THE LIFE AND TIMES
OF THE PROPHET DANIEL
A. This evening we commence the study of the Old Testament prophecy of Daniel. And there is perhaps no other book of the Bible whose veracity and authenticity is more assailed than the book of Daniel. And there is one main reason for the sustained attack on this book of the Bible.
Liberal scholars assume that the Bible is a purely human product. It is a book like any other book. And so the main offense and objection to any portion of the Bible is the presence of anything that is beyond the merely human or natural, any aspect that might claim to be supernatural or miraculous. If the Bible reports on miracles, then they are obviously untrue, of course, because there is no God and miracles cannot happen. I’m told that Thomas Jefferson, who as a deist denied the miraculous, kept a Bible at his home in Monticello in which he had carefully, literally cut out any reference to the miraculous with his pen knife. It resembled Swiss cheese with holes on many pages. His “holey” Bible is supposedly still on display.
B. Daniel claims to report on several miracles including visions from God, which is bad enough. But it also claims visions of the future with such stunning detail that they describe almost perfectly events that were to take place 3-400 years afterward. And that is more than unbelieving scholars can allow.
In fact, such liberal scholars date the book of Daniel as being published in its final form in precisely the year 165 B.C. That’s because in chapter 11, it describes with pinpoint accuracy the events in the life of the Syrian ruler Antiochus IV Ephiphanes. So obviously since there is no such thing as predictive prophecy, the author had to have been writing after the fact. But…the author apparently made a guess as to how and where Antiochus IV would die, which he did, in 163 B.C., but the author of Daniel got that one wrong. So they claim, he must have written after the events he got right, but before the one he got wrong, and so that would be precisely 165 B.C.
C. But they go on to say that the author, whoever he was, was not really lying. He was merely proclaiming an inspirational message which he attributed to some figure from the past. And everybody would have recognized this, so there was no lie involved.
Now if that is the case, if this book is a work of pure fiction, then you and I are wasting our time studying it. What possible relevance could it have to us today? In fact, what possible relevance could it have ever had in any day if it is not true? My mother told me fairy tales at bedtime when I was a child—but that was just to make me sleepy, nothing more.
I. DANIEL IS FACTUAL.
Let me give you some solid reasons why we should accept the book of Daniel as factual, and therefore of great potential help.
A. First of all, the ancients accepted it as factual. There is no hint that it was anything less than sober, historical truth, before three centuries after Christ when an enemy of Christians named Porphyry first suggested it. Portions of copies of Daniel are included in the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the ruins of the separatist Qumran community. And, by the way, they had accepted the book of Daniel as authentic BEFORE the magic date of 165 B.C. If the book were so obviously fictional, why do we have no suggestion of this until hundreds of years after the fact?
B. Second, and most important, the writers of the New Testament accepted Daniel as historical. In Matthew 24:15-16, Jesus says, “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Jesus accepted Daniel as a prophet. And the book of Hebrews obviously refers to two events from the book of Daniel as historical occurrences: “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” (Hebrews 11:33-34) If the New Testament is mistaken on this point, then suddenly the whole Bible is thrown into question.
C. Third, there is the disconnect we observed earlier. There is no question that Daniel was written to encourage God’s people to remain faithful even unto death. Yet, if it is purely a work of inspiring fiction, if God did not, in fact, intervene on behalf of Daniel and his friends or reveal his sovereign plan to them, then how is that helpful? Why should anyone hope that help is coming when, in point of fact, no help really ever came?
D. Fourthly, there are historical touches of a clearly older Babylonian flavor that would point to an older date, not to mention the vocabulary itself which points to an older time.
E. And finally, if this was clearly fictional, and everybody knew it, then it seems hard to understand how it could be granted a place in the Old Testament authoritative canon, and that uniquely so.
There is good reason to accept the prophecy of Daniel as factual and authoritative, and so well worth our study, attention, and application.
II. FAITHFULNESS IN A FOREIGN LAND.
A. A second reason why Daniel is well worth our study is because it shows us how to live faithfully in a foreign land. Much of the Old Testament is a little difficult for us to apply today because it depicts a political and religious experience that we do not really share. Israel was a theocracy. There was no difference between the political kingdom and the religious kingdom. The king of Israel was also the head of the religion. Moral and religious sins were also crimes. There was no separation of church and state, but they were to be completely unified. Idolatry, false religion, blasphemy and Sabbath-breaking were all capitol offenses. So the goal in every case was always the same—to ensure that everyone followed the one true religion as revealed by God.
B. But we don’t live in that context today. Israel as God’s most favored nation has ceased to exist. Though the church has replaced Israel, it is not the same as Israel, and neither is America or any other nation. For example, we often hear 2 Chronicles 7:14 applied to America as a call to repentance and a promise of restoration. I heard it quoted at the Republican last caucus Monday night: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Wait a minute, who are the people who are called by God’s name? Americans? No, this promise was for Israel. And their “land,” the Promised Land would need healing because if they sinned and broke God’s covenant he would strike their land with a curse. That doesn’t really apply to America.
C. But when Daniel and his friends were exiled into captivity in Babylon, they were no longer in the Promised Land. The reigning civil authority in Babylon was no less religious, but it was devoted to another religion, or multiple religions. So how do you remain faithful to the Lord God in that kind of context? That’s of great help to us today, because Daniel’s political and spiritual context is much more like our own than the Israel of King David or the Judah of King Hezekiah or King Josiah. And it is from Daniel’s situation that we can make some direct applications as to how we are to live faithfully in a foreign land.
III. FOCUS ON FORGIVENESS.
A. I’m going to go out on a limb on this one, so please bear with me. When we meet Daniel and his three friends, Azariah, Mishael, and Hananiah, in the first chapter, they appear to be the most godly, righteous, and courageous of men. But…what were they doing in Babylon?
The reason God’s people had been exiled to Babylon was their great wickedness and repeated violation of God’s covenant. And their chief sin was idolatry. They wanted any god but the Lord God.
B. A few generations before Daniel, the wicked King Manasseh came to the throne. And here was God’s judgment on the sin of Manasseh: “Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, 12 therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, 15 because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.” (2 Kings 21:11-15)
After fifty-two years of King Manasseh’s wicked leadership, Judah was completely ruined. His son, Amon, succeeded him to the throne, and he was just as bad. He only reigned two years before he was assassinated.
C. His son, Josiah, was placed on the throne, and he became the best king of all after King David. He turned the nation upside down (or right-side up) with his reforms, touching every aspect of life. But it was too little, too late, and he died tragically at the young age of 31. He was succeeded by several wicked kings, and we pick up the story at two Kings (or second Kings) 24: “1 In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. 2 And the LORD sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by his servants the prophets. 3 Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the LORD, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, 4 and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD would not pardon…. (skip down to verse 10)
“10 At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. 11 And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city while his servants were besieging it, 12 and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself and his mother and his servants and his officials and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign 13 and carried off all the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the LORD, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the LORD had foretold. 14 He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land.” (2 Kings 24:1-4, 10-14)
Daniel and his three friends were among those taken into captivity to Babylon at this point.
D. But who were they when they were captured and deported like this? It is possible that they were some of the few godly ones who suffered with the wicked, but it’s much more likely that they were just like everyone else—they were wicked idolaters who had forsaken the Lord and his covenant.
And something happened in their lives during that long march away from their homeland which they would never see again. They had wanted to serve foreign gods so badly; now they were being forced to go to a land where the Lord God was unknown, where all there was were these hideous idols. And I believe that these four young men arrived in Babylon rebuked, repentant, restored, and resolved to serve the Lord God of Israel.
What I’m saying is that the book of Daniel is really a story about forgiveness and God’s redeeming grace. God really does chasten those he loves as sons. Are you in a season of chastening, perhaps? Are you living in the days of repentance, hoping in restoration? I want you to be assured that God delights in making sinners into his saints, and it is to his glory. Charles Wesley writes:
He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free,
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.
What I’m suggesting is that all of these wonderful stories of the courage and boldness and victory of Daniel and his friends are not about those who are the great giants in the faith. They are about ordinary men who repented of their sin, who were then equipped and empowered by God to do the extraordinary. And we who know the risen Christ and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit have even a greater privilege than they.
We can take hope and take courage because these stories are true, because they are more closely related to our context, and because they are about ordinary people like us, forgiven and empowered by God.