Woven into the spiritual DNA of human beings and impressed upon us by popular proverbs is the reality that there is no place like home. However, we as a people can feel as if we are in perpetual exile, never quite finding the deep rest of truly being home. Life is a journey, a short stay, a passing through...a sojourn. We travel from birth to the grave through various places and times heading towards an ultimate and final home. We all long for a place "where everybody knows your name...and they're always glad you came" - a place where we are truly home. Yet how do we live in a world that does not love God, does not worship him and is at times hostile to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Long ago God's people were in what they considered to be their permanent home. It was called the land of promise and it would be where God would dwell among them. Yet they found themselves conquered by a foreign power and taken away into exile in a land known as Babylon. In this exile, Daniel and a faithful group of God-followers realized that God himself was to be their home and they were to be faithful to him even in a strange land. Their example is given to us in Scripture to teach us how we too may follow faithfully even when sojourning in our own time and place.
The book of Daniel is at once a fascinating and intoxicating piece of ancient Scripture. It is a blend of compelling narrative and prophetic predictions of the rise of men and nations over time. Its stories of a few men holding fast to their faith and convictions amidst an exile in a foreign nation do not fail to inspire. Furthermore, some of the almost psychedelic visions in the second part of the book could make the uninitiated postulate that Daniel was smoking something. It is a book considered to be Holy Scripture by both Jewish and Christian communities and its stories have gripped both throughout history. It has something to say about our past, our present lives and the future of the earth.
In this essay we have some very modest goals. First, we hope to provide a small historical introduction to the book of Daniel. I want us to wrestle with questions of authorship, origin, literary genre and composition in hopes that we would better grasp the book's message. Secondly, we want to see Daniel as it lives in the whole of sacred Scripture. The Bible is a large book made of many smaller books; in fact, you might want to see the Bible as a small library of holy writings. Each book has a place in the grand story of the Bible and we want to see how Daniel "fits" into the big picture of the narrative of redemption. Third, I want us to examine some of the ever relevant mega themes of the book. In looking at these themes our final goal for this introduction will become evident; I want us to see clearly that we are looking to the prophet Daniel to find our own bearings for life and ministry in 21st century, central New Jersey. So before we look forward to how Daniel will call us towards God's future, we must look back into sands of the ancient near eastern societies that gave birth to this inspired writing.
A wise person once said that those who are forgetful of what is past are doomed to repeat its failures. In like manner, those who ignore the faithful of the past are doomed to wander without their guidance into God's ordained future. Paul, one of the early leaders of the Christian movement, once said this of the Old Testament: For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.1 So with that in mind, let's begin our look at the book of Daniel.
All biblical scholars are in agreement that the historical setting of the stories from the book of Daniel is the Babylonian exile of the Jews during the 6th century before Christ. Yet there is a bifurcation of opinion as to whether or not the book was actually written in the 6th century or at a later time. As with many issues in biblical studies the opinion seems to break along the line of thought regarding the Bible's inspiration. Those who hold to a high view of Scripture's divine origin have defended the 6th century dating of Daniel in accord with what the text actually says. Those who hold a critical view of Scripture, those who do not see the Bible as a divinely inspired book, tend to date Daniel to the 2nd century. Usually the date assigned is in the time of trial for the Jews in Palestine around 167 BC.
Though the arguments for the early or late date are beyond the scope of this introduction I will briefly summarize them for you here. If interested in more, the love found in the endnotes is just for you. You're welcome.
Arguments for a 2nd Century Date2
The arguments for dating the work to the 2nd century usually proceed along two major lines: historical and linguistic. We will handle each in turn.
First, the book clearly exhibits an accurate view of the progression of world affairs and the rise and fall of empires in the ancient near east. The visions Daniel interprets seem to exhibit the quality of predicting the future quite accurately. In fact, too accurately for the unbelieving mind to bear; if one does not believe that God can prophetically "give" the future to a person, the author he must have written the account "after the facts" of history had been laid down. John Collins summarizes this line of argument well: the correspondence between Daniels predictions, especially in chap. 11, and the events of the Hellenistic [Greek] age is most easily explained by the supposition that the prediction was made after the fact.3 If Daniel got his historical facts right in his "prophecy" then it must not be a prophecy at all. Rather, the accuracy is explained by a human writing it after the historical events took place.
Secondly, some scholars have made the argument that the book's languages reveal it to be a composition of a later time. It is well known among scholars that the text of Daniel is in Hebrew from Dan 1:1-2:4a, Aramaic from 2:4b-7 and then returns to the Hebrew tongue for the final five chapters. There are many speculations as to the reason behind this with one of the most prominent being that the book is a collection of various traditions and writings during the 2nd century period. During this time, when the Jews were resisting the oppression of Antiochus Epiphanes under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus,4 someone compiled a collection of stories in an attempt to inspire God's people. This of course assumes the later date based on the aforementioned historical skepticism about predictive prophecy and then creates possible scenarios for the linguistic composition of the work. Furthermore, an argument that the language shows Greek influence and some Hellenisms is also made though the argument has recently lost force as more has been learned about 6th century Babylon. This is acknowledged openly by those still holding to a second century date.5
Arguments for a 6th Century Date6
While most of the 20th century scholarship held to the later 2nd century dating for the composition of Daniel, recent scholarship has given weight to the ancient Jewish and Christian traditions holding to sixth century origin for the work. The arguments for the earlier Babylonian date are textual, historical and theological.
The text of the book clearly sets Daniel's lifetime to the Babylonian exile of the 6th century. The narratives explicitly represent events taking place in the capital of the ancient Babylonian empire. Additionally, the visions given in the latter parts of the work are delivered out of the mouth of Daniel in the first person indicating they came forth during his lifetime.7 The prophecies are clearly presented as 6th century. This raises an important issue for those who believe in the inspiration of Scripture. If we date the prophecies to the 2nd century we must then assume that the author/editor assumed to dupe his audiences to believing his work to be a prophecy that had been given earlier when in reality he was just doing historical staging. Tremper Longman summarizes this difficulty for a 2nd century date well:
In other words, in prophecy given after the fact (vaticinium ex eventu) the idea was to convince the audience that the prophet was a true prophet to whom God had revealed the future. After showing that by predicting events that already passed, then there was an attempt at a real prophecy. This is more than a literary device, and one must question whether such a textual strategy would find a place in God's Word. 8
In summary, the text shows both narratives and prophecy exhibiting an origin of sixth century BC. The prophecies in particular would be the work of a "false prophet" if they were of 2nd century origin and of course this in no way fits the reality of an inspired Bible or the manner in which a Jewish prophet was thought to be speaking for God.
The sixth century date of the book also has a long history in faith communities. The community at Qumran, who gave us the Dead Sea Scrolls, counted Daniel among their canon. If the book was a 2nd century production it is very odd for it to so quickly appear as canonical at the time of the Qumran community. Some of the documents in the Qumran library historically date to 150BC right on top of a 2nd century composition of Daniel. Additionally, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote extensively of Daniel both in a historical recounting of the exile and his thoughts of Daniel's writings to be prophecies.9 Finally, the Latin church father Jerome affirmed the Hebrew/Aramaic form10 of Daniel and that the exiled man to be the author of the book. This position was held by the scholars of the Protestant Reformation as well.
The main reason for us taking some time to discuss the dating of the book of Daniel is theological in nature. We find no problem with the creator God uttering predictive prophecy through one of his servants. It is no problem for a God who knows all of time and history to reveal what is to come to one of his people appointed for this very purpose. Only an ingrained anti-supernatural bias would lead one to reject God-given prophecy. We find such bias unwarranted and arguments flowing from such presuppositions unnecessary.
So we find good reason to believe that both the stories and prophecies of Daniel have come from the period of exile and sojourn in the Babylon. Here are a few facts that we can deduce for our study11:
- From Daniel 1:1 that the time frame for the book seems to be an early incursion into Judah by Nebuchadnezzar after he led Babylonian forces in their triumph over Pharaoh Neco of Egypt at the battle of Carchemish - 605 BC.
- Nebuchadnezzar completes conquest of all Egyptian held territories including the Egyptian backed King Jehoiakim, ruling in the land of Judah (2 King 23:34) at the time. Jehoiakim becomes a servant of Nebuchadnezzar, rebels and then is taken captive according to 2 Kings 24.
- Nebuchadnezzar's father Nabopolassar dies and Neb returns to Babylon to be crowned King.
- Daniel and his friends were taken along with others back to Babylon after this early incursion into Judah.
- Babylon completes conquest and utterly devastates Jerusalem in 587 BC
- The captivity ends with the decree of Cyrus the Persian King. His decree gave official permission for the Jews to return to their land and restore their temple in 539 BC
Unlike many books of the Bible, Daniel is not simply one genre of literature. While some books are mainly narrative or poetry or law codes, Daniel does not have one primary genre. It actually contains historical narratives, prophetic literature and it also contains apocalyptic12 sections as well. Furthermore, Ronald Wallace also argues that Daniel contains much of what has been called wisdom literature in that the stories and examples show how one lives wisely in deep devotion to God. 13
One unique feature of the book is that it is a book of twos. It can be seen as having two parts, it is written in two languages and the time frame spans two empires. First, the book is easily broken down into two sections; one section is mainly narrative and the other visions/prophecy. In fact, Joyce Baldwin structures her excellent commentary on the book in two parts: Part I - Stories, Part II - Visions.14 Second, as we already noted the book is written in both Hebrew and Aramaic reflecting members of the Jewish community living and breathing in the world of the Babylonian royal court. Finally, the book begins with the empire of Babylon as the major Ancient Near Eastern power and it ends with this empire falling and the Media-Persians having taken center stage on the world scene.
The book of Daniel continues to spark interest and inspire awe today. Its accurate prophecies of world events have convinced some of the divine origin of the Bible. It's bizarre visions and cryptic symbolism has inspired prophecy hacks in every age. Ask any of these types about Daniel's "70th week" and be ready to grab a seat for a couple of hours. Though the precise fulfillment of Daniel's prophecies is rightly of interest, we have an even greater interest in the work. We desire to see how it fits in the unified message of Scripture that reveals the actions of our saving God to bring Jesus Christ to the earth as the savior for all people.
Redemptive Historical Context
There are several striking passages in the New Testament which come from the mouth of Jesus himself. They give us great insight to the purpose of the Old Testament, including the book of Daniel. If we miss this teaching from our Lord we could make Daniel merely a series of nice inspiring moral stories.
In the closing of Luke's account of Jesus' life, teaching, death and resurrection he records the following interaction Jesus has with some of his followers after he rose from death.
25And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself...44Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures...
Luke 24:25-27; 44-45 (ESV)
Here we find Jesus definitively teaching us that all the Scriptures of the Old Testament were about him. Graeme Goldsworthy conveys this point well:
In doing biblical theology as Christians, we do not start at Genesis 1 and work out way forward until we discover where it is all leading. Rather we first come to Christ, and he directs us to study the Old Testament in the light of the gospel. The gospel will interpret the Old Testament by showing us its goal and meaning. The Old Testament will increase our understanding of the gospel by showing us what Christ fulfills.15
In the Bible we find a cyclical pattern in the lives of God's people. The biblical story line is one where God makes a promise to his people to rescue them and use them for blessing in his world. He will bring them to a land of promise where he will dwell with them and they will live in peace. Yet the people turn from him in unfaithfulness and wander away. As a judgment upon them God then exiles them from the land where they await his deliverance at his appointed time. When God's redemption comes they return back to the land, the place of God's promised covenant blessing.
In this storyline we find our own lives. We are restless sojourners living in exile until we find our home in God. God himself will come and be our redemption, our rest, our great exodus into freedom and our final hope. This story is the story of the gospel throughout Scripture.
- God promises, we disobey
- God loves and pursues his people in grace
- People cry out to God for deliverance from bondage to sin and death
- God leads people to freedom through redemption and the conquering of his enemies
This message is in essence the flow of good news. That God saves sinners and he acts on their behalf. Despite sin and rebellion God still forgives and sets people free. This has been ultimately accomplished by Jesus who in his life, death and resurrection is the pinnacle of the redemption story. God sends his only son into the world to conquer the enemies of sin, death and hell and bring his people out of exile home to his Kingdom.
As we read and study the stories of Daniel they ultimately teach us about Jesus and the Kingdom of God. As we travel through the book of Daniel we will see that the message is walking faithfully with God among a foreign power; this is echoed in the New Testament as we now live in a world that is fallen, broken and under the rule of Satan (John 16:11; Ephesians 2:1-10).
In this world it is our calling, like it was of Daniel, to follow God and represent him right in the middle of Babylon. So when we read the story of Daniel and the Lion's Den I pray we will not think if we are brave like Daniel and then God will work for us! Rather, we must see that Daniel was thrown to the Lions and he trusted God. Then someone else fought and won the battle on his behalf.
As we struggle to walk faithfully, to influence our world, to resist the domination of a culture that is hostile to God and to proclaim the good news that Jesus died for sinners we too must remember that someone else has prevailed on our behalf.
There are several major gospel themes in the book and we will cover just a few here in our remaining time . I have summarized them under four major headings: 1) God Rocks and Rules 2) God is With Us 3) God wants us to Resist and Cause Sanctified Trouble and 4) Jesus Saves.
God Rocks and Rules
The absolute sovereignty of God over people and nations is on full display in the book of Daniel. Even when it appears the kingdoms of men have triumphed over the Kingdom of God, the book of Daniel assures us that God is the one on the highest throne of history. He is the one who allowed the Babylonian victory and the exile. He is the one who place Daniel and his friends in a place where they might influence others and take heat for their love of God. Both in the small affairs of our everyday lives and in the major turns of history Daniel teaches us that God has got his people's back and will some day return to establish his eternal Kingdom which will have no end.
God is With Us
In the narrative sections of the book we see over and over again that God is with his people and has not abandoned them. He sent them into exile, but he also went with them. He was gracious to his followers in Chapter 1 by giving them success in their studies and leadership ability. He was with Daniel and gave him the ability to interpret visions to teach a world ruler that God is the God of all gods. He was with the three fellas thrown into a fiery furnace to display his power through their humble trust and obedience. He was with Daniel when he maintained his regular practice of solitary prayer. He was with him when he was falsely accused and thrown in to be fresh meat for the Lion king. He was with his people throughout their captivity and eventually judged the proud nations that held them fast. In our own struggles to plant Jacob's Well in New Jersey he does not want us to forget what he teaches us in the New Testament: Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)
God wants us to Resist and Cause Sanctified Trouble
The programs of the Babylonian empire sought to reprogram Daniel and his friends to adopt Babylonian truths, Babylonian values and Babylonian practices . At the same time God called his people to live faithfully as a resistance community against the inroads of empire into their hearts and lives. This is true in every age for God's people. In our own sojourn we are to live as non conformists within a culture as we walk a different path. We are called to be rebels for love, mercy and the good news of Jesus Christ as a resistance community within the cultures of the world. Every resistance community must have certain practices by which it renews its mind and maintains its identity. We are to hold fast to the Word of our leader, live together as a family on mission and then engage an active resistance by invading the dominant culture with the light of gospel. We must live a counter-cultural story to hold forth light and life in a hostile world. Others will join us as Jesus works in people's lives to bring them to saving faith. This brings us to our final theme from Daniel...
Whether in the fiery furnace, or shutting the mouths of lions, or coming on the clouds as the glorious Son of Man, the book of Daniel reveals to us Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who loves to save his people. Though in this sojourn on earth we will have trouble, he tells us "take heart, I have overcome the world" and "do not fear the one who can only destroy the body" and "my sheep hear my voice, I know them, they follow me... I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand." Jesus forgives the exile who will humbly turn away from sin and self and follow him. Finally, Jesus will return to bring forth a final Kingdom of righteousness, justice and peace. It is this kingdom which the stories and visions of Daniel point towards with great hope.
O Daniel Where Art Thou? Why Daniel, Why Now?
God has not called us to Babylon in our time and place; he has called us to start sanctified trouble in New Jersey. Our hope and practice as a resistance community needs to be strengthened by God's Word so that we may hopefully and boldly live for the glory of God, the good of the City by extending the gospel of Jesus to others. The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews once told us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of people who have lived faithfully for God in ages past (Hebrews 12). Let us look now at the lives of rulers and kings among whom lived some young men who embraced a sojourn in Babylon. By doing so they exalted the God of Scripture who leads us in our own sojourn today. Let us go and do likewise in the twists and turns of 21st century New Jersey.
Stoked for the Journey ahead,
Pastor Reid S. Monaghan
1. Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Romans 15:4
2. For a thorough view of the 2nd century view on the composition of Daniel see John Joseph Collins, Frank Moore Cross, and Adela Yarbro Collins, Daniel : A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, Hermeneia--a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993). For an evangelical perspective that holds to a 2nd century composition of the book, see John Goldingay, Daniel (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1989).
3. Collins, Cross, and Collins, 25.
4. For a brief outline of this period in history see Louis Ginzberg, "Antiochus Epiphanes," Jewish Encyclopedia (2002). http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view_friendly.jsp?artid=1589&letter=A [accessed January 2, 2009].
5. Collins, Cross, and Collins, 20.
6. For the view of a 6th century setting and composition see Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel : An Introduction and Commentary, The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries ([Downers Grove, Ill.]: Inter-Varsity Press, 1978), 35-46. and Tremper Longman, Daniel : The Niv Application Commentary from Biblical Text ... To Contemporary Life (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999).
7. Longman, 22.
8. Ibid., 23.
9. Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1987), Antiquities 10.10-11.
10. There are apocryphal portions of Daniel which were written in Greek and were not considered by Jerome to be part of the original Hebrew Bible. Furthermore they are absent from the Masoretic text, the best Hebrew manuscript tradition we have. These are found in the Roman Catholic canon.
11. Summary of excellent historical reproduction in Baldwin, 20.
12. Apocolyptic literature points forward to what the end times of the earth will be like.
13. Ronald S. Wallace, The Message of Daniel, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 22.
14. Baldwin, 75.
15. Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan : The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 55.
Baldwin, Joyce G. Daniel : An Introduction and Commentary The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. [Downers Grove, Ill.]: Inter-Varsity Press, 1978.
Collins, John Joseph, Frank Moore Cross, and Adela Yarbro Collins. Daniel : A Commentary on the Book of Daniel Hermeneia--a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.
Ginzberg, Louis. "Antiochus Epiphanes." Jewish Encyclopedia (2002). http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view_friendly.jsp?artid=1589&letter=A [accessed January 2, 2009].
Goldingay, John. Daniel. Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1989.
Goldsworthy, Graeme. According to Plan : The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1987.
Longman, Tremper. Daniel : The Niv Application Commentary from Biblical Text ... To Contemporary Life. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999.
Wallace, Ronald S. The Message of Daniel The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1984.