Definition of the Name Daniel
Daniel is a Hebrew compound word from da’n ("judge") and el ("God"), together meaning God’s judge. Da’n means judge but it is also the proper name for Dan, the son of Jacob, and the tribe that bears his name.
In Aramaic, the name Daniel is spelled the same as in Hebrew. In Daniel 7:22, the word de’nah is used to describe a final judgment against the "other" horn, the Antichrist (v. 26), who tries to subvert the coming kingdom reign of the Son of Man, the Messiah! Some lexicons translate this word as a council of judges.
While Daniel is not called a judge in his prophecy, it may be argued that in some ways he served as a judge in the courts of Babylon. Assigned his name probably at birth by his father, it might have been predictive of his coming role in the court of the pagans while serving as a minister of the Lord!
The Family Background of Daniel
While nothing is known for certain, there is strong evidence that he came from a wealthy, aristocratic family, since he was selected out by the Babylonian court officials to be groomed for service in the government of Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel 1:3-4 seems to verify this.
An interesting note: A priest of the same name returned from Babylon with Ezra around 458 B.C. (Ezra 8:2). He was also one of the signers of the covenant between the Lord and Israel, as recorded in Nehemiah 10:6.
Nobles is the Hebrew word partemim, and is probably related to the Persian word fratama that means foremost, aristocratic. The Persian word is related to the Greek protos, or "first, preeminent."
Daniel is of the royal family and aristocratic in the way he acts and carries himself. He is marked out because "The king desires to grace his court with eminent captives … an ornament to any court."2
Daniel’s Exile into BabylonJeremiah gives a chilling prophecy of the events that will set the stage for the book of Daniel. The young man Daniel would be caught up in the international purge carried out by the Lord against His own people, but against the surrounding pagan nations as well.
Jeremiah speaks "to all the people of Judah and to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem" (25:2) and warns of a terrible invasion "against this land, and against its inhabitants, and against all those nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them, and make them a horror and a hissing" (v. 9).
Jeremiah adds that this will take place in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, and during the first year of the reign of Nebhcuahdnezzar king of Babylon (v. 1). Because of her sins, Judah would be "sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans" (v. 5).
2 Chronicales 36:4-5 tells us that Egypt was the great power to the south that was overshadowing Judah at this time. The Egyptian rulers lusted to dominate the eastern coastline of Israel, and then control the land routes that moved trade from Babylon on into the West, and into the sphere of the fledgling Greek city-states.
But first there was Judah!
In fact Pharaoh Necho had cast off the throne of Judah Jehoahaz and placed his brother Eliakim up as king. He changed his name to Jehoiakim, who reigned from about 609-597 B.C.
Meanwhile back in Babylon, when Nebuchadnezzar’s reign began, he decided to more firmly establish his empire and push back the encroachment of the Egyptians who were controlling Canaan and the trade routes that passed through the land into North Africa.
Jeremiah gives us the shocking international news that Nebuchadnezzar stormed forth from his land, and defeated Pharaoh Necho near the Euphrates River at Carchemish (46:2). The Lord of hosts, the God of Israel used Nebuchadnezzar "to punish Amon of Thebes, and Pharaoh, and Egypt along with her gods and her kings, even Pharaoh and those who trust in him" (v. 25). These people, along with inhabitants of Judah would be given "into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of his officers" (v. 26).
This first invasion of Judah, and deportation of some of its inhabitants took place in 605 B.C. When this happened, Nebuchadnezzar sent bands of Chaldeans, Arameans, and Moabites to make war against Jehoiakim. This was all fulfilling the word of the Lord, because He was furious at the sins of the people, and because of the previous king Manasseh who had earlier provoked Him with all his evil ways (2 Kings 23:26; 24:3).
Daniel would be carried away to Babylon in the first of three deportations that would finally silence the land of Judah for seventy years!
The Age of Daniel when he came to Babylon
How old was Daniel when he was taken to Babylon? Daniel was among the youths ("yeladim") who were taken away from their homeland (Dan. 1:4). Yeladim may mean small children or adolescents (Gen. 37:30). According to the rabbinical scholar Ibn Ezra, Daniel was probably about fifteen.3 This would be about right, since the young men selected for service to Nebuchadnezzar were quite mature and apparently well-educated. "There can be no doubt that the monarch meant to designate youths [young men]."4
The Spirituality of Daniel
While it may be said that all of the Old Testament prophets were Godly and spiritual servants, there is a certain relationship with the Lord that Daniel maintained that seems to pervade His life and witness. Along with his friends, Daniel received from God "knowledge and intelligence" in literature and wisdom, but it is also said of him that he was given an understanding of "all kinds of visions and dreams" (Dan. 1:17).
Daniel is seen continually giving recognition to God for who He us! After he had received from the Lord the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in a night vision, he "blessed the God of heaven" (2:19), proclaiming to Him, "I give thanks and praise, for Thou hast given me wisdom and power" (v. 23). He added, "there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries," and He has made known to the king what will take place (v. 28).
In another confrontation with Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel was forthright in his witness to the king. With astonishing boldness he told this sovereign, you will dwell with the animals of the field "until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes" (4. 32).
The great rulers of Babylon knew that the God of Israel was at work in the life of Daniel. Belshazzar said "I have heard about you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that illumination, insight, and extraordinary wisdom have been found in you" (5:14). Though his theology was skewed, Balshazzar was stating in his own thoughts what seem obvious—a supreme deity was actually working in this unusual man!
Daniel was not cowardly in demonstrating his belief in his God. Though he knew of the plot of the governors to create a royal law, signed by Darius, that would trap him for his worship of the Lord, "he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously" (6:10). Daniel was not afraid of what his love of the Lord might bring upon him. He even opened the windows of his chamber, knowing he might be heard or seen giving honor and, "making petition and supplication before his God" (v. 11).
When pulled from the den of lions, king Darius must have realized why he was spared. He cried out, "Daniel, servant of the living god, has your God whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?" (v. 20). Daniel answered that he was not harmed, because he was innocent before both his God, and before the king. "O king, I have committed no crime" (v. 22). He was delivered "because he had trusted in his God" (v. 23).
Daniel prays a remarkable prayer in chapter 9. Though an extremely righteous and upright believer, he still included himself, in a collective sense, as a sinner along with the rest of the Jews in captivity. He writes that he "gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes" (v. 3). "We have sinned," he calls out (v. 5). "Open shame" belongs to us (v. 7), for "we have sinned against Thee" (v. 8), and rebelled (v. 9). We have not "obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets" (v. 10).
It would have been quite easy for Daniel to bring judgment only on his fellow Jews in captivity, but he realizes that somehow he is a part of the whole nation, and must include himself in the dispersion judgment.
While Daniel was praying "and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel … in behalf of the holy mountain of my God," the angel Gabriel came to reveal to him one of the most important prophecies in Scripture (the Seventy Weeks, vv. 24-27). Daniel was selected to receive such a revelation because, Gabriel said, "you are highly esteemed," obviously by the Lord! (23).
At the end of his prophecy, faithful Daniel is given a great personal assurance by the angel Michael (12:13):
Chapter 9 especially reveals his humility. He does not strike out at the imperfections of his people, but joins with them in contrition before the Lord. The expression used in Sunday school, "Dare to be a Daniel," is a powerful saying that comes directly from all that we can glean from what we see of his life in this book!
Daniel’s Place in the Governments of Babylon
Daniel began his long government career as a youth by being inducted into service in the king’s court (1:4). Some see his position simply as a page who would be a courier of royal communications. He had to appear "healthy," with "no defect" (Ibid.) because he was required to stand in the king’s presence. Nebuchadnezzar desired foreign young men in his court "to employ them in the service of the government; and in any questions that might arise between the government and the captive nation, it would be an advantage for the government to be able to employ native-born Hebrews in making known the wishes and purposes of the government.5
His early schooling in the court of the king. Upon arriving in Babylon, Daniel was selected out for the training program of foreign students to serve in the royal court. Following the trial period for Daniel and his friends, their physical appearance "seemed better" and ranked far above other youth in the program (v. 15). The Hebrew teenagers were then commended to the king, who spoke with them, and placed them into his "personal service" (v. 19). All of this came about by the sovereignty of God and not simply by accident, because God had given them favorable physical appearance and "knowledge and intelligence" in all things (v. 17).
The biblical narration adds: Daniel continued as adviser in the royal court until the first year of the reign of Cyrus in 550 B.C. (v. 21). This great man of God would continue his influence in the seat of power of one of the mightiest empires of the ancient world, for forty-five years!
Ruler over the province of Babylon. A year or so later, when Daniel had revealed to the king the interpretation of the great statue he had dreamed about, Nebuchadnezzar was so overwhelmed he "fell on his face and did homage to Daniel, and gave orders to present to him an offering and fragrant incense" (2:46). The king further witnessed that the God Daniel served was "a God of gods and a Lord of kings" (v. 47). Daniel was promoted, given gifts, and made ruler over the "whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon (v. 48). The king also appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego "over the administration of the province of Babylon, while Daniel was at the king’s court" (v. 49).
Ruler means that he was the "chief" over the entire "county" or borough of the central area of Babylon. This is like being mayor of Washington D.C.! Chief prefect would better be the chief of the governors of all the wise men of Babylon.
It must be remembered, that in all of Daniel’s witness to the God of Israel, he can never be accused of bending his beliefs, even during the times that his testimony could have meant his death. Also, it is possible that, while he was governor over these religious priests and magicians, it does not mean that he was giving credence to their theology. His job was simply to maintain order and civility within the ranks. It also needs to be pointed out, that he probably had a tremendous witness among those who knew him. We may see some of these idolaters in glory because of the spiritual steadfastness of Daniel!
As to his youthfulness, this issue is eclipsed by the fact of his God-given ability to "understand all kinds of visions and dreams" which no one else could come close to doing (1:17). His young age was quickly forgotten as the king fell on his face and gave honors to Daniel (2:46)!
The Third Ruler of the kingdom. Daniel was again elevated to a higher office when he was able to interpret the handwriting on the wall seen be king Belshazzar (5:1-28). Daniel reminded that he had not glorified "the God in whose hand are your life-breath and your ways" (v. 23). Despite the negative prediction that Belshazzar’s kingdom was weighed and found wanting (or judged), and that it was about to be given over to the Medes and Persians (v. 28), the king still honored Daniel, clothing him with purpose, giving him a gold necklace, and proclaiming "that he now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom" (v. 29).
On that very night, October 11 or 12 (539 B.C.), the city of Babylon was overrun by the Medes and Persians.
The Commissioner under Darius. Daniel would move up further in prominence in Babylon under the Median king Darius. Darius divided the entire expanded realm of Babylon into 120 satraps, who were heads of provinces, designated as such for taxation and administration purposes. Daniel was made one of the key commissioners or presidents who ruled over the satraps and controlled the affairs of that part of the nation.
Daniel is said to have "distinguished himself among the commissioners … because he possessed an extraordinary spirit" (6:3). However, there was trouble brewing among the leaders who could not stand the fact that an "outsider" was so favored by the king. The other commissioners and satraps "began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs" (v. 4). But not finding any that trumped up the charge that no one on the realm could petition no other man or god "besides you, O king" (v. 8). Daniel was tossed into the lion’s den but was spared from death by the Lord (vv. 18-27).
Because he was saved by the "living God," as testified by Darius (v. 26), "this Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian" (v. 28). Darius was so impressed by Daniel that he planned to "appoint him over the entire kingdom" (v. 3). This loyal Hebrew would then have been the most prominent ruler of the ancient nations! While so honored, this did not happen.
But few have been so used of the Lord in the governments of the pagan nations. Leupold writes,
- A. Cohen, ed., Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah (London: Soncino, 1968), 2.
- H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Daniel (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), 58.
- A Cohen, ed. Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Ibid.
- Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes, 14 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), 7:98.
- Ibid., 7:93.
- Ibid., 7:183.