Daniel, A Prophet of Hope

An Israelite in Captivity

“God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (Daniel 1:17).

By Tom Ruggirello

Daniel, A Prophet of Hope

Examining the book of Daniel in the context of God’s promise to Abraham is an exciting study. His life spanned an extraordinary period in the history of Israel.

When taken captive into Babylon, Daniel found himself living his Jewish faith in a Gentile world. This captivity created many challenges for Daniel and his three companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

The first connection to the Abrahamic Promise in the Book of Daniel is Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. God’s giving this dream to Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, is significant, since it began to illustrate how God would involve the Gentiles in Israel’s future.

In chapter two, Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream. Calling his magicians, astrologers, and sorcerers, he demanded to know, not only the meaning of the dream, but also what he had actually dreamed. To avoid this seemingly impossible challenge they responded that if the king shared his dream with them, they would provide the interpretation. But the dream was gone from his memory, as dreams often are.1 In their defense, they claimed that no one on earth would require such a thing and there was no man who could know his dream. This enraged Nebuchadnezzar, who issued a decree that all the wise men of the empire should be killed.

(1) According to Strong’s, the Hebrew word for “gone” in verses 5 and 8 is of uncertain derivation. The NAS and other translations replace the phrase “the thing is gone from me” with “The command from me is firm,” or something similar. If this is correct, Nebuchadnezzar had not forgotten the dream but demanded the dream be told to him as a test to determine if their interpretation could be trusted.

Considered among the group of wise men, Daniel and his three friends were included in the death sentence. Upon Daniel’s appeal, more time was granted to know the dream. The wise men were correct that no man could know the dream. It was God who revealed the details of the King’s dream to Daniel in his own dream. Revealing the dream and its meaning to Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel humbly credited God for disclosing the dream and its meaning.

Daniel testified that God would make known to the king “what shall be in the latter days,” and “what shall come to pass” (Daniel 2:28,29). These small clues indicated the prophetic nature of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and suggested important events to come that would provide detail about the eventual fulfillment of the Abrahamic Promise.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Prophetic Dream

In his dream Nebuchadnezzar saw a great image of extraordinary splendor. It had a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of copper, and legs of iron. The feet were of iron mixed with clay. A stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and struck the image at the feet, causing it to crumble. The pieces then became as chaff on the summer threshing floor and were carried away by the wind. The stone finally grew into a mountain to fill the earth (Daniel 2:31-35).

As Daniel explained the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the connection to God’s promise becomes evident. Nebuchadnezzar’s empire was the head of gold. God had given him “a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory” (Daniel 2:37). Following Babylon, another kingdom would rise up, Cyrus, king of Medo-Persia, conquered Babylon. His was a larger empire, and likely wealthier. However, in time, its moral leadership became degraded and even more cruel toward the Jews under some of its princes. This feature was perhaps depicted in the breast and arms of silver, an inferior element to the head of gold.

The belly and thighs of copper correspond to Greece, the third world empire, under Alexander the Great. The vastness of the Grecian world was predicted in the statement that this kingdom would “rule over all the earth” (Daniel 2:39).

The legs of iron meant that the fourth empire would be powerful and divided into two parts. It would “subdue all things,” breaking in pieces all previous kingdoms. This was Rome, the mightiest empire, so vast that Emperor Diocletian divided it into the Western and Eastern empires.

The feet and toes of iron mixed with clay illustrate how Rome descended into a church/state system and eventually split into multiple divisions of gentile nations. It became the point in time where the stone would strike, and the image would collapse. The forward looking intent of the dream is in Daniel 2:44. “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”

Thus, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and Daniel’s testimony, was God’s prophetic testimony that a long intervening period would precede the fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all the families of the earth. Historical events confirm the accuracy of this prophetic dream. Indeed, only four powerful empires descended from the time of Daniel that have overshadowed and dominated Israel, the Land of Promise.

This faith strengthening prophecy has revealed that Gentile powers would bring much suffering to God’s chosen people. But the memory of this difficult time in human history will provide one of the great benefits of God’s plan. Humanity will come to appreciate that no human government could provide the blessings inherent only from God. The experience of living under cruel and dominating nations will teach mankind the need for something better. When God’s kingdom is revealed, the world will rejoice. It will be a joy that the memory of man’s inhumanity to man will only deepen in the heart of man.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Humiliation and Restitution

In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar was walking in his palace, marveling at the power and majesty of his kingdom. In his pride he said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30).

As the words dropped from the king’s mouth, a voice declared, “The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Daniel 4:31,32).

Unlike the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, where he was seen as the glorious head of gold, this divine pronouncement addressed the pride in his heart. He experienced the uncivilized life of wild beasts for seven “times.” Besides the personal humbling, it was also a prophetic time marker, indicating the length of Gentile dominion over Israel. A Biblical “time” is one year of 360 days. Seven times describes a period of 2,520 years (7 x 360 = 2,520). In 607 BC Nebuchadnezzar invaded the Promised Land, beginning the seven prophetic times. Gentile powers would dominate Israel for 2,520 years, until 1914. With the advent of WW I, Gentile rule over Israel began lifting. The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British government in 1917, during the First World War, announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. This small beginning led to the eventual establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948. Gentile control of the Promised Land was thus ended as Israel formed its own sovereign government, for the first time in 2,520 years.

By allowing oppressive Gentile rule over Israel, God was again working to humble Israel and the nations that had dominion over her. But Nebuchadnezzar was restored, and, through his personal experience, he came to recognize the Most High God. This was but a foregleam of the world’s restoration after experiencing such oppressive conditions. Then, through the work of God’s kingdom, mankind will eventually be given dominion of the earth. By allowing Gentiles to rule for only a fixed time, God’s wisdom saw the eventual good that the difficult experience would bring.

Daniel’s Vision of Four Beasts

In chapter 7, Daniel dreamed a vision of four unusual beasts. The first was a lion with wings as an eagle (verse 4). The second was a bear with three ribs in its mouth (verse 5). The third was a leopard with four heads and four wings (verse 6). The fourth was “terrible and exceeding strong” (verse 7). These beasts represent the same universal empires of the world as Nebuchadnezzar’s image — but from God’s view, not man’s view. From the divine standpoint they were not glorious empires, but destructive, evil kingdoms. They were not the magnificent images that mortal man would honor.

The connection of this vision with the Abrahamic Promise is in Daniel 7:13-14. “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” This comforting scene is God’s promise that man’s evil rule will come to an end and was merely permitted to dominate the earth for a time. However, our Lord did not usurp this power but was “given” dominion because he sacrificed his life as the purchase price for father Adam. His kingdom rule is described from the divine perspective as “glorious” and “everlasting.” There will be no limit to the goodness of our Lord’s kingdom.

The “Ancient of Days” refers to Jehovah, from “everlasting to everlasting” (Psalms 90:2). In earlier verses (9-10) He is described sitting on a flaming throne with wheels of fire. The throne represents God’s universal authority. He alone possesses the legal and moral right to control earth’s affairs. The flaming throne and wheels of fire describe God’s destructive judgments of the great beasts that have hurt the earth. By His authority, their dominion is taken away and given to the only one worthy of such lofty power. Through God’s authority the promise of blessing is guaranteed. How grateful we are to know that man’s imperfect, and generally evil rule will end, and Christ’s dominion will rule with equity and love. This moving passage provides another detail of how God’s promise to father Abraham will be fulfilled.

An added blessing that relates to the church is the privilege of sharing in the work of blessing the human family. “And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” (Daniel 7:27).

70 Weeks to Messiah

The Abrahamic Promise could never bring God’s blessings without an atonement for sin. Daniel was privileged to share another detail of the Abrahamic Promise, the prophecy of 70 weeks leading to Messiah. “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy” (Daniel 9:24).

When Adam disobeyed, eating the forbidden fruit, he essentially rebelled against God. This rebellion is the first thing in this prophecy that is connected to Messiah: 70 weeks are determined to finish the “transgression” (Strong’s 6588, rebellion). While disobedience led to the fall of man, the atonement will finish that rebellion by making an end of sin (Hebrews 9:26). The prophecy goes on to add that the Messiah will make reconciliation for iniquity. Iniquity (Strong’s 5771, perversity, depravity) is a degraded form of sin. In many instances, while mankind has been degraded, they are not irredeemable. The atonement merit provides the possibility of redemption for every form of sin. The great work of atonement, as the prophecy states, will “bring in everlasting righteousness.”

Our Lord’s human sacrifice was a very personal experience. Isaiah 53:4,5 says, “Surely, he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Jesus’ experience with human grief and sorrow were important, preparing him to be the Mediator of the atonement. Through his merit and experience with the iniquity of man, sin will be removed and peace will abound. What beautiful details of the timing and the unfolding of the Abrahamic Promise we have through the faithful prophet Daniel.

Time of the End

The last prophecy given to Daniel concludes with signs marking the establishment of God’s kingdom. Some time during the Time of the End, Michael stands up and is described as standing “for the children of thy people” (Daniel 12:1). The tiny nation of Israel, the children of Daniel’s people, are an indicator of the work marking the nearness of God’s kingdom. A time of trouble is another sign, and two more are added: “many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall be increased” (verse 4).

These signs of the nearness of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Promise have been evident for over 100 years! A class described as “the wise” wait patiently, knowing that God’s plan will accomplish it’s every design. The great hope woven throughout Daniel’s prophecy is summed up in verses 2 and 3. “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”

Two classes are described in this passage. The wise who shine as the firmament are raised to everlasting life, as members of the bride of Christ. Others will be raised to “everlasting contempt,” members of the fallen race who have been especially wicked in this life. Their past lives will be held in contempt for the evil they wrought. However, each individual (whether they be Nero or Hitler) will have the opportunity to reform and develop virtue in God’s Kingdom. This is foretold in His promise to Abraham and ratified by the ransom price given by Jesus. If the most depraved individuals make progress and benefit from the work of God’s kingdom, they will be granted eternal life. Their miraculous restoration will be a measure of the tremendous grace of God provided through the blood of His only begotten son, to redeem every individual and give them a full opportunity to gain life!

The great prophet Daniel was used to convey many insights which aid our understanding of the gradual unfolding of the depths of beauty which are contained in the Abrahamic Promise. By studying these details, we are strengthened in the glorious hope set before us.

As we reflect on Daniel’s prophecies, remember that, while he was used to convey wonderful prophecies, he was not given to understand much of the meaning. The details, hidden until the Time of the End, have now been revealed to us. Our faith is strengthened while we see Satan’s empire being destroyed and Christ’s kingdom established. Understanding this is the privilege before us as we gain deeper insights into the very mind and heart of God.

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