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Major Prophets

Daniel

[Chapters 1, 2, 7-12] Although classed as a major prophet in the Bible, a good proportion of this book contains historic narrative, giving us the only account in the Bible covering the time in exile as well as, albeit by prophecy, the inter testament period. These were covered in the Old Testament history section. Here, following chapter 1, we will just focus on Daniel’s prophecies.

Daniel’s training in Babylon

[1] Daniel was amongst those taken captive when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. Along with three of his companions, Daniel was trained for service to the king. They grew in wisdom and understanding to such an extent that the king judged them to be ten times better in all matters of wisdom and understanding than all the magicians and astrologers in his realm.

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream

[2] Some three years after Daniel and his companions had been taken into captivity, and their training had been completed, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that troubles him, yet he appears to forget its content. He calls on his wise men to tell him what the dream was and then to interpret it, threatening death if they do not, but great rewards if they do. They naturally say the demand is unreasonable, which angers the king and he orders their execution. As they are numbered amongst the wise, this puts Daniel and his companions in danger, so Daniel approaches the king to ask to be given time to divulge and interpret the dream. Following prayer, Daniel is shown the dream in the night and is able to relate it to the king the next day. It was a dream of an image with a head of fine gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron and feet of part iron and part clay. Then a great stone smashed the image and filled the whole earth. Daniel gives its interpretation, which concerns successive kingdoms, or empires, represented in order from the head to the feet. The first, the head of fine gold, is Nebuchadnezzar’s. This is followed by four others, the fourth of which, represented by the feet, will be a divided kingdom, although strong in part (the iron). The stone that destroys the image is God’s everlasting kingdom. Daniel rightly gives credit to God for the interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar rewards him with gifts and promotes him to rule over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon. At Daniel’s request, his three companions are made his deputies.

‘Four beasts’ and ‘the ram and he-goat.’

[7-8] Belshazzar has succeeded Nebuchadnezzar as king of Babylon. It is during the first year of Belshazzar’s reign that Daniel has a vision of four beasts. The first is like a lion with eagle’s wings, the second like a bear, the third like a leopard with four wings and four heads, and the fourth, so terrible that Daniel is unable to give a name to it, has iron teeth and ten horns. An account is given of the vision, which represents four empires succeeding one another, followed by the annihilation of the dominion of the fourth beast, which is then replaced by the kingdom of God. Daniel is greatly troubled by his vision and its interpretation, which he keeps to himself until his book is written. Two years later Daniel has another vision, this time concerning a ram and a goat. First, the ram appears with two horns having much power, but is struck down by the goat, which initially has one horn, but the one horn is then replaced by four. These four are then replaced by a single horn that has great power and prevails against many countries and stands up against the prince of host (a reference to God), with the sanctuary eventually being defiled and remaining in this condition for 2,300 days. The angel Gabriel is sent to Daniel to give him an understanding of this vision and awakes him from a sleep to interpret it. The ram with its two horns signifies the kings of Media and Persia, the goat the king of Greece, and the great horn Alexander the Great. The four horns are four kingdoms that rise up out of the Grecian empire on the death of Alexander, and the little horn is Antiochus Epiphanes, a fierce king who is described by his craft, cunning, power and might, and by the destruction he will inflict. He is a type of the antichrist who will eventually be crushed by God. Daniel is assured the 2,300 days are true and he is instructed not to repeat the vision to any person other than his own people, because of the length of time before its manifestation. The vision and its interpretation so affect Daniel that he is ill for a few days. When he recovers and relates the vision to some of his own people, none can understand it.

Daniel’s vision of the seventy weeks

[9] Many years later Babylon is invaded by Darius the Mede. During the first year of Darius’ reign, Daniel reads Jeremiah (25:12 and 29:10) and realises the seventy years of Israel’s exile are nearly complete and prays concerning it. During his lengthy prayer, the angel Gabriel comes and gives Daniel a prophecy involving seventy weeks, which are seventy weeks of 360-day years representing Israel’s destiny. Verse 24 gives the scope of the prophecy, seventy weeks. Verse 25 gives the first sixty-nine weeks and is the period between Artaxerxes’ decree to rebuild Jerusalem in 445 B.C. [Neh 2:5–8] and Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem in 32 A.D. [Matt 21:1–9]. Verse 26 speaks of a period of unknown length between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks during which the Messiah is executed, Jerusalem is destroyed and the Diaspora follows. (Today’s times are in this gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week.) Verse 27 speaks of the seventieth week during which there will be a covenant enforced, but it will be interrupted halfway through when sacrifices and oblations will cease and an abomination will desolate the Holy Place [Matt 24:15]. Then the great tribulation will begin [Matt 24:21], which precedes the Messiah’s second coming at the end of the seventieth week.

The ‘silent’ years

[10-11:35] Daniel has a vision of a man told to us in chapter 10. It is the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia, and Daniel has been fasting for three weeks. The man has come to give Daniel a revelation recorded in the next chapter, but first tells of the spiritual battle between those protecting God’s people and those determined to destroy them. The revelation foretells history during the inter-testament period and tells of the struggle for power between the kings north and south of Judea, with Judea stuck in the middle. (A full account is given in the section ‘The “Silent” Years’). The purpose of this prophecy is the climax in 11:31 when armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. They will then set up the abomination that causes desolation. The ‘abomination that causes desolation’ is a pivotal event in eschatology, the end times, and is referred to by Jesus [Matt 24:15].

The end times

[11:36-12:13] The previous verses in chapter 11 deal with prophecy that is already history. From verse 36, although still referring to Antiochus Epiphanes, the prophecy leaps forwards to the ‘end times’ and the coming antichrist. He will exalt himself above all, including God, and will prosper until the indignation (the great tribulation). He will have no regard for anything, whether it be of God or not. A new god will be honoured with those supporting him receiving their reward, including land. At the time of the end, the antichrist will come under attack from the ‘king of the south’ and then the ‘king of the north’. The king of the north continues south through Israel defeating all in his path with only Edom, Moab and Ammon (modern- day Jordan) not being taken. However, when he heads back northwards into Israel, he shall come to his end, and none shall help him. There is now a time of great trouble, such as has never been seen before, from which only the people whose name is found written in the ‘book of life’ will be saved. There will be a resurrection of many, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will turn many to righteousness. Daniel is instructed to close and seal his book until knowledge has been increased. He questions how long it will be to the end of these things. He is told it will be three and a half years, but Daniel doesn’t understand all that is being said to him. He now asks, what shall be the end of these things? Daniel is told, from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away and the abomination that maketh desolation is set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. He is then told, Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days. The book finishes with the words, But go thy way until the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days. Note: The reader is unlikely to get a full understanding of the ‘end times’ from this précis, or from the full text of Daniel alone. It will require a study to achieve this, either from a Bible study group or personal study using commentaries.