In the last two lessons, we learned that after being brought into the land of Canaan, after being given peace and wealth under King David and after Solomon built the great Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews slowly turned away from God–and paid for it. First, the northern kingdom Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC and taken captive and second, the southern kingdom Judah was overrun by the Babylonians in 586 BC. In this lesson, we will learn of the life of a famous Jew who lived during the captivity: the prophet Daniel.
Captives in Babylon
The Jews were taken into Babylon–away from their homes, but most importantly, away from the Temple. This meant that the whole system of worship and sacrifices that the Jews knew was no more. In our last lesson, we learned of the sorrow known to the Jews as they entered Babylon, which was sung in Psalm 137.
After entering Babylon, king Nebuchadnezzar moved the Jews into the capital city and into a number of communities outside of Babylon. Obviously, the Jews were received in a state of slavery in Babylon, but that did not mean they were pushed aside to do manual labor as they did almost 1000 years before in Egypt. Since that time the Jews had made great achievements in learning, and the king was wise to use their knowledge for his own benefits.
From the book of Daniel, we learn that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, selected young men of the Jewish royal families to receive special training for his service. He chose out men who were healthy, handsome, intelligent and wise and brought them into his own palace. They were taught the language and the literature of the Babylonians–or Chaldeans as they are often called. This three year training program included comfortable housing, food and clothing from the king’s own supplies. Among these young men were Daniel and his three friends.
Daniel, fearing that he would be lured away from the true religion, refused with his friends to eat any of the rich food from the king’s table. Instead, he ate only vegetables and drank only water while receiving his training. God gave to Daniel great wisdom, not only to understand language and literature but also to interpret the meaning of dreams and visions. Like Joseph, Daniel was given an opportunity to gain the king’s favor after a dream troubled him. However, Daniel faced a much greater challenge: Nebuchadnezzar required that the interpreter first tell him what the dream was! God gave the answer to Daniel and as a result, Nebuchadnezzar bowed before Daniel and ordered all men in his kingdom to honor “the God of Daniel”.
After the death of King Nebuchadnezzar, God gave to Daniel a series of terrifying dreams in which God revealed the future to the prophet. The record of these dreams can (and should!) be read in chapters 7 and 8 of the book of Daniel.
In the first dream, Daniel sees four great beasts. The first, he says, was like a lion with an eagle’s wings. The second was like a bear with tusks. The third was like a leopard with wings and four heads. The fourth beast had ten horns and teeth of iron. After seeing each of the four beasts, Daniel saw God come down and punish these beasts, and then give all power to one “like a son of man, coming on the clouds of heaven”. It was said that this man’s kingdom would take over the entire world and never end.
Daniel, in his dream, asked one of the angels what these beasts were, and the angel answered:
“These four great beasts stand for four kingdoms which shall arise on the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingship, to possess it forever and ever.”
While we could get lost trying to figure out what all of these images might mean (even Daniel was confused!), it is best to understand the message simply. The Jews are captive in a foreign land being ruled over by what appears to be an awesome king. What hope might they have of freedom? What are they to do in Babylon? Has God abandoned them forever? The psalmist asked these questions in Psalm 74:
“Why, God, have you cast us off forever? Why does your anger burn against the sheep of your pasture? Remember your flock that you gathered of old, the tribe you redeemed as your very own. Remember Mount Zion where you dwell. Now we see no signs, we have no prophets, no one who knows how long.”
To Daniel God sends answer to these questions. The winged lion was a symbol used throughout Babylon (see picture above) and represents the kingdom. However, the other three beasts represent kingdoms that were yet to rise on the earth. At the time, that is all Daniel could have known–but it is enough. After all, what the Jewish people needed was hope and the fact that the terrible beasts were all put down by God’s power clearly teaches the Jews that God was able to overcome all of these worldly powers. For this reason, the psalmist can finish his psalm with the prayers:
“Yet you, God, are my king from of old, winning victories throughout the earth. Do not surrender to beasts those who praise you; do not forget forever the life of your afflicted. Look to your covenant, for the land is filled with gloom; the pastures, with violence. Arise, God, defend your cause; remember the constant jeers of the fools. Do not ignore the clamor of your foes, the unceasing uproar of your enemies.”
Thus, even though the people lived in captivity, there was hope of help from heaven. God had not cast them off forever. He had not forgotten the flock He had gathered nor Mt. Zion. The prayer King Solomon prayed when the Temple was first built guided their hearts and minds:
“If my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my presence and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land.” (2 Chronicles 7)
The Fall of Babylon
The mighty men of Babylon enjoyed their earthly power and wealth for a season. Nebuchadnezzar had seen the power of God and was humbled after taking pride in the achievements that God had granted him. After his death, his son Nabonidus and grandson Belshazzar ruled in his place.
One evening while Belshazzar was hosting a great banquet, something amazing happened. A human hand appeared in the midst of the air and wrote three words on the wall inside the palace. The hand wrote these three mysterious words: MENE, TEKEL, PERES. No one in the room had any idea what these words meant, so the king called for Daniel.
When Daniel arrived, he discovered the meaning. The hand was sent by God to warn that the king’s end was at hand. By not turning to God, the king of Babylon had abused his power and his kingdom was to be taken from him. Daniel explained:
“This is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, TEKEL, and PERES. These words mean: MENE, God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it; TEKEL, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
Let us consider the courage and focus of Daniel. Imagine him being called into the king’s banquet hall, with a thousand of his governors feasting, to explain some strange message. Imagine Daniel entering the room and reading the message. Imagine Daniel, knowing what the message meant, turning before all these guests and addressing the king and announcing before all that his kingdom was lost. Here we see the virtue of a man who fears God alone and who speaks to others whatever it is that God speaks to him. May God grant all of us such strength!
King Belshazzar made a last-minute attempt to save himself, honoring Daniel with gifts and making him the third most powerful man in the kingdom. However, the wealthy man’s riches and the ruler’s power cannot save him from God’s judgment. Belshazzar did not live to see the next morning.
“The Medes and Persians”
In Daniel’s message to Belshazzar, he mentioned that God had given the power of Babylon to the “Medes and Persians”. In our study of history, we have not yet met the Medes or the Persians.
Earlier in history, when the Babylonians conquered the Assyrians, they did so with the help of the Medes from the east. The Medes controlled the area north of Babylon and Assyria and became very powerful. After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, the Medes went to war with the Babylonians–a wrestling match that would continue for another 20 years.
South and east of Media, the land of the Medes, lived the Persians. While the Persians had their own king, they were subjects of the Medes until the rise of king Cyrus. Cyrus led a rebellion against Astyages, the king of the Medes in 549 BC. Cyrus, then, became king of the Medes and Persians–the people Daniel warned were coming to take Babylon as well.
In 539 BC, God brought Cyrus and his armies against Babylon as a hammer to put an end to Babylonian arrogance. The Medes and Persians conquered Babylon rather easily and the great kingdom came to an end. Upon taking control of the city, king Cyrus ordered that all Babylonian captives be released, which ended the Babylonian captivity.
We might think that this salvation God accomplished through Cyrus was amazing, but what is more amazing was that God foretold this salvation almost 200 years earlier through the Prophet Isaiah:
“Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp, Subduing nations before him, and making kings run in his service, Opening doors before him and leaving the gates unbarred: I will go before you and level the mountains; Bronze doors I will shatter, and iron bars I will snap. I will give you treasures out of the darkness, and riches that have been hidden away, That you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.”
For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel my chosen one, I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not. I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun men may know that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is no other.” (Isaiah 44)
It must be realized that Isaiah spoke these words around the time of the Assyrian captivity, sometime between 740 and 680 BC. Isaiah lived in the southern kingdom Judah and spoke of the judgment to come on God’s people if they did not fear Him and keep his commandments. As the northern kingdom fell and the southern kingdom faced threats of foreign invasion, God revealed the name of the man for whom the Jews would one day wait as they sat and wept by the rivers of Babylon. Looking back on history as we do, we can see clearly that there is no God besides the LORD, who speaks of things that have not yet come as though they are.
In this lesson, we have studied the life of Daniel the prophet. We learned that Daniel was among those originally brought into captivity under Nebuchadnezzar and that he lived to see the fulfillment of God’s amazing promise to send a savior to free them–Cyrus. There is much more to know of Daniel that we cannot even get to in a Chronology lesson! For example, we did not even mention the time when Darius the Mede tried to execute Daniel by feeding him to lions or when the king of Babylon tried to burn Daniel’s friends to death! Also we haven’t discussed the other fascinating visions God gave to Daniel. To learn these read the book of Daniel in your Bible! It is one of the most wonderful books in the world and you will enjoy it very much.
What we must also learn from this lesson is the connection between five important nations: the Jews, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes and the Persians. Knowing the life of Daniel helps us to understand the Chronology of this period. We know that he lived in Israel after the Assyrian Captivity, was taken into Babylon as a captive and later was present when the Persians took over Babylon. Thus, in Daniel we are reminded of the right order: Assyria, Babylon, Persia–with the Medes stuck in between Babylon and Persia!
In our next lesson, we will continue this study as we look at the life of Ezra the Prophet and learn exactly what the beasts in Daniel’s vision represent. Can you tell the story thus far?
Directions: Read each date and event and recite it several times. By daily repetition, thoroughly memorize these events. Memorize them using your complete chart so that you can “see” the chart in your mind.
- 4000 BC – 750 BC Ancient World
- 4000 BC Creation of the World
- 3500 BC Ancient Sumeria Begins
- 3000 BC Ancient Egypt Begins
- 2950 BC – 2000 BC Life of Noah
- 2000 BC – 1780 BC Life of Abraham
- 1450 BC – 1410 BC Hebrew Exodus
- 1200 BC Trojan War
- 1000 BC – 960 BC Life of King David
- circa 960 BC The Temple of Solomon
- 753 BC City of Rome Founded
- 750 BC Homer Writes the Iliad & Odyssey
- 750 BC – 500 AD Classical World
- 722 BC Assyrian Captivity
- 586 BC Babylonian Captivity
- 600 BC – 535 BC The Prophet Daniel in Babylon
- 500 AD – 1500 AD Medieval World
- 1500 AD – Present Modern World