Daniel: A Prophet to the Nations
PROPHET TO THE
PROPHET TO THE NATIONS
John M. Oakes, Ph.D.
Great Commission Illustrated Books
Highlands Ranch, CO
Prophet to the Nations
Copyright © 2000 by John M. Oakes, Ph.D.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be duplicated,
copied, translated, reproduced or stored mechanically or electronically
without specific, written permission of the author and publisher.
Published by Great Commission Illustrated Books
Printed in the United States of America
First Printing, April 2000
Cover graphics and layout by William To and Rex Geissler
The front cover photo of the lion relief is an inverted view
of a street wall in Babylon near the Ishtar Gate.
The back cover photo is a coin depiction of Alexander the Great.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references are from the Holy
Bible, New International Version, copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the
International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible
Publishers. Scripture references marked NAS are from the New
American Standard Bible, copyright The Lockman Foundation 1977.
Used by permission.
and Ruth Oakes, my mother.
Thanks go to my wife Jan who has always supported my efforts
to study and to write.
I owe a debt to those who have given input into the text and
editing including my mother Ruth Oakes, Andrew Lamb, and Brian
I would also thank my publisher Rex Geissler whose tireless
efforts in producing this work have been invaluable.
In addition, much deserved thanks to Gordon Ferguson and
Douglas Jacoby both of whom, as Christian writers, have been a
model and an inspiration.
I – Historical Background to the Book of Daniel………………..17
II – Daniel, Prophet to the Nations ……………………………………39
Part I – Daniel: A Righteous Man in an Unbelieving World
III – Conviction or Compromise?………………………………………51
IV – The Fires of Persecution……………………………………………60
V – Party Animal Meets Man of God………………………………..74
VI – Thrown to the Lions ………………………………………………….87
Part II – Daniel: A Righteous Man in an Unbelieving World
VII – A Dream in the Night …………………………………………….101
VIII – A King Eats Grass ……………………………………………….115
IX – A Beastly Encounter……………………………………………….129
X – Sheep vs. Goat…………………………………………………………147
XI – The King Comes to Jerusalem…………………………………162
XII – North vs. South……………………………………………………..179
XIII – End Times……………………………………………………………203
Appendix A – Maps and Timelines ………………………………….215
Appendix B – Daniel and the Premillenial Doctrine …………..222
Appendix C – Daniel and Angels ……………………………………..234
Appendix D – Daniel and the Apocrypha………………………….239
It is a privilege to write this Foreword for John Oakes’ new
book on Daniel. I have known John for many years and respect him
so much as a disciple of Jesus Christ. John and Jan were on the San
Diego ministry staff for a period when Gregg Marutzky and I were
leading the church there. John was a very competent minister and a
very supportive, encouraging friend. For all of his intellectual capacity
and academic training (with a Ph.D. in Chemistry Physics), he is a
very down-to-earth practical man and a very humble one. Therefore,
my first thoughts about commending the book to you come through the
avenue of being able to commend the writer as a great brother in
Christ. He is not just good at writing – he is good at living what he
writes about and he personally sets the example that he calls others to
But now to the book I am commending. Several things stand out
in reading the book, which will make it a very valuable addition to any
library. One, John writes in a very practical and challenging way. As
Daniel and his friends faced the spiritual battles of their day, the
readers find plenty of direction to examine our hearts and lives as we
face similar temptations in our day. For example, as John wrote about
the temptation of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to bow down to
the king’s idol in order to save their lives, he posed some probing
questions by which to evaluate our level of idolatry in a number of
areas. Then he added this little story from his own life.
I can vividly remember the day when, as a graduate
student, my advisor called me into his office to share a
concern. He said it was really obvious that pursuing a Ph.D.
and a career as a professional scientist was not my first
priority. He said in all sincerity that if I did not intend to
make the pursuit of science my life, I might need to consider
doing something else. What could I say in response to this?
In my heart I was saying, “Yes! It is working! My boss has
noticed that my commitment to God is far more important to
me that getting a Ph.D.” I hope that my colleagues would
make the same sort of comment about me today. If not, I must
ask myself if I have not begun to be at least a part-time
worshiper in the church of academia.
Those convictions coming from a college professor definitely gain
my respect for him and force me to take a closer look at my own
temptations to compromise in perhaps subtle ways to avoid having
others think badly about me. This book will have that kind of effect on
Another outstanding part of the book is in how John’s knowledge
about the history, culture, language and political situations of Daniel’s
day enable him to blend together these elements to set the stage well
for us readers. Even if we are quite uninformed in these areas, we will
end up really understanding what before was a mystery, as these
things are brought to life in a manner that grabs our attention. John
knows these subjects well, and without such knowledge being passed
on to us, our intellectual grasp and appreciation of Daniel would be
Yet another area that I think is outstanding is John’s willingness
to address the symbolism in the book in a straightforward, thorough
manner. Writers are sometimes tempted to skim over the harder
issues of interpretation and focus mainly on the easier ones, especially
those that are more practically applicable. John covers the practical
applications well in the narrative sections of the book, but wades right
in to identify the meaning of the signs and symbols that occupy a fair
segment of Daniel. You will not put this exposition down without
knowing what the “beast with three ribs in its mouth between its
teeth” (Daniel 7:5) symbolizes or what the other key symbols
represent. As the meaning of all of these symbols is unfolded for you,
your faith in the Bible and in the present Kingdom of which we are a
part will increase dramatically.
To this end I commend this new book and its author¾to increase
our knowledge, our faith and our commitment to live our lives as soldout
disciples of Jesus. May God add his blessings to accomplish these
things for all who read the book, and may it find a wide base of
readership. Its potential impact on individuals and the kingdom
deserves that exposure. And to God be the glory!
April 10, 2000
Daniel occupies a place of his own among the figures in the Old
Testament. Although the book of Daniel fits neatly into the fabric of
the Old Testament books, its subject and style are unique. What other
prophet had the Gentile world as his primary sphere of ministry? What
other book (except maybe Esther) focuses primarily on happenings in
the Gentile world, rather than in Israel? What other book in the Old
Testament talks about angels and the resurrection so much—or
provides such a vivid prophetic picture of the future history of the
Because of this unique setting, the book of Daniel is packed full
of practical examples of how to live a life for God while living in a
non-believing world. At the same time, the book can be very helpful in
building the faith of those who read it because of its amazingly
accurate prophecies of the future.
The content of Daniel is readily divided into two parts. The book
can be divided between the historical accounts of the events in the life
of Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and those
parts which are prophetic visions of the future which Daniel received.
These two types of material are interspersed throughout the book. In
order to illustrate how the prophetic and the historical material are
distributed, consider the outline of Daniel below.
Outline of the Book of Daniel
Chapter I – Nebuchadnezzar chooses Shadrach, Meshach,
Abednego and Daniel for service. They refuse to compromise with
Chapter II – Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream: A huge statue and
Daniel’s interpretation of the dream—the four world empires.
Chapter III – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to bow
down to a giant idol: Their adventure in the fiery furnace.
Chapter IV – Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a great tree and
Daniel’s interpretation. The interpretation comes true and
Nebuchadnezzar worships God.
Chapter V – Daniel interprets the writing on the wall.
Belshazzar, grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, is overthrown, and the
nation of Babylon comes to an end.
Chapter VI – Daniel in the Lion’s Den.
Chapter VII – The vision of the four beasts, the ten horns and
the little horn.
Chapter VIII – A ram (Media/Persia) and a goat (Greece)
along with the stern-faced king (Antiochus IV Epiphanes).
Chapter IX – Daniel’s prayer and God’s answer: 490 years until
the Messiah comes.
Chapter X – Daniel’s final vision: Daniel overcome and helped
Chapter XI – Daniel’s final vision, continued: The kings of the
South (Egypt) and the kings of the North (Syria), then the abomination
of desolation in Jerusalem.
Chapter XII – The resurrection of the dead and the time of the
The historical/practical parts of Daniel are found in chapters one,
three, five and six, while the prophetic visions are contained in
chapters two, four and seven through twelve. When Daniel wrote the
book (or when the editor who collected his writings put them into their
final form), the material was arranged chronologically, rather than
thematically. However in this book, Daniel will be studied thematically,
rather than chronologically. In other words, after some introductory
material, this book will cover the historical/practical parts first,
followed by the visions and their interpretations.
Whether in its historical aspects or in its prophetic writings, the
book of Daniel has one overriding theme, which is: GOD RULES
THE NATIONS: DO NOT FEAR. Given this Biblical truth, the
primary lesson to be learned by the readers of Daniel is that they must
be faithful to their commitment to the Lord God, regardless of the
circumstances in their lives. Whatever the outward appearance at the
moment, if the man of God will put his faith in the unseen but allpowerful
God of heaven, he will be God’s righteous person, and will
be rewarded on that great Day in the future. Through Daniel, God is
telling his people that no matter what is happening in the economic
world, in the religious world, in the political world, or in the social
world, God is in control. God knows his people. He is watching over
his righteous servants. Anyone who puts his or her trust in God will
ultimately be vindicated. The reader will see this theme developed
throughout the book again and again in various ways.
The Book of Daniel is a varied collection of accounts, visions,
interpretations of those visions, letters, and prayers taken from the
different stages in Daniel’s long life.1 However, God is the ultimate
author of the book of Daniel (2 Timothy 3:16), so it is not surprising
that the book has a unitary theme and purpose running through this
potpourri of material. The original purpose of the book of Daniel was
to prepare God’s people for the times of great tribulation and
persecution which lay ahead. God wanted his people both then and
now to remain righteous no matter what the world throws at them.
More specifically, the book was written to help the nation of Israel
remain faithful through the terrible persecutions under the Seleucid
king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (more on that in the historical overview
in chapter one).
In Daniel one finds a great number of parallels with the New
Testament book of Revelation. The implicit purpose of Revelation was
to prepare disciples of Jesus Christ for the great persecutions under
Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Diocletian and
other Roman emperors. The early church was encouraged with the
knowledge that God is in control, not only of the nations in the physical
world, but also in the heavenly realms. It is easy to see the parallel to
the theme of Daniel.
Readers of the New Testament are typically more familiar with
the historical background of the persecutions of the early church under
Rome than they are with the persecutions of the Jews in the period
between the Old and New Testaments. The Jewish persecutions
under the Greek kingdoms are the primary subject of the prophetic
parts of the book of Daniel. It is one of the goals of this book to
remedy the lack of familiarity with Jewish history most Bible readers
have and to therefore make the book of Daniel more accessible.
1 Daniel was taken, probably as a young adult, to Babylon in 605 BC in one of
the deportations of Jews. Daniel survived to be an official under Cyrus (“So Daniel
prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus, Daniel 6:28), implying
that he lived a few years past 535 BC. Therefore, Daniel almost certainly lived over
It would be impossible to reach a complete understanding of the
message of Daniel without a fairly good background in the history of
the Jews starting with the Babylonian period, following through until
the time of Jesus Christ. The first chapter provides an historical
overview to this period which will set the stage for both the practical
lessons and for understanding the prophetic visions of Daniel.
Part I of this book will cover the parts of the book of Daniel
which involve events in the lives of Daniel and his friends Shadrach,
Meshach and Abednego. One will find a recurring theme in these
chapters. Through many difficult and challenging situations, Daniel and
his friends must learn how to deal in a godly way with a decidedly
ungodly society and political system. Perhaps the reader can relate to
this problem. When the Jews suffered under intense persecution,
especially during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes—an event the
book of Daniel was preparing them for—they were able to look back
to Daniel’s example. They could see Daniel remain powerfully faithful
despite the fact that he did not have a lot of support from other godly
men and women. They could see clear and practical examples of the
fact that God rules the nations. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and
Abednego serve as dramatic examples for us of how to live for Jesus.
It is God’s desire for us that “Those who are wise will shine like the
brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness,
like the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).
Part II of the book will cover those parts of Daniel which are
primarily prophetic in nature. Where the lives of Daniel and his friends
(Part I) provide the practical example of how to live a righteous life in
the midst of an ungodly world, the prophecies of Daniel (Part II) will
describe to the readers of the book the actual future events which
Israel and the church will have to endure in order to remain faithful to
God. For a reader in the twenty-first century who is able to look back
and see how these amazingly specific prophecies were in fact
realized, the validity of the message of Daniel will be nailed down in a
most dramatic way. The deep conviction thus gained will hopefully
help the student of Daniel to put the great practical examples of
righteous living contained in the book to work in their own lives.
To summarize, the reader should bear in mind the theme of
Daniel which is GOD RULES THE NATIONS: DO NOT FEAR, as
well as the purpose of Daniel which is to prepare God’s people to
remain faithful and righteous in times of great trouble. The theme and
purpose of Daniel will be revealed in the outline: practical historical
accounts and prophetic visions. Prepare yourself to be challenged to
live a righteous life for God “in a crooked and depraved generation in
which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15). Also,
prepare yourself to be greatly inspired as Daniel proves through its
amazing and specific prophecies that truly the Bible is the inspired
word of God.
John M. Oakes
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, April 2000
Historical Background to
the Book of Daniel
The historical/political background to the book of Daniel is
extremely important both to understanding the message of the book
and to interpreting the visions and prophecies of Daniel. This is
perhaps more true for Daniel than any other book in the Bible. There
are several reasons for this fact.
First, Daniel lived in a gentile world. The entire background of his
life is different from that of all other major Old Testament figures,
with the exceptions of Esther and Ezekiel. Daniel had to deal with a
radically different culture and political climate from that of other
characters in the Bible. Most Bible readers are at least somewhat
familiar with the customs and politics of the Jews both in the Old and
in the New Testament times. Attempting to interpret and understand
Daniel looking through these glasses will lead to confusion. Therefore,
understanding the historical and the cultural setting of the book will
prove very helpful to the reader of Daniel.
Another reason that understanding the historical and political
setting of Daniel is crucial is that Daniel himself was an important
political figure. He rose to a very high advisory position in the
Babylonian Empire, the greatest world empire in its time. In fact, he
was “chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners”
(Daniel 5:11). In Babylon, which was famous for being controlled to a
great extent by its “Magi,” this was a very high post for Daniel to hold
When the Medes and Persians took control under Cyrus, rather
than losing his political influence when they destroyed the Babylonian
Empire, Daniel was actually raised to an even higher position. Darius
the Mede planned “to set him (Daniel) over the whole Kingdom”
(Daniel 6:3). In fact, “Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and
the reign of Cyrus” (Daniel 6:28). Cyrus ruled an empire of greater
extent than any previous ruler in the history of mankind up to that time,
and Daniel was a chief administrator in his empire. Surely then
knowledge of the political and historical setting will help one to
understand what Daniel did and said.
Of even greater importance than these, one must understand the
historical setting of the book of Daniel because of the predictive
prophecies it contains. It will be shown that Daniel contains in outline
form the history of the “known world” of the Jews over a period of
about six hundred years. This would not be so spectacular if it were
not for the fact that Daniel tells the history of the world before it
happens. He wrote a history book of the future! Talk about turning
things upside down! Many of the visions (such as that of the ram with
two different horns, or the goat with the prominent horn, or the bear
with three ribs in its mouth) can only be understood in light of the
historical background of Daniel. As you read this book, you will gain
sufficient historical background information to be able to understand
these very strange-seeming visions of Daniel.
In order to describe the historical background of the book of
Daniel, it will be helpful to begin by rolling the tape backward about
four hundred years to the beginning of the nation of Israel under Saul
and David. But before doing this, it will be helpful as well to describe
the geography of the neighboring regions of Israel, an area known as
the Near East, or a nearly synonymous term, the Middle East.1
The nation of Israel lies in a narrow fertile belt aligned in a northto-
south line along the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea (see
maps in the first appendix). Israel was then (and throughout its
history) at the crossroads between much greater empires and nations
which surrounded it. To the southwest lay the fertile and heavily
populated Nile valley—home of the great empire and culture of Egypt.
To the west, of course, was the Mediterranean Sea; but to the
northwest of Palestine/Israel were Asia Minor, modern day Turkey,
and home to the Hittites, the Lydian Empire and later to the Greek and
Ottoman Empires. To the east and south of Palestine was a desert
region, home to the primarily Bedouin peoples known in the Bible as
1 The distinction between the two is minor. Many would not include Persia, or
modern Iran, in the Middle East perhaps because they are a decidedly non-Arab
country. Some would not include Egypt as part of the Near East, since it is in Africa,
but Persia would certainly be part of the Near East.
Historical Background to the Book of Daniel 19
the “Arabs,” the “Sabeans” (i.e. Sheba), the “Edomites,” the
“Nabateans” and others.
Most important of all to Daniel, was the fertile Mesopotamian
valley which lay to the northeast of Israel. Actually, if one looks at the
map, the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers lies more to the east
than to the northeast, but in order for travelers or invading armies to
reach Israel from Mesopotamia, they had to travel up the river valleys
and descend into Israel through Syria to avoid traveling through the
desert. So to the Jews, Mesopotamia is to the northeast.2 Daniel spent
his entire adult life in Mesopotamia, living in Babylon and Susa (one of
the capitals of Persia). Mesopotamia, in the northeast, was home to
the ancient Babylonian Empire (famous for Hammurabi and his first
recorded system of laws), the Akkadian Empire, the Assyrians, the
neo-Babylonians, the Persians and Medes.
Figure 1. Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II killing lions in relief
from Nimrud 850 BC now in the British Museum.
Israel itself was constantly caught in a squeeze play between the
empires to the southwest (Egypt), to the northwest (the Hittites and
the Greek Empires), and to the northeast (Assyria and Babylon for
example). One can readily see, then, why the geography and the
history of Israel are intimately connected.
2 This explains the fact that when the Bible refers to nations, armies or kings
“to the north”, it is actually referring to nations which, when looking on the map,
appear to be more from the East. For example, consider Isaiah 41:25, Jeremiah 4:6,
6:22, 16:15 and 46:6, Ezekiel 26:7 and Zechariah 2:6, to mention a few.
The historical sketch will begin with the foundation of the
kingdom of Israel under Saul the Benjamite (about 1050-1010 BC).
Saul established the Israelite monarchy, but because of his pride, the
kingdom was taken from him (1 Samuel 13:13,14). Saul’s successor
was David (about 1010-970 BC), from the tribe of Judah. David was
a man “after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). David was the
greatest political figure in the history of Israel. He defeated all the
traditional enemies of Israel: the Philistines, Ammonites, Amorites,
Edomites and Moabites to name a few. His son Solomon (about 970-
930 BC) increased the territory of Israel somewhat, and established
Jerusalem was one of the great economic, political and cultural
capitals of the world. These were the glory days of Israel. When
Daniel points forward to the reestablishment of God’s kingdom
(Daniel 2:44-45 and 7:18), surely his readers assumed it would be in a
form along the lines of the kingdom of David and Solomon.
Figure 2. Akkadian bronze head of Sargon c. 2300-2200 BC in
Historical Background to the Book of Daniel 21
Iraq Museum in Baghdad.
The period of the United Kingdom of Israel ended with the reign
Figure 3. Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III which
discusses the King of Israel c. 841 BC.
Historical Background to the Book of Daniel 23
of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. After a coup attempt by Jeroboam,
Israel was irreversibly turned into a divided kingdom. Israel in the
north (the “Northern Kingdom”) had as its capital Samaria while
Judah in the south (“Southern Kingdom”) had Jerusalem as its capital.
The Northern Kingdom was much more deeply involved in
pagan worship, such as the cults of Baal and Ashtoreth. For this
reason, God brought Israel into judgment. The Northern Kingdom was
Figure 4. Assyrian Nineveh Royal Palace Relief showing King
Ashurbanipal c. 669 to c. 630 BC on his Royal Chariot with Parasol.
destroyed by the Assyrian Empire under Sennacherib. Samaria was
defeated, sacked and leveled in 722 BC. Here one sees for the first
time kings “from the north” coming down in judgment of Israel. At this
time, Judah was almost destroyed as well, but thanks to the faith of
Hezekiah, Jerusalem was saved, at least for a while.
The Assyrians, with their capital in Nineveh, were well known
for their fierceness and ruthlessness. When they conquered a nation,
they killed a large proportion of the inhabitants. In order to prevent the
subjugated nation from reforming and later rebelling, they had the
practice of deporting en masse the remaining population and dispersing
them throughout other parts of their empire. This is exactly the fate
the occupants of the Northern Kingdom suffered. Thus the “ten
tribes”3 were scattered in various eastern provinces of Assyria. The
small remnant population of Hebrews left behind intermixed with other
peoples similarly brought into northern Israel as exiles from their own
countries. This intermixing eventually led to the nation/culture/religion
called the Samaritans in Jesus’ day, who were considered unfaithful
by the Jews for marrying into the other races.
Relatively more faithful kings ruled the small remnant of Judah. It
was kept in line to some extent by virtue of having the capital of
religious orthodoxy in Jerusalem. Judah was able to continue as an
independent power for well over one hundred years after the
destruction of Israel. In the meantime, the Assyrian kingdom was
completely destroyed by the combined armies of Cyaxares II of the
Medes and Nabopolassar, king of the Babylonians. Nineveh, the
capital of Assyria, was destroyed in 612 BC when the allied armies of
Media and Babylon diverted the river and threw open the river gates,
exactly as prophesied by Nahum (Nahum 2:6). Nabopolassar gained
ascendancy over most of the former Assyria, including all of
3 Some people overconfidently quote the number ten in talking about the ten
“lost” tribes. There were thirteen total tribes from Jacob including the Levites who
inherited cities rather than land. In fact, the southern kingdom of Judah contained in
its population the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, plus a majority of the Levites who
naturally left Samaria when worship of Yahweh was superseded by the cult of Baal.
Beside these tribes, most of Simeon (whose tribal territory was in the south) and a
significant number of members of the other tribes as well who had fled as religious or
political refugees lived in the southern kingdom of Judah.
Historical Background to the Book of Daniel 25
Nabopolassar’s son Nebuchadnezzar is a major figure in the book
of Daniel. He continued the exploits of his father, even exceeding
them. In 605 BC, he succeeded his father to the Babylonian throne.
At this time, the king of Judah, Jehoiakim submitted to
Nebuchadnezzar after being attacked (2 Kings24:1). The “captivity”
of Jerusalem could thus be dated from 605 BC. The initial date of the
Babylonian captivity will be an important reference point for
understanding some of the visions of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar took
some hostages/captives to Babylon with him at this time. Among those
captives, apparently, were Daniel, Hananiah (later Shadrach), Mishael
(later Meshach) and Azariah (later Abednego). This is seen from
Daniel 2:1 which mentions Daniel and his associates already in
Babylon in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign.
Figure 5. Ishtar Gate from Babylon now in Berlin Museum.
Historical Background to the Book of Daniel 27
While all these things were happening to the Jews,
Nebuchadnezzar fought several battles with the Egyptians, the most
famous being the battle at Carchemish. This battle took place in
northern Palestine. In this battle, Nebuchadnezzar devastated the
army of Pharaoh Neco. Eventually, Babylon came to rule the entire
former Egyptian territory in Palestine. Jehoiakim died and was
succeeded by his son Jehoiachin. However, before he died, he took
the decisive step of rebelling against Babylon. Therefore, in his eighth
year, 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar attacked and defeated Jerusalem. He
took Jehoiachin and a large number of the leading men of Judah into
captivity in Babylon, but he spared the city itself. The “captivity” of
Judah can thus be dated from 597 BC or from the 605 BC date
mentioned above.4 This will be important in understanding the book of
Daniel. It is interesting to note that the exact sequence of events of
597 BC were prophesied by Isaiah almost one hundred and fifty years
before at a time when Babylon was not a major political power at all
Nebuchadnezzar set up a puppet king in Jerusalem to serve as his
vassal. He chose Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah. Eleven years later,
Zedekiah foolishly rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, despite being
advised by God through Jeremiah to remain in submission to him. The
armies of Babylon returned, this time occupying, burning and razing
the city of Jerusalem in 586 BC. This is one of the most compelling
moments in the history of God’s people. Many more captives were
carried off to Babylon at this time as well. Thus the period of the kings
of Israel came to an ignominious end. (These events are recorded in 2
Kings 24:8-25:22, Jeremiah 51:1-30, and 2 Chronicles 36:15-20)
Nebuchadnezzar’s son Evil-Merodach succeeded him but proved
to be a much weaker leader. Eventually, Nabonidus came to power.
He was a mystic—seemingly more interested in religious cults than in
keeping control of his large empire. His son, Belshazzar (grandson of
4 Sir Robert Anderson, in his book Daniel in the Critic’s Den, Kregel
Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1990, pp. 117-123 (originally published in
1909) put forth an interesting theory concerning the seventy years. He claimed that
there were seventy years of captivity, starting in 605 BC and a separate seventy
years of desolation, starting in 586 BC, when Jerusalem was destroyed. Both dates
have a logical terminus seventy years later. The support from scripture for there being
two separately calculated “captivities” seems weak. Nevertheless, Anderson makes
some interesting points. The interested reader should consult Anderson’s book.
Nebuchadnezzar through Nabonidus’ wife) shared the throne with his
father after 553 BC. This is the Belshazzar of Daniel chapter five.
Weakness in Babylon gave an opening to a rising power to the
east of Babylon. The Median Empire, allies of the Babylonians when
they had defeated Assyria were now eyeing the Mesopotamian valley.
However, in the meantime, Cyrus the king of the Persians, threw off
his overlords the Medes in 550-549 BC becoming the uncontested
ruler of the Medo/Persian dual Empire.
Cyrus “the Great” is a very important figure both in the
prophecies of Daniel and in the actual events of Daniel’s life. He was
truly a unique ruler in his time. Breaking with the pattern of cruelty to
defeated peoples of other nations and rulers, Cyrus showed great
restraint when he defeated the Medes. He did not destroy their
capital, Ecbatana. Neither did he attempt to impose Persian religion
(what later became Zoroastrianism, a religion still practiced today,
especially in parts of India and Iran). Rather than deporting the
peoples he defeated, he actually instituted the practice of allowing
exiles to return to their homelands. This practice was to play a
decisive role in the history of Israel.
The three other great powers of Cyrus’ day were Babylon, Lydia
(whose center of power was in Asia Minor) and Egypt. Cyrus
eventually defeated the first two, while his son Cambysses defeated
the Egyptians. First, Cyrus attacked Lydia. The king of Lydia was the
fantastically wealthy Croesus, whose name is synonymous with
wealth. Lydia fell in 546 BC. Next in line was Babylon, which fell
virtually without a fight in 539 BC. This is an important date, because
soon after overcoming Babylon, Cyrus issued the decree allowing the
Jewish exiles to return to Israel. This decree is recorded in 2
The Lord, the God of heaven has given me all the
kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a
temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people
among you—may the Lord his God be with him, and let him
This is truly a remarkable decree from Cyrus. Lest anyone think
this is just a story the writers of 2 Chronicles made up, it is virtually
identical to a decree which was discovered carved into a stone
Historical Background to the Book of Daniel 29
cylinder called the “Cyrus cylinder.” On this Persian cylinder, Cyrus
Figure 6. Cyrus Cylinder Cuneiform Fulfillment of Isaiah 45:11
in c. 536 BC in the British Museum.
is quoted as saying, “All of their peoples I assembled and restored to
their own dwelling places”. A similar statement, actually from Darius,
is also recorded in the famous Behuistan inscription—carved into a
huge cliff in the desert regions of southern Persia. The Cyrus cylinder
also records the bloodless overthrow of Babylon as described in
Daniel chapter five. In addition, Cyrus also had a policy of returning
plundered “gods” to their native peoples. Although the Jews obviously
had no such idols, the decree was applied to the stolen items from the
temple in Jerusalem—the same items which were used in the
idolatrous drunken feast by Belshazzar the night Babylon was
captured (Daniel 5:1-5). Cyrus decreed that the utensils be sent back
to Jerusalem (Ezra 6:3-5).
In one of the most astoundingly specific prophecies in all the
Bible, Isaiah had predicted somewhere around 750 BC, over two
hundred years beforehand (Isaiah 45:13):
I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all
his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles
free, but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty.5
5 Cyrus is called the Lord’s anointed. Bear in mind that the word Messiah