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Relationship to Old Testament. The relationship of Daniel to the Old Testament as a whole is discussed at Old Testament: Organization.
Story. The book of Daniel relates ten episodes, mostly in pairs:
- Chapter 1: Daniel refuses the king's food. Upon arriving in Babylon, Daniel and his friends refuse to eat the king's non-kosher food in order to maintain their personal purity. At the end of a probationary time they are found to be fairer and wiser than all the other children in the king's service.
- Chapter 2: Dream of the statue. Daniel interprets King Nebuchadnezzar's dream of a statue made in four parts that represent Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. This chapter emphasizes that the Lord is in charge of that future history.
- Chapter 3: The fiery furnace. Daniel's three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to worship an idol, are thrown into a fiery furnace, and are saved alive through divine intervention.
- Chapter 4: King Nebuchadnezzar's madness. King Nebuchadnezzar boasts in his own greatness. He immediately goes insane until he is humbled and acknowledges that he is nothing in comparison to the Lord.
- Chapter 5: King Belshazzar's feast. King Belshazzar publicly disrespects the Lord by drinking from vessels that were taken from the Jerusalem temple. Writing appears on the wall, Daniel interprets the writing, and by morning Belshazzar is dead and the Babylonian empire is overthrown.
- Chapter 6: Daniel and the lion's den. Daniel insists on praying to to God, is thrown into a den of lions, and is saved alive through divine intervention.
- Chapter 7-8: Visions of the four and two beasts. In chapter 7 Daniel sees a vision of four beasts that again represent Babylon, Persian, Greece, and Rome. In chapter 8 he sees a second vision of two beasts representing Persia and Greece.
- Chapter 9: Purification of Jerusalem. Daniel prays for forgiveness of Israel's sins and is told that Jerusalem will be restored, but will also be destroyed again following Christ's ministry.
- Chapter 10-12: Vision of two kingdoms. Daniel sees a vision of two warring kingdoms, but the interpretation of this historical vision is unclear.
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Daniel include:
- God is omnipotent. Even though a foreign power has conquered the Lord's people and destroyed his temple, the Lord is still all-powerful, engaged, and in charge of history.
- God is involved. The Lord also intervenes in the lives of individuals.
- God intervenes for the righteous. The Lord's intervention on behalf of both individuals and peoples is conditioned upon their righteousness.
This heading should be brief and explain facts about the historical setting that will help a reader to understand the book. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (ruled 605-562 BC) was the first foreigner to conquer Jerusalem and, from a Jewish perspective, was the epitome of earthly power. Until Nebuchadnezzar, political power in the Near East had for centuries been balanced between two great powers, Egypt to the south, and a succession of empires to the north, most recently in the form of Assyria. But this pattern ended in early 605 BC when the next Northern power, Babylon, decisively defeated the combined armies of Assyria and Egypt at the battle of Carchemish. The winning general was Nebuchadnezzar, the oldest son of the Babylonian king. Upon the death of his father later that year Nebuchadnezzar returned home and succeeded to the throne.
During the summer of 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar also invaded Judah and besieged Jerusalem. The Jewish king Jehoiakim (r. 609-598 BC) submitted (2 Kgs 24:1). Jeremiah prophesied that same year that Judah would serve Babylon for 70 years (Jer 25:1, 11-12). In February 604 BC Nebuchadnezzar returned home to Babylon with Jewish captives, including Daniel and his three friends. Daniel's refusal to eat the king's food (Chapter 1) occurred in 604 BC upon his arrival in Babylon (Dan 1:1-6). Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the statue (Chapter 2) in probably late 603 BC or early 602 BC (Dan 1:5, 18; 2:1).
When king Jehoiakim rebelled against Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar invaded a second time, conquering Jerusalem on 16 March 597 BC and installing Zedekiah (r. 597-587 BC) as the new Jewish king. Following this second invasion, all but the poorest of the Jews were carried off and resettled, many near the capital Babylon (2 Kgs 24:1-17). During the Babylonian Captivity the exiled Jews were prohibited from returning to Jerusalem.
It is not known when Daniel's three friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were cast into the fiery furnace (Chapter 3). It is known, however, that King Zedekiah traveled to Babylon at some point between October 595 BC and July 594 BC (Jer 51:59). If, as seems likely, Zedekiah went to Babylon as one of the provincial rulers convened to worship the image (Dan 3:1-7), then the episode of the furnace would have occurred during that trip.
By August 594 BC king Zedekiah was plotting to rebel against Babylon (2 Kgs 24:20), contrary to the counsel of Jeremiah (Jer 27:12-22) and Ezekiel (Ezek 17:13-16). Nebuchadnezzar responded by invading Judah for the third time and in 589 BC again laying siege to Jerusalem.(2 Kgs 24:20). The Babylonians again entered Jerusalem after a two and a half year siege, destroyed the Temple of Solomon on 28 August 587 BC, and carried away the inhabitants of the city (2 Kgs 25:1-17).
Nebuchadnezzar's period of insanity (Chapter 4) would have occurred late in his reign (r. 605-562 BC), likely at some point during 573-569 BC, though many scholars believe the episode happened instead to his successor Nabonidus.
The last Babylonian king was Nabonidus (r. 556-539 BC), whose son Belshazzar ruled in his place as co-regent beginning in probably 553 BC. In the first and third years of Belshazzar's reign (Dan 7:1; 8:1), probably 553 BC and 551 BC, Daniel received his two visions of beasts (Chapters 7-8).
A decade later in 539 BC, while Persia was invading Babylonia, Belshazzar hosted a feast during which he publicly disrespected Jehovah by drinking out of vessels taken from the Jerusalem temple. A hand appeared and wrote words on the wall, which Daniel interpreted as a prophecy that Babylon would be overthrown (Chapter 5). Cyrus the Great's (r. 559-530 BC) army entered the city of Babylon, slew Belshazzar that very night, and conquered Babylon on 12 October 539 BC. References in Daniel to "Darius the Mede" who conquered Babylon at age 62 (Dan 5:31-6:1; Dan 9:1) mean Cyrus the Great, who did in fact conquer Babylon when 62 years old. Thus it was Cyrus who planned in the first year of his reign over Babylon, 539 BC, to set Daniel as head overseer of the 120 provincial governors, and who was tricked instead into sentencing Daniel to the den of lions (Chapter 6). That same year Daniel also received his vision of Jerusalem's future history (Chapter 9) while praying with regard to Jeremiah's prophecy in 605 BC that Jerusalem would suffer desolation for seventy years (Dan 9:1-3; Jer 25:12).
The next year, in 538 BC, Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, thus ending the Babylonian Captivity almost 70 years after the first wave of Babylonian deportations in 605 BC.
Another year later, in 537 BC, Daniel received his final recorded vision of two warring kingdoms (Chapters 10-12). As a rough estimate, if Daniel was about ten years old when carried off to Babylon as a child, then at the close of his book he was close to eighty years old.
A broader treatment of the history of ancient Israel, including Daniel, is found at Old Testament: Historical Overview.
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The book of Daniel can be outlined as follows:
- B. Dream of the statue (2)
- B'. Visions of four beasts and two beasts (7-8)
Following the Babylonian conquest of Judah, the entire House of Israel was for the first time since Moses conquered, dispersed, and without an ark or temple. Under these circumstances a series of questions naturally arose: Is God still all-powerful? Is there any reason to continue worshiping him? Are the Jews still his chosen people? Will they be restored to Jerusalem? The Book of Daniel answers all of these questions Yes.
The dream of the statue (chapter 2) and the vision of four beasts (chapter 7) acknowledge that a succession of earthly kingdoms will rule during much of the earth’s history. But ultimately God’s own kingdom will succeed them, will be greater than them, and will be eternal. The book of Daniel can make these prophetic assertions in chapters 2, 7-12 with authority because we first see God intervene and control the affairs of individuals in chapters 1-6. And we trust that Daniel speaks for God because he relates Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, something that the priests of other gods are unable to do (chapters 2, 4, 5).
The book of Daniel outlines as a fairly clean chiasmus. The central position of greatest importance in this structure is given to the two episodes in which Babylonian kings are individually subjected to God’s will. First, King Nebuchadnezzar (chapter 4) is deprived of his human reason “till thou know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men” (4:25). Restored to his position as the most powerful man in the world, Nebuchadnezzar promptly acknowledges God’s supreme power (4:34-37). Then, when King Belshazzar publicly insults God’s power (chapter 5), his kingdom is overthrown and he is slain by the invading Persians before the next day even dawns (5:1-4, 30-31). The Book of Daniel thus affirms that God is still omnipotent, still rules in the affairs of men, and will in his own due time establish his eternal and unchallenged kingdom. That Israel meanwhile suffers distress as it is conquered by a succession of earthly empires is due not to any weakness of its God, but to the nation's own inability to govern itself in righteousness.
A second lesson of Daniel is that God also rules in the affairs of individuals. In the twin stories of the fiery furnace (chapter 3) and the lions’ den (chapter 6) God miraculously delivers Daniel and his friends when they are threatened with destruction for their righteousness in worshiping him. In the story of the king’s meat (chapter 1) their obedience to God’s dietary law results in their becoming “fairer and fatter in flesh” than the other children and “ten times better than all the astrologers and magicians.” In every episode their willingness to sacrifice political station in favor of religious commitment ultimately blesses them with higher political station. The Book of Daniel thus witnesses that God still protects and blesses righteous individuals.
A third lesson is that such protection and blessing come only to the righteous. In the opening story of the king’s meat (chapter 1) the youths’ fairness and wisdom is a direct result of their ritual purity and obedience to God’s law. The parallel vision of Judea’s redemption (chapter 9) explains that the Jews were conquered because of their wickedness. And while Jerusalem will be rebuilt and the Jews will be restored to the land of their inheritance as God’s chosen people, it will only last until they are again ripe for destruction (9:24-26). And Daniel leaves room for no excuses – he understood as well as anyone the difficulty of living faithfully in the face of great earthly power.
Complete outline and page map
This heading contains an outline for the entire book. Items in blue or purple text indicate hyperlinked pages that address specific portions of the book. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
- a. plan to teach Daniel and friends the learning of the Chaldeans (1:3-4)
- a. Daniel and friends taught by God and become the wisest (1:17-21)
- a. the king’s request to recount the dream will verify its interpretation (2:1-9)
- b. the king’s priests state that only a god can reveal dreams (2:10-13)
- b. Daniel states that only God can reveal the dream (2:26-30)
- a. Daniel recounts the king’s dream (2:31-36)
- a. Daniel interprets the king’s dream (2:37-45)
- d. the king praises God as a true revealer of secrets (2:46-49)
- a. king commands worship of idol on pain of death (3:1-7)
- a. king commands three be cast into fire, but soldiers die (3:19-23)
- a. introduction praising God’s power (4:1-3)
- b. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and resulting dread (4:4-5)
- b. Daniel’s dismay at the interpretation of the dream (4:19)
- a. conclusion praising both God’s power and his justice (4:34-37)
- a. the king praises idols while drinking from the temple vessels (5:1-4)
- a. but the current king has mocked God in favor of idols (5:22-23)
- b. so the hand wrote the king’s sentence on the wall (5:24-31)
- a. Daniel is promoted over the whole realm (6:1-3)
- b. when princes can find no fault in him, they obtain a decree forbidding prayer (6:4-9)
- b. when Daniel prays to God, princes report his violation of the decree (6:10-13)
- c. king is powerless to save Daniel and can only ask that God do so (6:14-20)
- b. God saves Daniel from the lions by an angel, but princes are eaten (6:21-24)
- a. Darius commands all to tremble before Daniel’s living God (6:25-28)
- a. Daniel sees a vision of four beasts (7:1-14)
- b. An angel interprets the vision (7:15-28)
- a. Daniel sees a vision of two beasts (8:1-14)
- b. Angel Gabriel interprets the vision (8:15-27)
- • Daniel confesses his and Israel’s sins (9:3-15)
- • Daniel requests forgiveness and restoration for Jerusalem (9:16-19)
- • Gabriel prophesies seventy weeks of restoration (9:20-27)
- • Daniel’s preparation and discussion with the angel (10:1-11:2)
- • the vision (11:2-12:4)
- • epilogue: when will this be? (12:5-13)
Points to ponder
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This heading is for listing links and print resources, including those cited in the notes. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
- Amplified • The Amplified Bible, 1987 update
- NASB • New American Standard Bible, 1995 update
- NIV • New International Version
- RSV • Revised Standard Version
Joseph Smith Translation
The Joseph Smith Translation made only one change to the book of Daniel:
- Dan 5:28
- Coogan, Michael D. The Oxford History of the Biblical World. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. (ISBN 0195087070). BS635.2 .094 1998. A standard narrative reference explaining Biblical events.
- Finegan, Jack. Handbook of Biblical Chronology: Principles of Time Reckoning in the Ancient World and and Problems of Chronology in the Bible, revised ed. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Pub., 1998. (ISBN 1565631439). BS637.2 .F5 1998. One of the two standard references for assigning specific dates to Old Testament events.
- Steinmann. Andrew E. From Abraham to Paul: A Biblical Chronology. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2011. (ISBN 0758627998). BS637.3 .S74 2011. Builds on the earlier work of Finegan and Thiele and may become a third standard reference; likewise addresses the difficult issues but also presents a comprehensive timeline including the easy issues.
- Wayment, Thomas A., ed. The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 213. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2009. (ISBN 1606411314) BX8630.A2 2009
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Daniel: Prophet of God, Companion of Kings." In Old Testament: First Kings to Malachi (Institute Manual), vol. 2, third ed. (PDF version), ch. 28, p. 297-309. Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003. Collects authoritative LDS interpretations of the dream of the statute and the visions of beasts in Daniel chapters 2, 7-8.
- Draper, Richard D. "The Book of Daniel." In Kent P. Jackson, ed. Studies in Scripture, Vol. 4: First Kings to Malachi, p. 320-33. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1993. (ISBN 087579789X) BS1171.2 .A15 1993. Draper does a nice job in his two articles of showing how Daniel answers questions about the continued vitality of Judaism that would have arisen following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem.
- Draper, Richard D. The Prophets of the Exile: Saviors of a People. In Dennis A. Wright, et al, ed. Voices of Old Testament Prophets (Sperry Symposium #26), p. 86-109. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1997. (ISBN 1573453609) BS1505.2 .S64 1997.
- Fewell, Danna Nolan. Circle of Sovereignty: A Story of Stories in Daniel 1-6. Sheffield, England: The Almond Press (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament (JSOT), Supplement Series #72), 1988. (ISBN 1850751587) BS1555.2 .F48 1988. Nice discussion of how Daniel and his friends prosper each time they offer to sacrifice that prosperity in order to be obedient to God.
- Gaston, Thomas. Historical Issues in the Book of Daniel. Oxford: TaanathShiloh, 2009. (ISBN 095615400X) BS1556 .G38 2009. Resolves objections to the historical accuracy of the book of Daniel.
- Hardy, Frank Wilton. An Historical Perspective on Daniel 11. Masters thesis, Andrews University, 1983. Excellent attempt at the daunting task of making historical sense of Daniel 10-12; not necessarily successful, but an excellent attempt.
- Hartman, Louis F. and Alexander A. Di Lella. The Anchor Bible, Vol. 23: Daniel. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1978. (ISBN 0385013221) BS192.2.A1 1964.G3; BS1554.E. The Anchor Bible is the standard complete survey commentary covering all points of view on all issues of scholarship relating to each book of the Bible.
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves, such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word. In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources are preferable to footnotes.
- Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 252-53.
- Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 141, 158-59.
- Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 257-58, 264; Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 141, 162, 167.
- Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 159-61.
- The consensus date for the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple has been 17 August 586 BC. Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 258-59; Coogan, The Oxford History of the Biblical World, 371. Steinmann appears, however, to be correct in building upon that earlier work to advocate a date one year earlier, 28 August 587 BC, discussing especially Ezek 26:1-2. Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 136-38, 159-69, 174.
- Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 173-75; Hartman, The Anchor Bible: Daniel, 178-79.
- The consensus view favors 553 BC as the beginning of Belshazzar's reign as co-regent, but some scholars argue instead for 550 BC. Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 172, 175; Coogan, The Oxford History of the Biblical World, 375-77.
- Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 175.
- Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 176-78.
- Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 179-80.
- Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 175-79; Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 266; Coogan, The Oxford History of the Biblical World, 376.
- Wayment, The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 213.