Introduction to the book of Daniel
If you haven’t read How can I trust the Bible?
I thought it would be good to start with an introduction to the book of Daniel if we’re going to be talking about it for a while. I’m going to assume that you’re fairly familiar with the Bible, so I’m not going to go through every detail, only the ones pertinent to our discussion. If you’ve never read the book of Daniel, I’d suggest you do so first, though it’s not a requirement.
I hope you will grab your Bible and go through the verses with me. I’m not going to type them all out, because I really want to encourage you to read through your Bible as well, to have to flip through it and know where the books are.
Who, when and where
The book of Daniel was written by a man named Daniel. We know this because in Daniel 12 in verses 4, 5, and 9, it says this explicitly. As well, Jesus believed the author was Daniel, as he states when quoting him in Matthew 24:15.
So, that covers the who. What about when?
Daniel opens in Chapter 1 verse 1 with our timing “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim…”. Thanks to that line, we can pin down the timeline as well. We know that Daniel was taken to Babylon in 606 BC and lived through to the Medo-Persian kingdom in 538 BC, but not far into it. So, that gives us our time frame for the book of Daniel. This becomes important later on.
And lastly, we know the book was written in Babylon, because that’s where Daniel lived out his life.
The setting of the book of Daniel
The book of Daniel starts with the Babylonian empire subjugating God’s people and leading away all the best and brightest young men to Babylon. Daniel is brought, along with others, to serve the king in Babylon. Babylon has this custom of gathering the best and the brightest from all the kingdoms they dominated. They wanted to be the wisest kingdom, and so, when they conquered another, they took from them their wise men, their seers, astrologers, all the potential for deep thought, because they wanted to leverage that learning, their intelligence.
And so, Daniel is exported like a commodity. Being a young man of learning, he’s marched across the desert and set up in the King’s palace, to offer whatever advice the king may want. The first 11 chapters of the book of Daniel deal with the stories of his life in service to this king, Nebuchadnezzar.
Chapter 12 is a recounting of a prophetic dream, which, unfortunately for Daniel, would not really be understood for many centuries. But, as we’ll see, the entire book of Daniel is prophetic. His trials in the kingdom of Babylon mirror our trials in spiritual Babylon. But we know that Chapter 12 deals entirely with prophecy, specifically dealing with the end-time due to Daniel 12:4, 9 and 13.
Symbolism in prophecy
Throughout prophecy, there are symbols that will need to be interpreted. Luckily the Bible gives us the keys to interpreting them. Here a three that we’ll see over and over again:
- Beast – Beasts are always powers. You could call them kingdoms, empires, countries, nations in most cases. For example in Daniel 7:23 we see Daniel interpreting the King’s dream and explaining that the beasts he saw were kingdoms to come.
- Day – Prophetic days are measured in years in our time. God used this model with Ezekiel and explains it in Ezekiel 4:6. So, if a passage says it’s a day, then it’s a year. If it says it’s week, it’s 7 years. If it says it’s a half a week, it’s 3.5 years. These all come up in prophecy and you’ll see the pattern again and again.
- Water – Water is symbolic of peoples, multitudes, nations or tongues. Unlike a beast, which represents the organized entity, like the government or system, water represents the actual people. We see this explained in Revelation 17:5.
Now, I don’t want you to be confused and think that every time the Bible says a day it’s a year. We’re only talking about prophetic writings here. Jesus walking on water doesn’t mean He was treading on people.
Now, there are other symbols we’ll need to interpret, but we’ll get there. These three are a staple though and come up often, but don’t worry, I’ll remind you.
Prophecy outline and detail
Another thing to be aware of in the Bible is that frequently the Bible writers (I’m assuming at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) will write an outline first, and then come back and fill it in. Take Genesis 1 for example. We see God creating the days, on the 6th day He creates mankind and then rests on the 7th. Then Genesis 2 picks up in the middle of that same week, giving us more detail to day 6, about Adam naming the animals and needing a wife. Moses wrote first the outline of creation, then filled in some of the details later on.
We see this happen a lot in prophecy as well. Daniel 2 gives us a nice summary outline of prophecy, from beginning to end. Then in Daniel 7 we get a detailed look from Daniel’s era up until ours, using different symbols. In Daniel 8 and 9, we get more details on the time of the end. Then, in Daniel 10-12, we see yet more detail and expanding again on the end time.
This happens in Revelation as well, but we’ll go over that when we get there. For now, I just want you to understand the pattern of quickly sketching in an outline, then coming back and filling in the details.
That’s it for our introduction. Next post we’ll go through some of the players in the book of Revelation, and you’ll get a glimpse of the war that’s going on with Daniel as the backdrop.