Questions and observations for discussion:
1. What can we know about Daniel’s family background and early formative circumstances of his life? (The following observations are taken from Z. Stefanovic, Daniel: Wisdom to the Wise: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel. Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2007, 16 ff.
From Dan 1:3 we learn that he was born in a family of nobility. In all probability he was born around the time of King Josiah’s reform in 622. Daniel can be said to have suffered two traumatic events as a young man. First the wonderful reform of Josiah followed by the death of this king in battle with Neco of Egypt and the subsequent return to idolatry. Then came the invasion of the Babylonians and the subsequent captivity of the Jews. This must have raised agonizing questions for Daniel and others of where God was in all of this.
2. What do we know about Daniel that helps us understand him as an agent of hope?
We are told that he spent long periods of fasting and prayer in sackcloth and ashes (Dan 9:3). Jeremiah no doubt was a key influence on him and his companions with his letter of hope in Jer 29. He promised the return of a remnant (Jer 30, Jer 31). Both through Jeremiah and through his prayer life Daniel must have come to the conclusion that since God was to be seen as in control (Dan 1:2, Jer 25:9) he should neither sit down to mourn by the river like many (Psalms 137), nor take up a path of resistence and political intrigue. The rest of the story we know. Through his steadfast reliance on God and simple, healthy life-style he achieved a stability and wisdom that carried him with distinction through both earthly exaltation and demise repeatedly. While he was willing to be of service even to his captives, his first allegiance to God was never in doubt, as so many of the stories in the fist half of the book of Daniel illustrate.
3. Daniel obviously played a role in the palaces of two world empires as an advisor and a governor, but how should we primarily characterize him with regard to his spiritual role in relation to his people the Jews? as a wise man, an apocalyptic visionary, a prophet?
In Babylon he was appointed to be in charge of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners (Dan 5:11). His recording of visions are certainly done in the language of apocalyptic with its cosmic, universal sweep (Dan 7, Dan 8). Given the large amount of narrative in the first half of Daniel the Hebrew canon place it among the ‘Writings.’ Yet it is significant that in the Septuagint (Greek O.T.) he is placed among the ‘Prophets.’ Also, subsequent Jewish writers refered to him as a prophet as Jesus also did (Mat 24:15).
4. Although he was an amazing recipient of God’s power to interpret dreams and to reveal events of salvation history far in advance of their occurrence, what limitations in knowledge and understanding with regard to Israel’s future did he struggle with? How is this relevant for us? See his struggle in Dan 9 with the “seventy years” prophecy.
5. What should be the role of prophecy in our spiritual lives? Is prophecy given at one juncture of history iron clad in its fulfillment, or can God change the game-plan when circumstances change?