Bible Reading Notes—Step 6: Week 50

Introduction

The Book of Daniel is set at the time of the Jewish captivity in Babylon. It shows us how God was still working with and for his people, even when they were far away from their homeland, and how God has a great plan for the world that goes well beyond the span of human comprehension.

Sunday – Daniel 2

 In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar II (circa 604 B.C.), the king of Babylon, had dreams that disturbed his sleep. He summoned magicians, astrologers, sorcerers and Chaldeans to tell him the content of his dream and its interpretation, with the threat of capital punishment for failure and a promise of exaltation for success. The Chaldeans confessed their inability to perform the king’s command, stating that such a feat could only be accomplished by gods. Nebuchadnezzar reacted angrily and issued a decree that all the wise men of Babylon should be killed.

Among the wise men were the Judean captives Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (see Daniel chapter 1). God revealed the king’s dream and its interpretation to Daniel. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that his dream was a revelation from the God of heaven concerning “what shall be in the latter days” (Daniel 2:28). Daniel described to the king what he had seen in his dream in verses 31-35:  a humanoid image whose constituent parts were made of different materials. The head was made of gold, the chest and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of brass, the legs of iron and its feet iron mingled with clay. The feet of the image were struck and broken by a stone “cut out without hands” which proceeded to break the rest of the image to pieces. The stone then grew to become a great mountain that filled the whole earth.

Daniel then sets out the interpretation of the dream in verses 36-45. The constituents of the image represented successive world empires that exercised dominion over the land of Israel. The head of gold represented the then ascendant Babylonian empire, centered in the person of Nebuchadnezzar: “You are this head of gold”. The chest and arms of silver represented the power that would follow the Babylonian empire. The history recorded in the book of Daniel itself shows us that this was the Medo-Persian empire (Daniel 5:30-6:1). The third kingdom, represented by the belly and thighs of brass, was the Greek empire. This transition from the Persian empire to the Greek empire is prophesied in greater detail in Daniel 8; both powers are explicitly named in Daniel 8:20-21. The identity of the fourth empire, represented by the legs of iron, can also be determined from scripture. In the days of Jesus and the apostles, it was the Roman empire that was ruling over the land of Israel (see for example Luke 2:1-5; 3:1). The feet of iron mixed with clay represented a later phase when the Roman empire was to become divided (compare Matthew 12:25). This state of affairs continues until God intervenes to set up his everlasting kingdom, represented by the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, that is without human agency (compare Hebrews 9:24; Colossians 2:11). The kingdom of God will destroy the kingdoms of men and fill the whole earth (Daniel 2:35; Numbers 14:21; Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14; Matthew 6:10).

Monday – Daniel 3

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold (compare Daniel 2:32,38) and set it up in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He summoned officials of the empire to ceremony for its dedication. At the ceremony a proclamation was made that when various musical instruments were played all present must fall down and worship the golden image.  Non-compliance was to be met with being cast into a burning fiery furnace.

The Judean exiles Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, whom Nebuchadnezzar had elevated to positions of governance within the province of Babylon (Daniel 1:6-7; 2:49), refused to engage in this idolatrous worship. Their disobedience was reported to Nebuchadnezzar by some of the Chaldeans. Nebuchadnezzar was furious with the Judeans who despite the imminent threat of being burnt alive stated that they would not compromise their conscience towards God. The king commanded the furnace to be heated “seven times more than it was wont to be heated” and the three men were bound and thrown into the furnace.

When the king looked into furnace he was surprised to see four men walking in the fire – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and a fourth figure whom he described as having a form like ‘a son of the gods’ (Daniel 3:25). Nebuchadnezzar called Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to come out of the furnace. They emerged unharmed, with their clothing intact and without even the smell of smoke on them (compare Isaiah 43:1-2; Psalm 66:12). The king then blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who had sent an angel to deliver his servants who had trusted in him. Moreover, he legislated the death penalty for anyone in his empire who spoke against the God of Israel.

Tuesday – Daniel 5

 Belshazzar, king of Babylon, held a feast for a thousand of his lords, during which he indulged in a calculated act of blasphemy. He commanded for the vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had removed from God’s temple in Jerusalem (compare Daniel 1:1-2) to be brought out and then proceeded to be drink wine from them in praise of the gods of Babylon.

The king then saw the fingers of a man’s hand appear and write on the wall of the king’s palace. He was terrified and called for his wise men to interpret the writing, but they were unable. The queen reminded Belshazzar of Daniel, whom Nebuchadnezzar had exalted owing to his ability to interpret his dream in chapter 2. Daniel is summoned and reminds Belshazzar that Nebuchadnezzar had only possessed the kingdom because God had given it to him. Moreover, God has deposed Nebuchadnezzar for a time owing to his hubris (see Daniel 4). Daniel rebuked Belshazzar for his pride and failure to glorify God.

Daniel then proceeded to give the interpretation of the writing on the wall, which read “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” (Daniel 5:25) as follows:

“Mene”:          “God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it”.

“Tekel”:          “You are weighed in the balances and found lacking”.

“Peres”:          “Your kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and the Persians”.

This was a prophesy of the collapse of the Babylonian empire and its replacement by the Medo-Persian empire. In the terms of the image prophesy of Daniel 2, this was the transition from the head of gold to the chest and arms of silver. Its fulfillment was not long coming as that night Belshazzar was slain and Darius the Mede took the kingdom (circa 539 B.C).

The God of Israel, who cannot be compared to the gods of silver and gold (Isaiah 40:18-20), weighs the actions of the nations (Isaiah 40:15) and rules in the kingdom of men (Daniel 4:17).

Wednesday – Daniel 6

Darius the Mede restructured the governance of the kingdom, appointing one hundred and twenty satraps over whom he set three officials, one of whom was Daniel. Daniel distinguished himself above his peers and consequently the king planned to promote him to a role over the whole kingdom. This incited the jealousy of the satraps and other officials who plotted Daniel’s downfall by laying a trap for him. Knowing Daniel’s unswerving fidelity to the God of Israel, they proposed to king Darius that he should issue a decree that no one in the kingdom should make a request of any God or man, bar the king, for thirty days. They suggested that the penalty for non-compliance should be being thrown into a den of lions. The king acquiesced and signed the decree.

When Daniel knew of the decree, he entered his house, opened the windows towards Jerusalem and prayed to the God of Israel three times a day. The satraps and officials reported this to the king, who though he sought to deliver Daniel from the prescribed fate, was unable owing to the binding nature of Medo-Persian law. Accordingly Daniel was consigned to the den of lions. Darius, being grieved at this state of affairs, spent the night fasting and refused to engage in merriment.

The next day the king went to the lion den and called for Daniel, asking if the God of Israel had delivered him from the lions. Daniel responded that God had sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions and that he had been preserved without harm. Darius was pleased and commanded that Daniel be lifted out of the den. He then commanded that Daniel’s accusers and their families be cast into the den. When this was done, the lions devoured them. The king then issued a decree that everyone in his kingdom should fear the God of Daniel.

The narrative in this chapter in many ways parallels the experience of Daniel’s three fellow captives, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego recorded in Daniel 3. Moreover, there are a number of points of contact between the experience of Daniel in this chapter and that of the Lord Jesus Christ. In both cases an innocent man (compare Daniel 6:4-5 and John 18:38; 19:4,6) was sentenced to death through to the malicious machinations of jealous men (Matthew 27:18). Furthermore, as the lion’s den was sealed by a stone placed over its mouth (Daniel 6:17), so was Jesus’ sepulchre (Matthew 27:64-66).  Darius’ hastening to the lion den very early in the morning (Daniel 6:19) has a counterpart in the women who came to Jesus’ sepulchre very early in the morning to anoint his body (Mark 16:1-2). Both Daniel and Jesus were found to be alive, delivered from the power of death.

Thursday – Daniel 7

Daniel chapter 7 does not follow chronologically after chapter 6, but it goes back in time to the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon. It records a dream and visions experienced by Daniel himself upon his bed. Daniel’s dream matches the structure of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the image composed of various materials representing successive phases of the kingdom of men, culminating in the establishment of the kingdom of God (see Daniel 2). However, instead of materials, the successive empires are represented in Daniel’s dream as four creatures (Daniel 7:17). The content of the dream is described in verses 2-14 and its interpretation revealed to Daniel in verses 16-27.

The following table notes the significance of the symbolism:

Symbol Interpretation
Verse 4: First beast like a lion with eagle’s wings. Its wings were subsequently removed and it stood on its feet as a man and a man’s heart was given to it. The Babylonian empire (compare Jeremiah 50:17 and contrast Daniel 4:16).
Verse 5: Second beast like a bear with one side raised up and three ribs in its mouth. The Medo-Perisan empire. The raised side represents the ascendancy of the Persian component of this dynasty from king Cyrus the Great onwards.
Verse 6: Third beast like a leopard with four wings of a bird and four heads. The Greek empire, which after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. was eventually divided between four generals, Cassander, Lysimachus, Seleucus and Ptolemy. This division is also spoken of in Daniel 11:2-4.
Verse 7: Fourth beast, dreadful and terrible with great iron teeth and ten horns.A little horn emerged among the ten and three horns were plucked out by the roots before it. The little horn had the eyes of a man and a mouth speaking great things. The Roman empire. Note the mention of iron which links this creature with the Roman iron legs of the image in Daniel 2:33,40-41. Daniel 7:19 adds the detail that this beast had claws of brass. This links with the Greek belly and thighs of brass of the image in Daniel 2:32,39.The fourth empire would therefore embody aspects of its predecessor. Historically this was evident in the Roman empire’s large-scale appropriation of Greek culture. The ten horns of the fourth beast represent the political fragmentation of the Roman empire into a number of states following its collapse. This matches the division of the fourth kingdom spoken of Daniel 2:41.The distinctive Roman little horn with eyes and a mouth that emerged, displacing three of the horns, represents a power that would persecute God’s servants and blaspheme God (Daniel 7:21,25). Moreover, it would seek to appropriate authority that beongs to God alone (compare Daniel 7:25 and 2:21). This little horn represents the emergence of the Papacy, centered in Rome (compare 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12).
Verses 9-11: One called “the Ancient of Days” clothed with a white garment and with hair like pure wool sat on a throne like a fiery flame and with wheels as burning fire. He kills the fourth beast. The intervention of God in the world of human affairs to destroy the dominion of the fourth beast and establish his kingdom and give it to his servants, the saints (compare Daniel 7:22,27).
Verses 13-14: one “like a son of man” comes with the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of Days and is given everlasting world dominion.

 

Friday – Daniel 9

In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, the Mede, Daniel studied the prophecy of Jeremiah and understood that from the Jerusalem would be desolate as a result of the Babylonian invasions for a period of seventy years (Daniel 9:2; Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10; 2 Chronicles 36:21). Daniel prayed for God to fulfill his word and restore Jerusalem and the temple which had been destroyed by the Babylonians (Daniel 9:3-19). This came to pass when the temple, destroyed in 586 B.C. was rebuilt seventy years later in 516 B.C. after the Judeans had been permitted to returned to their land by the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great.

In response his prayer, God sent the angel Gabriel to reveal to Daniel to further details of God’s purpose beyond the return of the Judeans from the captivity and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. This prophecy is recorded in verses 24-27. It pertained to a time period of “seventy weeks” during which God would finish transgression, make an end of sin and make reconciliation for iniquity (compare Isaiah 59:12; Psalm 32:1-2) and bring in everlasting righteousness. This would be associated with the appearance of the “Messiah” (which means ‘anointed one’, as does the Greek word ‘Christ’) during the sixty ninth week from the commandment for the Judeans to return to their land from captivity to rebuilt Jerusalem. The Messiah was to be “cut off” and afterwards Jerusalem and temple would once again be made desolate by an invading power.

The details of this prophecy match the work of the Lord Jesus Christ who was anointed by God with the holy spirit (Acts 10:38) and through his death took away sin (John 1:29). Moreover, some time after the resurrection of Christ the Roman armies came and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, as Jesus had prophesied (Matthew 22:7; 23:38-24:2).

But how can the period between a decree of a Persian emperor to restore Jerusalem and the temple to the time of the Lord Jesus in the First Century A.D. be described as “seventy weeks”?  On many occasions in Bible prophecy a day represents a year. Thus “seventy weeks” represents a period of 490 years (compare Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:4-6). 490 years from the decree given in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I recorded in Ezra 7, circa 457 B.C., for Judeans to return to Jerusalem and reestablish temple worship brings us to circa 34 A.D which is the timeframe for the ministry and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday – Daniel 12

Daniel 12 forms part of a narrative prophecy related to Daniel by an angel who appeared to him in chapter 10. The angel described God’s intervention in human history at a time of great trouble, when he would raise some of the dead from the dust of the ground. Some of those raised will be given everlasting life and some will be raised to shame and contempt. The righteous who will be rewarded with life will shine as the stars of heaven.

The resurrection and judgment of the dead will be performed by the Lord Jesus Christ upon his return to the earth (John 5:21-29; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16; 1 Corinthians 15). This will not be a universal resurrection of all who have died throughout human history, but of a group described as “many of them who sleep in the dust of the earth”. Responsibility to the judgment seat of Christ is confined to those who have known the Gospel and either accepted or rejected it (Romans 14:10-12; John 12:46-48; Deuteronomy 18:18-19). Daniel, who was a faithful servant of his God, received the promise that he would be among those who would stand to inherit the earth at the resurrection (12:13).  This wonderful hope is available to all who believe God’s promises set out in his word and try to live in accordance with his will.