We continue to explore the historical context surrounding The Book of Daniel. In this episode we’ll look at the historic and infamous fall of Israel. In response to the heartbreaking exile of God’s people, Daniel stewards his talents with courage and wisdom. He masters the new culture while remaining holy and set apart. But, it is not Daniel alone; he is guided by mentors, disciplined by wise counselors who gave him the strength to endure the unique challenges of exile.
I’ll just review a little bit.
Daniel’s going to give us an overview of human history from this point forward. Of course the Bible’s already been written to this point that gives us the history of past. So let’s just do the past, and then we’ll talk a little bit about the future at the time of Daniel.
Daniel’s written in the Babylonian period, the exile period, which began at 605 B.C., which is when the first capture took place, the first siege of Jerusalem.
There were actually three sieges that took place: 605, and then another one in the middle of 586. And 586 B.C. was when the whole place was decimated, and hundreds and thousands of people killed; and, basically, Israel was made a vacant lot.
That’s the time period that we’re in here. And Daniel is growing up in Babylon.
What’s happened before then is Genesis, of course, Abraham being the key character, roughly 2000 B.C.
And then Moses the next main character, roughly 1500 B.C.
And then you had the period of self-governance where the people went into the land, and they had rule of law, consent of the governed, and private property, the three pillars of self-governance. And they did that for a couple of centuries. And then they decided—we want a king.
And God told them, “I’m going to judge you by giving you what you asked for,” which is one of God’s primary ways that he judges us is by giving us what we ask for.
And so they ended up with kings.
And, of course, you know it started off okay. And that’s roughly 1000 B.C. is when the monarchy begins.
And then it ends up dividing very quickly into Israel, the northern ten tribes, and Judah and Benjamin, the southern two tribes.
In 722 B.C., the Assyrians come in and capture Israel, and they’re no more. They disperse to the earth. Really never came back together until in the twentieth century, 1948.
And then Judah and Benjamin are threatened by the Assyrians, and maybe you remember Hezekiah getting the guy speaking over the wall. And they say, “Don’t talk to us in Hebrew. Use Aramaic so everybody can’t hear you.” And the guy uses Hebrew because he wants everybody to be scared. And Hezekiah puts the letter before God and says, “What do I do?”
And, of course, Hezekiah had built a tunnel to bring water into the city. You can still go through that tunnel today, Hezekiah’s tunnel, if you go to Israel. It’s one of the more amazing archeological finds in Israel.
But God fought on behalf of Hezekiah, and the Assyrians did not take Israel.
But here we are now, and the Babylonians are going to take Israel. And Dave went through the prophesies of Jeremiah, who is one of three prophets during this time period.
Jeremiah was the primary prophet telling people if you don’t repent, you’re going to be invaded. And the specific thing he wanted Israel to do—it’s very interesting: keep your contract, your treaty, with Babylon. Don’t trust in Egypt. That’s one of the main things God tells Israel after they leave Egypt with Moses. Don’t ever come back to Egypt. Don’t trust in Egypt. You’re always going to be going to be inclined to go back to Egypt, the strong power of the earth at that point in time. Don’t do it.
Well, of course, they rebel against Nebuchadnezzar, and Nebuchadnezzar comes in and sieges them, and takes people back.
The first wave, they just take rulers: young men with great capabilities to put in his court among some other things, some treasures and so forth. But Israel doesn’t learn the lesson.
So that’s the historical context historical context up to the point.
And then Daniel is going to roll out and say here is human history from this point forward. So it’s very much a companion book to Revelation.
There’s a very significant difference in that in Revelation we’re told we’re supposed to see these events and understand and do. Hear, understand, do. And, of course, the main point we took from that, that Revelation makes, is no matter what happens in the future no matter how crazy things get, God’s still in control. He authorizes everything that happens, and he just wants us to do one thing, and that’s be a faithful witness in the face of death. Any kind of death: rejection or persecution. Any kind of resistance. Just be a faithful witness. And that was kind of the story of Revelation.
Daniel’s a little bit different in that it tells us what human history’s going to be. But instead of saying “understand from this,” it kind of implies that people really aren’t going to get this for a while. At least the part about the end times. But it gives us Daniel, who is an amazing example of what it means to be an overcomer, which is what Revelation wants us to do. A nikao, a victor, a conqueror, a winner. Somebody who accomplishes in life what God gave us to accomplish.
So it’s really the same message in the same format as Revelation, and not surprisingly, has a lot of overlapping prophecies. So we’re going to get into that soon, as to what the future’s going to be; and we’re going to get the same basic forecast as to what the future’s going to be, multiple times.
But let’s just dive in here. I think Dave stopped in verse 8. And we’ll overlap there. Daniel 1:8. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
Now God had brought Daniel into the favor and goodwill of the chief of the eunuchs.
And the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who has appointed your food and drink. For why should he see your faces looking worse than the young men who are your age? Then you would endanger my head before the king.”
So Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.
“Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king’s delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants.”
So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them ten days.
And at the end of the ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies.
Thus the steward took away their portion of the delicacies and the wine that they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.
Now at the end of the days, when the king had said that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar.
Then the king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king.
And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm.
Thus Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus.
Now this has stories in it that we’re very familiar with. You get this in elementary school and Sunday school. That doesn’t mean it’s not still an incredibly impactful story. But it does mean it’s pretty self-explanatory. You see what’s happening here. But we will spend a little time looking at some things here and seeing what we see.
First of all let’s look at the eunuchs. I looked at this word eunuch. It actually means officer of the court, from what I could tell. A translator actually bringing in an historical knowledge that the people in the court during this era, this realm, tended to be castrated males, eunuchs. So that’s actually an interpretation. It’s not an unreasonable interpretation, though.
And if it is the case that Daniel worked for the chief of the eunuchs, it stands to reason that he would be, himself, a eunuch.
The temple, the temple, the temple
Now if we think about this, let’s just put ourselves in Daniel’s place. So you’re living in Israel, and everybody around you is telling you Jeremiah’s prophecy cannot happen because we have the temple. I think Dave read that last week. Oh the temple, the temple, the temple. Do not say the temple, the temple, the temple.
Because what they were saying is, look, as long as God’s temple is here, he’s going to protect us. So we can do whatever we want to do. We’ve got his temple.
It’s the same type of thing they did earlier with the ark: We’ll carry the ark out, and it will protect us.
And God’s like, no, no. I’m not a Spirit that can be conjured up by something that you control. That’s not how this works. And he tells them through Jeremiah this is not the way this is going to operate.
But that’s what everybody else is saying. And, in fact, when Jeremiah comes and tells them that’s not the way this works, he’s abused. And, in fact, he has to be protected.
So you’re hearing that all around, and then suddenly, Israel falls. I’m sure a lot of people concluded that “God doesn’t protect us. God didn’t keep his promise.” I’m sure that was the interpretation of many.
And then he gets captured and pulled out of his house, taken a thousand miles away to another country that he’s never been to and doesn’t want to go to. He’s castrated. And then he’s immersed in a foreign culture and university.
You know, statistics are well known about what happens to Christian kids going to universities in our culture today. And they’re going to the university where there’s Campus Crusade and there’s all kinds of things you can join that will help you maintain your faith. And a large percentage of them still fall.
But they weren’t yanked out of their home, captured, everything they were told about God by the dominant culture turned upside down, castrated, and then forced into a foreign culture.
Daniel purposes not to defile himself
So you put yourself in this guy’s shoes. Instead of saying, “God let me down, why should I serve him?” Well, that’s the natural response, right? Instead of saying that, he says, “how can I maintain my purity here?”
And he goes to the chief of the eunuchs and he says, “is there a way that I cannot defile myself because I have this belief system?”
And the chief of the eunuchs is sympathetic. Did you catch that? He says, “I’m for you. But I have to make a fundamental choice whether to accommodate your beliefs or keep my head. And, I’m going to choose my head because the king might find out his orders weren’t obeyed by seeing you, and I’ll lose my head.”
Now this tells us a lot about how things operated in Babylon. And we’ll see, soon, that God is going to call Nebuchadnezzar the king of kings. He’s going to be the example of the greatest of kings.
And the way God describes that is, “You are over everything,” and he was. He decided who lived and who died. He decided who prospered and who didn’t prosper. And we’re going to see it was kind of amazing, he had this incredible power, but he was actually a really wise leader. He might not have been all that empathetic of a leader, but he got results. If you don’t do what you’re told and you lose your head, that’s a real clear reward system.
So Daniel got turned down.
The next thing he does is goes and appeals to another guy. This time it’s not the chief steward, it’s the guy who works for him, his immediate boss. So he went first to the vice president, now he goes to the manager. And he goes to the manager, and he knows that this guy can’t really make that decision. But he can make a smaller decision. Will you agree to a test?
Daniel proposes a test
Now you see this is not such a stretch, right? Anybody can look bad for a little while. And so he goes and says would you give us a test for ten days?
Now this word test is an interesting word. Guess when is the first time it shows up in the Bible? It’s Abraham and Isaac. It’s in Genesis 22:1. It says, Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham—interesting, isn’t it?
Daniel, I’m sure, knew that verse. And he knows what a test is. And he uses the same basic term. Give us a test. Ten days.
Ten days is a time in the Bible that seems to be a testing time. In fact, we saw it in Revelation. I’m going to test you for ten days, he said to the persecuted church.
Test us for ten days and just see. And then you decide. We’ll leave it up to you. Whoever looks better. Because he took some wisdom from what the chief steward told him, right? What’s the chief steward’s main concern? How they look.
So he’s like, okay, how we look’s the big deal, so let’s do a test. And at the end of the ten days, see how we look. And at the end of the ten days they looked better. So they got what they wanted. Shrewd guy, huh?
What would we have done, most of us? I think usually what most of us would do is whine. Isn’t that what we do as humans, whine? Well, you learn that as a child. If you whine, you get paid attention to. And it kind of just never stops. It’s kind of the way most of us do.
But he’s using wisdom here. He learned something, and then he adapts. He makes an appeal. This is actually a good thing you can do as parents. Teach your children to appeal instead of whine.
Then in verse 17 it tells us, As for these four young men, God gave them some gifts, and these gifts are very interesting. He gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.
Now the translators in the New King James, at least, did a really good job of keeping the same English words with the same Hebrew words. And this word knowledge is madda, and it’s the same knowledge that Solomon asks for.
And this word skill is not in the list of what Solomon asked for. Skill in all literature and wisdom. But it’s an interesting word that shows up the first time in Genesis 3. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
And so looking through the different places where this word shows up, it seems to me like this word is like discernment, the ability to tell what’s true and what’s not, what’s real and what’s not real.
Knowledge is something that Solomon asked for and had. And the skill of literature and understanding is more like discernment. I can read this literature, and I can tell what’s true and not true. I can pull out of it what’s true and what’s not true, which we will see show up again in a second.
And then wisdom is the same word that you see in Solomon, Solomon asks for. I want knowledge and wisdom. And God comes and says because you asked for wisdom and knowledge and not riches, I’m going to give you both.
This understanding in visions and dreams, this word understanding is used in the description of Joseph. So think of it. You’ve got one guy who’s got the wisdom and knowledge of Solomon and the understanding that was embedded in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but from God’s perspective. You know, God wanted us to have that understanding, just not that way, right? And the discernment of Joseph, the understanding of Joseph, in doing visions and dreams. What a guy, huh?
Someone like that that has that much giftedness, what usually happens to them? Somebody that’s amazingly gifted like that? Usually they either get really stuck up on themselves and live an entitled life, or they get lazy and underperform dramatically because they don’t have to try very hard to get ahead. That’s usually the two types of things we have.
God ranks Daniel’s character with Noah and Job
Look at Ezekiel 14:14. This is a really important verse about Daniel.
Ezekiel is prophesying. We’ll start in verse 12 here. The word of the Lord came again to me, saying:
“Son of man—that’s a name that’s used for Ezekiel, Son of man—when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it—cause, effect. I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it.
“Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.
So the normal course for God is when there’s righteous people in a land, he perseveres the whole land because of those people.
Jesus talks about this in the New Testament. What illustration does he use of that, that we’re supposed to be? Salt.
A little bit of salt preserves the whole carcass, right? Dead carcasses taste really good when they’re salted and cooked. And if you’ll salt them, they’ll stay preserved until they are ready to eat.
A dead carcass that’s not preserved is about the nastiest thing on earth.
Well, our job is to have enough righteousness in a dead-carcass world to preserve it, and God is looking for the time when it can be sacrificed to him, and he can like it. We’re to be living sacrifices that’s part of what we’re supposed to do.
But in this case, God is saying, even if these three guys: Noah, Daniel, and Job, who are like the salt of the salt of the salt, I would just deliver them. That’s how bad you’ve gotten.
Now what kind of company is that? Wouldn’t you like to be in this list? Even if Joe, Alan, and Samuel here—wouldn’t you like to be on that list? He’s in there with Noah and Job. This is the kind of character Daniel had, even though he had this horrific event happen to him where he could have doubted God. The temple, the temple, the temple. That’s what they told him.
He instead says, no, I’m not going to defile myself. And he got these tremendous gifts. And instead of getting stuck up, he persevered.
We have Ezekiel, Daniel, and Jeremiah are the three prophets in this era. And usually you don’t honor someone who’s a contemporary of yours like this. You wait until everybody forgets all the bad stuff about them, right? That’s normally the way this works. And he’s a contemporary of them.
So this is an amazing guy, right here. Daniel. So the point of Revelation that we’ve done—be a faithful witness and don’t fear death—this is an illustration of what that looks like in a corrupt culture.
Daniel is brought before Nebuchadnezzar
Verse 18. We go on down and we have this time when he’s brought in before Nebuchadnezzar. This is interesting too. We already see Nebuchadnezzar has a very definitive system of getting his commands obeyed. He’s expecting to be obeyed.
But notice that he doesn’t just delegate everything. There’s something that he’s directly involved in. And that is picking the people that are going to run his kingdom. He’s going to personally interview these guys.
How many major companies have a CEO that actually interviews the people that are coming into his company? I don’t think that’s very normal. They usually have the human resources department do that.
I just read an article recently that major company CEOs are going on campus to recruit, but they’re not actually interacting with the guys making the decision.
And here you’ve got Nebuchadnezzar, and he’s going to interview these guys himself to decide who’s going to be in his administration.
I’ve just started reading a book about CEOs that had companies that way outperform their peers, and the thesis of the book is that the CEOs that are really, really successful, number one, are value oriented; and number two, they focus on investment decisions, capital allocation. Number three, they focus on personnel placement and training. That’s the three things that those leaders do.
Do you know where they could have gotten that from? Nebuchadnezzar! And you’ll see, Nebuchadnezzar is one of the great men of the Bible. He doesn’t start out so great, but there aren’t many people that have their letter published in the Bible because it’s such a great testimony. And Nebuchadnezzar’s one.
You know how usually you have the famous football player come give the testimony, or whatever. And they always mostly say the same thing. But because they’re famous, they give their testimony.
Well Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony is in the Bible. That’s who God asked to give his testimony.
He’s quite an amazing leader.