One day, I decided to read the book of Daniel thinking I was going to read the empowering childhood stories of the lion’s den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
I was entirely mistaken.
I was totally annihilated by the time I was done reading it. I couldn’t believe what I had just read.
After that, it was onward with commentaries, discussions with my pastor (aka dad), and dear theological teachers to discover what this book was truly all about. You see, a lot of people don’t want to touch the book of Daniel.
Daniel is one of the 4 Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel) and when you take the book as a whole, it is not only a book about God saving Israel in their present oppression or the future, but a book of faithfulness, prayer, hope, and a call to fear not and, in a way, how to do that.
We have a God in the midst of chaos and tribulation, who is steadfast and offers inexplicable peace through it all. Commentators are not completely unified on the expository conclusions to Daniel, but most agree on the lessons it offers. That is what we will be focusing on in this book. I will incorporate some theology from time to time, but this is not an exposition where we are coming to firm conclusions on what the text’s theological teaching is.
The book opens like this:
“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding, learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.” (Daniel 1:1-6)
This is an intense way to start a book of the Bible, isn’t it?
Iain M. Duguid writes, “ To live faithfully in exile, we first need to know God’s faithfulness. This is not altogether as comforting a truth as you might imagine, since the first aspect of God’s faithfulness that we see in this chapter is God’s faithfulness to judgment. Judah’s exile from the land in Daniel’s time was not merely an accident of fate…Daniel 1:2 makes clear, the exile came upon Judah because the Lord handed King Jehoiakim over to the power of Nebuchadnezzar. God gave his people into the hands of their enemies.” (Daniel, Reformed Expository Commentary)
The book of Daniel opens up with God doing what he said he was going to do (a prophecy of Isaiah in II Kings) and fulfilling his prophecies through his prophets. He didn’t back down because he felt bad that his servant Daniel didn’t deserve what was coming.
Is that hard for you to swallow? It was for me; it was also the realization that this is not the simple childhood story I remember. As you will see, God is still ever faithful and Daniel is too.
I’m not going to take us too deep into when it was written because there are some discrepancies on that. However, it is noted that the book opens when would be around 605 BC, therefore, some say it’s probable that it was written in 168-167 BC, while others have stated that it wasn’t written later than 300 BC. An interesting addition to all of this, is that the book opens in Hebrew, transitions to Aramaic and then reverts to Hebrew. Some of this is because when the Israelites were taken into captivity they had to speak Aramaic, so they had lost some of their Hebrew speaking ability.
So grab a notebook because in Daniel, we will meet emotionally unstable kings, advisors with duplicitous behaviors, experience bizarre dreams, and find comfort in the character/person of Daniel who leaps off the page and into our hearts. This book is for us all as we walk through a life that is full of unpredictability and trials remembering that we are also exiles in a weary land called to faithfulness. But, like Daniel, we are not without hope.