Israel and became dead set to end Judaism and turn Israel into a fully Hellenized state. During his reign of terror he actually established an altar to Zeus in the Temple, sacrificed a pig in the Temple (the abomination that causes desolation), and forced sacrifices to cease for 3 ½ years.
Antiochus received resistance from two groups, the Maccabeans and the Hasadim. Eventually his reign was overthrown and Israel was self-ruled for a short time. The Romans eventually moved in and occupied the territory.
The next major event in Israel was the birth of Jesus.
Those who hold to view “A” believe that Antiochus Epiphanes was the little horn and the beast and that the 70th week was fulfilled in his violation of the Temple. The Maccabean and Hasadimic revolt was the beginning of the stone that destroyed the beast. The inauguration of the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ, and His resurrection was the ultimate crushing of the beast and the hope of the eternal Kingdom that the Jews had been looking forward to for centuries.
Interpretation B does not differ greatly from A. Much of the interpretation is obvious from the book of Daniel itself. It is easy to see Alexander the Great as the goat and Antiochus as the little horn. However, view B makes much out of the 70th week and does not believe that the vision was completely fulfilled in the events of Antiochus’s career. His actions were merely a “type” of a coming beast that will rule the world and fight against God on a cosmic scale. This view holds that we are currently living in the time between the 69th week and the 70th week of Daniel. When the antichrist rises there will be 7 years (the Great Tribulation of Revelation) when the beast will bring the abomination that causes desolation to the Temple. Some of the fuel for this view is
a) the fact that Jesus refers to the coming antichrist
b) Paul refers to the man of lawlessness and the abomination
c) John uses imagery from Daniel that seem to be in the future tense.
There is much controversy over these issues and not a lack of material written from both perspectives (and many other variations). You may decide to study this topic further. Suffice it to say, in the short time we have in this type of devotional, no matter whether you are reading the book of Daniel or the book of Revelation, there is one unifying and ultimate theme…
No matter how bad it gets… GOD WILL PREVAIL!