Slow to anger and abounding in love, God sent prophet after prophet to rebellious Israel, threatening judgment and covenant curses if his people failed to keep their obligations under the covenant made at Mount Sinai (2 Chron. 36:15-16). If the people did not repent, wrath would come. God kept his word, and Israel fell in 722 BC to the Assyrians. Judah’s final demise began a little more than a century later, when the king of Babylon besieged Jerusalem in 605 BC and implemented the first stage of exile by deporting youths from royal and noble Judean families. The book of Daniel is an account of the deportation and subsequent history of one such individual, Daniel, from 605 BC to his last vision in 536 BC. Most of Daniel’s years were spent serving the royal court of Babylon, although he lived through the transition to Medo-Persian rule. Twelve chapters report harrowing stories of judgment and deliverance, as well as graphic prophecies of terror and hope. There are visions of beasts rising and rulers battling, and the atrocities that God’s people would face. Throughout decades of exile, Daniel remained faithful to Yahweh despite external opposition and threat of death. Amid the mayhem, though, a light of hope burns bright that one day God will establish an everlasting kingdom.
The title of the book comes from its key character, who was also the book’s author. The sixth-century-BC authorship of Daniel was widely accepted by Jewish tradition and the testimony of church history. One early exception to this affirmation was Porphyry (AD 233-304), who insisted that a second-century-BC Jew wrote the book long after the events it “predicted.” Many modern scholars have taken a similar view, though there are good reasons for maintaining the traditional dating.
First, the book itself clearly claims to have been written by Daniel. The author writes in the first person in the visionary portion of the book (chs. 7-12) and identifies himself as Daniel no fewer than seventeen times in these chapters.
Second, Jewish tradition ascribes the book to Daniel and understands the events described in the book to be historical. When the author of 1 Maccabees describes Mattathias as remembering what God had done for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (1 Macc. 2:59-60), Mattathias’s appeal rests on the belief that the book of Daniel describes what really happened to three Jews in a fiery furnace.
Third, Jesus speaks about Daniel as a genuine historical person and prophet. During Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives he says, “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel . . .” (Matt. 24:15).
Fourth, the unity of the book suggests it had a single author, namely, Daniel. The frequent use of chiastic structures suggests a careful arrangement of the material by one mind. The move from Hebrew to Aramaic and then back to Hebrew is a fluid design strengthening the case for a single author. The intertextual connections between earlier and later portions of the book indicate an inextricable relationship between the chapters, forged by a purposeful hand.
Some scholars deny that the book’s detailed prophecies are genuine predictions. They claim the prophecies must be post-event (ex eventu) compositions that merely seem to be forward-looking. For example, they say, since much of the final prophecy in chapter 11 relates to events in the Maccabean period (2nd century BC), the book must have been composed in that era. The problem with such a position is its anti-supernatural presupposition. If God can reveal himself, then surely he can communicate about the future, which he perfectly knows and has ordained! And if he can communicate aspects of the future, he can do so either in generalities or in detail, whichever he chooses. Insisting that Daniel’s prophecies were written ex eventu is “not scholarship but dogmatism.”, StBibLit 123 (New York: Peter Lang, 2009), 65.
Second, scholars sometimes point to lexical features in the book to suggest a late (2nd-century-BC) date. The presence of some Persian and Greek loanwords seems to be the primary basis of this assertion. Yet, since Daniel lived to see the Persian conquest of Babylon, the use of Persian words in the book is not chronologically improbable. Moreover, there are only three Greek loanwords in the book, all in chapter 3, each of which describes a musical instrument. Even some critical scholars admit the use of these words is too sparse to prove anything about the date of composition., Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 20. Regarding the book’s Hebrew, W. J. Martin contends, “There is nothing about the Hebrew of Daniel that could be considered extraordinary for a bilingual or, perhaps in this case, a trilingual speaker of the language in the sixth century BC.”, ed. D. J. Wiseman (London: Tyndale, 1965), 30. Cf. Andrew E. Steinmann, Daniel, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008), 8. Regarding its Aramaic, “On the basis of presently available evidence, the Aramaic of Daniel belongs to Official Aramaic and can have been written as early as the latter part of the sixth century B.C.” 19 (1981): 225. Therefore a late date for the book cannot be established on lexical grounds.
If the book of Daniel was not composed by the sixth-century-BC prophet, then its historical accuracy is in question and its supposed predictions may be safely ignored. If the book’s events and visions were only fancifully retrojected to a time during the Babylonian exile, then the book is nothing more than a series of man-made documents manufactured to bring (false) hope and confidence to its readers. Rightly put, “The whole theological meaning of the book depends upon Yahweh’s ability to deliver his people and declare the future before it takes place.”, New Studies in Biblical Theology, vol. 32 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 32.
Daniel was exiled to Babylon in 605 BC (1:1), and his final vision was in 536 (10:1). The book was probably completed shortly after that, for Daniel would have been in his eighties by then. During the long Babylonian exile, Daniel glimpsed the future through visions, learning that subsequent earthly empires would be followed by an everlasting kingdom not made with hands (2:34-35). What he recorded in his book would be helpful and important for his own contemporaries and for all future generations of readers as the prophecies neared fulfillment (cf. 8:26; 9:24-27; 12:4). It would be a means of God’s grace for their faithfulness and perseverance.
No single literary genre covers the whole book of Daniel. The book consists of narratives (chs. 1-6) and visions (chs. 7-12). It makes use of chiasm, first- and third-person points of view, different languages (Hebrew and Aramaic), prophecy, dreams, and apocalyptic imagery. The narratives (except for parts of ch. 4) are conveyed in the third person, and the visions in the first person. Chapters 1 and 8-12 are written in Hebrew. Beginning in 2:4, the language switches to Aramaic through chapter 7. Dream accounts are related from both Nebuchadnezzar (e.g., ch. 2) and Daniel (e.g., ch. 7). Prophecy about the future is recorded in chapters 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12. Chiasms, along with other rhetorical devices, are used in both narratives and visions.
The book of Daniel includes at least eight theological themes.
1. Divine sovereignty. God foretells the future and accomplishes it. He raises up rulers and brings them down. He appoints periods of punishment, overrules the murderous intents of rulers, and delivers his people. As Nebuchadnezzar rightly recognized, God “does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (4:35).
2. Worship. In the opening chapter, the contents of the Jerusalem temple are transported to a Babylonian temple. In chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar sets up an image for everyone to worship. In chapter 5, Belshazzar praises his gods using vessels from the Jerusalem temple. In chapter 6, enemies of Daniel convince the king to command prayer exclusively to him. In chapters 7 and 8, two “little horn” figures act against the true worship of Yahweh. In chapter 11, true worship in Israel is interrupted by a blasphemous ruler.
3. Faithfulness. Daniel and his friends display unwavering resolve to obey God (chs. 1, 3, and 6). Even when disobedience to God would mean being spared from death, they refuse to compromise.
4. Revelation. God alone knows the future, and at his sovereign pleasure he may choose to disclose it, such as through dreams to Nebuchadnezzar (chs. 2 and 4). In chapter 5 God writes a message on the wall revealing imminent judgment against Babylon and Belshazzar. In four visions (chs. 7, 8, 9, and 10-12) God reveals the future directly to Daniel. God “reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” (2:22).
5. Wisdom. As Nebuchadnezzar evaluates the men trained in chapter 1, he concludes that Daniel and his friends are wiser than his Babylonian wise men (1:20). When Daniel interacts with nonbelievers, he is wise and prudent (cf. chs. 2 and 6). The queen in chapter 5 affirms Daniel’s wisdom (5:11-12). During future tribulation, the wise will instruct and be refined (11:33-35). Along with the wise, who will rise from the dead and shine like the stars (12:2-3), Daniel will rise and receive his inheritance (12:13).
6. Judgment. This theme can be understood in relation to earthly rulers and to God. The chief of the eunuchs fears the judgment of Nebuchadnezzar (1:10), who orders the deaths of all Babylonian wise men (2:12-13) and threatens anyone who refuses to worship his image (3:1-7). Darius of Medo-Persia makes a 30-day agreement to throw into a lions’ den anyone who prays to someone other than him (6:6-9). This same king orders Daniel’s accusers and their families to be killed (6:24). God displays even greater power to judge, however. He gives Judah into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand (1:1-2) and humbles Nebuchadnezzar’s pride (4:28-37). He writes the judgment of Babylon and Belshazzar on the palace wall (5:26-30). Visions depict God’s judgment on two little horns (7:8; 8:25). The exile was God’s judgment (9:1-19), and more judgment lies in store for God’s people and the temple in Jerusalem (8:12-14; 9:26-27; 11:16, 28, 30-31). At the resurrection of the dead, God will judge the wicked (12:2).
7. Deliverance. God delivers the four youths from death in chapter 3. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego go into the furnace, God preserves them so completely that not even the smell of smoke is on them (3:25-28). God delivers Nebuchadnezzar from insanity and restores his majesty (4:34-37). When Daniel is in the lions’ den, God sends an angel to shut the lions’ mouths (6:22-23). In Daniel’s visions, God will ultimately deliver and vindicate his people (7:21-27; 8:13-14; 9:24-27; 11:35). On the day of resurrection, the righteous dead will be delivered from the dust (12:2-3).
8. Dominion. John Goldingay rightly observes, “The theme that is central to Daniel as it is to no other book in the OT is the kingdom of God.”, WBC (Dallas: Word, 1989), 330. Though Jerusalem was besieged and exiles were taken (1:1-2), God is still king of the cosmos. The dream he gives to Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 2 is a prophecy of future empires being eclipsed by an everlasting kingdom that will achieve worldwide dominion (2:31-45). Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges God’s kingdom will endure from generation to generation (4:3, 34). Darius affirms the everlasting nature of this reign (6:26). Finally, Daniel’s visions depict the supremacy of God’s kingdom (7:14, 27; 12:1-3).
In the plotline of the Bible, the book of Daniel tells of the faithfulness of Yahweh and his people during the exile to Babylon and beyond. The book also holds forth hope for the messianic kingdom. Jesus has inaugurated the everlasting stone-kingdom of chapter 2 (cf. Luke 20:18). His redemptive rescue is foreshadowed by the deliverances reported in Daniel 3 and 6. Jesus is the “one like a son of man” who comes to the Ancient of Days in chapter 7 (cf. Matt. 26:64). He receives everlasting authority in heaven and on earth (cf. Matt. 28:18). Jesus is the anointed one of Daniel 9:26 who “finishes” transgression and atones for iniquity (cf. v. 24), and is the firstfruits of all who will be raised (1 Cor. 15:20; Dan. 12:2).
Sermons from the book of Daniel should address large portions of the narratives and visions. There are ten sections in the book (chs. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10-12), and each could constitute a sermon, though a detailed exploration of chapter 2 or chapters 10-12 may require more than one sermon.
The book of Daniel should be read and heralded as a Christian book. Christian sermons should “authentically integrate the message of the text with the climax of God’s revelation in the person, work, and/or teaching of Jesus Christ as revealed in the New Testament.” (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 10. The preacher may rightly discern in the book of Daniel multiple examples of faithfulness to Yahweh, from which hearers may be exhorted to obedience. This emphasis is not mere moralism. The NT recognizes the value of these examples for Christian obedience. In Hebrews 11:33-34, the writer speaks of how, by faith, there were saints who “stopped the mouths of lions” and “quenched the power of fire,” which are allusions to Daniel’s rescue from the lions’ den (Dan. 6:22-23) and the deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace (3:25-28). Since the examples in Hebrews 11 are intended to encourage readers to walk by faith (cf. Heb. 10:36-39), a legitimate application of those stories is to exhort God’s people to endure in faith and reject compromise, while at the same time keeping our eyes firmly fixed on “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).
A number of challenges emerge when interpreting Daniel. First is the historical order of earthly kingdoms in the visions of chapters 2 and 7. There is disagreement as to whether the four kingdoms are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome—which is the traditional position—or Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece.
Second, relating the little horn in chapter 7 to the one in chapter 8 is challenging. The descriptions of the horns are similar, leading some interpreters to equate them. If the referents of the horns are different, however, their relationship must be explained. Is one horn foreshadowing or typifying the second? Proposing historical or future fulfillment for the horns is controversial.
Third, identifying the heavenly figures in the book of Daniel can be difficult, because they are not all given names. The figure in 8:16-17 is named Gabriel, who appears again in 9:20-21. Other heavenly figures are more ambiguous. In the fiery furnace, interpreters must weigh evidence for identifying the fourth man (who was “like a son of the gods”; 3:25) as the preincarnate Christ or an angel. The same kind of question may apply to Daniel’s rescue from the lions’ den in 6:22. And was the angel who spoke to Daniel in 7:16 perhaps also Gabriel (cf. 9:21)? In the final vision (10:1-12:13), the figure who appears in 10:5-6 is unnamed, leaving the interpreter to consider whether this is again Gabriel or someone else.
Fourth, interpreters must wrestle with the relationship between Darius and Cyrus. In 5:31, “Darius the Mede received the kingdom,” and chapter 6 reports an event during his reign. The end of chapter 6, though, refers to the “reign of Cyrus the Persian” (6:28). Historically, there is no evidence for a Darius who reigned before Cyrus in the Medo-Persian kingdom, so either such evidence is still forthcoming or the two names refer to the same person.
Fifth, the book of Daniel contains many numbers to reflect upon. In chapter 1 there is a ten-day test (Dan. 1:14-15). In chapter 2 there are four parts to a metal man (2:31-35). In chapter 4 Nebuchadnezzar will be punished for “seven periods of time” (4:32). In chapter 7 Daniel has a vision of four beasts (7:1-8). The fourth beast has ten horns (v. 7), and among them arises a little horn, before which three of the other horns fall (v. 8). There is a reference to “a time, times, and half a time” (7:25), which may refer to three and a half years. In chapter 8, a ram has two horns, and a goat has one (8:3, 5-6). The sanctuary will be desolate for “2,300 evenings and mornings” (8:14). In chapter 9, Daniel learns about seventy “sevens,” broken into seven, sixty-two, and one (9:24-27; cf. ESV mg. on v. 24). In chapter 10, Daniel mourns for three weeks (10:2), and the heavenly figure contends with the prince of Persia for twenty-one days (10:13). In chapter 12, Daniel hears reference to another “time, times, and half a time” (12:7). And, at the end of the book, there is a reference to 1,290 days (12:11) and 1,335 days (12:12).
Sixth, an interpretive challenge surely exists when we come to the lengthy passage in chapter 11. The prophecy in 11:2-12:3 is the longest in the book and part of the largest unit of the book (10:1-12:13). The kings of the south and north are manifold, and historical skirmishes are plentiful. Interpreters need to consider specific historical fulfillments of this chapter because the Greek Empire, while future to Daniel, is past to us.
Seventh, there are two Greek versions of the book of Daniel: the Septuagint (LXX), also known as the Old Greek, and the version by Theodotion. The latter was widely used by the early church, although the NT also cites from the Old Greek version. These two Greek versions give insights into how Jews from antiquity understood particular passages from Daniel.
Multiple structures are common in the Bible, so it is not surprising to find multiple ways of outlining the book of Daniel. The simplest approach is to see the book in two parts: six narratives in chapters 1-6 and four visions in chapters 7-12. Another observation modifies this twofold design, however, for the Aramaic section of the book (chs. 2-7) is widely recognized as a chiasm, with chapters 2 and 7 prophesying about four kingdoms, 3 and 6 recounting rescues from death, and 4 and 5 reporting divine judgment on arrogant kings. Perhaps the whole book of Daniel is a single chiasm,, 77-83. or even two interlocking chiasms fused together by chapter 7., 20-25. There also appears to be a three-part Hebrew chiasm in chapters 8-12: “It is with chapter 8 that chapters 10-12 have most detailed points of contact. Reminiscences of almost every verse of chapter 8 reappear here.”, 283.
The chiasms correspond to language changes in the book. Chapter 1 is a Hebrew introduction to the book, followed by an Aramaic chiasm (chs. 2-7), leading to a Hebrew chiasm (chs. 8-12), with chapter 7 as an important transition to the visionary section of the book. The following structure is an attempt to represent the ten parts of the book of Daniel in a way that showcases the Aramaic and Hebrew features: