This is my search section here


← back to Sermons

    Aug 10, 2014

    Class 23: Daniel

    Series: Old Testament Overview

    Category: Core Seminars, Bible Prophecy, Nature of God, Sovereignty of God, The Glory of God, Work of Christ, Faith




    Please turn to 1 Peter 1:1.  “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, strangers in the world . . .”


    What does Peter mean by calling us “strangers in the world?”  [Wait for answers.]  Well, all that leads to a good question for us.  What does it mean to live in the world as a stranger—and yet still live in the world?


    That’s what we’ll be looking at in the book of Daniel this morning.  An interesting book, given that the first six chapters, with accounts like the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, are so familiar.  And yet the last six chapters are some of the least-read in Scripture because they’re so confusing.  My hope is that across the next forty minutes we can piece it together as one book.  And, along the way, learn what it means to live as strangers in this world.


    First, some context.




    Daniel’s the only book that spans the entire exile.  A teenager when he was taken captive to Babylon during the first wave of exiles, Daniel was still in Babylon as an old man, when the Jews began returning to Jerusalem in 536/537 BC.[1]  Daniel spends that entire time in the city of Babylon.  The Babylonians were conquered by the Medes & Persians in 539 BC.  So, chapters 1-4, 7, and 8 occur during the reign of the Babylonians.  Chapter 5 records the fall of the last Babylonian king, and the takeover by the Medes.  And chapters 9 and 6 record events that occurred during the reign of the new empire, called the Medo-Persian Empire.  God’s people, it seems, are just caught up as pawns in this great battle for dominance.


    And that really captures the redemptive-historical context of the book.  The question on the table is this.  Who rules the earth?  Is God really in control?  Or is he also at the whims of these empires?  And, equally importantly, how ought the people of God behave through all of this?  Those are the questions that Daniel will answer. 




    And the answer will come basically in this form:


    The Most High, the God of Daniel, sovereignly rules and reigns supreme over all mankind.  Therefore His people are brave in the face of persecution. 


    You’ll notice in that first sentence that I didn’t refer to God by His covenant name, Yahweh, as we have so often since we were in the book of Exodus.  Well, that’s because Daniel doesn’t either.  With the exception of one reference to Yahweh in chapter 9, God is largely referred to in this book as “the Most High.”  Thus the lack of the capital letters “Lord” in your English language Bibles.  What Daniel’s doing is emphasizing that his god is God over all peoples on earth, not just the Jews.  And, as you’ll recall, these people are in exile.  They have been called “not my people” by Hosea.  So how fitting it is that in chapter 9 when the word “Yahweh” reappears, it is as Daniel prays about the end of the exile.  That one little hint—the use of God’s name—tells us so much about the message of this book.


    Now, on to the book.  For some books of the Bible, we can basically wander in and understand what the author’s doing.  For others, knowing the book’s structure can help quite a bit.  And Daniel most certainly falls into that second category.  Think of what you know about the book of Daniel.  It begins in chapter 1, verses 1-4 with Daniel and the nation of Judah going into exile.  And then near the end, Daniel chapter 9, we see that it’s time for the exile to be finished.  Move a little further in.  Chapter 2 focuses on king Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of a statue representing four great kingdoms.  Now, with the end of the exile in chapter 9 we move a little bit further in and we see, in chapters 7 and 8, more visions of kingdoms, with four kingdoms again in chapter 7.  In all, the content of the first half of the book is recapitulated in the second half.  For those of you familiar with the term, the book of Daniel—like many other pieces of ancient literature—is structured as a “chiasm.”  That is, pairs of parallel passages that work from the ends of the book to its middle where the main point lies.  You can see that in the outline on the back of your handout.


    Do you see that chiastic mirroring here?  The outside, labeled A and B, are the two parallels I just mentioned.  And then the middle, the main point, is the two sections labeled with “Ds,” where we have stories of two kings being humbled from what they thought they were untouchable places of sovereignty.  And set in the middle of those two stories we find chapter 4, verses 34 and 35.


    34At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

    for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
        and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
    35all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
        and he 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?”


    That is the point of the book.  God has humbled even the great king Nebuchadnezzar, conqueror of Judah.


    Now, for clarity’s sake, I should point out that some of the parallels in Daniel are quite clear; others aren’t as much.  So different scholars have slightly different versions of this chiasm.  We won’t concern ourselves today with exactly how the structure works out.  We’ll simply note that (1) the book is built around this amazing humbling of the kings of men.  And (2) the accounts in the first half can help us understand the visions of the second half.


    So how do we get into this book?  Well, to help you understand the structure better, we’ll take the chapters that are meant to reinforce each other and look at those pairs together.  We’ll start in the middle and work our way out. 


    Daniel 4, 5


    So we’ll start in chapters 4 and 5.  In these two chapters we have prideful kings who believe that they rule by their own might.  They believe that they are the king of kings.  We’ll take each in turn.


    The first is Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonians.  In the first part of chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a large tree with different birds nesting in it, which is suddenly chopped down.  By this time Daniel has risen far in the Babylonian government because of the wisdom God’s given him.  He’s also shown himself to be an accurate interpreter of dreams.  Of course, God’s the one who gives him the interpretations.  Anyway, in 4:24-26 Daniel gives the king this interpretation of the dream.


    It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules.


    Now whether or not Nebuchadnezzar believed Daniel or not the text doesn’t say.  But the prophesy came true.  In verse 31, as he is reveling in his greatness, a voice from heaven speaks and he is struck with some kind of insanity that strips him of his ability to rule.  And he didn’t recover until he confesses those verses we read earlier as the main point of the book.  And so the story ends with Nebuchadnezzar uttering these words in verse 37. “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”  And that last sentence leads us right into chapter 4’s sister chapter, chapter 5. 


    In chapter 5 the Most High delivers the same message to another king.  By now Nebuchadnezzar is dead and Belshazzar is running Babylon.[2]  However, Belshazzar didn’t learn that lesson from Nebuchadnezzar.  Instead he threw himself a big party and used, as drinking goblets, the sacred vessels from the temple in Jerusalem!  Just like Nebuchadnezzar, he’s given a vision from the Most High, this time in the form of handwriting suddenly appearing on the wall, putting a real damper on his merrymaking.  But he doesn’t know what the writing means, and so Daniel is called in to interpret.  After soundly rebuking the king—Daniel is no respecter of men—he provides the interpretation in verses 26-28.  “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end…you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting…your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”  And that very night Belshazzar is killed.


    Again, the point of it all is that the Most High will brook no rivals.  He alone rules over Heaven and Earth.  And the same is true today.  God’s not changed.  So when His people see kingdoms rising and falling and governing in godless ways, they need not fear that the Lord does not see and is somehow off His throne.[3] 




    Daniel 3, 6


    Let’s work our way out from those central chapters to see what a theology of divine sovereignty looks like when it runs up against more arrogant kings.  We’ll look now at chapters 3 and 6. 


    Chapter 3 contains that famous story of Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, in the fiery furnace.  Nebuchadnezzar sets up a gold image of himself that all must worship.


    Well, like proper monotheists who still love their covenantal God, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego will not bow down and will not worship the image.  In response, Nebuchadnezzar is furious that anyone would challenge his universal authority.  End of verse 15: “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”  Really, Nebuchadnezzar?  Let’s see.


    In response, we find these three men as brave as Daniel.  Some amazing words in verse 16:


    Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this 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 or worship the golden image that you have set up.”


    That’s backbone!!


    Well, as you can imagine, an answer like that seals their fate and into the fire they go.  But God rescues them!  Not only are they completely protected, but they are joined by a fourth, who, according to the king, looks like a “son of the gods.”  So, Nebuchadnezzar, “who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”  The God of the Jews, that’s who.  And so Nebuchadnezzar is astonished, as we see in verse 29.


    In chapter 6 we have a similar account.  This time the king is Darius,[4] and the faithful Jewish victim is Daniel.  This Daniel in the lion’s den.  By now Daniel is an old man, and has enemies as well as friends.  As the well-known story goes, Daniel’s enemies look for a way to trap him but can’t find anything scandalous in him.  So they decide to go after the one thing that sticks out: his commitment to pray to his God.  They convince Darius to pass a decree outlawing prayer to any god but Darius—and then go and catch Daniel in this criminal act.  The punishment?  To be thrown into the lion’s den.


    But once again, God rescues his servant.  And once again, God turns the mouth of a pagan king to His praise.  Darius’ words in verses 26-27:


    I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel,

    for he is the living God,
        enduring forever;
    his kingdom shall never be destroyed,
        and his dominion shall be to the end.
    He delivers and rescues;
        he works signs and wonders
        in heaven and on earth,
    he who has saved Daniel
        from the power of the lions.


    The point?  God is on his thone.  But a primary implication of this is important: just because the true God reigns, doesn’t mean that His people will be exempt from persecution.  In fact, it means that they will be the target of all the more persecution.[5]  The allegiance of God’s people to him will appear a challenge to any earthly claim to sovereignty.  So God’s people will seem to only be in the way in any earthly power grab.  But it’s because of that confidence, that indeed the Most High does rule over the kingdoms of men, that the persecuted and afflicted people of God are willing to endure great trial and tribulation for the sake of the God they love.[6]


    Do you see how God’s preparing his people for the age in which we now live?  King Solomon could hardly have thought of himself as a stranger and alien in this world; he ruled at what for all intensive purposes was the very center of the world.  But by the time we get to Daniel, God is using his prophets to teach us what it looks like to be citizens of a kingdom that is not of this world.  The final culmination of God’s kingdom is yet to come.




    Daniel 2, 7-8


    Well, on to our next pairing: chapters 2, 7 and 8[7] 


    In chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar has a dream.  This time he a large statue, the meaning of which only Daniel can interpret.[8]  The statue that Nebuchadnezzar saw had a head make of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, and feet of an iron/clay mix (cf. vv. 31-33).  But it’s destroyed by a rock, thrown it seems, from heaven, that grows to fill the whole earth.  Daniel explains the meaning of the dream, that God had told him.  He says in the following verses that each section of the statue represents four successive kingdoms.  Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom is the golden head, but the Babylonians will be succeeded by three other kingdoms.  The last of which will be as strong as iron, yet at the same time as fragile as clay because it will be divided.  And what about that rock that smashed the statue and itself grew into a mountain?  Look at verse 44.  It’s God’s own kingdom.


    And now I ask youHow did that get fulfilled?  [WAIT FOR SOMEONE TO ANSWER]  Even Daniel’s interpretation is a little cloudy because it pertains to events he didn’t witness.  But for us, who are further along and history, we see more precisely what’s going on here.  As we already said, the Babylonian Empire was taken over by the Medo-Persian Empire in 539 BC.  That empire is the silver chest and arms.  Then, in around 332 BC the Kingdom of Persia was conquered by Alexander the Great of Greece.  The Grecian Empire is represented by the legs of bronze.  That then gave way to the feet of iron and clay, the Roman Empire, in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. 


    But what we’re most interested in is that rock cut out without hands!  That of course is the Kingdom of Heaven, and its ruler is the Lord Jesus Christ.  His conquest didn’t come through military might, but through the preaching of the gospel.  Over time, though he conquered the hearts and the minds of many in the Roman Empire.  And, just as we read with the mountain filling the whole earth in verse 35, Christ’s Kingdom has spread throughout the entire world.  And as we read in verse 44, it is forever.  So what Daniel sees here is the victory of the preaching of Christ and the spread of His Church to every tongue, tribe, people, and nation.  Amen!


    Now, with that we jump ahead to chapter 7.  And what see there is that this vision of four kingdoms isn’t just an exercise in prediction.  It is there to teach an important truth.


    Turn to chapter 7.  Here Daniel has a dream of four beasts.  The first resembles a lion with eagle’s wings, the second a bear devouring bones, the third a leopard with four wings and four heads, and the fourth is so terrible that there’s no animal to compare it to. 


    Then, Daniel has a vision of God, whom he calls The Ancient of Days.  Let’s see what happens.  Look at verse 9.


    9“As I looked,

    thrones were placed,
        and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
    his clothing was white as snow,
        and the hair of his head like pure wool;
    his throne was fiery flames;
        its wheels were burning fire.
    10A stream of fire issued
        and came out from before him;
    a thousand thousands served him,
        and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
    the court sat in judgment,
        and the books were opened.

    11“I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.


    So God destroys these beasts.  Who takes the power and dominion that was once theirs?  Look at verse 13

    13“I saw in the night visions,

    and behold, with the clouds of heaven
        there came one like a son of man,
    and he came to the Ancient of Days
        and was presented before him.
    14And to him was given dominion
        and glory and a kingdom,
    that all peoples, nations, and languages
        should serve him;
    his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
        which shall not pass away,
    and his kingdom one
        that shall not be destroyed.


    Who is this “one like a son of man” who will rule forever with power given Him by God?  [WAIT FOR SOMEONE TO ANSWER]  When Jesus was on trial, and asked who He was, He referred to this passage!  Listen to Mark 14:61-62. “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’  Jesus alone approach the living God, and reign with Him, and He will return to earth on the clouds of heaven to publicly take what is rightfully His!  We know by faith that He currently reigns.  Soon all will see it. 


    Verse 17 tells us that these four great beasts are four kingdoms.  So do you see how chapters 2 and 7 help interpret each other?  Chapter two is referring to current events in Daniel’s day.  And it’s much more narrative than apocalyptic.  Four earthly kingdoms that, today, we can call by name.  But without chapter 7, we might miss the main point about that rock that fills the earth.  Chapter 7 shows that this immediate, chapter 2 view of the future points ahead to a still greater fulfillment.  Four beasts that don’t simply represent specific kingdoms—even as the “beast” imagery in Revelation refers generally to the earthly opponents of God.  And then a culmination that’s more specific—and more amazing.  When the kingdom of the son of man is finally and firmly established.  A fulfillment toward which we are still yearning.


    I’ll leave it to you to study chapter 8 on your own.  Something similar thing is going on.




    Daniel 1, 9


    And that means that we’ve finally made it to chapter 1!  We’ll pair it with chapter 9.  In chapter 1 the people of God go into exile.  And in chapter 9 the people of God are ready to come out!  (Cf. 1:2 & 9:2.)


    In chapter 1, we see all four of the Jewish boys, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego,[9] placed in a Babylonian prep school of sorts.  They’re put there because they’ve shown potential to someday serve the king.   Well, while there they bravely ask to be exempt from eating foods outside of their religious dietary laws.  And the result?  God’s blessing on them.  Even in exile, God blesses his people—and gives them wisdom (verse 17)—another theme through this book. 


    Finally, let’s look at the wonderfully encouraging chapter 9.  Look at verse 2.  How did Daniel know the exile was almost over?  [Wait for an answer]  What a novel concept!  For encouragement, and understanding, Daniel reads the Bible!  You’ll remember from Jeremiah that no one was listening to Jeremiah.  Well, Daniel was.  The prayer that follows, beginning in verse 3, is eloquent and moving.  You can tell from reading it that Daniel truly knows his God.  It’s a good challenge for us all to adopt this kind of language in our own prayers.  In fact, I’d encourage you to read and meditate on this chapter this week.  And like I said before, it’s particularly exciting in the context of Daniel because Daniel again refers to God as “Yahweh, our God!”  The end of the exile is here!


    But again, the parallel with chapter 1 is helpful.  Remember in chapter 1, the exile wasn’t just a physical exile.  The physical exile merely reflected an ongoing spiritual exile.  The people had rejected their God.  And Nebuchadnezzar was trying to assimilate these Israelites into pagan culture.  So, we’d expect in chapter 9 to see something about an end to both the physical and the spiritual exile.  And so we do.  The physical exile is about to end, as we saw in verse 2.  But, the real exile, the exile that began when Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, the exile from God that we all experience because of our sins, will not end simply with the Jews’ return to Jerusalem.  That exile, the exile the Jewish exile merely points to, ends only when Christ makes atonement for our sins.  Look at 9:24-25.


     “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. 


    So what do we see here: an end to sin!  After seventy weeks.  And an anointed one, a price.  Who, verse 26, “shall be cut off and shall have nothing.”  What’s going on here?  Well, the seventy years of physical exile have finished.  But these seventy weeks, these seventy “sevens”—whatever they are—are just beginning.  But that their end will be God’s final answer to his people’s sin in the atoning death and triumphant return of Jesus Christ.




    Daniel 10-12


    Finally, that brings us to chapter 10.  Chapters 10-12 don’t sit in that mirroring structure with the first 9 chapters, but they’re just as important.  They contain more predictive prophesies about the future of the people of God.  And like what we’ve seen so far, the fulfillment of these prophecies is both near-term and in the last days.  I’ll leave you to study these chapters and see for yourself how they continue the theme of God’s rule over all nations. 




    So how does Daniel speak to our life as exiles in this world?  It reminds us, chapters 4-5, that those who set themselves up against the Most High will indeed be humbled, whether to their everlasting benefit or everlasting regret.  It shows us, chapters 3 and 6, what it looks like to be faithful servants of a sovereign lord even when we suffer persecution and opposition for our faith.  It helps us see, chapters 2 and 7/8, how the “great powers” around us are all passing away and that God’s kingdom on earth is indeed coming.  It shines light on the hope Daniel had, that we can now see clearly of the end to our spiritual exile that has come in Christ.  And it looks forward, chapters 10-12, to the eternal reward that’s waiting when we finally arrive home.






    [1] He may have died just shortly before the first wave returned. 

    [2] Belshazzar was not the king of Babylon, but only the coregent of the city for his father, Nabonidus, who was at the time elsewhere in the empire.

    [3] This is much the point that Augustine makes in The City of God

    [4] Darius may not be a name, but a title (like Caesar) for Cyrus, king of the Medes. 

    [5] 2 Timothy 3:12 says that “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

    [6] I again think of Augustine teaching us that the City of God is always under attack by the City of Man, but it’s the City of God that will persevere in the end. 

    [7] Now, there may not be time for this in the class, but it sure is interesting enough to note: Daniel is here portrayed as a new Joseph.  There are many similarities between them.  They are both captured and oppressed by Gentiles when they are young.  They both rise high in the service of the Gentiles, second in command no less.  The are both falsely accused.  They are both delivered by God in life threatening situations.  They both interpret dreams.  And they both ascribe their ability to interpret dreams to God in the face of others who cannot interpret them relying on their religious means.  The point of all this is most likely to encourage the people of God that as He had been with His people before in a foreign land to protect them, He will do so again.  And afterwards, as He brought His people out of Egypt, He will bring them out of Babylon too.  The “new Joseph” is a sign  unto all these things.  And both are types of Christ.

    [8] Actually, Daniel is able to recount to Nebuchadnezzar the content of the dream as well without having first been told.  All of this, of course, comes from the sovereign hand of God (cf. 2:19-23, 27-30). 

    [9] The last three of which being their given Babylonian names.