Book of Daniel - Lesson 1
Introduction and Background
I. After the fall of Jerusalem, laying the groundwork for the rebirth of Jewish national greatness, in Nebuchadnezzar’s court, we find Daniel. He was taken along with other promising youth, including Chananyah, Michael, and Azaryah, to help that court with Judah’s finest youth.
Ultimately, all Jerusalem was destroyed/denuded by the king, as Judah’s promise to serve God was totally undermined by its spiritual and ethical collapse.
Yet, through these boys and the remnant of exiles, Jewish integrity survives and rebuilds. God never intended that the world return to its earlier desolate self. Nor did God abandon the people but rather hoped for its return and blessed its potential in both Babylon and later back in Jerusalem, as embodied in Daniel and his comrades.
Daniel and his colleagues sanctified God’s Name publicly and modeled a community in exile that would pave the way for a return and re-building of the Temple.
II. Daniel’s name carries God’s name and His powers, and acted as His agent. He stands for “my judgment is God’s.” Or, “my judge is God.” Judgments come from God; they’re not happenstance, nor do they come from Nebuchadnezzar.
III. Daniel, by tradition, led against eating improper food, un-called for intermingling, and he continued regular prayers in the face of threats, all showing the eternal nature of Israel.
IV. Only Joseph and Daniel in scripture give dream interpretation.
A lion is the symbol of royalty, but it’s earthly. The ultimate royalty is God’s. Daniel is a descendant of David - from the royal family. The lions could not harm him since he was the true lion.
V. The other boys were condemned to death by fire for not bowing down to the statue. They didn’t but were instead joined by an angel. By allowing them to survive, God showed them to be expressions of the angels’ creed that everything is God’s. Gabriel becomes their follower. They move forward. He stands in place.
They sought advice from Daniel, then Ezekiel. Ultimately, they had perfect faith and were prepared to give up all.
When they prevailed, God sent wind to blow down statue. It couldn’t stand any more.
Separately, Ezekiel goes and brings bones to life.
All this is a harbinger of resurrection of the dead, with winds of life.
VI. What Jacob began in nationhood, Daniel perpetuated when threatened at its most extreme. Isaiah (39:7, 56:4-5) sees God’s giving the people an everlasting name through offspring of Hezekiah in the Babylonian king’s court one day.
VII. There are hidden pieces of predictions about the coming of the Messiah in the closing chapters here.
I. Six chapters are about Daniel and his friends.
Six chapters have four apocalyptic visions to sustain faith during perilous times.
II. Starts in third year of reign of Jehoiakim. 606 BCE.
III. Story is summarized in pp. 3-6 of Anchor book.
IV. Daniel has been seen as possibly many figures - a returnee from exile in time of Ezra, a figure of wisdom, a person mentioned by Ezekiel, a king, or an idealized version of some or all put together by the book’s author and through legend.
V. Author is uncertain, perhaps related to thinking of second or third century BCE, and perhaps is during Maccabean period and with a message important to it.
Note use of both Aramaic and Hebrew.
VI. Other stories appear in versions of Daniel - Susanna, Bel, and the dragon.
VII. Book appears in Writings in Hebrew Bible, probably because it was written so long after prophetic era, but also possibly because God does not direct Daniel, as He does prophets.
History and Structure
I. Daniel extends apparently from time of Nebuchadnezzar (600 BCE) through Belshazzar, then Darius the Mede, and then Cyrus, king of Persia (540 BCE). He foresees the later Greeks. History doesn’t exactly play out this way. (The Median is more contemporary or even older, for example.)
Daniel appears to have been written much later, and its authors had no need to be exact historically.
II. Some believe this is a book of second century BCE Judaism, Hasidic in nature and, though pacifist, in tune with the purist orientation of the Maccabee movement. The threat of Antiochus IV Epiphanes was existential, as illustrated by the setting up of the statue of Zeus in the Temple.
III. A romance of the successful courtier genre.
IV. Apocalyptic, in that claims to know the inner plan of God, as the Lord of history and Vindicator of His people, Israel, though we may not know it.
V. ”The son of man” references - These are the only such terms for a prophet other than Ezekiel. It seems here to mean simply one in a human likeness, one who is faithful, as are other holy ones of the Most High. This is not a messianic term.
Ones who are faithful to demands of reign of God even in face of present humiliation will come into Divine presence in order to receive everlasting dominion in holiness and nobility, and will replace the depraved kingdoms of the pagan world who were opposed to God and the holy people.
VI. Issues Today
A. Meaning of life
B. What sense can evil and suffering have?
C. If God is just, why do innocent suffer?
D. What lies in store after death?
E. When will retribution take place for a person’s evil ways?
F. Is there more to human existence than tending to worldly matters?
G. What does God’s message to the people in the past mean now?
H. Does God continue to care, especially to a people once in exile? Indeed does God have dominion over all?
I. Do people of faith face such peril/risk? Does it always turn out so well? What if it doesn’t? Aren’t these people choosing while aware that it might not turn out so well and being ok, either way?
A. These exiles are with God and won’t compromise or give in or up. They’re making an everlasting choice.
B. Evil is always a problem. And God does not make it tidy. The reward doesn’t necessarily come when we want. Yet, God can and will save.
C. The Kingdom of God does not come through military means or by purely human means. It’s God’s achievement, and not man’s (a little different idea than from the Maccabees), yet we’re called to act, to come forward.
D. We often must suffer, even be prepared to lose or to die. But we share the good news, testify, show loyalty, serve, live accountably and as a human being was intended to live, responsive and responsible to God and neighbor. We promote God’s kingdom.
E. These kingdoms come forward like beasts, but they come under God’s sway. The God of Israel is the Lord of history, King of all peoples.
F. Daniel shows that the people, perhaps a remnant, are steadfast, even though they could’ve lost everything.
G. Fidelity to the living, creative God is as necessary then as when the people entered the land, and as much now as then. God’s standards are to be the watchword always, not the interest of the state or others in the material world or any other idols standing opposed to God.
A. Read 1:1-2.
This is crucial. What do we learn?
(Nebuchadnezzar’s “victory” was all at God’s hand, as the Divine punished His people, and his placing the taken treasures in the house of his god, which attributes the victory to his own idol, sets the stage for the misfortunes which will later befall him.)
B. Read 1:3-8, 17.
What was the king seeking in these children? Why? What does Daniel show by not eating of the king’s diet? What do we learn in verse 17?
(Mainly, it was youths from children of Judah (royalty?) with nothing wrong, skilled in chochma (native power of the mind, wisdom, something more than knowledge, perhaps attained through holy spirit or revelation in a sort of prophecy), discriminating in knowledge and what is intended, able to articulate it, with stamina and discipline.
These are key capacities sought in Proverbs, partly self-acquired but also gifted by God and as a result of awe of God. We see in 1:17 God’s specific gift to the youths.
Did the king know or suspect that? What difference would it make? (Note that he did want them to live for 3 years under his regime of diet, study, etc., though Daniel wouldn’t eat defiled food. Also note that Nebuchadnezzar gave Daniel the name of his idol, Belteshazzar.)
It appears the king wanted the skills and perhaps the wisdom associated with the people he has begun to conquer. He wants them to serve him.
But he also wants their loyalty to him and his ways. If he can make it separate, that would be best. So, he gives them a new diet and new names to manifest the separation.
Yet, in 17, we see that there’s some sort of in-built gift by God of the knowledge, skills, and, most important, wisdom that may enable them to stay true to the Divine. Daniel shows both that he has visions and dreams that accompany these gifts, and the courage and strength to stay true as to diet.)
C. Read 2:17-23.
This is an interesting passage on reliance on God. Explain.
(Discussion is about community prayer, supplication alone and in a place of respect, method of revelation, and praise of God. Note it’s now the God of heaven; after God abandoned Judah, there’s a sense that God retreated from being God of heaven and earth, to heaven. (Hosea 5:15)
Our role is to support God and acknowledge all is in His domain, though often hidden from us. God gives (Godly) wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who know how to reason. This is a bit roundabout. We seek God and Divine wisdom, and God blesses us with wisdom.
This light that dwells with God, like that created in Genesis 1:4, is God’s, spiritual enlightenment.)
D. Note in verse 36 that Daniel reserves the telling of the meaning of the dream described in previous verses (about the statue with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of copper, and legs of iron, etc. that crumbles together being destroyed and carried away to nothingness) to a private setting because of its sensitivity. After all, it foresees the fall of Babylonia!
At God’s direction, these kingdoms are established. Nebuchadnezzar is likened to the head of gold. The second, of the Persians and Medes, will be inferior. Third and fourth, it’s unclear. Greek? Roman? Both combine as the third? Is Arab fourth? Ramban says only those that caused an exile are included. Note the continuous debasing, suggesting a constant deterioration on mankind, though it’s unclear if this is descending really.
1. Read 2:44-49.
What kingdom is Daniel describing in his sense of 34f (the stone that destroys the other kingdoms)?
(Is this the nation with the Messiah at its helm? Could it be some future entity, perhaps the world on that day foreseen by the prophets? A people filled with the knowledge of God? Jesus?)
2. Why does Nebuchadnezzar accept Daniel’s account as true?
(Discussion – Does Daniel’s manner matter? Does he simply accept God?)
3. What’s the purpose of this story?
(We’re to see God’s lordship of human history and always remain faithful to Him, hoping for the establishment of his sovereignty on earth. This was certainly an issue during the exile and later in the Seleucid period. The story could’ve been in formation during these centuries (which might explain the seemingly confused mix of metals, etc.)
E. Read 3:1,4-6, 8, 12, 14, 16-18, 19-21, 25, and 28-33.
Chapter 3 recounts the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, his demand that all bow down to it, the three boys’ refusal to do so, their being placed in a kiln for execution, the presence of an angel who presumably sees for God that they survive, and finally the king’s public display of recognition of God’s sovereignty.
1. What’s the statue designed to effect? Is it idolatry or submission to the king, or both?
2. What do the boys decide and say in their refusal to bow down? It’s not entirely due to a faith that they will survive, is it?
(Martyrdom is to be preferred to apostasy. Could it be that God would not/could not/chose not to save them?)
3. What do you make of the angel?
4. Any other thoughts on the outcome, especially the conclusion of the king’s strong and widespread proclamation? (Is this more reflective of later Persian tolerance, or an idealized outcome of protective proclamations, as in Esther?)
F. Chapter 4
1.Read 4:7-14, and 16-25. This is Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s interpretation. What do you take from these incredible verses?
(The tree represents Nebuchadnezzar, or at least his rule and his reach. It’s great – plentiful, productive, and with impact across the world (19). The king may have thought he had taken the place of God, by being the sustainer of life.
An angel tells him to chop down the tree but leave the roots with a band of iron and copper in the herbage. This, thus, is a message from God. Nebuchadnezzar will lose/should give up his greatness, which was caused initially by God. Through this leveling (punishment) and a transition period, perhaps a temporary insanity, he will come to understand that God rules over all.
That the roots remain and the stump bound with metal fetters suggests that the kingdom may remain, though with a leader with a different attitude. He charges the king with needing to redeem his sin of arrogance and misuse of power with seeing himself on a lower level through a separation (the insanity) and giving charity and kindness to the poor, which will also extend his tranquility.
Some fault Daniel for giving voice to the perpetuation of an idolater and see him, Daniel, as cut down for this. Others see his going through another trial as punishment for this. Yet, isn’t this all a model for teshuvah: we misuse our gifts/power; our tree is chopped down; yet, we have roots from which to grow back - better. Do we do so?)
The concern remains that the king’s sin was bigger and broader – his intentional sins that caused greater damage, and that he’d have to pay a bigger price than just feeding the poor to atone for them.)
2. Read 4:26-30.
(The king appears to have understood and given charity for 12 months, but then went back to his old imperious understandings and ways. Perhaps he suffered a period of insanity and come out of it feeling restored to power.
He believed that either his punishment had been served or had been rescinded.
He was punished more severely.)
3. In 31 and following, the king sees and declares the full truth of God’s dominion and appears to be shed of his arrogance.
G. Chapter 5 – It concerns a great feast of Belshazzar, perhaps Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson. This feast may begin during a victory celebration but may be interrupted by a setback. There’s reference to vessels taken from the Temple. It should be remembered that Babylonian kings had not used these because of a fear that a prophecy of the Jews’ return might eventuate. When desecrated (as in the Temple of the later, Seleucid period), the hand appears!
Read 5:5-6, 10-12, and 18-30.
What does this story teach?
(It’s a banquet, as was the case in Esther. There was a legend that the Babylonians were feasting when the Persians and Medes attacked by surprise. It was likely different, with Cyrus.
Daniel comes again to explain the meaning of things.
The handwriting was on the wall! Temporal earthly success is no sign of longevity and security. Outward power and prosperity were a façade for an empty core. The years were over. Babylon’s rule was broken. The period of this exile was over as well.
The words mysteriously appear to have been units of measure. Was this a reference to the succeeding leaders and their value (or lack thereof)?
God’s justice is supreme, whether it’s over the Jews who transgress or the pagans who are given dominance but are insolent in their use of power.
Who killed Belshazzar is a mystery as well as why and the timing. Plus, this is almost all legend and lore. It’s close in nature to the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.