The angel Gabriel was wont to address our prophet as “A man greatly beloved” (Heb. man of desires)—beloved certainly of God. Of all the prophets, he was the only one who was given this title. There was reason. The written history of his life shows that he was a man of unfaltering faith, uncompromising obedience in the face of the most trying circumstances, sterling integrity and unselfish devotion to his calling.
The name Daniel signifies “judge of God,” that is, one who pronounces judgment in the name of God. Some interpret the name by “judge through God,” while still others render it “God is my judge.” Some have identified our prophet with Daniel the Levite of the house of Ithamar, one of the companions of Ezra, and whose name appears at Ezra 8:2. Against this is the too considerable distance in time. The notice at chapter 1:3 (of the book of Daniel) “And the king spake unto Ashpenaz. . . .that he should bring of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes. . . .such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace. . . .”—seems to indicate that Daniel was of royal descent. As a youth he was acquainted with suffering and privation. In his person the prophecy of Isaiah to Hezekiah was fulfilled, “Of thy sons which shall come from thee shall they take away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (Isa. 39:7). To Babylon with several others Jewish youths he was taken when yet a boy, and placed in the care of the chief of Eunuchs to be educated in all the learning of the Chaldeans. The force of Isaiah’s prophecy to Hezekiah may be that Daniel became a eunuch in the proper sense. This view is confirmed by the usage of oriental courts according to which only eunuchs were admitted to personal offices near the king.
Daniel’s name was changed as well as those of his three companions. The purpose was to destroy the memory of their home and of their God and to show them that they now belonged to another master. All of them had names reminiscent of their God. Daniel “Judge of God.” Hananiah, “The Lord have grace.” Mishael, “Who is like God.” Azariah, “The Lord helpeth.” These were changed into names commemorative of the king’s idols. Nebuchadnezzar himself discloses the signification of Daniel’s new name, “Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar, after the name of my god” (5:8).
Daniel was taken to Babylon in the third year of Jehoiakim. He was then about 14. The three years that were occupied with his being taught the learning and tongue of the Chaldeans, brought him to 17. It was in all likelihood at this age, in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign as king, that he entered upon the king’s service. He was, then, about 14 when in his youth obedience to the law of his God, he resolved “in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank. . . .” The king’s meat, being connected with idol sacrifices and the animal food thereof being killed with the blood was forbidden by law. It was most difficult to avoid this food, as Hosea’s prophecy shows, “they shall eat unclean things in Assyria” (9:3). By Ezekiel God said, “The children of Israel shall eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles whither I will drive them” (4:13, 14).
Daniel trusted that in his obedience to the law of his God, God would sustain him as well through the pulse as through the forbidden food. So “he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself” (1:8). The chief of the eunuchs did not at first yield; but he did deign to reason with Daniel about the matter; for God had brought him into favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs” (1:9). He said to Daniel that he feared his lord and king, who had appointed their meat and drink. In the event their countenance bespoke the ill effect of their living upon food so simple, they would be responsible for his having endangered his head to the king. Daniel proposed that they be proved, ten days. Then let their countenances be looked upon, and the countenance of them that eat the portion of the king’s meat. And as he shall see, so shall he deal with them. So he consented to them in the matter, for he loved them tenderly. God answered their faith. Amid abstinence of the vices that surrounded them, God gave power of mind and body, knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom “ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm” (1:20). Among them all was found none like Daniel and his three companions. So the king discovered, when he communed with them.
In his faith, Daniel obtained from God understanding in all visions and dreams (1:6), in particular knowledge of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its meaning. It was this gift of God to him that saved his life. In the second year of his reign, the king was greatly vexed by a dream he was unable to recall. The magicians were summoned and commanded to declare both the dream and its meaning. Failing in this, they would be destroyed together with their houses. The magicians remonstrated with the king. They insisted that never before had a king asked a thing so unreasonable. Daniel is sent for and he tells both the dream and its interpretation and thereby saves his own life not only but the life of his companions and of all the magicians as well.
In his allegiance to God, he (and his companions) could be moved not even by the threat and prospect of death. He continued to pray three times in the day, openly, when the penalty was the den of lions. Darius had appointed 120 princes to rule over the kingdom and placed them all under the supervision of Daniel and made them responsible to him. The princes, long envious of him, began to plot his fall. To their disappointment, they could find nothing to criticize in his administration of the king’s affairs. Aware of his singular devotion to God, they induced the king to establish a statute to the effect that for thirty days no one should direct a petition of any kind to any god, save the king, and that the penalty for disobedience should be the lion’s den. Daniel could have reasoned with himself that under the circumstances he would be committing no sin, should he for the time being cease to pray in full view of spying eyes. But he did not so reason. He continued to expose himself in his worship. And he received testimony from God that he did well. The mouths of the hungry beasts that would devour him, were closed by the invisible power of God.
Daniel’s calling was to reveal and extol his God in a heathen court. How worthily he walked of this calling. When the secret of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is revealed to him, how he blesses the God of heaven, “blessed be the name of God forever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: and he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that knoweth understanding. . . . I thank thee, and praise thee! O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast made known unto us the king’s matter” (2:20, 21). And to the king he said that the secret which he had demanded, the wise men of his realm could not show him; “but,” quoting his own words, “there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets. . . .” How he depreciates himself before the king, “But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any vision that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart.” The king himself must understand that “the God of heaven hath given him a kingdom, power, and strength and glory. . . .” (2:36). When the king had heard, he said, “Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets. . . .” (2:47). In his edict upon his restoration to reason, the king again praises and honours the King of heaven, “And at the end of the days I. . . . lifted up mine eyes unto heaven and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation. . . .” (4:34).
They were dreadful messages with which God sent Daniel to the monarchs in whose palaces he stood. The decrees of God he declared to them. He withheld nothing. Yet he was careful to show a subject’s respect. How amazed and troubled he was for Nebuchadnezzar’s sake, when he was made to perceive the meaning of the dream, that foreshadowed his impending insanity. For a whole hour he stood speechless. When finally, after being encouraged by the king, he opened his mouth to speak, it was to give expression to the wish that the dream might be to his enemies. With what gentle words he pleads with him to break with his sins, that the chastisement might be averted, “Wherefore, O King,” he said to him, “Let my counsel be acceptable to thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility.” To the impious Belshazzar he had to announce that God had numbered his kingdom, and finished it; yet then too with what longing remembrance does he look back to the days of Nebuchadnezzar, his greatness, glory, honor, humiliation and acknowledgement of the rule of the most High in the kingdom of men.
Daniel loved God’s people and the land that He had chosen for His people. It is told us incidentally in connection with the decree of Darius. “When Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house, and his window being open in his chamber towards Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.” In those two words “toward Jerusalem” there lies a deep yearning for the city of Jerusalem; and those closing words, as he did aforetime, bespeak a life of longing prayer. For Jerusalem was the city that God had chosen for His name. The intensity of his soul, when the 70 years of his captivity were nearly accomplished. “O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from the city of Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake. O my God, incline thine ear and hear; open thine eyes and behold our desolation and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplication before thee for our righteousness, but for thy great mercies.”
In the providence of God, Daniel was raised to a high position of power in a heathen court for the sake of God’s people—a position which he occupied during the Babylonian exile of this people. Already as a lad of 17 he sat in the king’s gate, presiding over all the colleges of the wise men. And he “continued even unto the first year of King Cyrus.” Amid all the intrigues and all the envy toward him, a captive in high office, he continued, because God was with him, he being faithful. “The president and the Satraps sought in vain to find any occasion against him concerning the kingdom; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was any error or fault found in him.” He continued faithful. He survived in uncorrupting greatness the 70 years, was honored during the 43 years of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, and owned by the conquering Medo-persians. He was the protector of His people during the years of exile. He perhaps wrote the decree of Cyrus which gave leave for the longed for restoration of his people, whose re-entrance in their land he did not share. The presence of such a man of God in Babylon has with reason been appraised as converting the chastisement of God’s people into the riches of the Gentiles.