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Daniel, the Prophet Who Was Not a Prophet

“This Daniel began distinguishing himself among the commissioners and satraps because he possessed an extraordinary spirit.”  (Daniel 6:3)

You may know Daniel as the one who survived a den of lions in the land of Babylon.

But there’s so much more to this Jewish man than that.

Daniel was deported as a teenager to this multi-god worshiping nation after King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem in 587 BC, a captivity that the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah had prophesied would happen.

Although he served the kings of Babylon, Daniel didn’t simply go with the flow of the people around him, especially when the kings’ orders conflicted with God’s orders.

We can learn much from Daniel on how to live holy lives in the secular ungodly world we live today.

The Flight of the Prisoners-James Tissot

The Flight of the Prisoners, by James Tissot

Daniel, Servant of the King

Dan-i-El דָּנִיאֵל means God is my Judge.

Daniel was likely from an upper-class family in Jerusalem, according to the historian Josephus (Antiquities 10.188).  As such, he was taken to Babylon among a group of nobles and royal family members, as Isaiah prophesied to King Hezekiah:

“Some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”  (Isaiah 39:7; see also Daniel 1:3)

Daniel, by Gustav Dore

Along with his three close friends (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego), Daniel initially served as a trainee in the court of the king who had captured him.

He was then given leading governmental posts under that same King Nebuchadnezzar, and later kings Belshazzar, Cyrus, and Darius.

The chief official in Babylon gave Daniel the name of Belteshazzar, which means “Beltis, protect the king.”


Daniel: Natural Talent + Divine Inspiration = Great Wisdom

Daniel is described as one of the  “young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace”  (Daniel 1:4).

To Daniel and his three friends,  “God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.”  (Daniel 1:17)

And that gave them great favour with the king.

“In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.”  (Daniel 1:19–20)

Yet, it was Daniel who could understand and decipher visions and dreams when no one else in all of Babylon could.

Daniel gained a reputation first as an interpreter of other men’s visions (Daniel 2–5);  then of his own, in which he predicted the future triumph of the Messianic Kingdom (Daniel 7–12).

Several of the visions and dreams Daniel interpreted and the knowledge told to him concern end-time events that are unfolding before us in these last days.

In fact, Yeshua (Jesus) acknowledged Daniel’s end-time prophecies twice in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14.

With all of Daniel’s stunning insight, one might think Daniel would be called a prophet among the Jewish People, but that is not so.

nebuchadnezzar's dream, Daniel 2

Daniel helps King Nebuchadnezzar understand that a statue the king saw in a dream represents various kingdoms, which will all be brought to an end by a kingdom that will “endure forever”  (Daniel 2:31–45).

Daniel: The Prophet Who Was Not a Prophet

In Christian Bibles, Daniel is honoured as the fourth of the so-called “greater” prophets (rather than placed among the “minor” prophets).

The original Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) is comprised of the Torah (first five books of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuv’im (Writings).  Together they are known as the T’N’K or Tanakh.

The Book of Daniel is found in the Writings (Ketuv’im) along with the books of Esther, Psalms, Proverbs, and other “non-prophetic” books. Therefore, the book of Daniel is not found in the Prophets (Nevi’im) section, and Daniel himself is not considered a prophet in Judaism.

This is because the Jewish definition of a Biblical prophet is one who had direct communication with God.  Daniel, on the other hand, received divine inspiration by the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh).  He never actually saw or heard God.

We see this kind of inspiration in both the books of Daniel and Esther.  In fact, in the Book of Esther, the name of God is not even mentioned.

Daniel deciphers king Belshazzar’s vision of the writing on the wall. Though they were common Aramaic words, only Daniel understood that the king was “weighed on the scales and found wanting” and that he would lose his kingdom (Daniel 5:27–28).  (Illustration 1937 engraving published in The Holy Bible, St. Vojtech Publishing.)

The Jewish heroes of these two books are placed in a pagan kingdom where the Lord does not speak or appear to them the way He does with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah; for instance—audibly, visibly, tangibly.

Nevertheless, the men of Babylon clearly saw God’s sovereignty and power in Daniel’s life.  They even told the king:

“There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God”  (Daniel 5:11).

While prophets also had the Ruach (Spirit) of God with them, the sages say that God’s Spirit gave Daniel a depth of insight and revelation uncommon to prophets.

Daniel and his friends respectfully refused to eat the non-kosher meat and wine of the king, which would defile them.  For ten days, they ate only vegetables and drank water.  “At the end of ten days, their appearance was better and healthier than all the young men who were eating the king’s food.”  (Daniel 1:15)

In this way, Daniel is considered to be a sage.  And in the Talmud we read that “a sage is superior to a prophet”  (Bava Batra 12a).

According to the Rabbis of the Talmud, Daniel was endowed with such an incredible gift of wisdom, that if one were to weigh his wisdom against that of all the wise men of the gentile nations, Daniel’s would outweigh them all (Talmud, Yoma 77a).

As it is written:  “The people who know their God shall be strong and do great exploits”  (Daniel 11:32).

Perhaps Daniel’s divinely inspired wisdom helped him to live a long life, while almost every prophet was killed by the people.

Daniel: A Man of Prayer

Daniel consistently kept his date with his beloved Lord.  Three times a day, he turned toward Jerusalem to pray (Daniel 6:10–11,16), even though his life was in danger for doing so.

A synagogue’s bima (pulpit) and the aron kodesh (holy ark) that holds the Sefer (Torah scrolls) also faces Jerusalem, just as King Solomon expected people to do when they pray (1 Kings 8:35–36).

A typical synagogue with the Bima in the foreground and the Aron Kodesh, the Holy Ark (with the Star of David on it) in the background.

As Believers, we can learn a great deal from Daniel’s amazing prayer of repentance and supplication on behalf of his people, his nation, and the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Daniel knew from reading the scrolls of Jeremiah that Israel’s exile in Babylon would last 70 years, and that day was drawing very close (Jeremiah 29:10).

Did Daniel start packing?  Did he alert his Jewish People in Babylon that they would soon return to Israel?  No.  Instead of taking the prophecy for granted, he prayed to God for that promise of restoration to happen.

In many ways, Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9 can be a model prayer for all who seek God to restore their own wayward people and land.

Daniel first came to God humbly  “in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.”  (verse 3)

He then confessed the sins of the people of Israel that put them in exile.  (verses 5–16)

He affirmed God’s righteousness in judging those sins with exile.

IDF Soldier prayer Israel Defence Force

An Israeli soldier prays toward Jerusalem wearing a tallit (prayer shawl).

Then Daniel did what Moses and the psalmist often did but many of us often don’t do.  Daniel appealed to God’s reputation as the reason for restoring His people to His city of Jerusalem:

“Lord, forgive!  Lord, hear and act!  For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”  (verse 19)

Imagine if God did not restore His people to the very city where He has placed His name—Jerusalem.  Surely, the nations would say, “Where is their God?”  (Psalms 79:10 and 115:2)

Daniel is caught praying to God, which violated an edict of the king.  As punishment, he is thrown into the lions’ den (Daniel 6).

And because of Yeshua the Messiah, the Gentiles (non-Jews) are now also God’s “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  (1 Peter 2:9)

God’s reputation is at stake when we fall, fail, or wander off.  Yet, He is ever-willing to see us prosper and succeed in the calling He gave to us as His special possession.

But we need to come to Him as Daniel did:  humbly, confessing our sins, acknowledging God’s sovereign rule over our lives, and appealing to His own righteous reputation, not to any righteousness of our own.

For we are made to glorify Him and only Him.

Daniel: A Man of Uncompromising Faith

Sometimes having great wisdom is not enough to stay alive in a hostile territory.  In fact, thousands of martyrs have died over the centuries standing up for God.

But Daniel and his three friends had a unique favour and calling on their lives while living in a pagan culture that did not accept Jewish practices, nor the God of Israel.

How did they handle it?

Daniel obeyed God, putting his trust in Him at all times.

Daniel's Answer to the King-Briton Riviere-Johoiakim-Babylon

Daniel’s Answer to the King (1892), by Briton Rivière, depicts Daniel telling the King that God sent an angel to close the mouths of the lions: “They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty” (Daniel 6:22).

Daniel’s Legacy Lives On

Daniel’s legacy has remained strong for over two millennia.  Eight copies of Daniel were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are a testament to Daniel’s popularity in ancient times.

The last mention of Daniel himself is in the third year of Cyrus (Daniel 10:1).

The first century Jewish writer Josephus reported that Daniel’s body lay in a tower in Parthia, Iran, alongside the bodies of the kings of the Medes and Persians.

Later Jewish authorities said he was buried in Susa, Iran and that near his house were hidden the vessels from the Temple of Solomon.

Inside Daniel’s tomb in Susa, Iran.

Wherever Daniel’s true burial plot may be, his legacy of faithfulness to his God lives on.

May we be ever-learning, ever-faithful, and ever-prayerful in these days as Daniel was in his.

The Book of Daniel has some of the most incredible prophecies.  Today we ask that you consider sponsoring our Bible Editorial team in their editorial work of the Book of Daniel for the Messianic Prophecy Bible Project.

If God leads you, please sponsor a prophecy or your favorite chapter of Daniel.

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