Saturday, May 19, 2007

Daniel Background and Introduction

On the infamous day of September 11, 2001, the world was traumatized and shocked by the devastating terror attack on American soil by Arab extremists. A handful of men commandeered four jet planes and doomed the passengers to their death. By their actions, they showed their hatred for the West and the United States for their support of Israel. Many Bible teachers realized that this was a steppingstone toward the great end-time prophetic events foretold in the Old Testament. 

Almost all of the utterances of the ancient seers of the older testament remind Israel, and the nations, that there are terrible times coming, but blessings will also follow in what is called the messianic age. 

What the prophets write about could soon come together in a horrible cacophony of cosmic and international events. What takes place will not simply be natural happenings but supernatural in origin. The book of Daniel is a central piece of literature that stands at the crossroads of what is to come. In some ways, it is one of the most important books in the revered Scriptures of the Jews, because so much of world history is keyed from the prophetic utterances written down by Daniel. 

Why do the events of September 11 in New York City relate to Bible prophecy, and even the book of Daniel? What role does the shocking destruction of the twin Trade Towers by Muslim terrorists, witnessed by the whole world, have to do with the nation of Israel and Bible prophecy? 

The destruction of those buildings, and the killing of thousands of people inside, was an act of war by Muslims against the United States for its support and protection of Israel. But more, it was also a statement of militancy against the state of Israel. To fail to understand this is to miss what has been predicted in history by Daniel, and by other Old Testament prophets. Price observes:
If Israel were to abandon all the territory it occupied as a result of the war in 1948 and occupy only the territory allocated to it by United Nations Resolution 181 (section 2), there would still be no peace since the Arab League rejected that original partitioning of Palestine and went to war in 1948 for the sole purpose of eradicating the very existence of a Jewish State in their midst. In every case the decisions of the Arabs were based on the inflexible dictates of their religion. Nothing has changed nor can change in the Islamic agenda because the Koran has commanded the faithful to Jihad ("holy war") with the world of non-Muslims, and once any land has been conquered by Islam, it is forever the possession of Islam, regardless of whether or not it is lost again to non-Muslims. It is for this reason alone that the Temple Mount, all of Jerusalem, and all of Israel will remain on the Islamic agenda and why peace can never come to the region short of the Islamic threat being removed.1 A wealthy Saudi Arabian businessman, Osama bin Laden, said to Arab militants just before the war on America began, "Your brother in Palestine are waiting for you … it’s time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts the most. … Slay the United States and Israel!2 Ben Laden called for unending war on the infidels that must go on until the Muslims have all of Palestine. No American can dream of security until this is accomplished.

For generations Jihad leaders among the Arabs have been calling for war against America and her allies. Jihad leader Fazlul Rahman of Bangladesh said
The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies—civilian and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem] and the holy mosque [the Ka’aba in Mecca] from their grip.3 Take note that the Arab war fervor is coming against America and her allies, in other words, against the western powers!

And this is where the book of the prophet Daniel comes in. Daniel predicts a restoration, a kind of resurrection of the western nations, back to a place of prominence in the final stages of world history. Out of the ashes of the territory of the ancient Roman Empire, he tells the story of a revived Roman power, a "United States of Europe." Anyone living in the 21st century has an intellectual and spiritual obligation to examine these awesome predictions spoken of by Daniel and to look at the astounding prophecies of this great man of God.

The Great Periods of Mesopotamian History
What is so important about the national and geographical setting of the book of Daniel? Why in 605 BC was Daniel brought to Babylon, by the providence of God, by Nebuchadnezzar, one of the greatest kings the world has ever known? And why was Daniel placed on center stage to view the passing parade of powerful kings and great nations that would come and go after the fall of Babylon?

Since Daniel’s prophecies would be about the five great empires of world history, it only makes sense that he would live most of his life in the whirlwind of Mesopotamian international intrigue!

To understand the unfolding events of the 21st century, one must have insights about the origins and the importance of this region, and about the significance of its geographical proximity to Israel and the Holy Land.

Before 2000 BC, there arose in the great Mesopotamian region a great explosion of civilizations, tribal peoples, ethnic groups, and the shifting of various clans that had been held together by common language. North and south of the Euphrates River plain, these language groups were coming together to form national powers. For well over fifteen hundred years there was a swirl of migrations, wars, the splintering and shattering of tribes that moved elsewhere to find fertile fields. Sometimes by the enslavement of the vanquished, others who had been weakened by war were absorbed into the fabric of the enemies who were victorious.

Though at this time and earlier, there were other civilizations springing up on earth, such as in China and elsewhere, there is no other region where there was such a release of international energy as took place in this vast area of the Middle East. But the Bible, through the prophet Daniel, sets out before us why this particular vast region is so critical to understanding the final period of world history.

Since Daniel would write about the rise and fall of the most important powers on earth, he was placed in Babylon by the Lord God of Israel to understand the nations. Daniel experienced first-hand the temporal-ness of the nations, that existed mainly by egotistical pride, force of arms, and unending violence.

Before, during, and after the time of Daniel, this part of the world was seething with the cycles of building of nations, then decline, followed by war and ruin, and then often by assimilation. The international setting, through many centuries, has been described this way:
The most notable characteristic of the early Mesopotamian empires was instability. The success of a state was very dependent on the abilities of its ruler. Government was an expression of the king’s will: a strong ruler could carve out an empire for himself but if his successor were indolent or weak the empire would decline. Part of the reason for this was the mechanism of government of the empires themselves. Conquered states were not occupied, garrisoned or subjected to a centrally controlled provincial government; instead, tribute was imposed and native rulers were given the duty of collecting and delivering it to the important power. This system worked well under strong emperors, but if imperial power was weakened, a vassal state could assert its independence simply by stopping payment of the tribute. Also, Mesopotamia lacked defensible frontiers and was vulnerable to invasions and infiltration from the Syrian desert or the Zagros mountains [to the east].4 Before Abraham (2165-1990 BC). Long before the time of Abraham, the curve of the Fertile Crescent that followed generally the Euphrates River, was dotted with hundreds if not thousands of villages and small communities. About forty Tells, or village and city sites, have been unearthed over the past century. These villages had no more than a few hundred people with a social structure that seemed to be divided equally with the poor and the rich. The economy basically subsisted on cereals, flocks of sheep, goats, and herds of cattle.

The first inhabitants of this almost rainless region depended mainly on fishing, hunting, and some herding. But the irrigation soon followed and allowed for great productivity, especially in the southern part of Mesopotamia. Intensive agriculture brought on an increase of population, followed again by more farming and villages. However, Moses adds something important to this story.

He tells us in Genesis 10:6-11 that Noah’s son Ham bore Cush, who was the father of Nimrod (v. 8). Nimrod was "a mighty one on the earth. … And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calnah, in the land of Shinar" (v. 10). He also "went forth into Assyria, and built Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah" (v. 11). Any reliable historical map of this ancient period will pinpoint these cities and regions mentioned by Moses.

This kingdom of Nimrod may have been one of the first extended nations in history. But his empire that followed, has an infamous past that is recognized by honest historians everywhere. From him, and his evil influence, came polytheism and the worship of many gods.
Before 3000 BC there is evidence of additional large cities coming into view. Trade began to move further out of the Mesopotamian area in all directions. But there was also the spread of polytheism coming from the earlier influence of Nimrod and those who joined him in his rejection of the true God. Temples appear out of the archaeological digs, with their altars and ornamental facades. And in some places come small and large statues of the many gods worshipped by ruler and slave alike. Some of the pagan platforms suggest ziggurats, or religious pyramids, that are probably copies of the first one, the "tower whose top will reach into heaven" (Gen. 11:4).

This ancient past will play its part in understanding the story of Daniel and the Babylon he knew!

Sumerian Civilization and the Early Dynastic period (2900-2334 BC). The area of Sumer is located northwest of the Persian Gulf and includes the principal cities of Erech, Ur, and Eridu, which along with other principalities, lay on or near the Euphrates River. This region consisted of the fertile plain between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what is now the southern part of modern Iraq.

Around 3000 B.C. civilization in this region became highly developed, with literary skills that included clay tablets, the creation of libraries, and reed stylus writing. The surrounding Babylonians and other peoples adapted the cuneiform script. Sumerian tablets included administrative records, mythology, history, hymns, law, and more. According to Mesopotamian history, the city of Eridu was one of the first cities ruled by a king. However, that honor should go to Nimrod who was clearly described in Genesis 10:10 as one of the earliest tyrants to subjugate people in the centuries before. Ur also may play a more important role than thought. The royal cemetery at Ur reveals the existence of a great wealthy and powerful dynasty.

The Building of the First Empires (2334-1595 BC). King Ur-Nammu (2112-2095 B.C.) became the first king of the Third Dynasty of Ur, stretching his empire as far north as Assyria. What stands out in his reign is the construction of more ziggurats, and high temple platforms used for the most degrading pagan worship. Again, this would represent shades of the original Tower of Babel!

Around 2100 B.C. Sargon the Great began to rule over the mighty Akkadian empire. He eliminated his enemies and pushed his borders to the Mediterranean and to the region known as Anatolia to the northwest.

The turmoil among these powers only increased, and in 2034 B.C. the empire of the Third Dynasty went under the fierce pressure from the Syrian desert people, the Amorites in the south. Ur was sacked in 2004 B.C. and would never regain its former power.
These tumultuous events, along with the arrogant display of polytheism, certainly played a part in the providence of God in the divine calling out of Abraham from Ur. How the family of Abraham arrived in Canaan is only briefly described. Moses tells us Abraham’s brother Haran died "in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans" (Gen. 11:28). The clan then "went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran, and settled there" (v. 31). Before the journey on into Canaan from Haran (probably named after the brother), Terah died (v. 32). Though Moses does not address the issue of gross Babylonian immorality and polytheism in Genesis, there is no doubt the Lord is removing Abraham from what we now know as an extremely pagan society. About the call of Abraham we read:
Now the Lord said to Abram, go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all families of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen. 12:1-3)
The Hittite and Assyrian Period (1595-1000 BC). In 1595 Babylon was sacked and invaded by the Hittites. Some have called this the "dark ages" for Babylon. Four great powers dominated the Mesopotamian region at this time: (1) the Hittites to the northwest; (2) the kingdom of Mittani in the middle part of the region; (3) the smaller but power Assyrian empire; and (4) the Babylonian empire to the southeast. On the Mediterranean coast, the land of Canaan, and the nation of Israel, was overshadowed by Egypt. These nations would aggressively push upon each other, keeping the region in constant military conflict.

This period was marked by technical advances, with glass, glazed pottery, brick work, and the maturing of iron smelting. Weaponry became more advanced, and the art of killing became more sophisticated.

Meanwhile, God was the protector of the Jewish people in Canaan, even though their hearts would soon be turning away from Him, partly because of the negative spiritual influence of Solomon. His many wives and concubines brought ruin to the nation. Scripture tells us, "his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been" (1 Kings 11:4).

The Assyrian and Babylonian empires (1000-539 BC). This brings us to the period called the Neo-Assyrian empire that would cover the entire Mesopotamian region. It would last from around 971 to 612. Daniel will come on stage during the last of this period and become an important player in the tumultuous events that transpire. He will be used of the Lord to give some of the most important prophecies in the Old Testament.
Below are some significant dates for this age:
  • 729 Babylon is taken over by the Assyrians.
  • 689 Babylon is sacked following its revolt against the Assyrians.
  • 626 Nabopolassar of Babylon rebels against the Assyrians.
  • 612 Assyrian Nineveh is invaded by the Babylonians and Medes. This is considered the fall of the Assyrian empire.
  • 539 The Babylonians empire is conquered by Cyrus the Great of Persian.
  • 485 Xerxes, the king of Persia, destroys Babylon.
Other events transpire that play strongly into the biblical narration of this period. In 722 Israel, the Northern Kingdom, is conquered Shalmaneser V of Assyria and taken into captivity. Only a very few Jews are left in the land. Those transported to Assyria are lost to history. They died in slavery, inter-married, or were transported to other regions to be assimilated.

In 605 the Babylonians defeat the Egyptians at the battle of Carchemish, opening the door for Babylon to invade and then control the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Nebuchadnezzar then overruns Assyrian territory and consolidates his reign. He rebuilt the city of Babylon in majestic splendor and ruled in the tradition of Assyrian pomp and luxury.
In was in 605 also that Nebuchadnezzar comes into Jerusalem and carries off the first group of deportees, including young Daniel. This also begins the seventy-year period of captivity predicted by Jeremiah, for Judah and some other smaller nations.
And this whole land shall be a desolation and a horror, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, declares the Lord, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation. (Jer. 25:11-12) Another deportation takes place in 597. The final and most disastrous one comes about in 586, following the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. Daniel served Nebuchadnezzar the king, and other monarchs who followed, right on up to 536 and the end of the seventy-year captivity.
  1. Randall Price, The Coming Last Days Temple (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1999), 448-49.
  2. Statement of Osama bin Laden, Hindukush Mountains, Afghanistan, Friday September 4, 1996.
  3. Saad G. Hattar, "Defendant accuses Sharon of Attacks on the U.S.," Jordan Times (October 3, 2001).
  4. John Haywood, Historical Atlas of the Ancient World (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2000), 1.11.