THE AMAZING STORY OF FAITHFUL
JEWS HONORING GOD IN A PAGAN LAND
What images immediately come to your mind when you think of the book of Daniel? Most likely you remember the dramatic stories of the fiery furnace and the lion’s den. You might also remember the vegetarian diets of the healthy Jewish boys, or the story of King Nebuchadnezzar who was reduced to eating grass like the cattle, or even the mysterious handwriting on the wall at King Belshazzar’s feast. Without a doubt Daniel is filled with great stories that we love to tell over and over again.
However, the most amazing part of this important book of prophecy is Daniel’s revelation about the Gentile nations that will come to power and rule over the known world and over the Jews for centuries to come. The entire future of God’s people as well as much of world history is revealed.
We could say Daniel lived in the “best of times and the worst of times.” It was the best of times because the Jewish nation was being cured of their problem of idolatry. It was the worst of times because the Babylonian captivity ushered in the “times of the Gentiles” mentioned in Luke 21:24 – “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Israelites lost their independence and much of their freedom but not their mission with God.
Daniel reveals the date of the Messiah’s first coming and the events prior to the second coming. It is a comprehensive look at the future of God’s plan for man. When the “times of the Gentiles” began, a whole new set of problems and questions came to God’s chosen people. Daniel reveals what God will do to enable their survival and success even under foreign domination. God’s plan will move forward despite the bleak look into their political future.
At any point in time when it seems that Satan and the world have the upper hand, we need a fresh look at the sovereignty of God. Daniel gives us this vision. God is still (and always has been) in full control of all nations and peoples. Daniel calls Him “THE MOST HIGH GOD,” and He certainly deserves that title.
DAY ONE: AUTHOR, DATE AND PURPOSE OF WRITING
A. AUTHOR AND DATE
Daniel was a young Jewish boy when he was taken captive to Babylon as the nation was being captured in three invasions between 605 and 586 B .C. He lived in Babylon for the rest of his life and his revelations from God reached across almost seven decades. The book is written in both Hebrew and Aramaic (the international language of the day) so we know that it was meant to be read by both Jews and Gentiles.
Daniel lived in a time of great political turmoil. One powerful, evil empire after another came on the scene to threaten the people of God. The Assyrians had captured the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. Then Babylon began slowly rising. In 609 B.C. a coalition of Assyrian and Egyptian armies attempted to restrain the Babylonians in their attempt to control the Ancient Near East. But the coalition failed and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was able to conquer Judah and Jerusalem.
After King Nebuchadnezzar died, the Babylonian Empire lasted only a few years before falling to the Medes and Persians under King Cyrus. The Persian Empire ruled for more than 200 years. Daniel served in these foreign courts under four different kings. He became a highly trusted official.
B. PURPOSE OF WRITING
Daniel writes to show his readers that the world is fully under the control of God. Everything is going according to His plan for His people and for the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth. It is a book that should bring great peace to the hearts of all people who have put their trust in God and who look forward to the fulfillment of all of His purposes, promises, and prophecies.
In Daniel’s day pagan people believed that the nation that won their battles had the most powerful God. Over and over God finds ways to show His superior power even though His people remain captives. Daniel shows that God is greater than all of the pagan gods, wise men and kings. We learn how God’s faithful people can live in times when the anti-God world seems to control everything around us.
- What remarkable statement does Daniel make about God in Daniel 4:17?
- What impresses you in Daniel’s praise to the God of heaven in Daniel 2:19-23?
- What did evil King Nebuchadnezzar learn about God after the fiery furnace story? (Daniel 4:1-3)
- As you worship God in your private times, what words of praise would you use to describe your experience with God?
- How have you recently demonstrated the peace of God that comes from knowing that He is in control of all things?
DAY TWO: PROBLEMS AND OUTLINE OF THE BOOK OF DANIEL
1. Some people have called Daniel the most controversial book of the Bible. One problem regards the time of writing. One of the greatest evidences of the inspiration of scripture is the precise fulfillment of prophecy. Some critics have tried to discredit the book of Daniel by saying that it was written long after the time of Daniel by some other person. They claim that it was written after the world empires had come to power in the inter-testament period and after most of the events prophesied in Daniel had already happened. They want to date it after the reign of the Greek tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanes (who reigned 174 – 156 B.C.) Events regarding the rule of this tyrant are prophesied in Daniel 9:27.
In defense of the credibility of Daniel as the author, we look at three evidences:
a. The book of Daniel was included in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek by 70 Hebrew scholars in Alexandria, Egypt in about 280 B.C. – long before the time of Antiochus Epiphanes.
b. First century historian Josephus reports that when Alexander the Great came to Jerusalem in 333 B.C., the High Priest showed him the prophecies about his Empire in the book of Daniel. He was so impressed that he spared the city. (Jewish Antiquities, Vol. 11, p.311)
c. The most important evidence of Daniel’s authorship is given by Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:15. Jesus called Daniel a prophet and quoted from his book.
2. Another problem concerns the heavy use of imagery and symbolism that lends itself to various interpretations. The book of Daniel uses some of the same symbols and images as the book of Revelation. Revelation has even been called the “New Testament Daniel.”
Christian scholars have sometimes disagreed on the interpretations, especially on the prophecies yet to be fulfilled. Because of this, we can’t be dogmatic in trying to learn the correct interpretation of Daniel’s revelations.
For the purpose of this study, the book of Daniel will be interpreted in a literal and historical manner. We will picture Daniel as a prophet who lived and wrote during Judah’s Babylonian captivity. Daniel is unique among the prophets in that (1) He did his writing entirely on foreign soil, and (2) It is written to both Jews and Gentiles. The book will be outlined in the following way:
DANIEL’S VISIONS SHOW GOD’S PLAN FOR THE AGES.
CH. 1 DANIEL’S CHARACTER & FAITHFULNESS REVEALED
CH. 2-7 TIMES OF GENTILE EMPIRES REVEALED (Written in Aramaic)
Ch. 2 Nebuchadnezzar’s dream revealed & interpreted
Ch. 3 Jews survived the fiery furnace
Ch. 4 King Nebuchadnezzar met the Most High God
Ch. 5 King Belshazzar saw the handwriting on the wall
Ch. 6 Daniel survived King Darius’ lion’s den
Ch. 7 Daniel had a vision of four frightening beasts
CH. 8-12 ISRAEL’S FUTURE REVEALED (Written in Hebrew)
Ch. 8 Oppression of a Greek ruler revealed
Ch. 9 Daniel prayed & received the prophecy of 70 weeks
Ch. 10-11 Daniel had a vision of a man who revealed Israel’s future
Ch. 12 The end times are prophesied
- Look up the definition of a prophet in a dictionary.
- What was the test of a prophet according to the Law of Moses? (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)
- Did God’s prophets speak their own opinions or give their own predictions? ( See 2 Peter 1:19-21)
- God mentioned His use of prophecy about the future as one proof of His superiority over false gods. Look up Isaiah 44:6-8. What did God reveal about His knowledge of future events?
- How are you personally helped by the knowledge that God knows the beginning and the end of all things?
- Read the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22:1-6. What encourages you about the wonderful future God has planned for His eternal family?
DAY THREE: KING NEBUCHADNEZZAR CAPTURED JERUSALEM.
Read: Daniel 1:1-2
A. JERUSALEM FELL TO BABYLON.
In 605 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon captured the capital city of Jerusalem, and the southern kingdom became a vassal state or a colony. He allowed Judah’s kings to continue to rule, although he removed King Jehoiakim and installed his son Jehoiachin to rule in Jerusalem. As King Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon, he took gold vessels from the Temple along with the most talented people in the Jewish court.
Later King Jehoiachin rebelled and Nebuchadnezzar installed Zedekiah as king. Finally, in 586 Zedekiah rebelled and King Nebuchadnezzar burned Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple and took most of the Judean people captive. God’s chosen people were left with no land, no temple, no priesthood, and no sacrifices.
There are many times in history when events seem to say that evil is winning and God’s plan is lost. This is one of those times, but the Jews should not have been surprised when their capital city was taken. God’s faithful prophets had warned them for many years about what would happen if they continued in their rebellion. God does not make idle threats. He had revealed how many years they would be captive and when they would return to their homeland.
B. JUDAH LOST HER INDEPENDENCE.
There were many times before when the Jews had come to a crisis point but God had rescued them. Now there is no divine rescue. If onlookers were keeping score, they would conclude that Nebuchadnezzar’s god won this round. Nebuchadnezzar took some booty to present to his god as proof of his victory and as a thanksgiving for his god’s superior power.
But things aren’t always as they seem. Daniel gives God’s perspective. In verse 2, we are told that God is the one who delivered King Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. This is exactly what God had prophesied.
- What did God say would happen in Deuteronomy 28:15, 25-26?
- What did God prophesy in Ezekiel 39:23-24?
- What did God prophesy in Isaiah 39:7?
- What does God promise in Hebrews 12:5-6?
We are told that we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). When have you seen a fellow believer (or yourself) suffer earthly consequences of sin?
DAY FOUR: NEBUCHADNEZZAR COMMANDED THE RE-EDUCATION OF JEWS.
Read: Daniel 1:3-7
A. DANIEL AND THREE FRIENDS WERE SELECTED.
Obviously Daniel and his three friends were outstanding young men. As sons of the ruling class and nobility of Judah, they would have been given a good Hebrew education back in Jerusalem. Undoubtedly they would also have been given training in leadership and perhaps training in some apprenticeship in their fathers’ occupations.
What had now transpired would seem to be a fortunate set of circumstances. They were being offered three years of the best education the world of that day had to offer. They would become Babylon’s elite as they later served in the government of the most powerful ruler on earth. They would have the best food and drink available as they completed their “graduate school” with a major in Babylonian culture and language. All they have to do is cooperate.
B. THEIR JEWISH NAMES WERE CHANGED.
The first order of business for the Babylonians was to change the names of these Hebrew students. New names would help them assimilate into the Babylonian culture. Their original names honored Israel’s God, and the new names honored the Babylonian gods as noted below.
Daniel – Hebrew (God is my judge)
Belshazzar – Babylonian (Bel protect his life)
Hananiah – Hebrew (The Lord shows grace)
Shadrach – Babylonian (Under the command of Aku – the moon god)
Mishael – Hebrew (Who is like God)
Meshack – Babylonian (Who is like Aku)
Azariah – Hebrew (The Lord helps)
Abednego – Babylonian (the servant of Nabu– the god of learning and writing)
C. WHAT IS IN A NAME?
In this instance the name suggested the person’s religious loyalty. Our names today are an important part of who we are. We often have cultural names or family names, but as believers we all wear the name of Christ. The pagan instructors could call these young men whatever they pleased, but their hearts and loyalties still belonged to the one true God. They had God’s name written on their hearts.
- How does this passage describe these four young men?
- What religious instruction would they have learned back in Judah in their Hebrew schools and in their homes? (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
- What kind of training were they to receive in Babylon?
- What does this passage tell you about early education and training of children?
- What are some ways we can teach our children well today?
DAY FIVE: NEBUCHADNEZZAR COMMENDED JEWISH STUDENTS.
Read: Daniel 1:8-21
A. DANIEL WAS OFFERED THE KING’S FOOD.
The young men decided to take a stand. They would enter into the training program and let themselves be called outwardly by the new names. They would agree to be in line for positions of authority at the end of their training. But they have a problem. Now they are being asked to do something that God has forbidden. The Law of Moses had strict food prohibitions. Also, the king’s food was offered as a sacrifice to Babylonian gods before it was served at the king’s table. To eat the king’s food was to participate in the worship of their gods.
Will they compromise just a little bit? Certainly we all face situations where we are tempted to rationalize our behavior in some way to avoid great loss in some area. But one compromise usually leads to another and another. Daniel and his friends decided to graciously offer a solution to their captors and take the consequences.
Daniel and his friends asked for a vegetarian diet with water for ten days. At the end of this trial period they passed the test of health, and their captors allowed the diet to stand. God honored their stand by giving them an outstanding ability to learn. He also gave Daniel a special gift of interpreting visions and dreams.
B. DANIEL AND HIS FRIENDS PASSED THEIR FINAL EXAMS.
At the end of three years the four Jewish youths passed their examination with flying colors. They had learned ten times more than the king’s magicians and enchanters. They were placed in the king’s service and remained there until the kingdom was taken over by the Medes and Persians. Nebuchadnezzar ruled for 43 years.
- Who is the ultimate source of wisdom and understanding? (1 Kings 3:12)
- Who receives this special kind of wisdom? (Proverbs 3:5-6; 9:10)
- What is promised to believers today? (James 1:5-6)
- The Holy Spirit acts as our counselor and illuminator of scripture today. What should a wise believer look like according to James 3:17-18?
- How often do you pray for insight and understanding before you begin your Scripture reading?
Daniel was now installed in the king’s court in this foreign government. He showed that it is possible to work in the world and still faithfully obey God’s laws. A child of God must obey Him (no matter what the circumstances) and let the results rest in His sovereign hands. Daniel will be God’s spokesman for many decades until his nation finally returns to their homeland. When we show ourselves loyal and trustworthy, God can use us in significant ways. God will show himself faithful to Daniel as Daniel faithfully reveals the plan of the sovereign God for all of mankind.
PRINCIPLE FOR THE WEEK: When we put ourselves fully in God’s hands, He will use us for His glory.
CHALLENGE: We can trust God but we have to prove that God can trust us. Graciously and lovingly take a stand for God in some hard place this week and see what God will do for you.
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