Understanding Daniel the Prophet

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Understanding Daniel the Prophet

Critics claim that Daniel’s book is like a historical novel. Is Daniel simply a work of fiction? Here is our answer to the critics.
From the August 2005 Trumpet Print Edition

You need to know the book of Daniel. His prophecies on the four world-ruling empires are astoundingly accurate. Yet Daniel is not about past history—it’s current news headlines! This book and the book of Revelation recorded by the Apostle John give us the only correct understanding of current events. Believe it or not, Daniel is impacting your life. Shouldn’t you want to know the truth about what is happening in our world?

But who can help you grasp Daniel’s writings? The majority of Bible scholars certainly cannot. Here’s why.

Most Bible scholars hold an anti-Bible prejudice. If there is a question or difficulty related to a writer, passage or book, it is routine to assume the Bible is flawed or just plain wrong. Some scholars go so far as to say that the Bible is purposely false. The two most-attacked sections of the Bible are the five books of Moses and the book of Daniel. We covered Moses’s writings last month. So, what’s the scholars’ beef with Daniel?

Problems With Predictive Prophecy

Daniel lived in the sixth century b.c. Liberal Bible scholars want to assign a later date to Daniel. (Actually, the same is true of all of the prophets.) Some critics say Daniel did not even exist. Scholars conjecture that a Daniel-imposter drafted the book to inspire the Jews suffering by the hand of Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century b.c.

Why do critics make such claims? Their problem is not a question of history. It’s all about predictive prophecy. Most scholars simply cannot admit that an Almighty God inspired Daniel to write down events that were to happen centuries later. The visions of Daniel are so precisely and succinctly written, they are breath-taking. But the scholars, steeped in human reason and intellectual vanity, refuse to recognize the miracle of Daniel. So the silly solution to their predicament is to push the writing of Daniel forward a few centuries and claim that some unknown, well-meaning—but very deceptive—Jew fabricated the visions after the events happened in order to prove that God was still in control and working things out for the nation.

You must come to recognize that this anti-Bible, anti-prophecy bias is really an anti-God bias. For to admit that Daniel was given incredible visions of the future is to acknowledge that an almighty, authoritative God exists.

Here is an example. Tim Callahan, supposed Bible scholar, writes this about Daniel: “Along with the prophecies are a number of stories which purport to be historical. In point of fact the book is neither prophecy nor history, nor did its protagonist even exist. … Had the visions really been given to a man living during the Exile some of them would indeed have been evidence of predictive prophecy. In fact, however, they were written after the fact and are not prophecies at all” (Bible Prophecy: Failure of Fulfillment?). In essence, this man demands that we ignore Daniel. To him it is fiction—interesting reading but with no valuable substance—no history and no prophecy. Mr. Callahan arrogantly asserts that Daniel did not exist. However, take notice, he does concede that if he did exist at the time the Bible says, then there is “evidence of predictive prophecy.”

Who is right about Daniel? It is clear what we believe. The important question is, what do you believe? We cannot casually cast Daniel (or any prophet of God) aside. Where you stand on Daniel shows where you stand with Christ. Here is how the Bible describes true Christians, “And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). True Christians understand and preserve Jesus Christ’s message, which includes the spirit of prophecy. No true Christian despises or scoffs at prophecy (1 Thessalonians 5:20). We must be diligent in seeking to understand all prophecy.

Let’s be emphatic. There is no evidence that Daniel did not live in the sixth century b.c. There are no facts to support the claim that Daniel did not write the book attributed to him. In fact, the evidence demands that we approach Daniel with awe and respect. Gleason Archer, a professor of Old Testament studies, writes: “Despite the numerous objections which have been advanced by scholars who regard this as a prophecy written after the event, there is no good reason for denying to the sixth-century Daniel the composition of the entire work” (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction).

Let’s look at the proof supporting the authenticity of Daniel.

Far-Fetched Claims

To force their way to a late date for Daniel, scholars have concocted some far-fetched claims. We’ll look at several.

One argument is that three Greek words for musical instruments found in Daniel 3:5 could never have been used in the sixth century b.c. Scholars attest that since Greek cultural influence upon other nations did not reach its zenith until Alexander the Great (fourth century b.c.), these instruments would not have been used by Nebuchadnezzar. Let’s be honest. The use of three Greek names for musical instruments is hardly proof that Daniel was written centuries later. Archer comments: “It should carefully be observed that these three words are names of musical instruments and that such names have always circulated beyond national boundaries as the instruments themselves have become available to the foreign market. These three were undoubtedly of Greek origin and circulated with their Greek names in Near Eastern markets, just as foreign musical terms have made their way into our own language, like the Italian piano and viola. We know that as early as the reign of Sargon (722-705 b.c.) there were, according to the Assyrian records, Greek captives who were sold into slavery from Cyprus, Ionia, Lydia and Cilicia. The Greek poet Alcaeus of Lesbos (fl. 600 b.c.) mentions that his brother Antimenidas served in the Babylonian army. It is therefore evident that Greek mercenaries, Greek slaves, and Greek musical instruments were current in the Semitic Near East long before the time of Daniel” (ibid.).

Actually, the fact that there are so few Greek words in Daniel is proof that Daniel was written when the Bible states. Had Daniel been written in the second century b.c., there would certainly have been more Greek words in the book because by that time a Greek-speaking government had been in control of the Holy Land for 160 years.

Another shallow argument supporting a late date for Daniel is related to the fact that the Jews placed the book with the writings division of the Old Testament. The Old Testament canon, as organized by Ezra and the Great Assembly, did have three major divisions—the Law (Moses’s books), the Prophets and the Psalms, or writings. Jesus Christ confirmed this division (see Luke 24:44). Because Daniel is not included with the prophets in the divisions as we know them today, scholars reason that this means the book was written after Malachi. Yet this argument fails when you understand that books in “the writings” are from the far distant past. The book of Jobis a perfect example.

The truth is, Daniel should be included with the prophets. Here is why. Jesus Christ refers to Daniel as a prophet. He told the disciples, “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand)” (Matthew 24:15). In this same verse, it is implied that we are expected to read Daniel as a prophetic book. In addition, Josephus, a historian in the first century a.d., places Daniel with the prophets. Josephus discusses the tripartite division of the 22 Old Testament scrolls in Contra Apionem 1:8. He mentions five scrolls for Moses, 13 scrolls for the prophets and only four for the writings. Although Josephus doesn’t specifically list the books for each section, it is safe to assume that the divisions of the books were changed some time between the first century and now. It is most likely that the Masoretes (scholars who lived in Tiberius) moved Daniel (and several other prophetic books) to the third division (“the writings”) in the sixth century a.d. when they were standardizing the text. Let’s agree that the placement or misplacement of Daniel in the Old Testament canon has no bearing whatsoever on the dating of the book.

The other claims for a late date for Daniel are similar in nature to the ones we have discussed. They are incidental and a stretch at best. All are easily explained to an open-minded person.

Daniel’s History

In addition to setting a late date for Daniel, scholars have attempted to attack the historical accuracy of the book. The skeptics used to claim that Belshazzar of chapter 5 never existed. But we know today, without a shadow of doubt, that Belshazzar existed as Daniel stated. Dr. Archer writes: “The appearance of King Belshazzar in chapter 5 was interpreted by earlier critics to be unhistorical, inasmuch as Nabonidus was known to be that last king of the Chaldean Empire. Later discoveries of cuneiform tablets referring to Belshazzar as ‘the son of the king’ serve to discredit that criticism almost completely (one tablet from the 12th year of Nabonidus calls for oaths in the names of both Nabonidus and Belshazzar …)” (ibid.).

Yet, critics still argue the accuracy of Daniel’s portrayal of Belshazzar because he is referred to as the son of Nebuchadnezzar, not Nabonidus.

Archer answers the critics, “Moreover, it is a distinct possibility that in this case there was a genetic relationship between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. If Nabonidus married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar in order to legitimize his usurpation of the throne back in 556 b.c., it would follow that his son by her would be the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. The word for ‘father’ (ab or abba) could also mean grandfather (see Genesis 28:13; 32:10; in 1 Kings 15:[11] it means ‘great grandfather’)” (ibid.).

There are other historical points of argument from Daniel that we will not delve into at this time. The incredible confirmation of Belshazzar from archaeology should be enough to indicate that all of Daniel is historically accurate.

Scholars want to say there is no history in Daniel. Yet it is the history in Daniel that gives the book its dynamic force and power. Realize that Daniel is not merely the history of a man—it is an incredible testimony about how God rules the universe. Daniel shows us how God works through men and in the lives of men, whether Jew or Gentile.

Daniel was a young Jewish noble caught in the crossfire of competing Gentile powers. The world powers of his time were Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. Study any map of that period and you will see that the kingdom of Judah lay in the very heart of the major travel routes between these nations. Because of Judah’s abominable sins, God corrected that nation using the nations surrounding it.

God obviously prepared Daniel for a great work: to aid us. We must know Daniel and his times to fully understand his book. When we comprehend Daniel’s world and the tumultuous events he experienced, it is easy to see that his times are a type of our own. Reason tells us that is precisely why God used Daniel to write down the prophecies about the world events taking shape right now. Unprejudiced minds can clearly see Daniel’s visions working out in a rapid fashion. The outcome will be truly beneficial to all mankind.

The history of Daniel’s life and times is the strongest proof of the book. Knowing his history motivates us to proclaim Daniel’s message.

Theme of the Book

The name Daniel means either God is judge or God is my judge. To experience the full impact of the book, we must understand its theme. Daniel’s name is a key to a full understanding of the book. Without a doubt, Daniel’s book demonstrates the overarching sovereignty of God. He rules and judges all men—whether Israelite, Jew or Gentile. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all” (Daniel 2:37-38).

Nebuchadnezzar was a world-ruling dictator. God let him know that he gained his power only because of the will of God. Daniel shows clearly that God allows Gentile powers to dominate and punish His covenant people. In fact, a short period of Gentile domination is on the horizon. A united states of Europe, the modern Babylon, will soon assume world control. Daniel also shows, however, that God’s use of these Gentiles will come to a dramatic end—forever—at the Second Coming of Christ.

Daniel’s life is truly inspiring. He was deported from Judah in the first wave of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem (Daniel 1:1-3). Details of this event are also recorded for us in 2 Kings 24 and 2 Chronicles 36. At that time, Judah had become a vassal state of Egypt. When Nebuchadnezzar came to power, he demonstrated his dominance over Egypt by taking control of Judah. 2 Kings 24:7 states, “And the king of Egypt came not again any more out of his land: for the king of Babylon had taken from the river of Egypt unto the river Euphrates all that pertained to the king of Egypt.”

To show his power, Nebuchadnezzar seized treasures from Solomon’s temple. He also took captive a group of young nobles and carried them back to Babylon (Daniel 1:3). The nobles were put into an intense training program to qualify for the king’s service. Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, are the only ones mentioned specifically. Of course, we know most about Daniel. His truly is a fantastic history. God prospered and promoted him in captivity. His prophetic commission spanned approximately 70 years to the time of Cyrus the Great (Daniel 1:21). His book is obviously a series of vital snapshots of those incredible times.

Impacted by Josiah

Daniel’s early history is vitally important. Knowing it brings him to life. Although Daniels’s specific age is not given, we can say with some surety that he was a teenager at the time of his captivity. Even though the word children is used to describe Daniel and his three friends, we should not assume it means little children (Daniel 1:4). Joseph, who was 17 years of age when sold into Egypt, was referred to as a child by his older brother (Genesis 42:22). Daniel was most likely between the ages of 14 and 17. This means that Daniel must have been born during the time of King Josiah. Josiah was the last good king of Judah. He aggressively reformed Judah, bringing it back from the atrocious sin of idolatry. As we read Daniel, we can see the positive fruits of Josiah’s work.

Josiah was crowned king at age 8 (2 Kings 22:1). His grandfather Manasseh was the most evil king in Judah. His deeds (along with the people’s) were so corrupt that God decided to remove the people of Judah from the land (2 Kings 23:26). But Josiah would not tolerate his grandfather’s (or his father’s) lifestyle. In the 18th year of his reign, the Book of the Law was found in the temple (2 Kings 22:3, 8). His grandfather had pushed it aside. In fact, he martyred many faithfully following it. Josiah instituted a massive program of religious education based on all the principles of the law. He had seen the devastating effects of idolatry.

Josiah was a king of action. He knew that teaching the law was not enough. He removed and pulverized the pagan altars built inside the temple mount (2 Kings 23:12). He pulled down the altars Solomon had built to the gods of his foreign wives on the Mount of Olives—known at that time as the Mount of Corruption (verse 13). And he fulfilled the prophecy spoken about him centuries before by going into northern Israel and destroying the altar Jeroboam established at Bethel (verses 15-16; 1 Kings 13:1-2). Josiah led the nation to one final burst of glory. While Josiah remained alive, the nation was able to prosper. His death was a sign of dark days to come.

Because Daniel was a descendant of David, he would have had intimate knowledge of these events. Because of Josiah, he was taught the law of Moses in depth. He was given practical instruction in applying that law through Josiah’s example. What a blessing to be born at the time of Josiah. Daniel had been given a sturdy foundation in God’s ordained way of life. Then, as a captive, he witnessed the national horrors that accompany idolatrous worship.

We should not be surprised then to read about his conduct in Babylon. Daniel and his three friends were brought into contact with a strong, idolatrous power, but they bravely resisted its influence at every turn. Understanding this background, it only makes sense that Daniel and his friends resisted eating unclean meats (Daniel 1:8). It only makes sense that Daniel’s three friends refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s image (Daniel 3). It only makes sense that Daniel would not stop praying because of a king’s decree (Daniel 6).

Critics say that Daniel didn’t exist. The Bible record demands that we accept Daniel’s life as fact. We should be thankful we have a record of this man’s life.

A Unique Book

A deep study of Daniel reveals how unique the book actually is. Critics say that Daniel was written after the fact. Have the critics actually read the book? Did you know that Daniel didn’t understand the visions he wrote down?

Chapters 10 through 12 of Daniel’s book give us one of the most extensive prophecies in the Bible. These chapters are the record of a vision given to Daniel providing the details about the rise and fall of the four world-ruling empires beginning with Babylon and ending with Rome. The domination of the Roman Empire ends with the return of Jesus Christ. Daniel saw major historical events play out centuries in advance. The prophecy is dual, having a former and an end-time fulfillment.

Daniel was deeply affected by what he saw. In communication with the angel Gabriel, he tells us, “And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?” (Daniel 12:8). Notice Gabriel’s reply: “Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” (verses 9-10). Amazing, isn’t it? Daniel desperately wanted to know what he had witnessed. Yet, not even God gave him the understanding. These verses show that Daniel had no historical frame of reference to understand what he saw. These verses alone shoot holes in the critics’ “after the fact” theories.

Herbert Armstrong explained why Daniel was not given understanding. In The United States and Britain in Prophecy, he wrote: “One of the very pivotal books of prophecy is the book of Daniel. Actually, the Prophet Daniel was not the author of the book known by his name. The living God was its author. The message was transmitted to Daniel by God’s angel. Daniel put to writing, to be preserved until our time, what he heard. …

“So the prophecies of Daniel were closed, sealed, locked up until now! But today we are living in ‘the time of the end.’ Today the ‘wise’ do understand! But who are the ‘wise’? Only those who fear and obey God—and who have the master key to unlock the locked-up prophecies. God says: ‘The fear of the Eternal is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments’ (Psalms 111:10). And even most professing ‘Christians’ refuse utterly to do that. No wonder they can’t understand” (page 6).

What an incredible truth: Daniel was called and used by God to give us knowledge about how God is working in world events today. Will you accept this truth?

Moses: an End-Time Book

If Daniel was sealed, locked up, not to be understood until our time, it means the content of the entire book is for our time. Spend some time thinking about this. It tells us that Daniel proves that the books of Moses are also to be unlocked in this end time. Here is why.

Daniel writes: “Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him. And he hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil: for under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem. As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth” (Daniel 9:11-13).

Daniel was very familiar with Moses’s writings. When he says the curse is poured upon us, he is referring directly to the prophecies in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. Ancient Israel, God’s covenant people, was to receive untold material blessings for obedience. But rebellion, in the form of idolatry and Sabbath-breaking, was to bring severe punishment, including loss of health, wealth and national freedom. Ancient Israel was warned continually about national captivity and slavery at the hands of Gentile powers. It heeded little and suffered greatly.

As an end-time book, Daniel shows that there exist today a modern, end-time covenant people that are about to experience the curses outlined by Moses. Daniel and Moses are very up to date. Forget what the critics say. Get your Bible out and get into the books of Moses and Daniel. There is no doubt that you will become a wiser and more understanding person.