In this essay we begin a study of the book of Daniel. The main controversy in relation to the book is a challenge by certain “liberal” scholars to the traditional authorship and date of the book. The traditional view of authorship and date is that Daniel himself wrote it in the sixth century B.C., because the visions in the second half of the book are in the first person. But many liberal scholars have rejected this. They have set forth the view that Daniel did not write the book in the sixth century B.C. Rather someone else wrote it in the second century B.C., using Daniel’s name.
The reason for this opinion is that many of the prophecies in the book were fulfilled in detail during the second century. And since the scholars in question do not believe in predictive prophecy, they assume that the book was written in the second century after the events. That is, after the events happened in the second century, the book was written as if it had been written in the sixth century as predictive prophecy.
I am not going to deal with arguments pro and con on that. For our purposes we will take Daniel at face value. If you want to research it, there are good introductions to the Old Testament specifically written to present the pros and cons of those kinds of issues.
Let’s begin with some historical background. After the death of Solomon the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom retained the traditional name, Israel; and the southern kingdom took the name of Judah.
In 721 B.C. the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom, but they were unable to conquer the southern kingdom. But the Babylonians accomplished what the Assyrians had not. They conquered Judah in three stages, beginning in 605 B.C.
Babylon defeated Egypt in a major battle in 605, and at that same time subdued Judah. It was during that first stage of domination by Babylon, that Daniel and his three friends were taken captive.
Then Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, rebelled. That caused a more complete conquest by Babylon in 597 B.C., which resulted in the second stage of exile, when many more Jews were taken to Babylon.
And then the third stage took place in 586. This is the date usually given for the beginning of the exile, because that was the really definitive conquest. That was when the Babylonians destroyed both the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple; and all of the elite among the Jews were taken into exile in Babylon. The story of that whole series of events is told in 2 Kings 23:36-25:21. You may want to read those chapters on your own.
At the very beginning of this period, perhaps in the same year that Daniel was taken captive, the prophet Jeremiah prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem, the exile, and the eventual destruction of Babylon, all of which took place just as he said (Jer. 25:1, 11-12).
Daniel served the kings of Babylon, and then the Persians, throughout the exile and beyond. The last temporal reference in the book is in chapter 10, verse one, which indicates that Daniel still was a major figure at court in the third year of King Cyrus of Persia, about 534 B.C., which was a couple of years after the end of the exile. I believe that is enough historical background.
Daniel begins with the story of his being taken into exile as a young lad with some of his friends. And in the first two verses he gives the historical situation. In verses 3-7Daniel’s story continues.
This is an account of the first exiles, taken in 605 B.C. Notice that it was a very select group, taken for a very specific purpose. They were from the top social class, the royal family and the nobility (v. 3). Their characteristics were outstanding. They were young, handsome, wise, knowledgeable, intelligent, and competent. That’s quite a list!
The purpose of their exile becomes clear at the end of the paragraph. They were trained to become part of a group of wise men at the king’s court. There were two requirements. They were to be taught the Chaldean language and its literature (v. 4), and they were to be educated for three years (v 5).
And then in verses 6-7 we learn their names, both their Hebrew names, and their new Babylonian names. Daniel was given the name Belteshazzer; Hananiah became Shadrach; Mishael became Meshach; and Azariah became Abednego.
In the next paragraph (vv. 8-16), we see one of the reasons for the life theme I chose for this essay, “Dealing with Adverse Circumstances.” Scholars offer three possible reasons for rejecting the king’s menu. First, it may have included foods forbidden by the Jewish Law (Lev. 11:2-47). Second, The meat may not have been free of blood (Deut. 12:23-24). And third, the meat may have been sacrificed to idols. In any case, Daniel wished to avoid eating it.
Verse nine indicates that the official in charge of the young men wanted to help, but he feared for his own safety. Daniel could have given up at this point, but he didn’t. Instead he offered a suggestion that could make possible the granting of his request without endangering the lives of the steward and chief eunuch.
Daniel suggested that they be allowed a diet of fresh vegetables and water for ten days; and if at the end of the test period, they appeared less healthy than the others, they would accept the king’s food. Well, at the end of the ten days, they appeared healthier than the others, so they were allowed to continue the special diet.
We see that Daniel and his friends dealt very well with the adverse circumstances in which they found themselves. It is true that they were better off than most. Indeed they had a great opportunity in a sense. But the circumstances still were adverse in that they had been taken into exile away from their family and most of their friends. And they were in a new culture, where they had to make massive life adjustments.
In addition they had to learn a new language and customs; they had to learn how to function as court magicians. And they did all of that while remaining loyal to God. In other words they made the best of a bad situation. Indeed they excelled; and they did so under adverse circumstances.
We see the results of the three years training of the young men in verses 17-21. Notice that Daniel gives the credit for their learning to God. God gave them learning, skill in letters, and wisdom. And he gave Daniel a special gift, an ability to understand visions and dreams.
When “graduation day” came, and they stood before the king, they were the four top students. Indeed the king found them to be ten times better than the other “magicians and enchanters” in the kingdom.