Norman Schwarzkopf was a general in the United States Army who served honorably during the Gulf War as the commander of the United States Central Command. Years later, he was invited to address the Corps of Cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point. After talking about military leaders that he had met over the years who were competent people but lacked character, the decorated General said, “To lead in the twenty-first century, to take soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coastguardsmen into battle, you will be required to have both competence and character.”
Schwarzkopf hit the leadership nail squarely on the head, starting with the need for character. Somebody once said that character is who you are when nobody is looking. The problem with that definition is that there is never a time when nobody is looking because God always has eyes on us (2 Chronicles 16:9). Tomas Payne offered a better definition of character when he said, “Reputation is what men and women think of us. Character is what God and angels know of us.”
What does God know about you? What do the angels of heaven understand about you when nobody else is looking? Those are good questions to consider during a study of the book of Daniel, which is our next stop on the ultimate road trip through the Bible. Esteemed by both earth and heaven (9:23, 10:11,19), Daniel was a man of character, competence, and courage.
Character and Competence
Daniel was from a noble family and among the Hebrew “youths without blemish” that King Nebuchadnezzar took captive to Babylon. The king placed Daniel and his three friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—in his royal training program because they were “of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace” (1:4).
Nebuchadnezzar’s goal was to make loyal Babylonians out of the most gifted and talented youths he could find among the Jewish captives. How would he accomplish this? First, he attacked their homeland and stole their articles of worship from the treasury in Jerusalem, placing them in pagan Babylonian temples. Then, Nebuchadnezzar soaked Daniel and his friends in Babylonian culture and gave them an elite Babylonian education.
The king also changed their diet, from kosher Jewish meals to delicious food from the king’s table prepared by the best chefs in Babylon (1:5). Finally, he changed their identity by giving them Babylonian names. The name Daniel means “God is my judge,” but the king’s commander named him Belteshazzar, which means “may Bel protect my life.” Daniel’s three friends also received Babylonian names related to the Babylonian gods.[i]
However, the assault on Daniel’s Jewish religion and culture did not change him. His godly character emerged and set the course for his bright future. “But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself” (1:8). Three cheers for Daniel!
Daniel continued to impress his Babylonian educators. In time, he proved to be a competent administrator and, like Joseph, served in a foreign government for his entire life. Daniel’s life and ministry spanned the entire seventy years of Babylonian captivity and continued after the Medes and the Persians overcame Babylon. He served during the reigns of four kings, of which two were Babylonian (Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar) and two were Persian (Darius and Cyrus).
Profiles in Courageous Faith
The book of Daniel contains profiles of great courage and faith. For example, Daniel’s three friends refused to bow down to the king’s image at the risk of being thrown into the fiery furnace (3:8-30). The king presented them with two choices: bow or burn. The Hebrews chose to place their faith in Yahweh, believing He was able to deliver them from the fiery furnace if that was His will.
Furious, the king heated up the furnace “seven times more than it was usually heated” (3:19) and tossed the three young men into the fire. A fourth man appeared to be walking around with them in the furnace. It was likely an angel of the Lord or a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. Astonished, the king called out to them, and the three friends emerged without a single singed hair or the smell of fire on them. Then, King Nebuchadnezzar promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego because their God had protected them.
With a demonstration of valor, Daniel spoke truth to a shameless but powerful king who invited one thousand of his lords to a drunken fest that rivaled a college fraternity party (5:1-31). When a mysterious hand began writing on the palace wall, the king turned pale and then called upon Daniel to interpret the cryptic message. “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.” What did it mean?
Daniel held nothing back, knowing that Belshazzar could dislike what he said and order his execution. He told the exact meaning to the king’s brazen face. He was found lacking, his days were numbered, and the kingdom would be taken from him. Surprisingly, the king received the interpretation without objection and promoted Daniel to the third rank in the kingdom. That night, Belshazzar was killed according to the prophecy, and Darius the Mede received the kingdom.
After Darius assumed the throne, he appointed one hundred and twenty satraps to help him lead the kingdom, and then he appointed three trusted men to lead the leaders, including Daniel, because of his “excellent spirit” (6:1-3). Daniel was now a senior statesman who had distinguished himself at every stage of his life. However, some grew jealous of Daniel and made plans to accuse him, “but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him” (6:4). Daniel is one of the few people in the Bible with such an exemplary record.
When Daniel’s enemies could find no fault in him, they devised a scheme to accuse him regarding his religion. Knowing that Daniel, who was now an old man, prayed three times a day, they convinced Darius to order anyone who did not petition the king to be thrown into the lion’s den. They entreated the king to make it “according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked” (6:8). When Daniel learned about the law, it did not faze him. He continued his daily prayer ritual by opening his window toward Jerusalem.
Daniel’s defiance of the law that limited his religious freedom led to him being thrown into the lions’ den, which saddened King Darius, who respected Daniel. But miraculously, God shut the lion’s mouths and rescued Daniel, who testified to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm” (6:21-22).
Mysteries of Babylon
While Daniel is a great example of character, competence, and courage, there is much more to him and the Bible book that bears his name. Through Daniel, God gave His people gripping glimpses into the future. [ii] Any study of Bible prophecy must include Daniel’s divine visions, and the mysteries of Babylon contained in the book. Two prophecies are worth discussing in detail. [iii]
In chapter 2, a disturbing dream awakens King Nebuchadnezzar. After the king’s enchanters fail to interpret the dream, God gives Daniel a night vision about the massive statue that appeared in the king’s dream. From head to toe, the statue is made of gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Suddenly, a stone flies toward the statue like a Nolan Ryan fastball and strikes the feet made of iron and clay, crushing the base of the statue. Soon after, the entire statue crashes into a pile of dust, and the wind carries it away “so that no trace of them was found.” No wonder the king could not sleep. Daniel 2:35 says, “But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”
Through the king’s dream, God revealed to Daniel the history of humankind from that time forward—specifically, the beginning and end of Gentile rule on planet earth. The dream envisions the rise and fall of four successive world powers. The gold head represents Babylon (2:36-38); the silver chest and arms picture the Medo-Persian empire (2:39); the bronze belly and thighs point to Greece (2:39); and Rome appears in the iron legs (2:40-43).
Some see the revival of the Roman empire before Christ returns in the statue’s feet and ten toes, which are a mixture of iron and clay. Near the end of the fourth kingdom, another kingdom will arise, the kingdom of God, and destroy all other earthly kingdoms. Jesus Christ is the stone that crushes the statue.[iv] Then, the Lord God of heaven and earth will reign forever.[v]
Another prophecy takes up the least amount of space in the book of Daniel but spans the longest of time, from a king’s decree in the fifth century before Christ to the end of the age. I am talking about the Messianic prediction known as Daniel’s Seventy Weeks found in 9:24-27. In response to Daniel’s “prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (9:3), the angel Gabriel appeared to Daniel and gave him a breathtaking vision of Israel’s future.[vi]
Almost all Bible teachers agree that a prophetic “week” equals seven weeks of years, not days. In other words, this prophecy spans four hundred and ninety years. According to the prophecy, the clock starts ticking when a future king makes a decree that allows the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. From history, we know this happened in when a Persian king named Artaxerxes made the decree.[vii]
The short but detailed prophecy divides four hundred and ninety years into three smaller units of time: forty-nine years, four hundred and thirty-four years, and seven years. The prophecy further divides the final prophetic week of seven years in half. The purpose of the prophecy is to put an end to sin, atone for wickedness, establish righteousness, and anoint the most holy (9:24).
In summary, four hundred and eighty-three years or sixty-nine weeks of the prophecy have already been fulfilled, through the time “the anointed one shall be cut off,” a reference to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. That leaves one more prophetic week or seven years to be fulfilled. Daniel’s seventieth week is known as the future Tribulation, seven tumultuous years on earth following the Rapture of the Church. Presently, we are living in a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth prophetic week, a time known as the Church Age.
The purpose of Bible prophecy is to inspire trust in the sovereignty of God and hope for the future. No book of the Bible does that better than Daniel.
This blog submission is from Route 66: The Ultimate Road Trip Through the Bible, an eBook written by Dr. Ron Jones. Download the complete eBook based on Road Trip 4, the Major Prophets (Isaiah through Daniel) in our Store.
[i] This is the playbook that every tyrant uses when trying to bully people into submission: Instill fear, create chaos, destroy history, attack religious liberty, control the culture, seize education, indoctrinate the youth, initiate government mandates, and reinvent the people’s identity. Does any of this sound familiar?
[ii] Bible critics have taken aim at Daniel’s claim to predictive prophecy. They have tried but failed to date the writing of the book centuries after Daniel lived, and after the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (167 B.C.).
[iii] After an introductory chapter that sets forth Daniel’s exemplary character in historical context, the language switches from Hebrew to Aramaic (2-7) while presenting sweeping prophecies concerning the times of Gentile rule. In chapters 8-12, Daniel returns to his native language to discuss Israel’s future to the end of the age. Through the many prophecies in Daniel, God demonstrates His sovereign rule over the kingdoms of the world, which a prideful Babylonian king learned the hard way (4:28-37).
[iv] In the Bible, Jesus is the stone that the builder’s rejected, the Chief cornerstone, a stumbling stone, and the spiritual rock in the desert (Acts 4:11; Psalm 118:22; Matthew 21:42; Ephesians 2:19-22; Exodus 17; 1 Corinthians 10:4). It is reasonable to assume that He is also pictured in the stone that strikes the foot of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Thus, Christ crushes the Gentile kingdoms of the earth at the end of the age before He sets up His eternal kingdom.
[v] Worth noting is the devolution of human government pictured in the unfolding of the prophecy. From the top of the statue to the bottom, the quality of the metals decreases in value. However, the metals also increase in strength. As we race to the end of the prophetic age, it is not difficult to see how the iron will of authoritarian government will conflict with the clay-like voice of the people who suffer under tyrants and oppressive regimes. Human history gives sad witness to this happening in various times and places. Such oppression will bloom fully under the rule of the Antichrist. Then, Jesus Christ will return to defeat His enemies and establish His earthly kingdom.
[vi] Because Daniel served in the Persian government at least until the third year of King Cyrus (10:1), he likely had some involvement in the decree made to send Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.
[vii] King Artaxerxes made the decree in 445 B.C.