We spent a great deal of time studying the book of Revelation. During that study we noted many times the similarities between Revelation and the prophecies of Daniel. There are probably as many different interpretations regarding the prophecies of Daniel as there are disputes over the interpretation of Revelation. The format of our study will be very similar. We are going to read the book of Daniel and allow the prophecies to speak for themselves. This means that we may explain some things differently than what scholars teach. We will not promote any particular theology or viewpoint. We want the simple meaning of the prophecies of the book.
The book of Daniel is divided into two general parts. The first six chapters of the book are historical, giving the account of what took place during the days of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius. There are only a few prophecies that are found in these six chapters. Chapters 7-12 of the book are prophetic, with many visions seen by Daniel of things that would take place in the future. As with Revelation, when we see visions and signs we must understand that we are reading figurative language that represents some literal event that will occur. With these things in mind, let us begin our study of the text.
Historical background (1:1-2)
The book begins in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah . This places the beginning of the book at 606-605 B.C. This is when the first invasion of Judah took place by the nation of Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar. In verse 2 we begin to see the fulfillment of a prophecy made by Isaiah in Isaiah 39:2-6. At that time, King Hezekiah showed the Babylonians the treasures of the temple. For this sin, Isaiah prophesied that the treasures of the temple would be taken to Babylon . Here we see that event taking place as Nebuchadnezzar begins to take the treasures of the house of God. But notice that this was not by the power of Babylon . Verse 2 tells us that the Lord gave Jehoiakim and the treasures of the house of God into the hand of Babylon . God was the one who was raising up the nation of Babylon as an instrument of judgment upon the nation of Judah .
The captives (1:3-7)
Nebuchadnezzar gives the instructions to capture those of nobility and of the royal family. The captives were to be young men, without physical defect and handsome. The captives also had to exercise wisdom, knowledge and insight and would thus be competent to serve before the king. This gives us insight into the social status and education of Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. These were very accomplished young men who were transported to the nation of Babylon to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. In Babylon , the captives would be trained for three years, being educated in the literature and language of the Chaldeans. At that time, they were placed before the king to be ready to serve.
We also see that Daniel and his three friends’ names are changed to Babylonian names. Daniel’s name is changed to Belteshazzar. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are now called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, respectively. This was an effort for these men to break their ties with their Israelite background and immerse themselves in the culture of Babylon . One reason for this was to break the spirit of the captives that they would become willing to serve in Babylon without rebellion. What is interesting to notice is that throughout the book of Daniel, though the Babylonians refer to Daniel and the three friends by their Babylonian names, Daniel and the three friends still call each other by their original names.
God’s providence toward the captives (1:8-21)
In verse 9 we read that God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs. This is important and will come into play in later chapters. We also see in verse 17 that God gave Daniel and the three friends learning and skill in all literature and wisdom so that they were ten times wiser than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all the kingdom (vs. 20). God worked in such a way that Daniel and the three friends would stand out from the rest of the Babylonians in wisdom and skill. The chapter concludes by telling us that Daniel remained there prophesying to the court of Babylon for the duration of the captivity, all 70 years. With this understanding we see that Daniel was likely 20 years old or younger when he was taken captive.
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (2:1-16)
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon , begins to have dreams that cause him to lose sleep. So he calls for all of his magicians and sorcerers to come before him to interpret the dream. All of the magicians, enchanters, and sorcerers tell the king to tell them the dream and they will reveal the interpretation. However, the king wants these Chaldeans to not only interpret the dream, but also tell Nebuchadnezzar what the dream was. If these enchanters had true powers, they should not only be able to interpret the dream but also tell what the dream was. The king seems to know that these enchanters are going to simply make up an interpretation, (vs. 9) and that is not what the king wants. The enchanters respond that the king must tell them the dream and then they can give the interpretation. They tell the king that no one can do what he is asking them to do. King Nebuchadnezzar is so outraged (vs. 12) by their response that he orders all the wise men of Babylon to be destroyed. This order would include Daniel and his three friends. Daniel finds out about the decree, and all that had happened, through Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard. Daniel then makes an appointment to show the interpretation to the king (vs. 16).
Prayer for mercy ( 2:17 -24)
Daniel returns to his home and tells Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah what is going on, and to seek the mercy of God. They pray that the mystery of the dream and its interpretation be revealed so they will not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men. In verse 19 we find that the Lord reveals the mystery to Daniel in a vision at night. Daniel turns and answers the Lord with prayer in verses 20-23. It is a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to God for giving him the wisdom and knowledge to make this matter known to the king. We see great faith in Daniel in his request, for he had already made the appointment to see the king before he knew the interpretation of the dream. He had faith that God would deliver them by revealing the dream and its interpretation.
Before King Nebuchadnezzar ( 2:25 -30)
Daniel now goes before the king and tells him that he can show the king the interpretation of the dream. Nebuchadnezzar asks Daniel in verse 26 if he can not only reveal the interpretation, but also the dream. Daniel responds by saying that no one can do what the king has requested. But God in heaven reveals mysteries and it is only by His power that Daniel knows the dream of Nebuchadnezzar.
Daniel reveals the dream ( 2:31 -35)
Daniel now reveals the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had. In the dream was a mighty and bright image whose appearance was frightening. The image had a head of fine gold, a chest and arms of silver, a middle and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of partly iron and clay. Then a stone, cut out by no human hand, struck the image on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces. The pieces became like chaff on a threshing floor and was carried away by the wind so that not a trace of them could be found. The stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. This is certainly a terrifying dream and we now understand why Nebuchadnezzar wanted a true interpretation of the dream. This dream has important meaning and Daniel is going to reveal its meaning to Nebuchadnezzar.
Daniel interprets the dream ( 2:36 -45)
— Babylon . In verses 37-38 Daniel reveals that the head of gold in the image represents the world kingdom of Babylon at that time. Daniel says, “you are the head of gold.” This was not an image of future Babylon , but the world kingdom of Babylon during the days of Daniel.
—Medo-Persia. In verse 39 Daniel says “another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you….” Stephen R. Miller in the New American Commentary says, “History is plain that the next great power to appear on the world scene was the Medo-Persian Empire led by the dynamic Cyrus the Great.” The Medo-Persian empire conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. This empire reigned for about 208 years.
— Greece .Verse 39 also tells us that there would be a “third kingdom of bronze which shall rule over all the earth.” The next world empire that appeared after the Medo-Persian empire was the Grecian empire. In 332 B.C. the armies of Alexander the Great marched against the Medo-Persian empire and defeated it in a series of battles. The Grecian empire dominated the world from 331-146 B.C.
— Rome .Verse 40 begins the description of the fourth kingdom. It is to this kingdom that Daniel draws more attention. This fourth kingdom would be “as strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things.” This is an important description given to this kingdom. It is going to be given the power to shatter all things. Five times this characteristic is emphasized just in verse 40: breaks, shatters, crushes, break, crush. The Roman Empire was the kingdom to rise to world power after the Grecian empire. The Roman empire began to dominate from 146 B.C. and continued for about 500 years. After depicting the great strength of this kingdom, we also see the great weakness in this kingdom. Verses 41-43 tell us that it would be a divided kingdom, thus making the Roman empire partly strong and partly weak. Just as iron and clay cannot be fused together, neither could Rome fuse together its conquered nations and peoples. The division of this empire is found in its social and cultural problems. This is more clearly identified in verse 43, “they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another….” The ESV and NIV help us understand the statement further. The ESV reads, “so they will mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together….” The NIV reads, “so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united….” Though all peoples were under one empire, nationalities were not able to combine to form a cohesive people.
The rest of the interpretation is devoted to the stone that smashes the image. Daniel says that God is going to set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed in the days of these kings (vs. 44). Daniel gives us a clear time marker: in the days of these kings (the kings of the Roman empire ), God would establish a kingdom. Notice the characteristics of this kingdom: it will never be destroyed, it will not be left to another people, it will break into pieces the other kingdoms, it will stand forever, and it is a kingdom not cut out by human hands. We know that this is God’s kingdom because of these descriptions. Daniel prophesies that in the days of the Roman empire , God’s kingdom would be set up and it would stand forever.
This is why John the Baptist preached in the first century, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Jesus also was preaching the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17 , 23 ). Notice what Jesus said in Mark 9:1, “And He said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.'” Jesus said the kingdom of God would come with power. Jesus further explained how the kingdom would come with power. The disciples ask in Acts 1:6 if the Lord would restore the kingdom to Israel at that time. Jesus responded in Acts 1:8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem , and in all Judea and Samaria , and to the end of the earth.” In Acts 2:1-4 we see the Holy Spirit coming upon the apostles, thus showing the setting up of God’s kingdom. Premillennialists take the prophecy of Daniel 2 and say that the kingdom of God has not been set up yet. But Daniel said the kingdom of God would be established in the days of the kings of the fourth kingdom. Was Daniel wrong? Did God give Daniel an incorrect interpretation? Were John the Baptist and Jesus wrong for teaching the coming of the kingdom in the generation of those they were speaking to? Of course not. Premillennialists misinterpret Daniel 2. Daniel clearly notes the order of events leading up to the coming of the kingdom of God . Daniel, through the power of God, said it would be in the days of the Roman Empire . John the Baptist and Jesus said it would be in the days of the Roman Empire . The scriptures teach that the kingdom did come in the first century in the days of the Roman Empire .
This is how John could say that he was a “brother and partner in the tribulation, kingdom, and perseverance of Jesus Christ” in Revelation 1:9. This is why the Hebrew writer tells us that we receive the kingdom that cannot be shaken in Hebrews 12:28. This is the very point of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. The people are questioning what has happened to the apostles. Remember, we just noted that the apostles have received power from the Holy Spirit, showing that the kingdom of God had been set up. Peter preaches this very point in Acts 2:30-36. Peter says that God raised up Christ to sit on His throne (vs 30). To have a throne requires a kingdom. What throne can Jesus sit on if He has no kingdom? If His kingdom was not set up, then He sits on a powerless throne. It is no throne at all if there is no kingdom. The point Peter was making is that God raised Jesus from the dead and made Him Lord and Christ and is now reigning over His kingdom.
Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction ( 2:46 -49)
When Nebuchadnezzar hears these words, he falls on his face and pays homage to Daniel. Because Daniel, by the power of God, has revealed the dream and its interpretation, Daniel is made ruler over the whole province of Babylon , and Daniel appoints Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the kingdom of Babylon . Daniel begins his prophetic work of teaching the people of Babylon about the coming of the great kingdom of God . It is a powerful message from a man who was taken away from his home and made captive in a foreign nation. And we can see the fulfillment of the prophecy today.