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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH--- ESTHER--- PSALMS 1-50--- --- PROVERBS--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD.
In 609 BC Josiah, king of Judah, after a long and godly reign, during the latter part of which he was relatively independent, was killed seeking to prevent the Egyptians from going to the aid of their ancient enemies Assyria, against a rising force, the power of Babylon. He was replaced by his son Jehoahaz, who lasted three months before being hauled off to Egypt by Pharaoh Neco, who replaced him with Jehoiakim.
In that year Prince Nebuchadnezzar finally led the Babylonian army of his father Nabopolassar against the allied forces of Assyria and Egypt, and defeated them at Carchemish. A further defeat of the Egyptians, again at Carchemish, in 605 BC, gave Babylon supremacy in the ancient Near East.
As a result of Babylon's victory, Egypt's vassals, including Judah, passed under Babylonian control, and within a short time Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem, only to be thwarted by the news of the death of his father, Nabopolassar, which entailed his return to Babylon to secure the throne. He did, however, achieve the submission of Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24.1), no doubt by offering milder terms than he had previously done, because of the crisis, and took with him a group of young men as hostages as well as part of the temple treasures. One of those young men was Daniel. This was the first of three deportations in which the Babylonians took the cream of society in Judah back to Babylon. The second was that of Jehoiachin, when Ezekiel was one of them, and the third that of Zedekiah, with his eyes put out.
In the full sense of the word Daniel was not a prophet. He was not raised up in Israel/Judah to proclaim the word of Yahweh to the people or to bring them back to God, which was why his book hovered between being accepted among the prophets or among the other sacred writings. He was rather a master statesmen who became God’s channel for preparing Israel for the future, and did so by receiving words from God. In that sense he was thus a prophet.
A word might be said here about the use of numbers in the book of Daniel. The majority of people were not numerate. Apart from in business and architecture they would have little use for numeracy and probably most could not count beyond ten at the most. (Compare the woman who gathered ‘two’ sticks, meaning ‘a few’ - 1 Kings 17.12). The shepherd did not count his sheep, he knew them all by name. The same situation applies in primitive tribes around the world today. Thus numbers tended to be seen as having a meaning, as descriptive adjectives. This especially applied to ‘three’ meaning complete, ‘seven’ indicating divine perfection and ‘ten’ meaning ‘a number of’. A ‘hundred’ would mean ‘a lot of’ and a ‘thousand’ even more. ‘Five’ was the number indicating the covenant. Of course well educated people like Daniel could use and think in numbers, but they were in the minority. When the majority heard a number they asked ‘what does it signify’ and not ‘how many’.
Chapter 1 Daniel Is Established At The Court of Babylon.
1.1 ‘In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, came Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to Jerusalem and besieged it.’
Here the dating is based on the Babylonian system of dating by which the opening part-year after a king’s accession was thought of as ‘the year of accession’ (compare 2 Kings 25.27), and the first full year of the reign (and therefore the second year of his reign in Israelite eyes ) was called the first year. To someone established at the court of Babylon this would be natural after a comparatively short time. Thus elsewhere in Scripture reference is made to this same year as the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim, using the Israelite system of reckoning Jeremiah 25.1, 8-14; 46.2). The date was 605 BC.
‘Came Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to Jerusalem and besieged it.’ Strictly Nebuchadnezzar was not king at the time of his besieging of Jerusalem. He became king later in the year when his father Nabopolassar died. But the description is read back so as to identify clearly who was being spoken about. Note also that it is said that ‘he besieged it’ not that he took it. A long siege would have been necessary to take this strong city and Nebuchadnezzar was interrupted by news of his father’s death, which necessitated his return to Babylon to establish his position. The city was never taken at the time, although terms were agreed.
Ezekiel calls him Nebuchadrezzar, which is in fact closer to the Babylonian name Nabu-kudurri-usur, while Nebuchadnezzar is closer to the Greek form Nabochodonosor and is a variant form. His early career is described in the Babylonian records known as ‘the Babylonian Chronicle’ which give us valuable information for dating various events.
1.2 ‘And the Lord gave Jehoiakim, king of Judah, into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God. And he carried them into the land of Shinar to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.’
The siege was sufficiently fierce to enable him to persuade Jehoiakim to make submission, possibly by offering milder terms. He was bought off with part of the temple treasures, taking with him selected young men, possibly as hostages for good behaviour.
Note that it was ‘the Lord’ (adonai) who caused the submission of Jehoiakim. He it was Who was in charge of overall events. It was not that Yahweh was defeated, Nebuchadnezzar was as much subject to His will as Jehoiakim.
The vessels taken were carried off to the ‘land of Shinar’, an ancient name for Babylonia (Genesis 10.8-10; 11.1-9), reflecting its belligerence and idolatry. There they were put in the house of his favourite god, probably Marduk, in the treasure house. Treasure houses were regularly connected with temples. The treasures would be placed there as a thankoffering to the god for giving victory, but would still be available to the king.
1.3-4 ‘And the king spoke to Ashpenaz, the master of his palace servants (officers, nobles, eunuchs), that he should bring in certain of the children of Israel, even of the seed royal and of the nobles, youths in whom was no blemish, but well favoured and skilful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, and understanding learning, with the ability to serve in the king’s palace and to teach them the letters and tongue of the Chaldeans.’
The selected captives taken back to Babylon were looked on fairly favourably because they were treaty hostages rather than defeated foe. Jerusalem had not been captured, it had compromised and yielded. They were all young men from the nobility, young men of education, who it was considered would fit in in court circles. The rather exaggerated description, the kind often used of promising young men, has in mind not only how things were but also how things would turn out. They were promising graduates. They were ‘skilful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, and understanding learning’. They had had the best education of the day, and certainly this was how Daniel would turn out to be. The words may well have been quoted from a court memorandum. By incorporating these young men into the court Nebuchadnezzar hoped to seal the treaty. This whole event was prophesied by Isaiah 39.7, where the prophet foresaw the rise of Babylon and the consequences for Judah.
Ashpenaz - the meaning of the name is uncertain, but it has been found in non-Biblical texts. The word that is sometimes translated ‘eunuchs’ actually has a wider meaning (it was used of the married Potiphar - Genesis 37.36) indicating palace servants, chief men, nobles, officers, although they would include eunuchs among them who had charge of the harems. The fact that these young men were ‘without blemish’ is against any idea that they were made eunuchs. The king liked to be surrounded by ‘perfect’ young men, not sing-song voices. ‘The master’ - or Rab - was a title regularly applied to Babylonian high officials (e.g. 2 Kings 18.17; Jeremiah 39.3).
‘Children of Israel’, the ancient name for all Israel. By the time that this was written any strict distinction between Judah and Israel had ceased to be. Ezekiel also spoke of the people of Jerusalem and Judah as the children of Israel.
‘Youths.’ Probably of about fourteen or fifteen. Thus in the eyes of the day recognised adults.
‘Of the children of Israel, (even) of the seed royal and of the nobles.’ Some would see this as signifying different groups, the captive children of Israel, royal offspring (‘the seed of kingship’) and nobles from various countries. But the Israelite hostages would certainly include royal seed and the sons of nobles. However they were certainly introduced into a group which included other royal seed and nobility.
‘And to teach them the letters and tongue of the Chaldeans.’ They were to learn the ancient Babylonian wisdom, the ancient cuneiform scripts, the ancient Akkadian language, and the lore of the magicians and astrologers; what passed for great wisdom in the ancient Near East, a well rounded education.
1.5 ‘And the king appointed for them a daily portion of the king’s food, and of the wine that he drank, and that they should be nourished for three years, that at the end of that period they might stand before the king.’
The young men were put in the care of Ashpenaz so that they could be developed into strapping young men. Every luxury in food and drink was to be theirs. This was in a sense a period of probation and no doubt some might drop out. ‘Three years’ could signify any period from about one and a half years (part of a year, a year, and part of a year) to the full three. Basically they had to go though a complete course of training. The final purpose was that they might become trusted and well favoured courtiers. Both appearance and learning was considered important for a young, budding court official.
‘A daily portion of the king’s ‘food’ (an old Persian word meaning ‘assignment’, the food allocated by the king through his high officials), and of the wine that he drank.’ It was the ancient custom that such favoured people should eat and drink what the king ate and drank. It was a sign of high favour.
1.6-7 ‘Now among these men were, of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. And the prince of the palace servaants, (nobles, chief officers, eunuchs) gave them names, to Daniel he gave the name of Belteshazzar, and to Hananiah of Shadrach, and to Mishael of Meshach, and to Azariah of Abednego.’
The new name was given to them to bring home to them that they were now Babylonians and to give them a new status, and were now servants of the gods of Babylon. They had been ‘adopted’ by the court and their future lay with the king. Giving them names connected with the gods of Babylon was intended to be a compliment. The original names meant something like, - Daniel (‘El (God) has judged’), Hananiah (‘Yahweh has been gracious’), Mishael (‘who is as El (God)’), Azariah (‘Yahweh has helped’) - although we must not be over-dogmatic about the meaning of names. All were connected with the God of Israel.
The new names were connected with Babylonian thought. Daniel’s with Bel. See 4.8. Some think his name was Belti - sar - usur - ‘may the lady (wife of Bel) protect the king’. Others that it was possibly only so by sound, for they see the name as signifying ‘protect his life’ - balatusu-usur - but that is how names were used. It was probably intended to signify ‘Bel protect his life’). Hananiah’s with Marduk (of which Shadrach was a deliberate corruption) and Azariah’s with Nebo (Nego being a deliberate corruption. The name was probably intended to suggest ‘servant of Nebo’). Meshach is unidentified, it may be a deliberate corruption of Sheshach, a cypher for Babylon. Playing with names was popular amongst all cultures. Compare the sons of Jacob whose names were all given as suggestive of some idea by a play on words (Genesis 29.31-30.24)
Theoretically these men had now been taken from Yahweh and given to the gods of Babylon. The Babylonians were soon to be disillusioned.
1.8 ‘But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s meat, nor with the wine that he drank, therefore he requested of the prince of the chief officers that he might not defile himself.’
What was happening to him clearly came as a shock to Daniel. There was no knowing how the meat was slaughtered nor what much of the food consisted of. With the strict Israelite dietary laws much of it would be ‘unclean’, and this would therefore be shocking to a well brought up Israelite. This was no doubt a major part of Daniel’s case with the prince. But the matter went further than that, for this objection would not have included the wine. He was perhaps concerned not to live in luxury when his own people were, as far as he knew, going through a hard time (compare 2 Samuel 11.11) But a main concern would have been in the thought that the king’s food was openly dedicated to the gods, and thus that to partake of it without question was to be seen as submitting to those gods. However, he could hardly put that case to the prince! But we can imagine the mental struggle that he found himself facing. He wanted to be faithful to his God, and he did not want to seem to be acknowledging idols. To a devout and faithful Yahwist both facts were important.
There is a lesson here for us too. He who is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is much.
1.9 ‘Now God made Daniel to be viewed with favour and compassion in the sight of the prince over the palace servants.’
God was to be seen as present and active in what was happening. It was He Who won Daniel favour with this great prince.
Notice the use of ‘God’ with the article, and not Yahweh (compare also ‘Lord’ in verse 2 and see 2.47), because Daniel was in a foreign country, a typical Pentateuchal usage. Here He was ‘the God of Heaven’, supreme over all. It was not covenant country.
1.10 ‘And the prince of the palace servants said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord, the king, who has appointed your food and drink. For why should he see your faces as worse likeable (more gloomy) than the youths who are of your own age. In that you would put it on my head before the king.”
The prince was quite frank with him. It put him in a dilemma. Much as he might wish to, he dared not do as Daniel asked, or else he himself would be punished and even possibly his own head might be forfeit. To him ‘good eating and drinking’ were the secret of health. It had worked before. Perhaps it was he in fact who referred them to the steward who had immediate watch over the youths and was probably highly experienced at dealing with such problems.
1.11-13 ‘The Daniel said to the steward whom the prince of the chief officers had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah “Put your servants to the test, I pray you, for ten days, and let them give us vegetables (‘what is sown’) to eat and water to drink, then let our faces be looked at before you, and the faces of the youths who eat of the king’s food. And deal with your servants in accordance with what you see.’
Having been discouraged by the prince Daniel proposed a test to the steward (supervisor, guard) who had immediate charge over them. Let them for a period of a few days (‘ten’ often means ‘a number of’) be given vegetables and grain (compare Isaiah 61.11 - ‘things sown’) to eat, and water to drink, and then let them be compared with the other youths. Then they would be happy to stand by any decision made. This was not a question of a vegetarian diet, but of a diet which would not include anything ritually ‘unclean’, and which would not be from the king’s table, thus having been dedicated to the gods. The steward might well be willing for such a short trial, which could be stopped at any time, because, unlike the more important prince, he could keep his eye on things all the time, and it may be that he had some sympathy with their position. It could do little harm. (Underlings are often willing to be more flexible than those with direct responsibility. They can pass the buck).
1.14-15 ‘So he took notice of what they said and put them to the test for ten days. And at the end of ten days their faces appeared fresher, and they were fatter in the flesh, than all the youths who ate of the king’s food.’
So he did what they asked. The result of the test was that they gave a better overall impression facially than those who ate the king’s food. They looked fresher and more full-faced than the others. By observing God’s law given in the Torah they had demonstrated its truth. Given the effects of overindulgence we can quite appreciate how this might be, but it is possible that we are intended to see this whole affair as being the result of a revelation from God to Daniel by means of a dream or vision (verse 17).
1.16 ‘So the steward took away their food, and the wine that they should drink, and gave them vegetables.’
Having seen the effects of the diet the steward was willing to continue it. From then on he refrained from giving them the kings’ food and wine, and gave them grain and vegetables with water. (This presumably only applied to the four).
1.17 ‘Now as for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom. And Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.’
Not only were their complexions continually clear and full but their minds were also, for the four grew in wisdom and knowledge. Their minds were alert and they absorbed their lessons well. We are probably to see in this that they also grew in the knowledge of God and His ways, for that is the true wisdom. But Daniel especially was blessed. He had a special gift as regards visions and dreams. He had the makings of a seer (compare Numbers 12.6; Isaiah 1.1), as he had already demonstrated. Right from the beginning he was being prepared for his extraordinary career.
This was an age of visions and dreams, especially in Babylon. Men attained high position by their ability to interpret them, for great store was laid on those who were seen as having this ability. But many of the interpretations were facile and men-pleasing, and few could discern the false from the true, as Nebuchadnezzar was very much aware. So in this highly charged environment God gave Daniel full understanding of them. He was able to discern what was real and what was not. It was a special gift from God so that he could bring God’s word to this idolatrous court.
There is a lesson here in all this for all young people that they should make full use of any opportunity that God gives them to advance their education. Had these young men been too ‘spiritual’ to do so they would have missed out on the future that God had for them.
1.18-20 ‘And at the completion of the days which the king had appointed for bringing them before him, the prince of the chief officers brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king had discussions with them and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Misahel and Azariah. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his realm.’
The final test came when they were all brought in before the king. He was not so concerned with how they looked but with what they had learned. And as he listened to the four he was impressed by their knowledge and wisdom. ‘Ten times better’ must clearly not be taken too literally. It is a typical exaggeration.
The point is probably twofold. Firstly that their remarkable wisdom and understanding shone through, so that as Nebuchadnezzar listened to them, their breadth of knowledge, and their discernment and ability to seize on what was most important, and interpret it, impressed him. He felt as he heard their answers that he had never met the like, even among his own magicians and enchanters, those men with their seeming knowledge of mysterious arts.
And secondly that in fact his opinion of his own enchanters and magicians was not very high. He thought of them sceptically as men with limited vision and understanding. There is here the very definite suggestion that they did not impress him, as will come out in the next chapter.
1.21 ‘And Daniel continued, even to the first year of Cyrus the Persian.’ The ‘first year of Cyrus the Persian’ was an epochal day in the lives of the children of Israel, ranking possibly with the day of the giving of the Law at Sinai, for it probably means the year in which he became king over Babylon, and thus the year when the Babylonian dynasty ceased, and Israel’s deliverance and ability to return from exile was announced. It refers to that year in which Cyrus made his decree that announced the end of the exile and that stated officially that the people could return home (Ezra 1.1).
So this verse is declaring that from the day of his acceptance by Nebuchadnezzar Daniel continued to have standing in the Babylonian court right up to its end in its overthrow at the hands of Cyrus, sixty six years or so after his being taken from Jerusalem. And for much of the time he was respected and admired by the kings of Babylon. He had a worthwhile career. It is also telling us that he lived through the whole of the exile until the decree that ended it. (Those events were considered far more important than his death. It is saying nothing about what followed those events, and in 10.1 we learn that Daniel was still alive in the third year of Cyrus).
Chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream And Its Consequences.
Nebuchadnezzar Dreams and Requires His Wise Men To Tell Him The Content of His Dream (2.1-18).
2.1 ‘And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, and his spirit was troubled and his sleep broke from him.’
The reader thoughts immediately turn back to 1.17. This could only be connected in some way with the expert in dreams.
The dreams were clearly vivid ones. Nebuchadnezzar was greatly disturbed and could no longer sleep. And the sense of unease continued on in the morning. He knew that the dreams had something very important to say to him, and he was desperate to know what it was. But as we shall see, he was not going to be satisfied with suave answers. He had had too much experience of interpreters of dreams to trust them. He wanted the truth, and these dreams were very important to him. The importance of dreams in the eyes of the ancient world cannot be over-exaggerated.
The plural ‘dreams’ probably means that he saw what followed as a succession of dreams, into which he slipped in and out, rather than as just one dream. Alternately it may mean that he dreamed the same dream two or three times over (the singular is used later).
This was ‘in the second year of his reign’. Taking in the accession year that meant that it was actually in the third year by Babylonian reckoning, by which time Daniel and his friends had graduated. As we saw earlier ‘three years’ simply meant part of a year (the end of the year of accession), then a year, (the first year of his reign), then part of a year, thus ending in the second year of his reign. Compare 2 Kings 18.9-10, which cover the fourth to sixth years of Hezekiah; and the constant reference to ‘three days’ in Joshua 1-3 which clearly refer to differing time periods. (This also explains, something which is also confirmed by external usage among the Jews, why Jesus could be said to rise ‘on the third day’, and yet ‘after three days’. The same usage had continued).
2.2 ‘Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the enchanters, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans so that they could tell Nebuchadnezzar his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king.’
The scene is impressive. The king called in his regular experts, ‘the magicians, and the enchanters, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans’, all the men who claimed, and made their living by, mysterious arts and powers, and who had by it obtained a place at court. He wanted a united opinion from the experts. That this did not include Daniel and his friends was because they were new graduates and possibly not yet ‘accepted’. They were still on probation and were probably not yet seen as included in the powerful body of ‘wise men’ sufficiently qualified to come before the king, which would usually be seen as a great privilege not open to all.
What he wanted from them was that they would combine together to ‘tell him his dreams’. They came unsuspectingly. They had no doubt that they would be able to interpret the king’s dreams from their books of dreams. They had done it often enough before.
Some have differentiated the wise men as ‘magicians’ (Hebrew - hartummim) meaning those who could divine the future by using various ritual means, ‘enchanters’ (assapim) as those who could communicate with the dead, ‘sorcerers’ (mekassepim) as those who practised sorcery and cast spells and used incantations, and ‘the Chaldeans’ as astrologers (kasdim), the priestly caste who studied the heavens to determine the future. This is fine if we do not make the distinctions too rigid.
Some have objected to the use of the term ‘Chaldeans’ in this way so early, but Herodotus certainly speaks of the Chaldeans as a well established priestly sect connected with long established festivals in about 440 BC, in a way that suggests a fairly long history.
But Nebuchadnezzar was no fool, and the previous comment in 1.20 had suggested that his confidence in them was not very high.
2.3-4 ‘And the king said to them, “I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.” Then spoke the Chaldeans to the king in Aramaic, “O king live for ever, tell your servants the dream and we will show the interpretation.”
At first all seemed to be going smoothly. They had been here before. The king had had a dream. It was greatly upsetting him and preying on his mind. And he wanted to know what it meant. They informed him that all he had to do was tell them the dream and they would then interpret it for him. ‘The Chaldeans’ probably here represents the whole body, for it was a name applied to the wise men of Babylon (or else they were acting as spokesmen).
It has been argued that the term ‘Chaldeans’ was at this time an ethnic term and would not have been applied in this way. As mentioned above the first external mention of ‘Chaldeans’ in a similar way to this is in Herodotus a hundred years later. But he did then give the inference that they had been around for a very long time. Indeed we can see how easily the name could have arisen. Wise men, magicians, soothsayers and enchanters probably came to the court of Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar from far and wide, once their power was established. It is easy therefore to see how the native born wise men could have banded together and have been called ‘the Chaldeans’, claiming further superiority on the grounds that they were priests of Marduk. They were the native born wise men.
But the king had also been here before. He had seen these men interpret dreams for his father. And he had not been impressed. He wanted to ensure that what he was told would be genuine.
We are obviously not told the full details of the conversations that went on. Possibly there was a bit of to and froing, but in the end the king laid down his position. If he was to believe them they must tell him what his dream was, as well as interpreting it. If they truly had mysterious knowledge, surely they would be able to discover his dream by their enchantments and sorcery.
‘O king live for ever.’ A typically polite and advisable way of addressing a Babylonian king, and other kings (1 Kings 1.31; Nehemiah 2.3), compare ‘may Nebo and Merodach give long days and everlasting years to the king of the lands, my lord’.
(Note. It is almost an anti-climax to point out that here the text in Daniel changes from Hebrew to Aramaic, and that from here until the end of chapter 7 the text is in Aramaic. It may be that having moved into Aramaic to simulate the words of the Chaldeans, who would in fact use a different form of Aramaic, and wishing to reveal that the king replied in that same Aramaic, the writer simply continued on in Aramaic, in which he was equally fluent, until the end of the vision in chapter 7, when he was able to declare the final triumph of the people of God over the four empires and the crowning of the Davidic king, the final outcome of the dream in chapter 2.
The six chapters do in fact follow an identifiable pattern something like this.
This section might well have been put together by Daniel prior to the whole.
Perhaps he then felt that Hebrew was a better language to use for the remainder of the prophecies as they more directly related to Israel. From chapter 8 the persecutions of Anitochus Epiphanes are stressed, and the prophetic dealings are with Israel in Palestine, whereas chapter 1-7 refer to life in Babylon, and the prophetic sections are more universal. Perhaps he also saw chapters 2-7 as dealing with the history as unfolded in chapter 2, God’s dealings with the wild beasts, resulting in the triumph over them of the people of God, and chapter 8 onwards as beginning another way of looking at things, looking at history mainly from the point of view of the final future of Israel following on the triumph over the beasts in chapter 7.
End of note).
2.5-6 “The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, “The word has gone forth from me (or ‘the thing is certain’). If you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you will be cut in pieces and your houses will be made a dunghill (or ‘into ruins’). But if you show the dream and its interpretation, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honour. Therefore show me the dream and its interpretation.”
The king was not saying that he could not remember his dreams (as AV suggests). His point was rather that he had spoken and what he had spoken was therefore certain to follow. He was extremely upset, even terrified, and he had already begun to feel that his wise men were unreliable. Now things had reached a crisis. If they could not prove to him that they had not been fooling him, by making known to him the dream (surely no difficulty for those who claimed special powers with the gods, if they were genuine), then he would destroy both them and their houses. Their families would be left in poverty. On the other hand if they could prove themselves, then untold riches and honour would be theirs. The words were typical of a despot who had in his hands the power of life and death. Why should he keep on supporting those who were deceiving him? But in the light of subsequent events they might also indicate someone who was mentally not quite stable. Someone who was extreme.
2.7 ‘They answered the second time and said, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation.” ’
They were in a quandary and boldly held up their end. What else could they say? They could not believe that he quite meant what he said. So they repeated what they had previously said, no doubt with their hearts in their mouths. They recognised his fury and intensity, and probably wished that his father was still alive. He had never been so unreasonable. They said that if the king would but tell them the dream then they would give its interpretation.
2.8 ‘The king answered and said, “I know of a certainty that you want to gain time, because you see that the word has gone forth from me (or ‘that the thing is certain’). But if you do not make known to me the dream, there is but one law for you. For you have prepared lying and corrupt words to speak before me, until the time be changed (i.e. until something comes along to change things). Therefore tell me the dream and I will know that you can show me its interpretation.” ’
The king was adamant. He told them that he recognised that they were merely trying to buy time because they recognised that he meant what he had decreed. And in fact if they failed there was only one law that could be applied to them. His law. The truth was that they were using clever, deceitful methods to evade answering, hoping that something would turn up, and that time would bring them a solution. So let them now tell him what he wanted to know, or else he would fulfil his promise. If they could tell him his dream, then he would be able to have confidence in their interpretation of it. The same god who told them the dream would also be able to give its interpretation. But if they could not, then they were doomed.
The Wise Men Admit That What He Asks Is Impossible To Them And Come Under His Fury.
2.10-11 “The Chaldeans answered before the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who can show what the king requires, forasmuch as no king, lord or ruler ( or ‘no great and powerful king’ i.e. a king-lord-ruler) has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. And it is a difficult thing that the king requires, and there is no other who can show it before the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with men.”
The wise men’s reply was simple. They could not do it. No one could do it. Indeed no ruler, however great, had ever asked such a thing of anyone. It was impossible. It was something that only the gods could do, who did not dwell among men.
By this admission they were admitting that they were fakes. They had always claimed to be able to find the will of the gods. Now they admitted that the gods were silent towards them. When faced with such a problem they were powerless, and the gods were silent. All the wisdom of Babylon was unable to provide an answer to the king.
2.12 ‘For this reason the king was furious and very angry, and commanded to destroy all the wise men of Babylon.’
The king’s response was immediate. They had failed him and proved themselves fakes. So filled with anger and great fury he commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. This behaviour could hardly be called normal in view of the unreasonableness of his request, even in a despotic king, and we may here have an instance of the seeds of that manic-depressive disease which would later tear his life apart for a while (4.33). It indicated an intensity that was not quite normal.
Because of His Position Daniel Is Involved In What Is Happening. He Seeks God’s Help.
2.13 ‘So the decree went out, and all the wise men were to be slain. And they sought Daniel and his companions that they might be slain.’
A decree was issued to his officers that all the wise men throughout Babylon were to be slain. Whether many had been able to escape the king’s presence we do not know. They would no doubt flee for their lives while the decree was being promulgated, and the soldiers called. But certainly some wise men must have died. And Daniel and his companions would not escape, for while they had not been seen as qualified to go before the king as ‘wise men’, they were closely enough connected to them to be counted as within the ambit of the king’s decree.
2.14 ‘Then Daniel returned answer, with wisdom (counsel) and prudence, to Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who had gone out to slay the wise men of Babylon.’
Fortunately for the wise men it seems that only limited forces had been sent out to carry out the sentence, made up of Arioch, captain of the king’s own guard, and a few chosen men. Thus the matter was proceeding slowly. And when Arioch came with his men to where Daniel and his companions were, and read out the decree, Daniel approached him with wisdom and prudence, seeking to delay him.
2.15-16 ‘He answered and said to Arioch, the king’s captain, “Why is the decree so pressing from the king?” Then Arioch made the thing known to Daniel. And Daniel went in and desired of the king that he would give him time, and he would show the king the interpretation.’
It was presumably because the captain had had to read out the decree before carrying out the sentence, that Daniel was given time to question him on the matter. So Daniel, who would not have known the full reason for what was happening, asked what pressing matter was causing these summary executions. When informed of the reasons he no doubt asked Arioch to take him to the king, which explains why he was able to obtain access to him. And once there he asked for time so that he could find the answer for him. Nebuchadnezzar clearly accepted the genuineness of his promise for the time was allowed.
‘The king’s captain.’ Literally ‘the king’s captain of slaughterers’ (of animals). This may be derogatory suggesting that the captain was acting like a cattle slaughterer, or perhaps the title had attached itself to the captain of the king’s guard in some way, just as through history men have been called ‘the Butcher’.
2.17-18 ‘Then Daniel went to his house and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, his companions, asking them that they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret, that Daniel and his companions should not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.’
Daniel’s next step was to consult with his friends and urge them to join him in prayer that the secret might be revealed to him. Note the title used of God, He is ‘the God of heaven’. The Babylonian believed that their gods in the sun, moon and stars, were in the heavens, but God was the one who ruled over heaven. Who else could reveal such secrets?
It would appear that they lived together in one place, probably a fairly large, official dwelling, which was why Arioch had known where to find them. There was no presumption on their part as they approached God. They desired His mercies. They recognised that it was only the goodness and mercy of God that could help them in this situation. They sought a revealing of His graciousness and deliverance that they might continue to serve Him.
God Reveals To Daniel What He Asked. Daniel Is Filled With Gratitude and Praise (2.19-23).
2.19-22 ‘Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said, “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever, for wisdom and might are his. And he changes the times and the seasons. He removes kings and he sets up kings. He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to those who know understanding. He reveals the deep and secret things. He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.” ’
Their prayer was answered and Daniel experienced one of his visions in which the dream was made known to him. What he envisioned moved him profoundly as he recognised its significance and he broke out in a prayer of praise and wonder.
‘“Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever.’ Compare Psalm 41.13 and Nehemiah 9.5. He had been given a glimpse into the distant future and recognised that he was dealing with the everlasting One. ‘The name’ was what revealed the nature and being of God. He was the One Who ruled over all.
The vision made him recognise even more than ever the wisdom and might of God. He recognised as never before that here was One who controlled and changed the times and seasons, the events of history. That in His wisdom He did what was right. That here was One who disposed of kings and who set them up, not arbitrarily, but by design. Who, while being the God of heaven, also ruled over the earth, Who controlled all things and especially the great empires of the world and their gods. That here was One Who knew and could reveal the deepest secrets. That here was One Who could see into the mists and darkness of the future, and that to Him all was light.
‘He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to those who know understanding.’ Daniel was under no illusions. He did not pride himself on his knowledge. He recognised its true source. If a man has true wisdom it was from God. Those who truly understand do so because God has revealed it to them. So no such man has any cause to have a high opinion of himself.
‘He reveals the deep and secret things. He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.’ The penetrating eye of God sees all things. He sees into the depths and all secrets are known to Him. No darkness can hide anything from Him. He is the source and possessor of light, and light is His essential companion.
2.23 “I thank you and praise you, O you who are the God of my fathers, who has given me wisdom and might, and has now made known to me what we desired of you. For you have made known to us the king’s matter.”
Having been lost in wonder and awe at the greatness of God, he now acknowledged His goodness, and was filled with gratitude and praise. While he knew the urgency of the matter before him he knew that he must first express his gratitude for what God had done. God had revealed to him what he and his companions had requested. He could only praise Him. But note his sense of dependence on his companions. He knew that he had not done it alone. We do well to remember that whatever we achieve we owe equally to the prayers and actions of others.
‘O God of my fathers.’ True, He was the God of heaven. But He was also the God of Israel. He was the God Whom Daniel had constantly looked to and worshipped, the God of his fathers. He recognised gratefully that God had looked down on one who was one of His own covenant people, and that what He had revealed had particular reference to His promises to the fathers, and to their fulfilment. Here was the God of Israel in action fulfilling His covenant, even in this foreign country.
Daniel Approaches Nebuchadnezzar And Reveals To Him His Dream (2.24-30).
2.24 ‘Therefore Daniel went in to Arioch whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He went and said thus to him. “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon. Bring me in before the king, and I will show to the king the interpretation.” ’
So the young teenage Daniel approached the mighty Arioch, captain of Nebuchadnezzar’s own guard, to whom the responsibility for execution of the wise men had been committed, and pleaded with him on behalf of the wise men. Quietly but firmly he promised that he would fulfil the king’s request so that there was no further need for them to be slain. Let Arioch take him into the presence of the king and all would be revealed.
2.25 ‘Then Arioch quickly brought Daniel in before the king and said thus to him, “I have found a man of the children of the captivity of Judah, who will make known to the king the interpretation.” ’
Arioch appears to have been a good man who had no heart for the task that he had been set, and he also recognised that the king was getting impatient. So he personally went directly to the king to let him know the situation. He did, however, want to bring a little credit on himself, and spoke as though it was all his doing, ‘I have found a man’. He knew that the king had already spoken to Daniel but he did not want it forgotten who had brought him to him. He knew that if Daniel succeeded, gratitude would be shown all round, and that the king would not forget who had been responsible for discovering him.
‘Of the children of the captivity of Judah.’ He identified to the king who the man was. He wanted credit for having carried out his duties and enquiries properly. The man was one of the noble hostages from Judah. Such an identification was necessary. The king would want to know with whom he was dealing.
2.26 ‘The king answered and said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream which I have seen, and its interpretation?” ’
The king came straight to the point. He wanted no more excuses. The question was, could the man do what all had said was impossible, or was he too a charlatan?
‘Whose name was Belteshazzar.’ That is the name under which he would have been introduced. But Daniel was his preferred name, for it was the name which demonstrated that he belonged to God.
2.27-28a ‘Daniel answered before the king and said, “The secret the king has demanded is one that neither wise men, enchanters, magicians nor soothsayers can show to the king. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and he has made known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head are these.” ’
Daniel loses no opportunity to exalt his God. He contrasts what He can do with what the wise men of Babylon can do. With all their boasted arts, and with all the help of their gods, they were unable to reveal to the king what he had dreamed. But the God of heaven can reveal such secrets, for all is known to Him. And not only so, but He does reveal those secrets. He does not hide from man, but reveals his ways to man. And indeed it is He Who has revealed to the king what is to happen at the end of the days. Thus was Nebuchadnezzar made to recognise that the God of heaven was supreme over all so-called gods.
‘In the latter days’ or ‘at the end of the days’. He wished immediately to make Nebuchadnezzar realise that what he was talking about was not some near event. What had been revealed to him took him on to the end of time, to the destiny of the world. It was that on which focus must be made, the days when the great purposes of the God of heaven would come to fruition. But we must distinguish this from ‘the time of the end’ which is rather the final end of the latter days.
The New Testament plainly reveals that this ‘end of the days’ was brought in by the days of the Messiah at the first coming of Jesus. The fact that ‘the end times’ began at the resurrection is clearly stated in Scripture. ‘He was revealed at the end of the times for your sake’, says Peter (1 Peter 1.20), so that he can then warn his readers ‘the end of all things is at hand’ (1 Peter 4.7). So to Peter the first coming of Christ has begun the end times. John also could declare, ‘Little children, it is the last hour’ and ‘thereby do we know that it is the last hour’ (1 John 2.18).
Likewise Paul says to his contemporaries ‘for our admonition, on whom the end of the ages has come’ (1 Corinthians 10.11. Compare also 1 Timothy 4.1; 2 Timothy 3.1). What could be clearer? Thus the first coming of Christ was the end of the ages, not the beginning of a new age. The writer to the Hebrews also tells us ‘He has in these last days spoken to us by His Son’ (Hebrews 1.1-2), and adds ‘once in the end of the ages has He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself’ (Hebrews 9.26-28). So all those early writers saw their days as ‘the last days’. The first coming of Christ had issued in the last days which lead up to the end.
‘Your dream and the visions of your head are these.’ That is, his dreams and visions are God’s way of revealing the secrets of the latter days that have been made known to Nebuchadnezzar.
2.29-30 “As for you, O king, your thoughts came into your mind on your bed, what should come about hereafter, and he who reveals secrets has made known to you what will come about. But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for the intent that the interpretation may be made known to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your heart.”
The idea here is that while the king was lying in bed he had been thinking about the future, and what more great things lay before him. Had he also got in mind the erecting of the great image in chapter 3? The result was that God had given him the dream so that he would know exactly what was coming after.
Daniel is very concerned that Nebuchadnezzar should recognise that the God of heaven had deliberately made known to him what he was about to learn because of who he was, and how he had been thinking. The ‘revealer of secrets’ has chosen to reveal them to him. It should come as a warning.
But at the same time he speaks humbly of himself. He is only a channel used by God in bringing about Nebuchadnezzar’s understanding. He is really no different from others. The understanding was not given so as to magnify him. This was politically wise, but also evidence of the quality of the man. The focus must be on the message, and what it means for Nebuchadnezzar, rather than on the channel through which it comes.
The Vision of Nebuchadnezzar (2.31-35).
2.31-35 “You, O king, saw, and behold a great image. This image which was mighty and whose brightness was spectacular, stood before you. And its aspect was dreadful. As for this image his head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. You saw until a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image on his feet which were of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken in pieces together, and became chaff like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors, and the wind carried them away so that no place was found for them. And the stone that smote the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”
The account really needs no amplification. As he lay sleeping suddenly he envisioned a great image. Chapter 3 suggests that he would see it as an idol, one such as kings made to glorify themselves. In his waking life he had seen such images before, for multi-metalled images were no new thing. But in his dream this image was huge, dwarfing mankind. It was an impressive god indeed. Its splendour was in order to make him fear, but it was also to flatter Nebuchadnezzar, especially its head of gold. But its significant factor as he gazed at it was that what began at the top as gold slowly deteriorated section by section, to baser and baser metals, until it became metal and clay, and clearly unstable. Metal could make a sound foundation. Building clay could make a sound foundation. But the two together were incompatible. And then came the shattering end when a mighty boulder, cut out without hands, smashed the feet of the image, with the result that the whole image disintegrated, crashing down and turning to powder. Whereat not only its site, but also the whole earth, became filled by the boulder which became a great mountain.
The picture is vividly described. And the result of the crashing stone was that the whole of the image from top to bottom was ‘broken in pieces together, and became chaff like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors, and the wind carried them away so that no place was found for them.’ It was as though all the materials from the gold downwards, were turned into chaff on the threshingfloor, what remained once the good seed had been taken away, waiting to be blown away by the regular winds which cleared the threshing floor of its chaff. And there would be nothing left of them. They had nowhere to go.
Notice carefully that no numbers are mentioned. If we start to introduce numbers we are not properly interpreting the vision. We are reading into it what is not there.
The Interpretation of the Vision (2.36-45).
2.36-38 “This is the dream, and we will tell its interpretation before the king. You, O king, king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory. And wherever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the birds of heaven has he given into your hand, and has made you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold.”
This was not just flattery. Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah had made clear that they saw Nebuchadnezzar as God’s chosen instrument for judgment in the world. And certainly at that moment in time no kingdom compared with that of Nebuchadnezzar. The ‘we’ refers to Daniel and his God. It was Daniel who was speaking, but it was God Who was standing there before this mighty king with his exaggerated ideas of his own importance, and telling him what the future held.
The title ‘king of kings’, used here, was also used of Nebuchadnezzar by Ezekiel 26.7. There is thus no reason to doubt that it was a description used about Nebuchadnezzar, and ties in with his subsequent erection of a great image, which quite possibly represented himself. But if so he not only saw himself as a king of kings, but as something more. And that was unusual for Mesopotamian monarchs. But Daniel, greatly daring, reminds him that it is the God of heaven who has made him great. His greatness is not of himself, nor is it of Marduk, it is of God.
‘The kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory.’ Words tumble over themselves to bring out how great he is. For this description compare 5.18; and especially 7.14, which is a reminder that although he is great, one day there will arise a king greater than he.
The reference to the beast of the field and the birds of the air is again to stress his grandeur. By the authority of the God of heaven he not only rules man, but the whole world of nature. Indeed, as far as the world of that time was concerned he ruled over the known world.
‘You are the head of gold.’ We need not argue whether this applies to Nebuchadnezzar or to his empire. At this point in time his empire was him. It included all that subsequently flowed from him, and his sons were but a continuation of himself. The gold represented the ultimate in splendour, but if we just split the image up into four metals we miss the point. And in the image we can see idolatry. All the kingdoms from top to bottom are based on idolatry.
2.39a “And after you will arise another kingdom inferior to you.”
As he gazed at the image, and probably saw his own face gazing back at him, his eyes moved down to the body. What he now looked at was no longer one, like the head, rather there was a plurality, a body and arms of silver. The kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar was to be followed by an inferior kingdom, as silver was inferior to gold, and as a dual kingdom was inferior to one under single control. This may be in order to placate Nebuchadnezzar who would obviously consider that nothing could compare to his own kingdom.
But the idea is also probably that it was inferior because it was not one empire, but a combined empire. It did not have the internal strength of the Babylonian empire, or its splendour. This is brought out in 8.3-4, 20. There is some dispute over what kingdom this represents, simply because people wish to fit it into their theories. But fortunately for us it is later made clear by Daniel himself. He specifically states that the kingdom that follows Babylon is the kingdom of Media and Persia (8.3-4, 20). The author is usually the best person to understand what he means, so if this does not fit into our interpretations so much the worse for our interpretations. This kingdom will not be as splendid, nor will it be so united as the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar.
2.39b “And another third kingdom of brass which will rule over all the earth.”
As his gaze moved downwards the silver tailed off and became brass, but there was still evidence of plurality as he gazed at the belly and thighs. Once again we are not left to speculate as to who it represented, for the third kingdom is the kingdom of Greece (8.5-8, 21-22). It would be inferior in outward splendour, represented by its being brass, but again what made it even more inferior was its substantial lack of unity. The quality of the kingdoms was deteriorating. We learn from chapter 8, that this lowering of quality also lay in its brittleness, for there it splits into four kingdoms. In the end brittleness and deterioration is what this image is all about. But it too was weakened by idolatry, for idolatry was part of the significance of the image.
‘Will rule over all the earth.’ As ever in Scripture this must be seen discerningly. Greece ruled as far as the thoughts of men went, over what men as a whole meant when they spoke of ‘the world’, that is, their own world. Compare 1 Kings 4.34; 2 Chronicles 9.23
2.40-43 “And the fourth kingdom will be as strong as iron, forasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and subdues all things. And as iron that crushes all these, will it break in pieces and crush. And whereas you saw the feet and toes, part of potter’s clay and part of iron, it will be a diverse kingdom, but there will be in it the strength of iron, forasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay, so the kingdom will be partly strong and partly broken. And whereas you saw the iron mixed with miry clay, they will mingle themselves with the seed of men. But they will not cleave one to another, even as iron does not mingle with clay.”
But then Nebuchadnezzar’s gaze moved downward and he first saw iron as he gazed at its legs. He would immediately recognise both its strength and its inferiority to what had gone before. Armaments were made of iron. It was a picture of stark strength. But then he came to the feet, and the iron became a mixture of iron and clay, brittle and unstable. And the toes also were equally strange, part of clay and part of iron, a strange mixture of weakness and strength. Daniel’s interpretation makes clear that this all represents the fourth kingdom, otherwise we might have seen in the iron and clay a fifth kingdom. But it had all to be the final fourth kingdom because in his visions history was depicted in terms of four kingdoms (7.3 and inferred in 8). And he also makes clear that the fourth kingdom is the kingdom that is there at the end of time. (The number four sums up the world).
Four is the number of universalism, of the world as against Israel. Four rivers fed the world from Eden. The wind comes from the four quarters. The world is north, south, east and west. Thus the kingdoms are building up to the universal kingdom, which contains within itself the essence of the other three kingdoms. It represents the whole. All are in the end part of that whole. The image still stands as one image, the image of empire, one being incorporated in the other.
So this fourth kingdom specifically carries within it, and supports, the other three. At first it seems the strongest of all, but then it deteriorates until it is totally unstable. It has no strength. And when it crashes, all the kingdoms crash with it (verse 35). It is made up of them all. It represents world empires, weakened and diverse because by their nature such empires, based on false gods and false religion, carry within them the seeds of their own disintegration.
We can make all kinds of speculation about it but Daniel nowhere tells us who the fourth kingdom represents (although see 11.30 which may be a hint and represent Rome). It is tempting, because of history, for us to see it as Rome, but many empires have arisen since Rome, as the legs became the feet, and the feet became the toes. Thus in a sense the fourth kingdom represents the idea of continuing world empire, of a world kingdom, it represents the spirit of kingdomship, seen in the first three kingdoms and now continuing on in the fourth. After Greece will come ‘the fourth kingdom’, the kingdom of the distant future, the apocalyptic kingdom, whatever that includes. His patterns of four required that this should be so.
It will commence strongly. We may see in this the power of Rome. But then it will divide up into kingdoms of various strengths. This explains the brittle nature of the kingdom, it is made up of kingdomship, of many diverse kingdoms, and moves from being strong as iron to being totally brittle, and all part of that which represented false religion.
We notice elsewhere the gradual growth, one kingdom, a twofold kingdom, a fourfold kingdom and then a manyfold kingdom (chapter 8). This idea is also included here, although not so precisely; a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron and feet of iron and clay, with the toes also very much in mind although not directly stressed (verse 42).
‘The fourth kingdom will be as strong as iron, forasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and subdues all things. And as iron that crushes all these, will it break in pieces and crush.’ This fourth kingdom will be more terrible than them all. Certainly the contemporaries of Rome, with its iron clad legions, would have seen it like this. And for centuries it ruled the known world, and crushed all opposition with its mighty legions. And certainly it proved to be brittle (like all empires in the end). But all empires of man crush others, and all are brittle. Thus the fourth empire represents more than Rome. It represents man at his worst, determined to crush his fellowman. It represents onflowing empire. The ghosts of Babylon and of Rome continued through the ages. It is the apocalyptic empire, the empire of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38-39), and of the prophets (Isaiah 5.25-30; 24; 66.15-16; Joel 1.6-7, 15; 2.1-11; 3.2-3; Zechariah 14.1-2). It is man against God and His people.
‘And whereas you saw the feet and toes, part of potter’s clay and part of iron, it will be a diverse (composite) kingdom, but there will be in it the strength of iron, forasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay, so the kingdom will be partly strong and partly broken. And whereas you saw the iron mixed with miry clay, they will mingle themselves with the seed of men. But they will not cleave one to another, even as iron does not mingle with clay.’ Here is clearly represented the ‘diverse kingdom’. It is part iron and part clay. Iron is strong and clay is good for building with, but the two will not mix. Thus it is powerful and yet weak. It is strong and yet broken. It seeks alliances and yet it is divided. It is a world at war with itself. We might almost see in it the United Nations, and yet that would be to be too specific. It is many united nations and alliances through the ages, all part of what represents false religion and worship (compare chapter 3), at war against God and His people.
‘They will mingle themselves with the seed of men.’ This probably refers to intermarriages between peoples, a desperate attempt to seek to cement some unity. But the point is that it will not work. All man’s attempts at unity will fail in the end.
2.44-45 “And in the days of those kings will the God of heaven set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, nor will its sovereignty be left to another people. But it will break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it will stand for ever. Forasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will come about hereafter. And the dream is certain and its interpretation sure.”
‘In the days of those kings.’ This naturally refers back to the previous verse. The final empire is ruled by a number of kings, including kings of the empires described. But in their day a kingdom will be set up, a kingdom, which replaces theirs, which will never be destroyed. Nor will it make alliances with the other kingdoms, yielding its sovereignty to them. It will have total liberty and freedom. It will ‘strike’ all these empires, and by hitting their weakest point will bring them crashing down. Notice that all collapse, from the gold downwards. The whole basis of these empires, their might, their arrogance, their disunity, their representing false religion, all collapse at together. Truth will triumph. Faith in the God of heaven.
Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar saw the stone as referring to his descendants (possibly hinted at in chapter 3). Daniel does not disillusion him. But there is no doubt what Daniel means, as he makes clear later on. This is the kingdom of the people of God, the kingdom of the Messiah, the everlasting kingdom set up in heaven before the throne of God, and yet making its decisive impact on earth as world empire is destroyed (7.13-14, 18, 27). It will not be vulnerable. Its triumph is guaranteed. And it will finally shatter all the other kingdoms, and fill the whole earth (compare Matthew 13.31-33).
‘Forasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands.’ ‘Cut out without hands’ refers to the activity of God (compare Mark 14.58. See also Isaiah 51.1). ‘The stone’ was a regular symbol of the Messianic idea, both as a foundation stone or cornerstone (Isaiah 28.16; Psalm 118.22), or as a stone that tripped men up and by which they were broken (Isaiah 8.14 compare Zechariah 12.3). It was not a far cry from that for the Messianic prince to become a destroying stone, demolishing the power of empire by striking at its foundations and making it topple (7.26), once He had received the kingdom (7.13-14). Isaiah 17.10; 32.2 associate the Rock with God’s protection of His people, which was the second stage for ‘the stone’.
Alternately we may see the stone as the Kingly Rule of God. But really the two go together. The King represents His Kingdom.
This working away at its weakest point, its roots of disunity and idolatry, until it toppled, was what the Kingly Rule of God and the Messiah accomplished for the Roman Empire. They smote its uncertainty, its dependence on idolatry, and it toppled and yielded, at least outwardly, to the Messiah. And this was what the stone accomplished in many kingdoms. They too were toppled and became outwardly God’s people. And in the end the world will topple, and Christ’s kingdom will become all in all. For its final fulfilment awaits His final triumph, when He comes in power and the kingdoms of the world finally collapse before Him, and what is outward is done away, and what is true shines through. Then will the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13.43), and all evil will be done away. The empires will have vanished like the chaff from the threshingfloor, and His people will be with him in the everlasting kingdom in the new heaven and the new earth.
In the dream the smiting of the stone came almost instantaneously, for it was an apocalyptic vision. It was depicting the intervention in world history of God. But in the purposes of God it could happen over time. The collapse of empire would not necessarily come overnight. The arrival of the Kingly Rule of God was in one sense sudden. But the day of God, and the growth of the stone into a mountain, could take a thousand years or more (Psalm 90.4; 2 Peter 3.8). That would be instantaneous to God.
We can finally compare the idea here with the great millstone, picked up by the strong angel and cast into the sea, preparing for the destruction of Babylon, the great city, which itself represented empire (Revelation 18.21). There too such a stone was a symbol, but there it was of the judgment of God upon what was ungodly, for it was a millstone that ground things to powder, while this was a mighty rock hewn from the mountain of God (Isaiah 2.2-4).
‘The great God has made known to the king what will come about hereafter. And the dream is certain and its interpretation sure.’ So Nebuchadnezzar was privileged by God to see the hopelessness of trusting to world empire. He could have found out what the stone represented. But his eyes were closed and instead he built a great image for men to worship. He had totally missed the point. And even though he was informed that the dream was certain, and that what it signified was true, he did not sufficiently seek its truth. The opportunity passed him by.
Nebuchadnezzar Duly Honours Daniel (2.46-48).
2.46-47 ‘Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours to him. The king responded to Daniel, and he said, “Of a truth your God is the God of gods, and the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing that you have been able to reveal this secret.’
In what we have been looking at we have to some extent lost the powerful picture. Nebuchadnezzar, seated on a throne seat, gazing in awe at Daniel as he listened to his words, as slowly he described the content of his dream and what its significance was. And when Daniel came to an end of what he was saying it was all too much. Here before him was someone who was more than a man, he was revealed as a direct messenger of God. And overawed he fell on his face before Daniel and worshipped him. What was going through his mind we cannot know, but we can fully understand his response. Here before him was one who undoubtedly knew the secrets of the gods.
And then he commanded that oblations, gifts that gave honour, should be given to Daniel and probably that incense should be burned before him, or some other sweet savour. This was no doubt a signal honour and was counted as right and proper before one who was in such close contact with the gods.
But behind Daniel he saw Daniel’s God, which was why Daniel did not demur. The messenger was being honoured in honour of the One Who had sent him. And he recognised indeed the greatness of the God of Daniel. He recognised at this point in time that this God was indeed supreme among gods, and greater than all kings. He was the ‘revealer of secrets’, in a way that no other god was. But we must not see this as a conversion. Nebuchadnezzar recognised many gods, and the greatness of this God would soon slip from his mind in the house of Marduk, until he needed further secrets revealed. And then he would simply call upon Daniel.
2.48 ‘Then the king made Daniel great, and gave him many great gifts, and made him to rule over the whole province of Babylon, and to be chief governor over all the wise men of Babylon. And Daniel made request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel was in the gate of the king.’
The king honoured his promises of rewards, and gave him many great gifts and a position of great authority. We do not know exactly what it was, and fortunately for him, for he was young, he would have advisers, but it possibly made him supreme governor of the province of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar would want him always within reach. He was also made ‘Rab signin’ (chief overseer) over the wise men of Babylon. This did not necessarily involve him in their activities. He did not need to involve himself with them, and what follows is testimony enough to the fact that he remained totally faithful to the God of heaven. But it was a position of great honour and prestige, and meant that when the king needed guidance in the future he was always there to call on without incurring jealousy. And for a time at least the wise men were probably grateful to him. He had saved their lives.
Daniel did not forget his friends, indeed he knew that he would need them, and he requested that they be appointed to positions were they could assist him, a favour which was immediately granted. So they too had positions of authority. But Daniel himself had his place in the royal entourage and the palace offices (‘the gate of the king’). He was close to the king, with ready access to him.
However, the overall importance of the incident as far as the readers were concerned was that it revealed that Yahweh was supreme over all. He alone had been able to do what the servants of the gods of Babylon had said was impossible.
Chapter 3 The Great Image of Nebuchadnezzar And Salvation from the Fiery Furnace.
This chapter following chapter 2 seems to confirm that Nebuchadnezzar had seen the image that he had envisioned there as representing the gods. Probably what Daniel had told him, with its suggestion of his empire finally being replaced, had concerned him and had given him the idea of setting up such an image as representing the god who was over the empire (possibly Marduk or Nebo, compare Roma), and requiring a great demonstration of loyalty. Only his image would be superior to the one that he had seen. It would be all of gold. There would be no suggestion of some empire following his. There was certainly no doubt that he wanted it to reflect well on himself. And it would confirm the loyalty of the people, and fill them with awe at his magnificence. But the fact that there is no suggestion made that it was an image of himself counts against it being so, otherwise it would surely have been pointed out.
3.1 ‘Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and its breadth six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.’
This image of gold which Nebuchadnezzar set up, if it was gold through and through, would take up much of the temple treasury, for its cost would have been enormous, for the image was huge (the Colossus of Rhodes was not quite as high). But when a king like Nebuchadnezzar, with the treasures of the nations in his treasury, decides to make an impression, we must expect some such display. However, it is quite possible that it was in fact gold plated as was customary with such statues (compare Isaiah 40.19; Jeremiah 10.4). The image is said to be over twenty eight metres (ninety feet) high and nearly three metres (nine feet) across. Grotesqueness was a feature of Babylonian sculpture. But the image itself may not have been that height for the height probably included a large base or mound. Such kings loved to boast and the measurements were probably official ones. The sexagesimal measurement (based on sixties rather than tens) is an indication of authenticity.
The statue would soon disappear once Babylon was captured. Herodotus mentions a pure gold statue of a man twelve cubits high connected with a temple in the time of Cyrus.
‘The plain of Dura.’ This was possibly Tell Dur, twenty seven kilometres south west of Baghdad although there are several Babylonian places named Duru. The name is thus in keeping with the Babylonian milieu and is a further sign of historicity.
3.2 ‘Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the satraps, the deputies, the governors, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.’
Having made his grand gesture Nebuchadnezzar wanted it to be admired. And he was determined on a show of loyalty. Such dedication rites were customary in antiquity, and this is in keeping with what we know of ancient Babylonian rites.
‘Satraps’ is an Old Persian word signifying ‘kingdom-guardian’, ‘deputies’ and ‘governors’ were Semitic, but such loan words were common (and when he wrote Daniel was in a Persian environment). The order of the titles probably indicates their grades.
3.3 ‘Then the satraps, the deputies and the governors, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.’
We must maintain a sense of proportion. We need not see every single one as gathered here, although few of importance would dare to miss the ceremony without good reason. But some might be engaged on urgent official business which could not wait, while others were possibly abroad and unable to get back. Skeleton staff would have to be maintained and arrangements made for the keeping of order, for such a gathering would require weeks, if not months, to organise. But it would be a brave official (and foolish) who was absent without a valid reason. This was an expression of loyalty and submission.
Around the king himself would be his most distinguished and trustworthy courtiers, which probably included Daniel, the ‘Rab signin’ (chief overseer) over the wise men of Babylon. They would be overseeing the scene with the king, and would not necessarily be expected to take part. Their loyalty was unquestioned.
3.4 ‘Then the herald cried aloud, “To you it is commanded O peoples, nations and languages, that at the time that you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer and all kinds of music, you fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.’
‘Peoples, nations and languages,’ covered all possible members of the empire, although they were here represented by their officials. The phrase occurs regularly to signify all members of the empire.
The instruments appear to be Semitic and Greek. Greece traded throughout the empire and their products were found everywhere. The word for ‘kinds’ is Persian, possibly a technical musical term. It was an international empire, and all nations were present. And the Babylonians were famous for their love of music (Psalm 137.3; Isaiah 14.11).
The requirement was that they all worship Nebuchadnezzar’s god. The worship of a suzerain’s god was an essential part of the oath of loyalty, a factor that had proved disastrous time and again in Israel’s history. But for most nations and peoples it was not a difficulty, unless they were thinking of rebelling. After all such gods had proved their superiority and it did not mean denying their own gods. It was different for worshippers of the one God, Yahweh, the God of heaven (as Rome would concede later).
The stern warning was typical of the age. Loyalty had to be maintained with an iron hand. Any resistance might quickly spread. And Nebuchadnezzar was ever conscious of the image in his dream, and the possible failure of his kingdom.
‘A burning fiery furnace.’ The word for furnace (’attun) is probably a loan word from the Akkadian utunu (oven) as used for baking bricks or smelting metals. We do not know the direct nature of the furnace but it was clearly dreadful as the added adjectives ‘burning, fiery’ indicate. It was possibly of a large kiln type with an opening at the top and in the side. Brick kilns were common around Babylon for the great building projects, and the idea of throwing people into such kilns for punishment is instanced in a Babylonian letter of around 1800 BC and an Assyrian court regulation of about 1130 BC (compare Psalm 21.9; Jeremiah 29.22).
3.7 ‘Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery and all kinds of music, all the peoples, the nations and the languages fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.’
The repetition beloved of ancient writers is found here again. It emphasises the situation, and the hearers of the narrative would delight in being able to repeat it as it was read. But it also stressed that the king’s command was exactly fulfilled. At the sound of the music all who were gathered fell on their face before the great image and worshipped it. Or so at first it seemed.
3.8 ‘For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came near and brought accusations (literally ‘ate their pieces’ i.e. chewed over publicly what they had heard) against the Judeans.’
We are probably to see these Chaldeans as belonging to the ‘wise men’, who were possibly secretly nursing a grudge against these young upstarts. This gave them their opportunity. They had been shamed by Daniel, and they had quickly forgotten that he had saved their lives. And these youngsters had been given positions far above their station because they were his protégés. It is also quite probable that they did not like the way Daniel was carrying out his duties as chief of the wise men. But they had to be careful with him, while these youngsters were vulnerable and had played into their hands.
Alternately they may have been ethnic Chaldeans who lived in southern Babylonia, who were proud of being ‘true native Babylonians’ and resented foreign upstarts. Note the reference to ‘the Judeans’. Either way there was clearly resentfulness here.
3.9-12 ‘They responded and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king, “O king live for ever. You, O king have made a decree, that every man who will hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery and dulcimer and all kinds of music shall fall down and worship the golden image. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Judeans whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These men O king have not considered your authority. They do not serve your gods, nor do they worship the golden image that you have set up.” ’
These people had every right to tell the king about this civil disobedience. It was the way in which they did so that reveals their mean mindedness. They stressed not only the failure of the accused, but the attitudes that lay behind it. They suggested that they were ungrateful. First they cited the decree, and then they pointed out that ‘the Judeans’ who had been privileged to receive appointment to important posts in Babylon were flouting his authority. Indeed they were committing treason. They had no regard for the king’s authority, and they did not serve the king’s gods.
This latter fact would have been especially noticeable to the wise men in their contacts with them because they would refuse to involve themselves in the magic rites and superstitions of the others. But the final charge was fatal. They refused to worship the golden image, and that was open rebellion. It could not be allowed to happen. It undermined the decree of the king. Everything that they said was designed to arouse Nebuchadnezzar’s anger, although it is very possible that they felt indignant themselves. They would not have understood the reasons for the Judean’s position which would have seemed to them incomprehensible.
‘Responded and said.’ Possibly to the question, what are you here for? Or something similar. ‘Answered’ often means merely responded to the situation as it was.
3.13 ‘Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and fury commanded his men to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So they brought these men before the king.’
His anger was that of a despotic king against men who flouted his authority and decree. He was beside himself. This was treason. So he commanded that they be arrested and brought to him, and they were duly brought. It is difficult to overstate the courage of these three brave men, when surrounded by overwhelming numbers, in refusing to bow down to a false God, knowing full well what the consequences would be.
3.14-15 ‘Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it right, O Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my god, nor worship the golden image that I have set up?” Now if you are ready so that at the time that you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, you fall down and worship the image which I have made -- but if you do not worship, you will be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace, and who is that God who will deliver you out of my hands?’
It says something for the regard in which these men were held that they were given a second chance. They might easily have summarily been put to death. He also had some regard for their God, for he knew that He was a revealer of secrets. But it was a very different matter Him delivering them from a burning fiery furnace. Thus they had to make the choice. Either at the given signal they fall down and worship the golden image, or into the furnace they went without mercy. He would not brook disobedience, which was both rebellion against the state and an insult to his god. It was up to them.
His words suggest that there had been some discussion on the matter, for he clearly knew the reason for their objections. It was this strange but powerful God of theirs. But they had to remember that he and his god were the victors, and they must therefore submit themselves to them.
Notice the stress on the source of the idol. ‘Which I have set up --- which I have made.’ This was no god acting in independence, it was a piece of metal which was there as a result of decisions of Nebuchadnezzar. It was a man made thing, no matter how superior the man may be (compare Isaiah 44.17).
3.16 ‘Shadrach. Meshach and Abednego answered, “We have no need with respect to this matter to set up a defence before you. If it is to be so our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image that you have set up.” ’
The three men firmly rejected his offer with dignity and without open defiance. They stressed that there was no need for them to set up a defence because they were ready to face whatever was to come, and as their God was able to deliver them in spite of the doubt of the king, they were ready to throw themselves on His will, whether to deliver them or no. But one thing he could know for a certainty, they would not serve idols nor would they bow down to the golden image.
This was not the fanatical zeal of would be martyrs. They did not expect to die. It was the firm courage and logic of men who knew their God and were therefore ready to obey Him and entrust their lives to His keeping. Nebuchadnezzar was in possession of all the facts, therefore no defence was necessary, for this was their clear position. They served the God of heaven, and only the God of heaven, and if the only alternative to worshipping other gods was to be thrown into a burning fiery furnace, then so be it. And they would trust their God to do what was right. There was no attitude of rebellion. It was a religious question, and therefore they had no alternative. In their words comes out that incisiveness of thought and statement that had so impressed Nebuchadnezzar when he had first met them (1.20).
3.19-20 ‘Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the look on his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He spoke and commanded that they should heat the furnace seven times more than it was normally heated. And he commanded certain mighty men who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning, fiery furnace.’
Nebuchadnezzar had been well intentioned towards them, as the look on his face had revealed, but now at their refusal his fury knew no bounds. The look on his face changed. How dare these men defy him to his face? He had never experienced such treatment in all his days.
And yet within his heart there was a doubt. The quiet confidence of these men shook him. And the thought of their God disturbed him. Perhaps He might deliver them? So he took precautions. He had the furnace heated to the maximum possible, hotter than it had ever been before. ‘Seven times’ may mean ‘to its ultimate’, or it may be intended to suggest the divine perfection of the judgment from his god that would come on them. The use of the number may have indicated that by his action he was calling for help from his god against this other powerful God.
And he called for the mightiest men of his army. He wanted help from both god and man. He would see what their God could do against these combined forces. And then he had them bound and commanded that they be thrown into the intense heat of the overheated furnaces. He was satisfied that he had taken all possible precautions.
Once again we see that excessive intensity which would later come out in his mental illness, signs that indicated that all was not quite right in his mental state.
3.21-23 ‘Then these men were bound in their hose, their turbans and their cloaks, and their other clothing, and were cast into the midst of the burning, fiery furnace. As a result, because the king’s command was urgently demanding, and the furnace intensely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, fell, bound, down into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.’
Their fate was repeated twice to emphasise its awfulness, they were taken up to the roof of the furnace and cast in, and they fell down into it. There was no way of escape. But for the men called on to perform the duty the result was appalling. In their haste to respond to the king’s furious urgency, and in their lack of knowledge of the workings of such furnaces, especially when heated to such an intensity, they found themselves caught up in the deadly heat and were overcome and slain. And into that same deadly heat, and worse, went the men who had trusted in God.
When we look at this scene we can only be silent. How can we even begin to describe the courage and steadfastness of these men who so quietly and firmly went to their seeming dreadful fate? We can only sit and watch in awe.
3.24-25 ‘Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and he rose up in haste. He spoke and said to his counsellors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the heart of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” He answered and said, “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the heart of the fire, and they have no injury, and the aspect of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” ’
It is indicative of the king’s fury that he had not just been satisfied with the execution being carried out. He had himself gone down to look through the side opening of the burning kiln, through which the kiln was fed and the heat of the furnace was intensified by bellows, to watch the destruction of the men who had defied him. But what he then saw astonished him, and he could not believe what he was seeing, so much so that he sought assurance from his counsellors that indeed three men, and only three men, had been cast into the fire, and also that they had been bound.
When they agreed that it was so, he told them why he was so astonished. He had seen not three men but four, and they were free from their bonds and walking about in the fire. And the fourth was like a son of the gods. They were accompanied by their God!
Whatever view we take of the fourth figure in the furnace, there seems little doubt what Nebuchadnezzar meant. The figure was ‘a son of the gods’, that is, He was of the race of the gods, He was a divinity. And to Nebuchadnezzar with his knowledge of these men that could only mean one thing. It was the God of heaven. Compare Genesis 16.7;18.1-2; 32.24-30; Judges 6.11-22; 13.3, 6, 9, 19-20.
And so was literally fulfilled God’s promise to His redeemed people. ‘When you pass through the waters I will be with you, --- when you walk through the fire you will not be burned, nor will the flame set you alight (Isaiah 43.2).’
3.26-27 ‘Then Nebuchanezzar came near to the opening of the burning fiery furnace. He spoke and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, you servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here.” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out, out from the heart of the fire. And the satraps, the deputies and the governors, and the king’s counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, that the fire had had no power on their bodies, nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their hose altered, nor had the smell of the fire clung to them.’
Then Nebuchadnezzar called to the men to come out of the furnace, and when they came out the high officials who were surrounding the king saw that the fire had not effected them in any way. Not even a hair was singed, or a piece of clothing affected by the fire, nor was there any smell of fire on them. And yet the ropes that had bound them had burned up in the fire.
‘You servants of the Most High God’. He did not see God as the only God, but as a higher god, One Who was supreme over the gods.
3.28 ‘Nebuchadnezzar spoke and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his supernatural agency, and delivered his servants who trusted in him, and they have changed the king’s word, and have surrendered their bodies, that they might not serve or worship any god, apart from their own God.”
Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges the power and faithfulness of their God, and the remarkable faith, trust and willingness to yield all, of the three men.
‘His supernatural agency.’ More than an angel, but similar to the idea of ‘the Angel of Yahweh’. Note also the emphasis put on their faith. They had full trusted God to do what was right even when everything seemed to be going wrong.
‘They have changed the king’s word.’ Once a sovereign lord had made a decree it was not usual for it to be altered (in the case of the Medes and Persians it could not be). These men had achieved what very few had ever done.
‘And have surrendered their bodies.’ They had not hesitated to surrender their whole existence into God’s hands, rather than worship any god but their own.
3.29 ‘Therefore I make a decree that every people, nation and language who speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill. Because there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.’
He still had the heart of a despot, the power of life and death. And he replaced his previous decree with one that protected the name and reputation of the God of heaven, the God of the three men, Who had proved Himself supreme. From now on to speak amiss of Him in any way meant an instant, terrible and degrading death and destruction of all property. For the phrase about the punishment compare 2.5. This similarity emphasises the unity of the book. It is not just a group of separate stories.
3.30 ‘Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.’
His final act was to promote the three men to more powerful positions in the province of Babylon.
Chapter 4 The Proclamation of Nebuchadnezzar.
This extraordinary proclamation by Nebuchadnezzar, probably written many years after the preceding incidents, under the influence of and with the assistance of Daniel himself, could only have resulted from a strange event, and that event was a period of severe mental trouble that the king went through which, for a while at least, gave him a whole new view of life.
Only those who have experienced such problems at first hand can appreciate the relief, bewilderment and gratitude that results when emerging from such a situation, as the person seeks to come to grips with what has happened to them, and Daniel, who as chief of the wise men would have been directly involved, and would have had knowledge at first hand of all that went on, no doubt sought to bring home to him that he owed his recovery to the God of heaven. Indeed the decree is evidence that Daniel, throughout what occurred, was seen as his trusted adviser and friend.
It was probably brought home to Nebuchadnezzar that many rumours were circulating throughout the empire, for while no doubt information about his condition was kept secret to prevent trouble arising in the empire, rumours would inevitably filter out through servants, and would soon begin to multiply. Strange behaviour and actions would become enlarged and distorted, and people would begin to wonder whether there should be a change of emperor. Daniel probably therefore brought home to him, in consultation with other advisers, the importance of issuing the proclamation, firstly because it would indicate that all was well, and secondly because it would scotch many of the rumours by indicating that his problems had arisen at the hands of the gods, and that all was now resolved. No one would think the worse of him if his temporary condition was seen to be due to the fact that he had fallen foul of the gods.
It is true that there is no direct external evidence for what follows, but it is a condition that is not all that rare in one form or another and medically accurate, and there is no reason at all why Nebuchadnezzar, who was subject to extraordinary dreams and visions, and behaviour that sometimes revealed a state of excessive intensity, should not have suffered from it. That does not mean that it was not from God. God could speak and work through his condition. And we do in fact have little external evidence anyway for the last years of Nebuchadnezzar. But even if we had, once the immediate aftermath of what happened was over, it was not the kind of thing a king would want recorded as a memorial.
4.1 ‘Nebuchadnezzar the king, to all peoples, nations and languages who dwell in all the earth. Peace be multiplied to you.’
The proclamation is addressed to the whole empire, but would go to their rulers. ‘Peoples, nations and languages’ was the official way of addressing members of the empire. See 3.4. The great kings of Babylon and Persia saw themselves as, and called themselves, kings of the earth. Anyone not in their empire was not worthy of consideration, and certainly Nebuchadnezzar’s empire was widespread and covered many nations, from Elam and Media in the north east to Egypt in the south west.
These opening words can be compared with 6.25 in a decree issued by Darius the Mede, the king-governor of Babylon appointed by Cyrus the Persian after the Medo-Persian forces had taken Babylon, who by reason of his status used the Babylonian format.
4.2-3 ‘It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has wrought towards me. How great are his signs and how mighty are his wonders. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.’
A frank admission that he had been at variance with the high ruler of the gods, (the term Most High God could refer to Marduk and would later be used of Zeus), removed all shame. Indeed it would produce some reluctant admiration. Even the lord of the earth must be humbled when at variance with the king of the gods. The word for signs indicates ‘that through which lessons were learned’, the word for wonders indicated that they were of a supernatural nature. The everlastingness of the gods in general, and of their rule, was acknowledged by all, in contrast with the mortality of earthly kings.
To Daniel the words referred to the one and only God, Who was God Most High and ruled over all. That is why he included the decree in his book. But to Nebuchadnezzar, schooled all his life in polytheism and surrounded by polytheism, it would indicate the great God who was over all the gods, possibly the One Who had revealed Himself in His dealings over Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and had spoken to him in his dreams, or possibly Marduk.
It is possible that the last phrases were influenced by Psalm 145.13, or alternately that Psalm 145.13 was influenced by this proclamation. In the former case we must see the influence of Daniel, in the latter confirmation that the proclamation was widespread and well known.
Concerns About His Dream.
4.4-5 ‘I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in my house and flourishing in my palace. I saw a dream which made me afraid. And the imaginings on my bed, and the visions of my head, troubled me.’
Everything was going well for Nebuchadnezzar, and his life was flourishing (literally ‘growing green’ - an idea that connected with the dream). He had gained many victories and had spent much time engaging with enemies with great success. He had become one of the great historical figures of all time. But now he was enjoying a period of rest and enjoyment in his palace. Trouble seemed far away. And then his dreams began to trouble him. These were possibly early signs of the mental disturbance that would finally, humanly speaking, result in the blackness of depression that later came over him. Inspiration is often connected with manic depression.
4.6 ‘Therefore I made a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of my dream.’
Those who see it as strange that he should call on these men after what we know from chapter 2 should remember a number of things. Firstly that the wise men here were not the same ones as in his younger days. The older more prominent ones had probably died off. And Daniel’s general supervision might well have made the younger ones more effective and efficient. Secondly that Nebuchadnezzar was older and more tolerant. The young man who in his intolerance and youthful arrogance, and possibly his instability, had been willing to sweep all the wise men of Babylon to destruction because they had been unable to do what most agreed was impossible, had become more mature and steady, and had begun to have greater respect for many of these wise men who were still held in awe in Babylon, and no doubt often seemed to achieve results.
And thirdly it might well have been that Daniel was about his many duties and was for the time being unavailable. Nebuchadnezzar was not the kind who liked to wait about patiently for his subordinates. If he could not have Daniel immediately it was worth trying his henchmen. He always had Daniel to fall back on. So he sent for them to draw on their knowledge.
4.7 ‘Then came in the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans and the soothsayers and I told the dream before them, but they did not make known to me its interpretation.’
This is confirmation of what we have said above. He knew from experience that it was no use asking these men to tell him his dream, so he accepted second best and informed them of the content of the dream. He was in a hurry, and he could always consult Daniel later. But even so they could not help him. It is possible that they had no idea what it meant, because it was not mentioned in their Babylonian books of dreams. But it is more probable that they had a very good idea of what it meant and dared not say so. For it was not so difficult to interpret, for men used to dealing with dreams. But who was going to tell the king what it meant, and face the consequences? (Even Daniel did it fearfully). Nebuchadnezzar might well have believed that they could not simply because of his poor opinion of them.
4.8 ‘But at last Daniel came in before me, whose name was Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy God, and I told the dream before him.’
At length Daniel arrived, possibly having been recalled from some distant city. And Nebuchadnezzar draws attention to the fact that his name has within it a syllable that connects with the name of Bel, the name of one of Nebuchadnezzar’s gods. (It was quite common to use word play when dealing with names). The fact that he saw that as significant may suggest that ‘in whom is the spirit of the holy gods’ in his eyes refers mainly to Bel. But Daniel and his readers would connect it with the Spirit of God. Then Nebuchadnezzar told Daniel his dream. His confidence in him was such (as he now revealed) that he felt no need to test him out.
We may see the use of the name Daniel as due to the influence of Daniel, or even introduced by Daniel (thought of as meaning ‘God judges on my behalf’) when he copied the decree for Israelite consumption, to stress that it was God who would judge and make clear the dream. Nebuchadnezzar would use the name Belteshazzar.
4.9a ‘Saying, “O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy God is in you, and no secret is a problem to you, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and its interpretation.” ’
Daniel had by now been master (Rab) over the ‘magicians’ (wise men) for many years (2.48), and had Nebuchadnezzar’s full confidence. Nebuchadnezzar knew that the spirit of the holy gods was in him, even though he may not have understood quite which god. But the fact that he mentioned the revealing of secrets may suggest that he means, correctly, the holy God who had previously revealed secrets through Daniel. So he asked him for an explanation of his visions and the dream in which they were contained.
4.9b ‘Thus were the visions of my head on my bed, I saw and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree was growing and was strong, and its height reached to heaven, and a view of it to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were lush and its fruit plentiful, and on it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heaven dwelt in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it.’
The same idea as is found in this dream is also found in Ezekiel’s parable about Pharaoh (Ezekiel 31.3-9) but large trees were a common sight, as was their use by beasts and birds for food and protection, so that any similarity is probably coincidental. Great trees provided good illustrations, and were regularly used in antiquity to illustrate royalty. Thus Nebuchadnezzar (although he would withdraw from the thought and possibly shut it out of his mind) and the magicians had both probably recognised that it spoke of Nebuchadnezzar.
The tree was in the midst of the earth, and it was of great height. It was ‘world prominent’. This could hardly mean anything other than Nebuchadnezzar. The wording is such that it suggests that during the dream the growing was seen to take place. ‘Its height reached to heaven’ would remind Daniel’s readers of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11.4), and they would see its connection with Nebuchadnezzar as significant. The tree was conspicuous to all who were in ‘the world’ i.e. his world.
It was also the great provider, providing food and protection. That is how great kings always liked to see themselves, justifying war by what they saw as their ‘benevolence’ to mankind. And Nebuchadnezzar would see himself as the feeder and protector of the empire, his ‘world’.
4.13-17 ‘I saw in the visions of my head on my bed, and behold a watcher and a holy one came down from heaven. He cried aloud and said thus, “Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake of his leaves and scatter his fruit. Let the beasts escape from under it and the birds from its branches. Nevertheless leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field. And let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth. Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given to him. And let seven times pass over him. The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones, to the intent that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whoever he will, and sets up over it the lowest of men.”
The implication is indeed quite plain, and it is no wonder that the wise men were wise enough to shrink from declaring it. The detail is slightly more difficult. None would have dreamed what it really meant, but suggestions might have been made. But not to this great king whose word could mean life or death.
The watcher and the holy one (or ‘the holy watcher’) would represent heavenly being(s), involved in watching the behaviour of mankind (see 7.9-10 where the court of God watching over this scene is described). As far as non-Israelites were concerned this would not necessarily mean moral behaviour. To them the gods were not so much concerned about that, as about how earthly behaviour might affect things for the gods. Daniel, on the other hand, would see them as concerned with the maintenance of God’s laws.
There are two strands in the dream in Daniel’s presentation. One which is explaining why the king suffered as he did, so that others might recognise that he had been battling with the gods, and was therefore not to be demeaned. The other would be seen by Israelites as indicating that there was an awareness of his sins and guilt before God. We should note that the watcher does not act on his own behalf but on behalf of the Most High.
The cry to ‘cut down’ might be seen as being made to divine helpers of the watcher, or to God, or simply as a general cry to indicate that it will happen.
The total destruction of the tree apart from the stump is made quite clear in full detail. It is to lose all its ability to give benefit. The bands around the tree were often put round a stump to prevent it splitting. Here it is probably to be seen as God’s guarantee that the stump will be preserved and survive. The dew, and his being with the beasts, picture degradation and loss. The loss of a man’s heart and its being replaced by a beast indicates loss of rationalism, and beastly behaviour, but would have puzzled all. The ‘seven times’ indicates that what is happening is the result of divine action, a full and divinely perfect treatment from the gods. (In such contexts seven always means something like this. Its use in ancient religious myths to signify divine perfection (along with ‘three’ representing completeness) was prominent in such writings, in many cases almost exclusively so).
‘The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones, to the intent that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whoever he will, and sets up over it the lowest of men.’ Here it is made evident that the holy watcher acts on behalf of ‘the watchers’, indeed by their decree, and on behalf of the Most High. (We are told who these watchers are in 7.9-10). To Nebuchadnezzar and the general readers of the decree the Most High was probably the king of the gods, to Daniel and the Israelites He was the one Most High God. The Most High is sovereign over all things and destroys men or raises them up as He will. This was an important point for Nebuchadnezzar. It removed any shame from what had happened.
This will all be dealt with in more detail when Daniel gives the inspired explanation.
4.18 ‘This dream I, king Nebuchadnezzar, have seen, and you, O Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation forasmuch as all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation. But you are able, for the spirit of the holy gods is in you.’
Nebuchadnezzar now appeals to Daniel to help him by interpreting the dream. He is fearful because he thinks it concerns himself, and desperate because he wants reassurance. After all he had not come too badly out of the previous dream that Daniel had interpreted. The judgment mentioned there was delayed. But there was something about this one that he did not like.
The Interpretation of the Dream.
4.19 ‘Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was upset for a while and his thoughts troubled him. The king answered and said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or the interpretation trouble you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, the dream be to those who hate you, and its interpretation to your enemies.”
Aware of the interpretation of the dream Daniel was very upset, and his concern was clear to Nebuchadnezzar. It was clear to him that Daniel did not want to tell him its meaning, and it confirmed his worst fears. But he was a soldier who had faced many hardships and he wanted to know the worst. So he assured Daniel that he could tell him the truth without fear, at which Daniel pointed out that what he had to say was really what his enemies and those who hated him would want to say. It was not good news. Nevertheless at his insistence he would tell him its meaning.
4.20-22 “The tree that you saw, which grew and was strong, whose height reached to heaven, and was in sight of all the earth, whose leaves were lush, and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and on whose branches the birds of heaven had their nests. It is you, O king. You have grown and become strong. For your greatness has grown and reached to heaven, and your dominion is to the end of the earth.”
The tree represented all that Nebuchadnezzar could have hoped for. It represented him as powerful and strong, riding tall and famous, the feeder and protector of His people, so famous that even the gods knew of him (‘reached to heaven’ - compare Genesis 10.9), and ruler of the known world. But then was to come the downside.
4.23-26 “And whereas the king saw watcher and a holy one coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Hew down the tree and destroy it. Nevertheless leave the stump of its roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field, and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him.’ This is the interpretation, O king, and it is the decree of the Most High which is come on my lord, the king. That you will be driven from men, and your dwelling will be with the beasts of the field, and you will be made to eat grass as oxen, and you will be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whoever he will. And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots, your kingdom will be made sure to you once you have known that the heavens do rule.”
It is stressed that this was to come about at the decree of the Most High as declared by the holy (heavenly) watcher. ‘Holy one’ probably refers to the watcher, indicating his heavenly status. Nebuchadnezzar probably saw him as a minor god, Daniel as an angel of God. The people to whom the message originally went would recognise that it indicated that the gods had determined to act against Nebuchadnezzar, and especially the king of the gods, and that the watcher was a minor god. (Thus they would be in awe rather than deriding Nebuchadnezzar).
The tree, Nebuchadnezzar, is to be destroyed, but not totally. He is to be like a tree that is toppled. But the stump will be left, with its roots, bound with a band of brass and iron indicating that God will preserve him through it and restore him to his kingdom. The dream also indicated that he would be driven from the society of men and would behave like a wild beast and like the oxen, eating grass and living like a wild beast under the open skies, so that the dew fell on him. And this was to last ‘seven times’.
‘Seven times’ is deliberately not specific, and the emphasis is on the seven. It is the number of divine perfection, evidence of divine activity, evidence that the experience will not be short but will endure for the time that God selects. It will occur not for ‘one’ period but for ‘seven’ periods (compare ‘a time, times and half a time’ - 7.25; 12.7; and ‘a season and a time’ - 7.12). It does not therefore refer to a week, or a month, or a year (otherwise why not say so?). Those are human time periods. But these are divine time periods, a period of prolonged divine activity, prolonged for the decreed divinely perfect time. (Thus the enemies of God can only prevail for ‘a time, times and half a time’ unable to complete the seven, for they are not God).
The ‘band of brass and iron’ has produced many interpretations, ‘something which Nebuchadnezzar would have to suffer during his madness’, ‘a figure of speech for the stern and crushing sentence under which the king is to lie’, ‘the bond of darkness which would overshadow the king’s spirit’, ‘the chain with which madmen were wont to be bound’, ‘the withdrawal of free self-determination through the fetter of madness’. All may be possible. But in our view the significance is that the stump, and therefore Nebuchadnezzar, will be protected from total disintegration by divine activity.
‘The heavens do rule.’ An unusual use of ‘heavens’. It symbolises the divine rule of the Most High (as in 7.9-10). But it also included the idea that there was a heavenly kingdom that was over earthly kingdoms. By the time of Jesus it had become commonplace to use ‘Heaven’ as a synonym for God.
Daniel’s Advice Consequent on The Dream.
4.27 “Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you, and break off your sins by practising righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your tranquillity.”
Daniel then gives his advice. Let the king change his way of life, by rejecting his selfishness and wrongdoing and doing only what is right and in accordance with divine law, and by showing mercy to the weak and poor. Then perhaps this disturbance of mind might be delayed or might even not come on him. Whether it would have been so we cannot know, for the king did not change his way of life.
‘Break off your sins.’ Cast them away by a change of life. It compares with Paul’s ‘put off -- the old man’ (Ephesians 4.22). A change of life might bring mercy. There is not here the thought of deserving mercy as a result, as though it could be earned, but of receiving it by the mercy and will of God. Notice the ‘perhaps’.
The Fulfilment of the Dream.
4.28 ‘All this came on the king Nebuchadnezzar.’
It had to do for it was the decree of the Most High, and he had failed to take warning. That is the divine side. But humanly speaking Nebuchadnezzar had become a manic depressive (suffering from bipolar illness, moving between the periods of depression revealed by his dreams and moods of exultation) and was being carried along on his illness. He had an intensity about him that revealed the illness that lay beneath the surface, and he chose to direct that intensity in sinful ways until at length he could no longer control it. It controlled him.
Note on bipolar illness.
Bipolar illness reveals itself in many ways. Sometimes the depressive element is more manifest, sometimes the exaltation. It produces in exaggerated proportions the moods that overtake all of us, and is the result of chemical activity in the brain. At its most exaggerated it can produce what we call ‘insanity’ or ‘madness’, for it can produce excessively abnormal behaviour and delusions. For large periods of time it does not manifest itself, and sometimes it is lifelong, on and off, while at others it manifests itself as people get older, although its underlying presence can sometimes be detected by the experienced observer even when not obvious. It can come and go with remarkable suddenness.
I had a good Christian friend who was a medical doctor who had permanent bipolar illness, the symptoms of which recurred throughout her fairly short life. When the depression began to come on her she would sign herself into the hospital for treatment until the period subsided. She confided to me that it was while going into the depression and coming out of it that the danger of suicide was likely, the result of the feeling of unworthiness and lack of desire to live consequent on the depression of the faculties, and it was then that medical supervision was so necessary. When in total depression there was not even the will to do anything. Sadly well meaning Christian friends, who had no understanding of bipolar illness, persuaded her that she should exercise faith (it was like telling someone with a broken back to ignore the broken back) and not resort to the hospital and to medicines, and she felt guilty and responded. She committed suicide as a further period of clinical depression (not be it noted what we generally think of as being depressed) came on her. She would undoubtedly not have done so had she been under medical supervision and care.
Another, a close relative of high intelligence, began to manifest the illness in her fifties. I had previously seen hints occasionally in her eyes of something strange, and had sometimes noted an intensity that had slightly disturbed me, and I was in fact informed by someone more knowledgeable, twenty years before it happened, that ‘she will have trouble in her fifties’. Yet I had dismissed the idea and there were no obvious signs of it over that period apart from what I have mentioned. Rather she was bright, active, intelligent and totally sensible.
The bad time began with ‘clinical depression’, the depression of mental faculties. This was not excessive gloom, but strange behaviour. Clinical depression is not necessarily related to black moods. And there followed periods on and off of excessively strange behaviour and delusions, and actions which were totally incomprehensible, absolutely unbelievable if I had not witnessed them, and totally out of character. And then the strangeness would pass away as though it had not been. Nebuchadnezzar’s subsequent behaviour does not surprise me at all.
With regard to moral accountability assessment is difficult. For most of the time she was morally accountable, but there were certainly also periods when she could unquestionably not be blamed for her actions, for what she did was ‘moral’ given the disturbing thoughts and delusions of her brain, and her relatively mild violence was totally untypical. She had always abhorred violence and actually thought she was doing right because of her delusions.
Nebuchadnezzar may be seen as manifesting minor signs of his illness during his life, including his intensive dreams, followed by his equally intense determination to have them interpreted, and his mad intention to destroy all the wise men of Babylon, and to heat the furnace seven times, indeed the intensity may have helped him in his warlike activities. But in this period of his life depression probably partly explains his dream and mania his subsequent response, followed by a further period of a severe clinical psychotic state in the form called zoanthropy (behaving like an animal), that brought about his excessive behaviour. This does not exclude the fact that God used this to bring about His purposes. He could, and did, use the illness to achieve what He wanted to achieve.
End of note.
4.29-30 ‘At the end of twelve months he was walking in the royal palace of Babylon. The king spoke and said, “Is not this Babylon the great which I have built for the royal dwelling place, by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?”
At the end of twelve months Nebuchadnezzar exalted himself as though he were a god, as he looked around at his great achievements and possessions. Babylon was at the height of its power and glory and it was enough to stir up his mania. He considered that his dwelling place almost compared with that of the gods.
Here we actually have a typical example of mania. A man exalted above the norm. A year had passed since his period of depression and his dream, and now he had become ‘manic’, highly charged, and was on a high. He thus obtained an over-exalted view of himself, an extension of the pride that he no doubt always felt over his achievements. But we are not to see him as punished for the behaviour which was the result of his illness but for the underlying pride that resulted in it. However, he was so manic that it was a disturbing sign. His mental faculties were becoming ‘overheated’, and strange behaviour often results.
‘The royal palace of Babylon.’ Identified because there were many royal palaces, but intended also to stress the centrality of and importance of Babylon, as the following words demonstrate. He was excessively proud of this palace which he saw as the bond which bound the empire together, as ‘wondered at’ by the people and as containing his own majesty. This pride in it comes out in the inscriptions. ‘Then I built the palace, the seat of my royalty, the bond of the race of men, the dwelling of joy and rejoicing’, and again ‘In Babylon, my dear city which I love, was the palace, the house of wonder of the people, the bond of the land, the brilliant place, the abode of the majesty in Babylon’.
‘Which I have built.’ His claim was justified for he was a great builder. The inscriptions tell us how he renovated the two great temples, those of Marduk in Babylon, and of Nebo in Borsippa, how he then restored fifteen other temples in Babylon and completed the two huge walls of the city, adding a large rampart. He rebuilt the palace of his father Nabopolassar and built the palace with which the hanging gardens of Babylon were associated, and these were but a few of his achievements.
42.31 ‘While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, “O king Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken. The kingdom is departed from you. And you will be driven from men, and your dwelling will be with the beasts of the field. You will be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whoever he will.” ’
The voice from heaven warned him of the disturbing result of the illness which would come on him. From it he would learn the lesson that the Most High, and not he, ruled over all things, and that He gave it to whoever He would. In all things God is sovereign, to be revealed by his demoting Nebuchadnezzar, and then by restoring him. Given the situation, the latter was possibly the most remarkable. Even a great king like Nebuchadnezzar was not immune from the chemical activity of the brain, which demonstrated his human weakness.
‘The kingdom is departed from you.’ He was about to experience a period when he would no longer rule. Rather he would be like an animal, eating grass, scrabbling in the ground and living as a beast rather than in his present splendid dwelling. The contrast with his previous claim about his dwellingplace was deliberate.
‘Seven times shall pass over you.’ This would occur over the divinely appointed period, an extended period of divine judgment. But the very fact that it was so specific also meant that it would have an end.
4.33 ‘The same hour was the thing fulfilled on Nebuchadnezzar, and he was driven from men, and ate grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until his hair was grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds claws.’
The allowing of nails and hair to grow excessively, the latter becoming matted and thus like feathers, and seeking refuge away from people, and willingness to face the discomforts of nature, is not unknown with certain stages of extreme manic depressive illness, hidden in the modern day by nursing care. There is nothing here that is not typical. And he was the supreme king. No one would dare to interfere, especially as they would see him as afflicted by the gods. They would indeed be in awe of him. So was he allowed to do as he pleased.
But it was probably hushed up. It was better for the peoples not to know. (Although rumours would inevitably spread). And who would know how soon the gods would release him so that he could then vent his anger an any who took advantage of the situation? Thus his sons, eyeing each other, and his chief ministers, some clearly extremely loyal, would be in a continual quandary as to what to do, and Daniel in his honoured position as master (Rab) of the wise men and chief governor of Babylon would have a powerful say in holding things together. It may well have been largely his influence that preserved Nebuchadnezzar’s throne.
No doubt any suggestion of including this in inscriptions was severely crushed once Nbucahdnezzar had recovered. It was one thing to circulate the rulers of the empire as a temporary measure to quash rumours, it was another to pass it down in history. But there is some confirmation of this experience in words from the writings of Abydemus, quoted by Eusebius, which cites Nebuchadnezzar as prophetically wishing, when ‘possessed by some god or other’, exactly this kind of fate on another (‘a Persian mule’ i.e. Cyrus), ‘O that -- he might be carried across the desert, where there are neither cities nor foot of man, but where wild beasts have pasture and birds their haunts, that he might wander alone among rocks and ravines’. He is then said to have disappeared from the city. This would well fit in with a period of known ‘possession’, i.e. mental instability, and may well have arisen precisely because Nebuchadnezzar was known to have had exactly such an experience connected with his grandeur and was now portrayed as wishing it on another.
Another Babylonian inscription discovered by Sir Henry Rawlinson from the period of Nebuchadnezzar reads, ‘For four years the seat of my kingdom in my city -- did not rejoice my heart. In all my dominions I did not build a high place of power, the precious treasures of my kingdom I did not lay out. In the worship of Marduk my lord, the joy of my heart in Babylon, the city of my sovereignty, I did not sing his praises and I did not furnish his altars, nor did I clear out the canals.’ He must clearly have been ill in a fairly severe way for this to occur.
Recovery and Restoration.
4.34-35 ‘And at the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honoured him who lives for ever and ever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom from generation to generation, and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing, and he does according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What are you doing?” ’
When Nebuchadnezzar came back to normality, probably quite suddenly as often occurs in such cases, it is understandable that he was filled with gratitude to ‘the Most High’, that is the highest of the gods. That Daniel saw this as the God of heaven we need not doubt. The words are a true expression of what He is. He is Himself everlasting, and His rule is everlasting, going on for ever through all generations; the earth and its inhabitants are a comparative nonentity before Him, the armies of heaven obey Him, the peoples of earth cannot thwart Him. None can prevent His activity (literally ‘smite his hand’. This may refer to rendering powerless, or to chastisement) or ask Him what He is doing. He is all powerful, and none can say Him nay. Nebuchadnezzar had been faced up with his own fragility, and recognised in Another what he had once thought of as referring to himself.
‘At the end of the days.’ That is at the end of the ‘seven times’, the divinely perfect period determined by God.
4.36 ‘At the same time my understanding returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and brightness returned to me, and my counsellors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent greatness was added to me.’
Nebuchadnezzar here describes his restoration to power. The condition he had been in was a strange one. His behaviour would have seemed sensible and normal to him at the time. But when he came back to normality he would acknowledge that it had not been so, as he does here, although not as emphatically as others would. But he had to convince the lordly readers of the decree that he was back on form.
‘My majesty and brightness returned to me.’ Instead of the self-abasement resulting from his illness, he again recognised his own superiority and authority. Thus his counsellors and lords, reassured, again sought to him, probably with great relief. It would help that they had thought him afflicted by the gods. Thus as the gods had now clearly released and restored him none the worse for what had happened, life could go on as normal. With their support he was established on his throne over his kingdom, and again given all the trappings of greatness.
4.37 ‘Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the king of heaven, for all his works are truth and his ways judgment, and those who walk in pride he is able to abase.’
Nebuchadnezzar’s final testimony is to the ‘king of heaven’ whose works are truth and whose ways are wise, revealing excellent judgment. He may well have come, under Daniel’s guidance, to a belief in Daniel’s God. He certainly now saw the king of heaven as supreme and able to keep men humble and in their place.
Chapter 5 Belshazzar’s Feast.
When Nebuchadnezzar died he was succeeded by his son Amel Marduk (Evil-Merodach - 2 Kings 25.27-30), who was then succeeded within two years by Nergal-shar-usur (Jeremiah 39.3, 13), Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law. He only survived for four years and died leaving on the throne a son, who was a minor, Labashi-Marduk, and within a short while this son had been replaced by Nabonidus, possibly the scion of a noble family of Aramaean stock in Haran, who seized the throne with the help of disaffected people and cemented his position by marrying the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, who bore him a son named Bel-shar-usur (Belshazzar).
Nabonidus eventually left his son Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, to hold the reins of kingship, first in order to conduct campaigns elsewhere, including Arabia, and then in order to spend his time in the city of Teima in Arabia possibly pursuing the study of astrology. He also refused to pay due deference to Marduk, absenting himself for long periods from the Babylonian akitu festival, to the anger of the priests who certainly regarded him with hostility. He favoured the moon god, Sin, rebuilding his temple in Haran. He was also an antiquarian. However, he may in fact have suffered from ulcers as tradition suggests (The prayer of Nabonidus from Qumran), and that would help to explain his retirement, and the remainder may simply have been due to his ‘scholarly’ nature and dislike of functions, which would have been interpreted as ‘odd’, if not worse.
Thus his son ruled for many years in Babylon as a junior co-regent, with the powers, if not the name, of kingship. The title of ‘sharru’ (overall king) was never applied to him and he was rather entitled officially ‘mar sharri’ (son of the overall king). But the title melek (king) was regularly applied to under-kings, and Belshazzar could thus be called ‘melek of Babylon’.
Nabonidus returned to his duties in the last part of his reign and just prior to this incident, was defeated by the forces of Cyrus at Sippar, and fled. At this time Belshazzar was still ruling in Babylon at the time this chapter commences. (Nabonidus later returned to Babylon and was captured).
5.1 ‘Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.’
The abrupt introduction of the subject is typical of the author (compare 3.1; 4.1). Belshazzar (mentioned as Bel - shar - usur on cuneiform tablets, where he is always called ‘son of the king’) was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, and son of Nabonidus, the latter later in life going into semi-retirement in Arabia to study astrology, leaving Belshazzar to act in his place as king. A Persian document says of Nabonidus ‘he freed his hand. He entrusted the kingship to him. Then he himself undertook a distant campaign’, demonstrating that it was not the first time he had done it. Decrees were issued in their joint names, and their names were regularly associated in various ways. Thus while not strictly ‘sharru’ (overall king) Daniel is justified in calling him ‘melek’, ruler, as he also does Cyrus’ general, Darius the Mede, for he exercised kingly authority and was more than just a governor.
The ‘thousand’ is a round number meaning ‘a good number’. The word ‘a thousand’ was used among other things to depict a larger military unit, as against ‘a hundred’ or ‘a ten’. Large feasts like this were typical of oriental royal feasts. Indeed there were much larger ones. That a great feast was held on the night of the fall of Babylon is attested by both Herodotus and Xenophon. During the feast Belshazzar became inebriated. The drinking of wine was a large part of such feasts.
This gathering took place while the city of Babylon was surrounded by enemies, for the Medo-Persians had invaded Babylonia under one of Cyrus’ generals named Ugbaru, and the city was virtually under siege. But due to their strong defences they were confident of holding out.
‘Drank wine before the thousand.’ The king would be seated alone at his table on a raised platform as befitted his status.
5.2 ‘Belshazzar, while he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives and his concubines, might drink from them.’
We are not told of any reason why he did this, but he seemingly knew of them and no doubt persuaded himself in his drunken stupor that it was time they were used. It was probably his means of declaring the power of Babylon, and possibly his own defiance of a God Who had helped his grandfather, and Whom he felt had let him down, at a time when that power was being fatally undermined. The fact that they were sacred vessels suggests that this was a direct act of blasphemy, for such sacred things were generally treated with respect. It is clear that Daniel no longer held such high office under Nabonidus and Belshazzar, for he was not called to the feast and is later mentioned as though he was in retirement. It would not be unusual, given the changes in rulership that had taken place. Perhaps also he had previously in times past used his influence against their use.
‘While he tasted the wine’ probably means while Belshazzar was under its influence.
The presence of the important womenfolk, including Belshazzar’s wives, is attested elsewhere with regard to Babylonian drinking feasts, even though they were feasts of great lasciviousness. Their presence, and the general behaviour at the feast, added to the blasphemy of using the sacred vessels. The concubines would be lesser wives of the harem who were of common stock.
‘Nebuchadnezzar his father’ simply means that Nebuchadnezzar was his ancestor. He was in fact his grandfather. The word translated does not strictly mean ‘father’. It means ‘one through whom you trace your descent’. Compare ‘your father Abraham’ (Genesis 28.13; 32.9). (It can also be used in other ways more loosely. Compare the words of Jesus, ‘you are of your father the Devil’ - John 8.44).
5.3-4 ‘Then they brought the golden vessels which were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood and of stone.’
The blasphemy of the situation is starkly brought out. We cannot doubt the intent of the king. The golden vessels were those connected with the sanctuary itself (see 1.2). And in the midst of that lascivious, drunken feast they drank from them and drunkenly sang songs of worship to man made gods, gods made of earthly materials with no intrinsic life. The description is deliberately derisive.
His act was an insult to the God of Israel, perhaps a deliberate slight on the God Who had so influenced Nebuchadnezzar, who had seemingly never used the vessels in such a way. In Belshazzar’s drunken mind there may have been in mind that ‘the Most High God’ was failing them in their hour of need, so that they would show Him how much they cared.
5.5 ‘In the same hour came forth the fingers of a man’s hand and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace. And the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.’
Excavation has revealed that the walls of the Babylonian palace were covered with white plaster so that any dark object would be highlighted against it in the light of the great lampstand. Only the king is actually mentioned as seeing the hand that wrote. But it does not necessarily mean that no other saw it, although it is possible. Perhaps the emphasis is rather on the fact that the blasphemous king, who had ordered the blasphemy, also saw the hand because the message was for him. We can imagine the mysteriousness of the scene. The dark hall, the flickering of the lamps, the inebriated condition of those present, the boisterous singing, and then the awed silence as they became aware of what was happening in the flickering light from the lampstand.
5.6 ‘Then the king’s face was changed on him, and his thoughts upset him greatly, and the joints of his limbs went slack and his knees smote one against another.’
The effect on the king was dramatic. He was absolutely terrified. The picture is of someone in a blue funk. This serves to confirm that his attitude was one of deliberate blasphemy, for he now recognised that the God Whom he had been blaspheming was here to deal with him.
5.7 ‘The king cried aloud to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans and the soothsayers. The king spoke, and said to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever will read this writing, and show me its interpretation, will be clothed with purple, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” ’
He too called in the wise men of Babylon who were in the besieged city, and offered gifts to those who could give him the meaning of the writing on the wall. To be clothed in purple was to be treated royally. It suggested that the person was to be made of exalted rank. The gold chain was a symbol of high office. It was probably such as could not be worn unless granted by the king. And this was confirmed by the fact that the person would be made third in rank after Nabonidus and Belshazzar.
Such an honour might in fact have backfired, for someone so honoured might well have been a target for the invading forces. But no one dreamed that the city would be taken so quickly.
It may be asked why Daniel did not enter with the wise men. The answer is probably that he had been replaced as master of the wise men, either when Nabonidus succeeded to the throne, or before. New favourites loyal to the new regime replaced old ones, and Daniel was probably not recognised by the ancient wise men as a genuine ‘Chaldean’. He had thus seemingly been honourably retired, or given a position of lesser authority.
5.8-9 ‘Then all the king’s wise men came in. But they could not read the writing or make its interpretation clear to the king. Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his face was changed on him, and his lords were perplexed.’
None of the wise men of Babylon were able to read and decipher the writing. Whether this means that the script was unintelligible, or just that its meaning was difficult, does not really matter, although the former is probable as they could at least have made a guess at the latter. The result was that the king, who had had time to recover himself, once again went into a blue funk, although not quite so badly as before. His lords also did not know what to think or say. All knew that it spelt something ominous.
5.10-12 ‘The queen by reason of the words of the king and his lords came into the banquet house. The queen spoke and said, “O king live for ever. Do not let your thoughts trouble you, nor let your face be changed. There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods, and, in your father’s days, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him. And the king Nebuchadnezzar your father, the king I say, your father, made him master of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans and soothsayers, forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams and showing of dark sentences and dissolving of doubts (literally ‘of knots’) were found in that same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show you the interpretation.” ’
‘The queen’ may be the wife of Nabonidus, and daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, but it is equally as likely that it means the mother of the queen, the wife of Nebuchadnezzar. In many ancient countries the queen of a past monarch was held in high esteem and had considerable authority (compare 1 Kings 15.13; 2 Kings 11.1-3; 24.12; Jeremiah 13.18; 29.2). She came in because someone had brought news to her of what the king and lords were saying. The fact that she could enter of her own accord into the presence of the king and his assembly demonstrates her high authority.
She remembered that great man Daniel who had so helped Nebuchadnezzar. She was of an age to do so. And she was concerned for her son (grandson). So she told him about Daniel. She said that he was a man full of the spirit of the holy gods, and that he had deep understanding and wisdom, and light where there was darkness for others. Indeed because of these things Nebuchadnezzar had made him master (Rab) of the wise men. He could interpret dreams, explain words which no one else could, and resolve puzzles and doubts (knotty problems). He was just the man to help Belshazzar. Let him be called for.
5.13-16 ‘Then was Daniel brought in before the king. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Judah? I have heard of you that the spirit of the gods is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in you. And now the wise men and enchanters have been brought in before me, that they might read this writing and make its interpretation known to me. But they could not show the interpretation of the thing. But I have heard of you, that you can give interpretations and resolve doubts. Now if you can read the writing, and make its interpretation known to me, you will be clothed with purple, and have a chain of old around your neck, and you shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” ’
Note the first description of Daniel. ‘Of the children of the Captivity of Judah’. This was the description seemingly used when the intention was to be polite (compare 2.25 and contrast 3.12). It explained their presence in the land and that they were there at the king’s ‘invitation’. The use of his Hebrew name may have been because that was the name that Daniel asked to be announced, or it may be that that was the name by which he was referred to in the dossier probably handed to the king. That he had seen such a dossier is suggested by the fact that Belshazzar knew what he was.
Note also the continual emphasis on Daniel’s qualities. All who read them knew that this was because God was with him. It was not glorifying Daniel but God, for God was the source of all his wisdom. And the same promise of high reward was given to him, if he could only solve the meaning of the writing.
On the other hand Belshazzar himself is revealed as at least neutral towards the gods. He omits the adjective holy. This fits in with his treatment of the holy vessels. He treated them with some disdain. He was more aware of his own status. The ‘I’ in verse 16 is emphatic.
5.17 ‘Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Let your gifts be to yourself, and give your rewards to another. Nevertheless I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him its interpretation.”
Daniel politely states that he wishes for no reward. He is not here to benefit from what he is about to do. This probably impressed the king with the idea that such a man would speak only the truth. Besides such refusals were often seen as polite acceptances among orientals. But the reader is aware all the time that the promise is anyway an empty one, for by the morrow there will be no kingdom.
5.18-19 “O you who are king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father the kingdom and greatness and glory and majesty. And because of the greatness that he gave him, all the peoples, nations and languages trembled and feared before him. Whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive. And whom he would he raised up, and whom he would he put down.”
We are probably to see in this ‘you who are king’, followed by the description, both an indication of the pride that Belshazzar felt in his position, and a reminder to him that Nebuchadnezzar was far, far greater than he. For Nebuchadnezzar had ruled over all, and no Medan or Persian had dared to trespass on his empire. Furthermore there was even now a king greater than Belshazzar, his own father. He was ‘melek, not ‘sharru’. But there had been no one greater than Nebuchadnezzar. He truly was the supreme lord, in whose presence all the known world trembled. He had total control, the power of life and death over his whole empire, and the power to give honour or to remove honour which really counted for something. Daniel had cause to remember both.
It was true that in a sense Belshazzar was like this. His word was law where he was and he had already shown that he could dispose of honours. But his power was not total. He had always to be aware that his father may step in and alter what he did. When his father had forbidden the annual akitu festivals from being held, Belshazzar had dared not interfere. He dared not take for himself the title ‘sharru’ (overall king). (Although Nabonidus and Belshazzar appear to have been on good terms. But it did not mean he could disregard his authority). There were limits to his power. And furthermore he would be very much aware that those ‘people, nations and languages’ were now mainly controlled by another, the great Cyrus, who would soon be knocking on the gates of Babylon. He may appoint a ‘third ruler’, but over what?
Note also the repetition of phrases and ideas from earlier chapters, denoting the unity of the whole (compare 3.4, 7, 29; 4.1, 22, 34, 36).
5.20 “But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him, and he was driven from the sons of men, and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses. He was fed with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and that he sets over it whoever he will.”
In contrast with Nebuchadnezzar’s glory was his demeaning. Because he had too great an opinion of himself and his own importance, he lost both his throne and his glory. Instead of his cosseted splendour he had matted hair and claws, instead of being surrounded by friends and admirers he was driven out of men’s company, instead of brilliance of mind he lost all rationality, instead of his palace his dwelling was with the wild asses, those untameable wild creatures that roam the open deserted places. Instead of sumptuous food, he ate grass. Instead of heated and splendid accommodation he was covered with dew. Then only did he learn that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and hands it over wherever it pleases Him.
5.22-23 “And you his descendant, O Belshazzar, you have not humbled your heart; though you knew all this. But you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven, and they have brought the vessels of his house before you, and you, and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine in them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of brass, iron, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor know. And the God in whose hand your breath is, and whose are all your ways, you have not glorified.”
With brave and powerful words Daniel stood before the distressed monarch with words that at any other time would have ensured his own death, and pointed out that he had done things even worse than those done by Nebuchadnezzar.
He was without excuse. He knew what had happened to his grandfather. And yet he had not learned his lesson. Instead of being humble before the God of heaven he had deliberately blasphemed His name, he had arrogantly and deliberately appropriated what was His in order to insult Him, and had not only allowed his inebriated courtiers, wives and concubines to drink wine from them, but had used them for the worship of mindless, blind, deaf images made of earthly metals by man.
The implication is that these gods were thus in contrast to the Lord of heaven, He Who was the living God, Who was the source of men’s breath, He Who heard and saw all things. And He with His all seeing eye and all hearing ear had seen and heard what Belshazzar had done. His crime was greater far than Nebuchadnezzar’s. And yet what folly. It had all been against the One Who held his life in His hands, the One Who had given him breath and could just as easily take it away, and he had done it in order to worship those who could do neither. What then could he expect this message to mean?
We must see these words as intended to make him repent, even at this late moment, otherwise why torment him with them? Perhaps he had a special feeling for this wayward son of his great friend. And they were also meant for his lords, and for the wives and concubines. All would soon stare death in the eyes, and all needed to seek the mercy of the God of heaven. Although they did not know it, for many of them this was to be their last chance.
And this also all applies to us who read these words, who constantly forget that we are faced with the living God, and that the things of this world and the things we often worship are as nothing. For us too one day there will be the writing on the wall, and for some, sooner than we might think.
5.24-28 “Then was the part of the hand sent from before him, and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed, MENEMENETEKELUPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing:
‘Then’ indicates that the hand came because of the treatment of the holy vessels. The hand is clearly stated as having come from ‘before the Most High’. What it wrote would be all in one sequence as above, for there were no spaces between words. We do not know whether it was actually in Aramaic or not (if it was why could the Chaldeans not at least read it?). It is therefore pointless to consider any alternatives other than the interpretation given. Indeed transliterated it would be M’N’M’N’TKLUPRSN.
However these interpretations do depend to some extent on word play so that we can assume that in whatever language the words were given in the word play was possible. This could come about in Aramaic because only the consonants would be written and thus different readings could be obtained by using different vowels on the same consonants.
M’N’ comes from the root to ‘count’ or ‘number’, thus meaning ‘It is numbered’. Daniel interprets it as ‘God has numbered your kingdom and brought it to an end’, that is He has determined the days of its length and has thus brought it to a conclusion. The repetition of Mene confirms that the fulfilment is certain and sure. Thus Belshazzar learned that his kingdom was finished.
TKL comes from the root to ‘weigh’. Thus ‘It is weighed’. Daniel interprets it as meaning ‘you have been weighed in the balances and have been found wanting’ (compare for such weighing Job 31.6; Psalm 62.9; Proverbs 16.2). Thus Belshazzar learned that God had passed judgment on him and that he had failed the test. He was found wanting. This was why his kingdom was finished, because morally and religiously he had proved unworthy.
PRSN comes from two possible roots, ‘peres’ meaning ‘it is divided’ (‘parsin’ is the dual or the plural), and ‘paras’ which means Persians. Daniel therefore interprets ‘your kingdom is divided (peres) and given to the Medes and the Persians (paras).’ The idea of ‘divided’ is not that the kingdom will be divided into two, but that the whole of what is in it will be split up among the invaders, and the empire would be dissolved. It is important to note that the writing according to Daniel only speaks of the Persians (PRSN - n is often redundant). Thus by ‘the Medes and the Persians’ Daniel means the Persian empire. There is no room here for the idea of two separate empires. The writing speaks of one Persian empire under Cyrus, made up of the Medes and the Persians, that will divide up among its men the spoils of Babylon, and dissolve the universality of the Babylonian empire.
This demonstrates the ancient nature of the account. At this stage it is still ‘Medes and Persians’ (compare 6.8, 12), but not for long. By the time of Esther it would be ‘Persians and Medes’ (Esther 1.19. See also verses 3, 14 and 18).
5.29 ‘Then Belshazzar commanded and they clothed Daniel with purple, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler of the kingdom.’
Belshazzar was faithful to his oath. He gave Daniel all the honours that he had promised, and his status was proclaimed within the banqueting hall where were gathered the leading lords of the realm, together with the wise men called earlier. He probably did not realise quite how soon the prophecy would be fulfilled, for while Belshazzar and his lords sang on, celebrating Daniel’s appointment as men will, Cyrus’ general Ugbaru was unknown to them diverting the river Euphrates that ran through Babylon into an ancient lake, so that his soldiers could enter the city along the partly dried up river bed. The city was taken almost without a fight. The Persians were in fact probably welcomed by the priests of Marduk who were sick and tired of their god being largely ignored, and the people woke up to find them in charge of the city.
5.30-31 ‘In that night Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans was slain, and Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty two years old.’
The king was probably slain in what fighting there was, along with many of his lords, but in general the Persians followed an enlightened principle of mercy in their dealings with captured peoples and encouraged them in the worship of their own gods, thanks to Cyrus himself, which was why in all probability they were welcomed by the priests of Marduk.
‘Darius the Mede’. There is no suggestion here that he was king of a separate Medan empire at the same time as Cyrus. It simply tells us that he was a Mede (and in 9.1 even more emphatically ‘of the seed of the Medes’). The so-called ‘Medan empire’ of Daniel is an invention of scholars out to prove a theory. There is no evidence for it whatsoever, and it has to be reached by ignoring the clear meaning of certain other passages.
No Darius has been found in inscriptions connected with the new dawn of Babylon, but it is quite possible that he was known under another name and that Darius was a throne name. In meaning it is probably connected with the New Persian word Dara, meaning "king." Herodotus says that it means in Greek, Erxeies, coercitor, "restrainer," "compeller," "commander." We should note that the implication here is that this Darius succeeded to Belshazzar’s position as ‘melek of the Chaldeans’, and thus an under-king (compare 9.1). Belshazzar was not the sharru. Nabonidus was still alive.
Various suggestions have been made. One is that it was a name taken on by Cyrus when he defeated the Medes, or by his son Cambyses, to cement his position over the Medes (but the latter was certainly not sixty two years old). Another is that Darius is another name for Gubaru (Gobryas), one of Cyrus’ generals, who was later appointed by Cyrus to rule Babylon. (Darius may not have ‘received the kingdom’ immediately). It has been suggested that Gubaru is possibly a translation of Darius. The same radical letters in Arabic mean "king," "compeller," "restrainer." This was a different man from Ugbaru, the governor of Gutium and Persian commander who led the assault against Babylon and died shortly afterwards, but we do not know how old Gubaru was.
A connection with Cyrus could be supported by the fact that Cyrus was related to the Medes, was about sixty two years old when he conquered Babylon, and by the reading ‘in the reign of Darius, that is in the reign of Cyrus the Persian’ (6.28). This latter could, however, also support the suggestion that it was Gubaru, revealing him as under-king to Cyrus. We should note in contrast that Darius II is called ‘Darius the Persian’ (Nehemiah 12.22) which may suggest that a ‘Darius the Mede’ was known historically to Nehemiah.
Another explanation has been that Darius is another name for Cyaxares II, the son of Astyages, who according to the Greek writer Xenophon was Cyrus’ uncle and father-in-law, and whom Cyrus might have retained temporarily as a figurehead king and have appointed over Babylon to please the Medes. It was captured by a Medan general.
But there may well be here a figure we as yet no nothing about from inscriptions. Daniel only refers to his first year (9.1; 11.1) and then does not refer to him again for dating. He turns instead to reference to Cyrus (10.1). This suggests that Darius may not have held the position for very long and would therefore be unlikely to be mentioned in inscriptions. His only claim to fame was his connection with Daniel.
Interestingly in the Harran stele of Nabonidus mention is made of the ‘king of the Medes’ in 546 BC, four years after Cyrus became king of the Medo-Persian empire.
Chapter 6 Darius Begins to Establish Persia Rule; The Lion’s Den.
Darius now set about organising the affairs of Babylon. But his preference for Daniel, and his thought of making him second only to himself, aroused jealousy among his other appointees, who used his relative innocence to set a trap for Daniel.
The Setting Up of the Administration.
6.1-2 ‘It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, who would be throughout the whole kingdom, and over them three presidents, of whom Daniel was one, that these satraps might give account to them, and that the king should have no damage (suffer no loss).’
Darius immediately set about establishing the administration of the conquered kingdom. He appointed one hundred and twenty ‘kingdom guardians’ over whom were three presidents. Babylonian ‘satraps’ have already been mentioned in 3.2, 3. We must not read into the title the same position as that of the satraps of the later Persian kings who were given large satrapies to administer (much larger than anything that could possibly be in mind here). Indeed ‘Satraps’ are also mentioned in inscriptions who were nothing like either. Their purpose here was to pacify the territory, prevent any rebellion, and collect revenues, reporting back to the three presidents. The use here and in 3.2 may be simply an instance of using a title current to the writer under the Persian empire to translate a different title in Akkadian, or it may be that the old Persian title had been borrowed and had crept in to describe Babylonian administrators. Such borrowings between languages constantly took place then as they do today.
One of the presidents was Daniel. When Darius took over the throne Daniel was ‘third in the kingdom’ and a foreigner with no specific loyalty to Belshazzar, and yet known to the Chaldeans. And what was more he had proclaimed his downfall and a Persian victory. He was thus an ideal person to help to cement together the new Babylon.
6.3 ‘Then this Daniel was distinguished above the presidents and the satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.’
Daniel proved exceptionally able. This was due to the Spirit of God at work through him (compare 5.11-12). He was so successful that the king considered the possibility of giving him sole charge under himself.
6.4-5 ‘Then the presidents and the satraps sought to find some grounds of accusation against Daniel as touching the kingdom, but they could find no grounds of accusation or fault, because he was faithful, nor was any error or fault found in him. Then these men said, “We will not find any grounds of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with respect to the law of his God.” ’
There is no area where jealousy and envy are more apparent than in politics. While he was but one of them they were reasonably satisfied, but the thought that he should be over all of them was more than they could stand. So they set about looking for hidden skeletons, or signs of carelessness with regard to his fulfilment of his duties. But they could not find any. He was hard-working, efficient and honest, as the king had already noticed.
Thus they recognised that he had only one point where he could be attacked, and that was in his strange loyalty to the King of heaven as against all other gods. There was his weakness. So they set up a plan.
6.6-8 ‘Then these presidents and satraps came thronging to the king and said to him, “King Darius, live for ever. All the presidents of the kingdom, the deputies and the satraps, the counsellors and the governors, have gathered together to establish a royal decree, and to make a strong interdict that whoever shall ask a petition of any god or man for thirty days, except of you, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the interdict, and sign the writing, that it be not changed according to the law of the Medes and the Persians which do not pass away.” ’
It is deliberately stressed that they all put pressure on the king together, and that they gave the impression that this was a show of unity and the desire of all. This alone could have made the king do such a foolish thing. (This alone makes it apparent that this Darius was not Cyrus, nor Darius II).
We must recognise that Darius was probably a general promoted to kingship, that he was relatively inexperienced in kingship, and that he would want to please those whom he had appointed. It was suggested to him that it was a popular request, and it was very flattering. And it suggested that he was becoming popular himself. He possibly did not take the consequences of it too seriously, for what would it mean? Simply that for thirty days public religious affairs and requests in Babylon should be conducted through him. (Who would know what men did in private?) He did not suspect a thing. After all that was almost what happened at the akitu festival. There the king represented the whole people and was their figurehead. And it was after all being suggested by his own appointees as a whole. He could probably see no reason why all should not agree with it.
‘Or man.’ That is, using a priest or other religious figure. Thus it would prevent the priests being seen as too powerful.
The success of the scheme depended on persuading the king that it was not too unreasonable, and in obtaining the decree in writing so that it could not be changed according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, and in making it ambiguous enough so that it could catch Daniel within its wording. It is not the first time that a foolish monarch has been persuaded by flattery and deceit to do something unwise, but he had no suspicions that it was a trap for anyone, and if the people wished to make him a kind of mediator with the gods, why should they not? He probably saw it as a positive move rather than a negative one. There was a tendency among the Persians to deify their monarchs. It would give him higher status.
‘The law of the Medes and the Persians which do not pass away.” ’ They are saying that once made such a law stood firm. It should not be changed. Compare Esther 1.19; 8.8. It is said of Darius III that having made a decision for someone’s execution, which he afterwards regretted, ‘he immediately repented and blamed himself as having greatly erred. But it was not possible to undo what was done by royal authority’.
6.9 ‘For this reason king Darius signed the writing and the interdict.’
He yielded to pressure from his advisers and signed the short term decree, prepared by others, probably without reading it too carefully Perhaps this was why his rule did not last very long. He was seen as too pliable, and too easily deceived, and too willing to sign decrees for personal reasons. The decree would then be proclaimed before the people.
The Trap Is Sprung.
6.10 ‘And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went to his house. Now his windows were open in his chamber towards Jerusalem. And he knelt on his knees three times a day and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he had done before.’
It is possible that neither the king nor Daniel saw the decree as preventing private devotions, for all Daniel had to do was to avoid his window and then no one would have known what he was doing. He knew that the decree had been signed, and possibly that it was ambiguous, but saw no reason in it why he should alter his religious habits of worship. Otherwise why should he not have approached the king about it?
Alternately it may be that he did it boldly, although not ostentatiously, in order to encourage his fellow Israelites in Babylon not to change their practises. Sometimes prominent leaders have to be bold in order to encourage the flock. All eyes are on their example. If so it was the result of a steady faith, not a seeking for martyrdom.
He prayed ‘towards Jerusalem’. Compare 2 Chronicles 6.21, 37-39; Psalm 5.7. For three times a day compare Psalm 55.17, although it was not a requirement. The fact that he knelt suggests the urgency of his prayers for Jerusalem (compare 9.3). Normally the Jews stood when they prayed (see 1 Chronicles 23.30; Nehemiah 9; Matthew 6.5; Mark 11.25; Luke 18.11, 13), but they knelt (and prostrated themselves) when they felt a more urgent need (compare 1 Kings 8.54; Ezra 9.5; Luke 22.41; Acts 7.60; 9.40; 20.36; 21.5). But he also gave thanks. This was general worship, not a deliberate provocation. It is a good practise to have set times for prayer. Then it ensures that it does not get crowded out of a busy life.
The fact that his windows were ‘open’ suggests non-latticed. It may thus have been a window in the roof chamber whose purpose was to take advantage of any cooling breeze.
6.11 ‘Then these men thronged together and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God.’
No doubt they first sent spies to check on the facts, (they knew that he continued to pray regularly), and when they were sure, all went together to observe his behaviour.
6.12a ‘Then they came near, and spoke before the king concerning the king’s interdict. “Have you not signed an interdict that every man who petitions any god or man within thirty days, except to you, O king, will be thrown into a den of lions?.” ’
‘They came near.’ Entering the king’s presence involved the necessary protocol.
They then, seemingly in concern for the king’s good, sought confirmation about the decree. Was it not so that he had inscribed such a decree?
6.12b ‘The king replied and said, “The thing is true according to the law of the Medes and Persians which does not pass away.” ’
The king confirmed his decree possibly secretly pleased that they showed such concern about it. It was decreed and binding and permanent for the thirty days.
6.13-14 ‘Then they answered and said before the king, “That Daniel who is of the children of the captivity of Judah, does not regard you, O king, nor the interdict that you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.” Then the king, when he heard these words, was extremely displeased, and set his heart on delivering Daniel, and he worked hard at rescuing him until the going down of the sun.’
Note their methods. They drew attention to the fact that he was a foreigner, that he was deliberately and provocatively taking no notice of the king, and that he was presumptuously breaking the decree, and doing it regularly.
But the king was not deceived. He now realised what these men had been doing, and that they were succeeding through his own folly. He was angry with himself and angry with them. He had not really been bothered about being the only mediator. As far as he was concerned it had just been a formality, a gesture. So he set about seeing what he could do to remedy the situation.
He probably consulted with lawyers to examine the wording carefully to discover if there was any way by which he could remedy the situation. They no doubt studied the decree diligently. But it had been worded to meet up with such an eventuality. After struggling for the remainder of the day they could find no way round it. It may well be that it was meanwhile the lawyers who were able to tell him something of Daniel’s past history and suggest that perhaps his God could look after him.
6.15 ‘Then these men thronged to the king, and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and the Persians, that no interdict or decree that the king establishes may be changed.” ’
The men were relentless in their pursuit of Daniel. They knew that they had got their way. They stressed to the king the unchangeableness of the law. In a way it was a good law. It prevented the law being changed suddenly to suit someone’s convenience. The same applies in many civilised societies today, in that the law cannot be changed retrospectively, although modern law courts are not quite so relentless. He had no choice. He must carry out the decree.
The choice lay before him, seal Daniel’s fate or be reported to Cyrus about his failure to fulfil his own decree. The consequences of that would not be pleasant for him, and it was very likely that the overlord would enforce the decree anyway to maintain the sanctity of the law. So he gave way, partly no doubt because he did recognise the binding nature of the decree. He had been caught out, but he was not at all pleased.
6.16 ‘Then the king commanded and they brought Daniel and threw him into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “Your God Whom you serve continually, he will deliver you.” ’
No time is wasted on the details. Daniel would be brought in before the king to answer the charge. He would stand their boldly and declare that His God could deliver him, just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had done so long before (3.17-18). And the king would remember strange things he had been told about this man and his God, and he would begin to hope. Perhaps it was true. Perhaps his God could help this man. Then with grief he passed the sentence and Daniel was taken out and thrown in the lions’ den. And we can be sure that they were hungry lions, kept hungry for such a purpose. It is significant that whereas Nebuchadnezzar had used fire, Darius did not do so. To the Persians fire was sacred. Instead they tossed men to the wild beasts.
We know nothing about these lions’ dens. It had a hole in the top through which food could be dropped and through which people could see the lions. It had a door in the side which had to be sealed with a stone, for the den would sometimes have to be cleaned out, and further lions would be introduced through it. And it was through one of these that Daniel was tossed into the cave. But not before the king had declared his weak but growing faith. “Your God Whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.” It was only a hope, but there was no one who deserved it more than Daniel.
6.17 ‘And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den. And the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed in respect of Daniel.’
These formalities would follow a normal, laid down, solemn procedure. The stone would be set against the entrance and sealed, although it would normally be free for opening if necessary by the keepers. Then the sealing around the stone, possibly of clay, was sealed with the king’s seal and that of his highest officials. It was thus made safe. No one could tamper with it without it being discovered. No one could alter what had been done. This was a strong warning that a condemned criminal was inside and that no one must open the cave without permission from the highest authorities. There is possibly a hint here that normally Daniel’s seal would have been one of them. But the great lord was now a common criminal because of his trust in God.
6.18 ‘Then the king went to his palace and passed the night without food. Nor were diversions brought before him. And his sleep fled from him.’
It is to the kings credit that he was genuinely greatly distressed. He could not eat and he waved away the diversions with which his servants sought to distract him. He wanted no entertainment. He was torn apart by what had happened. His feelings must have been very mixed up. He knew that he had been hoodwinked, and was perhaps already planning the fate of the men who had done it. He knew that he had been foolish and had behaved as no king should behave. He knew that he had had to pass a death sentence that should never have been passed. And he knew that he had brought about the death of an old man who did not deserve it, a good man, a man whom he had trusted. No wonder he could not eat or sleep.
6.19 ‘Then the king rose very early in the morning, and went hurriedly to the den of lions, and when he came near to the den, to Daniel, he cried with a griefstricken voice. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, is your God whom you continually serve, able to deliver you from the lions?”.
It is made clear here that the king was genuinely concerned for Daniel. In many ways a king’s life is a lonely life. He can trust few. He has close relations with few. So that when he finds someone whom he likes and trusts a strong bond can be built up. And that would seem to be the case here.
It would seem that the sentence required that the condemned man spent the night in the den of lions. The lions would have been kept hungry, and usually no more than a night was required. So at the very first moment that he reasonably could, probably as dawn was beginning to break, he went himself as fast as he could to the lion’s den. There was still hope in his heart that a miracle might have happened. And as he drew near and spotted the hole that looked down on the cave he could not restrain himself, and in a griefstricken voice cried out. Daniel had told him that he served the living God, not a god of gold or silver or stone. Well, was it true?
So as he scrambled towards the hole that would tell him the worst, he cried out, ‘Daniel, servant of the living God, has He done it? You have served Him faithfully. Has he delivered you?’ Both doubt and fear and hope were all being expressed. He was beside himself. And then came the sound that he had not dared to hope for.
6.21-22 ‘Then Daniel said to the king, “O king live for ever. My God has sent his messenger and has shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not hurt me, because before him I was found innocent, and also before you, O king, I have done nothing that could hurt you.” ’
So well trained was Daniel in court procedure that the greeting to the king fell from his lips automatically. But then came the reproof. Daniel had been grieved and hurt. His God had sent a messenger, an angel (compare Psalm 34.7; 91.11-13), who had closed the mouths of the lions, for He had found Daniel innocent, as the king should have as well. He felt that his loyalty had been betrayed by the earthly king as it had been upheld by the heavenly One, and he made it known. He had been deeply hurt.
6.23 ‘Then was the king glad beyond measure, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found on him because he had trusted in his God.’
The king virtually ignored Daniel’s words because he was so glad. And he commanded that Daniel immediately be taken from the den. This would be done by men who were on guard at the den in shifts, night and day. And no hurt was found on him. It should be pointed out that to examine for this last would be the automatic reaction of anyone observing someone who had come out of a potentially dangerous situation. It is not a question of miracle but of human nature. (Our newspapers would say, ‘and there was not a mark on him’). But it did of course enhance the miracle as well. And the lesson is pointed out. It was because he had trusted in his God. But that was exactly what the king was thinking.
6.24 ‘And the king commanded and they brought those men who had accused Daniel, and they threw them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives. And the lions had the mastery of them, and broke all their bones in pieces before they ever reached the bottom of the den.’
The accusers would be the spokesmen, the ones who had thrust themselves on the king’s attention and had been most adamant that Daniel should die. They were brought, possibly one by one, with their families as soon as they could be found. The first thing that they knew about it was the hammering on the door in early morning, and then the arrest, along with their wives and children, and then they were dragged out screaming and thrown into the den of lions through the hole above the den. And the result was awful and revealed that these were no cosseted lions. For as soon as the bodies reached the lions they were on them, tearing away at them even before they reached the floor of the den, and they were torn to pieces and their bones laid bare. We must allow for a little exaggeration which was to demonstrate the voraciousness of the lions.
It was a normal part of Persian justice, as with most ‘justice’ in those days, that wives and children be included in the punishment. The thought was probably that the evil root be removed. But it was terrible nonetheless.
Another lesson that was no doubt intended to be brought out was that what they had sown they had reaped. What was done to them was what they had wished on Daniel. The king had spent a sleepless night, and he had no doubt planned his vengeance already, but we see here the oriental despot, freed from the restraint of a decree, and carrying out his sentence in his own way. He was re-exerting his authority in the only way he knew how.
This was probably not written exultantly. It was more the deliberate and important contrast between deliverance and judgment that mattered. To those who are His, and faithful to Him, deliverance. To those who set themselves against Him, judgment.
The King’s Second Decree.
6.25 ‘Then the king wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages who dwell in the land. “Peace be multiplied to you.” ’
This is a deliberate imitation of 4.1. The same word means both ‘earth’ and ‘land’. But the king wrote to a far lesser audience than Nebuchadnezzar. However, the vanity of kings is such that they do see their kingdoms as constituting their ‘whole world’, and this was the recognised greeting of Babylonian kings. Indeed ‘to all the peoples, nations and languages who dwell in the land’ (Cyrus in contrast was known as ‘king of the lands’) was probably the heading of the tablet, followed by the recognised, ‘peace be multiplied to you’. Daniel probably had a hand in this decree as his enemies had had their hand in the previous decree.
6.26-27 ‘I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and steadfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even to the end. He delivers and rescues and he works signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.’
Darius calls on all his peoples to honour the living God of Daniel. Note the contrast between the temporary dominion and kingdom of Darius, and the dominion which ‘will be even to the end’, and the kingdom which ‘will not be destroyed’ of the living God. He delivers and rescues His people, performs signs and wonders on their behalf, delivers them from the fire and has delivered Daniel from the wild beasts. This is all leading into chapter 7, and is essential to it. There we will learn of the wild beast empires from which Israel will be delivered, closing the mouths of the wild beasts. It was necessary that, before that, Israel should know that the living God is steadfast, and that He delivers and rescues His people and does signs and wonders on their behalf. Without the first part of the book the last part would be terrifying.
This decree witnesses to the hand of Daniel. There is an echo here of the words of Daniel in 2.44; compare 4.34. ‘He will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed -- and it will stand for ever’, and of Nebuchadnezzar in 3.28; ‘he delivered His servants who trusted in Him’, and 4.2; ‘the signs and wonders that the Most High God has wrought towards me’. It is also a brief testimony to what the book of Daniel is all about. Chapter 7 will outline it in more detail. This constant repetition of ideas and phrases is evidence of the unity of the book.
6.28 ‘So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, even in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.’
Here the writer first refers to the king under whom Daniel prospered, and then to his overlord, Cyrus the Persian. This dating in the name of two contemporary kings is well testified to in inscriptions and records around that time. (Whether they are contemporary or successive kings cannot be determined from the text, which is neutral in this regard, and it would be dishonest to suggest otherwise on either side).
Chapter 7 The Wild Beasts and the Kingdom of the Most High.
In this chapter four empires under their kings are depicted as arising which will be like wild beasts. They represent the whole of the present and future until the rise of God’s everlasting kingdom, the fifth empire, the empire which results from the fulfilment of the covenant. We can compare here chapter 2, and can, unless we have reason to see otherwise, assume the same four empires, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece (as also specifically in chapter 8) and the apocalyptic empire.
They are in contrast with ‘the son of man’, a human figure who represents the people of God under their prince. The empires behave like wild beasts, savagely, irrationally and immorally; the people of God behave like man created in the image of God, rationally and morally. The son of man suffers under the beasts, but in the end is victorious and receives the everlasting kingdom. Through the intervention of God good will triumph in the end.
We must remember that this is a dream. We must not expect it necessarily to proceed fully in logical and chronological form (see especially verses 11-12). Two parallel activities are described. The activities of the wild beasts on earth, and the parallel activities in heaven, as the One on the throne, with His attendants, monitors all that is happening.
The Four World Empires (7.1-8).
7.1 ‘In the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head on his bed. Then he wrote the dream and told the sum of the matters.’
‘In the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon.’ Official documents at the time were all dated by the years of Nabonidus, who was Belshazzar’s father and outlived him, but Belshazzar had been given the ‘kingship’ of Babylon by his father when his father spent ten years fighting, and then studying, in Arabia. We are told that his father ‘entrusted the army and the kingship’ to him, probably around 556 BC (others argue for 553 BC).
Up to now we have seen Daniel interpreting other people’s dreams, but now we learn that he also had dream-visions for which we were prepared in 1.17. (See also 2.28; 4.2, 10 for comparable phraseology). The dream does not come chronologically, for had it done so it would have come between chapter 4 and chapter 5. Rather it takes up and expands on chapter 2 once assurances have been given of the fact that the living God is able to deliver His people in the face of the greatest of kings and empires. Daniel writes the dream down to ensure a permanent record, together with its interpretation. ‘The sum of the matters’ means that he wrote down the essentials, depicting the heart of things.
7.2 ‘Daniel spoke and said, I saw in my vision by night and behold, the four winds of the heaven broke on the great sea. And four wild beasts came up from the sea, different one from another. The first was like a lion and had eagle’s wings. I beheld until its wings were plucked and it was lifted up from the earth, and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.’
From this point on Daniel speaks in the first person (apart from 10.1). Rather than recording historical events he is now communicating personal visions.
The four winds of heaven indicate heavenly activity, the winds of God. For He is the king of heaven and acts from heaven (4.37 compare 4.13, 26, 31). For these ‘four winds of heaven’ compare Jeremiah 49.36, where they represent God’s fierce activity against Elam resulting in their scattering to all parts of the earth. They are winds with ‘worldwide’ effects, although we must remember that it means the known world of that day. Israel too had been spread in all directions around the known world by the four winds of heaven (Zechariah 2.6). Thus the idea of the four winds of heaven is of the activity of God stirring up ‘the world’ with mighty effects (contrast Ezekiel 37.9 where the four winds are life giving for the people of God).
Here the four winds break on the Great Sea. The Great Sea was the Mediterranean Sea (Numbers 34.6-7; Joshua 1.4; 9.1; 15.12, 47; 23.4; Ezekiel 47.10, 15, 19, 20; 48.28). It is its standard name. Thus what arises is connected with the Mediterranean area. But the sea was seen by Israel as an enemy. The roaring of enemies against Israel was likened by Isaiah to the roaring of the sea (Isaiah 5.30), which is described as restless and casting up mire and dirt (Isaiah 57.20). He also likens it to the roaring and tumult of the nations (Isaiah 17.12-13). Israel was ever afraid of the sea and looked on it as hostile, although thankfully controlled by God. So they would not like the thought of anything arising from the sea. The arising from the sea links these wild beasts firmly to the earth, and to the earth in tumult.
The first wild beast was ‘like a lion’ and had eagle’s wings. The lion was the king of the wild beasts, and lions were noted for their strength (Judges 14.18), boldness (2 Samuel 17.10), ferocity (Psalm 7.2), and stealth (Psalm 10.9; Lamentations 3.10). There was no escape from the lion (Isaiah 5.29). The thought of eagle’s wings is of strong wings. They would bring Israel’s enemy against them (Deuteronomy 28.49). But being borne by eagle’s wings was also a sign of being borne by God (Exodus 19.4; Deuteronomy 32.11). However, in the context here the emphasis is on the ferocity of the wild beasts. Thus this wild beast was a fearsome sight, with the strength, ferocity and stealth of a lion and the speedy attack and bloodthirstiness of the eagle (see Job 39.28-30).
In Jeremiah 4.7 (compare 49.19; 50.44) Nebuchadnezzar is likened to a lion coming to make the land desolate and he is described as ‘the destroyer of nations’, and in Ezekiel 17.3 an eagle represents Nebuchadnezzar as the transplanter of Israel, (and a second eagle the Pharaoh), a picture confirmed by Habakkuk 1.8. Thus in view of chapter 2 we are certainly to see here Nebuchadnezzar and his empire. The lion-likeness confirms its superiority to what follows, as did the head of gold in chapter 2.
This interpretation is even more confirmed when we read on. For its wings were plucked off, reminding us of Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation at the hands of God (4.33), and after this the beast then stood on two feet like a man and a man’s heart was given to it. This surely indicates his repentance towards the Most High, and the return of both rationality and the growth of spirituality (4. 34-36). Compare 8.18 where Daniel was stood upright to signify readiness to receive the revelation of God, and 10.11 where standing was linked with understanding. The rampaging, swift flying beast has become softened and humanised like Nebuchadnezzar. But his empire will not survive long.
7.5 ‘And behold another wild beast, a second, like to a bear, and it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in his mouth between his teeth, and they said thus to it. “Arise and devour much flesh.”
The second wild beast was ‘like a bear’. This reminds us that this was a dream. What he saw reminded him of a bear. Next to the fierceness of the lion is the fierceness of the bear. The two are often paralleled (Proverbs 28.15; Lamentations 3.10; Hosea 13.8; Amos 5.19). Thus this second empire is only slightly inferior to the first. Compare the body and arms of silver of chapter 2. It is more ungainly, but still to be feared.
‘And it was raised up on one side (shetar).’ The noun is difficult. It possibly comes from a root ‘to write’ which develops into ‘officer, overseer, magistrate’, and thus ‘rulership’. It occurs in the form found here only this once. Thus we might translate ‘it raised up one rulership’. In view of the clear lack of total unity emphasised in chapter 2 it may suggest combined nations with one ruler overall (combined because one wild beast), which fits well with the Medo-Persian empire. Alternately it might suggest having one side higher than the other, signifying an empire with a greater and lesser part. We can compare 8.3 where one horn was higher than the other, coming up last. All emphasise the duality yet oneness of the empire. The great lumbering bear was actually a marvellous picture of the coming huge armies of Medo-Persia.
The ‘three’ ribs between its teeth, which it is in process of devouring, probably indicates completeness of conquest (it will ‘devour much flesh’), although some have seen them as representing Lydia, Babylon and Egypt. Note the steady growth as we go through the empires, two feet (verse 4), three ribs here, four wings and four heads (verse 6), ten horns (twice five - verse 7). All is of a pattern.
‘And they said thus to it. “Arise and devour much flesh.” The previous beast arose on its feet and became humane. This one arises to its feet, but to eat much flesh. It is fiercer and more brutish, a downward step. Deterioration in empires is a feature of the empires in chapter 2, and here it includes increase in wildness. The next beast will not even stand up. It will remain on four legs. The nations are becoming more beastly.
The command to ‘arise’ also suggests that God is now commanding it to arise to carry out its foreordained task to capture Babylon (Belsahazzar is at present on the throne) and the world around it. The ‘they’ may well be the watchers (4.13-14, 17).
7.6 ‘After this I was beholding, and lo another, like a leopard which had on its back four wings of a bird. The beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it.’
The third wild beast was ‘like a leopard’, and yet a leopard with wings. Chapter 8 tells us specifically that this was Greece (8.21). The swift movement of the leopard (Habakkuk 1.8) combined with the dual sets of wings of a bird indicates its fierceness and swiftness, typical of the conquests of Alexander. It needs two sets of wings because it remains an animal throughout. It needs to be able to land on four feet.
Like the bear, the leopard is also paralleled with the lion as a fearsome creature (Song of Solomon 4.8; Jeremiah 5.6; Hosea 13.7). It is a hunter. So this beast too is swift and fearsome. The dual emphasis on four indicates that ‘four’ is intended to mean something, and four indicates worldwideness. Thus the four heads indicate ‘worldwide’ rulership (he could have depicted it as having horns, as it had wings, but horns would be contradictory to its being a leopard. A leopard kills with tooth and claw). All is controlled from the head. But it also indicates that the one empire will become four (see 8.22). The beast ‘was given dominion’. It had control over the Mediterranean world.
On the death of Alexander the Great his empire was in fact split between his four generals, two of whom were prominent in the Mediterranean world north and south of Palestine. Most who hold this view think that they were Lysimachus (who ruled over Thrace and Bithynia), Cassander (Macedonia and Greece), Seleucus (Syria, Babylonia, and the eastern territories), and Ptolemy (Egypt, Palestine, and Arabia Petrea). However, the exact identification of the rulers is debatable because it took about 20 years for the kingdom to be successfully divided. But there is no question about the fact that Greece split into four major parts (cf. 8.8, 22). All is leading up to the final empire, the great apocalyptic empire of 2.40-43.
7.7-8 ‘After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, terrible and powerful, and exceedingly strong. And it had great iron teeth. It devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet. And it was different from all the creatures which were before it. And it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and behold there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.’
The terribleness of this beast is emphasised. It is worse than all. It was not ‘like’ anything that Daniel knew. It was a monster like no known beast. The great iron teeth remind us of the fourth empire in chapter 2. Its devouring and breaking in pieces, and stamping of what remains with the feet, makes it more terrible than the bear (7.5). It is different from all the creatures that were before it. It is indescribably brutal.
Moreover it will eventually produce ‘ten’ kings, for horns represent strength and power (Deuteronomy 33.17; 1 Samuel 2.1, 10; Psalm 18.2), and therefore kings. They ‘arise out of this kingdom’ (verse 24). It becomes a diverse empire (2.41). It was emphasised that the bear had one rulership. Then the leopard developed into four rulerships. Here the empire develops into ten rulerships, ‘a number of’ rulerships. It does not remain a united empire. It is a second phase of the empire and illustrates that it is divided up. (In Scripture ‘ten’ is regularly used to mean ‘a number of’).
We have noted before the succession presented, two arms, three ribs, four heads, and now ten horns. This suggests that we might also see ‘ten’ as twice times five, an intensification of five. Five is the number of covenant. Thus the beast imitates the covenant community. It is Anti-God, setting itself over against God.
This intensifies in the final description. There is a later, final phase, the arising of another horn, a small one. The emphasis on the smallness is derogatory. It will think it is large but really it is ‘a small one’. ‘And behold in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.’ Having the eyes of a man indicates that it is but human in spite of its great claims. But there is there also the idea of imitation and pretence. It seeks to give the impression of being truly human (rational and godly), and of submitting to God (compare verse 4) but it is all a pretence, it is all outward show, for it is given away by what comes from its mouth. It is still a beast and yet it boasts about itself and makes great claims for itself and for its future. It speaks ‘great things’. ‘Great things’ indicates above all the activity of God (1 Samuel 12.24; 2 Samuel 7.21, 23; 1 Chronicles 17.19; Job 5.9; 9.10; 37.5; Psalm 71.9; 106.21; 126.2-3; Joel 2.21. Contrast Joel 2.20). Thus it is setting itself up against God as an anti-God..
And it is a beast which finally begins to destroy itself. The horn, ‘the small one’, attacks ‘three’ of the horns (three represents a group complete in itself, an alliance, but not the whole). From the beginning the empire loves war, and now it is a divided up empire out of control and indulging in ‘civil war, with kings attacking each other (compare Mark 3.24-26). And this horn, this small one, will mercilessly attack, not only its fellow rulers, but also especially the people of God (verse 21). But in the end he will be dealt with at the judgment.
The picture is of a world continually at war, continually destructive, pursuing its way without thought of true obedience to God, continually dividing up and yet partially coming together in its later phase, first in an alliance and then under the arrogant horn, ‘the small one’.
As with the fourth empire of chapter 2 this represents the eschatological empire which grows out of the others, which is initially powerful and destructive, and becomes weak and divided. It is the final empire of ‘the last days’, (as long as we remember that in New Testament terms ‘the last days’, ‘the end of the ages’ began when Jesus was crucified). Its beginnings may be seen as Rome, but it does not just represent Rome, for it divides up into a number of smaller ‘empires’ under a number of rulers. It represents the idea of ‘empire’, in opposition to God, the future unidentifiable ‘empires’ going on to the end of time which take the place of Rome.
It is the ‘fourth’ empire, the summation of empire, the multiple empire to end all empires, the empire with many rulers, encompassing the world. It is the world divided and apart from God. And in its final phase will come ‘the horn, the small one’, with the eyes of a man and the words of a god, speaking ‘great things’ (see above), in defiance of God. Opposition to the people of God will have now reached its ultimate.
This final figure is depicted in 2 Thessalonians 2.3-10, the ultimate of the antichrists that are always among us (1 John 2.18-19). It is expanded on in Revelation. And behind it lies the power of the Evil One.
A Flashback. The Scene in Heaven While the Empires Strut on Earth (7.9-10).
This is put in poetic metre to emphasise its heavenly nature, and to stress that it is not just following on what has gone before. Notice that there is here no ‘after this’. This is a totally new aspect on things from a heavenly viewpoint. He was continuing to watch but has now switched to a new aspect of his vision, going back to look at things from this viewpoint of heaven. It was this court that in fact adjudicated on what Nebuchadnezzar was doing to God’s people, that observed the behaviour of Belshazzar, and that watched over Daniel in the den of lions. They were ‘the watchers’.
(Verse 12 is quite crucial on this. It demonstrates that the court was sitting and passing judgment from the very first empire).
Until now the impression in the dream has been that God appeared to have been almost silent as the wild beasts trod the world scene. But now we are privileged to see behind the scenes. The truth is that the world was not just being left to itself, it was being observed by the watchers, and the reports were being examined by the court as they came in, and judgment passed on them. God was constantly aware of what was happening to His own.
Note the careful order to bring this out, the growth of the three beasts (4-6), the growth of the fourth beast (7-8), the court scene in heaven (9-10), the fourth beast dealt with by the court (11), the three beasts dealt with by the court previously (12).
‘I was beholding.’ This is not just ‘I beheld’. It is a more complicated construction, ‘I was beholding’ (also in verses 6, 11, 13). ‘We might paraphrase, ‘I went on dreaming until I saw’. His dream was continuing, and another vision came before him. But this was not just a chronological continuation of what had gone before. There is no ‘after this’ and the poetic metre brings out that here is a new aspect on things. For in his visions, as he was surveying the scenes coming before him, he saw a whole new change of scene. He was now going to see what God was doing all this while, while the empires raged on. The vision of the wild beasts and the vision of the heavenly court were in parallel. Note verses 11-12, where first the fourth beast is dealt with, and then, moving backwards in time, the three other beasts are dealt with. These were decisions of this court at different times. The visions go forwards and backwards.
We can compare this heavenly vision with John’s vision in Revelation 4-5, which draws on this scene. There too the court is continual, observing and worshipping continually through the ages. As with the seven seals God’s judgment is a continual operation. The last judgment is only its final summation. It is a travesty to assume that God only judges at the end of time. He judges and punishes continually (as Daniel has already demonstrated).
‘Thrones were placed.’ Unknown to the world, while the world was strutting its piece, the heavenly court was being set up (note that there is no ‘after this’ here - contrast verses 6-7). While earth was in turmoil heaven also was to be busy. Here Daniel saw the deliberate placing of the thrones, in order to deal with the thrones spoken of below, the beast-like kings. But on these thrones is one King. We may see this specific assembly as having been set up almost from the beginning of the time covered by the vision, or even before (it might be a flashback to when man had first to be judged). It explains the words of the watcher to Nebuchadnezzar (4.14-17). These were the watchers whose decree determined events on earth. This serene scene is in direct contrast with the tumult of the nations. While the world suffered under the activities of the wild beasts, here all was unity, centred on the figure on the throne.
It is, however, possibly significant that more than one throne was placed and yet there is only mention of One Who takes His seat. The only mention of any other person worthy of enthronement in this whole passage is the son of man who comes on the clouds of heaven to whom rulership and dominion is to be given (verse 14). Perhaps then the other throne(s) is (are) there awaiting His arrival with His people. (The ‘son of man’ represents both the Prince and His people). All was waiting for that day.
Alternately we may see the thrones as the heavenly equivalent of all the thrones in the world so that the One Who takes His throne sits as One upon all thrones, represented by His throne. Or it may be seen as a plural of majesty stressing the majesty of His throne (compare Psalm 122.5), but having a contrast with the many thrones on earth in mind.
Others see it as representing thrones for heavenly attendants, whose sitting is not mentioned lest it take men’s eyes off the One on the throne. But there is no such idea anywhere else in the Old Testament. We may compare Psalm 89.5, 7, but there there is no suggestion of sitting; or 1 Kings 22.19, but there we are actually told that they stand around Him; or Isaiah 6.2, but there the seraphim also stood and shielded themselves with their wings. So no such angelic thrones are ever mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament, and the thought of others sitting in the presence of the King was not likely to be an acceptable thought then. Occupation of such a throne would require a unique and exceptional figure.
We cannot read Revelation 4.4 back into Daniel. That was after the Lamb had been slain so that the representatives of the people of God could then sit on thrones before the King (see Revelation 3.21).
Finally we might translate, ‘thrones were cast down’ indicating the commencement of the dethroning of all earthly rulers, for the same verb is used of the casting into the fiery furnace and the casting into the den of lions. This may then be seen as God’s response to those situations, ‘I was watching until thrones were cast down’ as God’s servants had previously been. But this translation is generally not considered probable.
Then enters One Who takes His seat in the great court. He is the ‘ancient of days’. Age was looked on as venerable, an indication of wisdom, and of worthiness to judge, and thus the representation is of the all-wise and reliable judge and arbiter, in such contrast with the earthly beast-kings below who pass away one by one. But here was the everlasting One Who was even the ‘ancient of days’ in heaven. He could look back to the growth of the first empire in Genesis 10. 9-10 and 11.1-9. He goes back to the beginning of time, before empires ever existed.
He was clothed in white, with hair like pure wool. White is always the symbol of purity and righteousness (11.35; 12.10; Psalm 51.7; Isaiah 1.18; Lamentations 4.7) which is here outwardly revealed and grows from Him. All here is pure and righteous, and eternal.
‘His throne was fiery flames and its wheels burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him.’ We see here the chariot throne of God as depicted by Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 1; 3.13; 10). All is fire, the fire of glory and of judgment (see Ezekiel 1.4, 13, 27 and compare Exodus 19.18; 24.17; Deuteronomy 4.24; 9.3; 18.17; Psalm 18.8; 50.3), for God is a consuming fire. For the fiery stream see verse 11 and compare Deuteronomy 32.22; 33.2; 2 Kings 1.10, 14; Isaiah 30.33; Jeremiah 15.14; 17.4; Revelation 4.5). With fire He will finally destroy all evil.
‘A thousand thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.’ Gathered around the throne was a countless multitude of heavenly beings, attentive to serve Him and do His will (compare Deuteronomy 33.2; Psalm 68.17; 89.5, 7; 103.21; 1 Kings 22.19). He is the Most High, above all things, unique on His throne, before Whom all things bow and worship. The emphasis is on His power and glory.
‘The judgment was set and the records were opened.’ God will not act arbitrarily. The truth must be examined and known. It is all recorded and will be recorded through time (10.21; Isaiah 65.6; Jeremiah 2.22; 17.1; Psalm 56.8-9; 139.16). The ‘records’ here are the records as they are brought to the court through the ages by those appointed to watch activities on earth, like a great king would expect to receive continual intelligence reports from his sub-rulers (compare the Amarna letters). This is not the final judgment, but part of God’s continual judgment, continuing on during the activities of the four beasts, dealing with one after another (verse 12), although it leads up to the final judgment. It is also explaining the background to what happens in chapters 3 to 6 when the court sends dreams to warn men, passes sentence on them, punishes them, and delivers the righteous.
7.11-12 ‘I was beholding then (what would result) from the voice of the great words which the horn spoke, I beheld even until the beast was slain, and his body was destroyed, and he was given to be burned with fire. And as for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away. Yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.’
These two verses warn us against assuming that in the vision one thing just follows after another. It is a summary of what happens, and what has happened previously, without regard for chronology. It starts at the end and backtracks. It is a dream. Firstly he declares what will be the effect of God’s activity through the court because of the great words spoken by the horn (the small one), what will result from his words. Its result will be that the beast on which it grew will be slain. Its body will be destroyed, it will be handed over to the fire, just as had happened to God’s people in chapter 3. God’s people had been accused of blasphemy and handed over to the fire. So will it be done to the great and terrible beast because of the blasphemy of the little horn. The fires of God (verse 10) will destroy it.
But then verse 12 deals with previous judgments of the court, God’s activity on the other three beasts as He observed them through the centuries. One by one their dominion had been taken away from them by sentence of the court, but they had been allowed to go on as parts of other empires until the final end of the fourth beast. Their lives had been preserved ‘for a season and a time’, that is, for God’s determined period.
To be consistent with chapter 2, where all are destroyed together, this must refer back to the times when each one was replaced, but was allowed to continue, although without having the dominion, until the destruction of the fourth beast, when they too will be destroyed. But there will be no amelioration or delay in respect of the fourth beast. Its destruction will be total and complete, and at that time all empire will be destroyed. So the scene in heaven above refers to a continual judgment scene which monitors activities on earth and deals with them as they arise.
The Reception and Crowning of the Prince (7.13-14).
7.13-14 ‘I was beholding in the night visions:
Again there is a change of scene. Again a scene in heaven is put in poetic metre.
No indication is given of how these verses tie in timewise with the surrounding narrative. The previous verse has indeed looked back to the ending of the first three empires.
The vision refers to the entry of ‘one like a son of man’ into the presence of God on His throne. As with the wild beasts ‘one like’ is dream language. In appearance he seemed like a son of man, that is, a true man. The description is in contrast with the beasts, who were four kings (verse 17) and also kingdoms (verse 23). Thus unlike the previous kings who were like brute beasts this one was rational, spiritual and moral, revealing the image of God. It too represents a king and a kingdom.
This one enters the presence of God to receive dominion, glory and a kingdom. Later we learn that the kingdom and the dominion (but not the glory) is to be given to the saints (holy ones) of the Most High (7.27). Thus this ‘son of man’, this representative of His people and of the true humanity as revealed by His people, comes as their prince and representative to receive his due glory, and to receive the kingdom and the dominion on their behalf. It is difficult to see how anyone could fail to recognise that this must be the promised son of David who would come to be prince to his people and who was to be set over the everlasting kingdom (Ezekiel 34.23-24; 37.24-25; Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-4; Psalm 89.3-4). (Whether we call it Messianic or not is simply a matter of definition). And the subsequent verse shows that He was crowned. Was He also seated on the empty throne?
‘And behold with the clouds of heaven came one like a son of man.’ The beasts arose out of the sea. This Man came with the clouds of heaven. The starting point of the beasts was world tumult, mire and dirt (Isaiah 57.20; 5.30), the starting point of this Man was among the clouds. In Psalm 104.3 God is described as the One Who makes the clouds His chariot (compare Isaiah 19.1), and we may see here that He has given the use of His chariot to His chosen prince. For the One Who usually travels with clouds is God Himself (Psalm 18.11-12; 97.2; Ezekiel 10.4 compare Deuteronomy 4.11). So while this does not necessarily here imply His full divinity, (for that we must look elsewhere), it does imply a very special relationship with God, and even more so when we realise that He receives an everlasting kingdom.
‘And he came to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.’ Arriving in the heavenly court, the prince is brought into the King’s presence, presumably by angels. And there he is given dominion, glory and a kingdom; an everlasting dominion, an indestructible kingdom, and authority over the whole world. Verse 27 tells us that it was on behalf of his people who would share with Him in His kingdom.
Thus one day in Daniel’s future he knew that the chosen prince of the house of David would come into the presence of God to receive the kingdom. But it is to the New Testament that we must turn in order to discover when, and how, and to discover Who He really is.
That Jesus came using of Himself the title of ‘Son of man’ we know. He did so partly as the equivalent of the Messiah without the misunderstanding that the title gave, and partly because He was the true representative Man, the second Adam, but He also used it to claim that He was the One Who would enter God’s presence on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26.64 - note the ‘henceforth’) and would return again in glory for His people, and as judge (Mark 8.38; 13.26; Matthew 16.27; 24.30).
And we are also told the time when He received His kingship. On earth He had proclaimed that the Kingly Rule of God could be entered by all who would respond to His words and believe in Him, but it was after His resurrection that He appeared to His disciples and said, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth’ (Matthew 28.18), and that Peter said, ‘Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus Whom you crucified’ (Acts 2.36 compare verse 33).
Stephen adds his testimony, ‘Behold I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God’ (Acts 7.56), and Paul says, ‘For this reason also God highly exalted Him, and gave to Him the name which is above every name -- that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2.9-11), when He ‘made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenlies, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion’ (Ephesians 1.20-21 compare also Romans 14.9; Hebrews 1.3; 2.9; 1 Peter 3.22). And this in order that His people might be transferred out of the power (kingdom) of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1.13).
So this coming of the son of man with the clouds of heaven refers to the immediate time that follows the resurrection of Christ when He received dominion and glory and a kingdom, although it is true that its full manifestation to the world awaits His second coming. But this was not His manifestation to the world, it was His crowning in heaven. And Paul tells us that at that time His people received kingship along with Him (Ephesians 2.6). Then began the destruction of the fourth wild beast, which will finally be concluded by the brightness of His appearing (2 Thessalonians 2.8), as He comes to receive His own (1 Thessalonians 4.14-17) and renders vengeance on ‘the wild beast’ (in the end those who believe not) in flaming fire (2 Thessalonians 1.8).
And it is at this time that His true people will finally share fully with Him the glory of kingship (verse 27; Revelation 3.21). But as we have seen they do also receive it in part when they become His (Ephesians 2.6), so that there are two aspects to the revelation and crowning of the prince, and two aspects to the blessing of His people. The first occurs when the fourth empire is still in its beginnings. But He reigns on in heaven and it is this kingship finally revealed on earth (Revelation 19.11-16) that will finalise the work of the smiting stone and will literally bring the fourth empire finally crashing down.
Daniel Is Concerned About The Meaning Of His Vision (7.15-16).
7.15-16 ‘As for me, Daniel, my spirit was grieved in the midst of my body (literally ‘my sheath’), and the visions of my head troubled me. I came near to one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me that he would make me to know the interpretations of the things.’
Meanwhile Daniel was concerned over what he had seen, indeed greatly troubled. What could all this mean? And such was the vividness of his dream that in it he approached one of the heavenly beings to ask him what the truth was about his visions. And the heavenly being promised to give him his answer, and to interpret the dream for him.
A Brief Explanation of the Vision (7.17-18).
7.17-18 ‘These great beasts which are four, are four kings who will arise from the earth. But the saints of the most high will receive the kingdom, and will possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.’
Note that the interpretation states that the kings arise from the earth, not from the sea. The idea of the sea was conveying ideas, but was not to be taken literally. And they are four kings. This has in mind the four kings who are most prominent in the empires as depicted, but the kings represent their empires. In verse 23 they are four empires, growing from the work of the four kings. However, the people of God need not be concerned about these kings and empires, for in the end the kingdom, the everlasting kingdom, will be theirs. Note the emphasis on its everlastingness. (This has nothing to do with any Millennial kingdom). We are probably to see the four kings as Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander the Great and the Anti-God, (the horn, the small one).
‘The holy ones (saints) of the Most High.’ This does not mean Israel as such, but those who are faithful to God and His covenant and thus separated to Him. Apart from this passage the word ‘holy ones’, used in this way, is found also in 8.24 (‘people of the holy ones’, thus the holy people); see also Psalm 16.3; 34.9. Note that they ‘receive the kingdom’. It is not obtained by their own strength and power. But once received it is their possession for eternity.
Daniel’s Further Question About the Fourth Empire (7.19-20).
7.19-20 ‘Then I desired to know the truth about the fourth wild beast, which was diverse from all of them, exceedingly terrible, whose teeth were of iron and his claws of brass. Who devoured, broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet. And about the ten horns which were on his head, and the other which came up, and before which three fell. Even that horn who had eyes, and a mouth which spoke great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows.’
Daniel outlines his greatest concern. About the fourth wild beast. As far as the earthly scene goes this has been the emphasis all through. This is the wild beast above all wild beasts, a monster of monsters. His terrible features are again described, but an added feature is given to us. His claws are of brass, adding to his fearsomeness. Daniel also wants to know about the ten horns, and especially about the final one that came up, the one who caused the fall of the three, had eyes, and a mouth which spoke great things, and who looked superior compared with his fellows. The answer will shortly be given, but meanwhile he must wait for his dream goes on.
Daniel Sees A Further Vision, A Vision Of The End Days (7.21-22).
7.21-22 ‘I beheld and the same horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them, until the ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High, and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.’
This continuation of the dream moves on to new subjects. This is not recapitulation, it is advancement. This is the first suggestion of an empire persecuting God’s people, and the persecuting is clearly particularly severe. It is depicted again in Revelation 19. ‘He prevailed against them.’ They were being destroyed wholesale, and it seemed that nothing could save them from his activities.
But then the ancient of days comes and deals with this latest evil as He has previously dealt with the other empires and the prior part of the fourth beast. Now He gives judgment (a rightful and fair verdict resulting in corrective action) finally on behalf of His people and the time comes for the saints to possess the kingdom. This is advancement on what has gone before, as it was described in 7.2-14. This is describing the final stages of the fourth empire, and the final action of the heavenly court. Then the heavenly court can close down. It will be required no more.
The Explanation Concerning the Fourth Wild Beast (7.23-27).
7.23-25 ‘Thus he said, “The fourth wild beast will be a fourth empire on earth, and will be diverse from all the empires, and will devour the whole earth, and will tread it down and break it in pieces. And as for the ten horns, out of this empire will ten rulers arise, and another will arise after them. And he will be diverse from the former and will put down three kings. And he will speak words against the Most High, and will wear out the saints of the Most High, and he will think to change the times and the law. And they will be given into his hand until a time, and times and half a time.’
The fourth wild beast also represents an empire from the Mediterranean world. Diverse (altered) from all empires signifies its uniqueness in that it will continue in a broken up form as depicted in chapter 2. It is first the mighty Roman empire, but then it expands into a number of empires (‘ten’ indicates ‘a number of’), and finally produces the Anti-God. But the Anti-God only destroys ‘three’ kings. He is lord of a complete section of his world but not of the whole world.
Then arises the Anti-God. He is ‘altered’ from all that has gone before. He carves out for himself an area of the Mediterranean world, complete in itself, and openly challenges God and all that is of God, putting himself in the place of God (compare 2 Thessalonians 2.4). To ‘speak words’ has an evil connotation (see Hosea 10.4).
‘He will wear out the holy ones of the Most High’, like ill treatment wears out clothes, leaving them, as it were, ragged and in tatters. Some link the Aramaic word to an Arab root which means ‘to treat roughly, to harm’.
‘And he will think to change the times and the law.’ That is the times which God has in His own power (2.21; Acts 1.7; 3.21; Ephesians 1.10 compare Genesis 17.21; 18.14), and His law which He has given to men in the Scriptures, or possibly God’s law as proclaimed by the heavenly court. His thoughts will centre on destroying God’s purposes and truth.
‘And they will be given into his hand until a time, and times and half a time.’ The thought here is of an incomplete period of time, in contrast, for example with ‘seven times’. ‘Seven times’ depicted time under perfect control, time which God had in His own power, but ‘a time, and times and half a time’ depicts time not under control. Unlike God he is unable to determine the divinely perfect set times in which things will happen, nor is he able to control his own times. It is probably intended to represent less than the perfect ‘seven’. (It has been suggested that it was building up to seven but failed - a time, two times and then an expected four times, making seven, but then the four times collapsed into a half). He wanted to change the seasons but failed. They were not under his control. Compare for the phrase 12.7; Revelation 12.14, both referring to the persecution of the people of God which is broken off before the persecutors can complete their purpose.
All we can say about the attempt to make ‘times’ mean ‘years’ is that there is no definite evidence for it. Nor does ‘times’ necessarily mean ‘two times’. Indeed the noun is plural and not dual. If Daniel wanted to say three and a half years there was perfectly good Aramaic with which to do it. It is true that Revelation 12 parallels the Greek equivalent with twelve hundred and sixty days (12.6 with 12.14), but that does not necessarily equate them. He may be getting over two ideas. It could be argued that that was why he used different expressions. The twelve hundred and sixty days was probably to reflect the three and a half years of Elijah’s time in the wilderness (Luke 4.25; James 5.17), and Daniel never refers to a period of twelve hundred and sixty days. Interestingly he does refer to a period of twelve hundred and ninety days (12.11). But we cannot just dismiss the difference. If John wanted to equate with Daniel, why did he alter the phrase? Surely because he did not wish to equate with it. His eyes were on Elijah and not on Daniel.
Thus John was pointing out that the persecution and fleeing for safety of the people of God could be compared with that of Elijah, and that it also lasted for an incomplete period, rather than the time that Satan had determined, in a similar way to here in Daniel.
I would in fact have no particular objection to a meaning of three and a half years if that were clear from the wording and the context, as long as there was no attempt always to make periods of three and a half years mean the same period, for they clearly do not as the reference to Elijah’s three and a half years demonstrates. But I think that the attempt fails and misses the whole point of the phrase.
(End of note).
7.26 ‘But the judgment will sit, and they will take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it to the end.’
As through history ‘the judgment will sit’. That is, God will sit in judgment on this evil ruler as He had on the empires. And the court will take away his dominion, to get rid of it and destroy it. God is a consuming fire (see verse 9). ‘To the end.’ That is, for ever. It is in contrast with God’s kingdom which continues ‘to the end’ (6.26) . Thus will Satan’s final attempt to prevail be defeated.
7.27 ‘And the kingdom, and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people (who consist) of the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions will serve and obey him.’
Compare verse 18. After the persecution the blessing. Those who have been trodden down will be lifted up. They will receive the kingdom, and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, in other words supreme authority over all things. This is indeed God’s promise to His people elsewhere (Ephesians 2.6 with 1.19-23; Revelation 3.21).
‘The people (who consist) of the holy ones of the Most High.’ Thus not earthly Israel, but God’s true people, His holy ones, whoever they may be.
We note that this almost parallels what is given to the son of man in 7.14 (He also receives the glory). The son of man (or ‘The Man’) there is in contrast with the wild beasts. The wild beasts are both the kings and their kingdoms, one merges into the other. They both behave like wild beasts, but the true people of God behave like true human beings made in the image of God, and through their representative, the true Man, they receive the dominion. Thus the son of man is both the people’s representative and the people themselves. But whereas He receives the dominion at His resurrection, they finally receive the dominion at His return in glory.
7.28 ‘Unto this point is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts much troubled me, and my brightness was changed in me. But I kept the matter in my heart.’.
Commencing from the time of Nebuchadnezzar we have now reached the end of the matter, the everlasting kingdom. But Daniel was not at ease. He was deeply troubled, and he had lost his brightness. He was horrified at what lay ahead for the people of God. But nevertheless he told no one, nor asked others to share the burden. It was not easy to be the source of God’s revelation on such matters.
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