January 23, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy VI: Daniel - Historical Background & Context

Dan the Man

The Book of Daniel tells the story of a young Hebrew taken from Jerusalem in the days of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar circa 605-562 B.C. The primary theme of his life is of faithfulness to his God and the Covenant with his God in light of hardships lived in exile. No matter what Daniel stays true to God and as such is an anchor of hope and encouragement to those around him and to us today. In this manner Daniel was very much like Joseph or a kind of typology that inevitably points to Jesus Christ. Both rose to prominence in a foreign court through unorthodox means that are clearly attributed to God's sovereignty; both were blessed with insight into the future purposes of God in history through dream and/or visions. Different somewhat from Joseph though is Daniel is told mostly in the 3rd person and the portion that does this contains a series of extraordinary visions and its presented in autobiographical fashion.

The Book of Daniel is placed after the Prophets in the Canon but ironically it was probably Daniel who was sent in the first wave of exiles to Babylon. Interestingly in the Book of Daniel, Daniel himself is never referred to as a prophet. He is given this title posthumously by Jesus in Matt. 24:15 (which is good enough for me :). The book of Daniel has a title name in Hebrew that could either mean, “God is my judge” or “God is judging." This would suggest Daniel is one of the chief characters in the book (after God Himself working through Daniel and kings) but it was customary, not always consistent though, in Hebraic literature to affix the name of the author to the book he wrote. Daniel’s contemporaries who included Ezekiel attributed righteousness and wisdom among his attributes (Ez14:14, 20; 28:3). Daniel of a royal family and was of the nobility of Judea (Dan. 1:3,6 this is why he was taken in the first wave of exiles as the first wave primarily contained royalty, leaders and/or VIPs. He was most likely good-looking and a quick study (Daniel 1:4). At the time of his captivity he would've been in his mid-teens. At the time of the lions den 80 years of age (so much for all those bogus paintings of him in the prime of his youth...people need to learn how to read). He was approximately 85 at his death.

Daniel the Book

The Book of Daniel is prophetic and is the first great book of apocalyptic literature in the Hebrew Bible. Within its characteristics is: (1) The one who received God’s truth in visions records what they saw. (2) extensive use of figurative language, i.e., symbols or signs, (3) gives revelation concerning God’s program for the future of His people, (4) apocalyptic prose was used rather than the poetic style which was rather common in most prophetic literature. The Book of Daniel is written it two different languages. It is written Aramaic (Daniel 2:46-7:28) and the remainder is in Hebrew. Hebrew was the language of God's People and Aramaic was the common or spoken language of Daniel’s day. The two primary overarching themes of Daniel are:

(1) God’s plan for the Gentiles: Therefore we see the purpose of using Aramaic, the language of the Gentiles that surround Daniel.

(2) The nation of Israel and the influence or effect of the Gentiles on Israel: Therefore we see the purpose of using Hebrew, the language of God's people.

Also, Chapters 1-6 record historical events in Daniel’s lifetime and Chapters 7-12 record the extraordinary prophetic visions given to Daniel. Although many Liberal Theologians and scholars see a lack of unity in Daniel due to language and themes, the unity of Daniel is supported by noting the combination and dependence of two major divisions in the book: The unveiling/revealing in chapter 2 parallels intricately with the revelation in chapter 7. Additionally we see the same Hebrew expressions and euphemisms in chapters 7 and later that we see previous to chapter 7. Read it closely and you will see what I mean.

Historical Context of Daniel

In Daniel we see Nineveh, the Assyrian capital fell to the forces of Babylon and Media in 612B.C. Although some Assyrians fled westward to Haran to establish the Assyrian Empire. In 611B.C. Nabopolassar, the king of Babylon attacked Haran – in 610B.C., allied with Media, they defeated the Assyrians in Haran who fled again westward beyond the Euphrates. In 609B.C. the Assyrians aligned Egypt to fight against the Babylonians. King Josiah of Judea sought to prevent the Egyptian & Assyrian alliance died at Megiddo against the Egyptians (2Kings 23:28-30; 2 Chron. 35:24). Pharaoh then allied with Assyrians in their assault against the Babylonians at Haran unsuccessfully.

Assyria was left in ruins but the Egyptians continued their conflict with Babylon. In 605BC at the Battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar soundly trounced them and while in pursuit of their retreat he expanded his empire southward into Syria and Palestine. After the death of his father, Nebuchadnezzar returned home to become king in 605B.C. Later the same year he returned and attacked Jerusalem. It is at this point that he took Daniel (young intellectuals), royal family members and nobility (where the head leads the body follows theory).Jehoiachin spurred a rebellion and it is decisively squashed Nebuchadnezzar. Jerusalem is essentially enslaved at this point and it is now that we see the likes of Ezekiel also taken to Babylon into captivity (Ezekiel 1:1-3; 2 Kings 24:8-20). It is then due to further recalcitrance on Jerusalem’s behalf that in 588B.C. Nebuchadnezzar marches on Jerusalem, sieges it and annihilates the city thereby leveling the First Temple in the process-hence the need for the prophet Jeremiah’s Lamentations. Nebuchadnezzar reigned for 43 years until 562 B.C. It is then in 539B.C. Cyrus overthrows Babylon and established the Medo-Persian Empire. In 538B.C. Cyrus issued an edict allowing the Jews to go home to Judea & Jerusalem (2Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4).

Some Jewish exiles opt to return to their land and began to rebuild the temple. Some actually chose to stay behind because they had grown accustomed to Babylon and were comfortable with their situation. I have to believe that this was the less devout option on the table at the time. This kept in sync with Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9:4-19.

The temple was completed in 515B.C. (Ezra 6:15). At this point approximately 70 years have passed from the time of the first conquest of Jerusalem and Daniel’s exile (605 B.C.) until the Jews returned and rebuilt the temple foundation in 536B.C.

Therefore...Jeremiah’s prophecy in Jeremiah 25:11-12 was deadly accurate.

“This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.“But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever."

Babylonians per se never do rise from the dust of history like Israel does over and over.

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