Principles of Godly Living

Explore the Bible Series

August 7, 2005


Background Passage: Daniel 1:1-4:37

Lesson Passages: Daniel 1:8, 12-16; 2:14-16,30; 4:19,27


Introduction: Scholars have debated for centuries the historical background and content of the Book of Daniel.  Questions concerning this book arose as early as the philosopher Porphyry’s writings in the third century A.D.  As one would anticipate, nineteenth-century liberal scholars raised serious objections to the traditional view (Daniel wrote the prophecy in the sixth century B.C.).  These arguments prove too complex for this study, but serious Bible students should consult the helpful analyses of the conflict in the following works.


E.J. Young. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Eerdmans, reprint 1983.

Gleason Archer. A Survey of the Old Testament. Moody, 1996.


Dr. Young’s treatment of the authorship of Daniel proves particularly helpful.  He wrote to a scholarly audience, but his work is readable and accessible to a wide readership. He centers his arguments for the traditional dating of Daniel on the following principles.

  1. Jesus quoted from Daniel and attributed the book to this Old Testament prophet (See Matthew 24:15).
  2. The Prophecy itself claims to be written by Daniel.  The author wrote in the first person and claimed to have direct revelation from God (See, for instance, Daniel 7:2-8).  
  3. Other passages in the New Testament give tacit affirmation of the genuineness of Daniel’s authorship (See Matthew 10:23; 16:27ff; 19:28; 24:30; 25:31; 26:64). These passages seem to reflect Jesus’ knowledge of the images of the Prophecy of Daniel.
  4. The Book of Daniel accurately reflects the historical circumstances of the Babylonian and Medo-Persian Empires.


The Prophet Daniel wrote this book during his long sojourn in Babylon; in fact, his ministry spanned nearly the entire duration of the Captivity.  The Babylonians carried away Daniel, and many of his countrymen, in 605 B.C.  As discussed in previous studies, this was apparently the first of three waves of forced immigration to Babylon (595 and 587-86 B.C.).  Daniel’s prophetic work continued until the defeat of the Babylonians in 539; therefore, the prophet interacted with some of the most powerful men of his day (Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, and perhaps Evil-Merodach and Nabonidus). 


The book has some distinctive features.  For instance, Daniel wrote the prophecy in two different languages.  Most of the book is written in Hebrew, but, beginning in 2:4, the prophet wrote in Aramaic until the end of chapter seven.  Though many have speculated about this phenomenon, the reason for Daniel employment of two languages is unknown. 

Daniel contains two types of literature.  The first portion of the book focuses on six historical narratives (chapters 1-6), while the second section centers on four great visions received by the prophet (chapters 7-12).  The historical materials do not provide a comprehensive overview of the period; rather, the narratives are brief vignettes that clearly have theological significance for the thematic development of the book.  The prophetic visions have eschatological significance, and prove invaluable in interpretive issues related to The Revelation.


Outline of the Background Passage:


I.                    Daniel’s Experiences in Babylon (1:1-21)

A.    The historical background of the Captivity (vv. 1-2)

B.     Sons of Judah’s nobility taken into exile (vv. 3-4)

1.      young men in whom there was no blemish

2.      …good looking

3.      …gifted in all wisdom

4.      …possessing knowledge

5.      …able to serve in the king’s palace

C.    Controversy concerning Nebuchadnezzar’s (ruled 605-562 B.C.) provisions (vv. 8-21)

1.      Daniel’s reluctance concerning the king’s provision of meat and wine (vv. 8-10): The reasons for Daniel’s reluctance are not given.  Young surmised that the young man and his companions recoiled from the food and wine because of the pagan ceremonies that accompanied mealtime for the Babylonians.  Some of the food may have been prohibited by the Mosaic dietary laws (See Leviticus 7 and 11). 

Note: Dr. Young also points out that Daniel stood by his principles, but he did so in a courteous, gracious manner.  He remained a gentleman despite his disagreement with the Babylonian tutors. 

2.      Daniel’s agreement with the steward (vv. 11-13)

3.      The excellence of Daniel’s character and bearing (vv. 14-21):  God gave the young men great favor with those who supervised their training; but, more importantly, they gained the approval and trust of the emperor himself (vv. 19-20). 


II.                 Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of the Great Image (2:1-49)

A.    Nebuchadnezzar’s trouble because of his dream (vv. 1-13)

1.      The king’s demands and threats toward the Babylonian seers (vv.1-6): Note that Nebuchanezzar not only wanted the seers to interpret his dream, he also wanted them to tell him the content of the dream.  Perhaps the king, in his agitated state, could not clearly remember the dream; or, perhaps more likely, he wanted to test the seers.

2.      The seer’s inability to describe and interpret the dream (vv. 7-13)

B.     Daniel’s aid to the seers (vv. 14-23)

1.      Daniel’s intercession for the seers (vv. 14-16): The prophet asked his friends to pray for God’s help before the king killed all of the seers.  Note that, at this time, Nebuchadnezzar regarded Daniel and his companions as part of the body of soothsayers.  In time, of course, the king came to regard these Hebrew prophets in very different terms.

2.      Daniel’s plea for the Lord’s mercies (vv. 17-19): Daniel knew the source of his wisdom and help must come from God.  He and his friends prayed for the Lord to aid them for the sake of God’s mercy.

3.      Daniel’s doxology (vv. 20-23): In particular, Daniel praised God for his divine wisdom and might.  The dream had perplexed and troubled the king of Babylon, but the Lord of Hosts brought peace and grace to his humble servant Daniel.


C.    The recounting and interpretation of the dream (vv. 24-45)

1.      Daniel brought help to Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 24-30): What powerful words Daniel spoke, “But there is God in heaven…”  The distressed monarch had sought the counsel of men to ease the distress of his heart.  They, of course, had failed to provide adequate answers to his questions. But there is a God in heaven!  Where men fail, God triumphs.  Daniel pointed the king to the only truth source of help.

2.      The report of the dream (vv. 31-35)

3.      The interpretation of the dream (vv. 36-45): Traditionally, Bible scholars have understood this vision as a kind of calendar of the ages.  The golden head of the colossus represented Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom that, despite its considerable splendor, would eventually give way to the Medo-Persian Empire (the silver chest and arms). The bronze belly and thighs foretold the rise of the Greek Empire under the military the great Macedonian general Alexander.  The Greek Kingdom would yield to the power of the Roman conquest (the iron legs).  The feet of iron and clay may represent the fragmented remnants of the Roman Empire as seen, in some measure, among the nations of Europe today.

                    D. The exaltation of Daniel and his companions (vv. 46-49)


III.               The Pride of Nebuchadnezzar and the Faithfulness of the Hebrew Men (3:1-30)

A.    Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image (vv. 1-7)

1.      the dimensions and location of the obelisk (v. 1)

2.      the gathering of the Babylonian officials (vv. 2-3)

3.      the command for the people to bow before the idol (vv. 4-7)

B.     The malicious conspiracy against the Jewish exiles (vv. 8-12)

C.    The threats of Nebuchadnezzar toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (vv. 13-15)

D.    The faithfulness of the Hebrew men (vv. 16-18)

E.     The failed effort to execute the three Hebrew men (vv. 19-30)

1.      the men cast into the furnace (vv. 19-23)

2.      the presence of the fourth man (vv. 24-25)

                  F. The humility of Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 26-30)


IV.              The Vision of the Great Tree and the Temporary Demise of Nebuchadnezzar (4:1-37)

A.    Nebuchadnezzar’s reflections of  the story he is about to relate (vv. 1-3)

B.     The king’s troubling dream and the inability to the seers to interpret the vision (vv. 4-7)

C.    The king’s account of the dream (vv. 8-18)

1.      a great and fruitful tree (vv. 8-12)

2.      the great tree cut down and stripped of its branches (vv. 13-15)

3.      the man represented by the tree will be transformed into a beast-like man for seven periods of time (vv. 16-18)

D.    Daniel’s explanation of the dream, perhaps years or months (vv. 19-27)

1.      Nebuchadnezzar was the great “tree” (vv. 19-22)

2.      The watchers’ judgment on Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 25)

3.      The promise of the restoration of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom (vv. 26-27)

E.     Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation (vv. 28-33)

1.      the king’s pride (vv. 28-30)

2.      the Lord’s swift judgment (vv. 31-33)

F.     God’s gracious restoration of Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 34-37)




Observations from the Lesson Passage:

1.      Several scholars have pointed out that the Book of Daniel focuses on the sovereignty of God in the affairs of men and nations.  However, the book also describes the appropriate conduct of God’s people in difficult and worldly circumstances. Daniel and his godly companions found themselves in a situation that required them to conform to ungodly patterns of life.  Christians, try as they might, cannot escape such circumstances, and Daniel provides an excellent example of godly living in the face of hostile and ungodly pressures (1:8 and 12-16). 

2.      Daniel never allowed the pressures of the Babylonians to annoy him or force him into rude reactions toward his persecutors.  Note the discretion he exercised in each of these circumstances.

3.      Another quality that Daniel possessed was moral courage.  In Chapter Four, the prophet had to deliver an unpleasant message to King Nebuchadnezzar.  Daniel was no longer a young man when this event occurred.  Perhaps he was tempted to recoil from this responsibility. Nevertheless, he spoke the truth to the Babylonian sovereign, and trusted his well-being to the Sovereign of the universe (See 4:19f.).