Introduction to Daniel




Daniel, whose name means “God Judges” or “God’s Judge,” was a sixth-century BC prophet living in exile in Babylon. Daniel recounts key events firsthand that occurred during the Jewish captivity and also shares visions that were given to him by God.

Belshazzar’s Feast by Rembrandt (1606-1669)

Belshazzar’s Feast by Rembrandt (1606-1669)


AUTHOR: The critical view of the book of Daniel suggests it was written by a second-century BC Jewish author, not the historical Daniel. This view is largely based on a naturalistic perspective that denies the possibility of the authentic foretelling found in Daniel. On the other hand, the traditional view maintains that Daniel the prophet did indeed write this book sometime shortly after the end of the Babylonian captivity (sixth century BC). Internal testimony supports this claim. In the text itself, Daniel claimed to have written down visions given by God (8:2; 9:2,20; 12:5). Passages which contain third-person references to Daniel do not disprove his authorship. After all, authors commonly refer to themselves in the third person, as for instance Moses does in the Pentateuch. Moreover, God speaks of himself in the third person (Ex 20:2,7). Finally, Jesus Christ attributed the book of Daniel to Daniel himself (Mt 24:15; Mk 13:14).

BACKGROUND: The historical setting of the book of Daniel is the Babylonian captivity. The book opens after King Nebuchadnezzar’s first siege of Judah (605 BC) when he brought Daniel and his friends to Babylon along with other captives among the Judean nobility. Nebuchadnezzar assaulted Judah again in 597 and brought ten thousand captives back to Babylon. In 586 he once again besieged Jerusalem, this time destroying the city, the holy temple, and exiling the people of Judah to Babylon. Daniel’s ministry began in 605 when he arrived at Babylon with the first Jewish captives, extended throughout the Babylonian captivity (which ended in 539), and concluded sometime after the third year of Cyrus the Great, the Medo-Persian king who overthrew Babylonia (see Dn 1:21; 10:1).

When was the book written? While the critical view maintains a date of 165 BC in the Maccabean period primarily because of the precise prophecies related to that time, the traditional view asserts that it was written just after the end of the Babylonian captivity in the late sixth century BC. The book contains a factual recounting of events from the life of Daniel, supernatural prediction of events that took place during the intertestamental period, and prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled.

Manuscript evidence supports the early date. Fragments from Daniel were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection that included other books of the Bible that were written well before the second century. Linguistic evidence demonstrates that the use of Aramaic in Daniel fits a fifth- to sixth-century BC date because it parallels the Aramaic of Ezra as well as the Elephantine Papyrii and other secular works of that period. Historical evidence also supports the early date. For example, Daniel accurately described Belshazzar as co-regent with another king (Nabonidus), a fact that was not known elsewhere until modern times. In summary, the late-date view is driven by a presuppositional rejection of supernatural prophecy and not objective evidence.


The theme of the book of Daniel is the hope of the people of God during the times of the Gentiles. The phrase, “the times of the Gentiles,” used by Jesus (Lk 21:24), refers to the time between the Babylonian captivity and Jesus’s return. It is a time when God’s people live under ungodly world dominion. The book promotes hope by teaching that at all times “the Most High God is ruler over human kingdoms” (5:21). Daniel’s purpose was to exhort Israel to be faithful to the sovereign God of Israel during the times of the Gentiles. He accomplished this by recounting examples of godly trust and prophecies of God’s ultimate victory.


Daniel’s book establishes the validity of predictive prophecy and lays the foundation for understanding end-times prophecy, especially the book of Revelation in the NT. But most importantly, it emphasizes that the Lord has dominion over all the kingdoms of the earth, even in evil days when wicked empires reign. Two key words in the book are “king” (used over 150 times) and “kingdom” (used over 50 times). Above all, Daniel teaches that the God of Israel is the Sovereign of the universe, “for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation” (4:34).


The genre of the book of Daniel is narrative, recounting historical events for the purpose of present and future instruction. The narrative contains history, prophecy, and apocalyptic visions. Apocalyptic literature refers to revelation by God given through visions and symbols with a message of eschatological (end-time) triumph. Although Daniel contains apocalyptic elements, it is not an apocalyptic book; rather, it is a narrative that includes apocalyptic visions.

Noting that the book of Daniel contains both history (chaps. 1-6) and prophecy (chaps. 7-12), some divide the book into two sections. A better way to view the book’s structure is based on the two languages it uses: 1:1-2:3 (Hebrew); 2:4-7:28 (Aramaic); and 8:1-12:13 (Hebrew). The Hebrew sections pertain primarily to the people of Israel, which is fitting since Hebrew was Israel’s national language. Aramaic was the international language of that time. Fittingly, the Aramaic section of Daniel demonstrates God’s dominion over the international Gentile nations.


I.The Godly Remnant in the Times of the Gentiles (1:1-21)

A.Daniel and his friends in the Babylonian captivity (1:1-7)

B.Daniel and the king’s food (1:8-16)

C.Daniel and the Lord’s reward (1:17-21)

II.God’s Sovereignty over the Times of the Gentiles (2:1-7:28)

A.Daniel and the king’s dream (2:1-49)

B.Daniel’s friends and the fiery furnace (3:1-30)

C.Nebuchadnezzar’s pride, madness, and repentance (4:1-37)

D.Belshazzar’s feast and the writing on the wall (5:1-30)

E.Daniel in the lions’ den (6:1-28)

F.Daniel’s vision of the four beasts, the Ancient of Days, and the Son of Man (7:1-28)

III.God’s People in the Times of the Gentiles (8:1-12:13)

A.Daniel’s vision of the ram and the male goat (8:1-27)

B.Daniel’s prayer and vision of the seventy weeks (9:1-27)

C.Daniel and his final visions (10:1-12:13)

Under Ashurbanipal, Assyrians capture and destroy Babylon. 649

650-620 BC

Birth of Jeremiah 640?

Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet; warns of invasion from the north 626

Birth of Ezekiel 623

Birth of Daniel 620

620-605 BC

Under Nabopolassar (626-605) Asshur and Nineveh fall, marking the end of the Assyrian Empire. 612

Babylonians and Medes take Harran from what remained of Assyrian forces. 610

Jeremiah’s temple sermon 609

Josiah killed by the Egyptians at Megiddo 609

Babylonians defeat Pharaoh Neco of Egypt at Carchemish. The Babylonians hold the balance of power in the region. 605

605-560 BC

The Babylonians besiege Jerusalem; some of the royal family and nobles, including Daniel, are taken to Babylon. 605

Daniel and his Hebrew companions are trained to serve Nebuchadnezzar. 604-603

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the colossal statue and Daniel’s interpretation 602

Jerusalem falls to the third Babylonian siege and the temple is destroyed. 586

Nebuchadnezzar’s seven years of insanity 573-566

Evil-merodach, Nebuchadnezzar’s son, succeeds him as king of Babylon. 562

560-525 BC

Daniel interprets the handwriting on the wall for Belshazzar. Cyrus captures Babylon without resistance. 539

Gabriel visits Daniel with the message of 70 weeks. 539

Cyrus issues a decree allowing the Jews to return to Judah. 538

Daniel, now 84 years old, is thrown into the lions’ den. 536

Daniel receives vision of future events 535