In our study of the Book of Daniel, we will begin by observing the account it gives of the making of a prophet.
The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.”
Daniel 2:47 RSC
The book of Daniel is a fascinating book. It has been a favorite with children for generations because it contains some of the most exciting stories in the Bible. Daniel refusing to defile himself at the king’s table; Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, thrown into the fiery furnace; Daniel in the lions’ den; and Daniel at the feast of Belshazzar – stories such as these have made the Book of Daniel a favorite for generations of children brought up in Christian homes.
But the Book of Daniel is also one of the most profound books in the Bible. It contains elaborate and detailed prophecies of the future. It gives us a sweeping survey of history. Harold Lindsell, in Harper’s Study Bible, says: “No comprehensive Christian world view can be developed without its use. Daniel’s panoramic vision includes the period of Gentile ascendency after Calvary and sweeps on to the end of the age.”
Daniel exercised his office of prophet in a unique manner. Most of the prophets were preachers; that is, they proclaimed the word of the Lord to the people. We have observed this in our studies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; and it is equally true of the other prophets. Daniel, however, was not a preacher but a statesman. In the sixth century B.C., he counseled the great and mighty monarchs of the Babylonian and Persian empires. He held high positions in government under the rulers of these kingdoms and at one time was the governor of a third part of the Babylonian kingdom. A prophet is a man who speaks for God, and Daniel fulfilled that function for over sixty years when he brought the word of God to the rulers of the great kingdoms of the ancient world.
In our study of the Book of Daniel, we will begin by observing the account it gives of the making of a prophet. Many of the prophets tell us about their call to the office, but in the Book of Daniel we have more than that. We have a full account of a man’s preparation for the office. Daniel was one of several young men of royal blood who were carried away into captivity into Babylon in one of the early deportations from Jerusalem to Babylon.
It was the practice of the Babylonian rulers to take from the captives of the nations which they conquered the most promising young men, usually of noble family, to train them to serve in the new kingdom. The young men set aside for such training were very young, usually in their early teens. So we find Daniel and his friends in Babylon, very young, separated from their parents and friends, receiving special training for service to the king of Babylon. In order to completely obliterate – even in their minds – all remembrance of their God, their names were changed. Daniel’s name, which means “God will judge,” was changed to Belteshazzar, which means “May Bel, the god of Babylon, protect your life.”
Part of the training of these young men for service in the kingdom of Babylon consisted in eating at the king’s table. All the young men from all the conquered kingdoms were required to eat at the same table with the food provided by the king. But Daniel purposed in his heart not to eat at the king’s table. For a young man in his early teens this was a step of enormous courage, but he used tact and judgment in carrying out his purpose. He went to the prince of the eunuchs and asked for the privilege of being freed from the requirement, suggesting a test in which Daniel and his friends would give up eating the rich food of Babylon for ten days. Daniel and his friends passed the test, were blessed by God, and stood head and shoulders above all the other trainees.
A number of reasons have been suggested why Daniel would not eat at the king’s table. For one thing, meat that was forbidden by the Jewish law would be served; and he was determined to be obedient to the law of God. It also involved the problem of eating food sacrificed to idols, which from Daniel’s point of view would be to recognize the idolatry of Babylon. But there was another reason for refusing to eat at the king’s table. Calvin says it was not merely the food but the company to which Daniel objected. Commenting on Calvin, Alexander Whyte says: “It was the company at the king’s table; it was the idolatry, and the self-indulgence, and the indecency, and the riot among the young men at the palace that made Daniel determined that it would be both far easier and far safer to abstain altogether from the beginning.”
This introduces us to the teaching in the Bible about the separation of the believer from the world. The New Testament teaches us that there is a sense in which every Christian must be separated from the world. This is found in the admonitions of Paul to the early churches, and in a classic statement in the Letter of James.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
The Christian religion is a religion of action. We are to visit the fatherless and the widows and to care for the poor, but it is also a religion of separation. We of course cannot completely separate ourselves from the world. We must work in the world, we must live in the world; and if we are to win men and women to Christ we must have contact with the world. But there is still a sense in which we are separated from the world. The old formula “In the world but not of the world” is perhaps the best. Daniel’s strength of character and his powerful witness to God in an idolatrous country, came from the fact that early in his life he determined to disassociate himself from all the idolatry and immorality of Babylon.
Here, then, we have the account of the making of a prophet. A captive of war carried away to a distant idolatrous country in his early teens, his name changed, often all alone, remained faithful and true to the God after whom he was named and in whom he believed. Daniel is an excellent example for the Christian youth of our day. In the universities, in a permissive society, in a culture which has rejected the living God, they face the same immorality, pollution, and decay Daniel did in his world. Let me urge you now as you listen to this broadcast to follow the example of Daniel.
Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone.
Dare to have a purpose firm,
Dare to make it known.
Let us now direct our attention to the description we find in the Book of Daniel of the character of a prophet. After the opening chapter of the book, which gives us the story of his youth and his faithfulness to God, we are introduced to Daniel as a mature man and leader in the nation. We know more about Daniel than we do any other prophet in the Bible, and we have substantial material to make a brief analysis of the character of this great man of God.
First, he was a man of integrity, a man of principle. He did not make his decisions on the basis of expediency but on the principles of his faith. He knew the difference between right and wrong. The greatest testimony to his character comes from his enemies who became jealous of Daniel. This Hebrew captive was now far above many native Babylonians in the government, and this prompted his jealous enemies to plot his destruction. As they schemed together what charge they would bring against him, they came to the conclusion that they would never find a complaint against his character except in the practice of his religion. Daniel showed no partiality in judgment. He was not open to bribes. He was honest, truthful, upright, and loyal.
Men of such integrity in high office are a rarity even in Christian nations, but we can thank God that they are not extinct. A few weeks ago this nation laid aside a great American and a great statesman, J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI. He was a man of character. He was not ashamed of his faith and openly witnessed for Jesus Christ. At his death he was accorded the highest honors any civilian can receive in this nation. The president of the United States delivered the eulogy and spoke of his character and integrity. At his death our attention was directed to the fact that the Federal Bureau of Investigation which he headed is one of the few governmental agencies in which there is no corruption.
Not only was Daniel a man of integrity, honest, and upright, he was also winsome. Three times in the book he is called Daniel, the greatly beloved. He was gracious and considerate, but at the same time refused to compromise principles. Daniel was also a man of great courage. He not only showed physical courage when his life was in danger many times; he showed great moral courage. He stood before Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar and faithfully delivered the word of judgment that came from the Lord to these kings, even though it could have cost him his life.
We do not have time to mention all the outstanding qualities in the character of Daniel, but I will mention one more even if I do it only briefly. Daniel was a man of prayer. He prayed in the crises of his life, and he asked others to join him in prayer that they might seek God’s will and protection and blessing. He interceded for his people. I can only mention his practice of private prayer as described in the sixth chapter, or the great prayer of intercession he offered for the people in the ninth chapter. If you haven’t read it lately, let me urge you to turn to the ninth chapter of Daniel and read the great intercessory prayer which he offers for his people, confessing their sin and asking God not to forsake them. We could stand a lot of praying like that in America today.
Let us now turn to the main section of the Book of Daniel, which contains the predictions of a prophet. I have already called your attention in this series of messages on the prophets, to the fact that the predictive element in prophecy is completely rejected by the liberal critics of the Bible. They have coined their own definition of prophecy. It is not foretelling but forth telling. This is a half-truth. Prophecy is certainly forth telling – that is, proclaiming the word of God. The main function of the prophet is to preach the word of God to the people. Daniel was a true prophet in this sense because he spoke the word of God to the rulers of nations. But prophecy is also foretelling. The Bible teaches us that the essence of all prophecy is foretelling the future. It began in the Garden of Eden after man had sinned and rebelled against the Lord. In the Garden, God spoke to the serpent and said,
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
In fact, in the Bible the test of true prophecy is whether or not the predictions of the prophet come true. This is the way a true prophet is distinguished from a false prophet.
And if you say in your heart, “How may we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?” – when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him.
Predictive prophecy is the very warp and woof of the Bible. The central theme of the Old Testament is the coming of Christ predicted to the smallest details by the prophets. The main section of the Book of Daniel deals with dreams and visions through which the prophet foretells the coming of Christ. I will take one such representative dream from the book in order to illustrate the teachings of Daniel on the predictions of the future.
The second chapter of the Book of Daniel gives a full account of one such prophetic dream, in which Nebuchadnezzar saw a great image. The image was mighty and of exceeding brightness, frightening in appearance. The head was of fine gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of bronze, the legs of iron and the feet partly iron and partly clay. As the king stared at the image, a stone suddenly appeared which was cut out by no human hands. This stone rolled toward the image, hit it at the base, and smashed it to pieces. The image broke into pieces so small that the wind came and blew them away so that not a trace of the image could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. This was the dream.
God made the dream known to Daniel and gave him this interpretation of it. The four parts of the image are four empires. The first is the Babylonian kingdom under Nebuchadnezzar, which in Daniel’s day was at the height of its power. This is the head of gold. By the direct inspiration of God Daniel then went on to interpret the rest of the dream, which dealt with the future. The breast and arms of silver represent the kingdoms of the Medes and the Persians under the rule of Darius and Cyrus. The belly and thighs of bronze represent the Greek kingdoms which followed the Persian empire in history. The legs of iron represent the Roman kingdoms which ruled the world at the time of the coming of Christ. Here, then, is one of the most detailed and specific prophecies in the whole Bible. It speaks not only of one isolated event, but it gives us the revelation of the whole movement of history from the sixth century B.C. to the coming of Christ.
This prediction is so definite, so specific, so sweeping in its view of future events that the radical critics, rejecting predictive prophecy, have dated the book in the second century before Christ and therefore after the events occurred. One contemporary liberal critic is frank enough to admit that one reason he really holds to the late date is because he does not believe in predictive prophecy.
It may be well to pause here for a moment to observe what has happened to such speculative studies of the Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls have furnished evidence that make the late date of Daniel highly improbable. A few weeks ago TIME magazine reported an important discovery from the Dead Sea Scrolls which affect the New Testament. A Roman Catholic Biblical scholar studying the Dead Sea Scrolls found a fragment of the Gospel of Mark that was dated about a.d. 50 and could be as early as a.d. 35. When we remember that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ are usually dated about a.d.30, we can see how close this manuscript brings us to the actual publication of the Gospel of Mark. TIME magazine sees this also and comments that for scholars the findings could mean the end of some cherished theories in Biblical interpretation. One Biblical researcher states, “This means that seven tons of German scholarship may now be consigned to the flames.” So we see that God who protected Daniel in the lions’ den is also able to preserve and defend His Book in the critics’ den.
It must not be supposed however that our faith rests on such archaeological discoveries. Evangelical Christians have always accepted the Book of Daniel on internal evidence. It claims to be written by Daniel, who prophesied from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian to Cyrus the Persian. But it is encouraging to see to what extent archaeological discoveries support the view of those who take the book at face value.
In the interpretation of the dream we must understand that the stone cut out without human hands is Jesus Christ. The great mountain into which the stone grew is the kingdom of God established by Christ. This is the interpretation.
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever.
All evangelicals are agreed on this. Not all are agreed on the ten toes and what they mean. It is certain that the Book of Daniel speaks not only of the first coming of Christ and the establishment of the kingdom of God, but the visions of Daniel also speak of the second coming of Christ. In this message we limit ourselves to the certainty of the fact that Daniel foretells the coming of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom.
In these troubled days we need to feed our souls on the sure prophecies of the Bible. To reject prophecy is not only to reject miracles, but also the foreknowledge and providence of God, and ultimately the sovereignty of God. The God we know in Jesus Christ who has revealed Himself in Scripture sees the end from the beginning. After the interpretation of the dream, the king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery” (Dan. 2:47).
In these days, when the kingdoms of our world are being shaken to their foundations, let those of us who know Jesus Christ lift up our heads; for His coming is drawing near. We need not fear. In Jesus Christ we have received the kingdom which cannot be shaken but will remain forever. Let those of us who know Christ thank God that we belong to Him, that we are members of a kingdom that can never be moved. But let us also recognize our obligation to proclaim the gospel of Christ to all men so that they too may enter the kingdom.
I close with a word to those of you who do not know Christ. He is God’s answer not only to the problems of the nations, but to your problems. He Himself invites you to come to Him.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.