Daniel as a Bible Student 

 

Reading through Daniel it is evident that we are being invited to try to enter into his character. Our fascination with the prophecies can result in us failing to realize that a lot of information is being given about his character. Daniel as a Bible student always seems to me to be portrayed as actually  part of the prophecies he gave; he was no fax machine just relaying God's words. He seems to be presented as representative of all those of later times who would hear the word of prophecy. It is for this reason that we are given so much insight into his character. For example, Daniel's spirit of " How long...?" is so exactly reflective of the attitude of all God's children down the years that it is hard to deny that Daniel is being framed as the representative of all the saints. Indeed, these very words are quoted in Rev. 6:10 concerning the attitude of the slain saints of the last days. Daniel's representative role is most clearly shown in the figurative death, resurrection and judgment which he receives in Dan. 10. In this Daniel is acting out the experience of each of the approved. His refusal to obey the command to worship Babylon's King is alluded to in Rev. 13:5; 14:9, which prophesy how the saints of the last days will be tested just as Daniel was, with a like miraculous deliverance. Thus Daniel seems to especially symbolize the latter day believers. The comforting " Fear not Daniel" (Dan. 10:12,19) slots in to many other instances of Angels saying these words to frightened men. This makes it appropriate to speculate that the latter day believers will hear the same words from the Angel who comes to gather them (and cp. Is. 35:4, which gives the same " fear not" message to the generation which sees the second coming). Again, Daniel's relationship with the Angel appears to be representative of that enjoyed by all the saints. 

Gritting Teeth

So there seems little doubt that Daniel as a Bible student   is representative of us. And yet this makes the following observation hard to come to terms with: Daniel is without doubt portrayed as depressed, at odds with his surrounding world, earnestly desiring an understanding and relationship with God which seemed denied him, desperately lonely, disappointed that he was not seeing God's purpose reaching its climax. The New Testament message of joy, hope and peace must be balanced against the typology of Daniel. It seems that our Christian thinking and perception goes in cycles; we started in the nineteenth century with the grim, hard almost Puritan attitude of British Protestantism; now we seem to have gone the other way, towards a view of God and Christian life that focuses solely on positive experience. It may be significant that both these attitudes are related to those seen in the contemporary religious world. I'm not suggesting that we swing back to the nineteenth century; instead, what we need is a truly balanced approach. 

Yet in Daniel as a Bible student we see not only the grim gritting of teeth of the true servant of Yahweh; we sense (rather than learn explicitly) his exaltation of spirit at the prophecies of the Kingdom. This balance of attitude is brought out by a series of allusions to Daniel which show him to be representative of all  those in Christ: 

1 Peter 1 (re. the saints)

Daniel

" An inheritance...reserved...for you" (v.4)

" Thou shalt... stand in thy lot (inheritance) at the end of the days" (12:13)

In heaviness of spirit (v.6)

Daniel's heaviness of spirit

" The proof of your faith...is proved by fire...unto praise and honour and glory" (v.7 RV)

The experience of Daniel's friends

Daniel praised, honoured and glorified (2:6 cp. 4:37)

" Whom having not seen ye love...now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice" (v.8)

The spirit of Daniel?

" Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls" (v.9)

Cp. Daniel's assurance of salvation (12:13)

" The prophets have enquired  and searched  diligently...searching  what manner of time the spirit...did signify" (v.10,11)

Peter was certainly writing here with his eye on Daniel's enquiring and diligent searching " what manner of time" his prophecies referred to (8:15,27; 9:2; 12:8)

" Unto whom it was revealed (in response to their enquiries) that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister...

which things the Angels desire to look into" (v.12)

This is definitely alluding to Dan. 12:4, where Daniel is told that he cannot understand his own prophecies, but they will be understood by latter day believers to whom they will be relevant.

Angelic interest in prophecy is mainly demonstrated in Daniel.

Enthusiasm For Prophecy

There is an impressive intensity in Daniel's desire to understand the prophetic word. By all means this needs to be contrasted with our latter day community growing sadly indifferent to the study of latter day prophecy. That prophecy is difficult to interpret and apparently confusing should inspire us to study it more rather than de-motivate us; Daniel as a Bible student was in an even worse expositional dilemma than we are, and yet this very dilemma inspired him even more to want to understand. We need to really soberly consider the force of the descriptions of Daniel's yearning to understand: " My thoughts much troubled me, and my countenance was changed in me: but (i.e. despite the trouble it gave) I kept the matter in my heart" (7:28). This suggests that it would have been easy to allow his inner turmoil to be visibly expressed in his appearance; but he kept the intellectual pain within him. Such deep pain  at not being able to fully understand the word of prophecy needs to be contrasted with our easy indifference to finding prophecy a closed book. " I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me" (Dan. 7:15) expresses the deep physiological effects of Daniel's lack of understanding. This grief of spirit can be connected with the words of Is. 54:6, describing  a woman " forsaken and grieved in spirit  , and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused" . The same level of spiritual and emotional pain was seen in Daniel. It may be that Daniel felt his lack of understanding was somehow related to his own moral weakness (or that of his people). 

" The wise shall understand"

The same deep frustration is found in 8:27: " I Daniel fainted, and was sick certain days; then I rose up, and did the King's business: and I was astonished at the vision, but there was none to make it understood" (RVmg.). We are invited to imagine Daniel earnestly explaining the vision to the other priests in Babylon, and finding no one to explain it. Daniel was doing a high-flying, executive job; a job where you didn't take days off. Yet his frustration at not being able to crack open Bible prophecy made him so intellectually frustrated that he just had to take some sick leave. None of his contemporaries would ever have understood why, if he told them: 'I'm so upset that I can't understand something in God's word. You see, I've therefore had some kind of breakdown'. " Then I rose up" suggests he was bed ridden for those few days, his physical energy sapped by his vast expenditure of mental effort. Do any of us come anywhere near to this kind of zeal?   There is reason to think that the believers of the last days will need special strength to overcome the special temptations they face; part of that strength will be given through being able to accurately understand the prophecies of the last days, so accurately that everything will just be mapped out before us (1). " Knowledge shall be increased...the wise shall understand...Understand, O Son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the (understanding of the) vision" (12:4,10; 8:17). Note that " the vision" seems to be used by metonymy for " the understanding of the vision" (as in 8:26; 9:23,24; 10:14,16; 11:14; 10:1 cp. 7).   Most of us, including the present writer, have fallen into the trap of thinking that we can't expect to accurately understand the pattern of events in the last days. Yet perhaps we are only finding excuse for our own lack of spiritual effort in searching the word.  

It is significant that all Daniel's recorded petitions are asking God to either explain or fulfil His word. In 6:10-12 we read of Daniel as a Bible student making some unspecified request to Yahweh, praying facing Jerusalem; it seems fair to assume that he was asking to see the fulfilment and explanation of God's purpose with Zion. Yet there can be no doubt that Daniel was going out of his way to put his life on the line in doing this. He was fully aware of the King's decree that anyone caught praying like this was for the lions; and even more aware that he was being constantly watched to see  if he toed the line or not. Most of us (and presumably most of the others in the Jewish ecclesia in Babylon) would have prayed silently, to ourselves, without opening the window to advertise the fact. Yet it seems that in Daniel's conscience, prayer to God was something which was so important that it was worth dying for. In this we see a cameo of how earnest was Daniel's desire for the understanding and fulfilment of God's word. And let's remember what we said at the outset; we really are intended to see Daniel as a Bible student as our example and representative. Do we really long for Messiah's coming as he did? For the restoration of Israel's kingdom, for the coming of Zion's King? The more clearly we understand the basic doctrines of the Hope of Israel, the more we daily delight  in God's Law, the more we will capture the spirit of Daniel.  

In the last days, " the wise shall understand" (12:10). Wisdom and Daniel are clearly associated, at least eight times (Dan. 1:17; 2:13,14,18,24,27,48; Ez. 28:3); as are Daniel and a desire to understand. Yet Daniel did not fully understand his latter day prophecies; " the wise shall understand" in the last days, Daniel was comforted. In other words, there will be a 'Daniel' category in the last days who will share his wisdom, and who will be given the understanding he so earnestly sought. We showed earlier that Rev. 6:10; 13:15; 14:9 describe the persecuted Christian remnant of the last days in the language of Daniel (2). The conclusion is that they (we?) will find strength to endure through the understanding of prophecy. Those who can't find time to do their daily Bible readings in this era of ease will either go under- or abruptly wake up to the vital power of the word.  

Clear Conscience

We each have our reasons for not having the spirit of Daniel in our Bible searching. 'Too much else on my plate' , or some such related excuse, will be the response of most. Yet Daniel was one of the highest flying Christians of all time; Prime Minister of Babylon was analogous to being President of the USA in the Middle Eastern world of those days. In the face of almost every conceivable spiritual distraction, Daniel fought hard to maintain his fine spiritual conscience through devoting himself to a love of God's word. The importance of constantly  maintaining a clear conscience is demonstrated throughout Daniel's life. The book begins with Bible student Daniel refusing to eat the meat offered to idols; it must surely be intentional that the Spirit in Paul declares that there was nothing wrong with eating this- it was purely a matter of conscience, seeing that the pagan associations of the meat are meaningless to the true believer. Yet at sweet seventeen, the young Daniel dug his toes in, at whatever cost, to maintain his conscience; and, by implication, is commended for it.  

The record reveals that Daniel went through a yo-yo pattern of being promoted into the limelight, and then (in an unrecorded manner) slipping out of the limelight into relative obscurity, from which he was promoted again. Thus in 2:48 Daniel is made Prime Minister, in the events of Chapter 3 he seems to be strangely absent, in 4:8 Daniel is brought in to interpret Nebuchadnezzar's second dream almost as an afterthought, implying he was out of the limelight; by 5:11 King Belshazzar was unaware of Daniel, but promoted him to " third ruler in the Kingdom" (5:29). Why did Daniel slip out of the limelight? Was it not for the sake of his conscience? As a member of the Jewish community, it would have been so easy for Daniel to stay where he was, reasoning that holding down a job like that would enable him to do so much for the Truth. But he realized that his personal conscience and devotion to the spiritual life must be given number one priority if he was to help his people. There is an exact correspondence between the mind of Daniel here and the fervent believer who refuses promotion, jumps out of a career that is rubbing too strongly against the conscience... would our community featured more examples of men and women like this (3).  

Loving The Word

The book of Daniel gives the exact dates when Daniel had both his promotions and his visions. Careful analysis of the record shows how his exaltations in this life occurred at the same time as major steps forward in his own personal Bible study and spiritual growth. When Darius came to power, Daniel was made chief of the three presidents of the Kingdom, promoted from being the third ruler of the Kingdom, i.e. the least  senior of the three (5:29-6:2). Yet in that very same first year of Darius, " I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet... and (at that time) I set my face  unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes...and whiles I was speaking..." Gabriel came to give him the prophecy of the 70 weeks (9:2-4,20). It doesn't take much imagination to picture the pressure on Daniel as Prime Minister in a new Government with a new King; probably he was the only survivor from the previous Government. Yet in the midst of this, he took time off to fast and wear sackcloth. His real enthusiasm was not for that high flying career he found himself in; rather it was for prayer, and coming to understand Jeremiah's prophecies. 'I've started a new job, I can't do my readings every  day....I've got exams on at the moment, I can only pray briefly before meals... I've got to build up my new business, I'll just have to glance at the readings for the next 6 months or so...I've got problems, real problems, no one else would understand, but I just need to take a break, a complete break, say for a few months, and then sure, I'll come back to the daily reading of the Bible'. These are all common Christian attitudes. I have wandered close to each. The example of Daniel as a Bible student mocks  each of them. " I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation" (Heb. 13:22).  

We have suggested that Daniel chose to slip out of the limelight in the changeover from Nebuchadnezzar to Belshazzar. Thus he was exalted under Nebuchadnezzar, but appears insignificant at the time Belshazzar sees his vision (5:11). Significantly, Daniel was blessed with a vision in the first year of Belshazzar (7:1), presumably in response to his desire for further understanding. This could imply that Daniel was blessed for his resignation by more spiritual insight. Do we see things in those terms? Do we not suspect God may compensate us materially if we resign the things of this life? Do we dream of deeper spiritual knowledge as a response to our separation from the world? Or do we write such things off as unnecessary intellectualism, fascinating for those who are into Bible study but unnecessary for our personal relationship with God? 

Double Life

Daniel as a Bible student lead a double life in this world; and he was all too painfully aware of it. No doubt this had a part to play in his depressions. He was at one stage official interpreter of the King's dreams; yet he had his own dreams, which he could not understand. He went through deep depression because of this, and then struggled up off his bed to " do the king's business" , i.e. interpret his dreams (8:16 cp. 27). This neatly highlights the duality of Daniel's life. The book of Daniel is not written in chronological order. One reason for this may be to give the sense that his visions of God's word increasingly dominated Daniel's thinking. We start off reading much information about his worldly life, interspersed with the visions; but increasingly, the emphasis is on the visions. This is not because Daniel got older, retired from political life and then had more time for visions. He seems to have had a 'career' all his life, but the implication from the way the record is put together is that the word of God progressively dominated his thinking and sense of priority. 

The word of God so dominated the Lord Jesus that He became " the word...made flesh" . He died as soon as He reached the necessary level of spiritual maturity; as soon as the word of God achieved the desired effect. On the cross we see him spiritually perfected, at the ultimate, highest level of spiritual maturity a human being could reach (Heb. 5:7-9). Daniel as the " Son of man" , innocently thrown to the lions in a sealed den, and then miraculously delivered from death, is an evident type of the Lord Jesus. The spirit of Christ was certainly in him as a prophet (1 Pet. 1:10-12). Christ too ran the gauntlet of this worldly life, day by day, He too fought for his conscience every moment. He too, He too, He too.... 


Notes

(1) These reasons are presented in  The Last Days  pp. 192,281.

(2) In no spirit of glib suggestion do I conclude from many Scriptures that the ecclesia will almost certainly go through a period of persecution in the last days. See The Last Days  pp. 144-182.

(3) Real life examples of this will be found chronicled in Robert Roberts, My Days And My Ways,