Exposition of Daniel 2:17–36a Words to heaven and from heaven

Daniel 2:17–36a

17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.

22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.

23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

24 Then Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.”

25 Arioch took Daniel to the king at once and said, “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can tell the king what his dream means.”

26 The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”

27 Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:

29 “As Your Majesty was lying there, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. 30 As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.

31 “Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue — an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. 32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.

36 “This was the dream …”

Words to heaven and from heaven

In reading the story of Daniel, it is vital to remember that Daniel did not foresee how events would go. In particular, during this long night Daniel did not know whether Yahweh — here called “the God of heaven” (verse 17) — would answer his prayer or not. The biographer James Boswell once wrote: “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Confronted with this emergency, Daniel did not rush to the library for Babylonian wisdom; he briefed his friends and then led them before a higher throne than Babylon’s. Daniel urged his friends to seek God’s mercy (verse 18). Daniel understood what many people today do not — that Yahweh’s identity is grounded in his mercy and compassion. This is most obvious in Exodus 34:6, where Yahweh reveals himself to Moses by saying, “Yahweh — Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” (HCSB).

While we can certainly imagine that the prayers were earnest and heartfelt, there is no reason to think that it went on for hours or required the kind of bizarre behavior seen among the Babylonian astrologers and sorcerers. A case in point would be the many hours of loud prayer and bloodletting by the four hundred prophets of Baal in their confrontation with the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:2-–40), who spoke roughly 58 words (English translation) before fire fell from heaven.

The great acts of God always move his people to praise. Initially, Daniel praises God as eternal ruler of both time and kings; he changes both as it pleases him (verses 20–21a). Next, Daniel says that God is the source of all wisdom and knowledge, even the knowledge of hidden things (verses 21b–22). He concludes with more personal language, thanking God for revealing to them “the king’s matter” (verse 23, ESV, against the more narrow “the king’s dream”–NIV). God had revealed to Daniel both the dream and its interpretation.

There is no reason to believe that Daniel delayed in arranging to see Nebuchadnezzar, but imagine the mixed feelings for one condemned to death to approach the chief executioner to set up the audience (verse 24). Daniel first speaks to block further executions, giving the clear signal that no such killing will be required (verse 24). The words describing Arioch (verse 25) reflect both urgency and fear, both quite fitting for a man serving so volatile a ruler as Nebuchadnezzar and the pending order to execute all the wise men of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar gets straight to the point: “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?” (verse 26). Leon Wood describes both Nebuchadnezzar’s attitude and Daniel’s response: “The young man had said he would return with the information, but Nebuchadnezzar would have had serious doubts that he could. … Note, however, that [Daniel] did not begin with the information itself, but with making clear to the king to whom the credit for it was due.”[1]

First, Daniel gets the Babylonian wise men off the hook — possibly a literal hook — by saying they cannot reveal the mystery. This also means that the gods of Babylon were powerless to know or reveal Nebuchadnezzar’s thoughts. However, “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (verse 27). Consider that if God knows the thoughts of the king, he knows your thoughts as well!

Daniel’s summary of the vision is inadequately captured by the NIV: “He has shown Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come” (verse 28). The italicized phrase is better translated by ESV (“what will be in the latter days”) and HCSB (“what will happen in the last days”). Wood provides an excellent explanation for the phrase in question and supports ESV and HCSB:

This [Aramaic] phrase be´charit yomayya´  is used fourteen times in the Old Testament and regularly refers to the closing portion of a time period then in the mind of the speaker or writer (cf. Gen. 49:1). From the nature of the dream, the time period in view here is Gentile history, brought to a close by Christ’s millennial kingdom (cf. verses 44, 45).[2]

Both John Collins[3] and John Goldingay[4] translate the relevant Aramaic phrase with “at the end of the era” (verse 28b), thus placing the emphasis on the final kingdom in the vision soon to be described.

But, while the dream was ultimately used by God to show Nebuchadnezzar events extending to the end of the era (Christ’s return and millennial kingdom), Nebuchadnezzar’s thoughts begin much more modestly as he lies in bed thinking about “what would be after this” (verse 29b, ESV). The italicized phrase “refers only to days which Nebuchadnezzar could expect to occur within his own lifetime.”[5] This conclusion by Wood is supported by extensive research on the comparable Hebrew phrase found forty-three times in the Old Testament.[6] The king merely wonders what comes next, but God shows him so much more!

The terrifying colossus

Before Nebuchadnezzar has a chance to see details, he is overwhelmed with fear due to the huge, dazzling image that suddenly stands before him. ESV: “Its appearance was frightening” (verse 31b). HCSB: “Its appearance was terrifying” (verse 31b). NLT: “It was a frightening sight” (verse 31b).

Getting a grip on his fear, Nebuchadnezzar realizes that the statute has several zones: the head is fine gold; the chest and arms are made of silver; the belly and thighs consist of bronze; the legs are made of iron; and the feet are a mixture of iron and baked clay (verses 32–33).

Transfixed by the sight, the king continues to watch as a stone breaks of from a mountain (see verse 45 for this extra detail) and smashes against the feet of the statue (verse 34). The violent impact shatters the entire image into material carried away by the wind, like chaff during the threshing of wheat (verse 35a). After the wind carries away the fragments of the shattered image, the stone becomes a mountain that encompasses the whole earth (verse 35b). “This was the dream …” (verse 36a).

The ease with which the stone destroys the terrifying image sends a compelling message, but what is that message?

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Leon J. Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998) 63.

[2] Wood, Daniel, 64.

[3] John J. Collins, Daniel, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993) 150.

[4] John E. Goldingay, Daniel, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1989) 31.

[5] Wood, Daniel, 65.

[6] B. Applewhite, “Chronological Problems in Joel,” Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976, 48–9.

Exposition of Daniel 2:1–16 No fool

Daniel 2:1–16

1 In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. 2 So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, 3 he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means. “

4 Then the astrologers answered the king, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”

5 The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. 6 But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.”

7 Once more they replied, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”

8 Then the king answered, “I am certain that you are trying to gain time, because you realize that this is what I have firmly decided: 9 If you do not tell me the dream, there is only one penalty for you. You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.”

10 The astrologers answered the king, “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. 11 What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.”

12 This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. 13 So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death, and men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death.

14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact. 15 He asked the king’s officer, “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. 16 At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him.

Perhaps at some time in your life you had a dream which was so disturbing and real that you were not able to sleep again, possibly out of fear it would recur. This was the experience of Nebuchadnezzar in the second year of his reign (verse 1). It seems likely that the king summoned his dream team of experts without delay (verse 2).

Wood explains that ancient Akkadian texts have been found that were used in the interpretation of dreams.[1] Once the dream was known, each element could be found in the manual and an interpretation constructed. We might say that such methods of dream interpretation are like painting by the numbers. Nebuchadnezzar knew this well, and he was determined to get a better answer.

Contrary to NIV’s “I want to know what it means” (verse 3b), ESV has “my spirit is troubled to know the dream.” Collins points out that the king’s demand for both the dream and its interpretation makes it more likely that he is asking for the Chaldeans to tell the dream (as ESV suggests) and not what it means (as NIV suggests).[2] The king’s demand initiates a sequence of three statements from the king and three responses from the dream experts.

The Chaldean astrologers try to get things back on track by asking Nebuchadnezzar to tell his dream, which they promise to interpret (verse 4[3]). But the king’s reply must have sucked all the air out of the room. The king offers dismemberment and degradation — houses made into a dunghill or refuse pile — if they do not tell both the dream and its meaning (verse 5); alternatively, revealing both will result in abundant reward. Those charged with seeing into mysteries never saw this one coming!

The Chaldeans make their second request for the contents of the dream (verse 7), this time omitting the flowery wish that the king would live forever! But the king accuses them of trying to “buy time” in the face of his firm decision (verse 8). Wood describes how strange this scene is: “This was most unusual for a king of that time when most leaders acceded to the declarations of their diviners without question, for fear of supernatural reprisal if they did not. Nebuchadnezzar, however, was an unusual king.”[4]

Things move from bad to worse when Nebuchadnezzar accuses the Chaldeans of conspiring among themselves to tell him lies until the urgency was past (verse 9). Miller suggests that Nebuchadnezzar feared that the dream presaged something terrible, and he points out that two out of the next three Babylonian kings were assassinated.[5] To cut through the deception, the king insists on being told his dream in order to verify the alleged interpretation. He was determined not to be played for a fool.

At last the Chaldeans make their final appeal: the king’s request is impossible. This is essentially an admission that their supposed skills were a sham; they had no connection to the gods (verses 10–11). At this impertinent reply, Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered death for all the wise men of Babylon (verse 12). As Wood wryly notes, “Nebuchadnezzar had numerous virtues, but self-control was not one of them.”[6]

With executioners preparing to carry out their orders, it may well have been divine intervention that brought Daniel into contact with Arioch, the commander of the king’s bodyguard (verse 14). In due course, Daniel bravely approached the king and asked for time to meet the full demand the king had made. It is likely we must look to God to understand why Nebuchadnezzar would grant to Daniel the very thing he had denied to the Chaldeans: time.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973) 51.

[2] John J. Collins, Daniel, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993) 148, note 10.

[3] NIV has chosen to delete the words “in Aramaic” which mark a shift to that language in the middle of verse 4 and extending to Daniel 7:28. Aramaic was the international language of diplomacy in the ancient east for many centuries.

[4] Wood, Daniel, 53.

[5] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, vol. 18 of The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1994) 82.

[6] Wood, Daniel, 55.

Exposition of Daniel 1:17–21 Yahweh causes Daniel’s rise

Daniel 1:17–21

17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. 18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. 21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus. While it was true that Nebuchadnezzar had sent Daniel and his friends into training, it was Yahweh who granted them mastery by giving them “knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning” (verse 17). Not least, they knew the true God and could disregard the false gods of Babylon. They also knew to steer clear of divination and sorcery, which were forbidden in the law (Deut. 18:10–12). For an example of how the Babylonians commonly used such practices to make decisions during military campaigns, see Ezekiel 21:18–24 with special attention to Ezek. 21:21. Not only did God enable the four young men to read cuneiform tablets written in Akkadian, but he also granted to Daniel the special skill of understanding “all visions and dreams” (ESV) — not “all kinds of visions and dreams” (NIV). Yahweh did not make Daniel the master of dream categories; he made Daniel the precise interpreter or any individual dream by giving him the exact interpretation when required. This will become plain in chapter 2. In effect, Daniel became the channel for God’s interpretation of any dream whose meaning was to be made known to others. Wood supports the above interpretation of verse 17 when he says:

This gift was entirely from God. Daniel could not learn the technique of true vision and dream interpretation. There is point to noting this here, for the Babylonians believed one could do so. In fact, much of the literature in which the young men would have had to become proficient concerned such techniques. … The four Judeans would have had to reject all such thinking, as they recognized that true revelation could come only from God, and as he pleased.[1]

In time, the day of reckoning came for Nebuchadnezzar to personally interview every candidate trained for service in his government (verses 18–20). This kind of attention to detail is plainly what made him one of the most formidable rulers of ancient times. By showing the king’s meticulous care, Daniel sets the stage for the unfolding of the king’s shrewd actions in chapter 2. Because several English versions (NIV, ESV, NET and NLT) use the word “magicians” to describe some of the king’s counselors in Dan. 1:20b, we should clarify this term. The English word “magician” leads us to think of  various illusions and tricks we have seen on television. But that is not anywhere close to the function Daniel mentions. The standard Hebrew lexicon offers “soothsayer-priest”[2] and HCSB skillfully translates using “diviner-priest.” Miller further describes the role of the diviner-priests:

Supposedly in touch with the world of the spirits and the gods, these individuals were advisers to the king on virtually every matter. They employed rites and spells intended to heal, exorcise demons, or counter an evil spell placed upon the sufferer. Omens were studied in order to understand the future, and astrology played an important part in this activity.[3]

Before you sneer at the idea of a powerful ruler being guided by such arcane advice, consider that one of our most popular presidents is known to have used the advice of an astrologer in making and executing many decisions. In Nebuchadnezzar’s time there was no reason to hide such advisors; they served in an official capacity. Chapter 1 records the steady rise of Daniel and his companions. They began as royal captives swept up in punitive conquest (verses 2–3). By maintaining their special diet as a symbol of loyalty to Yahweh, the four are seen by their overseer to be superior in appearance to all other trainees (verse 15). When Nebuchadnezzar examines their skill, they demonstrate superiority to all the diviner-priests and enchanters in Babylon (verse 20). At the beginning of the chapter no one is paying much attention to Daniel and his friends, but by the close of their training, the king values them above all his other advisors. The king has unwittingly recognized the skills Yahweh has given to these young men, and the chapter closes with the note that Daniel’s career extended throughout the neo-Babylonian empire and into the reign of Cyrus the Great of Persia (verse 21).

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Wood, Daniel, 43.

[2] HALOT, chartum, soothsayer-priest, q.v.

[3] Miller, Daniel, 72.

Exposition of Daniel 1:8–16 First glimpse of the unseen hand

Daniel 1:8–16

8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”

11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

Daniel did not refuse his new name, but he “placed on his heart” (NET margin) that he would not defile himself with the royal food and wine (verse 8). It is not totally clear what the nature of the defilement might have been. Some think it was related to Jewish dietary laws, others that the food had previously been dedicated to Babylonian gods, and still others that accepting this provision might symbolize a covenant relationship with Nebuchadnezzar that conflicted with Daniel’s covenant relationship with Yahweh. Whatever the reason, it is clear that Daniel saw this matter as an issue of loyalty to Yahweh. So, Daniel proposed an alternative to the chief of staff, Ashpenaz (verse 3). This required great courage, a trait Daniel will often exhibit.

In verse 9, we find that God had covertly influenced Ashpenaz to have sympathy for Daniel and his request. Once again we see that outward appearances do not tell the whole story. Ashpenaz does not outright deny Daniel’s request, but he does describe a serious risk if he allows this deviation from the king’s plans (verse 10). Daniel executes a shrewd maneuver by next approaching a lower official, the overseer under Ashpenaz’s command, and proposing a brief test of a revised diet (verse 11). This approach allows deniability for Ashpenaz while also giving the overseer the opportunity to quickly abort the test if the proposed diet is producing adverse results.

A little reflection will tell you that ten days is a very short time for a diet to make a visible change in someone’s appearance. Commentator Leon Wood says, “God’s direct intervention would have been necessary to effect this manner of observable change in so short a period.”[1] For Daniel and his friends to visibly surpass those eating a royal diet while themselves eating only simple fare such as vegetables, fruit and bread was enough to convince the overseer (verse 15). He took away the food and drink provided from the royal table and replaced them with vegetables (verse 16). On this notable day the overseer glimpses something no one else in Babylon has seen — the powerful hand of Yahweh to protect his own.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973)  42.

Exposition of Daniel 1:1-7 The unseen hand on history’s rudder

Daniel 1:1-7

1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the kings service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the kings palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the kings table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the kings service.

6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.

While the Bible is designed to teach us about God, his kingdom and the salvation he offers, it always remains firmly grounded in history. God has no interest in some misty world of speculation; instead, he tells us what actually took place and reveals what he plans to do in days to come. For this reason, Daniel explains that in 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon besieged Jerusalem (Dan. 1:1). God had warned Judah over and over about their idolatry, but they lived in denial until the day of reckoning shattered their complacency.

Nebuchadnezzar had just demolished the combined forces of Egypt and Assyria at the Battle of Carchemish (MayJune, 605 B.C.), where the Euphrates River crosses from modern Turkey into Syria (see map in the Introduction). At that time, Judah was a conquered nation, subject to Egypt, and Pharaoh Neco had put Jehoiakim on the throne of Judah (2 Kings 23:34-24:6). Fresh from his decisive victory, Nebuchadnezzar rushed south to crush Pharaohs client Judah.

The Bible is not merely a history book, because it reveals things we could never discover without the Lord telling us. Conquerors had approached Jerusalem before and had been repelled by God empty-handed (Isaiah 36-37). This time the Lord delivered Jehoiakim and the city into Nebuchadnezzars hand (verse 2). Old Testament scholar John Goldingay points out that we are not given any description of siege tactics or negotiations; instead, There is no non-theological description of the fall of Jerusalem, only this theological one.[1] Further, Miller explains: The word translated Lord [in verse 2] is not Yahweh (represented in NIV by LORD) but adōnay, and this fact is significant. Owner, ruler, or sovereign is the meaning of adōnay … . By the use of this expression, Daniel was emphasizing the sovereignty of Yahweh, which is the dominant theme of the book.[2]

According to the custom of the times, holy items were taken from the temple of God and carried off to the temple of Marduk in Babylon (verse 2). The reader might think little of a detail like the temple vessels being removed, but Daniel is a very careful writer. Those vessels will resurface in Daniel 5.

To the uninformed ancient observer, it seemed that both Judah and Yahweh had been defeated. Old Testament scholar Leon Wood explains, Pagans evaluated any foreign deity in terms of the size of the country whose people worshipped him, the degree of prosperity of that country, and the size and success of the army.[3] Their opinion of Yahweh and Judah would have been quite low; only time would prove them utterly wrong. To the reader God reveals that this victory over Judah came through his decision, not the military might of Nebuchadnezzar (verse 2). As the story progresses in this and future chapters, the knowledge of Gods participation in these events will gradually increase.

Another hidden subtlety within verse 2 is that the phrase in Babylonia (NIV) is actually in the land of Shinar, a reference to the ancient land where the tower of Babel was built. Miller approvingly quotes J.G. Baldwin, who says, Shinar, site of the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9; cf. 10:10), was synonymous with opposition to God; it was the place where wickedness was at home (Zech. 5:11) and uprightness could expect opposition.[4] This underlying revelation of Babylon as the seat of wickedness contrasts with its outward appearance of power, wealth, and concern with education of its leaders.

Preparing to serve

The story of Daniels selection and training to serve in the kings palace (verse 4) covers verses 3-7, and it is a formidable set of requirements. Verse 4 insists on candidates who possessed good health, pleasing appearance, and, above all, great intelligence. Scholars Tom Finley and Brandon Cash explain: Scribes had to spend many years in training in order to read the complicated Babylonian cuneiform, which consisted of wedge-shaped marks made in a clay tablet while it was still moist with a stylus. The resulting signs represented either syllables or entire words, meaning that there were hundreds of signs that had to be learned.[5] Since Daniel and his friends had to learn the language and literature of Babylon (verse 4), it is not surprising that this advanced training lasted three years.

Akkadian cueiform text
Akkadian cueiform text

Miller explains the importance of Babylon in relation to human knowledge: Babylon was the learning center of the day and had acquired the remarkable library left by the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal (669-626 B.C.).[6] Numerous cuneiform texts would have been used by the Babylonian wise men to study history, mathematics, medicine and myths, but a lot of the tablets recorded methods of divination and magic. Daniel had to be able to read this lore, but he clearly relied on God rather than the vast stock of Babylonian magic.

The induction of four young Judeans into the court of Nebuchadnezzar involved a change of identity. Miller summarizes, In each case the Hebrew appellation [name] contains a reference to the true God, whereas its Babylon counterpart involves an allusion to a pagan deity.[7] Wood explains how many names in the Hebrew Old Testament are constructed by saying, Daniel and Mishael both contain the element el, one of the [Hebrew] names for God; and Hananiah and Azariah contain the element iah (yah), an abbreviation found in so many Hebrew names for Yahweh.[8]

Daniel as a Hebrew name means God is my judge. There may be a note of divine irony in Daniels name, because analyzing it as an Akkadian name — since the Babylonian language is nothing more than a dialect of Akkadian — yields God is mighty.[9] Daniel will be used to show Gods might over and over. The Babylonian names given to the young men by the court official are less well understood, but they clearly refer, in part, to Babylonian deities.

The Bible says a lot about people who are living in difficult physical circumstances, but Daniel and his friends had the best the ancient world had to offer. Imagine how it would be to have room and board in a palace while attending the greatest university at no expense for three years. After that education, you would get a position in the most powerful kingdom on earth. But every rose bush has thorns that wound the unwary.

Copyright 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] John E. Goldingay, Daniel, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1989) 9.

[2] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, vol. 18 of The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1994)58.

[3] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973) 17.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 59, quoting J.G. Baldwin, Daniel (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1978) 78.

[5] Tom Finley and Brandon Cash, Daniel (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, in press) 7.

[6] Miller, Daniel, 62.

[7] Miller, Daniel, 65-6.

[8] Wood, Daniel, 35.

[9] HALOT, dāniyyēl, Daniel, q.v. (see etymology).

Introduction to a commentary on Daniel 1-6

Introduction to a commentary on Daniel 1-6

Ishtar Gate
Ishtar Gate

Abbreviations for Bible translations

NIV New International Version (2011)
ESV English Standard Version
NET New English Translation
CEB Common English Bible
NLT New Living Translation
HCSB Holman Christian Standard Bible

Introduction to the Book of Daniel

To understand any book that is partly historical, it is necessary to understand who wrote it and the context in which it was written. This introduction briefly surveys these issues as well as the theological themes advanced by the author and the literary structure of the book.

Daniel, the statesman-prophet

Daniel was born into the nobility of Judah in (roughly) 620 B.C. Old Testament scholar Stephen Miller describes one probable experience from Daniels early years that deserves note: Jeremiah was preaching in Jerusalem, and it seems almost certain that both Daniel and Ezekiel would have heard Jeremiah preach.[1] That would mean that Daniel was forewarned about the coming fall of the nation. Since Daniel held high office even after the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus the Great in 539 B.C., he is believed to have lived to be about 85 years of age.

Daniels name means God is my judge, and he is mentioned by name five times in the Bible outside of the Book of Daniel (Ezek. 14:14,20; 28:3; Matt. 24:15; Mark 13:14). Miller explains: Ezekiels ministry did not begin until about 593 B.C. (cf., Ezek. 1:2), over twelve years after Daniels deportation. No satisfactory explanation exists for the use of the name Daniel by the prophet Ezekiel other than that he and Daniel were contemporaries and that Daniel had already gained notoriety throughout the Babylonian Empire by the time of Ezekiels ministry.[2]

Though some have questioned whether Daniel was an actual historical figure, the matter is conclusively settled by Jesus, who plainly spoke of Daniel and his prophecies as historical and authoritative (Matt. 24:15 and Mark 13:14).

Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon

Nebuchadnezzar II
Nebuchadnezzar II

Miller makes a surprising statement: With the possible exception of the pharaoh of the exodus, more is said of Nebuchadnezzar in the Old Testament than of any other foreign ruler.[3]

Nebuchadnezzar II (c. 634-562 B.C.) reigned over the neo-Babylonian empire from August of 605 B.C. to 562 B.C., a period of 43 years. After Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians and Assyrians at Carchemish in May-June of 605 B.C., his father King Nabopolassar, the conqueror of the Assyrian capital Nineveh, died in August of 605 B.C. Crown prince Nebuchadnezzar rushed home from the conquest of Jerusalem — bringing Daniel and many others with him — to ascend the throne of Babylon on September 6/7 of 605 B.C.

The Book of Daniel shows Nebuchadnezzar to be a man of great ability, towering pride and, when thwarted, burning rage. At the time of his choosing, Yahweh decisively humbled the king, probably with the result that Nebuchadnezzar gave his allegiance to Yahweh. Such unlikely faith seems indicated by Yahweh calling him my servant (Jer. 25:9, 27:6, 43:10), a title used only for men such as the Messiah, Abraham, Moses, David, Job, and Isaiah. No other foreign person is ever called my servant by Yahweh, and the only person who comes close is Cyrus the Great, the Persian conqueror who is called my shepherd by Yahweh in Isaiah 44:28 (Isa. 45:1, 45:13). Cyrus also plays an important role in Daniels life.

Nebuchadnezzars reconstruction of Babylon, including the famed Ishtar Gate and the hanging gardens, was one of the great wonders of the ancient world.

Historical context of Daniel

The nation that God had established by covenant under Moses later divided into two nations — Judah and Israel (see 1 Kings 12) — at the end of Solomons reign (931 B.C.). This period (931 586 B.C.) is often called The Divided Kingdom. The Divided Kingdom may be considered along two lines, devotion to God and commitment to international alliances. Had these two nations remained strong in their faithfulness to Yahweh, they would never have needed any commitments to other nations. But Judah often followed the lead of its unfaithful rulers into idolatry, and Israel was much worse. Both Judah and Israel made frequent alliances with regional powers, resulting in a steady increase of idolatry.

In the late eighth century B.C., the two great world powers were Egypt and Assyria. After many warnings from his prophets, Yahweh brought Assyria to take the northern kingdom of Israel away into bondage, and this happened in 722 B.C. at the fall of Israels capital, Samaria.

The Battle of Carchemish (605 B.C.) was fought at the place marked by the star
The Battle of Carchemish (605 B.C.) was fought at the place marked by the star

Tossed like a leaf in the wind, Judah wavered between relying on Yahweh or, more frequently, on either fading Assyria or historically-dominant Egypt, the ancient regional power. When Pharaoh Neco came up from Egypt to aid the Assyrians at the Euphrates River, King Josiah of Judah blocked him at Megiddo and was killed (2 Kings 23:29). Pharaoh chose his own king for Judah, renamed him Jehoiakim, imposed tribute on Judah (2 Kings 23:34) and then continued northward.

However, on the Euphrates River, at a place named Carchemish, Pharaoh Neco and his Assyrian allies were crushed by crown prince Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (May-June of 605 B.C.). Nebuchadnezzar quickly rushed south toward Jerusalem to deal with the puppet king Jehoiakim of Judah in Jerusalem, the home of a young man named Daniel.

There is no doubt whatever that Nebuchadnezzar believed himself to be in complete control of these events, but he would realize in time that Yahweh was calling the shots. What is more, he said so to the whole empire (Daniel 4)!

Daniel rose quickly to high office under Nebuchadnezzar and survived his death to hold a powerful position under the rule of Cyrus the Great of Persia (c. 600-530 B.C.).

The Book of Daniel as literature

While those who want to deny the possibility of predictive prophecy consider the contents of Daniel to consist mainly of court legends, we accept the position expressed by Miller: Scholars who adhere to the traditional position understand the book to consist primarily of history, prophecy and apocalyptic. Prophetic-apocalyptic may be the best designation, for Daniel takes on the character of both prophecy and apocalyptic.[4]

Apocalyptic is an intensification of prophecy. To highlight the difference between apocalyptic and prophecy, consider Samuels prophetic words to King Saul: The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to one of your colleagues who is better than you! (1 Sam. 15:28). God could have used Samuel to reveal this same truth by means of a dramatic vision in which the crown is roughly stripped from Sauls head and placed on the head of David. That would have been an apocalyptic vision — though somewhat mild — in that it is an intensification of the plain, prophetic prediction that Samuel actually made.

New Testament scholar Grant R. Osborne says, A basic element in defining apocalyptic is its pessimism toward the present and the promise of restoration in a sovereignly controlled future.[5] That is a simple sentence, but it bears careful thought since it provides a useful interpretive tool. Osborne also has a helpful insight when he explains, One of my definitions for apocalyptic is the present addressed through parallels with the future.[6] He also gives insight about the use of symbols in apocalyptic literature — such as the gigantic tree in chapter 3 — and the way they change the way people think about the world: The symbols have a special communicative function in addressing the social world of the original readers, thus opening up a new symbolic world for them.[7] He adds:

The visions guide readers into a [surpassing] reality that takes precedence over the current situation and encourages readers to persevere in the midst of their trials. The visions reverse normal experience by making the heavenly mysteries the real world and depicting the present crisis as a temporary, illusory situation.[8]

The vision of a future offered by Daniel would have greatly strengthened Jews in captivity in Babylon in the midst of a serious trial of their faith in Yahweh.

The literary structure of Daniel is simply presented by Miller:[9]

Part One: The ministry of Daniel in Babylon (1:1-6:28)

Part Two: The visions of Daniel in Babylon (7:1-12:13)

An unusual feature of the Book of Daniel is that over half of it is written in Aramaic, while the balance is written in Hebrew. The dialect of Aramaic, known as Imperial Aramaic, was an official or literary dialect that was the dominant language of the Near East during the fifth and sixth centuries before Christ. Aramaic was for a time as dominant as English is today.

Conflict about the meaning and value of Daniel

Traditional interpretation of Daniel — both Jewish and Christian — has always held that the Book of Daniel was written during the sixth century B.C. by Daniel, a Jew exiled to Babylon, to whom God revealed reliable knowledge of future events. That is the view advocated by this study guide, and we have no doubt of its accuracy.

However, beginning in the nineteenth century, a number of scholars attacked many things about the Bible and traditional Christian doctrine. In short, they rejected supernatural acts by God (including the resurrection of Jesus Christ), they scorned the reliability of the Bible as a reliable revelation from God, and they denied the deity of Jesus. Man became the measure of all things. How these ideas are applied to Daniel may be shown by the comments of commentator John J. Collins:

Daniel is not a reliable source of factual information about either the past of the future. This is apparent from the historical inaccuracies of the tales as well as from the unhistorical claim that the book recounts the visions of a Jew in the Exile. Its witness, however, is largely in the language of legend and myth, which appeals to the imagination rather than to the intellect.[10]

It is difficult to understand why anyone holding such views would spend years writing a commentary on Daniel.

For those of us who regard the Bible as an infallible revelation from God to his people, the fact that both Jesus and Ezekiel regarded Daniel and his prophecies as historical, reliable and relevant to future events is sufficient to settle the matter.

The theological themes of Daniel

Miller offers four themes for the Book of Daniel with the first being the most important:

  1. Every page reflects the authors conviction that his God was the Lord of individuals, nations, and all of history.[11]
  2. Gods love and care for his followers;
  3. The person and work of the Messiah;
  4. Prophecies concerning the end times and the subsequent new world.

Commentaries and Bible studies on Daniel

Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1994)

This commentary was written for pastors and Bible students but hides the technical details in the footnotes. It gives solid answers to critical and anti-supernatural attacks on the book for those who need them. Dispensational viewpoint.

Leon J. Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998)

This commentary was first published in 1973 but remains one of the best on history, language, exposition and theology. Dispensational viewpoint. Recommended.

John F. Walvoord, Daniel, The John Walvoord Prophecy Commentaries (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012)

This commentary was first published in 1966 and remains a classic presentation of Daniels prophecies from a dispensational viewpoint. More attention to theology than to the details of the text.

Beth Moore, Daniel (Nashville: LifeWay, 1996)

This personal Bible study contains considerable explanatory material and numerous diagrams. Designed in lesson form for personal study. Not technical. Recommended.

Other books and resources

Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., Handbook on the Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009)

This book does an exceptionally good job of summarizing the teachings of the Old Testament prophets on a book-by-book basis while also dealing with crucial issues. Aimed at college level.

J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965)

This 633-page work does a terrific job of explaining the vast reach of Bible prophecy and how the prophetic events are related to one another and sequenced. It is not technical, but the reader must know that organizing all these details is not for the faint of heart. No subsequent study has attempted the biblical scope of this one.


To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

(1 Timothy 1:17, ESV)

Major empires of the ancient Near East



NOTE: All years noted on the chart below are B.C.

Daniel and the Judeans in BabylonCopyright 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, vol. 18 of The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1994) 44.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 42-3.

[3] Miller, Daniel, 44.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 45.

[5] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 1.

[6] Osborne, Revelation, 22.

[7] Osborne, Revelation, 15.

[8] Osborne, Revelation, 14.

[9] Miller, Daniel, 19.

[10] John J. Collins, Daniel, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993) 123.

[11] Miller, Daniel, 50.