Daniel the elder statesman

Years later in Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, the king, at the zenith of his power, had another disturbing dream. After summoning the other wise men of the empire, the king finally sent for Daniel and requested his interpretation. The implications of the dream were alarming, but Daniel shared them with the king. He informed him that he would be struck with insanity for seven years and would be reduced to the level of an animal. His kingdom, though, would remain intact and he would return to his reign upon recognising the supreme authority of Daniel’s God.

Several decades after Nebuchadnezzar’s death, Belshazzar had ascended the throne. The king and 1000 of his noblemen threw a great feast. While drunk with wine, Belshazzar called for the gold and silver vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the holy temple in Jerusalem, but after their desecration, the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace. The king watched in terror as the disembodied hand wrote a coded message that no one seemed to understand. On the advice of the queen, Daniel was summoned to the palace to interpret the inscription. He declined the reward, but proceeded to reveal the message: “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting…Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians”(Dan 5:27-28).That very night, Belshazzar was slain. And the disintegration of the Babylonian empire came soon after at the hands of the Medes and Persians.

BON57681 Daniel in the Lions Den, mezzotint by J. B. Pratt, with hand colouring, pub. by Thomas Agnew and Sons, 1892 by Riviere, Briton (1840-1920) (after); 63.5×88.9 cm; Private Collection; Photo © Bonhams, London, UK; English, out of copyright

The conquerors of Babylon appointed a supervisory council of three, one of whom was Daniel, to preside over the kingdom. Over time, it became increasingly clear that Daniel was much wiser than his colleagues, which prompted the king to consider appointing him over the entire kingdom. When his colleagues became aware of this, they conspired to destroy Daniel through an elaborate scheme of treason. They proposed a decree that no citizen of the kingdom be permitted to make any request to any god or human, other than the king, for 30 days. Disobeying this command would be punishable by being thrown into a lions’ den.

Daniel was unfazed. He proceeded to ascend to the upper story of his home where his windows faced Jerusalem, to pray three times a day as he had always done. With deep regret, the king ordered Daniel to be thrown to the lions, trying to reassure him: “Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee” (Dan 6:16). Miraculously, the next morning Daniel was unharmed: “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths” (Dan 6:22).

Revered, by now, in the court of the new rulers of Babylon, Daniel was no doubt greatly influential in Cyrus’ decision to issue a decree enabling the Jews to return to their land. He truly was a saviour. It was to be the final chapter in the life at court of this great prophet. Now almost 90 years of age and too old to return to the city of his childhood, he set his eyes as always on the distant future. He became depressed at what he understood were millennia to elapse until his hopes would be realised. But he was a man greatly beloved and in Daniel 10 he is shown a vision that he alone could comprehend: the most glorious thing he had ever seen or heard; a vision of what lay beyond the image he had revealed to Nebuchadnezzar all those decades before. Daniel saw “a certain man” (v5) with “the voice of a multitude” (v6). All his hopes and dreams were unveiled in blinding light and crashing thunder. Like his great friend Ezekiel, when confronted with similar glory, Daniel saw and heard, then collapsed before the divine grandeur of it all. Finally, a tender touch by the hand of an angel awoke him: “O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee” (v19). No doubt the peace of death came soon after, and in the blink of an eye, all Daniel ever hoped for will become a reality.

A man of prayer

Though as a young man he was able to reveal and interpret the details of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, Daniel received no personal vision himself from God until he was over 75 years of age. Really, his life was lived in patient waiting, and there were always the prophets. Daniel knew in remarkable detail what was going to happen in his lifetime. He knew the Who, What, When, Where and How of God’s plans. And, of course, he knew Why. And he was there the night it happened, warning King Belshazzar that the ‘writing was on the wall’!

Specifically, he knew:

WhoCyrus would be Israel’s liberatorIsa 44:28
WhatBabylon was to be invaded and destroyed, never to be re-inhabited againJer 51; Isa 13:20
WhenAfter 70 yearsJer 25, 29
WhereBabylon, for destruction, and Jerusalem, for rebuildingIsa 44:28–45:1-3
HowBy drying up the Euphrates riverIsa 44:27; Jer 51:36

Daniel spent his life praying to Yahweh about all these things. Asking, confessing, pleading, thanking, praising, and so much more—he shared his life with the God he loved and worshipped. Every day, three times a day, for over 70 years, he got down on his knees toward Jerusalem, the direction of his Hope, and prayed.

Daniel 9 provides an insight into the type of prayer, and the type of man he was. It is the prayer of a humble man who never thought of himself as any more than a fellow-captive with his people. He was an honest man who, although he loved God and served him faithfully, knew that he was a sinner. He was a compassionate man, who desperately wanted his people to be saved from the captivity that threatened to suffocate them spiritually. So honest and beautiful was this prayer that the angel Gabriel himself intervened and gave him the greatest of all his prophecies. Messiah the Prince would come in 70 ‘sevens’. Another 70, but this time 490 days. Daniel knew from Ezekiel how the ‘day for a year’ principle worked and so it was that almost five centuries later wise men came to Bethlehem from the land of Daniel’s captivity, perceiving that the time had come.

But Daniel already knew what his Messiah would be like. He’d known him all his life. He identified with him: “The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Dan 4:17,25,32). Daniel had rubbed shoulders with rulers from the kingdom of men all of his life—some cruel, immoral tyrants among them too. But he knew who the ultimate ruler would be, for God would finally set up the lowliest of men to rule the world. This was the stone cut out without hands, whose kingdom would fill the whole earth, yet he would first be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, as Daniel himself had been in his youth. He would be a root out of a dry ground, a man cut off out of the land of the living, who, like Daniel, would have no children of his own. Daniel knew, too, that God would give him an everlasting name that would not be cut off because the Messiah himself would be cut off first. Daniel would also appreciate that the sons of the stranger would be part of his family now as well.

Daniel is an exciting, spine-tingling, awe-inspiring book. His visions and prophecies are really God’s diary of history, complete with names, places and dates. They lead from the decaying court of Judah, through the glory and decline of Babylon, all the way into the kingdom of God itself. And it all started because a young teenager had the faith, wisdom and courage to say ‘No’.