I began this study of the Book of Daniel as a teaching series for the church in France that I was pastoring. I had already conducted a study on the Book of Revelation, but I had avoided the Book of Daniel. Even though the two books deal with some of the same end-time prophecies, I felt more comfortable teaching on the Book of Revelation than on the Book of Daniel. I had read the Book of Daniel a numbers of times, and I always felt incapable of understanding it or presenting a study of it. However, I had the desire in my heart to understand the prophecies concerning the end times that are recorded in it, and this desire spurred me on to study and teach it.
In preparing to teach this study, I wanted to pass over the first six chapters because they don't really develop Bible prophecies (with the exception of Chapter 2). But Daniel's book contains only twelve chapters, and I felt silly starting the study with chapter 7. Finally, I decided to briefly discuss the first six chapters as a kind of introduction to the more prophetic portions.
What started out as a short introduction became weeks of wonderful insights into Daniel as a real, live person full of spiritual qualitites of consecration and trust toward God. I not only discovered the character of Daniel, but I also began to see how God revealed Himself to a pagan world as the Divine Person who is qualified to foretell human events. I don't know of another book in the Bible that gives us so much in-depth details of God's dealings with men and kingdoms as does the Book of Daniel.
Many of the things which God revealed to Daniel are already history to us. But, to Daniel and the eye witnesses who saw what he lived and wrote, God, the God of Heaven, proved Himself through mighty signs and wonders.
I dedicate the first half of this book to the "Daniels" whom God is raising up in our generation, those who will proclaim, as Daniel did, words of righteousness: words of righteousness, clothed in respect and wisdom. May these Daniels of our generation be truly sanctified to speak to our times, and may they communicate to this world the vital realities of what is happening right now and what the consequences of these realities will be.
In the second part of this book I have endeavored to communicate my understanding of the dreams and revelations that Daniel received from God in their context. I have not attempted to focus on all of Daniel's dreams and revelations, but rather the parts that are in Chapters 7 and 8. Daniel's dreams concerning the beasts and their interpretations are the reference points for understanding the Book of Revelation, in particular, Chapters 13, 17, and 18. And these two books bring us face to face with today's actualities. In general, the Christian world has not recognized the real sources of danger to the church and to the Jewish people. I pray that this book will open your eyes through the revealing work of the Holy Spirit.
Although I'm not writing this as a "history book," I will often make reference to the historical circumstances that surrounded certain situations or visions, because Daniel's writings cannot be clearly understood without their historical context. I have dated events taking place in the Book of Daniel using dates that are commonly used in commentaries and secular history books.
As you read this book, I encourage you to open your Bible and follow along as I refer to the various passages.
A BLEAK TIME FOR DANIEL AND HIS PEOPLE
The Book of Daniel covers one of the bleakest periods in Jewish history. Many of the most talented nobles and artisans in Jerusalem were taken into the Babylonian captivity in about 605 B. C., which coincided with the first year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign. Later, in 586 B. C., Jerusalem was destroyed along with the temple, and the rest of Judah went into captivity. Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B. C., but his kingdom continued until it was destroyed by the Median and Persian Empire in 539 B. C. The last recorded message that Daniel received from God was in the third year of King Cyrus, which was about 533 B. C. In his lifetime, Daniel witnessed the rise and fall of the Babylonian kingdom; the rise of the Median and Persian kingdom; the destruction of Judah, Jerusalem, and the temple; and, at the end of his life, the return of the first Jewish captives to Judah after seventy years in captivity.
In the first chapter, Daniel gave the historical and spiritual elements that help us to understand his book. Jerusalem had been sacked by Nebuchadnezzar, and a number of the precious articles of worship in the temple were carried away to Babylon, along with some of the city's finest young citizens. In verse 2, Daniel wrote, "And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god" (Daniel 1:2). When Nebuchadnezzar put the vessels belonging to the temple in Jerusalem into the treasury of his god in Babylon, he was declaring that the Babylonian gods were superior to Jehovah, the God of Israel. A god of stone had been elevated above the God of the universe.
This defiant gesture on the part of Nebuchadnezzar toward the God of Israel was the starting point at which God entered into the courts of the great kings of the sixth century B. C. to show Himself to be the "Most High God." And during this period, this same "Most High God" showed Daniel the major events that would take place during the history of His people until He, the Most High God, would set up His own Kingdom on the earth through the Jewish people.
Whereas the Bible tells us only that Nebuchadnezzar had King Jehoiakim carried off to Babylon in chains (II Chronicles 36:6), Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, explained the event in more detail. Jehoiakim had become a vassal to Nebuchadnezzar for several years but then revolted. When Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem with his army, Jehoiakim opened the city gates, thinking that he would suffer no harm. However, Nebuchadnezzar took him prisoner and led him into captivity. He was later released and returned to Jerusalem where he died an ignoble death (Jeremiah 36:30).
Among the best of the young Jewish citizens that were taken into captivity were Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah who were appointed to serve in the administration of the Babylonian Empire and to be servants of the Babylonian gods, as we shall see later. This is the dismal picture that Daniel gave us as he introduced us to one of the most astonishing historical sagas recorded in the Bible.
GODLY MEN IN A PAGAN WORLD
From verses 4 through 7, we understand the very difficult situation into which these four young men were thrust: "whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. . . And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat, and of the wine which he drank: . . .Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego" (Daniel 1:4-7). In other words, these young men, consecrated to the God of their fathers, were forced into a pagan way of life completely contradictory to their faith.
First of all, they were required to study the literature of the Chaldeans. This literature (like the literature of any civilization) communicated all of the Chaldeans' religious and cultural values. In our own twentieth century, the study of modern literature means studying atheism and new- age philosophies. It means being exposed to teachings on relative morality and all of the thinking and philosophy accompanying them. In reality, it means being immersed in a totally non-Christian and often anti-Christian environment. For Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, it wasn't any different. The literature of the Chaldeans was the literature of the stories of their gods, their morality, and their world views based on these foundations. What actually happened is that these men received the education given to the Babylonian magicians and astrologers.
Verse 5 gives further details concerning this difficult situation. These young men had to eat the foods coming from the king's table. Because this food was not prepared according to Jewish laws, it was unclean, and Jewish believers were forbidden to eat it. In addition, the food had been dedicated to Babylonian idols, which made it even more unacceptable to them. Jewish Law places great importance on ordinances related to "physical purity," and it is for this reason Jewish believers have always found it very difficult to fully integrate into pagan life.
But, for our four servants of the Most High God, this situation was not their only problem. As Jews, they had Jewish names. In the Hebrew culture, names were very important in that they were intended to communicate something about the character of the person or about his role or relationship to God. The importance of names and their meanings seems to have been typical in oriental cultures at the time, as the Babylonians attributed the same importance to names as the Jews. What made this situation even more difficult is that the Chaldean language is very similar to Hebrew, so that the two peoples could understand each other without difficulty.
The name "Daniel" itself means something like "judge of God" or "God will judge ," and this is what the Babylonians heard when they heard the name "Daniel." They decided to impose on him a name more to their liking, Belteshazzar, which means "Prince of Bel." Bel was the most important Chaldean god. Hananiah, "favored of Yah," was changed to Shadrach, meaning something like "enlightened by the sun god." Mishael means "Who is God?" or "Who is like God?" and was changed to Meshach, which means "Who is like the moon god?" And Azariah, "Jah has helped," was changed to Abednego, which means "servant of the god Nego." In this way, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who had wonderful Jewish names rich with meaning, received equally rich Chaldean names that linked them to the persons and qualities of the Babylonian gods. These four young men must have suffered continual humiliation with these names, as well as a certain sense of confusion and guilt toward their God, the true and living God.
THE DECISION THAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE
Daniel seems to be the leader of the four, and in verse 8, he took the lead in responding to the situation. "But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself" (Daniel 1:8). He "purposed in his heart." Strong's concordance says that the verb "to purpose" literally means "to put." Daniel "put it into his heart" (purposed, decided, determined) that he would not defile himself.
I don't think that we can understand Daniel, his life , or his achievements if we don't focus on this phrase and enlarge on it. In the context of verse 8, he purposed not to defile himself with the king's food (sacrificed and consecrated to idols, etc.), but in the context of Daniel's whole life, it was a lifetime commitment not to defile himself. Daniel went beyond the Jewish legalistic ideas of purity/impurity to the heart of real spiritual purity which can only come through contact or communion with the Living God.
Daniel had a real sense of what true spiritual purity meant and where it came from. In Chapter 2, when Daniel and his friends were in danger of death, he called an all-night prayer meeting. In Chapter 6, when Daniel's enemies looked for a way to trap him, they trapped him because they knew he prayed every day. Daniel was known as a man of prayer. In Chapters 9 and 10, as a result of prayer, God gave Daniel understanding concerning the visions and dream that he had received. References to Daniel's prayers or prayer life are repeated so often that we are obliged to believe that Daniel had a well-developed and consistent prayer life.
Daniel was constrained to live in a pagan environment. And, because of that, he analyzed the totality of this environment's impact on his spiritual life and purposed to keep himself pure in what he considered to be the essential. He couldn't do anything about his name. He could keep his studies in his head and out of his heart, but he had to keep himself undefiled. To us New Testament believers, it may seem silly to think that we could become spiritually defiled by something like food, but to an Old Testament believer like Daniel, the law was very clear: foods and ritual purifications are essential to walking with God.
Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself, but he had to gain the permission of his superiors before he could put into practice what he purposed in his heart. And God gave him favor with the chief eunuchs. In fact, throughout the whole Book of Daniel, we find that Daniel was a man who had favor with men. Verse 9 says that God gave him favor with the head of the eunuchs. He had favor, or gained favor, with four kings. Daniel had favor because, as verse 9 says, "God had brought him into favor" (Daniel 1:9).
Daniel did have favor, and perhaps God gave Daniel an extraordinary gift of favor, but we need to know that God gives all of His people favor with men. Maybe it's not a supernatural gift at the same magnitude as Daniel's gift, but still, God gives favor. What made Daniel exceptional, however, is that he knew how to walk in this favor. He knew how to relate to an unconverted, pagan world in honesty while avoiding unnecessary confrontation. Daniel's exhortations to Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius are models of truth and righteousness spoken in humility and simplicity without provocation. If I could use New Testament terms, I would say that he knew how to "speak the truth in love."
Daniel asked his chief (supervisor), "Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king's meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants" (Daniel 1:12-13). By asking his chief to test and observe if the diet proscribed by the Jewish Law was healthful, he took the risk and confrontation out of the situation. And, after a short test period, his chief saw that the simple Jewish diet gave the Jewish students a healthier appearance than the other students. Thus, what Daniel purposed in his heart, he was able to do.
GOD, THE REWARDER OF THOSE WHO DILIGENTLY SEEK HIM
Verse 17 explains that God gave spiritual gifts or talents to these four young men: "As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams" (Daniel 1:17). It is not by accident that they received these abilities from God after they had "purposed in their hearts" to keep themselves from being defiled.
God blessed Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in their studies. Where it says that they had "skill in all learning," it's referring to skill in their academic studies. This means that they were supernaturally brilliant students. And, in addition to this, all four had divinely-given wisdom.
In the context of the Bible, wisdom is the ability to see relationships between things that are and things that will be, or the ability to see relationships between things that will be and the things that are. In other words, wisdom helps a person focus on the things that are happening now, or on the things that one can make happen now, so that one can receive what he wants or desires in the future. We could say that wisdom is seeing cause/effect relationships in a time dimension of past, present, and future.
Wisdom is critical in our lives because it enables us to focus on key things that are happening, or will happen, so that our lives can be productive. These four Jews had this God-given ability. But, Daniel had an extra gift that none of the others had. He had a gift for understanding (interpreting) dreams and visions. This permitted Daniel to go into a realm of the supernatural where the others couldn't go. As we get into Chapters 7 through 12, this gift is expanded in that Daniel not only had a gift to understand dreams and visions, but he received dreams and visions with their interpretation.
Chapter 1 ends with Nebuchadnezzar discovering that the four Jewish students were much wiser than all of his other scholars and magicians (it's important to remember that ancient knowledge was always mixed with the occult). Verse 5 tells us that their training program was for three years, so we know that the king's examination took place in the fourth year of his reign.
In reading Daniel's writings, we need to perceive how God used Daniel's life to impact his generation. Through Daniel (with his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) God shook some of the greatest kings and kingdoms in history. He revealed Himself to these kings as the Eternal God who stands outside the limits of time and who knows the beginning and the end of all things. Not only did God confirm His great knowledge by signs and wonders, but also He demonstrated His great power by enthroning or dethroning kings as He willed.
The first chapter of Daniel gave us a few key insights into the spiritual giftings and qualities that prepared Daniel and his friends for the divine task that God gave them to administer and shake kingdoms. Chapter 2 narrates Nebuchadnezzar's first encounter with the living God.
Nebuchadnezzar was a heathen, steeped in pagan idolatry, who had no knowledge of the True God. Remember (Chapter 1:2) that he had taken the sacred vessels from the temple in Jerusalem and placed them in the treasury of his god when he captured Jerusalem. For Nebuchadnezzar, the supremacy of his god over the God of Judah had been established through this victory.
NEBUCHADNEZZAR'S TROUBLING DREAMS
In Daniel 2:1, we're told that the events taking place in Chapter 2 happened in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign. This would have been the first or second year of Daniel's training at which time he was not an official in the king's service, but rather a student at the king's "university." It was during this second year of his reign that the king had some dreams that troubled his sleep.
In verse 2 it says, "Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to shew the king his dreams" (Daniel 2:2). In verse 3 the king made it clear to his learned counselors that he wanted to know, or perhaps understand, his dream. In verse 4, the king's counselors asked the king for the contents of his dream that they might give him the interpretation. And in verse 5 the king answered, "The thing is gone from me: if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill" (Daniel 2:5).
While the King James Version of the Bible leads us to believe that the king had forgotten the contents of his dream ( "The thing is gone from me..." Daniel 2:3), most versions translate this phrase somewhat like the New King James Version, "My decision is firm..." (Daniel 2:5), which would imply that the king was emphatic that the wise men tell him the dream, but he may not have forgotten the contents of the dream. Whether he really forgot what he dreamed or just wanted to prove the person giving the interpretation is not essential for us to know.
We do need to understand Nebuchadnezzar as he really was: a selfish despot. He was a pampered, selfish man who saw himself as an adorable god. Human life had no value to him when it stood in opposition to his desires. And when the wise men were unable to comply with his command, he was furious and ordered that all of the wise men of Babylon be executed (verse 12).
Daniel, who was a student at this time and not a member of the king's court, was unaware of the events taking place there. When he learned of the king's order that all the wise men be killed, which included Daniel and his three friends, he asked for an audience with the king in order to have time to find the answer to the king's request (verse 16).
As we read Daniel's response to this situation, we see his practical qualities of wisdom. "Then Daniel went in, and desired of the king that he would give him time, and that he would shew the king the interpretation. Then Daniel went to his house, and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions: That they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish with the rest of the wise [men] of Babylon" (Daniel 2:16-19).
In these verses we see that he did three very simple, logical things. First, he went to the king and asked that a delay be given to the king's order so that he might have time to give the king his interpretation. Second, he gathered his three friends at his house to make them aware of his conversation with the king. And the third thing, which is the logical follow-through in the situation, he organized a little prayer meeting.
DANIEL, A MAN OF PRAYER
Throughout the Book of Daniel, we see Daniel as a man of prayer. Here in Chapter 2, facing the threat of death, he prayed with his three friends. In Chapter 6, the evil counselors of Darius trapped Daniel into a serious act of disobedience to the king. They convinced the king to forbid all prayer to any person other than the king himself. These evil men knew that Daniel was committed to daily prayer to his God, and that he would continue to pray at all cost. In Chapter 9, Daniel was engaged in intercessory prayer for his people, and in Chapter 10, Daniel was in a prolonged fast, humbling himself that he might hear and understand concerning the future events of his people.
In Chapter 2, God answered his prayer during the night. In this context, it is important to note that, just as Daniel always took recourse to God through prayer, God always answered Daniel's prayers. The book of Daniel is full of occasions in which Daniel prayed. And in all these situations, God responded to his prayers. God answers prayer. And if we would be as diligent as Daniel in knowing , seeking, and praying to our God, we would be just as successful as he was in getting our prayers answered.
When Daniel received the contents of Nebuchadnezzar's dream and its interpretation, he praised God, and in this praise he expressed some very important biblical truths. In verse 21, he said that "he giveth wisdom unto the wise." This may seem unfair (i.e., God should give wisdom to those who don't have it) or redundant (why would God give wisdom to those who already have it?), but to Daniel, who was well versed with Old Testament scriptures, his idea was very clear. Proverbs 9:10 says that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Proverbs 8:13 says that "the fear of the Lord is to hate evil." In other words, Daniel was praising God because He gives wisdom to those who fear Him. Or, perhaps, to say it more succinctly, Daniel was praising God for giving wisdom to those who hate evil.
While God does do some things that are sovereign and unsearchable, He does many other things that are logical, understandable, and even predictable to us, when we apply relevant Bible truths to those situations. When Daniel blessed (or thanked) God for giving wisdom to the wise, he was thanking Him for guarding wisdom, or reserving it, for those who hated evil. This wisdom is not left floating in human spheres where wicked men and men of the occult can tap into it.
Let's continue . Daniel blessed God for giving "knowledge to them that know understanding" (Daniel 2:21). Proverbs 9:10 says that "knowledge of the holy (or Holy One) is understanding." If God is going to give understanding to someone (as Daniel says in his prayers), God is going to give it to the one who takes the time, or who has taken the time, to know Him. God's understanding is not hidden from men, but it's reserved for men - that is, men of consecration to Him and to His holiness - men who will take the time to know Him intimately.
In verse 22, Daniel continues, "He revealeth deep and secret things." Daniel knew the scriptures. He had studied Jeremiah's prophecies and may have been conversant with the Bible principle that God promised through the prophet: "Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not" (Jeremiah 33:3). Obviously, to Daniel, the great and mighty things were the revelations of wisdom and understanding which God gives to those who fear Him and know Him.
DANIEL BEFORE THE KING
Daniel was then ushered into the presence of the king and began his explanation. "Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king; But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these; As for thee, O king, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter, and He that revealeth secrets maketh known to thee what shall come to pass. But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart" (Daniel 2:27-29).
When I think that Daniel was just a young man of perhaps eighteen or nineteen years of age, a beginning student at the "court university," and that he had to stand before the terrifying King Nebuchadnezzar in front of all his court, I am amazed at Daniel's wisdom in addressing the king. It reminds me of Jesus telling His disciples not to take thought or meditate in advance what they should say when dragged before judges and kings, because the Holy Spirit would give them in the hour itself what they should say. Jesus must have been explaining a biblical principle to His disciples that was already in existence in the Old Testament!
THE GOD THAT SEARCHES
First of all, Daniel tried to draw the king into a knowledge about "another God": a God he didn't know about, a God whom Daniel called the "God in heaven." And then he led the king further into a knowledge of this God by saying that it was this "God in heaven" who manifested Himself to the king through this dream which showed the things that were to come on the earth. Daniel was able to preface his remarks before the king with a short word about the meditation in the king's heart that preceded the king's dream, and this certainly must have captured the king's attention. It set the king at ease that he had before him a man who knew what was going on in his heart and mind at the time of the dream.
After Daniel had touched these two very important subjects (that is, the nature of the Person who gave the king his dream and the fact that Daniel had clear knowledge, not only of the dream, but of the circumstance that preceded the dream), he proceeded to give the contents of the dream itself and then finally the interpretation itself.
It is important to note the details that Daniel indicated concerning the unfolding of the events of Nebuchadnezzar's dream. This is a story of a great king who was wondering about the future and of God who decided to use his "wondering" as a starting point to reveal Himself. This is not the chronicle of a man in search of God, but rather, it is the chronicle of God searching out and revealing Himself to a man. In fact, it seems to me that the first six chapters of Daniel are rich in examples of God's dealing with man (or men). Just as God was seeking out the heart of the king that he might enter into a real encounter with him, God seeks and has sought us out that He might have real encounters with us.
God took Nebuchadnezzar's reflections on the future as a means of reaching into his life. The king was wondering about the future, and God revealed to him the essentials about it. Daniel said to the king, "but there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days" (Daniel 2:28).
THE DREAM OF THE AGES
After this shocking statement to the king about a " God in heaven," Daniel went on to explain the main lines of the dream. The king saw a huge statue with a head of gold, chest of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet and toes of iron and clay. And this enormous statue was struck in the feet by a regular stone, and it disintegrated into chaff and was blown away by the wind. And the ordinary stone grew into a great mountain that filled all the earth.
Surely, the king must have been struck by the extraordinary nature and size of the statue that he saw in his dream and also by its remarkable composition. Its destruction by an ordinary stone which became a great mountain turned the whole dream into a riddle, and I believe that this was what troubled him so that "his sleep left him."
And God gave Daniel the interpretation of the dream. "Thou, O king, [art] a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou [art] this head of gold" (Daniel 2:37-38).
It's amazing how simple and powerful Daniel's witness to the king was. Nothing was forced or aggressive. He simply brought to the king's attention that there was a power in heaven (God, the true God) who gave him this greatness as the head of gold.
After the king's kingdom, there would be another kingdom less glorious. And after that kingdom, there would be a kingdom, not more glorious, but stronger and with domination. And then there would be a fourth kingdom, strong and cruel. And all these kingdoms were standing on feet of iron and clay, a divided kingdom, partly strong and partly weak. This kingdom represented by the feet of clay and iron was the fifth kingdom in the vision . And in the days of these kings (i.e., ten, as shown by the ten toes), this mysterious "God of heaven" would manifest Himself by striking down all these kingdoms with a stone not carved by human hands and establish His own kingdom which would fill the whole earth.
Let's look at verses 34-35. "Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth." In verse 44 Daniel indicated that this mountain was a kingdom (the sixth kingdom in the dream), and that this kingdom would be an unending kingdom, established by God.
Now, let's look at Isaiah 41:15-16. "Behold, I will make thee (i.e., thee, Israel) a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the LORD, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel."
What's important about this scripture from Isaiah is that it shows that mountains can be a Bible image (symbol) representing great military/political powers. And Daniel, who was familiar with Isaiah's prophecies, could link Nebuchadnezzer's dream and his interpretation to Bible images. This scripture must have given Daniel great consolation because it showed him that the dream that God gave Nebuchadnezzar ended with a biblical image, and that this image communicated that God would eventually bring the kingdoms of this world under His dominion through His people, Israel.
ONE DREAM, TWO BEGINNINGS
Nebuchadnezzar was shaken by the accuracy of Daniel's knowledge of the dream and speechless by the force of his interpretation. He gave homage to Daniel's God as the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and the revealer of secrets. And, because of this incident, Daniel and his friends entered into the king's service in high positions.
This dream took place in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign which would be about the year 603 B. C. This was God's first dealing with the king. In Chapters 3 and 4, which transpired in the succeeding thirty years, God dealt with the heart of the king to bring him into real faith. For Daniel, this dream thrust him into a lifetime search to understand the future and end of his people. Daniel's last recorded dream was dated in the third year of Cyrus's reign (533 B. C.) which means that he had about seventy years to more fully understand what would happen to his people up to the time when God would use them to establish His kingdom on the earth.
Before we close Chapter 2, I want to emphasize several important points from our study. The first is that God sought out the king where he was with what interested him. I have often heard people give their testimony about how they were in search for God, but in reality, I believe that it is God who is really seeking us out and revealing Himself to us.
The second point is that God, "the God of heaven," manifested Himself to the king as the God who knows the end of human history or destiny. God didn't reveal Himself as a "personal Savior," because Jesus hadn't yet died on the cross. In Chapters 3 and 4, we will see how the "God of human destiny" confirmed this truth to Nebuchadnezzar.
As you remember in Chapter 2 God took the initiative and revealed himself to Nebuchadnezzar as the "God of heaven" and the Master of mankind's destiny. God got the king's attention by giving him a troubling dream that left him profoundly disturbed. Through Daniel, God made it very clear to Nebuchadnezzar Who the Author of this dream was, and that this "Who" was a Divine Being.
We need to see this story in its historical context. Nebuchadnezzar's dream occurred in the second year of his reign, which would be in about the year 603 B. C. While there is nothing that permits us to fix a definitive date for the events recorded in Chapter 3, we can assume that they happened a number of years after the dream of Chapter 2, perhaps near 580 B. C. Chapter 2 ended with Nebuchadnezzar prostrated before Daniel, the Jew. Daniel 2:46-47 says, "Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him. The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret."
THE KING WHO FORGOT
As we have already said, Chapter 3 may have taken place about the year 580 B. C. In other words, the king had twenty years to forget about his first encounter with "the God in heaven." We need to understand Nebuchadnezzar as a man like you or me. He had a very strong experience, a supernatural experience, with God but not a "born-again" experience. He had been touched by God, but he had not experienced a character-changing encounter. As a pastor of about fifteen years, I've had many people under my care who have had strong experiences. But I've noticed that time and human nature have a tendency to work together to make people forget these "unforgettable," God-given experiences. And Nebuchadnezzar was no different. Rather than build and nourish his life on this experience, he let it grow old and cold.
Not only did he have twenty some years to forget about the God in heaven, but also he had to deal with the nation of Judah and the problem of the Jewish rebellion against his rule. This brought him into contact with a people of God who didn't have the spiritual qualities and integrity that Daniel had. The king ended up destroying Jerusalem, leveling the temple of the God of heaven, killing His high priests, piercing the king's eyes and leading him into captivity blind, after having killed his children and principal officials. Surely, his dream of Daniel Chapter 2 had lost its power. We can imagine that he had forgotten the words of Daniel, "Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory" (Daniel 2:37).
Chapter 3 is therefore the story of a man who forgot that the God of heaven made him king, and that, from a historical perspective, he was only the head of gold and nothing more. Nebuchadnezzar forgot that this God had made him king of a kingdom that would pass away. Let's look at several verses: "Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then an herald cried aloud, to you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a fiery furnace" (Daniel 3:1, 4-6).
It's very important to grasp the symbolic importance of this statue and the commandment concerning it. First of all, in creating this huge statue in gold, the king was placing himself in the sorry position of being an adored man, that is to say, taking the place of God. For this reason, part of the title of this chapter is "666." This number represents man glorifying himself. Secondly, Nebuchadnezzar wanted to immortalize himself and his kingdom through this statue. There was no chest of silver, stomach of bronze, legs of iron, feet of clay and iron, and certainly there was no rock destroying the whole statue and growing into a mountain that filled the whole earth. He was projecting himself as the master of history. This statue represented man (or a man) challenging God as to who is the master of history and human destiny.
While Nebuchadnezzar used an enormous golden statue to defy the God of heaven, God used His three servants, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to defy the king. This is the meaning of 137. While 666 represents man in his glorified (i.e., man glorifying himself) state, 137 represents God in His undivided oneness, His Trinitarian perfection, and His total completeness. If I can rewrite the title of this chapter more clearly, it's "666 vs. 137," a self-glorified man confronting the only complete and perfect God.
As the story unfolded, our three heroes were brought before the king, having been accused by certain of their co-workers of not worshipping either the golden statue or the king's gods. The king expressed extreme displeasure and presented them with an ultimatum. Let's look at the king's ultimatum, so that we can see the real dynamics of this confrontation. Verse 15 "Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?"
Notice that I underlined two key words and one key phrase that tell the essentials of this confrontation. The king presented the three servants of God with the challenge and the choices. The choices are prefaced by "if." The first "if" is this: Worship the statue and all will be well. The second "if" presents the second alternative: Don't worship, and you'll burn. And it is accompanied by the challenge: "who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" It would appear that Nebuchadnezzar knew that he was defying the God Who had given him his earlier dream and also interpreted it.
THE CHALLENGE CHALLENGED
Now let's look at how our three Jewish heroes responded to the choices and the challenge. They said, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (Daniel 3:16-18).
First of all let's look at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's answer to the king's second "if," which carried the challenge. The king said, "If you don't worship, I'll throw you in the furnace, and who is the God who will deliver you from my hands?" They said, "If it be so that you throw us into the furnace, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us and HE WILL DELIVER US FROM YOUR HAND."
This is not the kind of answer to give to an enraged "666" king. But they didn't stop there. After having told the king that their God would deliver them, they then took up his first "if" and gave their own challenge. If you don't throw us in, we won't worship your statue. This made the king livid. For the king to hear someone say to him that he didn't have any power over them, and that they wouldn't obey him, was more than he could bear.
To really grasp the full significance of this conversation, it's essential to perceive the nature and faith of the three Jews' response. First of all, their response was total faith and totally in faith. They were not saying, "Our God can deliver us, but if he doesn't, we still won't worship" (i.e., we'll burn rather than worship). They were saying, "Our God will deliver us, so we won't burn; and, furthermore, we won't worship."
Their response was to defy the king's challenge with their own challenge, and to do this, they had to be in absolute faith. But the question is, how could they have had such faith? The book of Romans gives us a key. In Romans 10:17 it says that faith comes by hearing the word of God. They needed a word from God to stand like this. As we discuss this defiant faith of our Jewish heroes, I want you to see the message it has for us in our lives. Just like them, we all have huge statues that come into our lives and challenge the existence and power of the living God. We all need to face the challenge of fiery trials with faith and counterattack with our own challenge that will send the devil and his pawns reeling. We all need a word from God that brings faith and courage.
Let's look at Isaiah 43:1-3: "O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour." God spoke to them just like he speaks to us - through His word , the Bible. They knew that God could and would deliver them because God said that He would through the prophet Isaiah. We need to read this story like it really is. It's a story that you or I could live through and do live through, by trusting in God and in His word as it is written in the Bible. These Jews were beloved Bible believers like you and me.
THE FIRE THAT DIDN'T BURN
We all know the story of the fiery furnace. The king in his rage had the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual, and they were thrown in. The king looked into the furnace and saw them walking around enjoying the presence of a magnificent angel. Verse 27 explains their condition as they were released from the furnace and brought before the court. " and the princes, governors, and captains and the kings counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their heads singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them." (Daniel 3:27)
What is extraordinary in this story is that these three servants of God went through an extremely difficult trial (you could say that it was a "fiery trial"), and they weren't even touched by it, no burnt hair, no smoky smell, nothing. In an extreme trial, they, through their faith in God and in His written word, had a great experience, a sort of revival, with the Angel of the Lord in the fiery furnace. Many think that this Angel of the Lord in the fire was Jesus. We will all have fiery testings in our lives sooner or later. And it's not the intensity or the nature of the fire that determines the nature of our experience, but it's the quality and nature of our faith. We know that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in a very hot furnace; it killed the guards that came near to the furnace to throw them in. But their faith brought them into a wonderful experience with the Lord and shut out the force of the heat that was meant to kill them. Let this example inspire us to have faith in our great God and in His word.
NEBUCHADNEZZAR'S SECOND ENCOUNTER
Chapter 3 ends with Nebuchadnezzar sending out a decree concerning the God of our three heroes, "Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon" (Daniel 3:28-30).
Chapter 3 ends with the king recognizing the greatness of the God of Israel. This is the God who answered the challenge of the golden statue and the fiery furnace with three men's faith, a faith more precious than gold. The 137 God of unity, perfection, and completeness brought down the 666 god of self-proclaimed human glory.
As we close this chapter, I want to present one question for you to ponder. The question is, where was Daniel? Daniel, who was always so careful to note his whereabouts and what he was doing in all the other situations that are covered in this book, says nothing of himself or what he was doing. We'll look at this question in Chapter 6.
GOD'S GREAT LOVE FOR MAN
Most people have seen the first six chapters of Daniel as the story of God influencing and controlling kingdoms by His own sovereign workings. It is true that these chapters show the sovereign workings of God to control kingdoms, but I see something more. These chapters are among some of the most insightful chapters in the whole Bible, bringing to light God's personal workings to touch and transform men's hearts. God is more than just a sovereign God. He's a sovereign God who works in the lives of human beings, with and through their qualities and limitations. He reads human hearts perfectly, and according to what He reads, He develops a plan of action.
God had an immense love for Nebuchadnezzar, and He sought out his heart to bring him into a real saving faith. Perhaps God did need to demonstrate to Nebuchadnezzar His sovereignty. But if we look closely at how God manifested Himself in the life of Nebuchadnezzar, and listen closely to what God said to him through Daniel, we will see the God of love reaching through time and space to touch one more man and bring him into a saving experience.
WHAT NEBUCHADNEZZAR HAD LEARNED ABOUT GOD
While I feel that God's love is the principal driving force in this chapter, I decided to entitle this chapter, "Until You Understand," highlighting what God's specific goal was in reaching out to Nebuchadnezzar. God sent "watchers" to work in the king's life until he knew (understood) that "the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (Daniel 4:25).
I've asked myself, "What had Nebuchadnezzar learned about the true God before the events of Chapter 4?" In Chapter 2, when he had the dream of the enormous, multi-metal statue, he learned that the God of Daniel was the God of gods. Perhaps to the king this meant that Daniel's God was one of the more important of the gods and not necessarily the only one true God. He also learned that Daniel's God was the Lord of kings, that is, a God capable of controlling and directing kingdoms. And, finally, Nebuchadnezzar learned that Daniel's God was a revealer of secrets -- Someone who had knowledge of hidden things and had the power to communicate what He knew (Daniel 2:47). But in Chapter 2, the king did not see the God of Daniel as "his" God, nor did he see this God as the only true God.
In Chapter 3 (which took place around 580 B. C.), Nebuchadnezzar "blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,... because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort" (Daniel 3:28,29). While the king was profoundly struck by the events of the fiery furnace, these events did not lead him to discern God as the "true" God or to identify this God as his God. In between the events of these two chapters, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city and the temple of Daniel's God. These events must have hindered him from appreciating the God of Judah. And in addition, the intervening years had surely caused him to forget a lot. As we begin to look at the events in Chapter 4, we could say that he had been profoundly shaken by God, but he had not yet had a profound experience with God. However, the king's "Chapter 4 experience" with God was completely different from the other encounters he experienced before.
NEBUCHADNEZZAR'S INCREASED UNDERSTANDING
It is very important to note that the author of Chapter 4 is none other than Nebuchadnezzar himself. In a sense, Chapter 4 is his own personal testimony sent throughout his kingdom to declare "the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me" (Daniel 4:2). While Daniel didn't give any date for the events recorded in this chapter, we can assume that they happened in the latter years of the king's reign, perhaps near 570 B. C. The chapter begins: "Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you! I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me" (Daniel 4:1-2).
In this testimony he said that "God is the Most High God." We don't know whether he still believed in other gods, but we know that he no longer considered this God to be just the "God of Daniel." This "Most High God" was no longer somebody else's God, but He was the God Who performed signs and wonders for the king. Nebuchadnezzar was now seeing this great God doing wonders in his own life.
THE KING'S DREAM
It is interesting to observe that the Bible does give us real, true-to-life details concerning historical events. We know that Nebuchadnezzar's "hanging gardens" were considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The king had transplanted trees and plants in this garden from every part of his immense kingdom. We can imagine that he had a real interest in plants because he noted the beautiful leaves and the abundant fruit of the tree in his vision (Daniel 4:12). This not only gives us an interesting detail concerning the king, but it also reveals to us something about God's working. God took something that interested Nebuchadnezzar as the instrument of His communication. Just as God communicated to him through the vision of a tree (something that he was familiar with), God will adapt His communication to each one of us with things that are interesting and understandable to us.
The dream itself is fairly simple. The king saw a great tree full of fruit that sheltered and fed the beasts and the birds. In the vision he saw "watchers" who decreed that the tree be cut down, and that changing the image of the parable, "his" heart would become that of an animal during seven "times," "to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men" (Daniel 4:17).
Nebuchadnezzar himself was this great and magnificent tree. Through his kingdom he was literally controlling and feeding the world. Who were the watchers? The Bible doesn't say, and this is the only place in the Bible where they are mentioned. Hebrews 1:14 makes reference to angels, that they are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation." Surely these watchers must be a subgroup of these angels with a special task and authority to enforce certain of God's decreed decisions.
The king was to be reduced to a stump, which meant that he would be stripped of all his power, authority, and splendor for a period of seven "seasons," until he knew that "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever He will."
The king, troubled by his visions, called his counselors together that they might interpret the dream for him. When they were unable to do so, he called Daniel before him. And Daniel, who was always reserved and wise in his pronouncements before the king, was obviously uneasy with the vision and its interpretation. "That they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (Daniel 4:25).
What a message to have to give to a despotic, pagan king who held Daniel's very life in his hands. But Daniel, having wisdom from God, gave a short exhortation to the king hoping to spare him from the judgment of his vision. "Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquity by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity" (Daniel 4:27).
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED
There is no recorded response to Daniel's advice. All we know is that twelve months later Nebuchadnezzar was walking in his palace (perhaps in his lovely hanging gardens), and he said, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?" (Daniel 4:30). And one of the watchers (you can count on watchers to be watching!) said, "O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field:..." (Daniel 4:31-32). And he was driven out into the fields where he lived like a wild animal for seven seasons.
What was "seven seasons?" Perhaps it was seven years. Apparently in Babylon they considered that a year was made up of two seasons which could make seven seasons be equal to three and one-half years. I've read some sources that suggested that a season here represented one day, and that he was crazy, grazing in the fields for a week. Understanding how long Nebuchadnezzar was living in this state of a "wild animal" is not essential to our understanding of the story.
While the Bible says that the king lived like a "wild animal," we would say that the king was mentally insane. Seeing that mental illness has become so prevalent in our modern society, it is important to note that even in this mental state he must have had some spiritual awareness and some capacity to act with spiritual responsibility and authority because, in the very last line of his testimony he said, "those that walk in pride he is able to abase" (Daniel 4:37). The king realized that he had been abased because of his pride, and we can assume that he made some spiritually significant act of humility whereby reversing his state of insanity. For he said that when he lifted his eyes to heaven (i.e., a spiritual act) his understanding returned to him.
I have ministered in a number of cases where people were afflicted with different kinds of mental illness, and this story encourages me to think that there is hope for people who are severely affected mentally. They can discern spiritual realities, and they are capable of making spiritually meaningful decisions.
In verses 34 and 35 the king gave glory to God, "the Most High," for His greatness. And then in verse 36 he testified as to how God had reestablished him in his kingdom. "At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counselors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me."
Before commenting on verse 36, I want to go back to verse 2 and look at it again so we don't miss the profound impact that these events had on Nebuchadnezzar's relation with God. "I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me" (Daniel 4:2). The king wanted to praise God for the signs and wonders that God had worked for him.
Let's look at what God really did for him. First of all, God restored to him his glory, his honor, and the splendor of his kingdom. Secondly, God brought all of his ruling subordinates back to him. Thirdly, he was reestablished as king. But it's the final detail on which I want to focus. It says that "excellent majesty" was added to him. Nebuchadnezzar didn't give us details as to what this "excellent majesty" was, but we can assume that the last years of the king's rule had a quality and nobility that weren't there before.
In humbling the king, God prepared him to be elevated. Nebuchadnezzar's life bears out what James wrote, "But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6). God resisted Nebuchadnezzar in his pride, but He gave him something more than he ever had when the king humbled himself under God's mighty hand.
History tells us that Nebuchadnezzar ruled from 605 B. C. until about 562 B. C. He had one of the longest and most successful reigns in all history. But the wonder of his life is how the great, faithful God of heaven sought him out and pursued him until he came to a true knowledge of the living God. And we can take courage from this truth for our own lives. God is faithful to search us out and to bring us into His kingdom. But God must bring us to humility so that He might add "excellent majesty" to our lives , just as He did to the life of Nebuchadnezzar. "Excellent majesty" is not a quality of kings, but it's a quality of "kingliness." Very few of us are kings, but we can all have "kingliness," which is the quality of "excellent majesty."
After Chapter 4, Daniel didn't write anything further about Nebuchadnezzar. In closing out this discussion concerning God's dealings with Nebuchadnezzar I would like to point out three major themes that can be gleaned . One theme is how God totally shook a kingdom through four committed young men. Another is that God, even in the midst of permitting His kingdom of Judah to be defeated, managed to show His sovereign greatness in human affairs. The final theme is the theme of God's immense love which caused Him to seek out a man's heart and bring him to real salvation.
THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND FOR BELSHAZZAR
As you remember from the last chapter, Daniel Chapter 4 is a recording of Nebuchadnezzar's testimony that he sent throughout the Babylonian kingdom to share what great things the "Most High God" had done for him. He told of his vision, of his pride, of his humiliation brought about by the "watchers," and finally he told how the Most High God elevated him up again after he humbled himself. In Daniel 4:1-2 he wrote, "Unto all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; peace be multiplied unto you. I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me." Clearly, Nebuchadnezzar made it known from his throne to the uttermost parts of the earth Who the Most High God was and what He had done.
Nebuchadnezzar probably did not rule many years after God restored him to his kingdom, but we can imagine that he spent his last few years on earth believing in and living for the living God. And then in about the year 562 B. C. he died. His successors were not of his stature, and the kingdom rapidly declined until it was conquered by the kingdom of Media and Persia in 539 B. C. His son, Evil Merodach, succeeded him and ruled until 560 B. C. when he was assassinated by his brother-in-law, Neriglissar, who ruled in his place until 555 B. C. He didn't have a capable descendent to rule and was succeeded by Nabonidus, who was married to another one of Nebuchadnezzar's daughters.
The kings who succeeded Nebuchadnezzar were ineffective rulers more concerned with court intrigues, plots, and other royal diversions than with the protection and well-being of the empire. Nabonidus himself was more interested in literary, intellectual, and religious pursuits than in governing and protecting the empire. In trying to establish the cult to the moon-god Sin (a divinity coming from the city state of Haran) in Babylon, he alienated himself from the priestly cast (perhaps the counselors in the king's court) and was forced to withdraw from Babylon. He ruled from northern Arabia where he established his residential palace. His son, Belshazzar, ruled the kingdom in Babylon on his behalf as the second in command from 553 B. C. until the kingdom was conquered by Cyrus's army in 539 B. C.
Belshazzar redirected Babylon toward the worship of Marduk (Bel) in an attempt to enlist the support of the people and of the powerful priestly class , and it was this reorientation that led him to drink to the pagan gods with goblets coming from the temple in Jerusalem. Since he was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, he certainly had direct knowledge of Nebuchadnezzar's experiences with God and probably was in the royal palace when God drove him from the throne for seven seasons. We could say that Belshazzar was busy playing "empire politics" by encouraging and participating in the pagan worship of the Babylonian gods when, in all truth, he had direct knowledge of the true, living God through the experiences in his family to which he had been an eyewitness.
Now that I've established the historical circumstances surrounding the events of Daniel Chapter 5, I want to talk about God, and how He works in lives. I've been a pastor for more than fifteen years, and during these years I've perceived that God works in ways that are hard to observe and understand. I used to think that it was men who sought God, but now I understand that it's God Who seeks men. Not only does God seek men, but He plants the desire in men's hearts to seek Him. At one time I thought that it was I who sought God until I found Him, but one day I began looking at my life and realized that God had sought me and dealt with my heart until I had a hunger to look for Him.
Many times I've shared with people about God, His goodness, and His love, and my words have fallen on deaf ears, and I've asked myself, "Why aren't these people open?" And other times I've shared with people about God in the same way, and they've been so open and hungry to hear about God that I was taken back. What is that "something" in one man that makes him open, and what is that "lack of something" in another man that makes him closed? And does that "something" come from God? And if that "something" comes from God, does that "lack of something" also come from God? This is the part of our relationship with God that is hard to understand. It's the unanswerable mystery of how our hunger for God gets into our heart. And what is wonderful in all this is that God knows our inner openness to Him, and He seeks out our hearts with such patience and with such a personal touch.
We have studied Chapters 2, 3, and 4 in which God sought, pursued, and finally captivated the heart and life of the King Nebuchadnezzar. If we forget all the specific details concerning Nebuchadnezzar's personal story (i.e., king, conqueror, etc.), we would see that Daniel has given us a dramatic example of what God is in the process of doing every day for millions of people: He's planting an openness in their hearts for Him, and then He seeks them with love and persistence while respecting the liberty, individuality, and uniqueness of each person.
In light of this extraordinary effort by God to reach Nebuchadnezzar, the events in Chapter 5 stand out in a marked contrast. It's almost like God put the two chapters together to dramatize the contrast. The Book of Daniel introduces Nebuchadnezzar as a king who had never heard of the "true and only God." In light of this, we need to understand Nebuchadnezzar as a king who didn't know God, and Belshazzar as a king who should have known God.
IN GOD'S SCALES
Daniel Chapter 5 is the sad story of Belshazzar who rejected God, even though he had clear knowledge of Him and subsequently found himself rejected by God. Part of what was written by the hand on the wall was this: tekel. In verse 27 Daniel gives the interpretation for this word, and this interpretation sums up God's judgment of Belshazzar: "TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting" (Daniel 5:27). While God sought the heart of Nebuchadnezzar with great patience for more than forty years until his heart was won, He said to Belshazzar, "I've weighed you and found you wanting." (My paraphrase.)
Let's look at the story of Daniel Chapter 5. King Belshazzar and his nobles were in Babylon holding a great feast in honor of their idols. While Daniel only tells us that this feast was held in the presence of a thousand of the king's nobility, history records the events surrounding it more fully. What had actually happened was that the Babylonian empire had been so poorly administered during the years that followed the death of Nebuchadnezzar that it gradually lost ground to the surrounding nations, in particular to the rising Kingdom of Media and Persia. While this drunken feast was being celebrated, the city was under siege, and all of the surrounding region was under the control of King Cyrus who ruled over the empire of Media and Persia. The one thousand participants were the nobility and administrators of the kingdom that had fled from the provinces into the protective three hundred feet high, eighty feet wide walls of the city of Babylon.
Belshazzar felt that he was invincible behind these mighty walls, and so he didn't send out scouting teams to know what the enemy was doing, and he didn't even have watchmen on the walls to alert the city of enemy movement around the walls. While he was drinking and blaspheming the living God and worshipping worthless stones, Cyrus's army was walking into the city through the river bed that runs through the city, whose waters they had diverted from its normal channel.
As for the feast itself, we know that the peoples of that part of the Middle East loved unique and unusual drinking vessels. Surely, the drinking cups coming from the temple in Jerusalem were different from those found in the region of Babylon, and so the king commanded that they be brought in for him and his guests. "Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone" (Daniel 5:3-4).
From what we know from secular history and from the Book of Daniel, we can imagine that Belshazzar was doing what was "politically correct" to gather the support of the powerful priestly cast and also the support of the masses. He was deliberately using the vessels consecrated to the living God to worship the pagan gods of Babylon, and his action was politically inspired. Someone like Belshazzar, who had witnessed God's humbling of Nebuchadnezzar, should never have ventured so far along the path of insulting the living God. And when we understand the critical condition of the city and the empire at the time of this feast, it is hard to understand the wisdom of holding a drunken feast in the city at this time.
As the king and his guests were praising their idols, there "came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another" (Daniel 5:5-6).
The king received a real shock from this handwriting. Surely this supernatural manifestation that came as he was insulting the God of Jerusalem caused his mind to flash back to the events that his grandfather experienced. And no one could understand or interpret the message. As no one could interpret the message, the queen came before the king. While Daniel referred to her as the "queen," we need to understand that she was the "queen mother" and therefore, the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar himself. She explained to the king that there was a man in his kingdom having the "Spirit of the Holy God" (the King James translation says "spirit of the holy gods," but most of the newer translations correctly translate it "Spirit of the Holy God") who had been a capable counselor to his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar. This man called Daniel could give him the interpretation.
There are two things we can note here. One, that Belshazzar didn't remember Daniel leads me to believe that Daniel had been relegated to an insignificant role in the administration of the kingdom. The other is this: the queen mother obviously knew Daniel well. She knew that he had the "Spirit of the Holy God" in him, that Nebuchadnezzar had elevated him to chief of the wise men, and that he could give the interpretation. That the queen mother knew that Daniel had the "Spirit of the Living God," is a detail important in understanding her. Not only did she know this, but she gave it as Daniel's first qualification, which shows the value she placed on this detail. Equally important, she referred to Daniel by his Jewish name (Daniel), and not by his Babylonian name (Belteshazzar). These details indicate that she must have kept up a relationship with Daniel through the years, and that she was a Gentile believer in the true God as was her father, Nebuchadnezzar.
Daniel was called into the king's court to interpret the writing, and he presented God's case against the king. "And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this (i.e., all the supernatural things that God had done to reveal Himself to Nebuchadnezzar) ; But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified" (Daniel 5:22-23).
In the verses preceding what is quoted above, Daniel gave a resume of God's workings in the life of King Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar's grandfather (Daniel said "father," but this should be understood as "grandfather" here), and Daniel was very clear that Belshazzar was aware of these things and chose to ignore them. Then Daniel laid out God's indictment against him. He didn't humble his heart, and, as a result, he lifted himself up against the God of heaven. He praised gods of metal and stone but didn't glorify the true God.
WHEN MERCY ISN'T GOD'S ANSWER
God had been so persevering in his pursuit of Nebuchadnezzar, and He expressed such patience and mercy toward him, because he didn't know that the God of Israel (that is, Israel's God) was the God of the universe, the God of the heavens. But Belshazzar was a living witness of what God had done to and for his grandfather. He didn't need a direct intervention from God in his life. He had witnessed it in his grandfather's life, and he had also been exposed to his grandfather's witness to these events. It would appear that, while God was extremely merciful to Nebuchadnezzar because of his ignorance and also because he had a certain openness to God (as evidenced by his having Daniel as the chief counselor in his kingdom) He was extremely severe with Belshazzar because he had witnessed God's working in his grandfather's life and refused to take heed.
I want to lay out the fundamental principles in God's action toward these two kings so that we can gain wisdom about God's workings in lives today. God had great mercy on a king who didn't know Him and didn't know of Him, while He passed severe judgment on a king who knew of Him but didn't care to know Him or to honor Him. In His mercy God brought Nebuchadnezzar to a saving knowledge of Himself, but His judgment fell on Belshazzar, and he died that very night of the feast while Cyrus' army was entering the city.
We need to look at these principles and see that God will act the same today as back then. God acts and reacts in our lives according to what we know or don't know and according to what we ought to know or don't care to know, just as he did in the lives of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. He will act in mercy toward what we don't know and will hold us accountable for what we do know (or could know if we wanted to). Sometimes Christians say, "Oh, but God knows our hearts." In saying this they are implying that God will act in mercy towards them or others, but sometimes the fact that God knows our hearts gets us in trouble, just as it got Belshazzar in trouble. Because in knowing our hearts, God knows when we're not living up to what has been revealed to us, and that we are, therefore, inexcusable. Let's ask God to show us what we need to know to walk with Him and also to have the strength to live according to what we know that He might be glorified through us.
As we close this chapter that deals specifically with Belshazzar, it seems appropriate to stop and reflect on how the Bible gives us little keys that open up worlds of meaning to the events that are being narrated. For example, the queen mother knew Daniel by his Hebrew name and recognized him as having the "Spirit of the Holy God" in him. These are little keys that show us that this woman was a God-fearing Gentile. When Belshazzar spoke to Daniel, Belshazzar had no recollection of Daniel at all, even though Daniel was one of his grandfather's key advisors. All he remembered of him was what his mother just told him. Belshazzar had totally separated himself from his grandfather's spiritual experiences.
Finally Daniel, who had spent long years as a key administrator in Nebuchadnezzar's reign, was pushed aside and had to be drawn out of obscurity to interpret the handwriting on the wall. But even though Daniel must have spent many years far removed from the king's court, he was ready to be God's man when God needed him. In being pushed aside he suffered adversity, but he didn't experience bitterness. Adversities (call them rejections or whatever you want) are the incubator of bitterness, and bitterness destroys men's ability to be used by God. All of God's great men in the Bible, like Daniel, were men who experienced adversities but came through them without bitterness, and they were greatly used by God in critical times.
ANOTHER KINGDOM, ANOTHER KING
We noted in the last chapter that God's dealings with Belshazzar were in sharp contrast to His dealings with Nebuchadnezzar. While God acted mercifully with Nebuchadnezzar, He moved in judgment against Belshazzar. God judged Belshazzar because he had witnessed God's dealings with his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, but refused to take these dealings to heart in his own life. There is a principle that we can observe in God's dealing here: God will not reveal Himself supernaturally where He has already been supernaturally revealed.
Throughout history God has revealed Himself supernaturally to a few men in every generation, and these men became leaders in what God was doing in that generation. God did not necessarily give supernatural revelation to a great number of people or to people who knew and followed these giants of the faith. Rather, God empowered these men to spread their testimony and the grace that He communicated to them. In many ways this understanding of God's workings helps us to better put into perspective the story recorded in Daniel Chapter 6. Darius was the new king coming from a different kingdom and a different people. He did not belong to the peoples that had received Nebuchadnezzar's testimony .
WHERE WAS DANIEL?
Before we go into the actual events of Chapter 6, I want to look at Chapter 3 briefly. In Chapter 3 Daniel's three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were thrown into the fiery furnace. Interestingly, Daniel was not present during these events and makes no explanation concerning his absence. I presume that Daniel was not present in Babylon at the time of this persecution, but whether Daniel chose to be out of town "on business," or whether the king conveniently sent him on a mission at this moment, we don't know. Daniel held a higher position in the kingdom than his friends and was better known to the king. The king may have been inclined to want to protect Daniel from the situation.
For whatever reason that Daniel was absent, I don't think he was too proud of himself. At the critical moment when he could have been with his three close friends proclaiming his allegiance to the living God, he wasn't there. Perhaps in Chapter 6 Daniel was given a second chance to put his life on the line for his faith. And for this reason, I've entitled Chapter 6, "A Second Chance?"
THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND TO CHAPTER SIX
Let's look at the historical facts surrounding this chapter. Because Daniel was a young "university" student when Nebuchadnezzar took the throne in 605 B. C., he would have been born around 625 B. C. When King Belshazzar was killed in 539 B. C., Daniel would have been about 85 years old, and it is reasonable to assume that his three friends were either no longer living or at least retired. And so Daniel didn't talk about them any more.
After conquering Babylon, Darius immediately set about organizing the administration which would govern the far-flung Babylonian Empire under his responsibility. Neither the book of Daniel nor archeology tell us exactly who this Darius was. The name itself was Babylonian, so we know it was the assumed name that a Median general took as ruler of Babylon until Cyrus was able to come to Babylon and take the throne in his own name (Cyrus was fighting on another battle front at the time Babylon fell). History leads us to believe that Darius was either the victorious general who led Cyrus' army and captured Babylon, or he was Cyrus' father-in-law.
Darius, then, was an interim ruler setting up the new administration in the territory that had been the Babylonian Empire. Cyrus' armies had not been like the armies of the great conquerors of the past who were very violent and cruel. The practices of rape, pillage, and torture that had taken place regularly when the Assyrian and Babylonian Kingdoms invaded enemy territories were not practiced by the armies of Cyrus , and Babylon itself was not sacked by the invading army. In light of this, we can understand that King Darius reorganized the administration of the Babylonian Empire using the existing administrative system. From the information given in Chapter 5, we know that Daniel had been relegated to a position of obscurity in the post-Nebuchadnezzarian period of the Babylonian Empire, but on the very last day of that empire's existence, Belshazzar elevated Daniel to the third ruler in the kingdom: "Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom" (Daniel 5:29).
When Darius began constructing the administration, Daniel was the highest administrative official left from the Babylonian Kingdom. God had supernaturally thrust Daniel into the leadership of the new Kingdom of Media and Persia as He had done at the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar's reign. It is easy to understand that Daniel's sudden emergence at the top of the kingdom administration would have provoked a certain jealousy among his peers and subordinates. His excellent qualities of administration and integrity along with his spiritual giftings would only have enhanced these feelings.
If we compare Darius and Nebuchadnezzar in the context of the information that Daniel gave us, we see that Nebuchadnezzar had a much greater and more far-reaching authority than Darius. While Nebuchadnezzar instilled fear everywhere and imposed his personal whims as he wanted, Darius seemed to have been tripped up by the manipulations of his "bureaucracy" and by the fact that he was only an interim ruler or "administrator" until Cyrus arrived. This may explain his lack of assertiveness in facing these manipulations.
DANIEL, A MAN WITH AN "EXCELLENT SPIRIT"
In any event, the king considered making Daniel the chief administrator of the kingdom because of his "excellent spirit" (Daniel 6:3). We can read into verse 2 that the king, in recognizing the excellent spirit that was in Daniel, also recognized that this "excellent spirit" was not in the other administrators.
Let's now look at Chapter 6:4-5. "Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him. Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God." This represents a truly amazing tribute to Daniel, not only to his integrity, but also to his competence. These bureaucrats found Daniel to be so totally honest and competent that they couldn't find any flaws in his administration. The only flaw that they could find was that Daniel was uncompromising in his commitment to his God and to his prayers to his God. Daniel lived in a totally cutthroat, occult world, and he lived in total transparency openly expressing his commitment to the only true God . These men knew that Daniel prayed every day, so they manipulated the king into making a law against prayer to anyone other than the king during thirty days.
Daniel 6:10 says: "Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime." I like the way the New King James version translates the last part of this verse: "and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early times."
Daniel is an example for us as a man of prayer. In Chapter 1 he prayed in a crisis. From this chapter we know that he prayed three times every day from his youth. We can imagine that his dreams and visions of Chapters 7 through 12 came at times when he was in prayer or in contemplation of the things of God. In Chapter 9 he interceded for Israel that God would forgive his people their sins. In Chapter 10 he prayed and interceded that God would give him understanding concerning the visions he had received. In Chapter 2 Daniel and his friends were saved from the king's wrath through prayer. In Chapter 6 Daniel survived the lions' den because of his faith, prayer, and integrity.
DARIUS-A SOFT HEART
The wicked bureaucrats convinced the king to issue a command forbidding anyone to pray to anyone other than himself during thirty days. Any person disobeying this law was to be punished by being thrown into a den of hungry lions. And Daniel prayed, as he always did, three times a day, looking out his window toward Jerusalem.
It's interesting to see the difference in attitude between Nebuchadnezzar and Darius. While Nebuchadnezzar was furious at the thought of the three young men not adoring his statue, Darius, on understanding the dilemma that his order had created for Daniel, was perplexed on how to liberate him. While Nebuchadnezzar was a tough nut that God cracked to win over, Darius was a soft heart that God touched and won. Let's look at some of the verses concerning Darius in this situation. "Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him: and he laboured till the going down of the sun to deliver him.... Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of musick brought before him: and his sleep went from him. Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions. And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?" (Daniel 6:14,18-20).
LET'S PAUSE AND MEDITATE
Darius was obviously distraught by the situation that he had created for his faithful and capable administrator. He tried to free him, and when he couldn't, he spent the night in fasting and in perplexed mourning, pondering the essential question in his heart, "Daniel, is your God whom you serve continually, able to deliver you from the lions?" (My paraphrase.) I believe that Darius' question contains a message for us. Unlike Darius, we believers know that God is able to deliver us. Darius' question was, "Is your God, whom you serve continually, able to deliver you?" But our question should be, "Do I serve continually the God who is able to deliver me?" Darius was obviously touched by Daniel's life and dedication to the living God.
I don't think there is anyone in the Bible who had a greater impact on his generation than Daniel. His influence spanned a period of two great kingdoms, and, through him, God manifested Himself and influenced these kingdoms. And if we want to have a similar effect on our generation, we need the qualities flowing out of our lives that Daniel had. In Chapter 1 he showed qualities of consecration and separation. In Chapter 2 he responded to a life-and-death crisis with prayer. In Chapter 6 we see a whole list of qualities that contributed to his deliverance. He prayed regularly and continually served God (Daniel 6:20). He had a quality of innocence and real faith in God (Daniel 6:22-23). Let's motivate ourselves to follow after God with the same qualities and with the same diligence, wisdom, and perseverance that Daniel had.
Daniel's God was able and did, in fact, deliver him from the mouth of the lions. Unfortunately, his enemies reaped what they sowed (or got what they gave) and ended up in the cave as "lions' lunch." At the end of Chapter 6 Darius sent out a proclamation concerning the greatness of the God of Daniel, the living God. With this chapter Daniel ends the recorded episodes of his life. His next six chapters focus on his visions and their interpretations.
DANIEL'S CHALLENGE TO US
It would seem appropriate to finish this part of our study which focuses on the life of Daniel with Daniel 6:28: "So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian." The last recorded words concerning Daniel's life are that God prospered him until the end of his days. Daniel's spiritual character, his sense of responsibility to his ungodly masters, his humble testimony, his fruitfulness, and the blessings that God bestowed on his life all deserve our reflective meditation. They exemplify the essential qualities that can help people serve God in every age and in every season.
Daniel had a sense of consecration to God that speaks to men in every generation. Not only did he separate himself from that which defiled and compromised, but he knew how to anchor his life in the word of God and in prayer. And through him, God shook kings and kingdoms. No other man influenced world events like Daniel. He had no armies, and he never led a popular movement. To the best of our knowledge he never had more than three associates and never had any mass following. He was simply a man of prayer and commitment who heard from God, and what he heard, he spoke and wrote. And what he spoke shook kingdoms during his lifetime, and it will continue to speak to men prophetically until Jesus comes and establishes His kingdom.