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The structure of the book of Daniel follows the common Hebrew device known as a chiasm, or parallelism.
A. The Captivity of Judah (Chapter 1)
B. Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream (Chapter 2)
C. Daniel’s Companions in the Fiery Furnace (Chapter 3)
D. The First King of Babylon (Chapter 4)
D. The Last King of Babylon (Chapter 5)
C. Daniel Himself in the Lions’ Den (Chapter 6)
B. Daniel’s Dream and Vision (Chapters 7, 8)
A. The Desolations of Jerusalem (Chapters 9-12)
By viewing the parallels and contrasts between the sections in the outline, we can more readily see Daniel’s purpose that is built into the structure of the book itself. Because the climax of a chiasm is found in the middle, we can see that the overall prophecy of the book focused upon Babylon’s beginning and end in chapters 4 and 5.
Although Babylon’s empire, from beginning to end, lasted only 70 years, we know from the book of Revelation that a final entity known as Mystery Babylon would arise at the end of the age, making chapter 5 not only a history of what happened in Daniel’s time, but also a prophecy of what is occurring in our own time.
All else is prophecy regarding events taking place between the first and the last king of Babylon in this extended picture.
The main problem with a captivity such as Israel and Judah experienced (each in their own manner) is that the laws, values, religion, and culture of the dominant nation are imposed upon those who are in captivity. This imposition may not be forced, but nonetheless, uprooting a nation and thrusting it into a new environment makes it nearly impossible to resist the changes that seem necessary for survival.
Both Israel and Judah had the advantage of being settled in their own communities, which allowed them to continue to practice their religion. However, in both cases they had already fallen away from the divine standard. In Israel’s case the national religion had worshiped the golden calves. Judah, whose religion remained centered in the temple in Jerusalem, was not overtly idolatrous, but was deemed “hypocritical” as reported in Isaiah 10:6 and 29:13.
Isaiah also condemns them for setting aside the law in favor of their “traditions,” that is, their carnal understanding of the law of God, a condition which remained even in Jesus’ time (Matt. 15:7-9).
Therefore, Judah’s adherence to Judaism while in Babylon did not resolve the problem, nor did any increase in their fervor per se bring them closer to God. What they did not understand was that God required a New Covenant mindset and understanding of the law. Moses himself had foreseen this, saying in Deut. 30:6,
6 Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live [become immortal].
The captives of Judah could not help but adopt much of the culture of Babylon, including the language of Aramaic, which was the commercial language of the day. During these years of captivity, the Hebrew alphabet itself was changed as the people adopted the Aramaic letters that are still used to this day.
At the end of the seventy years, less than 50,000 people wanted to return to the old land, having found a good life in Babylon (Ezra 2:64, 65). Furthermore, those who did return to rebuild their old way of life carried with them the usurious practice of Babylon. The result was that 70-80 years later, most of the people had mortgaged their land, and their children were enslaved to their fellow Jews (Neh. 5:1-5). This was contrary to the law in Deut. 23:19, but because it was allowed under Babylonian and Persian law, the Jews had adopted the practice themselves. It was only when the people reached an intolerable debt level that this practice was outlawed.
The first few captives that Nebuchadnezzar took to Babylon were to be trained in the laws and language of Babylon, so that they might be the mediators between Babylon and Judah. The Babylonians also did this with other nations that they conquered. They picked the best and brightest young men, usually of noble families, and educated them in the culture of Babylon.
Such was the case with Daniel and his three friends. Dan. 1:3, 4 tells us,
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials [lit. “eunuchs”] to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, 4 youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding, and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.
About Nebuchadnezzar’s policy, Uriah Smith writes,
In the treatment which these Hebrew captives received, we see an instance of the wise policy and the liberality of the rising king, Nebuchadnezzar. Instead of choosing means for the gratification of low and base desires, as too many kings of later times have done, he chose young men to be educated in all matters pertaining to the kingdom, that he might have efficient help in administering its affairs. He appointed them daily provision of his own food and drink. Instead of the coarse fare which some would have thought good enough for captives, he offered them his own royal viands. For the space of three years they had all the advantages the kingdom afforded. Though captives, they were royal children, and were treated as such by the humane king of the Chaldeans (The Prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation, 1947 revised edition, pp. 22, 23).
It is plain that the Babylonian king was genuinely interested in the welfare of these captives. Though he was an idolater by biblical standards, and could be ruthless with his enemies, he was also generous with his government employees-in-training.
Dan. 1:3 (above) calls them “sons of Israel.” They were not Israelites in dispersion but Judahites. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary comments on the use of the term “sons of Israel,” saying,
“These were originally all the descendants of Jacob or Israel. Later, Israel was a name for the ten tribes, so-called, who fell away to Jeroboam (1 Kgs 11:13; cf. 12:19). But after the destruction of the ‘Northern Kingdom,’ the name Israel reverted to its primitive sense.”
Before the Divided Kingdom, the term Israel was defined as being all of the tribes as a single nation. Afterward, of course, the prophets clearly distinguish between Israel and Judah, and their prophecies during that time must be understood using those definitions. Still later, the term Israel was used occasionally to refer to Judah, once it became obvious that the ten tribes were not going to return. So the Commentary above tells us that “the name Israel reverted to its primitive sense.” Nonetheless, it was far more common to use the term Judah and label the people by its shortened form, Jew.
We are not told specifically if Daniel and his three friends were of the royal lineage of David, but certainly they were “of the nobles,” that is, other courtly families. In any case, none of them were destined to be in the lineage of Christ, because it is likely that they were all made into eunuchs, according to the common practice of that time.
Their first task was to learn Akkadian, the language of the Chaldeans at the lower end of Mesopotamia. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary again tells us,
“Since the archaeological discoveries of the past century have uncovered and furnished the key to translation of that literature, we know how vast was the learning of the Chaldeans… The tongue (language) of the Chaldeans must refer to the Akkadian (Babylonian, Assyrian) language of the day.”
Daniel 1:5, 6 continues,
5 And the king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service. 6 Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
These four young men of Judah are a type of the body of Christ living in Babylon. Perhaps we may view them as ideal believers, examples that we are to follow. As we will see shortly, they refused the king’s meat and drink. Meat and drink speak spiritually of that which we assimilate from teaching. These believers refused to be enculturated and indoctrinated in the ways of Babylon.
The numeric value of the name Daniel is 95. Hananiah is 120. Mishael is 381. Azariah is 292. Together, they total 888, which is also the numeric value of the name Jesus (in Greek). Hence, they represent the body of Christ from a prophetic standpoint, suggesting that the body of Christ should emulate them. The lesson for us (especially in the past century, where we have seen the rise of Mystery Babylon) is that while we have little choice but to live in a Babylonish society, we ought not to adopt Babylonish culture, laws, religion, or values.
Daniel 1:7 says,
7 Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach, and to Azariah Abed-nego.
These new names carry different numeric values totaling 1662, which appears to have no meaning, because the spiritual patterns were destroyed. To rename, biblically speaking, is to assign people with new natures. This name change was meant to identify them as Babylonian citizens and to cloak them with the identity of Babylon. But their refusal to eat of the king's meat and drink of the wine of Babylon tells us that their hearts remained true to the God of Israel.
The king made no attempt to force the captives to change their religion, but the changes in their names were meant to change or hide their nationality and identify them as citizens of Babylon.
Hananiah means “gift of God.” His new name was Shadrach, which means “servant of Sin” (i.e., the moon god).
Mishael means “who is what God is.” His new name was Meshach, which means “who is what Aku is” (i.e., the Sumerian equivalent of Sin, the moon god).
Azariah means “whom Yahweh helps.” His new name was Abednego, which means “servant of Nebo,” another Babylonian deity.
Daniel means “my God judges.” His new name was Belteshazzar, which means “prince of Bel.”