Daniel continues from where the historical book 2 Kings left off. Jerusalem has been besieged by Babylon and ultimately falls; the King of Judah and the nobility are taken into captivity, and among them, we find Daniel and several of his friends. In one sense, it looks like the journey of Jewish people has come full circle. It was from Ur of the Chaldeans that Abraham was originally called back when God began to form Israel as a people (Genesis 11.31) and now they’ve come back – Chaldea being another name for Babylon (1.4). Back to square one.
Whereas the conquering of Jerusalem marks the tragic end of 2 Kings, for Daniel it marks the beginning. The opening verses tell us clearly that God Himself is the author of this exile. ‘The LORD gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand’ (1.2). This was no accident of power but the inevitable consequence of Israel’s consistent rebellion. Now Daniel begins to tell the story of life in exile and how God hasn’t given up on His people, but there awaits a future restoration.
The first six chapters of the book relate to events in Babylon over seventy years, including the well-known stories of Daniel’s friends being cast into the fiery furnace, and Daniel into the lion’s den. The remaining chapters record a series of visions, marked out by reference to various kings and the year in which they were reigning. Two languages are used. Mostly written in Hebrew – the primary language of the Old Testament – but verses 2.4-7.28 are written in Aramaic, the international language of the day.
What kind of lessons could we draw from reading Daniel?
Firstly, Daniel models to us living as an ‘alien and stranger’ (1 Peter 2.11) in a foreign land that has a vastly different value system and culture from that which we seek to abide by as Jesus’ disciples. Daniel and his friends provide us with several examples of refusal to compromise their commitment to God despite being faced with the threat of death. They recognised lines that should not be crossed and held their ground when the pressure of society told them to conform. They follow in the line of people like Moses who chose to ‘endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.’ (Hebrews 11.25).
Secondly, we gain confidence that despite the rise and fall of ruthless world powers, ultimately God will bring about the installation of His own everlasting kingdom, which will not pass away (7.14) and is placed in the hands of ‘one like a Son of Man’. That last phrase which Jesus applied so often to Himself is found for the first time here in the book of Daniel and teaches us that when Jesus made that reference, we need to have in mind not only the concept of His humanity but also His being the ago long-promised King, coming in glory to rule the nations.