Reflections on Daniel 1-6

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I (try to) post about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on 1 KingsEzekiel, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy. This post covers the first six chapters of Daniel.

Daniel is the last of the so-called major prophets. Isaiah’s ministry took place before the fall of both the northern and southern kingdoms. Jeremiah came along almost a century later after the fall of the North to Assyria, and went on until after the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. Ezekiel was prophet to the exiles in Babylon toward the tail end of Jeremiah’s ministry back home. Daniel too was in Babylon, and lived through a succession of emperors and empires.

The book neatly divides into two: chapters 1-6 are historical narrative, while chapters 7-12 are prophetic in nature. From a linguistic viewpoint, 1:1-2:4a and 8:1-12:13 are written in Hebrew, while 2:4b-7:28 is written in Aramaic.

1:1-21

In verse six, we’re introduced to the human heroes in the story whose Hebrew names all had references to God:

Hebrew name-Meaning Babylonian name-Meaning
Daniel-
God is my judge
Belteshazzar-
favoured by Bel
Azariah-Yahweh has helped Abednego-Servant of Nebo
Hananiah-Gift of God Shadrach-Royal/ the great scribe
Mishael-who is what God is? Meshach-guest of a king

Bel and Nebo were pagan deities. I’m guessing they liked their birth names better 🙂

So, what was the idea behind their refusal of the royal food and wine? One option is that it had been offered to idols, and was therefore unclean. The problem is that the vegetables would have undergone the same treatment. Maybe it had something to do with the Jewish food laws. Well then, what about the wine for which there was no prohibition? So we’re left to conclude that it was probably a matter of principle, or of table fellowship with the pagan king.

2:1-49

King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream which Daniel is able to recount and interpret, saving the lives of all the astrologers in the kingdom who’d been unable to do so. Daniel credits his God for this gift.

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was of a large statue that was destroyed by a seemingly insignificant rock which grew until it filled the whole earth. The different materials that made up the statue represented successive world powers in the Ancient Near East: the Babylonians, the  Medo-Persians, the Greeks and the  Romans. The rock that pulverised the statue is the kingdom of God.

3:1-30

In the previous chapter, Nebuchadnezzar is told that he is the head of gold. What is his response? He builds a golden image. The narrator keeps reminding us of all the important people present, the instruments and that this was the image that king Nebuchadnezzar had set up. It was all about him.

But our Hebrew friends stood with a quiet and confident faith. They were thrown into the furnace for their perceived insolence. In the furnace, they found a Saviour.

4:1-37

Nebuchadnezzar had another dream, which Daniel interpreted for him. [I wonder, why does God give Nebuchadnezzar so much revelation?] Twelve months pass before the dream is fulfilled, time in which he could have repented. He does so much later, and is restored. Even the pagan king gets grace from God.

5:1-30

King Belshazzar didn’t get 12 months to repent. He knew of what had happened to his predecessor, but chose not to honour God (5:17-23). He was killed the same night he saw the writing on the wall. (Unbeknown to him, the Medo-Persians had ambushed the city as he and his nobles partied.)

6:1-28

Daniel’s opponents couldn’t find fault with him, so they used his goodness against him. He was thrown into the lion’s den for righteousness’ sake. But God delivered him!

Conclusion

In reading this first half of Daniel, what clearly emerges is the human characters’ flaws and virtues: Nebuchadnezzar’s pride, Daniel’s faithfulness, etc. My paper pastors (in the sources below) pointed out another theme, that once I saw it, I couldn’t not see it all over. I’m talking of the sovereignty of God.

Daniel and his friends express it numerous times. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges it in varying degrees in 2:47, 3:26, 28-29, 4:2-3, 17, 34-35, 37. Darius issued a decree ordering his subjects to honour Daniel’s God. He is the God whose kingdom shatters all earthly kingdoms. He is the God who humbles proud rulers. He is the God who saves His servants from furnaces and lions. And  He is our God!

Continue to chapters 7-12.

Sources: Bible.org, Christopher Ash, Liam Goligher, Vaughan Roberts