by David Jeremiah
A man named George Fairman wrote a song in 1904 titled “The Preacher and the Bear.” Since then it has been revised and recorded by countless artists. The most popular contemporary version was released around 1970 by Nashville superstar Jerry Reed.
“The Preacher and the Bear” is about a preacher who, instead of being in church on Sunday morning, went out hunting. Along the way he encountered a bear that chased him up a tree, causing the preacher to make a deal with the Lord. If God would save him from the bear, there would be “no more huntin’ on the Sabbath day; come Sunday I’m headin’ to the church to pray.”
Reed’s version is energetic and humorous, but it’s the chorus that came to mind for this article. While up in the tree, the preacher cried out to the Lord:
Hey Lord, You delivered Daniel from the bottom of the lion’s den.
You delivered Jonah from the belly of the whale and then,
The Hebrew children from the fiery furnace so the good books do declare,
Hey Lord, if You can’t help me, for goodness sake don’t help that bear.
There is an upside and downside to such songs. They’re good because they get biblical content into the mainstream of cultural conversation. They’re bad because they get biblical content into the mainstream of cultural conversation. Lest you think I’m repeating myself, let me explain.
When biblical content becomes part of any culture, it promotes biblical literacy. People who don’t know much about the Bible can at least learn about biblical characters and events—and that’s good. On the other hand, when biblical content is reduced to the level of entertainment, it can—not always, but often—lose its significance. Biblical characters can appear mythical, even cartoonish. And that is not good.
Instead of knowing the complete story of Daniel and his three friends—the depth of their character, the steel of their resolve, and the purity of their integrity—we might think of them only as “those Bible characters who were saved from lions and fire” in the book of Daniel.
That’s part of the reason I am devoting a new book, a broadcast series, and this issue of Turning Points to the book of Daniel. It is a book not just filled with exciting stories, it’s a book that forms the backbone of the last 2,500 years of world history—what Jesus called “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24).
So prophetically, the book is absolutely critical. But in addition to understanding “the times” prophetically, Daniel the prophet can help us understand “the times” personally.
Think about it: The “times of the Gentiles” refers to the period in which God’s chosen people, Israel, are dispersed among the nations. If “the nations” are holding sway over the affairs of the world, then life for the Christian is going to be a challenge. And that is exactly what we find in the book of Daniel. This young Hebrew (and his three friends) demonstrated that it is possible to live with power and integrity in a godless world. It is possible to influence, not be influenced by, the pagan cultures in which we live. It is possible, with God’s help, to shape the present and the future for Christ and His kingdom.
So let’s learn why Daniel is more than just a book of fascinating people and events.
Daniel’s Place in Bible History
The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that Daniel had a royal lineage. That explains why he was taken to Babylon with the first wave of captives in 605 B.C.—Nebuchadnezzar took the best and brightest Jerusalem had to offer when he besieged Jerusalem.
Daniel (“God is my judge” in Hebrew) is mentioned 70 times in the Bible—65 times in the book of Daniel, 3 times in Ezekiel, and twice by Jesus (recorded in Matthew and Mark). He spent more than 70 years in Babylon and Persia. Even though some 50,000 Jews returned to Judea and Jerusalem when Cyrus, the Persian ruler, released them from captivity, Daniel did not. He never saw Jerusalem again.
But he did see it with eyes of faith three times a day as he faced Jerusalem to pray (2 Chronicles 6:38-39; Daniel 6:10). What he learned at the Temple in Jerusalem as a youth informed his faith-life and civic life (they were one and the same) for all his years. Besides Jesus and His apostles, Daniel is probably the best example of how to live one’s life in the world without being of the world.
Daniel’s Place in Bible Prophecy
Old Testament prophets were either pre-exilic, exilic, or post-exilic. Most were pre-exilic—ministering before the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Micah, and others). Exilic prophets ministered during the Exile (Daniel and Ezekiel), and post-exilic prophets were active after the Babylonian exiles returned to Jerusalem (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).
Beyond when he wrote, more important is what Daniel wrote. Generally, chapters 1-6 contain history and prophecy related to the past while chapters 7-12 address the future—Daniel’s and ours. Another way to understand what Daniel wrote is by understanding Jesus’ phrase “the times of the Gentiles.”
Israel is the apple of God’s eye (Deuteronomy 32:10; Zechariah 2:8); God has pledged Himself to Israel’s perpetuity (Jeremiah 31:35-37). But Daniel saw dramatic prophecies related to four world empires that would dominate Israel: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome—and a revived form of the Roman Empire at the end of this age prior to Christ’s return.
So Daniel, an exile in Babylon, was writing to give his fellow Jews a chronology of what would happen beyond their lifetimes; to assure them that God had not abandoned Israel; to let them know, as Jeremiah had written, that they had “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). The times of the Gentiles will end when the Gospel has gone into all the world (Matthew 24:14) and “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25). Then “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).
Daniel’s Place in Bible Accuracy
The book of Daniel has been attacked by Bible critics more than any other Old Testament book for one reason: The accuracy of its prophecies. Critics say the book of Daniel must have been written much later than when Daniel lived; it had to be written as history, looking back, rather than as prophecy, looking forward. Three examples:
- Daniel 2 and 7 predict the coming of three world empires following Babylon—the Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. History records that those empires appeared exactly as Daniel predicted.
- Daniel 9 predicted to the day the length of time between Cyrus’ decree to release the Jews back to Jerusalem and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
- Daniel 11 predicted the conflicts between the four generals who inherited Alexander the Great’s Greek Empire with such exactness that it seems humanly impossible. It was, of course, humanly impossible. But to the God who sees past, present, and future at the same time, such predictions are totally possible.
Daniel’s Place in Personal Bible Legacy
Ezekiel was deported from Jerusalem to Babylon in 597 B.C., some eight years after Daniel. Called to be a prophet in Babylon (Ezekiel 1:1-3), he grew to be aware of Daniel’s status as a righteous man of God in Babylon. Twice, Ezekiel groups Daniel with two righteous heroes in Israel’s past, Noah and Job, saying that not even the presence of such righteous men could forestall the final judgment that was going to come upon Jerusalem (Ezekiel 14:14, 20).
Noah and Job were known for their righteous stand in the face of wicked and evil cultures and circumstances. It is no wonder that Ezekiel grouped Daniel with them, for that is Daniel’s legacy in Babylon and Persia. Beginning with his arrival in Babylon as a teenager, when he refused to compromise his convictions about diet (Daniel 1:8-17), Daniel refused to be changed by his corrupt surroundings. And God blessed him for his faithfulness. Like Joseph in Egypt centuries before, God elevated Daniel to the highest levels of influence and authority in Babylon and Persia.
Daniel was a model for our lives—an ancient prophet with a modern message, both prophetic and personal. The message we need to draw from this book and this prophet’s life is this: Dare to be a Daniel! And let God handle everything else.