The book of Daniel demonstrates the absolute sovereignty of Yahweh over the course of history and nations.
The very first paragraph of the Book of Daniel introduces its key theme: God reigns supreme over the kingdoms of the earth, whether wicked or just. This proposition is presented in explicit statements and demonstrated by the accurate predictions of the prophet Daniel, especially to the rulers of Babylon and Persia – (Genesis 11:1-9, Daniel 2:21-45, 4:17, 5:17-29, 11:1-4).
The book opens by announcing the overthrow of the king of Judah and the removal of the golden vessels from the Temple to the “land of Shinar”:
- (Daniel 1:1-2) – “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem, and laid siege against it; and the Lord gave into his hand Jehoiakim king of Judah, and a part of the vessels of the house of God, and he brought them into the land of Shinar, into the house of his gods, and the vessels brought he into the treasure-house of his gods.”
In the Hebrew text, “house” is repeated three times, and “his god” twice for emphasis. The name ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ includes the name of the Mesopotamian god Nabu, the deity associated with literature, learning, and wisdom. From a human perspective, the pagan gods of Babylon had triumphed over the God of Israel – (Isaiah 46:1).
“Shinar” is the ancient name of Mesopotamia, and the site of the Tower of Babel. In Genesis, men spoke a single language and attempted to unite under one political order. Yahweh thwarted them by confounding their language and scattering the resultant disparate groups across the earth – (Genesis 11:1-9).
Nebuchadnezzar, the new “king of Babel,” was reversing the earlier decree of Yahweh against “Babel” by seizing His “house,” gathering the scattered nations to “Shinar,” and imposing the language of Babylon on one and all. Israel’s tribute to Babel included many high-ranking Jewish exiles sent there for education in its wisdom, language, and laws, so they could serve the empire.
The victory of Babylon was a national catastrophe for the Jewish nation. Effectively, it lost its independence, and a few years later, the kingdom itself and the dynastic rule of the house of David were destroyed. Yet Daniel declared that it was “the Lord” who gave all this into the hands of the pagan ruler and enemy of Israel, the “king of Babylon.”
The Hebrew verb rendered “gave” is applied repeatedly in the first chapter of Daniel. In verse 9, God gave Daniel “favor and sympathy with the prince of the eunuchs,” and in verse 17, He gave him and his Jewish companions “knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom.” Furthermore, Daniel was “given” understanding in “all visions and dreams.”
Nebuchadnezzar put Daniel and his friends to the test and “found them ten times better than all the scribes and enchanters that were in his realm” – Therefore, they were promoted to serve the king in his court. Despite the disaster that had befallen Israel, subsequently, Yahweh used the exiles from Jerusalem to direct the course of history.
In the “second year of Nebuchadnezzar,” the king dreamed a dream that troubled him, therefore, he commanded the wise men of his court to reveal the contents AND the meaning of his dream. Naturally, that they were unable to do:
- “There is not a man upon the earth who can declare the matter of the king…there is none who can declare it before the king except the gods whose dwelling is not with flesh” – (Daniel 2:1-12).
Enraged, he ordered the destruction of all the wise men of Babylon. Before that command could be executed, Daniel requested an audience before the king to make the dream and its interpretation known to Nebuchadnezzar. Next, he prayed for the revelation of “this mystery.” Yahweh responded in a night vision and revealed the dream to Daniel, who then praised Him for it:
- (Daniel 2:13-23) – “Who changes times and seasons, REMOVES KINGS AND SETS UP KINGS… He is the One Who reveals the deep and hidden things…for the matter of the king have you made known to us.”
When Daniel revealed the king’s dream and its interpretation, God showed Nebuchadnezzar “what things must come to pass in latter days.” In his dream, the king saw a large image with a golden head, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, and legs of iron. Its feet were partly of iron and partly of clay. Next, he saw a stone “cut out without hands” that struck the image on its feet and broke it into pieces, until it was blown away by the wind “like the chaff.” Then, the stone became a “great mountain and filled the whole earth.”
The golden head represented Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler to whom God gave the “kingdom,” singular. The silver breast symbolized an inferior kingdom that would succeed him, likewise, the brass belly and thighs would “rule over all the earth,” and each in its turn.
The stone carved “without hands” represented the final kingdom established by God, one that would “break in pieces and consume all” the preceding realms. In this, “God had shown the king what things must come to pass after these things.”
In response, the king prostrated himself before Daniel, gave him gifts, and exalted him to govern the province of Babylon. He declared Daniel’s God to be “a God of gods, Lord of kings and revealer of mysteries.” Thus, the mighty pagan king acknowledged Yahweh as sovereign over the kingdoms of the earth – (Daniel 2:46-49).
The God of Israel had revealed the future of the World-Power. He is the one Who “sets up and removes” rulers to achieve His purpose. Through Daniel, Yahweh presented the future course of empires until the final overthrow of the World-Power and its replacement by the kingdom of God. The rise and fall of political powers are under the firm control of the God of Daniel.
The story in chapter 3 is the sequel to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which he attempted to implement by “making an image of gold,” measuring six cubits wide and sixty cubits high. However, in his version, the entire image was covered in gold, not just its head. He intended to glorify his achievements and to declare to one and all that his kingdom was an everlasting realm.
At his command, all the “satraps, nobles, pashas, chief judges, treasurers, judges, lawyers, and all provincial governors were assembled to the dedication of the image… and they stood before it.” All were to “render homage to the image that the king had SET UP.” Any man who refused to do so, was cast immediately into the “fiery furnace” – (Daniel 3:1-6).
The great golden image represented the absolute sovereignty of the Babylonian king over all the “peoples, races and tongues” of the earth. Presumptuously, he demanded that all venerate the image which he had “SET UP.” The Aramaic verb rendered “set up” is the same one used in chapter 2 for the God who “sets up” kings, who “set up” the image with the golden head, and who “set up” His everlasting kingdom – (Daniel 2:21-44).
In chapter 3, nine times the text declares that Nebuchadnezzar “SET UP” his image, a deliberate contrast to the prerogatives attributed to Yahweh. Thus, the pagan ruler claimed authority and allegiance that belonged to God alone – (Daniel 3:1-18).
When Nebuchadnezzar heard that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had “refused” to render homage to his great image, he gave them a stark choice – Give allegiance to the image or suffer a fiery death. After all, “Who is the god that shall deliver you out of my hand?” Then they were cast into the “fiery furnace” but miraculously survived – (Daniel 3:20-25).
Awestruck, the king summoned the three men to exit the furnace and addressed them as the “servants of the Most-High God.” Because they had survived unscathed, he “blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego,” the same God who had “changed the king’s word” by delivering His “servants who trusted in Him.” Consequently, Nebuchadnezzar issued a decree to “all peoples, nations and tongues” that anyone who spoke disparagingly of this God would be cut in pieces, “for there is no other god who is able thus to deliver.”
As in chapter 2, the praise and acknowledgment of Yahweh were found on the lips of the powerful pagan king, and once again, the ruler of the World-Power acknowledged the sovereignty of God and the universal extent of His realm.
Chapter 4 begins and ends with Nebuchadnezzar, the sole ruler of the World-Power, acknowledging the sovereignty of Yahweh over history. Eight times the term “earth” occurs, usually linked with Babylonian sovereignty over it. In contrast, “heaven” occurs sixteen times in reference to the vastly superior sovereignty of Yahweh. And once again, the king must learn that God alone rules the course of history.
Nebuchadnezzar had another dream that caused him anxiety. Again, he summoned the wise men of Babylon to interpret it. And as before, only Daniel could do so. In it, a large tree at the center of the earth grew until its height reached the “heavens” and it was visible from the extremities of the earth. The animals of the earth were fed by it, and the birds of the air sheltered in its branches – (Daniel 4:4-18).
The king saw a “holy watcher” descend from heaven who commanded the complete removal of the tree so that nothing remained visible. It was then “cut down,” its branches “lopped off,” its leaves “stripped,” and its fruit “scattered across the earth.” Only the “tip of its root” remained in the earth.
The king’s heart was changed from that of a human to that of a beast, until “seven times passed over him.” He became a pitiful tethered animal dependent on others for care. In this way, all “the living would know that the Most-High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever he will, and sets up over it the lowest of men.”
Daniel interpreted the dream, and once more, thereby, the servant of Yahweh exercised sovereignty over the king of Babylon. God gave true sovereignty to the “lowest of men,” in this case, to Daniel. The mighty king of Babylon had become little more than a pawn in the larger drama.
The tree represented Nebuchadnezzar, whose “greatness and dominion extended to the end of the earth.” The command to cut it down was the “decree of the Most-High.” Men drove the king out of society to live among wild animals for “seven seasons,” until he learned that “the Most-High gives the kingdom of men to whomever he pleases”; afterward, his kingdom was restored. After his restoration, just as the dream foretold, Nebuchadnezzar declared:
- “Blessed is the Most-High who lives forever! I praise and honor the One whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. Before Him, all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and according to his own pleasure, He deals with the Host of Heaven and the inhabitants of the earth.”
History remembers Nebuchadnezzar as a great builder of magnificent buildings and a successful conqueror who established an empire from the Persian Gulf to the gates of Egypt. Scripture remembers him as a tool employed by Yahweh to achieve His ends, despite the plans and whims of the pagan ruler.
In Scripture, “Babylon” symbolizes the World-Power set in its hostility to God. Chapter 4 provides an object lesson in the hollowness of the boasts of empires, emperors, tyrants, and kings. God alone installs and removes rulers and regimes as He sees fit.
Chapter 5 opens on the last evening of the final ruler of Babylon, Belshazzar. On that fateful night, Belshazzar hosted a feast where he and his retinue drank wine from the vessels removed by Nebuchadnezzar from Jerusalem, all while “praising the gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone.” In that same hour, a hand began to “write over against the lamp-stand upon the plaster of the wall.” Disturbed by the sight, Belshazzar summoned the enchanters, soothsayers, and the “wise men of Babylon” to interpret the writing. As with the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, none of them could interpret the writing.
Daniel was summoned. Belshazzar offered him rewards if he could interpret the sign. In response, he retorted that he would interpret it regardless of any gifts from the king. Daniel reminded him how Nebuchadnezzar had received the “kingdom, greatness, glory and majesty” from the Most-High God, and authority over “all peoples, nations, and tongues.” Nevertheless, when that king’s heart “was lifted up,” he was deposed, deprived of his glory, and driven from the sons of men, “until he came to know that the Most-High God rules over the kingdom of men and sets up over it whomever he pleases.”
In contrast, Belshazzar had not humbled his heart, “though he knew all this.” Instead, he exalted himself against the “Lord of heaven” by profaning the vessels of the Temple. Rather than honor the Most-High God, he had praised false gods and idols, “that neither see nor hear nor know.”
The supernatural writing read, ‘Mene, Mene Tekel Upharsin.’ Mene is the equivalent of the Hebrew “talent,” tekel equates to the Jewish shekel, and peres to the “half-pieces” or the “half-mina.” The last term is a wordplay on the name “Persia,” the power about to overthrow Babylon, and on the Aramaic verb for “divide” – (from the consonantal stem p-r-s). The terms signified that:
- “God has numbered your kingdom and brought it to an end” – (mene).
- “You are weighed in the balances and found wanting” – (tekel).
- “Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians” – (peres).
Once more, the sovereignty of Yahweh was on full display as the World-Power was transferred from Babylon to the kingdom of the “Medes and Persians.”
Despite this dark prediction, Belshazzar ordered Daniel proclaimed the “third ruler in the kingdom.” However, that very night, the “Medes and Persians” captured the city and slew Belshazzar. One World-Power fell – The next one arrived on the world scene. Through the words of the Jewish captive, Yahweh had deposed one mighty empire and “set up” another of even greater magnitude.
In chapter 6, the governor of the World-Power appointed Daniel first among three ministers of state; however, certain officials sought to discredit him. Unable to find fault with his performance, they fabricated a charge of disloyalty based on his religious practices. A new law was devised that forbade anyone from petitioning any “god or man for thirty days,” except Darius, which was written into the “law of the Medes and Persians.” According to Persian tradition, once written, the law could not be altered by anyone, not even the king. Thus, the trap was set.
Daniel’s accusers “found him making petition before his God,” and then informed the king. This distressed Darius, who valued the services of Daniel, so he determined to save him. Despite his vast power, he was only able to postpone his execution until sunset, being constrained by the “law of the Medes and Persians.”
The Prophet was thrown to the lions. The king passed the night anxiously, rising early the next day to see if Daniel had survived the night – “Is the God whom you serve able to deliver you from the lions?” Indeed, he was alive. God’s angel had shut the lions’ mouths, so they could do him no harm. He was found “blameless” before God and Darius. He was removed from the pit and his accusers were cast in instead, where they died an immediate and horrible death.
Darius then issued a decree to “all the peoples, nations, and tongues that dwell in all the earth” – All men ought to fear and revere the “God of Daniel…kingdom shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end.” Consequently, Daniel prospered under the reigns of Darius and Cyrus – (Daniel 6:25-28).
Darius had altered the unalterable Persian law due to Yahweh’s intervention. The plot to exploit the law of the “Medes and Persians” for evil instead caused the demise of the very men who plotted to destroy Daniel. The first edict compelled all men to petition no one other than the king, but God had caused the ruler to command his subjects to acknowledge His everlasting sovereignty.
Thus, the first half of Daniel demonstrates the absolute sovereignty of Yahweh over the course of history. The plans, intentions, and dictates of even the most powerful rulers cannot thwart His purposes.
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