Introduction to the Book of Daniel
and Study of Daniel 1-3
September 10th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Daniel (Overview)

The book of Daniel overlaps in time periods with the ministry period of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Daniel's story begins about 605 B.C. when he is brought to Babylon as one of the exiles from Jerusalem. His story ends in 536 B.C. after the first exiles return to Jerusalem. The first six chapters contain historical accounts of Daniel and his contemporaries, while the remaining six chapters describe a series of astounding visions.

In contrast to the previous prophetic books, this one reads more like a story or historical account – but nevertheless has prophetic themes, particularly in the second part. In the first part of the book we see a recurrent theme of persistent obedience by Daniel and some of his peers, who survive a number of seemingly hopeless situations. Meanwhile, the great kings of Babylon are checkmated and replaced while God demonstrates his full and eternal authority over events on earth.

In his Bible Translation titled, The Message, Gordon Peterson points out the correlation between the life of Daniel and our lives in the 21st century:

    The six soul-survival stories (in Daniel) nourish a commitment to integrity and perseverance right now. Very few of us live in settings congenial to God-loyalty and among people who affirm a costly discipleship. Hardly a day goes by that we do not have to choose between compliance to what is expedient and loyalty to our Lord. The stories keep us alert to what is at stake day by day, hour by hour.

    - Gordon Peterson (1).

As we read Daniel, let us try to imagine how the challenges faced by the exiles in Babylon are similar to ours and be inspired by their faith and courage. Our study of Daniel will be divided into four sections over four days, as shown below:

    Daniel 1-3 (A Judean Exile in King Nebuchadnezzar's Court) - September 10th
    Daniel 4-6 (Handwriting on the Wall, Lions in the Den) - September 11th
    Daniel 7-9 (Daniel's Visions) - September 12th
    Daniel 10-12 (A Complex Vision) - September 13th

References used in this study include:

  • Baldwin, Joyce G, Daniel, an Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England, Downers Grove, IL (USA), 1978
  • Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984
  • Davis, Chuck, "The Book of Daniel," a series of lectures at the Noroton Presbyterian/Macedonia Baptist Men's Retreat, West Cornwall, CT, September 7-8, 2012
  • Fee, Gordon D., Stuart Douglas, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002
  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993
  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)
  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)
  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005
  • Towner, W. Sibley, Daniel, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, John Knox Press, Atlanta, GA, 1984

Daniel 1-3 (A Judean Exile in King Nebuchadnezzar’s Court)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants that trusted in him; they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God."

Daniel 3:95 (MSG)

Summary of Chapters

This first group of chapters includes themes of faith, loyalty, and divine intervention.

The first chapter sets the stage with a time reference and an explanation of the establishment of Daniel in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. This chapter recounts that King Jehoiakim and his nobles were taken from Jerusalem into exile in Babylon in the third year of his reign (approximately 605 B.C.). King Nebuchadnezzar hand-selected some of these nobles for special training in his court. The trainees included Daniel and three of his contemporaries, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaniah. This foursome was given the Babylonian names of Belshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

The first recorded test of faith in these new roles was Daniel’s refusal to eat the King’s food, which he claimed to be defiled. Daniel and his colleagues were then granted an exemption because “God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy (Dan 1:9 - NIV).”

The second chapter tells a story that is crafted with a wonderful sense of drama. The king had a dream that he wanted interpreted, but none of his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, or fortunetellers were able to do it. As if the interpretation by itself was not hard enough, the king had set the bar high by refusing to tell anyone the contents of the dream! Undeterred, Daniel offered to provide an interpretation, but first went home and asked his friends to pray to God for mercy. God revealed the answer to Daniel in a vision and he relayed it to the king, but was careful to give all the credit to God. As a result, Daniel was given an assignment to a high office and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were also given positions of power.

Chapter 3 describes a scene in which a conflict emerged when the trio refused to bow down to a large statue of Nebuchadnezzar because doing so would break the first two commandments. The king provided them a chance to repent, but they refused:

    Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, “Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”

    - Daniel 3:16-18 (MSG)

As a consequence, they were sentenced to be thrown into a “blazing furnace.” The men who threw them in the furnace died from the fire and heat, but the three men who had been sentenced could be seen walking around in the furnace with a fourth man, who looked "like a son of the gods (Dan 3:25b - NIV)." Nebuchadnezzar commanded Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to walk out and then he gave homage to their God who saved them. Nebuchadnezzar declared that anyone who speaks badly about this God should be severely punished. He also promoted these three men to higher positions.

Reflection and Application

Daniel demonstrated loyalty to God by refusing the food that was offered to him. It’s not clear how Daniel perceived the food to be defiled any more than the vegetables that they ate in place of the king’s meals. Certainly, some of the meals would have included pork or other forbidden foods, but not all meals would. Perhaps he just wanted to distance himself from the king by refusing to accept this generous meal plan. As much as they might have liked to have satisfied their carnivorous cravings, these four loyal servants put their servitude to God above their relationship twith the king of Babylon.

We may come upon situations where we have a choice of a luxurious item in place of something of lesser value. If it serves God, we can think of Daniel and his friends as inspiration to help us turn down certain luxuries.

God intervenes in many ways during these first three chapters: He causes one official to favor Daniel to allow them an exemption from the king’s meals. Then he shares with Daniel the dream of the king and its meaning, and finally, he saves three faithful men from the fiery furnace. Which of these is more amazing? Which of these might he do today? All of them seem equally amazing as they are all beyond human capability. God could do any of these right now, if he chooses to.

When brought before the king prior to receiving their punishment, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego said they do not need to defend themselves. In a lecture series on Daniel, the Rev. Chuck Davis noted that Daniel 3:16-18 records "one of the greatest responses to temptation in all of scripture (2)." The three exiles were confident that God could save them, but were also willing to accept death if that was God’s will.

We can identify similarly brave people in our lifetimes and in recent history. One example is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who was one of the few Christians to stand up to the Nazi regime in defense of the Jews. He was imprisoned and then executed just before the end of the war, but never wavered in his cause and his faith. The camp doctor in Bonhoeffer's final prison recorded the last moments of this brave martyr's life:

    I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout, and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.

    - Dr. H Fischer-Hullstrung (3)

Why did God intervene to save Meshach & Company but not Bonhoeffer? It was not God’s will to save Bonhoeffer, but he accepted his fate with the same faith as the three men in Daniel.

Other examples of those willing to face the fire in service to God and man include the rescue workers who went up the stairs of the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001 when the building was full of flames and everyone else was coming down the stairs. There were accounts of some of those men who miraculously survived - rescued from the rubble of the fallen building. But most of those who had gone up those stairs on that tragic day ended up making the ultimate sacrifice, unconcerned with their own safety, but dedicated to fulfilling their duty.

The rest of us may not be called upon to perform similar acts of heroics, but we may be asked to complete smaller tasks of steadfastness, standing up for what we believe is right and defending the rights of those who cannot defend themselves. These are among the laws given by God to us in the Old Testament which he expects us to continue to obey in our modern times. We may suffer because we take a stance, but it is suffering for God and is in response to a reward that we have already received.

In honor of all of those willing to sacrifice their lives for others, we recommend to you Bruce Springsteen's tribute to the brave fireman who went in when everyone was running out, "Into the Fire." Click below for a recording of a live performance:

    May your strength give us strength
    May your faith give us faith
    May your hope give us hope
    May your love give us love

    -Bruce Springsteen

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What experiences have you had with a vegetarian diet or friends or families who are vegetarians?
    2. What luxuries could we give up today in honor of God?
    3. Do you believe God intervenes to save some people from danger (like Meshach), but not others? How would you explain your position to a friend or family member?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven we know you are the only one worthy of worship. Help us to have the loyal faith of Daniel and his friends

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Firefighters and other First Responders


    (1) Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005, p. 1201
    (2) Davis, Chuck, "The Book of Daniel," a series of lectures at the Noroton Presbyterian/Macedonia Baptist Men's Retreat, West Cornwall, CT, September 7-8, 2012
    (3) Metaxas, Eric, Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy , Thomas Nelson Publishers, New York, 2010, p.532

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Daniel 4-6 (Handwriting on the Wall and Lions in the Den)

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