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Bible Study of Daniel: Introduction


I’ve just begun a book study of Daniel, from reading through John MacArthur’s series on this book. The series is available also for download at: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/Scripture/27

So far I’ve only read the two introductory messages, and here are a few of the highlights. In these two sermons, “God’s Man For A Time of Crisis,” MacArthur gives an overview of Israel’s history at this point, emphasizing God’s sovereignty over the nations. This introduction could be called “A Tale of Two Nations,” in which he contrasts the two kingdoms, Israel and Babylon, and shows the irony of how God picked the one nation that had its evil origins, from the very beginning, in Genesis 11 at the Tower of Babel and the beginning of idolatry and paganism, as His weapon to judge His own people. The original Babylonian empire came to its zenith of power in the time of Hammurabi, possibly 1500 years or more before Christ, and then declined and became a state within the Assyrian empire. Then came the neo-Babylonian empire, which interestingly enough lasted only 100 years, long enough to accomplish God’s purposes: to destroy the previous Assyrian empire, then judge His people Israel for 70 years, and then fall to the Medes and Persians in time for the next king to allow the Israelites to return to their land.

The setting includes the names of many generations of rulers of the Assyrians, then the Babylonian rulers, familiar names I’ve heard before but put together in sequence: Sargon II, his son Sennacherib; then Esarhaddon, then Ashurbanipal — then his vice-regent Nabopolassar, who within 15 years after Ashurbanipal’s death managed to destroy the Assyrian empire. Then came his son Nebuchadnezzar, the one we all know about from the story of Daniel and the Babylonian exile.

MacArthur also gives the background of the divided kingdom of Israel and the kings of the northern and southern parts of the original nation of Israel. This part of the study is familiar territory, as I’ve read the Old Testament historical books many times, as I’ve made it a habit years ago, to continually read through the Bible in a one-year reading plan. The summary here includes the fact that Israel fell first, followed by Judah 100 years later, and that Judah had several good kings (eight) whereas Israel had only bad kings. One interesting prophetic connection related to Daniel comes out, though, another treasure of God’s word that I hadn’t thought of before. In Isaiah 39:7, Isaiah’s words to Hezekiah after Hezekiah had greeted the Babylonian envoys: “And 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.” MacArthur’s succinct point here: “That prophecy came to pass in the life of Daniel himself who became that eunuch in the court of Babylon because the people never heard the prophets.”

That Daniel was, at least very likely, a eunuch, I learned from a Chuck Swindoll radio program several years ago. Swindoll mentioned it as something controversial but necessary to point out, and linked it to the fact that we never read of Daniel having a wife. Since then I had learned that in many ancient societies, eunuchs were the ones who could attain great political power and opportunity to rule and influence a king, so much so that in some cases parents would even deliberately make their young male children into eunuchs, in the hope of a great future career opportunity.

The new material (for me) in MacArthur’s study is that Daniel was, or at least well could have been, a descendant of Hezekiah. The introductory verses of Daniel do say, after all, that Daniel and his friends were of the royal family and the nobility. One thing I have learned from several months of reading about Medieval Europe, especially in studying the monarchs of these countries, is that they were all related to each other: a lot of cousins, some closer cousins than others but still related within six or fewer generations (consanguinity). So now it makes sense, that though Daniel was perhaps not in the direct line to the throne, royal families always include many other siblings at each generation, and Daniel clearly fell into that lineage somewhere, descended from Hezekiah, perhaps even a nephew or great-nephew of King Josiah.

MacArthur’s introductory messages also related the rise and fall of nations, as evident in ancient history and specifically the fall of Israel and Judah into moral decadence, to America’s current situation and its decline into decadence. These sermons were delivered in 1979, and thus somewhat dated with references to the Ayatollah Khomeini and Ted Bundy, but the decadence of a declining culture is still relevant as we now see America’s decline continuing far beyond its level in 1979. As MacArthur clearly pointed out here:

The cycle of corruption buries nation after nation while new ones rise from the rubble and become the rubble for the next cycle. Historians like Arnold Toynbee and Eban Caldune have given us plenty of information on the cycles of history, the rise and the fall of nation after nation after nation after nation. It’s an inevitability in human society. And I really believe in many ways we are seeing in our own nation the decay and the corruption that leads to destruction. You would have to say in looking at the history of America that we’ve reached the peak and we’re on the way down to the inevitable rubble that happens to every society that follows the decadent cycle.

After quoting a then-current article in Time magazine (which includes several of the dated references mentioned above), MacArthur points out the very curious (and yet, not really so curious to those of us who know the Bible) fact of history:

We are decadent and our decadence has built into it a death wish. It’s a terminal disease. Nations normally don’t recover from this. In fact, the cycles of history are starkly repetitive. And I was fascinated in reading Morrow’s article to note that while he was discussing the cycles of corrupting nations he only had one nation as an illustration of breaking the cycle, only one nation that really rose from its own ashes and strangely enough he said it was the nation of Israel…Israel. God’s people, Israel, came to decadence, to destruction and to death. And yet because of the covenant of their God, they rose from their own ashes to live again even in this very day.

How amazing it really is, a timeless message from the Bible, even in this look at the historical story of ancient Israel, that continues to have relevance in our day. May we all continue to grow in the knowledge and truth of God’s word, and all the more as we see the day approaching.

Next time, I’ll continue with the Daniel study and the next messages, from the actual beginning story of Daniel.

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