Daniel - The Prophet of Destiny
Arthur Shearman, Worcester, England
The Book of Daniel has a distinctive character which sets it apart among the books of the Old Testament. We learn much about the prophet himself from its contents. Daniel was among the first of Judah to be carried away into Babylonian captivity. He could have been about 14 years old at the time, but within quite a short time rose to highest position in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. He continued many years, until the first year of Cyrus of Persia, Dan. 1. 21. During these times he was a monument of faithfulness to his God, and he has left for us vital prophetic utterances concerning the nations.
It is interesting to compare Ezekiel's position in Babylon with that of Daniel. It was for Ezekiel to be found among the captives by the river Chebar. He was closely involved with them, sharing their sorrows as he brought the Word of the Lord to them. But for Daniel life was far different. Not with the captives is he found, but in the very court of a Gentile monarch. He is able to view the movements of pagan life from the closest vantage point. He was God's man in the court, just as Ezekiel was God's man among the captives.
The times of the Gentiles began with Nebuchadnezzar. Because of their continued unfaithfulness and departure from God, the Jews as a nation were set aside. This is why the work and prophecies of Daniel are so different, having such a distinctive character. His history and prophecy deal with the rise, course and final destiny of Gentile powers. The people of God are only viewed as associated with events created by the exercise of such power. But the final establishment of Jehovah's kingdom and the final destruction of all godless rule and authority are clearly outlined in the visions and words of the prophet.
The book itself in the canon of Holy Scripture has been a battlefield of controversy and criticism. The so-called "higher critics" have proceeded to demolish it as allegory, a work of fiction or a completely untrustworthy historical account of the people of God in Babylon. Sir Robert Anderson in his interesting book, Daniel in the Critics' Den, makes some most relevant remarks in connection with such criticism. "The critics claim a competency to judge whether this portion or that of the canon of Scripture be divinely inspired and in the exercise of this faculty they have decided that certain passages of Daniel give proof that the book could not have a divine sanction. Their dicta on this subject will have weight with us just in proportion to our ignorance of Scripture." There is no doubt that a careful reading of Daniel's prophecy, not in isolation, but in the context of the whole scheme of scriptural prophetic teaching, will convince us of its genuineness. Daniel, in his involvement with Gentile affairs of government, expresses conviction on two major truths, (i) It was from heaven and not earth that all authority came, for the Most High ruled in the kingdoms of men, 4. 17. (ii) He gave those kingdoms in His sovereignty to whomsoever He would, and He would never abdicate His supreme authority to man. Human destiny was in the hands of the Most High God, the God of heaven.
Daniel's Times. We seem to know Daniel as a man better than any of the prophets. He is a historic figure. Most children in Sunday School find the early stories of the book thrilling. They are among the best-known in the Bible. Yet they are more than just thrilling stories. They represent history recorded with prophetic intent. The early chapters reveal in narrative form much that is relevant to an understanding of the nature of Gentile rule. Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful monarch, despotic and tremendously successful in his achievements. He was a "king of kings", 2. 37. By his military might and prowess, Babylon became the mightiest nation in its times. The life of the prophet extended through the fall of the Babylonian kingdom to the rise of the Medes and Persians. During these times he experienced all the pressures that pagan society could bring to bear upon a man who was faithful to God and had His interests at heart. !n this way there is instruction for us in our generation.
In the history of the times of Daniel, we find emerging a system of anti-God lawlessness within the apparent refinements of the culture of Gentile society. The inevitable outcome of such a system is to produce the lawless one, the antichrist, the man of sin of New Testament prophecies. In the narratives of Daniel we see in picture-form what is ratified in his later visions and prophecies. The spirit of opposition to the rule of heaven is clearly present throughout the book. The massive edifice of power pictured in the vision of chapter 2 looks fine to man. But the spirit of Gentile rule thus illustrated is manifest in the later vision of the beasts of chapter 7. Yet the times of Daniel reveal a God who is overall – the God of heaven who watches over the interests of His own and is "able to deliver". More than this, He is able to draw forth from Gentile lips acknowledgement of His might and power. Three times in the narrative of the book we have instances of this: 3. 29; 4. 34-37 ; 6. 25-28. Daniel saw also the proud heads of arrogant monarchs bow down before the might of the God of heaven. Such were the times of Daniel.
Daniel's Testing. Daniel and his companions faced pressures in Babylon that were unknown to them in Jerusalem. They were in alien territory where different gods held sway. The atmosphere of Nebuchadnezzar's court was a constant challenge to those holy things which they valued as God's children. No doubt efforts would be made to wear down their faithfulness and bring eventual conformity to standards of pagan society. This wearing down process is illustrated in the prophecy concerning the little horn in 7. 8. To make war with the saints and overcome them is his aim, 7. 21. He will also design to wear out the saints of the Most High, 7. 25. The faithfulness of God's people is often severely tested when the tension between the spirit which is of God and the spirit of the world is experienced.
1. In the light of such testing for Daniel we notice that his Walk came under challenge. He and his companions had to be conditioned to meet the demands of the court. To prepare for this they were expected to eat of the king's meat. By such feeding, their appearance would be judged. But behind the eating and drinking were the associations of idol worship and all the pagan practices that went with it. What was Daniel's answer? He "purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king's meat", 1. 8. To be separate from all worldly corruption was reckoned an imperative to faithful living. They were in the world, surrounded by its appeals and temptations. But they were essentially not of it. Their outward appearance when the test came proved the value of their inward purity. This has a salutary lesson for us today!
2. We also notice that the source and character of Daniel's Wisdom was put to the test. In chapter 2, we find that in face of Nebuchadnezzar's demand for the revelation of his dream, the greatest minds in Babylon were paralysed. Through the dream God was to reveal the character of Gentile powers until the Stone cut out without hands would shatter the image to pieces. It was no ordinary dream. The God who gave the vision was the only One who could provide the interpretation to it. As Daniel came in to the presence of the king he was able to say in triumph, "there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets", 2. 28. The highest wisdom of the world was made to look foolish. In humility Daniel acknowledged that the only wisdom he possessed came to him from the Most High God, 2. 30. Through such en lightenment he was made sufficient for the occasion.
3. In chapter 3 we find that the Worship of the faithful is challenged by the state. The demand of the king was that the image should be worshipped by all. This act of worship was to take place at a certain time. None was exempt. The penalty for refusal was the fiery furnace. To the three Hebrews the issues were clear, and they acted accordingly. The answer of Christ as He faced a similar claim by Satan himself sums up their actions, "Thou shall worship the Lord thy God, and him only shall thou serve", Matt. 4. 10. The determination of the three faithful men in Babylon took them into the furnace. They went through the fire to prove their loyalty to God. Such is often the cost of faithfulness when the claims of God are questioned. Throughout all ages it remains true that all that will live godly shall suffer persecution, 2 Tim. 3. 12.
Daniel's Testimony. Above everything else Daniel gave unswerving testimony to the fact that his God was a reality—the only God. This testimony did not only relate to his immediate circumstances but to the whole scope of his prophecies as he looked into the future. The furthest application of these prophecies was to the end times. We can notice the words of the prophet to Nebuchadnezzar, "there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and he hath made known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days", Dan. 2. 28. Again with the later visions, "Understand, 0 son of man; for the vision belongeth to the time of the end", 8. 17. Then as the prophecies draw to a close, "Go thy way, Daniel ; for the words are shut up and sealed till the time of the end", 12. 9. Thus the prophetic testimony of Daniel referred through the course of Gentile times to the winding up of human affairs, to the consummation of man's destiny. We shall close this study with two thoughts connected with Daniel's testimony to his God.
1. He fearlessly Denounced the evils of his days. In chapters 4, 5 and 6, Daniel faced three features of rebellion manifest through the state towards God. They are very significant. Facing the growing Pride of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel fearlessly outlined the nature of his dream and gave him the interpretation of it. Then he counselled him to abandon his evil ways, 4. 27. Again as he was summoned into the presence of Belshazzar, amidst all the gaiety and feasting, he exposed through the writing on the wall the Profanity of the king. Without hesitation he gave the message of condemnation, 5. 22-28. Then again, as the prophet was confronted by the demands of the state in its materialistic Pursuits, he dared to depend wholly upon his God. For such defiance he was cast to the lions. His actions however proved that the God in whom he trusted was enough for all his needs. If we look carefully at these evils in the context of prophecy, we can see that such characteristics of godless rebellion will find their climax in the man of sin. He will, with unashamed arrogance, magnify himself exceedingly, 11. 36. As the son of perdition, he will oppose and exalt himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped, 2 Thess. 2. 3-4. In the light of increasing lawlessness in our day we need to read these things with understanding.
2. By example and testimony Daniel has left us a picture of the Demands made upon faithful men during such times. In chapter 10 we look into the inner life of the prophet and we see how his strength was drained by the intensity of his experience. Godly exercise is costly. "As for me", said Daniel, "there remained no strength in me, neither was there breath left in me", v. 17. The strength of heaven was given him, "0 man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea be strong", v. 19. Perhaps the idea can be summed up in no better way than in the words of 11. 32. Amidst all the profanity and overthrow of holy things, when it would seem that no power is sufficient to stem the tide of evil, "the people that know their God shall be strong, and do exploits". These shall be strong and take action. The life of Daniel gives testimony to the fact that, in the face of the demands of lawlessness and outward evil, passive resistance and silence of the godly is not enough. Men and women, faithful to their God, must act.