Judah was now in captivity. Their sins had finally led them to this point. At the beginning of the captivity, around 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took some young men who were to be trained to serve in the Babylonian king’s court (Dan. 1) Among these youths were Daniel and three others. The king had choice food that he wanted these youths to eat, “but Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself” (1:8).
God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the eyes of the commander, and Daniel convinced him to let them eat vegetables and drink water for ten days. At the end of that time, they were in better shape than those who ate the king’s food. Daniel, with his friends (Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah) showed more wisdom than all others, and they entered the king’s personal service.
What really set Daniel apart, in addition to his unwavering faithfulness, was his God-given ability to interpret dreams. Nebuchadnezzar had a troublesome dream that his own wise men could not interpret, so Daniel was called in. Daniel 2 records Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a large statue made of different elements. Daniel was able to interpret the dream and show that the different parts of the statue stood for differing kingdoms. Then, in the dream, the stone that struck and destroyed the statue stood for God’s kingdom:
“In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan. 2:44).
Daniel was promoted, and he played a prominent role in the court. His friends also made a tremendous impact on the king because of their faithfulness (ch. 3). What all of this pointed to was God’s power and rule. Chapter 4 describes more visions of Nebuchadnezzar that were interpreted by Daniel. These visions meant that Nebuchadnezzar would fall from pride and power. He would return, but he would finally recognize “that it is Heaven that rules” (4:26).
The dreams were fulfilled, and when Nebuchadnezzar came to his senses, he recognized God’s authority. This leads to a primary theme of Daniel: God rules in the kingdoms of men. Nebuchadnezzar saw this and said:
“blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever;
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
But He does according to His will in the host of heaven
And among the inhabitants of earth;
And no one can ward off His hand
Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (4:34-35)
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (vs. 37).
This theme stretches across the book of Daniel. Daniel himself was the living testimony of the truth that God was in control. This is seen in the changing over of kingdoms (ch. 5), Daniel’s survival in the lion’s den (ch. 6), and the subsequent visions that demonstrate God’s sovereign power over the nations.
From chapters 7 to the end, Daniel contains a great deal of symbolism, and it was very alarming to Daniel. Among these, Daniel saw the vision of the Son of Man figure:
“And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.” (7:13-14)
The messianic implications are clear. Jesus, the Son of Man and Son of God, would rule over His kingdom. The various visions that included beasts, rams, and goats would represent various nations and rulers of the earth, including those among the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. The unfolding of what would happen through the nations is remarkably detailed and accurate.
Daniel also prays for the nation. Recognizing the sins of the people that brought them into captivity, Daniel prayed for forgiveness and healing. “O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name” (9:19). Daniel’s prayer is answered by the angel Gabriel.
At the end, a great statement of resurrection is found: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (12:2; cf. John 5:28-29). There is far more in the book of Daniel than can be easily summarized, but let’s remember for now that all of it supports the point that God rules in the kingdoms of men, and His kingdom established through the Messiah would crush all others.