History, philosophy, and destiny: Insights from Daniel
Daniel’s worldview and concept of the place of people and nations in God’s plan to redeem the world has deep relevance for us today.
When we open the book of Daniel, the author tells us that he was a recent captive taken to Babylon. There he experienced remarkable personal challenges and unusual and sometimes unsettling visions. If we consider these at the general level, we are introduced to a level of information different from that usually taken from his prophecies and accounts. These understandings are remarkably applicable to us today, irrespective of location.
The noted historian Professor Collingwood perceptively stated that “the ultimate aim of history is not to know the past but to understand the present.”1 And we might add that the aim of religious history is to understand the present and provide guidance and hope for the future (cf. 2 Peter 1:19).
With this in mind, we will briefly consider some of the more evident principles in the book of Daniel.
The past informs the present
The book of Daniel opens by informing us that no person is an island. Our actions impact others. Daniel and his companions were captured and placed in unfavorable circumstances on account of the actions of the nation’s leaders, not their own. The kingdom of Judah had not learnt the lessons given to Israel some hundred years previously (Jeremiah 18:6-12; 26:2-8). They too participated in ungodly practices and unethical behavior. Consequently, in 605 BC they lost their independence when Babylon forced Judah to pay tribute. This humbling act was meant to function as a wake-up call.2 However, the nation could not be reached and continued to its untimely end, accompanied with the record of amoral acts (2 Kings 23:26; 24:1-2).
The kingdom of Judah ceased because it failed to internalize the robust worldview held by Daniel and his companions. These young men represented part of the remnant group, prepared to stand courageously for their faith. They understood early on that each individual and nation has its God-given role, and that failing to act honorably and according to the principles revealed by God has disastrous consequences. This was emphasized as they saw Nebuchadnezzar, under God’s direction, successively punish the Amorites, Moabites, Philistines, Egyptians, and citizens of Tyre for their malicious and boastful behavior (Ezekiel 25:5-17; 26:3-7; 29:3-9, 17-19).
Unified worldview gives purpose and hope
Daniel functioned at a pivotal point in history. The national representatives of God’s kingdom on earth had failed to be His ambassadors and went into captivity. At about the time of Daniel’s activities, new philosophies were arising that would seduce the world, such as Lao-Tzu, Confucius, Buddha, Pythagoras, and Zoroaster (Mithraism came from his teachings). Each of these philosophies had its own attractive elements, which tracked the truth, but also emphasized beguiling perversions. Ancient Babylon itself acted as the “fountainhead” from which all other false religions gained inspiration. These ties are particularly evident in Hinduism, for example.3 The neo-Babylonian empire, in which Daniel found himself, was particularly noted for its contributions to astronomy, with a well-developed system of astrology attached for telling the future.4
The genuine worldview that underpins the biblical account was firmly held by Daniel and his companions, as is evident from their words and deeds or from the account of those sympathetic to and influenced by them. The elements are as follows:
These principles are at the heart of the great controversy worldview held by Seventh-day Adventists, which is similar to that held by remnant groups throughout history. This alone should give us confidence in God’s leading.
History is a subtext to the Creator’s activities
The apostle John indicates that history is a subtext to the Creator’s activities in two of his books (John 1:1-4, 14;
Revelation 1:5-7). History also is a revelation of God’s ways; indeed, of Christ the Creator’s ways. Given these thoughts, some difficult questions can be resolved by considering the record of God’s creative activities. This is a familiar position taken by Seventh-day Adventists — for example, the seventh-day Sabbath and care of the body. Now, we should not be at all surprised that Daniel and his friends understood that Bible history is an account of God’s relationship to the whole of His creation.
Daniel and his companions showed their high regard for the order specified at creation with regard to their food and drink (and no doubt other areas too). In so doing, they showed respect for their bodies, spiritual development, and care of creation. In fact, in some ways they were in advance of our thinking. Daniel 2 paints a picture of God smashing the empires of this world with a rock (“cut out without hands” — Daniel 2:34). The focus of these nations was (and is in those operating today) on acquiring material wealth and finding methods of advancement (metals of utility in the images conveys this idea) — consumerism and self-aggrandizement were alive and well in neo-Babylon. God used the basic building material of the earth (rocks) to deprive the nations of their continuing cycle of prideful activities. Here we have a powerful reminder that the nations, the descendants of Adam, are derived from the soil (adamah) and are dependent on the creator-God for life. All who fail to understand the character and ways of the personal creator —God will be deprived of their power.
The practical consequence of such an understanding is that if the Bible account outlines a consistent pattern of thought/behavior at creation and in the new creation (new earth state), then it is a given that God wishes His followers to organize their lives consistent with this information following their conversion (re-creation). For instance, the seventh-day Sabbath was kept in Eden, was kept by Christ, and will be kept in the new earth (Genesis 2:2; Luke 4:16; Isaiah 66:23). Hence, the seventh-day Sabbath is to be kept as a sacred portion of time. Again, at Eden God designated the food for the human race as plant-based (Genesis 1:29) and in the new earth no bloodshed will occur, meaning that this state will be re-established (Isaiah 65:25; Revelation 21:4; cf. Romans 8:22). It follows that a vegetarian lifestyle is God’s ideal today (1 Corinthians 10:31; cf. Revelation 14:7) and will prove beneficial to both physical and spiritual health.
Nations have distinct roles in fulfilling God’s purpose
God has worked (and continues to do so) with different cultures in order to accomplish His grand plan for their salvation. Babylon and Medo-Persia (Eastern powers) and Greece and Rome (Western powers) were involved in setting the stage for Christ’s appearance and ministry in the centuries after Daniel. These nations interacted with other groups to the north and south. In this manner, the universal importance of the prophecies relating to the birth and ministry of Christ were emphasized.
When Christ was born, the dominant Roman Empire was in power. It facilitated trade with many countries, and news of events in the Empire travelled across vast areas. For example, the Chinese were aware that a great event had occurred in the West relating to the coming of a Messiah (Maitreya). An expedition was sent (AD 64) along the Silk Road in response to a dream seen by the emperor Ming-Ti. Unfortunately, the expeditioners returned with Buddhist Mahayana scriptures.5 Interestingly, however, the only surviving astronomical record of the star accompanying Christ’s birth comes from China.6 This event was associated with the visit of wise men from the East (Matthew 2:1, 7-10), which illustrates the wide interest ancient peoples had in astronomy (and astrology) and the thirst they possessed for acquiring new knowledge. It is regrettable that the knowledge of God’s condescension and mercy was not accepted more widely in its pure form.
The movement of ideas across cultures flowed along the trade routes. This led to penetration by the Church of the East to the far reaches of Asia.7 It also led, for example, to the absorption of Jewish ideas about the coming Messiah into Buddhism (Mahayana), and these in turn influenced aspects of Chinese religious practices.8 Unfortunately, pagan ideas seeped into the Christian church, particularly in the time of Constantine the Great. These movements were foreshadowed by Daniel, and he mourned the difficulties to which the community of faith would be subjected (Daniel 7:28; 8:27).
Truth does not change
We are confronted in Daniel 1 by the courageous decision made by four young people to uphold the principles outlined in Scripture, which they had learnt at home. In contrast, under peer and supervisor pressure, a majority of their companions decided that truth could take a back seat.
While the majority of the bright captives repudiated significant cultural and religious practices and principles under pressure, Daniel continued unmoved. This was graphically demonstrated when his work colleagues, envious of his principled behavior and consequent favor, set about to trap him. The plot involved Daniel’s prayer life (Daniel 6:6-9). The co-conspirators in this plot banked on Daniel not compromising his relationship with God or altering his public witness. They were not disappointed.
Throughout his lifetime of service in Babylon, Daniel refused to accept perversions of the great plan of salvation outlined in Genesis 3:15. The soothsayers and magicians (Daniel 4:7) made the dead to appear, and the violent death of Nimrod (the founder of Babel — Genesis 10:8-10) was remembered, as represented by the weeping for Tammuz (Jeremiah 44:15-18 — Tammuz represented reincarnated Nimrod). The death of Nimrod was presented as being voluntary, and was ostensibly for the benefit of humanity and connected with the removal of sin and suffering (i.e., worship representing an alternative version of the crushing of the serpent’s head found in the Genesis account).9 In contrast, Daniel gladly accepted that the prophecy recorded in Genesis as pointing to Christ’s birth, ministry, and suffering was assurance that he would receive eternal life (Ezekiel 14:14, 20; Daniel 9:24-27; 12:13).
The attempts to pervert truth that began post-Flood in ancient Babylon continue to this day. Daniel was not silent about this trend, as indicated by his account of the activities of the little horn power (Daniel 8:9-12). One of Satan’s favored methods of working is to combine elements of unsanctified beliefs with genuine ones. The dominant church functioning after the death of the apostles successfully accomplished a synthesis of pagan doctrines and Christian beliefs, and continues to do so. In so doing, they pretended to sanctify pagan practices.10
Cross-cultural communication and sensitivity is promoted in God’s Word, but syncretism is not (Matthew 7:5-9; 15:2-3). Daniel’s life is a testimony to this principle. He warned of the coming of a religious power that would interfere remarkably with the concepts of both God’s mercy and justice (Daniel 7:25; 8:9-12; cf. Psalm 89:14). In doing this, he has given us a warning about any philosophy or doctrine that does not hold these two great pillars of God’s kingdom in balance. Careful analysis of all the great philosophical systems in the world, outside of authentic Christianity, indicates a failure to pass the test. There is an ever-present danger that in sharing the gospel across cultures a similar synthesis will occur. Daniel warns us to be careful.
Principles underpinning stable government
Many rulers have arisen with the goal of achieving notable status and even regional and world dominance. A number have attained remarkable success. However, history is littered with examples of strong leaders being succeeded by weak ones, and there are numerous instances of empires and people groups disappearing.
How these events might be explained is a challenging exercise. Certainly, charisma and strong personal characteristics are required in a leader, and vision and encouragement for the citizenry to think creatively and to work cooperatively are good starting points. A country also needs a robust economic base. The Bible, however, emphasizes qualities based on the principle of love (agape type). This principle shows outward expressions in such things as the pursuit of righteousness, mercy, meekness, purity, peace, moral practices, and advancing knowledge of the creator-God (Matthew 5:3-20, 38-48). The consistent application of these principles on a national level will contribute to success; their rejection will ensure the edifice will falter and eventually fall. The response of the masses to these principles is also pivotal to national prominence and continuance (2 Chro-nicles 33:1-9; Hosea 4:1-3; 6:6;
7:14-16). The same principle holds true for the smooth running of society and its basal unit, the family.
Going back to the time of Daniel, we can observe what attitudes and practices helped nations to fill their cup of iniquity, leading to their failure. Of Israel it was said: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you ...” (Hosea 4:6, RSV), and other nations were spoken about similarly (Jonah 3:4-10; Romans 2:11-16). This was because they rejected the idea that moral precepts originated with God and ultimate judicial authority rested there too. Clearly, the neo-Babylonian empire came to an end on account of pride, wanton rebellion against the knowledge of God, glorying in the power of pagan gods, and living to satisfy the senses (Daniel 5:2-4, 18-28).
Pride, departing from the moral virtues found in all cultures,11 rejecting the calls of conscience, and ignoring the lessons coming from the book of nature (Romans 1:20-23; 2:14-16) all contribute to national decline and disgrace. The worldview adopted and the attitude and commitment of the citizenry to the pursuit of righteousness are factors of vital significance in explaining the events of history.12 When the cup of iniquity of the nations is full, the end will come.13
We now turn our attention briefly to consider the individual responsibilities highlighted by Daniel.
Daniel and his friends were able to influence the affairs of the neo-Babylonian nation. They rose to positions of trust and honor (Daniel 2:46-48). Remarkably, when the Medo-Persian forces invaded Babylon, Daniel’s administrative skills were still recognized (Daniel 5:30; 6:1-3). He adapted to the new culture, with its underlying religious philosophy, without compromise. He also had learnt the art of sharing elements of the plan of salvation beyond familiar borders and became an effective missionary (Daniel 2:28, 44-45; 4:19-27; 6:22-27; cf. 12:3). This is God’s plan for us too. The indispensable instruction given by Christ to all His followers is to share knowledge of the hope they possess (Matthew 28:19-20).
God also showed through the experiences of Daniel that He has unusual allies and that the most unlikely individuals may respond to the promptings of His Spirit. Would you have chosen King Nebuchadnezzar as being potentially interested in knowing God’s plans? Daniel saw the opportunity and used it, and I have no doubt that he tried to find a way to tell Cyrus about Isaiah’s prophecy concerning him (Isaiah 45:1-5; cf. Daniel 12:3). Daniel was fearless in living his beliefs in a positive manner and speaking in favor of God as opportunity presented. He possessed not only skill and learning but also had cross-cultural sensitivity.
Just as surely as Daniel and his companions were instruments in God’s hands, we too have been singled out by God for the purpose of bringing the knowledge of God to others.14 We are to tell others that there is a creator-God who cares for all.
Life is held in God’s hands
The naked truth about life came home to Belshazzar with stunning force the night a mysterious hand wrote on his palace wall; he was proclaimed wanting in moral principles and perished at the hands of Darius the Mede’s soldiers (Daniel 5:5-6, 25-28, 30). Daniel and the three worthies were very familiar with God’s protective care. They understood that their lives were in God’s hands and that He would protect them and deliver them from death, if His name would be honored (Daniel 3:16-18; 6:21-22; cf. Hebrews 11:31-40). They did not fear death or God’s judgment, for they were at peace with him daily. Daniel was assured that God’s saints will inherit the “sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven,” and furthermore, that God’s kingdom will not end, and the saved will worship Him throughout eternity (Daniel 7:27, NIV). In these words, we are assured that immortality is God’s gift to all who follow Him in sincerity.
Coincident with the idea that our lives are in God’s hands is the instruction that in this life we must make our decision for God. No additional opportunities will come our way. Belshazzar learnt this when Daniel announced that God had weighed him and found Him wanting (Daniel 5:27). This information was repeated in a separate vision recorded in Daniel Chapter 7, where God is pictured in all His magnificent grandeur presiding over the record of people’s lives (Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). This scene causes us to consider our actions seriously, and is meant to generate awe and commitment and a sense of calm confidence and joy (Daniel 7:27).
All this was in sharp contrast to the doctrine emanating from ancient Babylon that held the great Nimrod as being the emancipator of men and women from fear in the judgment. He was featured as being translated to heaven, giving rise to the idea that one’s soul could migrate to heaven unconnected with God.15 Belshazzar followed this path of belief, and God answered his brazen defiance conclusively. Today, this transmits a clear message to all who are tempted to choose a similar pathway of self-indulgence and self-salvation.
Live to glorify God
Daniel accepted and taught a worldview consistent with the original given by the Creator. He was a participant in the new covenant relationship highlighted by his contemporary Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-33). He lived a consistent and faith-dominated life (e.g., Daniel 2:17-19; 6:10-11, 21-22). What we look back to in an historical sense, Daniel looked forward to by faith (Daniel 9:24-27).16
The community of faith commenced in Eden, not in AD 31 at Christ’s resurrection. The woman of Samaria understood this truth along with others (John 4:25; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; Hebrews 4:1-5), yet many still proclaim with relish that the teaching of the Messiah (in today’s terms, Christ) commenced only after Christ’s resurrection, and that many of His teachings were borrowed from others. Daniel’s worldview and his faith in the creator-God reflected the views of his predecessors going back to Adam, which means that his beliefs trace their origin to a point in history that has priority over all others. It has been well noted that any similarity found in other philosophies is by alteration or derivation from the original.17 Christ was the agent chosen by God to communicate with mankind from the beginning (John 1:1-4, 14). Small wonder, then, that the teachings of the New Testament can be found in the Old, and that Christ advised us to give attention to the writings of Daniel (Matthew 24:15).
Daniel understood the great principle that character development determines destiny. This has been stated nicely by one author: “God has only one intended destiny for mankind — holiness. His only goal is to produce saints. ... Never tolerate, because of sympathy for yourself or for others, any practice that is not in keeping with a holy God. ... Holiness is not simply what God gives me, but what God has given me that is being exhibited in my life.”18 Daniel rejoiced in the prospect of the resurrection of the just (Daniel 12:13), for he followed after holiness. You can too!
Warren A. Shipton (Ph.D., M.Ed., FASM) received his doctorate from the University of Sydney. He is a former dean of science, James Cook University, and former president of Asia-Pacific International University (2006-2010), Thailand. He has authored a book on Daniel and Revelation, entiteled Visions of Turmoil and Eternal Rest (softcover and e-book versions are available from online booksellers). E-mail: email@example.com.
- R.G. Collingwood, The Principles of History and Other Writings in Philosophy of History, W.H. Dray and W.J. van der Dussen, eds., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 141.
- The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1954), vol. 2, 88.
- K.R. Kush, Faces of the Hamitic People (Bloomington, Indiana: Xlibris Corporation, 2010), 144.
- J. Evans, The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 16; G.S. Holland, Gods in the Desert: Religions of the Ancient Near East (Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., 2009), 181.
- E.A. Gordon, “‘World-Healers,’ or the Lotus Gospel and Its Bodhisattvas, Compared with Early Christianity” (New Delhi: Vintage Books, 1993), vol. 1, 26–29, vol. 2, 422–426.
- C.J. Humphreys, “The star of Bethlehem — a comet in 5 BC — and the date of the birth of Christ,” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 32 (1991): 389–307; notes on the visibility of the 5 BC Chinese star — http://www.astrosurf.com/comets/cometas/Star/Visibility_Star.htm (May 4, 2010).
- Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008), 49–70.
- Gordon, vol. 1, 7–8, 27–28.
- Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons or the Papal Worship Proved to Be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife (London: S.W. Partridge & Co, 1976), 62–71.
- J. Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1974), 362, 367–369.
- C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1973), 95–121.
- Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1976), 19–29.
- Ellen G. White, Last Day Events (Manila: Philippine Publishing House, 1999), 39–41.
- --------, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1941), 326–327.
- Hislop, 52–57, 69.
- The greeting and assurance given by the angel in Daniel 10:11, 19 indicate Daniel’s acceptance of the great Messianic prophecy found in the previous chapter.
- Hislop, 6–9, 12–17.
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Discovery House Books, 1992), September 1.