Question: "What should we learn from the life of Daniel?"
Answer: The life of Daniel can be read in his own writings in the book of Daniel and in Ezekiel 14:14, 20; 28:3; and Mark 13:14. There are some striking similarities between the life of Daniel and that of Jacob’s son Joseph. Both of them prospered in foreign lands after interpreting dreams for their rulers, and both were elevated to high office as a result of their faithfulness to God.
After Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, besieged Jerusalem, he chose of Israel’s royal household noble men who were handsome and showed an aptitude for learning, to be trained in the ways of the Babylonians. After their three years’ training, they would be put into the king’s service (Daniel 1:1-6). Daniel, whose name means “God is my judge,” and his three countrymen from Judea were chosen and given new names. Daniel became “Belteshazzar,”, while Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah became “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” The Babylonians believed that, by giving them new names that were completely disassociated with their Hebrew roots, Daniel and his friends would become subservient to their new rulers and the culture they now lived in.
Daniel and his compatriots proved to be the wisest of all the trainees, and at the end of their training, they entered the service of King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel’s first sign of faithfulness to God was when he and his countrymen rejected the rich food and wine from the king’s table, because they deemed it a defilement, and became vegetarians. As their health improved, they were permitted to continue with their chosen diet. In their education, the four men from Judah became knowledgeable in all Babylonian matters, and Daniel was given by God the ability to understand dreams and visions of all kinds (Daniel 1:17).
In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar was troubled with a dream that he could neither remember nor interpret. His magicians and astrologers were unable to interpret a dream, much less to know what the dream was. The king decreed that all the wise men, including Daniel and his companions, must be put to death. However, after Daniel sought God in prayer, the mystery of the king’s dream was revealed to Daniel, and he was taken to the king to interpret it. Daniel immediately attributed his ability to interpret dreams to the one true God (Daniel 2:28). The key feature of the dream, as Daniel told it to the king, was that one day there will be a kingdom set up by God that will last forever, and that it will destroy all previous kingdoms known to man (Daniel 2:44-45). With this, Daniel was honored by King Nebuchadnezzar and placed in authority over all the wise men of Babylon. At Daniel’s request, his three countrymen were also placed in positions of authority as administrators of Babylon.
In time, King Nebuchadnezzar built a huge golden statue and decreed that all his people bow down and worship it at the given signal. His decree went on to say that whoever refused to bow down to it would be thrown into a blazing furnace (Daniel 3:6). Word reached the king that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were not worshipping his gods or the statue, and so they were summoned to Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Faced with being thrown into a blazing furnace, the three faithfully announced that their God could rescue them from the fire, but even if He did not, they would not bow down to the image (vss. 16-18). The furnace was so hot, seven times its normal heat, that the king’s soldiers were killed while putting the three into it. Then Nebuchadnezzar saw that there were four men in the furnace, completely unbound and walking about and that the fourth figure looked like he was a son of a god (vs.25). When the king called them out of the furnace, he and his governors were amazed to find that not a single hair of their heads had been scorched, nor was there even the merest smell of fire about them.
King Nebuchadnezzar had a second dream, and, not for the first time, he acknowledged that Daniel had the spirit of his holy God within him and was able to interpret his dream (Daniel 4:9). Daniel’s interpretation of the dream was fulfilled, and, after a period of insanity, Nebuchadnezzar was restored to his kingdom, and he praised and honored Daniel’s God as the most High (Daniel 4:34-37).
Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar, became the new king, and during a banquet he ordered the gold and silver goblets that had been stolen from the holy temple in Jerusalem to be brought out for use. In response to the defilement of such holy items, Belshazzar sees a hand writing on the wall. Once again, his astrologers are unable to assist him in its translation, and so Daniel is called upon to interpret the writing (Daniel 5:13-16). As a reward for interpreting the writing, Daniel is promoted by King Belshazzar to the third highest position in the Babylonian kingdom (vs. 29). That night, as Daniel had prophesied, the king was slain in battle, and his kingdom was taken over by Cyrus the Great, and Darius the Mede was made king.
Under the new ruler, Daniel excelled in his duties as one of the administrators to such a degree that King Darius was contemplating making him head over all the kingdom (Daniel 6:1-3). This infuriated the other administrators so much that they looked for a way to bring Daniel down. They encouraged Darius to issue a decree forbidding his subjects from praying to any of their gods for the next thirty days. The penalty for disobeying was to be thrown into a den of lions. Daniel, however, continued to pray so openly to God that he could be seen at his bedroom window doing so. With much regret the king gave the order for Daniel to be thrown into the lions’ den, but not without a prayer that Daniel’s God would rescue him (Daniel 6:16). The next day when Daniel was found alive and well, he told the king that God had sent an angel to shut the lions’ mouths and so he remained unharmed. This resulted in King Darius sending out a decree that all his subjects were to worship the God of Daniel. And Daniel continued to prosper throughout King Darius’ reign.
The lesson from the life of Daniel is that he exercised great integrity and, in doing so, received the respect and affection of the powerful rulers he served. However, his honesty and loyalty to his masters never led him to compromise his faith in the one true God. Rather than it being an obstacle to his success, Daniel’s continual devotion to God brought him the admiration of the unbelievers in his circle. When delivering his interpretations, he was quick to give God the credit for his ability to do so (Daniel 2:28).
Daniel’s integrity as a man of God gained him favor with the secular world, yet he refused to compromise his faith in God. Even under the intimidation of kings and rulers, Daniel remained steadfast in his commitment to God. Daniel also teaches us that, no matter who we are dealing with, no matter what their status is, we are to treat them with compassion. See how concerned he is when delivering the interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream (Daniel 4:19). As Christians, we are called to obey the rulers and authorities that God has put in place, treating them with respect and compassion; however, as we see from Daniel’s example, obeying God’s law must always take precedence over obeying men.
As a result of his devotion, Daniel not only found favor with those around him, but above all he found favor with God and was held in high esteem by Him (Daniel 9:20-23). Notice also in those verses what the angel Gabriel told Daniel about how swiftly the answer to his prayer was dispatched. This shows us how ready the Lord is to hear the prayers of His people. Daniel’s strength lay in his devotion to prayer and is a lesson for us all. It is not just in the bad times but on a daily basis that we must come to God in prayer.