Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. - Daniel 2:20-21 (ESV)

The book of Daniel is about a godly and wise Israelite deportee named Daniel who rises to great prominence in the kingdoms of Babylon and Medo-Persia. Daniel is one of the many Israelites forcibly taken from Judah following the defeat at the hands of king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The book recounts some major events from Daniel’s life and also includes several major prophecies and visions about the future.

The Big Idea of Daniel

I have taught that the big idea of Daniel is that Yahweh is in control and working toward his purposes. As indicated in the passage above, Yahweh has wisdom and might; Yahweh sets up kings and tears them away from the kingdom. And Yahweh gives wisdom and knowledge as he deems fit.

An Outline of Daniel

Chapters 1-4: Nebuchadnezzar

Chapters 1-4 focus on Daniel’s experience under King Nebuchadnezzar, together with Daniel’s fellow Israelites Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego). Daniel and his friends demonstrate their fidelity to the law by refusing to eat unclean foods and working out a compromise with their Babylonian caretakers. After Nebuchadnezzar threatens death to all the magicians and wise men in the kingdom for failing to reveal and interpret his dream, Daniel saves his and everyone else’s lives by telling Nebuchadnezzar what he had dreamed and what it meant. As a result, Daniel is catapulted to the top of the kingdom. Later, Nebuchadnezzar sets up an image to be worshiped by all. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are found out for refusing to worship, they are thrown into a furnace. However, God preserves their lives and does not allow the fire to harm them. As a result, Nebuchadnezzar warns that anyone found speaking a word against their God will be executed. In chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar recounts another dream he has, which Daniel interprets as a warning against his pride. Nebuchadnezzar does not heed the warning, and so God removes his reason from him for seven years, during which time Nebuchadnezzar lives like a beast of the field. After seven years, Nebuchadnezzar’s reason returns to him and he recognizes the superiority of God.

Chapter 5: Belshazzar

Chapter five details the occasion on which the Babylonian empire was overthrown by the Medo-Persians. Daniel is called in to interpret some strange writing that had been drawn on a wall by a bodiless hand. Daniel informs the king that the writing indicates God’s judgment against Babylon and that the kingdom has been given to the Medes and Persians. That very night, Darius the Mede overthrows Babylon and Belshazzar is killed.

Chapter 6: Darius

In chapter six, Darius sets Daniel as one of the three highest officials in the empire. Their jealousy provoked, other high leaders conspire to convince the king to make a law that forces Daniel to choose between obeying King Darius or continuing to worship Yahweh. Much to Darius’s dismay, Daniel is accused of rebellion and Darius is forced to cast him into a den of lions. Much to Darius’s relief, Daniel survives thanks to God’s protection. In response, Darius casts the conspirators and their families into the same den, whom the lions kill before they reach the bottom.

Chapter 7: Vision of the Ancient of Days

Chapter seven marks a transition to a very different section from what preceded it because chapters 7-12 are full of visions. Chapter seven details a vision Daniel has about one called the “Ancient of Days”, who appears to be God, before whom comes another, presumably Christ, who is given an everlasting kingdom. There are also four beasts which Daniel learns represent four kingdoms, the greatest of which makes war with the saints and prevails until the Ancient of Days himself arrives. Daniel describes himself multiple times as greatly alarmed by what he sees.

Chapter 8: Vision of the Ram and the Goat

In chapter 8, Daniel has another vision, this time centering on a ram and a goat. Daniel learns that the ram represents the Medo-Persian empire and the goat represents Greece. From the latter will come a great ruler who will be broken by none other than God himself. Daniel is so overcome by the vision that he becomes sick.

Chapter 9: Daniel's Confession

Chapter 9 provides a change of pace. Daniel confesses his people’s sin to God in prayer upon reading about the 70 years of judgment decreed against Israel in Jeremiah. Daniel fasts and makes a show of mourning as he prays. He asks to be forgiven and for Yahweh’s wrath to be turned from Jerusalem. Amazingly, Daniel receives an immediate answer in a message from the angel Gabriel, who tells him a word was sent from the very beginning of his pleas. Gabriel explains that the seventy weeks are decreed to restore righteousness and holiness. Gabriel goes on to give a cryptic timeline regarding 70 weeks which seems to refer to years instead, but not in immediate succession. They seem to describe the major events and timeline between the return to Jerusalem, the arrival of the Messiah, and the reign of an evil prince who will commit desolations until he is stopped by God’s decree. 

Chapters 10-12: Vision of the Man

In chapters 10-12, Daniel has a vision of a man who seems to be divine, upon which Daniel collapses. Daniel is helped up by what appears to be an angel, who goes on to describe what will happen in the future. The angel describes the future reigns of Persia, Greece, and Rome, including the Jews’ attempts to withstand their power. The angel describes battles that will happen as kings and kingdoms rise and fall. The angel’s description includes the end of time when there will be greater trouble than history has known, and people will be raised to life from the dead. Daniel himself does not understand how to process all these things (Dan. 12:8). In response, the angel tells him to go his way, gives more cryptic description of the future, then reassures Daniel that he will rest and stand in his allotted place at the end. 

Benefits of Daniel

As we read Daniel, the two sections may each be taken on their own merits. Daniel 1-6 presents a narrative of a righteous man living through the exile brought about by God’s judgment on their sin. Even though Daniel and his fellow Jews are in a foreign land, Yahweh’s hand comes through again and again to bless, protect, and guide them. Daniel is a sterling example of a man who seeks to remain faithful in turbulent times. Daniel lives through his own people’s destruction and forced relocation to a new kingdom followed by the overthrow of that kingdom by yet another. As we read Daniel, we read of a man whose trust in God is evident. More than that, we read of a God whose power and influence is not geographically limited. No matter where God’s people find themselves, they can and should seek to be faithful in that context. Although suffering will happen, we should ensure that it is not, as the apostle Peter reminds us, due to our wrongdoing (1 Pet. 2:20).

The second section of Daniel greatly reinforces the idea that Yahweh is in absolute control of history. If there was ever any doubt, these chapters confirm it. The precise predictions of the rise and fall of future kings and kingdoms not yet even in existence leaves no room for doubt. Yahweh is in control of history and is working toward his purposes. We can be content not to know the future not yet revealed to us. The future is in good hands because it is, so to speak, in Yahweh’s hands.

But we should also be humbled by the consistency with which Daniel is overwhelmed, overwrought, and overcome by what he sees. Too often, we flatter ourselves that we can handle far more than we can. Of all people, Daniel is a strong sort whose strength, resolve, wisdom, and integrity are beyond question. Yet this man among men is unable to bear what he sees. We should be content to see the realities that we can and be cautious before desiring to see or know any more than God has already shown. There is plenty to see and know in Scripture which is astounding enough. Those who are not wise enough to be amazed and awed at what God has revealed here surely do not have the mental or emotional capacity to handle the kinds of revelation that Daniel experienced and received directly from angels. We are too quick to rush in, as Pope said, where angels fear to tread. In that context, Pope is reproving people too quick to offer their comments and criticism. Surely we, as we consider the overwhelming nature of what Daniel experienced, should not be so foolish as to think we can handle more than he can.

We should ask God to give us the humility and devotion of Daniel before we dare to believe ourselves stronger and more capable than he to handle insight and understanding of divine things. For that, we must look to Christ, whose death, burial, and resurrection is the foundation of our hope and the cornerstone for our lives. It is Christ who is the one who is set above all things, and it is Christ who will bring to fruition all that Daniel saw regarding the time to come after him, from the time of Greece and Rome to the end of the world.

On Daniel and Living for God Through Christ