The book of Daniel is rich in both history and prophecy. A normal reading offers key dates of significant historical events and clear depictions of things that could only have been supernaturally revealed. This is a major concern for many liberal scholars who refuse to believe in predictive prophecy, causing Daniel to undergo a barrage of attacks, comparable to the Revelation, and more than most of the other Hebrew Scriptures.
The biggest attack comes in reference to the timing of Daniel’s writing. Liberal scholars cannot imagine that the prophecies of chapters two and seven could possibly foresee the series of world empires yet to come. Even more, if the conservative dating of the sixth century B.C. were true, how could Daniel name Greece as a world empire (Daniel 8:21) two hundred years before they were even remotely a considerable force? How could Daniel have detailed how Antiochus Epiphanes would deal with the Jews in chapter eleven, four hundred years before he was even born? No, they say, this book must have been written with Daniel’s name much later than conservatives allow, probably in the first or second century B.C., after all of these things had taken place. As an example of this in modern culture, consider this paragraph from the Wikipedia page on Daniel, written as if it were simple fact:
Like Ruth and Esther, the Book of Daniel is historical fiction. It begins with an introduction telling how Daniel and his companions came to be in Babylon, followed by a set of tales set in the Babylonian and Persian courts, followed in turn by a set of visions in which Daniel sees the remote future of the world and of Israel. The tales in chapters 1-6 can be dated to the 3rd or early 2nd centuries BCE; it is generally accepted that these were expanded by the addition of the visions in chapters 8-12 between 167 and 164 BCE. 1
In response to these allegations, in his book, Exploring the Book, Baxter points to the fact that Daniel was well-known by Ezekiel (whose dating is not debated; see Ezekiel 14:14, 20; 28:3), and his writings were accepted and quoted as ancient by the Jews of the first and second centuries and by Jesus himself, who quoted Daniel by name in his Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:15) and refers to details of Daniel’s prophecies through his own. For modern scholars to reject Daniel simply because they do not believe it could have happened as stated is to arrogantly set themselves against 2,500 years of Jewish scholarship, the Hebrew prophets, and the Savior himself.
Daniel’s book divides naturally into two halves. Chapters one through six cover approximately 80 years of history with a few prophetic elements sprinkled throughout. Chapters seven through twelve contain a series of major prophecies with a few historical mentions. God’s purpose in preserving this writing is found in chapter four. Three times God made the same declaration to Nebuchadnezzar:
“…so that those who are alive may understand that the Most High has authority over human kingdoms, and he bestows them on whomever he wishes.” (Daniel 4:17)
“…that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes.” (Daniel 4:25)
“…that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes.” (Daniel 4:32)
By prefacing the first statement “so that those who are alive may understand,” God clarified that this message was not for Nebuchadnezzar alone but for all people, specifically in reference to Gentile kingdoms and world empires, which is the emphasis of most of Daniel’s prophecies.
Chapter one begins with a very specific date: “the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim” (Daniel 1:1); this would have been 605 B.C. On his way back to Babylon from defeating the Egyptians, Nebuchadnezzar stopped by Jerusalem and “laid it under siege.” In order to avoid total destruction, Jehoiakim capitulated to Nebuchadnezzar, essentially making Judah a vassal state to Babylon. As evidence of his victory, Nebuchadnezzar took items from Solomon’s Temple (Daniel 1:2). As part of Babylon’s pattern, he also took some young men, members of the royal family, who he would have trained to become Babylonian royal assistants – “who were capable of entering the king’s royal service…to teach them the literature and language of the Babylonians” (Daniel 1:4). This was a three-year process during which they would be “wined and dined” with the king’s own delicacies, a strategic move to give them no reason to want to leave (Daniel 1:5). For most adolescent teenagers (probably 12-16 years old), this would have seemed much less like a kidnapping and overthrow of their people and more like the chance of a lifetime.
Verse six (Daniel 1:6) introduces Daniel, the main character of the story, and three of his protagonist friends – Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. As was often the case, the Hebrew names of these young men referred to God and his attributes in some way. 2 All four of them (and presumably the others) were renamed with names that celebrated Bablyonian gods (Daniel 1:7), three of which have become most famous – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 3
The first clue that this would not be a normal situation came when Daniel approached the Babylonian lieutenant in charge of these captives/trainees to declare that he would not be partaking in the meals provided for them. (It seems that the other three followed Daniel in this stance, although he was the leader.) The only reason given was so that they would not defile themselves (Daniel 1:8). Most commentators conclude that the foods were either unclean under Mosaic Law or that they had been sacrificed to the Babylonian gods/idols or both. Regardless of the specific reason, Daniel refused to be brainwashed away from his (amazingly young) dedication to the God of Israel. (The obvious application to Christian youth in the face of peer pressure is always relevant.)
Rather than being a troublemaker, though, Daniel presented an alternative that (with God’s direction) his supervisor considered a reasonable option. For the next ten days, Daniel and company ate only what came from the ground and drank water, as opposed to the king’s meat and wine. Whether by supernatural favor or short-term natural means, these four were actually healthier than their fellow captives after those ten days, causing their supervisor to allow them to continue with that diet (Daniel 1:9-16). As an additional blessing for their dedication and obedience to him, God granted these four young men extraordinary ability to complete their training well, making them wise and capable beyond their years. To Daniel, God also gave “insight into all kinds of visions and dreams” (Daniel 1:17). (This seems to be a summary statement explaining the events of rest of the book.) At the end of their training, the king himself “found them to be ten times better than any of the magicians and astrologers that were in his entire empire” (Daniel 1:20).
The final verse of the chapter (Daniel 1:21) provides one more clue to the timing of the book. Although Daniel lived longer than just “the first year of Cyrus the king” (see Daniel 10:1), the point is that he lived through the entire Babylonian captivity, past the short-term Medes, and into the Persian Empire. Cyrus became the Persian king in 539 B.C., 66 years after Daniel’s captivity, meaning Daniel was likely in his mid- to late-80s when he died.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_(biblical_figure) ↩
- According to Thomas Constable (Notes on Daniel, 2012 edition), Daniel means “God is my judge”; Hananiah, “Yah has shown grace”; Mishael, “Who is what God is?”; Azariah, “Yah has helped.” ↩
- Also quoting Constable, Belteshazzer means “Bel’s prince”; Shadrach, “Command of Aku”; Meshach, “Who is what Aku is?” (notice the similarity to his own Hebrew name); Abednego, “Servant of Nego (or Nebo)”. ↩