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by Peter Pett
Commentary On The Book of Daniel
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD.
In 609 BC Josiah, king of Judah, after a long and godly reign, during the latter part of which he was relatively independent, was killed seeking to prevent the Egyptians from going to the aid of their ancient enemies Assyria, against a rising force, the power of Babylon. He was replaced by his son Jehoahaz, who lasted three months before being hauled off to Egypt by Pharaoh Neco, who replaced him with Jehoiakim.
In that year Prince Nebuchadnezzar finally led the Babylonian army of his father Nabopolassar against the allied forces of Assyria and Egypt, and defeated them at Carchemish. A further defeat of the Egyptians, again at Carchemish, in 605 BC, gave Babylon supremacy in the ancient Near East.
As a result of Babylon's victory, Egypt's vassals, including Judah, passed under Babylonian control, and within a short time Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem, only to be thwarted by the news of the death of his father, Nabopolassar, which entailed his return to Babylon to secure the throne. He did, however, achieve the submission of Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:1), no doubt by offering milder terms than he had previously done, because of the crisis, and took with him a group of young men as hostages as well as part of the temple treasures. One of those young men was Daniel. This was the first of three deportations in which the Babylonians took the cream of society in Judah back to Babylon. The second was that of Jehoiachin, when Ezekiel was one of them, and the third that of Zedekiah, with his eyes put out.
In the full sense of the word Daniel was not a prophet. He was not raised up in Israel/Judah to proclaim the word of Yahweh to the people or to bring them back to God, which was why his book hovered between being accepted among the prophets or among the other sacred writings. He was rather a master statesmen who became God’s channel for preparing Israel for the future, and did so by receiving words from God. In that sense he was thus a prophet.
A word might be said here about the use of numbers in the book of Daniel. The majority of people were not numerate. Apart from in business and architecture they would have little use for numeracy and probably most could not count beyond ten at the most. (Compare the woman who gathered ‘two’ sticks, meaning ‘a few’ - 1 Kings 17:12). The shepherd did not count his sheep, he knew them all by name. The same situation applies in primitive tribes around the world today. Thus numbers tended to be seen as having a meaning, as descriptive adjectives. This especially applied to ‘three’ meaning complete, ‘seven’ indicating divine perfection and ‘ten’ meaning ‘a number of’. A ‘hundred’ would mean ‘a lot of’ and a ‘thousand’ even more. ‘Five’ was the number indicating the covenant. Of course well educated people like Daniel could use and think in numbers, but they were in the minority. When the majority heard a number they asked ‘what does it signify’ and not ‘how many’.
the Sixth Week after Easter