There’s more to the book of Daniel than the lions’ den (chapter 6) and the blazing
furnace (chapter 3).
It has an unusual background, for a start. It is set not in the Holy Land but in
Babylon—present-day Iraq. The people of Judah had been exiled there, and Daniel’s
ministry spanned the whole period of their stay. He was dragged off into exile as
a teenager in 605 BC and was still there 70 years later when the first batch of Jews
returned to Jerusalem. He spent his whole life in the diplomatic service of the kings
of Babylon and Medo-Persia.
The book that bears his name falls into two halves. Chapters one to six describe
Daniel’s life, while chapters seven to twelve describe his visions. Here we have
two convenient pegs on which to hang our message. His life shows him to be a good
man, and his visions show that he had an eye to God’s plan. We would do well to emulate
him on both counts.
Let’s look at him first as a good man. One of the great things about the Bible is
that it presents its heroes ‘warts and all’. Moses, for instance, the great deliverer
of Israel, messed things up over the water from the rock and so was forbidden to
enter the Promised Land. Abraham, the friend of God, man of faith and prevailer in
prayer, lied more than once about his wife Sarah. David, the giant-slayer, worshipper
and ‘man after God’s own heart’ was also unduly bloodthirsty and committed both adultery
and murder. Peter, the walker on water and confessor of Jesus as the Christ and Son
of God, later denied his Lord and gave in to Jewish legalists.
But of Daniel the Scriptures record nothing negative at all. He was a supremely good
man, his life marked by faith, courage, prayer, consistency and refusal to compromise.
The angel Gabriel called him ‘highly esteemed’, and his contemporary, Ezekiel,
three times mentioned him as an example of righteousness and wisdom. Praise indeed—and
a challenge to you. God wants you, too, to be good, which means actively doing what
is right. Is that a fair description of you?
Goodness is highly practical. It means not fiddling your tax return, not doing your
children’s homework for them and not abusing the social benefits system. It means
being generous, kind, helpful, understanding and self-sacrificial. You will aim to
live in this manner not in order to win ‘brownie points’ with God, who doesn’t operate
that way, but out of gratitude for his love and grace to you in Christ. You will
want to be able to say, as Jesus did, ‘I always do what pleases him.’ How are
you faring at it? Would the people who know you, if asked, describe you as a ‘good’
Too much to ask, you reckon? No. Such goodness lies within your reach because, mercifully,
God doesn’t leave you to achieve it on your own. He himself is right there to help.
Yes, you yourself are to ‘work out your salvation’ in the sense of working at it
and developing it, but you can do so with an expectation of success because ‘it is
God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.’
His Holy Spirit inside you is gradually changing you from the inside out into the
likeness of Jesus who ‘went about doing good’.
So take a leaf from Daniel’s book. Aim to be good like him.
So much for Daniel the good man. Now what about the ‘God’s plan’ bit? Here, clearly,
he was unlike many of us in that, instead of focusing on the narrow field of his
personal life and circumstances, he took a view of life that encompassed the whole
of subsequent history and God’s eternal plan. Maybe that’s why he did so well in
his job and his personal life: because he lived in the light of God’s broader purpose.
We can perhaps see this best in chapter 2 of Daniel. This describes a significant
dream that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had one night and for which God gave Daniel
a detailed interpretation. The king saw a huge statue of a man, with different
sections made of different metals. The head was gold, the chest and arms silver,
the waist and hips bronze, the legs iron, and the feet a mixture of iron and clay.
Then a huge rock rolled onto the statue and smashed it to pieces, after which the
rock itself began to expand until it filled the whole earth.
Strange! But it wasn’t the result of Nebuchadnezzar’s supper-time cheese sandwich;
it was a dream given him by God—who had put Daniel on hand to provide the interpretation.
The head of gold, Daniel explained, was Nebuchadnezzar himself and the great Babylonian
Empire that he ruled and represented. The lower layers would stand for subsequent
empires on the stage of human history. Today, of course, we are in the happy position
of living after all those, so we can look back and name the various stages with some
confidence. The silver section was the Medo-Persian Empire that took over from Babylon
in 539 BC, a vast empire extending from India to Ethiopia over which Esther in due
course became queen. It was one of its kings, Cyrus, who gave the exiled Jews permission
to return to Jerusalem.
Next in the course of history came the Greek Empire, shown by the statue’s belly
and thighs of bronze. It began in 330 BC and grew through the conquests of Alexander
the Great. This was the empire that was active in the period between the Old and
New Testaments. Then came the sections of iron and clay: the Roman Empire, which
began in 63 BC. It was active at the time that Jesus came on the scene and forms
the background to the books of the New Testament. It covered the area round the Mediterranean
Sea and extended to more distant lands like present-day England.
It is at this point that the rock comes into the picture. According to Daniel the
rock represents the kingdom of God—God’s very own ‘empire, we might say—introduced
in the person of Jesus Christ. This was a spiritual empire rather than a political
and military one, and Daniel’s interpretation gives us some keys to understanding
it. He tells us, for instance, that the rock was quarried ‘not by human hands’. In
other words, this kingdom was of divine origin. You, if you are a Christian, are
part of that kingdom, which means that your life is lifted beyond the mundane and
caught up with what God is doing. What a privilege!
Daniel tells us, too, that this kingdom will never end. Gibbon wrote The Decline
And Fall Of The Roman Empire, and in that respect the Roman Empire was like all the
ones before it: it came to an end. But God’s kingdom is here to stay! ‘Nor will it
be left to another people’—it will never be taken over. Companies and corporations
get bought out. Medo-Persians replace Babylonians. But God will never relinquish
control of his kingdom. He remains the CEO forever!
Best of all, according to the dream, God’s kingdom is destined to grow. The rock
that obliterated all the kingdoms before it ‘became a huge mountain and filled the
whole earth’. That’s good news indeed! It gives us hope for the future and confidence
in our evangelism. The gospel is to flourish worldwide before Christ returns and
Christ the King is to be honoured internationally beyond any other. It is especially
important to hold onto this if you live, as I do, in a part of the world where Christianity
has fallen out of favour compared with past generations. Remind yourself that in
many other regions the message of Christ is prospering like never before.
I first preached this message early in 2005 and compiled a few statistics that many
of my listeners found surprising. I informed them, for instance, that in traditionally
Muslim Kazakhstan the number of active Christians had grown from ten in 1990 to over
ten thousand, with 120 churches where previously there had been none. That in Africa
the proportion of Christians had risen from three percent of the population in 1900
to 45 percent. And that in China, despite increasing persecution, some 28,000 people
a day were becoming Christians. Since then the kingdom has grown even more. Yes,
the rock is expanding and is destined to fill the whole earth! This is God’s plan.
Let it inspire you as it inspired Daniel so long ago.
It’s not likely that you will ever gain a name as an international evangelist or
be privileged to stand, as Daniel did, before presidents and kings. More likely you
will pay your rent, raise your kids, go to work, do some gardening, play a part in
your local church and be a pretty ordinary kind of person in every way. Just be sure
that, in the midst of this everyday kind of life—which God himself has called you
to—you are a good person. Be like Daniel at the micro-level, we might say. But never
lose sight of the bigger picture. A small cog you may be, but you are a small cog
in the vast machine that is God’s great eternal purpose for the world, for people
and for history. So be like Daniel at the macro-level, with one eye always on God’s
This is one essay in the Windows On The Word series. Click the Next and Previous
buttons to move through the series, and Up to go to the list. Footnotes appear in
the right-hand column. Hover over Bible references to see the text.
The gist of this article
Scripture has nothing bad to say about Daniel; he was an outstandingly good man.
Another ‘plus’ about him was his grasp of God’s great overall purpose, in the light
of which he lived out his life. You can emulate Daniel on both counts!