The book of Daniel is filled with several familiar scenes: the lion’s den, the fiery furnace, and the hand writing on the wall. But do we understand the main point of the book of Daniel? Perhaps no other book of the Old Testament is more explicit about the coming Messiah and the role of God and his people in the world. Here are a few thoughts on the book.
Being an Exile
Can you imagine a foreign empire attacking your city, arresting many of the city’s people, and then deporting them to a far away place? That’s what happened in Jerusalem. Babylonian troops marched into the city and humiliated the Jews. They chained up many people and took them off to be slaves. Many of these captives were very young, including Daniel and his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
The goal of the Babylonians was to convert young men like Daniel into Babylonians. They wanted these men to talk, dress, eat, worship, and think like Babylonians. They wanted them to forget about their homeland and their people, and give their loyalty to Babylon and her king, Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel and his friends would serve their captors diligently, but they would not be converted. They would remain Jews, loyal to the God of heaven throughout the days of their exile.
The stories about Daniel and his friends gave the Jews a model of exactly how they should behave while living under an oppressive foreign government. Like Esther and Mordecai, these young men lived according to the exile ethic.
- They worked hard, serving their captors without sedition or rebellion.
- They were above reproach; even their worst enemies struggled to find fault with them.
- They were respectful and submissive to the rulers over them.
- However, their true loyalty was to God and they would often disobey the laws of Babylon or Persia in order to be loyal to their covenant with God.
- They accepted the penalty for their disobedience, even if it was death, because they trusted in God’s power to save.
The first six chapters are different examples when this exile ethic was lived out by Daniel and his friends and how every single time, God delivered them. That is a major theme of this book, God delivers those who humbly trust in him.
God is in Charge
Daniel served multiple rulers of Babylon. Then Babylon fell to the Medes and the Persians and Daniel served multiple Medo-Persian rulers. He saw kings at the height of their glory and power, but also humbled and brought to their knees. In the visions he experienced, Daniel saw even more kingdoms and rulers rise and fall. In symbolic images, he saw the rise of rulers like Alexander the Great, Antiochus Epiphanes, and the Roman emperors. He knew they would do great and terrible things on the earth.
But the most important part of everything Daniel witnessed was that the God of his forefathers, the God of heaven, was in charge of it all. Every beastly Empire would have to answer to God. God allowed them to rise and serve his purposes, but then he would bring them all to account. Every evil deed, every injustice, every drop of blood spilled would be brought before the throne of the Ancient of Days and he would judge righteously.
This truth, that God is in charge of kings and kingdoms, would be of great comfort to a people living under oppressive regimes for hundreds and hundreds of years to come.
The Messiah’s Kingdom
God showed Daniel a secret, a promise that he would eventually send a King to establish a kingdom that would last forever. A kingdom that would never fall. This kingdom would start small, but eventually it would fill the whole earth. This kingdom would smash to pieces all the other kingdoms of the earth and it alone would stand forever with the Son of Man as its King.
Even the faithful who died would not miss out on this coming kingdom, they will be raised from the dead and shine like stars. You can hear, I’m sure, how Jesus borrowed the words we find in the last chapter of Daniel, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Daniel and those like him, exiled and dispersed throughout the world, would have to be faithful and patient, waiting for God’s coming deliverance. But just as God delivered his people from Egypt, he would deliver this exiled people. He would forgive their sins, establish his Messiah’s kingdom, judge every kingdom of the earth, raise the dead, and be with his people forever.
Living As Exiles Today
Though the Messiah has come and has finished his atoning work and his rule has been established, we continue to live as exiles, aliens, and sojourners in the kingdoms of men. We must continue to wait and be faithful. We must continue to strive to live our lives above reproach. We must not fear death. We must give our allegiance only to our King and his kingdom and pray, “Lord, come quickly.”
I love you and God loves you,