Commentary - Overview
The Book of Daniel occupies a unique place among the books of the prophets in the Old Testament. It is somewhat like the place held by The Apocalypse of John in the New Testament, being mainly apocalyptic in character. The first six chapters are partly historical, or relate incidents in which Daniel took a prominent part. The latter six chapters contain the account of four visions seen by Daniel. The prophecy is written in two languages, or rather, two dialects. From chapter 2:4 - 7:28, it is in Aramaic, or what is improperly called Chaldee. It is not the language of the Chaldean empire, but a dialect akin to the Hebrew, which in later times became the language of the exiled Jews in Chaldea. The book contains several words of Persian origin, and a few Greek words. Certain other peculiarities are worthy of notice. The familiar prophetic expression "Thus saith the Lord" is not once used. The word "Jehovah" (printed Lord in capital letters in our English Bibles) which occurs on almost every page of the books of the Divine Word, appears only in chapter 0. Other names, such as God of heaven, Son of God, Ancient of Days, etc., are used instead. Daniel does not address the Jews like Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. He does not upbraid them for their sins. His view of the advent of the Messiah is distinctive. The Messiah is not spoken of as of David's line. The Jews are not to be restored to their own land. The prophet's vision steps beyond the limits of his own race, he sees whole empires rise and fall, and a religion take the place of past religions which is to fill the whole earth. "Instead of a church for the Jews, there is to be a church for all mankind."
We must learn what we can about Daniel from the first chapter. He was a young man, among the first captives taken from Jerusalem. The taking of captives mentioned in Daniel 1:1-2, seems to be the same that is described in 2 Kings 24:1, 10-14. Shinar means the country of Babylon. (Gen. 11:2)
As to the prophet himself, he was apparently of noble blood. (Daniel 1:3-4) He was carried into captivity "in the third year of Jehoiakim king of Judah," that is, the year 606 or 605 B.C. He was young then and was instructed, together with his companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, "in the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans."
The names of the young men chosen for special training were changed. Their Hebrew names contained a name of God. Daniel means "God is my judge," "Dan" meaning judge, and "el" meaning God. This is lost in the Babylonian names, which often instead contained the names of heathen gods.
Daniel and his three friends felt that the king's food was unclean and would defile them. It may have been unclean according to the Jewish law in its manner of preparation, and it may have been dedicated to idols. They asked for pulse. This word usually means in English peas, beans, lentils. But the meaning here is vegetable food. They were allowed to try this diet, and after ten days were so well and strong that they were allowed to eat only the vegetable food. When they were brought with others before the king and examined by him, Daniel and his three friends were found better than all the rest and superior to the wise men of Babylon. That Daniel continued to the first year of King Cyrus would mean through all the seventy years that the Jews were captives in Babylon, for it was Cyrus who gave them liberty to return to the Holy Land.
There follow in the book of Daniel chapters that give pictures of the selfish pride of the kings of Babylon and of the courage of Daniel and his friends in remaining faithful to the Lord. These chapters (1 to 6) make the first half of the book. We find here the story of the fiery furnace, and of the lions' den.
Chapters 7 to 12, the second half of the book, record visions of Daniel that have an immediate relation to the history of the times after the captivity and a more spiritual relation to conditions and changes in the Christian Church.
The Prophet Daniel is twice referred to in Ezekiel's prophecy. In the first instance (Ezekiel 14:14, 20), he is associated with Noah and Job as an example of piety; in the second passage (Ezekiel 28:3), he is extolled for his wisdom. It is noteworthy that these two qualities - piety and wisdom - stand out prominently in his book.
The experiences of the prophet in Babylon are sometimes regarded as being in a large degree parallel with those of Joseph in Egypt. Each resists temptation to defilements. Each interprets the dreams of the king. And each is raised to a position of honor in recognition of his wisdom.Commentary - In-Depth
Until recent years, the narratives of Daniel (chapters 1 to 6) were regarded as literal history, but acquaintance with "apocalyptic" literature of the later Jewish days has led to the belief that this type of writing is employed in the book of Daniel. It was characteristic of such writing that the name of the author did not appear, but that the lessons given in historical or prophetic form were associated with some wise leader of the past. It was also characteristic of the apocalyptic writing, as the name implies, that it drew aside the veil to reveal forces of the spiritual world and the fulfillment of Divine promises there which had no fulfillment here. We recognize this in the Revelation, the Apocalypse of the New Testament. This view of the book of Daniel need not affect at all the acceptance of the book as of the Divine Word, and it is definitely recognized as of the Divine Word, in our Lord's reference to it in Matthew 24:15, and in our doctrines. (Arcana Coelestia 10325, 1709) It is of interest to learn what we can of Daniel, the central figure of this Divine book.
Those who read chapters of Daniel as apocalyptic and of later writing believe that the date of writing was in the days of persecution by Antiochus Epiphanes, ruler in Antioch, 175 to 164 B.C. The history of Persian rule in western Asia, which began with Cyrus, and of Greek rule, which began with Alexander's defeat of Persia, belongs to the period between the Old Testament and the New. This history is indicated in the book of Daniel itself as the subject of Daniel's visions (Daniel 8:19-22; 11:2-4) Following this historical application of the visions, they lead up to the oppression of Antiochus and promise then Divine deliverance. If ever there was a time in Jewish history which needed Divine lessons of courage and devotion to the Lord, it was this time, and it may well be that the Lord in those days gave everlasting lessons of courage and devotion. (Arcana Coelestia 1183, 5223)
Scripture itself points us also to an application of the book of Daniel to the Christian Church. See the Lord's reference to Daniel in Matthew 24:15. This reference indicates the conditions and experience of the Christian Church to which the lessons of Daniel apply, for the Lord in that chapter of Matthew is describing in representative language the states of spiritual desolation to be experienced by the Christian Church as it approached its judgment and the founding of a new church by the Lord. The reference to Daniel may be especially to Daniel 9:27 and 12:11.
Swedenborg speaks of it, however, as a reference in a more general sense to all prophecies concerning the coming of the Lord and the condition of the church, especially its condition at His coming. (Arcana Coelestia 3652; Apocalypse Explained 684)
The abomination of desolation in the holy place describes a condition in the Christian Church when the Lord's truth and good are despised and things evil and false have taken the central place. The charge, "Whoso readeth, let him understand," means that such conditions should be well noted by people of the church, who should cling for safety to love to the Lord and charity to the neighbor. The line of application to the Christian Church is followed throughout the interpretation of Daniel in Prophets and Psalms. Babylon is everywhere recognized as the symbol of self-love and the love of rule in the church, even by the profane use of holy things. This is the meaning of Babylon in the Book of Revelation, which in the explanation of that book is shown to have had a special development in the Roman Church. Prophets and Psalms shows in Daniel 1 the desire and effort of the selfish spirit of rule to appropriate for its own use the knowledge and understanding of the church. It shows in Daniel 3 the effort of this same love to claim worship to itself. The attractiveness of such worship is meant by the music at which all should fall down.
Those faithful and loyal to the Lord refuse to worship. Self-love burns as a fiery furnace with hatred and desire to destroy them. The protection of the Lord is so manifest with those loyal to Him, that even those in self-love are constrained to worship.
The summary of the internal sense of the first chapter is thus stated in Prophets and Psalms:
"Verses 1, 2. When the church among the Jewish nation had been destroyed, ‘Babylon' appropriated to herself all things pertaining to it. Verses 3-21. She wished to know all things of the church, and to acquire an understanding of them, and this was the beginning of ‘Babylon.'"
Jerusalem besieged by Babylon represents the church in a state of profanation. The vessels in the house of God taken to the land of Shinar signify that the holy truths of the Word were appropriated by the love of rule. (Arcana Coelestia 1183)
This same spirit also desires to acquire all the knowledges of truth that it may use them to further its own interests. Daniel and his companions were to be educated that they might serve the king of Babylon. The love of rule is a strong incentive to the study of even the spiritual sense of the Word. That is a Babylonic spirit, which is well illustrated in worldly affairs. The love of pre-eminence stimulates people beyond measure to study and to master those knowledges which will insure success. Likewise, when the knowledge of the truths of the church lies in the path of success, no pains are spared to acquire proficiency therein. It is clearly Babylon which has taken hold of people when they study the truth simply to prove that others are wrong and they are right.
Daniel and his companions refused to partake of the king's meat and drink. This suggests the presence of a true spirit in people at war with the evil spirit of dominating over others. This spirit of the Lord in people is ultimately to be their judge and protect them from bondage to evil. It refuses to be defiled with evil and falsity that belong to an unclean lust of the flesh. It is nourished by the truths from the Word, "pulse," or, rather, "seeds." The spiritual life of a person can only prosper when fed by true thoughts drawn from the Word that are capable of being developed so as to produce the fruits of righteousness.
At the end of three years, Daniel and his three companions were found in matters of wisdom and understanding to be ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers in the kingdom. "The magicians were acquainted with such things as are of the spiritual world, which they learnt from the correspondences and representatives of the church; therefore also many of them had communication with spirits and hence learnt illusory arts, whereby they wrought magical miracles." (Arcana Coelestia 5223)
Daniel is called the "chief or master of the magicians." (Daniel 4:9; 5:11)
Doubtless he had his light in spiritual knowledges from above under the Lord's guidance. He prospered for the same reason that Joseph prospered: because the Lord was with him. Light and strength and prosperity accompany all who look to the Lord and trust in Him.
Commentary for Young Students
Daniel was also a prophet of the Lord who was taken to Babylon, as Ezekiel was, among the first captives from Jerusalem. He was a young man at the time, and was one of several princes who were chosen for fine looks and bright minds, to be taught and trained in the palace school in Babylon, so that after three years they could be attendants and advisers to the king. We read their names in verse 6, but their names were changed and they were given other strange names by the king. Hear what Daniel and his three friends did. They would not eat the food nor drink the wine provided for them, which they called unclean, and asked to be given pulse to eat, which means here various fruits and vegetables, and water to drink. The one in charge of caring for the young men was afraid to change their food, lest they should not be as strong and beautiful as the rest. But he let them try it for ten days. And what happened? Daniel and his three friends were better in face and flesh than those who had eaten the king's food. So the keeper took away the king's food and gave them the food they asked. After three years of special care and training, the young men were brought before the king, and Daniel and his three friends were the best. They were ten times better in wisdom and understanding than the wise men of Babylon.
Several grand stories follow in the book of Daniel, which teach us to be brave and faithful to the Lord.