The book of Daniel begins right after Babylon captured Jerusalem and took the first wave of Israelites into exile. Among them were four men from the royal family of David: Daniel, who would be renamed Belteshazzar by the Babylonians, and his three friends, commonly known by their Babylonian names—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
Daniel tells the story of these captives and their struggle to maintain hope and faith in God in the city of their conquerors.
Chapters 1-6 tell stories about Daniel and his friends, and chapters 7-12 describe Daniel’s visions from God about the future.
Daniel’s writing style is unique—he begins the book in Hebrew, transitions to Aramaic, the native language of the Babylonians, in chapters 2-7, then shifts back to Hebrew in chapters 8-12.
In the first six chapters, Daniel retells stories of the pressures he and his friends faced to conform to Babylonian culture and religion and give up their Jewish culture while living there. Daniel and friends are chosen to serve in the court of the Babylonian king, but they refuse to compromise their faith in the God of Israel.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are thrown into the fiery furnace and God rescues them in Daniel 3. Later, God saves Daniel from the lions’ den after being sent there by King Darius.
Chapters one, three and six are stories of the faithfulness of God’s people despite persecution and suffering. Chapters four and five are God’s metaphorical descriptions of the rebellion of human kingdoms. And chapters two and seven are dreams God gives individuals to encourage His people to be patient and faithful in times of great suffering and oppression because of their faith in Him.
Chapters 8-12 describe Daniel’s visions and prayers. God shows Daniel the reality of humanity’s rebellion and the hope that He will bring all nations under his rule.
The book ends in chapter 12 with a description of “the time at the end.” This section is known as apocalyptic literature, meaning it paints a picture of the end of the world and God’s judgment of it.
God’s coming Kingdom: Throughout the book of Daniel, God uses Daniel and his friends to show people that although humanity builds great kingdoms for themselves, God is the one who rules over them all. Chapter 2 describes a train of kingdoms following Babylon; one day God’s Kingdom will come to confront and humble these arrogant kingdoms, defeat evil and fill the earth with justice.
Faith despite persecution: Daniel and his friends face a great deal of persecution for their uncompromising faith. But throughout the book, both in the stories of Daniel and his friends and in Daniel’s visions from God about the future, God encourages His people to remain faithful and confident in His power and sovereignty.
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
Daniel is a complex book. Between symbolic dreams and visions and apocalyptic literature, it can be difficult to interpret.
The book of Daniel, like the book of Revelation or Jesus’ explanations of the end times in the Gospels, is often the subject of debate among non-Christians and Christians alike.
But the purpose of Daniel is not to cause God’s people to spend their lives trying to figure out exactly when or how the end times will happen—that is only for God to know (Matthew 24:36).
Instead, the book of Daniel offers a powerful message of hope for all generations: God is the One who sits on the throne. Though kingdoms become like beasts when they try to make themselves like God and don’t acknowledge God as their king, a time will come when God will finally confront and destroy these beasts, establish His eternal Kingdom and rescue the world.