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The book of Daniel

Daniel's life. Overview of the book.

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Daniel's life, according to the biblical account:

In 605 BCE, as a teenager, Daniel was captured by the Babylonian army, during its first attack on Jerusalem. He had been a member of the royal house or of the nobility. Daniel survived a castration operation and spent the rest of his long life in the city of Babylon, in the service of the royal court. He went by two names: Daniel and Belteschazzar.

That city was generally regarded as the most beautiful in the known world. Ancient authorities, not known for accuracy, claimed that its walls were 60 miles long, 300 feet high and 80 feet thick. The Euphrates river divided the city in to two roughly equal parts.

Isaiah 13:17-22 described it as "Babylon, fairest of kingdoms, proud beauty of the Chaldeans"  It contained one of the seven wonders of the world: the hanging gardens of Babylon, which Nebuchadnezzar build for his Queen. Both a passage in Isaiah and Jeremiah 51:37-43 prophesized that Babylon would be destroyed and never occupied again. The prophecy was partly correct and partly in error: the city was destroyed. But part of it has been inhabited in recent years. It is now being rebuilt by the Government of Iraq.

Daniel is described as living in Babylon for the entire duration of the Babylonian empire, a period of 72 years. He arrived during the last year in the reign of Nabopolassar, stayed through the entire 45 year reign of Nebuchadnezzar, assisted 5 succeeding kings, survived through the occupation by the Medes and into the occupation of the Persians. He was present as Israel was taken into captivity; he died two years after a fragment of the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem.

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Overview of the Book of Daniel:

The first part of the book, chapters 1 to 6, contains five well known stories:

bulletDaniel's interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream: The king demanded that his magicians, exorcists, sorcerers, etc. describe the dream to him, and to interpret its meaning. He might have withheld information about the dream from them in order to test their psychic abilities. Alternatively, he may not have been able to recall the details of the dream. (Many people are unable to recollect dreams after wakening.) Understandably, they failed. Daniel then described the dream, and explained that the metals that the king dreamed of (gold, silver, bronze and iron) each represented one earthly kingdom: his own and three to come in the future.

bulletThe attempted execution of Daniel's three friends in the fiery furnace: The king had made a gold image, some 90 feet tall and ordered the people to prostrate themselves and worship the image whenever certain music was played. Any who refused was to be thrown into a blazing furnace. Three Jewish friends of Daniel: Shadrach, Meschach and Aben-nego, refused to worship the statue and were thrown into a fiery furnace that had been heated "to seven times its normal heat." Not only were they unharmed, but they were accompanied by a fourth figure who "looks like a god" and was later identified by Nebuchadnezzar as an angel.

bulletNebuchadnezzar's madness: He has a dream in which he is overcome by a mental illness and roamed like an animal through the parks surrounding the palace for 42 months. Daniel interprets the dream, which comes to pass a year later. The king was restored to his right mind after 42 months of living with wild beasts and feeding on grass like oxen. At the end of that time, he acknowledged the sovereignty of Jehovah and was made whole.

bulletThe handwriting on the wall of King Belshazzar's banquet hall: Nebuchadnezzar had stolen the gold and silver vessels from the temple at Jerusalem. When his son, Belshazzar, became king, he ordered that the vessels be brought out and used at a party by the nobility, himself and his concubines and courtesans. Suddenly, the fingers of a hand appeared, and wrote a message on the wall of the palace. The king's magicians, sorcerers, etc. were unable to decode the words. Daniel translated the message as saying that God has brought his kingdom to a close. That night, Belshazzar was killed and "Darius the Mede" took over. The Babylonian empire ended and the Medes occupied the land.

bulletDaniel surviving in the den of lions: "Darius" appointed Daniel as one of three chief ministers of the new kingdom of the Medes. Some jealous ministers and satraps conspired to kill Daniel. They persuaded the king to write an edict stating that anyone who petitions any god or human being other than the king during the following 30 days would be thrown into the lions' den. The conspirators caught Daniel praying to God, and presented him to the king for execution. The king tried to think of a way to avoid executing Daniel, but was unsuccessful. (He probably didn't think too hard, because there was a simple solution to the problem. If the lions were over-feed, they would have lost interest in munching on Daniel). Daniel was thrown in to the pit, but survived. He credited an angel with shutting the lions' mouths.

The remainder of the book deals mainly with Daniel's visions:

bulletA dream of 4 beasts (lion with eagles' wings, bear, leopard with four wings like a bird, and a terrible beast with 10 horns, which later became 8 horns). Again, these four animals each symbolized an earthly kingdom.

bulletThe vision of a powerful ram and a male goat who fight each other. The goat conquers the ram.

bulletA prayer of confession to, and trust in, God.

bulletA momentous vision of Israel's future, leading to the end of the age some 1,335 days later. Some of the dead will awake "to everlasting life and some to the reproach of eternal abhorrence. The wise leaders will shine like the bright vault of heaven, and those who have guarded the people in the true path will be like the stars for ever and ever." This implies a resurrection of the dead, a judgement and transfer of the resurrected Jews to heaven or hell.

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Reference used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay.

  1. J.D. Douglas, Ed., "New Commentary on the Whole Bible, Old Testament Volume," Tyndale, Wheaton, IL, (1990), Pages 1165 to 1204.

Copyright © 1998 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update 2011-FEB-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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